Ran a mini challenge this morning...

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Crash and I ran a shortened challenge at a Science Fiction convention this morning -- The show is already developing a cult following with SF fans, and the Boston convention Arisia (which Crash has a long association with) asked us to do a "tabletop" version of the show.

The challenge we set the teams was "a machine to play bocce" (aka bowls, or boules) - throw a target ball, then throw other balls trying to get close to it.

The pitch was just a patch of carpet. The tossing line was 10 feet from the target ball (placed rather than thrown) The balls we used were practice golf balls. The materials came from my basement (a milk crate full of various offcuts, plus random office supplies, a bunch of sheets of coroplast and some old boards). Crash added some tin cans, rubber bands, tounge depressors and other assorted cruft. Tools available were a cordless drill, a recip saw, a couple of hot melt glue guns, a hammer, and the participants were asked to bring their own leathermen. The build time was 90 minutes.

We had 11 3 person teams apply, and drew 6 by lot. In lieu of experts, Crash and I sketched 10 or so possible aproaches (each design a single sheet of paper, with a 10 second sketch, and a 3-6 word description.

The actual designs varied significantly. Included were ramps, sort of a crossbow, several variants on an onager (a spring driven horizontal arm that whacked things), something like a pinball machine launcher, and a putter (swinging weight).

Standard bocce rules, (several shots each, in turn, knocking other teams balls away from the jack allowed) The surprise was just how accurate things wound up. There were several machines in each round (we ran them in two lots of three, then a run off) that could place their ball a known and consistent distance. The putter (built by 3 SCA armor makers), on its first shot left their ball touching the target ball. The winner in all three rounds was decided by how well the teams understood the strategy of bocce. The teams that lost did things like knocking their own ball away from the target, etc. If they had real tacticians, they had the accuracy to put the balls where they would ask for them to go. I was very impressed. Yes, there are various pictures. I didn't take them, but those that did, promised me digital copies. The finished machines went on display in the art show. The winning team got nerds t shirts.

Five different conventions invited us to do a similar event, several while the event was still in progress. We will be doing something at Boskone (but it might be show a tape with commentary and Q+A), and perhaps the World SF convention in Philla (likely an actual challenge).

My shop is now one milk crate emptier, we entertained well over 100 people. There was no significant damage to hotel fixtures. I suspect we will get a much better time slot for next years event.


-- Jeff - The NERDS (dp@the-nerds.org), January 14, 2001


Have The NERDS applied for the upcoming JYW/SHC seasons?

(To reply in email replace blort dot invalid with anime dot net)

-- Dan Hollis (goemon@blort.invalid), January 14, 2001.

Jeff - I'm anxiously awaiting the fire pump write up on your web page. Looking forward to reading it. Thanks, -Rob

-- Rob (rhs@systems-interface.com), January 14, 2001.

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