For the past three years the Robowranglers have been in a prank war with our friends the Robonauts...
This year, the Robowranglers struck a decisive blow. Operation Playhouse.
Here is how it happened...
It all started in 2009 -- 118 built a robot that couldn't pickup a ball from the floor (148 built a horrible robot, but it did have a floor pickup). As a joke we took some of our spare sheet-metal, riveted together one of our intakes, and zip tied it onto 118's robot with a note: "It seemed like your robot was missing something." They liked it so much they left it on for a qual match. ;-)
Ever since then our two teams have gone back and forth. It has been hilarious. In my opinion 118 has been winning. My favorite one so far was when our crate got back to IFI from Championship and all the "148s" on the side had been modified into "118s". Hilarious. The intake we left on their robot in 2009?
They disassembled it, sandblasted off the black powdercoat, gold annodized it, and gave it back. They placed it on top of a giant Robonaut logo sticker which they stuck to the floor of our Championship pit (we couldn't get it back up).
Brief aside -- the Robonauts also studied our sheetmetal, and began using it themselves...
This year in San Antonio the Robonauts tried to trick the judges into giving us the Coopertition Award. They claimed they had used a 148 minibot successfully in a few matches. We thought this was hilarious, Bill Miller (Emperor of FRC) did not.
After San Antonio a few of us decided that we couldn't wait until the last minute to plan a prank this year. We started brainstorming and came up with a unique idea: "What if we set fire to 118's robot." Once we put a little more thought into it, we realized this wasn't the best idea...
Fill 118's pit with balls. Turn the robot pit, into a ball pit.
Did you know that if you google "how many balls does it take to fill" you get some very helpful links?
I discussed the concept with the team, and everyone seemed pretty excited by it. Basically... no one could believe we'd actually do something like that. It became one of those situations where we HAD to do it just because it was such a cool idea.
So... we did it. We decided filling the entire 118 area was impractical, so we decided to make a smaller pit. Our plan was to make a 6-foot diameter, 3-foot tall ring out of 063 smoked Lexan. I ran some numbers, bought 3,000 playpen balls, and away we go. We started calling it "Operation Playhouse."
When I was up in CT for work I hung out with my college roomies and the other 177 mentors. I told them about the plan, and they made a great contribution -- write 118's team number on all the balls so they can't just dump the pit.
Based on our previous experience with how easy a "118" turns into a "148" we decided to write "Robonauts" on them instead...
Yes. We wrote on all 3,000 balls... Every. Single. One.
The week before Championship we got some extra Lexan from the shop and built up the ball pit for the first time. It was cool...
The wranglers all asked me if we had to prank the Robonauts, or if we could just keep the ball pit. We had a lot of fun, and they wanted to keep it in the shop. I won't lie, there were moments where "keeping the ball pit" seemed like a good plan...
We made sure the balls were reasonably easy to pack up. We didn't want to prank 118 in a mean way. The whole point of this prank is that we love them... We torment them, because we care.
We loaded all the balls, and the unassembled lexan ring onto the bottom of our team bus. We were worried we wouldn't have room (the kids all agreed they'd happily cuddle with a bag of balls for the entire bus ride if it helped pull off the prank... the prank is worth it). The basic plan was that on Thursday evening we would have our bus pull into the venue about 30 minutes before pits close. We'd unload all the balls and stage them up in our pit. When the pits closed and the volunteers were yelling at us to leave, we'd march over to 118's pit, drop the lexan ring over their robot & cart, then dump the balls in.
The plan got even simpler when all of 118 left early on Thursday night. Pit undefended? Yes.
When we discussed things ahead of time, almost everyone agreed that this was the most important part of our Championship plans. Who cares about winning when there are ball pits involved?
I'm so proud to have been a part of this...
Great prank or greatest prank?
That night we got a little bit worried because we noticed 118 was in the first match on Friday morning. We were pretty sure they would have a sense of humor about it, but we were still a little nervous. We were also concerned that FIRST might not have a sense of humor about it..
Luckily, things went really well.
We really enjoyed the reactions of the Robonauts the next morning. They seemed to understand the spirit of it. I even saw a few balls on the robot...
They told us that they HAD a prank planned, but after Operation Playhouse they were feeling a bit inadequate so they decided to call it off. Victory Robowranglers.
We figured that 118 would either give up the prank war entirely, or really up their game. Of course... we're going to need to up our own game if we want to be ready for them.
UPDATE: One of our students (Parker Francis) did a summer internship at JSC. When he arrived, he found his chair in a familiar situation... in the ball-pit!