Since the late ’80s, the University of Chicago has run an end-of-year scavenger hunt that combines wild creativity with brilliant engineering, which about sums up the best parts of America’s economy. One teamonce built a rudimentary nuclear reactor.
While no such devices feature in this year’s hunt, it is no less ambitious. My cousin sent me this year’s list of tasks — one of which, I should state up front, involves getting the hunt mentioned by a major publication (for 10 points).
I would have done it anyway. Below are tasks that will get the students at least 30 points. Again, it’s just amazing to think that unlike some more draconian academic environments around the world, the incentives for doing all this are the fun and camaraderie of it. The contest ends this afternoon.
Glass harmonica [50 points]
“78. For the second of two items invented by founding fathers on this page, we want the instrument that makes dogs bark and women swoon: a glass harmonica on campus. [50 points.]”
Water-based transistor [35 points]
“123. To complete the analogy of electric potential being like water level, build a working, water-based transistor, op-amp, or another nonlinear device that uses feedback to regulate the water owing through it. [35 points]”
Laser [80 points]
“115. Construct a laser from scratch. For safety, your laser should not be classed above 3R. Anyone involved with construction of this item must be equipped with appropriate eye protection in compliance with the University’s laser safety policy. During construction and presentation, your laser must be mounted on a table with a beam stop in place to prevent any damage to the eyes of passersby. Provide proof of the coherent properties of your light source for full points. Many, many bonus points will be awarded if your lasing medium is edible. [80 points]”
‘Time machine’ [100 points]
“159. The Escape Machine can take us to far-away places, but the Judges would rather travel through time. In the style of Voyages SNCF, starting from an unidentifiable black cube and using human and mechanical elements, take us to another decade in a one-minute temporal explosion of sight and sound. [100 points]”
‘Star Wars Christmas Special’ apology [up to 40 points
“166. A signed apology from an accredited member of the Star Wars Holiday Special cast or crew. [10 points. Up to 30 points for a major actor. 40 points for George Lucas]”
Five-foot-tall mechanical drinking bird [41 points]
“169. Construct one of those dunking bird things and bring it to the fountain behind the Reynolds Club at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday. Your bird should be thirsty enough to drink continuously for at least 10 minutes (BYOBucket of water) and must stand at least five feet tall. [41 points]”
Human-sized PEZ diploma dispenser [45 points]
“178. Like Judgment Day, Convocation should take, like, 45 minutes. Help the University speed things up this year by replacing President Zimmer with a human-sized PEZ doppelganger that dispenses diplomas when you pull back his head. [Like, 45 points]”
Life-sized pop-up book [150 points]
“140. We’ve long been told that books can transport us to faraway places. We’d like one that actually delivers on this promise. Construct a pop-up book large enough for us to explore the whimsical, and well-engineered structures within. Multiple pages would be nice, but we’re really just after one fantastic centerfold. [150 points]”
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