Back at university, I absolutely loved the competitions and challenges that would go on in the School of Engineering. They covered everything from building the strongest box-wing to air powered vehicles. It was also about the same time I was completely and utterly addicted to the British TV show ‘Scrapheap challenge’ - each episode, two teams were unleashed on a junkyard and given ten hours to build something awesome. They had episodes covering everything from hovercraft to fire boats and aircraft - built from scrap. Fast forward to today, and we now have ‘Unchained Reaction’ where two teams pit their creativity and ability to build stuff against one another.

Wouldn’t it be cool if anyone from the community could pit their maker skills against one another? The maker equivalent of social soccer, for those who, well, would prefer to be building something rather than running around?

Well the awesome people at The Edge, who know a thing or two about community building and maker spaces thought it was a great idea as well and asked me to put together three challenges in a series that I am calling HackDown. Oh, and the best news? Everything you need to re-create a HackDown challenge in your local hackerspace or school is freely available under a Creative Commons license!

So how does HackDown work? Each month, for the next three months, a new challenge will be released. Teams of four or five will be given a box of materials to use in solving the challenge. That is really the only rule with HackDown - you can only use what is in the box to solve the challenge.

Teams will get together one evening a week for two to three hours to build their solution to the challenge. Then at the end of the month, each creation will be pitted against one another in what will be a fun evening of eclectic maker cacophony!

Sounds run right? Well the first HackDowns are going to be held at The Edge, just head along to their Hack the Evening sessions of a Thursday night.

I am aiming to keep the cost of materials in the box for each team to about $50. I figure $10 a person for a month of maker awesomeness is pretty accessible for most people - it is also low enough for places like The Edge to be able to offer it as a free session.

The first three challenges will be appearing up on Github, and since everything is available under a Creative Commons license, I am hoping that others will like the format and submit their own challenge ideas (just hit the fork button on GitHub).

So without further ado, the first challenge in HackDown…

Challenge #1 - Build a bridge.

Ricky Bobby likes to drive fast, and wants to drive from one side of a canyon to the other. Build Ricky Bobby a bridge that spans a 600mm canyon. The bridge must be wide and flat enough that a matchbox car can roll freely from one end to the other. Only materials from your box can be added to your bridge (including glues and fixings), but you can use any tool to shape and alter those materials.


Two plinths (or tables) of the same height are separated by 600mm. You will also need a matchbox car or two to roll across the bridges.

Box Contents

  • 2pcs of 3mm x 100mm x 450mm balsa wood sheet.
  • 4pcs of 12mm x 12mm x 450mm balsa wood sticks.
  • 10pcs of 1.5mm x 75mm x 450mm balsa wood sheet.
  • 2pcs of 5.0mm x 75mm x 450mm balsa wood board.
  • 1 125ml tube of PVA glue.
  • 5 metres of string.

Estimated kit cost (per team): ~$17.00 (excluding shipping costs)


Judging is always hard, but here is a simple points based system to help get things started (feel free to tweak and change this as necessary):

  • Test to make sure a matchbox car is able to freely roll from side of the bridge to another. Subtract 5 points if the car can’t make it across.
  • Lightest bridge, weigh the bridge on a set of kitchen scales and award 5 points for the lightest bridge, 4 for the next, etc.
  • Best looking bridge. Award 5 points for the best looking bridge, 4 for the next, etc.
  • Strongest bridge. Using string, suspend a bucket from the centre of the bridge (300mm from the table). Slowly fill the bucket with water until the bridge buckles and breaks. Weigh the bucket of water afterwards. Award the bridge that held the heaviest amount of water 5 points, 4 for the next, etc.

The team with the highest number of points is the winner*.

Stay tuned for the next challenge, which will build upon skills developed in this challenge and add some mechanical madness into the mix.

* This really should be more of a ‘everyone is a winner’ kinda deal - everyone should get a bit of a laugh and giggle.


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