The JPL Annual Invention Challenge is ready for its twentieth year. The title for this year's contest is the "Wiffle Ball Loft Contest". The objective and rules are listed below. Questions related to this contest should be directed to: Paul MacNeal at work phone (818) 354-7824, M/S T1723-118, located in Building T1723-128, or e-mail to


     - 2017 Rules
     - School Entry Form
     - JPL Employee Entry Form
     - School Video Release Form for Child
     - School Video Release Form for Adult
     - JPL Team Video Release Form for Child
     - JPL Team Video Release Form for Adult

OBJECTIVE  Create a device that can put up to 10 wiffle balls into a plastic tub located six meters away within the one minute time allotment. The winner will be the team whose device places the most wiffle balls into the tub.


1) The contest is open to all JPL employees, and immediate family members. The contest is also open to teams of students from Southern California middle schools and high schools if they have completed all required forms as outlined in rules 3 and 4 below.

2) Applications for JPL employees, and immediate family members entering the contest (found on website) must be filled out and submitted to Public Services prior to midnight November 11, 2017.  Completed entry forms should be directed to Public Services at FAX (818) 393-4641, or sent via email to  All entries will be time stamped based upon the time received.  Only the first 20 JPL entries will be permitted to compete.  Five alternates will be accepted in case some entries withdraw prior to the competition.

JPL employee family members and friends are welcome to watch the contest, but must be cleared through the security office well in advance of the contest date. JPL employees must fill out the visitor request form as found in the link:

3) To make it easier to process badging at JPL, each team must email their completed, typed entry form (found on website) to Additionally, to make the badging process flow smoothly each team must mail a printout of their completed student team entry form and the “Authorization and Release for Photos, Audio and/or Video Recordings of and/or Artwork” agreement form (found on website) for each person (student, guest, teacher, and chaperone) planning to attend the JPL contest.  Each video release form must be completely filled out and signed.  If the student is under 18 years of age, then use the appropriate form filled out and signed by their parent or guardian.  The emailed entry form and entire set of video release forms must be filled out and submitted to Public Services no earlier than August 28, 2017 and be postmarked no later than midnight September 30, 2017. Completed forms must be mailed to Public Services at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, M/S 186-113, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109.  All entries will be time stamped based upon the time received.  Student teams will be notified to verify their acceptance into the contest by October 6, 2017. Questions regarding the entry forms can be directed to in Public Services at (818)354-2413.  Each school is allowed no more than three teams.  Internal school competitions are encouraged to select the top three teams if necessary.

IMPORTANT: Any foreign person, 18 or over, student or adult, will need to fill out a special form.  The process takes nearly three weeks; therefore, if anyone (students, teachers, chaperones) plans to attend the contest at JPL, and they are a foreign national, it is important that they contact Paul MacNeal prior to November 8, 2017.

Additions or corrections to the registration forms and/or video release forms need to be mailed to the Public Services Office with a postmark no later than Wednesday, November 22, 2017.  Faxed forms will not be accepted. Failure to send in the signed video release form by the requisite time will prevent participation and access to the JPL contest for those that fail to comply with this request.

4) Only the first 90 student team entries will be permitted to compete at the regional competitions. Student teams will compete at a regional competition held on Saturday, November 18, 2017 at either Augusta Hawkins High School in Los Angeles or Chapman University in Orange.  Details for the regional competitions will be sent to all registered teams. The top five teams with the most wiffle balls in the tub from each regional competition will be invited to compete at the JPL contest held on Friday, December 1, 2017 (see Rule 5 below). In addition, the next 10 teams with the most wiffle balls in the tub between both regional competitions will also be invited to compete at the JPL contest.

5) The date and time for the final contest is Friday, December 1, 2017 between 11:30 AM and 1:00 PM.  The contest is held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109. The contest area is located north of the fountain area, in front of the Administration Building (Bldg. 180) steps. In the event of heavy rain (more than mist) or strong wind, the contest will be held indoors.  Check-in for the event will begin at 10:15 AM.

6) The device must have the following characteristics:
a. Can launch or otherwise loft as many as 10 officially provided practice baseballs (a.k.a. wiffle balls) described in Rule 6b and have them land in the tub which rests on a platform (described in Rule 8). The tub centerline is located 6.0 meters [19 feet, 8 inches] away from the front edge of the set-up area.
b. The wiffle ball may not be altered in any way. The wiffle ball may not be covered with anything or placed inside any type of container.  Nothing can be placed inside of the wiffle ball.  No adhesives or tapes are permitted to touch the wiffle ball. For practicing purposes, the Rawlings 9” Plastic Baseballs can be purchased from Big 5 Sporting Goods stores or on-line. The SKU is 4997151 for yellow or 5799440 for white.  One area will use the white balls and the other area will use yellow balls.  The mass of each ball is 23 grams [0.8 ounces] and the outer circumference is 22.9 cm [9.0”].

Plastic Baseballs

c. At no time may the device crack or break any wiffle ball. Violation of this rule will lead to disqualification of the device.
d. Be initiated by a single operation (cut a string, flick a switch, pull a pin, etc.) provided by the contestant. No human power may be used during the initiation of the device to add dynamic or potential energy to produce motion of the device.  All stored energy systems must be energized prior to the start of each “launch”.
e. Multiple “launches” are allowed during the one minute time allotment.  The device may be manually reset between each “launch”.  The device may be manually adjusted for alignment between each “launch”.  If the wiffle ball has left the device before the one minute period ends, the “launch” can be counted if it stays in the tub.
f. At no time before, during, or after a given launch can the device violate the size restrictions listed herein.  The length, width, and height of the device are limited to 2 meters [6 feet 6 inches].  Violation of this rule will negate each launch of a wiffle ball wherein the violation occurs (i.e. even if the ball lands in the tub, it will not be counted).
g. Utilize safe energy sources.  Examples of disallowed energy sources are chemical explosions, caustic gases, and rocket motors.  High pressure gas systems and other questionable sources must be cleared through Paul MacNeal and the Safety Coordinator prior to performing at both the regional contest and the final contest.  An electrical cord will be available for use.
h. Be made from any materials if they are non-toxic and safe. 
i. Place the official entry number provided by the contest organizer (3” high numbers or larger) on at least two sides of the device for easy identification.
j. Not use any clamps, tape, or any other means to attach to the ground. The device must only rest on the ground, however heavy weights may be used.
k. Can adapt to non-level ground (see Rule 8).
l. SPECIAL RULE FOR SCHOOL TEAMS ONLY:  To avoid plagiarism, each team that competes at the regional contest will have photographs taken of their device. The basic concept of the device (energy source type, launch method, and size) must be maintained. Minor modifications to the device are allowed within these constraints.


7) The contest site is in front of the steps leading to Building 180. The site will contain two areas for setting up and operating the device. The size of each set-up area is 2 meters by 2 meters.  Each team will be randomly assigned to either operating area. The ground is concrete with a rough finish and has a slight slope (approximately 1 degree across the width as shown in Figure 1).  See Figure 1 for a description of the contest area.

the contest area
Figure 1. Contest Area – top view


8) The plastic tub is placed on a platform. For practicing purposes, the plastic tub can be purchased from Orchard Supply Hardware (SKU: 6871008). It is a 19 gallon rope-handled All-Purpose Tub (see image below).
a. The height of the top rim of the tub is 2 meters [6 feet, 6 inches] above the ground and is level.
b. The rim of the tub has an inner diameter of 48.3 cm [19 inches].
c. The tub has approximately a ½” of water in the bottom to keep the wiffle balls from bouncing out of the tub.
d. The wooden platform supporting the tub is approximately 1.58 m [62.4 inches] tall and is secured to the ground with heavy weights. The top of the platform is level. It is large enough to hold the tub and uses three ribs to keep the tub centered on the platform.



9) The order in which teams will participate is selected by a random process. The team will be given a three-minute period to setup their device. Safety advisors will be observing the team during their setup time and will warn and potentially stop the team if any setup operations can lead to potential accidents.  Strict time limits will be imposed to ensure that all contestants are able to operate their device. At the beginning of the setup period each team will be handed 10 officially supplied wiffle balls (either all yellow or all white) that may be slightly wet. Teams are allowed to dry off the balls prior to initiating their device.

Each team shall designate a speaker that is not involved with the device setup to talk about their team and their device during the setup period. The team will be asked if they are ready to proceed. The procedure for running the task and determining the official time for the task is as follows:

a) The referee will give a countdown (3...2...1...GO!) for the start of operation for the device.
b) The timers will start the time at the referee’s direction.
c) The referee will observe each launch of the device and make sure that the team does not provide any energy to the ball for each launch and make sure that the size (especially the height) of the device does not violate the rules.  Any launch that is a violation will be noted by the referee to ensure that that particular launch does not count.
d) The referee will yell an audible “STOP” when the tenth wiffle ball has completely passed the imaginary plane formed by the rim of the tub on its downward flight.
e) The timers will compare their times and the lead timer will write down the time it took to complete the task to the nearest 0.01 seconds on the scoresheet.
f) A ten second warning will be given by the lead timer (after 50 seconds have elapsed) to indicate that the one minute time is almost over. At one minute, the lead timer will yell “STOP”.
g) The tub monitor will count and remove the wiffle balls that are inside the tub. The tub monitor will confer with the referee to see if any violations were incurred during the task that may cause one or more balls to be disqualified. The official count of balls shall be given to the field judge and recorded on the scoresheet.
h) All decisions of the referee are final.

All teams will be asked to remove their device and place it back in their original waiting area.

After the task is completed the tub shall be placed back onto the platform and the tub monitor will attempt to dry off the wet wiffle balls.

The winning team will be the team whose device put the most wiffle balls into the tub.  In the event of a tie, the team that completed the task in the fastest time shall be declared the winner. Times within 0.05 seconds will be counted as a tie.  If two or more teams are tied, each team will be asked to repeat the entire task and the same rules for declaring the winner will apply.

10) Trophies will be divided into two categories: JPL employees/family entries and school team entries. Trophies will be given for first, second, and third place for each category at all contests (regional contests and the JPL contest).  Certificates will be issued for the lightest, heaviest, most unusual, most artistic, and most creative designs.