I had a dream last night, and I blame an overload of cooking challenge shows. We watch a lot of them. Top Chef, Masterchef, Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, etc.
The one thing my wife and I have always wondered is, just how honest are they? The judging is purely subjective. Sure, we can see how a dish looked, but we have no earthly idea how they tasted. The producers can influence the judges to pick based not solely on taste but also on who would generate the most drama to keep viewers butts in seats for the next round/episode. And who would know? Even when they have multiple tasters, most of the important eliminations rely on the judges alone to decide.
Who can say? I sure don’t know how they taste, and I don’t really care what someone else thought of most food. I think most people are idiots anyway, what do I care what they thought? I’ll be the judge of who should have won! Except in TV cooking shows, of course, I can’t be.
Okay, moving past my throwing down the gauntlet and accusing cooking competitions of being unethical, dishonest and biased, let’s get to the show I was in last night… in my dreams.
In my dream, I was in a massive room filled with workbenches, similar to the openness and size of the arena of Masterchef. Gordon Ramsey was the judge walking around exhorting everyone, so you can see I am indeed insane.
I was one of the contestants, standing at my workbench, but instead of culinary ingredients, I had bins filled with electrical parts, wires, breadboards, small motors, gears, etc. Instead of chef’s knives and cuisinarts, I had soldering iron, o’scope, multimeter, etc.
I wasn’t a contestant on a cooking challenge. I was competing in a tinkering competition!
Ramsey was calling out, “You have thirty minutes to build a battery powered vehicle that can travel at least 15 feet, using only the materials in your bins. At the end of the thirty minutes, we’ll match all of your vehicles in a head to head race, and the fastest vehicle to cross the finish line wins! Tinkers, your time starts now!”
I looked up at the main floor, where on Masterchef you’d see the example dish or whatever, and saw that a track was laid out, level and flat, with lanes marked out by slats of wood high enough to keep cars from going off track and bumping into each other. So, I could see I had to build something that used batteries for power that could fit in a channel about 12” wide, could go fast, and wouldn’t get slowed down by sidewall drag, so right off I knew I’d need to put some roller bumpers on the sides too.
But it’s gotta use batteries but be faster than everyone else and have enough power to keep up that speed to make it across the finish line! I started rummaging on my workstation. What do I have for parts?
All we had for batteries were 2 ‘C’ cell batteries, so I started scrambling to sort through the bin of small motors for a good match, thinking about making a thin frame of aluminum slats for lightness with rigidity, and then I woke up.
It was a good dream. Would have liked to have seen what I came up with.
Now I can’t get the idea of a Top Tinker show out of my head, so I’m dumping it all on you. Based on personal experience, fifteen minutes after this post goes live I’ll never think of it again.
I keep thinking about how much I like the concept. Instead of a cooking competition, have a tinkering competition!
One thing you can’t argue with, the viewers at home will certainly know exactly who won. You lose some of the suspense when you can see who won immediately without having to wait for ten minutes for the judges to reveal who they picked, but how satisfying would it be to spotlight what was built and how the builds performed in competition?
How especially awesome to hear the challenge and think of what you’d try, since so many things in tinkering can be done multiple ways.
Yes, I just now realized I’m describing a variation on a Junkyard Wars show, without the large scale builds or dependence on quality of scrap scavenging. Damnit. No, it took me until now to make the connection.
Still, I’ve been having a ton of fun the last half hour imagining the kinds of things benchtop tinkers could be challenged to make in head to head challenges.
“Your fastbuild challenge, using the parts on your bench, build a 1.5kHz tone signal generator. The first one to get the correct signal to register on their oscilloscope wins.”
I know, I know. I’m sure it sounds boring to those not of the Radio Shack set out there, but I also thought of a variation on the show, one that might be a bit more fun to watch, but it’s obviously not the one I was dreaming.
How about this for an actual show;
For a working title I’d call it “The MacGyver”, but there is no way you could name a competition after an actual adventure TV show, even if everyone knows what MacGyvering is but few still alive remember the original show the term came from. Maybe call it TechnoTrap.
It would still be a tinkering show, ideally sponsored by Radio Shack because come on, but it would have a theme; technology, gadgets, and super spies.
You would have a scenario related to the Hollywood idea of superspies, James Bond gadget wizardry stuff, and the challenge would be related to building a gadget out of parts for getting out of the scenario.
The skills needed would include electronics design and breadboarding on the fly, but I think challenges including a slightly more complex version of the Lego Mindstorm robot building, manipulating drones and remotes/servos, all remote controls, all those twists could add some variety.
Okay, like what kinds of challenges?
Well, as an example, you are a prisoner in a cell, with bins of stuff just like Tony Stark in his cave in the first Iron Man. You have a cell door you could burn through, except you don’t have a striker to ignite your hand torch.
There is a prisoner in the cell next to you, and he has a striker, but there is no way to get it.
There is a mousehole that connects the two cells through a stone wall. You can’t just make a long stick to poke through, because there are a couple of gentle bends.
The challenge is to build something that will negotiate the mouse tunnel to the other cell, through at least two gentle turns, so that the other prisoner can put the striker on it/tie the striker to it and then send it back to you.
Or another example, you are in a hotel room, and on the other side of the wall a group is having an ultra secret meeting talking about their drug cartel money laundering. They are discussing how they get their money out of the bank, but you can’t make out what they’re saying.
The challenge? Use the parts in your tech kit to build a microphone with amplifier and speaker so that you can amplify the sounds from the other room through the wall loud enough to make out what they’re saying. Listen in until you hear them state the password they use to access their account. Then YOU enter that password into your laptop right there. Fastest one to enter the code wins the challenge.
Another idea for a challenge, take a drone with camera, modify it with remote triggers, servos and stuff so that you can add a small dart launcher to it, and shoot a stuffed target simulating you shooting a dart filled with sleeping toxin into a sentry from around the corner.
I’m sorry, I know it’s a goofy idea for a show, but I keep having fun with it. There are so many different fun challenges you could come up with to test someone’s innovation with parts, skill at design and building, knowledge of electronics and tinkering, and imagination at coming up with a way to get the job done.
And when you watch the show, damnit you’d know if someone succeeded or not!
On further consideration, maybe I shouldn’t describe my dreams anymore. This can’t be coming off as the thoughts of a sane person.
Top Tinker, damnit!