Thursday, December 4, 2014

Turkey, Gingerbread and Bots

I hope those in the US had a lovely holiday!  Mine was really nice yet hectic and eventful, I have to admit that the actual Turkey dinner was a sideshow to the main events.  There is nothing quiet about our Nov/Dec in this house as it is prime robot season with our competitions all in the several weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas (except the older boys now compete every few weeks until the
This WAS the dining room.  As soon as the
Turkey was cleared, they moved out the
furniture and set up the 14 foot square robot
field.  I hear I get it back for Christmas Day
middle of Feb).  So ALL the time the kids had off (except Thursday), they were here.  Literally I would have to walk around the house and count how many people were in it (my extended family, robot kids, robot parents, in-laws, etc) to figure out how many were eating at each meal.  The number wavered between 12-24 at times.  The spontaneous parties and kids blowing off steam with NERF all over the place added to the chaos.  I am letting the older kids run their robot team this year (learning to organize - growth but a loss of parent control) but that means that I never know what is up.  They text and 'call in reinforcements' as progress goes forward and that can mean that a few teens show up at the door at 8pm to work when I thought we were just emptying out!  (Time to get out more chips!)

Grandpa adding the ball track made from wreath forms while
watching football in my family room.  Note the almost finished
gingerbread train (it moves)
Add to that an event at MIT that my side of the family has gotten into and has become a tradition for us and it gets REALLY CRAZY.  MIT hosts something called the FAT (Friday after Thanksgiving) Chain Reaction.  It is a giant Rube Goldberg device that is built on that day with segments built at home by teams.  This was our 4th year doing it and we go nuts.  We don't start until my parents and brothers arrive in town for Turkey, work on it like mad with all the toys in the house and many trips to Home Depot and set it up in front of the football on TV, only taking breaks to cook and eat the turkey.  For a family that is all mechanical, this is a crazy thing to collaborate on as we all think we
know what is best.  I guess it keeps us from arguing about politics.

We haul ourselves down to MIT on Friday and set up.  It takes forever to tweak it to work and usually still requires 'the hand of god' to move a ball that gets stuck somewhere in the movements.  The public comes in around 1pm and they swarm around all the teams and ask questions and watch your segment run.  The whole thing goes off around 3:30pm and is filmed in a crazy dance to much audience delight.  Almost 2000 people are there.  Tons of kids and that has become our speciality - doing something that delights.  What I am really proud of is how many teams over the years have told us that they came the year before and saw ours and decided they could do it and got their kids doing it with them.  That is awesome!  I am not sure if they are thinking 'heck - I could do better than that!!' or if our team's use of things we have laying around the house is inspiring for last minute prep.  We always limit ourselves to kid-friendly materials, which of course delights the kids as well.  We were the first to use toys and now that is a major theme of teams.
Fox news interviewing my oldest on our team's link.  In addition
to the moving gingerbread train that transported the ball, there
was a lego elevator, a robotic arm (to remove the ball from train),
long winding aerial ball track and a Lego CNC machine he built to
carve the year's theme (17) into a block of floral foam (a big
crowd pleaser).

This year, our theme was gingerbread.  Yes, half our set up was edible and that was a first.  I have been asked for years to redo my legendary moving gingerbread train (my kids remember it from their baby years), so we did it again.  The Lego robot teams used their breaks in competition training to decorate our houses for the set up (a convenient excuse to sugar load before going back to robot tweaking!).  My mom had to bake tons of cookies as diversionary materials for the robot teens and grown-up men so they wouldn't raid the structural gingerbread.  There was generally too much sugar imbibed by all.

The Rubicon X team.  What you can't see is the wire structure
in the air that carries the ball around - it disappears in the picture.
So the hilarious thing is that our link in the chain reaction has been photogenic each time and we have gotten an amazing amount of press every year.  This year we were the picture in the Black Friday events around the nation in Time Magazine.  And those who have met me personally won't be surprised by the description of my family in this Boston Globe article.  We are team Rubicon X (as in Crossing the Rubicon).  In past years we have used Hex Bugs to push the ball, brought robotic talking hamsters,
and used more Knex, Legos, than you can shake a stick at.  We still haven't incorporated live animals (this has been done with bunnies and ducks) but I am thinking of training my hamster for 2015!


  1. Love the hand gestures!

  2. I've been waiting semi-patiently to hear about this--love the video!

  3. So nice to see the team back in action this year...I bet you've 'started something' again with your edibles! Just think of all the chemo/physical mayhem that could ensue in the years to come - gas filled balloons from alka seltzer or vinegar and baking soda reactions that 'move things along' - hamsters that vigorously eat their chow and create an imbalance? ....LOL! I only wish I could join in the fun - but watching afterwards is always a blast. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for sharing! I love these posts about your robotics!