Tinkering School

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Obsta-ball - Days 4+5 - Week 5 (SF Day Camp)

Obsta-ball (2019), San Francisco Day CampRuby Harrison-ClayComment

“Remember when this was just an idea?” exclaimed one tinkerer at the end of Thursday. It is a sentiment shared by most of us at camp – watching the evolution of our projects from thought to physical form has been a completely unparalleled magical experience. The beauty is that it is not magic, but the work we do with our own minds, hands, and the assistance of a handful of tools.


The labyrinth team completed designing and building the three maze tiers and was able to experiment with hanging pulley mechanisms for manually tilting each maze as intended. The first test resulted in sore hands where the paracord dug sharply in, due to the heavy weight of the maze. The need for handles arose, and these were expertly designed and installed. Unfortunately, this did not solve the weight issue, and many of our tinkerers were not physically capable of pulling and controlling the handles. To mitigate this issue, we incorporated more pulleys on each side. The more pulleys, the less it weighed, and the easier our handles were to pull.


We also noticed the need for a catching mechanism, as each maze has a series of holes which the ball can fall through. Our issue was that the ball would fall into empty space, out of the game. After a brainstorming session, one tinkerer took on the project of installing a large ramp along the bottom of our structure, which will funnel the ball back into play.

Lastly, more iterating was done on the observation tower. Because it will hold at least two humans, it needs to be completely structurally sound. The team spent time envisioning ways to do this, building ideas, testing them, and addressing next issues. By the end Thursday, the two levels of the tower and their connecting ladder were successfully attached and safe.

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Human foosball continued to wow the rest of camp with the enormity and depth of their project. They put a lot of time into the top beams that will move and hold the weight of the human foos players. There are two tricks here – the beams need to be strong enough to hold weight and not bow or break, and they need to be able to slide back and forth across the width of the “field.”

Taking inspiration from rollercoaster design, they strategically placed small wheels for the beams to roll on. The challenge is making sure everything can support the weight of numerous tinkerers hanging down on seats from these beams, acting as pieces in the live human-sized foosball game. Reinforcing the beams was done with bolts.

The foosball team was working down to the last second of our Friday afternoon build session to make their game playable, and it was ultimately a wild success! While the week was successful regardless of finishing the project (each and every tinkerer worked incredibly hard collaborating and having fun), it was still very satisfying to sit in those foosball seats and play the game we dedicated ourselves to this week. And… it was a ton of fun to play. :-)


The Minigolf crew worked steadily this whole week, from design to creation. Their awareness of the bigger picture of the project shone through by the end of the day Friday, as the path for the ball became clear and they were able to putt their way through to the end! In a project like this, it can be easy to get sucked into the details of each sub-project that arises in the design, and to end up with scattered and disconnected pieces of a whole. This was not the case here! From the cable car, to the rainbow ramp, to the Golden Gate Bridge, and lastly the Salesforce Tower – the project was seamless.

The team was able to spend a lot of Friday doing finishing touches; testing their complicated pulley system to get the cable car to move, adding signs and fun facts about each real-life location on the route, and installing patches of astroturf to emulate a real golf game! They even built small putters to use during the showcase, making sure the handles were covered in foam for comfort and safety.


It goes without saying that Friday afternoon’s showcase was a wild success and a ton of fun! Families and friends roamed our workshop-turned-mega-arcade of sorts, testing and playing our giant labyrinth, foosball, and minigolf games. And of course, everyone stuck around after to get back to work for deconstruction. The ephemerality of each Tinkering School project never ceases to be amazing.

Check out photos and videos from today and the rest of this week on our Flickr!


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