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JPL Annual Invention Challenge - 1999 Contest Overview
Footbag Toss for Accuracy

The 1999 Section 352 Annual Invention Challenge was held on December 17, 1999 in front of Building 180. Over 150 JPL employees and friends turned out to watch this unusual event. The objective for this year's challenge was to create a device that accurately propelled an official footbag exactly 5 meters from a measured spot. The contest winner was the person who had their footbag touch (first contact) closest to the target.

Twenty-seven entry forms were received this year. On the day of the competition, fifteen entries were displayed and operated for the entertainment of the crowd. The table below indicates the final standings for this year's contest. Although most of the field utilized springs which operated some variation of a catapult, some entries tried different approaches to meet the objective. "The Big Sucker" provided by Kurt Carter utilized an industrial vacuum cleaner in the "blow" mode. Glenn Beardsley's entry dropped a heavy weight onto a bladder, which launched a rocket (held back with a lanyard) with the footbag. Terry Scharton's "Pandora's Box" utilized a series of helium balloons to help accurately place the footbag on the target rather than propel the footbag. Paul MacNeal's entry, "Pipeworks", attempted (yet failed miserably) to erect a structure that was long enough to position itself above the target and then simply drop the footbag onto the target. Although finishing dead last in the contest, this entry provoked the greatest amount of laughter from those watching the event. Some of the entries utilized laser pointers or some other method for alignment. In general, these entries performed very well.

The winner of this year's competition, Chris Wrigley, created a simple catapult design using copper tubing and incorporated a laser pointer for aiding in the alignment. The title of his entry was appropriately entitled "Right On Baby" and managed to miss the target by only 12.1 centimeters (4.76 inches).

The web site located by clicking on the announcement button inside has been a tremendous asset for this year's competition. The rules were stored on the site as well as detailed information needed for those participating in the competition. Also, in the next few weeks, all the photographs and results will be posted, along with commentary provided by each of the entrants discussing their own entry. Please take some time to visit the web site.

My sincere gratitude goes out to all that participated in this contest and to all that helped run the contest. Special thanks go to Alice Wessen (web site sponsor and general organizer) and Randii Wessen (announcer).

The next Invention Challenge is already in the planning stages. Stay tuned for rules coming out in August 2000. If you are interested in viewing this year's Challenge, a VHS-format video tape of it can be borrowed by emailing me at

Paul MacNeal

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