The sound of a balloon popping rarely elicits a cacophony of cheers. But that was just the case this weekend at Soldotna Middle School.
Parents, teachers and students filled the bleachers in the school's gym Saturday afternoon to watch kids from around the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District present their creations in the Mind-A-Mazes 2003 competition.
Mind-A-Mazes, the district's spin-off version of the national Odyssey of the Mind contest, is sponsored by Quest, the district's gifted and talented special education program. But, said organizer Sara Hepner, all children are welcome to participate.
Kids are given a problem about a month before the competition and work in teams of three or four to create a solution. They then bring their creations to SMS for a day of judging.
This year's problem involved creating a "Rube Goldberg" device that uses simple machines to perform a number of actions. Students in the junior division grades four through six were challenged to use levers, wheels and axles, inclined planes, wedges and screws to ring a bell, turn a fan, raise an object, stretch a rubber band, spill a container of beans and finally burst a balloon.
In the senior division grades seven through 12 added components included using a pulley, counterweights and gears and having a machine that also could set a pendulum in motion, set a mouse trap, add air to a balloon and turn a book page.
But that's not all. The entire process was to take about 30 seconds, meaning students had to find a way to delay the action of some of their machines.
"It's one thing to do the event. It's another thing to use machines and delay the time so it lasts 30 seconds," said teacher Mark Tobin.
All machines had to be made by students alone, and teams could only spend up to $10 on materials, in addition to anything they might "find," such as empty coffee cans or paper towel rolls.
By competition day, students had come up with all manners of creations. Some machines seemed simple, built of Styrofoam or shoe boxes. Others looked almost professional with plywood frames and winding ramps. But, as students soon found, it wasn't beauty that counted in this competition it was performance.
Some of the most elaborate designs malfunctioned, while some of the simpler ones played out their purpose to perfection.
"(Ours) works ... most of the time," said Homer Middle School seventh-grader William Faulkner before the competition. "It still messes up sometimes."
But, said one of his teammates, that's all right.
"William and I did this last year, and we learned you have to go with what you have," said fellow seventh-grader Jill Temple.
Besides, winning isn't always the point, the team said.
"I like putting ideas together with someone else," Temple said. "You think your idea is the best, and someone else thinks their idea is the best, and when you put them together, you end up with something even better."
The following are the results of the Mind-A-Mazes competition:
Junior division North Star Elementary Zig Zags: Tanner Thompson, Ari Bennett, Sebastian Strickland, Jayden Tumbaga and Thomas Pilatti, coached by Brian Baily, first place overall; West Homer Techo Orcas: Caryn Cor-dova, Marissa Paul, McKenzie Mahan and Ruby Quarton, coached by Suzanne Haines, second place overall; West Homer Plutothr-ians: Kelci Patton, Kristen Faulkner and Bailey Richards, coached by Suzanne Haines, third place overall and first place long-term; Mountain View Ice Hawks: Zack Sonnich-sen, James Watkins, Lincoln Wensley and Morgan Cunning-ham, coached by Brian Bailey, judges' choice; and Mountain View Mini-Leopards: Camron Lotti, Kayleen Hansen, Christi-anna Garcia and Serena Woodin, coached by Brian Bailey, first place spontaneous.
Intermediate-Senior division Kenai Middle Carnival Quar-tet: Molly Watkins, Kristi Louthan, Catherine Hoisington and Lynne Ziehmer, coached by Mark Tobin, first place overall and first place long-term; Seward Middle Riders of the Apocalypse: Seth Adams, David Earl and Aaron Sarka, coached by Mark Chase, second place overall; Nikiski Middle-Senior High Clevermatics: Wiley Bennett, Tyler Bethune, Walker Boyle and Tristin Rutherford, coached by Phil Morin, third place overall and judges' choice; and Connections Connect C: Mackenzie Callis, Whitney Owen, Wyatt Ryder and Chelsey Nieman, coached by Thom Flinders, first place spontaneous.
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