Start of the Kinetic Sculpture Race

Solstice Kinetic Sculpture Race

When: June 21, 2014 event day schedule

Where: Union Reservoir, Longmont, Colorado. The cost is $10 per car and $2 for bicyclists and pedestrians and can be paid at the entrance to the reservoir.

What: Teams build human powered vehicles that must complete a course that goes over land, water, and various other obstacles (both intended and otherwise). Teams are scored on how fast they complete the course, how well/interesting their craft is put together, the “funness” of their theme/costumes, and numerous other qualities as judged by various individuals who have been deemed experts in their kinetics related field of study.

The official 2013 course map.

Why: Boy, that is a good question. There isn’t any real need for kinetics beyond a bunch of people who want, for just one day out of the year, to dress up like A: wizards B: characters from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” C: sharks and/or D: their favorite childhood cartoon characters and show off the contraptions they spent a moderate amount of time and effort and countless trips to Home Depot that, in their mind, is the perfect solution to the kinetics equation. Also, the feeling of pride and satisfaction from the cheering of the crowd when finishing the race is incredible. Even if your craft goes 10 feet into the water and breaks into a jumble mess of Styrofoam and PVC pipe the crowd goes wild because every spectator on the beach is thinking to themselves “I am jealous of that guy in the water right now because he is having a wonderful time despite/because of the fact that his craft experienced a sudden, widespread massive structural failure. Also his Battlestar Galactica outfit is soaked.”

Who: YOU! New teams are are always welcome to join in the fun. Don’t think that you need to own an aluminum welding operation to build a craft. Sure, that helps, but many of the crafts start out as that old canoe/bicycle that has been sitting in the back of your garage for the past 10 years that you have been debating “should I A: throw it away B: try and give it to Goodwill or C: leave it on the curb with a FREE sign and hope that someone magically takes it away  in the middle of the night?”

So that covers the basics. Since you have read this far, the next step is to explain more about how to build a craft.

FIRST RULE OF KINETICS: DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU SOMETHING IS A BAD IDEA.

Kinetics is about trying new things. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but a lot of crafts that look like they are ready to fall apart before the race starts finish the race beyond most people’s expectations. Some vehicles that look well constructed will fail because of unforeseen mechanical problems. Creativity is highly rewarded.

SECOND RULE OF KINETICS: YOUR CRAFT NEEDS TO FLOAT ON THE WATER.

OK, I suppose that in theory a craft could be constructed that uses hydrofoil effects so perfectly that it literally skips across the water, but I haven’t seen any crafts use this approach. (Somebody prove me wrong here– see rule number one.)  So one way or another your craft is going to have to displace water. Without getting too technical here, the weight of the entire craft needs to be less than the weight of the water it can displace. In my personal experience, your craft will perform better if it can displace at least twice as much water as it needs to in order to account for waves, motion on the craft, and random people shooting water guns at you. Also the further away from the center of gravity the water is displaced the more stable your craft will move over the water.

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This craft  doesn’t have enough buoyancy, and it is not distributed correctly

Here is a list of common materials that displace water: canoes, kayaks, pontoons, Styrofoam, two liter soda bottles (empty, with the caps on helps), five gallon water bottles. This is not by any means a complete list.  Anything that floats on water will keep you afloat, although using dead fish won’t win you any awards because none of the judges will come within 50 feet of your craft.

THIRD RULE OF KINETICS: YOUR CRAFT NEEDS TO GO OVER LAND.

If you build a small enough craft you can just pick it up and run with it over the land portion of the course. A kayak is a perfect example, but it won’t give you any points for engineering or creativity. Technically you could just swim and run the course, but if you are considering this approach you would be better suited to enter in a local triathlon.

The most efficient method for moving something across land is the trusty wheel. Bicycle wheels are the most common, but anything that is round and structurally sound can be used including plywood, plastic, and even Styrofoam.

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These wheels are made out of Styrofoam. This setup allows for the wheels to provide buoyancy for the craft in the water.

FOURTH RULE OF KINETICS: YOU NEED A THEME

A large portion of the final score involves your team’s theme. This includes the craft itself, team costumes, and the overall experience. The more crazy the idea the better. What makes a good theme? Current events (“Polar Vortex” anyone?), celebrities acting badly (Justin Bieber comes to mind), and combinations of unrelated topics (“Spock-toberfest” was a theme a few years ago) are all good brainstorming techniques to build a fun theme. The best scoring themes come from teams that create their own alternate reality on the day of the race. Here are some images of kinetics crafts that have good themes. (not all of these are from the Longmont/Boulder race, but they look great!)