Tinkering School

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TSO-C/D - Day 13 - Friday Feast

Tinkering School StaffComment

It's Friday which means it's the last day to build. There are a lot of refining and finishing touches to add. At the end of the day, we will hold our long anticipated feast. 

The ferris wheel team jumps into seat reinforcements.

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Aaron and Chris work on a loading platform for the ferris wheel.

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Katherine builds a ladder to get on top of the platform

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Vince makes adjustments to the 0-Grav Chair by adding an improved strap system.

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TIme to test the changes.

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Spencer and Zachary spray glue to make the canvas rigid, allowing for holes to drilled in the canvas without it fraying.

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Eisen and PK drill a hole for bungee to be threaded through which will create a boxing ring look.

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Arianna tests out the pulley system that lifts the doors simultaneously.

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Charlotte and Morgan add more sections to the bridge.

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In the process they accidentally split one of the pieces of wood, creating a cool photo opportunity.

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Soon there will be enough bridge to walk on.

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The feast team is almost done with the table and benches that we will sit on for the feast.

Watermelon paints banners for the festival.

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Katherine tests out the loading platform for the ferris wheel.

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The bridge team does their first weight test.

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Others are excited to hop on.

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Soon enough, the segments span the whole length of the bridge.

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The Thunderfoam is ready for battle.

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With the doors raised, the battle is on.

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The day passes quickly and its time for our feast.

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We enjoy a feast in the forest.

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Because of all the structures, the feast a vertical element.

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After our feast, we head down for our closing fire. At the fire, we share memories from the week and eat s'mores and starbursts. Tomorrow we will show off our projects and then deconstruct the Kingdom of TInkering School.

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TSO-C/D - Day 12 - The Wheel Deal

Tinkering School StaffComment

Energized after a hiatus from building, tinkerers rush to start where the left off at the end of Tuesday.

The ferris wheel team quickly picks off with a new seat design. 

This time the seat comfortably can fit both tinkerers and collaborators.

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More benches are constructed for the feast.

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Savan cuts plywood which will be used as the bench top.

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The thunderdome team (now called thunderfoam as the combat will be with foam weapons), adds canvas to the door frames. The canvas will be lifted up with a pulley system, releasing the combatants.

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Arianna and PK get creative to reach to the top of the thunderfoam.

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Watermelon with 3 of the 4 new ferris wheel seats.

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With all the pieces ready, it is time to construct the wheel.

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The next step is to line the two sides of the wheel up at the corners.

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A finished bench is transported to the table in the forest.

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The ground is slanted so the team needs to add to the legs to level the bench.

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The bridge team starts adding segments to the tensioned cable.

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The wheel is finally ready to lift off the ground.

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The axle is knocked with a dead blow so that the wheel sits center.

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It takes a couple whacks.

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We move the wheel to the side supports.

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It all fit after some wiggling.

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A rotating chair is set up as an additional attraction at our growing festival.

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Savan, as the lightest tinkerer, tests the ferris wheel first when it is time to spin it.

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Pure joy ensues.

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After all our testing, the ferris wheel still stands tall. Tomorrow the team will improve the seats, making them more sturdy.

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Being the last build day, the teams tomorrow will push to have finished projects. Soon, the Kingdom of Tinkering School will have a grand festival.

TSO-C/D - Day 11 - Beached

Tinkering School StaffComment

Today is beach day! After gathering all of our supplies, we will make our way to San Gregorio State Beach. There we will have a day of exploration, relaxation, and bonding. But first, we hold a beach safety discussion.

Daniel demonstrates the signal for "I'm okay."

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The way down to the beach involves a little bit of cliff jumping.

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Down at the beach, we get busy moving wood to form a base camp.

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This piece of wood is much heavier than expected.

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Spencer leads the charge to the water.

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The sand was loose and we sunk into it easily.

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The water is cold, so we rush back to the warm sand and bury ourselves in it.

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Sam, one of our collaborators, commits fully to the sand burial.

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Spencer commits too.

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Others prefer to wade in the warmer waters of the lagoon.

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Ryan checks out the cliffs of the beach.

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Watermelon sees how high she can climb.

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We try make a raft out of driftwood and ratchet straps.

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Savan tests out the raft, but it has trouble staying afloat.

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Katherine gives it a whirl.


We explore the northern section of the beach. After about 2.5 miles, we stumble upon a beached and decaying whale.

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Covered in sand, we head back to Elkus Ranch. Tired from the beach, we relax with hot chocolate and tell tales of our beach adventures. We watch Early Man, and then, head off to bed. Tomorrow will be a packed day of building, so rest is needed.

TSO-C/D - Day 10 - Steady Progress

Tinkering School StaffComment

Tinkerers wake up bright and early excited to continue work on the projects for the Friday Festival. Breakfast is eaten quickly, and we rush up to the build site. We break off into our project groups and hold morning meetings.

The ferris wheel team starts off the day with a discussion about various design challenges and what the team aims to accomplish by the end of the day. Julie, one of our camp engineers, writes down some of the underlying physics. 

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After the team's meeting, Gabrielle reiterates her seat design from yesterday.

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Katherine and Ryan add more supports to the wheel of the ferris wheel.

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The tables prove difficult to properly level. To address this problem, we change the type of knot supporting the table which allows for easier adjustments.

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Charlotte and Aime lash a platform to a tree. When finished, they climb up to test it's stability. It comfortably fits three people. Designing and building the bridge is next.

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The thunderdome frame rises up from the ground. The team works on securing the legs between the top and bottom levels.

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Vince tests out the ergonomics of the current ferris wheel seat design.

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Aaron, Chris, and Max add more triangles to the support frames for the ferris wheel. Every support counts as the ferris wheel with passengers will weigh a good amount.

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Savan constructs a third table for the forest. In the end, there will be four tables which will hopefully provide enough room for everyone to have a feast on the day of the festival.

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Victoria works on a bench for the tables. The bench features tall legs to address the high height of the table.

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Swings provide a nice resting opportunity.

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It's time to fit the top and bottom of the thunderdome together.

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The two parts fit together flawlessly much to the relief of the thunderdome team.

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Watermelon uses the drill press to create a hole that will house the metal rod which will be the pivot point of the ferris wheel seat.

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The seat design with the metal rod works, but improvements need to be made. The seat tips back a little too far if the rider leans back too much, it's hard to get in and out of the seat, and it doesn't quite fit taller riders.

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The thunderdome will feature doors that will open vertically to unleash each combatant. Pulleys for the doors are attached.

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Even with all the time spent on projects, there is still time for free building. A cart is tested on the hill leading up to the build site. The car rolls, but because it has no steering, it heads straight for the bushes.

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In the final hour of building, the in the forest makes a prototype bridge which successfully supports many tinkerers. 


Much progress has been made by the end of the day, and tinkerers walk back from the build site exhausted. Tomorrow is beach day, allowing for much needed rest for both tinkerers and collaborators. On Thursday, project building will resume, and the teams will push to have working structures.

TSO-C/D - Day 9 - Planning for the Celebration

Tinkering School StaffComment

We wake up and rush straight to the polls. Voter participation is incredible! Savan is elected Head Activist, Watermelon is elected Head Realist, and Julie is elected Head Collaborator. Our democracy progresses with full speed.

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Crowns are passed out to the winners of the election.

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With the votes counted, it's time to start planning for the festival on Friday. We begin designing all sorts of improvements to our kingdom, dream up attractions, and sketch festival layouts.

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Once our ideas are on paper, we share them to the larger group. We decide to split up into two groups: festival rides and attractions and preparations for the feast. Within the smaller groups, we decide specific projects we want to work on. The two attractions will be a thunderdome and a ferris wheel. The other group plans to add a bridge to the forest castle and tables to feast on.

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Before we start any building, we must brainstorm and agree upon group agreements.

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Up at the build site, the designing continues. The castle improvement and feast team starts on their tables. They decide to not build legs and instead suspend them from the trees, presenting an interesting design challenge.

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The ferris wheel design is coherent and is ready to be executed.

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Table construction is in order. Supports are measured and plywood is attached.

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Aaron measures pieces for the sides of the ferris wheel.

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Ryan gets some wood to begin the wheel of the ferris wheel.

Charlotte and Aime check out the tree situation. They hope to build a platform which will become one end of the bridge.

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Katherine and Ryan use a angle grinder to cut metal pipe. The segments will separate the 2 sides of the wheel of the ferris wheel.

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The thunderdome frame takes shape.

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All hands on deck! We move the tower from the pyramid castle into the forest.

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Watermelon and Gabrielle work on seats for the ferris wheel.

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Large triangles are constructed to be the supports of the ferris wheel.

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The completed tabletop is carried into the forest to be suspended.

Suspending the table proves to be a challenge. Onion, Victoria, and Viggo decide to tie figure 8 knots under the tables which will act as stoppers.

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After a long day of building, we walk back to the conference center to eat dinner and wind down for the night. We play games and, later, watch Fantastic Mr. Fox. Tomorrow we will continue our preparations for the Friday festival.

TSO-C/D - Day 8 - The Revolt

Tinkering School StaffComment

Sunday brings new faces to Tinkering School, adding to the group that stayed from last week. If just joining us and you're curious about what happened last week, check the last 7 blog posts.

It's a lazy Sunday morning at Tinkering School. We eat breakfast, watch the world cup, paint nails, and choreograph a movie scene while we wait to meet the new tinkerers.

Savan's Salon is born.

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Once we have everyone, we hold our opening circle. There, we introduce ourselves and go over the rules of Tinkering School.

1. Don't hurt yourself or anyone else.

2. If you see a piece of fruit and you want it, you must eat it.

3. Roshambo with no funny business (dynamite, gun, dog, rocket, etc.).

4. Don't lawyer up.

6. We don't talk about it.

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Caroline gathers everyone before we go up to the build site for tool training. 

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Up at the build site, we break into four groups to cycle through 5 stations.

  1. Tour of the build site
  2. Clamp training
  3. Chop saw training
  4. Drill training
  5. Drill practice

We practice making cuts on the chopsaw, sporting a brand-new blade.

Caroline, our Camp Captain this week, tests out a chair made from clamps.

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Savan, Watermelon, and Chris work on a horse. 

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Watermelon tests out the horse.

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We show off remmnants of last week's project

"Get big and be loud" is what we do in the unlikely event of encountering a mountain lion.

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After tool training, the queen makes a grand entrance, rising above all, and announces that she will be taking the Sun Kingdom's land and that anything remaining in the land the next morning, including the castle, will be burned. The queen has become a tyrant.

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In response to the queen's announcement, we move the wall from last week to block the queen from taking over Piki's castle.

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The people of the Sun and Forest kingdoms decide to revolt against the queen. Onion declares the queen has been quietly assassinated and that Piki and Nooi have banded together to form Kablooi. There will be a fair in the near future to celebrate the overthrowing of the queen.

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On the walk back from the build site, there is already chatter about forming a new government to restore order to the Tinkering School Kingdom. In its current state, there will be daily elections for the positions of Head Activist (ideas and plans), Head Realist (keeps things plausible and fun), and Head Collaborator (prevents chaos) each with a term limit of 2 days. Tomorrow we'll start planning for the fair and hold our first elections.

TSO-C/D - Day 7 - A San Francisco Adventure

Tinkering School StaffComment

It's the last day of the week! We wake up and eat a quick breakfast. Next, we clean the conference center and the yurts. We rush up to the build site to show off our projects and deconstruct the siege weapons. Soon enough, it is time for lunch. We play games and sing and dance along to music. After lunch, we go up to San Francisco to visit the Exploratorium. There, we engage in all sorts of hands-on activities. Later, we find a pizza place, and walk to a park to eat and play games. Here are some photos from the day.

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TSO-C/D - Day 6 - The Siege

Tinkering School StaffComment

The day of the siege is finally here, and teams can hardly wait to get started. The castles are mostly done, but there is much work to be done on the siege weapons. At 4 pm sharp the queen will commence the siege, so tinkerers rush to get started. Teams get to work by planning for the day, and crafting strategies for the siege.

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Team Piki finishes attaching the canvas to the outside of their castle.

Vince pokes out of a hole soon to be covered with canvas.

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They decide to keep a hole for look-out purposes.

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In the forest, Nooi decides to add gargoyles to scare off attackers.

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The gargoyles strike fear in all who look upon them.

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Nooi pushes ahead with their siege weapon. They look to improve their launching release mechanism and the track for the projectile.

Measurements are in order.

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Over in the Sun Kingdom, the ballista is being prepped for test fires.

Mads sews a pouch for the projectile. The pouch will be attached with ropes the ends of the arms of the ballista.

While it is crunch time, there is still time for play. We have some fun with chainmail.

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Even the collaborators jump in.

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The morning passed quickly. With all the hard work, we are all in need of a short break, so we go down to see the animals.

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Future shepherds?

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With the animal visit done, we return to the build site for the final push before the siege.

Piki continues to test and refine their ballista.

The ball we are using as a projectile kept getting stuck with the cloth pouch, so Piki decides to switch to a cup. In their tests, they have trouble with the ball's exit from the ballista and the distance the ball travels. Making constant improvements, they hope the ballista will be effective come 4 o'clock.

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Nooi builds and adds a guiding track to their slingshot.

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Soon enough, they are ready for their first test fire. They are using a bolt as a release pin which they soon find is hard to pull due to the forces on the bolt. With some wiggling, they manage to pull the pin and launch the ball. The ball flies through the air. The test is a success, but there is worry that the range isn't enough.

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Soon enough the siege is only an hour away. Pressure builds amongst the teams.

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Realizing the ballista is not going to be enough, team Piki adapts. In a last ditch effort, they remove a torsion spring and arm from the ballista to repurpose it as a catapult.

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Without much time, they scramble to make it functional. They use a shop bucket as a holder for the ball. However, on the first test the bucket breaks. The clock strikes 4 and they have no alternate holder. 

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The time for the siege arrives. As this is a contest and not an actual war, the siege functions more like a spectator sport. One team attacks the other teams castle with their siege weapon. The defending castle is empty. All not involved with the operation of the siege weapon stand behind a line which is deemed safe from projectiles. Each attacking team will get three shots with their siege weapon and one shot either thrown or kicked. There are three targets worth 10, 25, and 50 points placed on the castle. A miss of a target but a hit on the castle is worth 5 points, but a complete miss is worth none. Team Nooi elects to attack first, and starts positioning their slingshot.

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Nooi works together to fire their first shot.

The first shot lands about halfway between the slingshot and the castle. Nooi hopes for the ball to roll and hit the castle (a valid hit). However, the ball is launched with backspin which causes the ball to stop forward progress upon impact. Nooi prepares for a second shot, hoping for a better outcome.

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The second shot is similar to the first; Piki's castle still stands tall. Nooi sets up for the final shot. The pin is pulled and the ball sails farther, but the distance is not enough. Nooi's score comes down to the kick or throw. Jasper is chosen to represent his team, and he decides to kick the ball.

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The shot misses just left of the castle. With 4 misses, Nooi receives 0 points. Now, it's time to see if Piki can do any better.

Without a proper holder for the ball, it is tough for team Piki to launch the ball effectively. The first shot bounces short of the pinecone moat. It rolls for a bit, but is stopped by the moat. To the delight of team Nooi, the pinecone moat has served a functional purpose. The second and third shots produce similar outcomes.

Like Nooi, Piki's score comes down to the kick or throw. Nate is chosen to represent team Piki. Due to Nooi's wall, Nate is forced to throw the ball.

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The throw sails to the right of the castle, meaning Piki scores 0 points.

The siege ends in a tie which feels like a fitting end to a week full of equal effort from both teams. Still recovering from the excitement of the siege, we reset the worksite and head down for dinner.

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We close the night with a fire and s'mores. Memories from the week are shared and jokes are cracked. Tired out from the day we head to sleep, some of us in our castles.

TSO-C/D - Day 5 - The Rush Before The Siege

Tinkering School StaffComment
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Another beautiful day at Elkus Ranch, thankfully, because Thursdays are the hardest days here at camp. We just had a nice relaxing day at the beach and now we have to wind ourselves back up to start working. 

In the morning, the Queen gave out coins for things the Royal Court noticed on Tuesday (another tough working day!) and had us reflect on all the good things that happened. Members of Piki were rewarded for extensive tinkering on their ballista, being dedicated workers, pushing through tough situations when they arose, and getting a second story up on their castle without collaborator oversight. Members of Nooi were rewarded for asking "How Can I Help?" (it's our favorite question!), being willing to help at a moment's notice, working on a kingdom crest, and making mistakes and learning from them. Then, feeling refreshed, we went up the hill.

Team Piki started off with a meeting at the top of their castle. The whole team can fit on the top, to everyone's excitement. What will we work on today? Who will work on it?

Over in the Forest Kingdom, Zachary of Nooi lays out his plan for a slingshot-like weapon. 

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Savan and Kaitlyn discuss what needs to happen with the Nooi castle. The front wall is up and the roof is stable, but it still needs work. 

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The slingshot tower gets supports...

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...and Zachary approves.

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Meanwhile, Piki plays a vertical game of Twister while working out an idea for a giant wall made of bungee cords. The idea is that you'll be able to climb it and the ballistics will bounce off of it. Solid enough idea.

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The team soon discovers just how much work this will require. They scrap the idea in favor of a solid rock climbing wall.

The Piki offense team is working hard on their ballista. They have a groove down and an understanding of what needs to happen. They test along the way, and soon...

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The force of their [scary] powerful ballista tore apart an attachment point on their temporary structure. The team has been discussing safety precautions all along the way so no one will be injured, and this was still the case.

Later, when that piece has been replaced, the other arm starts coming together. Their system seems complex from the outside, but the ballista team understands its workings very well. 

Nearby, Alice is pleased with how Piki's Sun Unicorn crest is coming along.

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And with new ideas about how they'll fabricate their walls, Vince and Katherine tag-team sawing off some excess wood. Teamwork!!

Back on the Nooi side of things, Jasper gets the weapon tower ready for the mechanism that will allow their sling shot to aim.

Julie holds the mechanism while Jasper knocks some bolts into place. This mechanism lets them swivel vertically and horizontally. 

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Kaitlyn and Savan work on making their ladder safer with metal brackets.

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Eisen jumps in to help attach a tricky base support for the railings that will be installed later today. Shown: a classic partner drill push.

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Continuing with their world building this week, Victoria and Onion decide to create a moat. Filled with pine cones. They ask Collaborator Caroline what the verb is for a pick axe. She tells them it's "picking axe," and they do not find this humorous. They tell her to go collect pine cones as punishment.

 The pine cone moat, after a long afternoon of digging. "Also," Onion said decisively and seemingly out of the blue, referring to Victoria, "she's not the wife of a wealthy merchant. She's a peasant with a dream." This blogger enjoys these moments of sheer confusion.

The pine cone moat, after a long afternoon of digging. "Also," Onion said decisively and seemingly out of the blue, referring to Victoria, "she's not the wife of a wealthy merchant. She's a peasant with a dream." This blogger enjoys these moments of sheer confusion.

Alice and Mads discuss their trapezoid's upcoming sleeping arrangements. Alice makes the point that if they each have their own separate sleeping locations instead of a gender division, then they won't have to explain what gender is to their spider friends, especially since they're not sure how to tell a boy spider from a girl spider.

It is getting pretty late at night, so here's a whole bunch of delightful photos from today with no captions! Everyone was working so hard but the main things here are that Piki's main walls went up and became a functional climbing wall and Nooi's beautiful crest got attached to their wall.

Several tests of the Piki ballista happened, and the mechanism is so well constructed that we had to have yet another discussion of safety during these testing moments. Check out the motion blur in these photos!

There was also an impromptu pull up contest.

The Nooi slingshot system had a few tests but the final one was the most interesting. After getting the pulley system up higher, they pulled their sling back nice and tight and suddenly --! something snapped. When we went to check, we realized that the weakest part of the system was the sling itself, which tore itself apart. Tomorrow, we'll see what we can do to fix that.

And finally, the Piki ballista team stayed late into the evening to get both arms attached. Pictures tomorrow! We just finished playing another giant round of Dungeons & Dragons, we have a belly full of delicious mac & cheese, and it's time for bed. Tomorrow: THE SIEGE

TSO-C/D - Day 4 - A Sandctioned Break

Tinkering School StaffComment

The morning is filled with rushing around in preparation for the beach. Sunscreen is applied, swim suits are put on, and sandwiches are made.

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Right before we leave, Daniel gives the beach day introduction filled with theatrics. Beach safety is the primary topic.

Beach day provides much needed break for both tinkerers and collaborators. We set up a base camp and set out to explore the beach. Throughout the day, we engage in a variety of activities from sand castle building to cliff scaling.

Tinkerers rush to the waves only to discover that the water is very cold.

An intense game of ninja is started. Sand sprays everywhere with each move.

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Team Piki tries to recruit a horse for their kingdom.

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Near the ocean, a dying crab is rescued. We name the crab Boris and care for it for the rest of the day.

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Sand burials are a beach day classic.

Julie and Hunter work on a sand kingdom.

Portrait of a collaborator: Caroline

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"If you see a piece of fruit and you want it, you must eat it" in action.

Exhausted and sandy we head back for Elkus. Showers and evening games are in order. A Dungeons and Dragons campaign is started and a marble track is built.

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After watching The Princess Bride, we head to sleep tired. Tomorrow, we will resume work on our castles and siege weapons.

TSO-C/D - Day 3 - Building Up Defenses

Tinkering School StaffComment

Tuesday morning brings a new decree from the queen. In it, there is a map of the two kingdoms and an announcement that points will be awarded for certain feats. The decree motivates the teams to get to work.

Tinkerers are eager start right back from where they left off.

Team Piki gets to work on the energy source of their ballista. They decide to start with bungee, but later on move to rope for more power.

When twisted, the ropes want to untwist which provides the energy for the ballista.

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Jasper works on building the frame for Nooi's ballista which will stand above the forest floor.

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To make the frame more structurally sound, they use 4x4s as posts. The posts serve a double purpose as they will be the connection points for the bungee of Nooi's ballista.

Back in the Sun Kingdom, team Piki devises a plan to put their ballista on a rolling platform. 

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It rolls!

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The swings around our build site are a perfect place to take a break from building.

Piki's castle has started to resemble more of a pyramid. A tower rises in the center of the square base and diagonal supports connect to the top of the tower.

Vince cuts out the trap door for the tower.

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Arianna fastens a ladder to the top of Piki's tower.

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Victoria starts a crest for the Forest Kingdom.

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Onion paints the crest and uses wood shavings as leaves of the tree.

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Time to tension and begin to test Piki's ballista!

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After playing around with tension and feeling the power, team Piki decides they need more power. They decide to use 8 strands surrounding the ballista arm instead of the current 4. On Thursday, they plan to redesign and reinforce the boxes housing the torsion springs.

By the end of the day, both teams have platforms that can support people. However, there is still plenty to do to satisfy the queen.

Nooi's fort in the forest at the end of the day stands tall.

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So does Piki's

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Nooi's ballista is coming together!

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Much progress was made today, and there are many changes to be made in the coming days. Tomorrow we will take a break from our projects and spend a day at the beach.

TSO-C/D - Day 2 - The Queen's Challenge

Tinkering School StaffComment

We woke up to blue skies, and we made our way into the conference center for breakfast. Fueled by eggs, waffles, and cereal, we are ready for the exciting day ahead of us. Today, we will learn our groups and the project. 

After we finished breakfast and ran through the dish line, we gathered in the center of the conference center to learn the groups for the upcoming week. This week's groups are:

Team Piki:

  • Project Leads: Jack and Ara
  • Spencer
  • Katherine
  • Hunter
  • Mads
  • Vince
  • Alice
  • Nate
  • Arianna

Team Nooi:

  • Project Leads: Kaitlyn and PK
  • Savan
  • Jasper
  • Olivia
  • Luke
  • Onion
  • Eisen
  • Victoria
  • Zachary

With groups announced, we split into them and developed group agreements.

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Once ideas are gathered and written down, it's time to sign the agreements.

With group agreements signed, it's finally time for the big project reveal. This week's project is ... *drumroll* ... Castle Siege! Our queen, Caroline, has issued a challenge to the Sun Kingdom and the Forest Kingdom with a reward of a large sum. The two teams must each build a castle (defense) and a weapon (offense) to prepare for a battle on Friday. Points are awarded to each team for the castle's size and style and the weapon's accuracy. Points can be taken away for using more than the allotted amount of certain materials such as 1/2 inch plywood.

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Both teams are excited to begin designing, but we first need to decide which team will be the Sun Kingdom and the Forest Kingdom. For that, we turn to the third rule of Tinkering School (Roshambo). Luke represents Nooi and Hunter represents Piki. Luke wins the duel and decides with his team to be the Forest Kingdom.

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It's now time to design and throw around ideas in the newly formed teams.

Arianna and Alice sketch castle ideas.

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Eisen and Luke discuss castle ideas for Nooi.

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Filled with ideas and ambition, we head up the hill to continue designing and start setting the first pieces of the project into motion.

Team Piki elects to build a ballista powered by ropes twisted tightly (called a torsion spring), and for their castle, they are taking inspiration from the unicorn.

Jack, Hunter, Nate, and Mads look into using wheels as part of their ballista.

In the woods, team Nooi decides to build off of the trees. They are aiming high with plans to build two stories above the forest floor. For their siege weapon, Nooi wants to build a ballista too. However, they plan to harness the energy of bungee cords in their design.

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Katherine measures an existing structure as a potential starting point for Piki's castle, but because it will cost the team 50 points to use, they decide against using it.

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As we aren't allowed to drill into the trees, we have to use the strategy of lashing.

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Zachary assembles a ladder to reach the top of a tree Nooi wants to explore.

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Jasper and PK work on building a platform that Nooi's ballista will rest upon.

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Vince and Katherine start work on the base of Piki's castle.

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By the end of the day, they have a foundation for their tower.

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In the midst of all the work there is still time to play.

Onion decides to make a bow and arrow with a stick she found and a piece of bungee.

Worn out, we leave our projects and make our way back to base camp to eat and play. Riding carts down the hill is a highlight for many campers.

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Unfortunately our cart adventures end with fixes needed. Spencer and Zachary look into the problem

We finish the day exhausted and retire to the yurts for the night. Tomorrow, we will start a whole new day of ideas and progress.

TSO-C/D - Day 1 - Rules and Tools

Tinkering School StaffComment

A new week of Tinkering School is upon us! New campers rush into the conference center where they are greeted by inviting faces, warm cookies, and slices of watermelon. While we wait for everyone to arrive, we play around with tinkering kits, lock picks, and new games. Campers settle into their yurts (this week named after Hogwarts houses), and they prepare dish bags for the week. There is a shared excitement in anticipation of the coming week.

Mads and Olivia explore how to light an LED.

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Vince frees himself from a cuff made for lock picking and Hunter attempts to crack a pin tumbler lock.

Savan presents a paper crane to Kaitlyn (one of collaborators).

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We discover a typewriter, but unfortunately only some of the keys work. Luke and Spencer troubleshoot the issue, and they decide that opening it is the best option for fixing it.

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Zachary takes a closer look at the problem.

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Once all the campers have arrived and settled, we enter our opening circle where we do introductions and review the 3 rules of Tinkering School:

1. Don't hurt yourself or anyone else.

2. If you see a piece of fruit and you want it, you must eat it.

3. Roshambo with no funny business (dynamite, gun, dog, rocket, etc.).

6. We don't talk about it.

With the rules understood, we grab hats, water bottles, and sunscreen and walk up the hill to our build site for tool training.

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Upon arriving at the top of the hill, we split into four groups to rotate between:

  1. Tour of the build site
  2. Drill training
  3. Drill practice
  4. Clamp training
  5. Chop saw training

Onion and Hunter play around with clamp positioning while trying see how many pieces of wood they can extend from a post of the shop.

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Olivia and Arianna add to the collection of pieces of wood down the line.

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Mads practices using a driver to make a strong connection.

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Onion lines up two pieces of wood, attempting to achieve the perfect fit.

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Spencer makes a practice cut on the chop saw.

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Jasper focuses on making his cut.

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After all the campers have practiced with the tools, we head back down the hill for dinner and an evening challenge. A raging river stands in the way of the campers. The river is filled with turtles that sink when stepped on and stones that don't (both represented by masking tape Xs), but the campers don't know which are turtles and which are stones. They must work together to find a safe path across the river.

Alice takes the first step into the raging river.

After our evening challenge, campers get a chance to play and wind down before it's time to sleep. We make hot cocoa and homemade whipped cream as an evening treat. Tomorrow morning we'll reveal project groups and the project provocation.

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TSO-B - Day 6 - We Did It!

Tinkering School Staff1 Comment

After working through the morning and afternoon, it was finally time to put our mechanisms to the test and infiltrate the Bank Tower to capture the Big Beloved Jewel. We huddled as a band of spies and plotted our break-in...

Olivia pretended that the Jewel-Grabber tool was a beautiful hat to evade the Bank Security and wandered into the Outhouse... 

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Kanden and Ahaan used a winch to crank down the drawbridge leading to the Bank Tower...

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Meanwhile, Charlie and Anabella distracted Inspector Lyle so he wouldn't notice the action upstairs... 

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The burglars skittered across the drawbridge...

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Olivia held the pulley steady while Ronin hopped onto the seat...

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Ronin peered over the laser security...

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...and after many attempts at grabbing the jewel... 

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...he finally secured it...

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...and dropped it safely into a zipline bucket, which soared over the forest and into the hands of Solani...

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...who ran it to our getaway car drivers...

...and they sped away!

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Bank Security was displeased with our successful performance. 

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An epic day, ending an epic week.

TSO-B - Day 5 - Bit by Bit

Tinkering School Staff2 Comments
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Today began with The Safety Inspector, who looked an awful lot like Caroline with a paracord mustache, visiting each project group and pushing them to think more intensely about structural integrity. It was the day in the build process where the challenges got a little bit more specific, deeper, and challenging. 

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Anabella and Ronin nearly finished their grabber tool. At first, the eight grabby fingers jammed against each other and they couldn't hold onto objects, but once they removed a few digits and added some sandpaper, they could grip apples and headphones and just about anything. 

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The getaway car group confronted a challenge with their steering mechanism which didn't seem to move in sync with their handlebar. They tinkered it with it all afternoon until it worked.

Ashley even began work on a zip line bungee chair, which sounds like the most awesome thing ever!  

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After a visit with the Safety Inspector, the Outhouse group further stabilized their structure, adding a bunch of diagonal beams and a ladder to their structure. Finally, they passed Sharpies around the camp site and asked folks to tag their bathroom so it looked extra uninviting to any suspicious passerbys.    

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The pulley group, led by Ahaan, added more surface area to the bank tower rooftop so our burglars can more safely scooch onto the pulley seat and nab the Big Beautiful Jewel. 

Midway through the day, I passed off my camera to various kids who cruised through the woods and throughout the build site, snapping gorgeous portraits of each other. I believe that a photograph often reveals the relationship between the cameraperson and its subject — and if these photos are any indication, there's a lot of love among this group. 

TSO-B - Day 4 - A Distinct Kind of Tired

Tinkering School Staff3 Comments
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There's a distinct kind of tired that sinks into your bones after a day at Redondo Beach, after treading through tide pools and scavenging for hermit crabs, after climbing cliffs and picking up rocks for geology experiments, after getting buried in sand up to your neck and getting sunburnt up to your shin, after tossing holi powder into the air and showering our bodies in green and red and blue, after blowing smoke circles with the fog machine and flinging LED helicopters and baking cookies for ice cream sandwiches and mummy-wrapping ourselves in toilet paper and dancing until late into the night. We are all feeling that kind of tired right now, and so we're going to go to bed. The Heist will resume tomorrow...

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TSO-B - Day 3 - A Day Filled With Hard Fun

Tinkering School Staff3 Comments

After dinner, as a few of us huddled around Caroline for a portrait drawing lesson while Daniel queued up another Wallace and Gromit short, I asked a couple kids about their favorite moments of the day. I think it was Raquel who said it was when the ropes holding up her skybench snapped and she almost plummeted a half dozen feet to the forest floor. She re-tied it with the help of Sofia and some others and now they're finally on their second iteration. When I asked Ashley, she said she almost wanted to say it was when she touched stinging nettles down by the creek and had to slather her hand with aloe to cool the burn, but that probably it was adding the steering mechanism to the getaway car. Olivia loved practicing slowing down her pulley technique so that the jewel thief wouldn't death-drop down the 12' tall bank tower. These answers perfectly capture what makes Tinkering School Overnight special. Kids get to take risks here, make mistakes, and then learn from them, celebrate them, make themselves and their projects so much better. 

"We learn best and we work best if we enjoy what we are doing. But fun and enjoying doesn’t mean 'easy.' The best fun is hard fun."  - Seymour Papert

From early this morning, today was brimming with moments of hard fun. The Spies of Tinkering School Overnight received yet another piece of confidential intel in which we learned that the bank had heightened security by adding a laser perimeter and camera system. As we marched uphill to our build site, we had to consider ways to adjust our project designs to overcome these parameters. 


With some help from Julie, we revised the design of the pulley seat so that it was more stable, comfortable, and could hold more weight.  We tested it with the lightest kids first, of course (Ronin then Olivia). We also added a second pulley system connected to a snack bucket so we could eat our goldfish and graham crackers on top of the bank in case we became hungry mid-heist.


Nearby, Ronin partnered with Anabella to construct more wooden finger-grabbers to nab the jewel. They took turns drilling and being a human clamp. At one point, half their plywood snapped but they kept going.

Kanden and Tal worked with Kaitlyn and Caroline to erect their fake Starbucks, which may or may not now be referred to as "The Outhouse." They added an escape hatch on the top lined with foam for an easy (and comfy) climb up to the roof, and covered the walls in plywood so outsiders couldn't peek in to see our top-secret burglary equipment. 

Charlie, Sonali, and Ashley made some epic progress with their getaway car and figured out a steering mechanism, which involved several iterations of a steering wheel and lots of angle grinding steel axels. 

"Play is the child's most serious work." - Edith Ackermann

We worked so hard today that we retired to our campsite an hour early. Soon we were busy with a whole new slew of games and goof-offs. Charlie decapitated many foes during a pool noodle duel. Solin strutted her whittling skills (and later used her pointy stick as a crawdad harpoon in the creek.) Anabella and Ronin continued their partnership as they balance-beam tip-toed over ranch fences and tree branches. We learned that Henry told lots of mysterious stories, Seb was expert at making volcanoes out of dirt, Ahaan displayed quite an arm for ultimate frisbee and spiral-tossing footballs, Sonali contained encyclopedic knowledge of Taylor Swift, and Raquel type-wrote the sweetest letters home to Mom and Dad ("i kind of miss you," she wrote).  

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I'm sure we all kind of miss our families and friends back home, but for now, things are going pretty well..

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TSO-B - Day 2 - The Heist of the Beloved Big Jewel Begins

Tinkering School Staff1 Comment
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I didn't plan to be the first person awake this morning, but something about the day two jitters led me to slink out my yurt at 5 am. Pretty soon thereafter, kids and Collaborators started to wake up like popcorn heating up in the microwave. First it was Miriam and Reilly, pouring themselves morning coffee, and then - pop-pop-pop - half of the "Death Star" was in the Conference Center itching to get into an epic pool noodle thwacking battle. Daniel, Tal, and Ashley started to make us all pancakes, waffles, and scrambled eggs. I played an extra-long game of Crazy Chess with Solin and we speculated if the game would be improved if every piece could move like the Queen. All this before 8 am, before we brushed our teeth and changed out of our pajamas, and before we received the confidential telegram with information about our heist. 

In the morning, Kaitlyn received a secret note addressed to the Spies of Tinkering School Overnight, which instructed us that "our mission was to devise three mechanisms that will allow us to steal the Beloved Big Jewel and make a getaway." Yesterday, we had fiddled about with gears in the conference center, leafed through David Macauley's How Things Work, and spotted some bins of pulleys in the shop, and today was our opportunity to put our skills to the test.

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The first part of the mission was to make a mechanism that could GET US IN to the bank. We heard that the bank was several feet tall and we needed to have a moving mechanism that could get agents up and over the bank walls. We decided to build a fake Starbucks next to the bank equipped with a rooftop drawbridge that would lower down on top of the bank and give us easy access to the Beloved Big Jewel. No one would see that coming!

The first step was to play around with pulleys, build a frame for the Starbucks building, and capture Nibbles the Trained Beetle, who quickly became the group mascot and would be deployed into the bank to defuse security.

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The second part of the mission was to make a mechanism that could GRAB THE BELOVED BIG JEWEL from inside the bank. We learned that the jewel was about the size of an apple and very fragile so it couldn't be dropped. We needed a mechanism that could be used to scoop, grab, latch on to, or otherwise obtain the jewel and get out of the bank structure without a trace.

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We wanted a Mission Impossible-style drop-down swing, but quickly discovered that it took four people's muscles to lift one Ronin and that the bank vault was a very treacherous structure to drop down from without a ladder. Soon we added two more pulleys to our system and Henry coached Ronin through some advanced parkour maneuvers for a safe escape. We also built a ladder that, after three or so iterations, was finally tall enough to reach the top of the bank tower, and Anabella single-handedly devised an ingenious grabber-tool mechanism that I totally forgot to photograph!

The final part of the mission was to make a mechanism that could GET US AWAY from the bank and could transport at least two people with the jewel in hand back to our hideout at the bottom of the hill. Under Jack's steady leadership, this small but mighty team whipped up a frame for their getaway car and made a lot of sparks in the process.

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So many other lovely moments today...

Like when Raquel and Sofia hoisted their homemade Sky Bench into the forest trees... 

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Like when we stuck our fingers to a slimy banana slug and it was totally gross but also totally awesome...

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Like when Dade saw a pile of skateboard wheels and immediately began working on a homemade skateboard or when Lucy serendipitously color-matched her puffy coat to her protective eyewear...

Or when we rummaged around the creek, splashing in the water, and luring crawfish towards us with a piece of pepperoni attached to a pipe cleaner. We even caught a couple and brought them home for a little low-country boil. Another day....

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TSO-B - Day 1 - Codenames, Blackberries, and Wagon Rides

Tinkering School Staff10 Comments
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Ahoy families, loved ones, and other far-flung friends,

My name is Sam and I will be your blogger and trusted guide this week. I hope to capture and share with you as many moments from Overnight Camp as I can - of projects coming together in spectacular ways (and of them falling apart, too!), of exuberant inspiration and delirious silliness, of friendships blossoming, and of tinkering in its many joyful forms. At this very moment, as I write you, all of the kids and Collaborators are huddled together in the conference center, sipping hot chocolate and munching on a post-dinner watermelon slice. A few are playing Bananagrams. Daniel's showing a group how to make whipped cream with a drill-powered whisk. Others are hunched over the communal table, deeply immersed in a Roald Dahl book. Like some of the campers, this is my first week ever at camp and it's clear that this is a special place where everyone can be themselves, try new things, and feel at peace amid the goats and roosters of Elkus Ranch. I can't wait for the rest of the week to reveal itself, but first, let's look back at today...

Today got started, as first days of camp tend to do, with campers and their families checking in, setting up their sleeping areas, and selecting a code name. In our community, we have now welcomed a "Sour Head", a "Crash", a "Tsunami", a "Mochi", a "Minifig", and even a "Danielsaurus" - among many others. Caroline, Reilly, and Luke got straight to work, brainstorming code names for the yurts we'll be living in this week - all Star Wars-themed: the "Millennium Falcon", "Death Star", and the "Forest Planet of Endor".  (At night, if you squint a little, the yurts do look a little bit like Uncle Ben's hut from Tatooine.) 

In the conference center, Seb and Ronin fiddled with a cardboard box and differently-sized gears to design wobble-mobiles that rolled, launched, and crash-landed into a pile of straws and strawberry baskets. 

Anabella worked with her family to build an incredible machine creature with a snout that could rotate 360 degrees. 

And Olivia built a drawing tool that transformed from a marker into a pencil into an eraser depending on the direction you twisted the gear.

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Once we all settled in, we walked up the hill together to the build site and oriented ourselves to our new tools. Jack and Caroline taught us about the three things a drill can be used for ("pushing a screw in, pulling a screw out, and making holes") and why we avoid "victory drilling" (pulling the drill trigger as a celebratory practice - unsafe.) Julie provoked us to build a free-standing tower taller than she was out of scrap wood and clamps. And Kaitlyn showed us how to safely use the chop-saw. Kids leaned on each other to hold their wood secure, to lift an 8' beam into the sky, and to ensure everyone stood ready with a thumbs-up sign before making their cuts. 

Oh - and Daniel took us on a tour around the ranch and showed us the very important distinction between poison oak and blackberries, which we all found delicious, especially Anabella!

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As we traveled down the hill back to the conference center for dinner, we discovered new ways to make the trek faster and more fun: riding belly-down on Reilly's back, cruising in the wagon, and hanging out the sun roof of Loren's car, arms flapping in the breeze. The walk back I've been told is precisely the length of seven flights of stairs. It doesn't feel that long when you're riding or cruising or flapping - or when there's goats to say hello to - or when you're with people that you love. 

It's the end of Day 1 and everyone's tucked away, except Daniel and Charlie who are playing one last round of late-night checkers. Cleaning up the conference center, I found a blueprint that Seb drew at the very end of dinner for a new kind of wagon that the "Death Star" (the boys' yurt) will start to build tomorrow. I didn't understand the drawing at first until Seb explained it to me. I can't wait to see it start to take shape tomorrow. There are very few things in life more beautiful than watching someone's passionate idea become real. 

Until then...

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TSO-A - Day 6- The Final Push...

Tinkering School StaffComment

Weeks really do fly by at the Tinkering School. Well, at least this week did. The campers are just heading back from their last build, tired and satisfied [for the most part]. Some might go back and fine tune their projects later to get ready for their final tests tomorrow, before they take their projects apart. One of the many wonderful things about the Tinkering School is the process of taking the projects apart at the end of the camp, leaving only the experience [and MANY photos] to take back. This physical act of taking apart projects represents the importance of experience and not the final product; it is all about the fun had, things learnt, and experiences had. 

Today, Piki further refined their project by changing the rope used, adding a crank and looking at different ways to hoist the chair [one pulley or two]. They used fish wire to connect two ropes together since the length was not adequate. Fish wire is used because it is much stronger than other wire and can bear up to 65 lb of weight. They also worked to make the ride smoother and decorated the chair. This project seems good to go for the tests tomorrow. 

Nooi has been working really hard. They faced significant challenges today both structurally and mechanically. They had to add even more support on the top of the structure since it was the one actually pulling the elevator, which was quite challenging because they had to work at an elevation of 10 feet and had to trust their structure [we made sure it was safe of course]. Some of them spent the day working on the mechanisms and figured out the pulley system that they will use. They changed rope plans many times as well and decided to use the block and tackle pulley system. After a long, hard day of work their system works smoothly and happily!

Kablooi worked on refining their elevator system and they are done as well [almost... all they have to do is test it or a final time]! They worked on making the ride smoother, decorated the elevator. It is wonderful to see their group come together like this and I am happy to say that they worked passed their issues and have created something that goes up!

It was such a wonderful week and as a blogger, I was able to observe the workings of Tinkering School. I am excited to see what the coming weeks have in store for me and I look forward to interacting with campers more as a collaborator than a blogger. 

We are having a bonfire tonight to conclude camp and spend the last night together singing songs and having a good time..
To say goodbye, here are some more silly photos of us having a good time....

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