Scrapheap-tastic

technology

I'm an ardent admirer of Scrapheap Challenge - the show where two teams have to construct some kind of contraption entirely out of scrap to compete in a head-to-head challenge. Sunday's Grand Final was an absolute classic. One of the fascinating things about the show is that the two teams often come up with two utterly different engineering solutions to the same problem. The other is that their designs often go disastrously and hilariously wrong.

This week, the teams had to build a machine to fling a Mini as far as possible. This was a great start - an utterly pointless task, which had huge potential for things to go spectacularly wrong. The Cat-alysts, a slick team from Jaguar, produced a fittingly sophisticated ramped design. The Mini sat on a trolley sliding along a monorail, which was then propelled up and sproinged (this being the technical term, you understand) off the ramp by a giant hank of knicker elastic. In contrast, the Barley Pickers (farmers from the West Country) produced a very rustic design. It was a trebuchet (a giant welly wanger) made out of huge telegraph poles, a steel beam, and a skip full of 4 tonnes of lead. The lead-filled skip as raised up on the end of the see-saw like beam, and held in place with a chain attached to the base of the contraption with a pin. The plan then was that the pin would be pulled out, the pin-puller would run like hell, and a piece of classic British automotive design (attached to the other end of the beam) would be wanged over the top of the frame and flung forwards. Let's consider the merits of the two designs: the Cat-alysts' design was pretty complicated, with plenty of things to go wrong, but if it worked it should work very well. The Barley Pickers' trebuchet was about as subtle as a brick - it might not work brilliantly, but it should do something.

The Cat-alysts went first, but their elastic got released too early, and the trolley bounced gently and uneventfully up and down the ramp. The Mini went nowhere. Then the Barley Pickers had their turn. Their team member pulled the pin, and the whole thing totally self-destructed itself in a spectacular manner. The Mini did indeed get flung a short way from the wreckage, but not in the intended direction. The Captain of the team (catchphrase - "Praaper Job!"), being a proper boy - and therefore finding complete demolition as rewarding as success - fell about laughing.

In the end the Cat-alysts won by default, as their second go resulted in the Mini being sproinged a reasonable distance, but that's not really the point. The whole thing was fantastically fun, irrespective of the result.

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