In 3 days, they got game

After winning last year, a Minneapolis team competes again in Red Bull's game-building contest.

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With five hours left before the final judging, Ben Arcand and Lela Beaumann work to the finish "Hunt for Red September."

Photo: Megan Tan, Star Tribune

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Designer David Heisserer and crew would be some handy people to have around the house. Or a desert island, or the moon.

They can make anything out of anything -- or so it seemed last weekend, when the Minneapolis team calling itself 1.21 Jigwatts had 72 hours to dream up and build a winning game in this year's Red Bull Creation competition.

"OK, we have just a few more precious hours," said Heisserer on Sunday afternoon.

He wore the semi-delirious, semi-intent expression of a mad scientist as he wove between tables stacked willy-nilly with random parts and tools, borrowed machines and congealing cheeseburgers at the Mill, a rentable workspace in northeast Minneapolis that's dedicated to the DIY movement.

Having won last year’s contest by building a dot-matrix printer out of spray paint cans and electronics towed behind a giant  "hamster wheel,"  Heisserer, 34, and the other team members were keen to defend that 2011 title.

Online voting begins Wed-nesday; the winner will go to the World Maker Faire, the ultimate science fair for grownups, in New York in September.

By this time, the two dozen engineers, artists, tinkerers and marketing types on this year's Minneapolis team looked beat and sweaty, but satisfied, as they put finishing touches on a simulated submarine made of box-beam steel, plywood, PVC pipe, garden-sprinkler valves, and various dials and gadgets. "Hunt for Red September" was ready to test. Right on cue, it rose and bucked on its mechan-ical haunches like some sort of scrap-heap "Star Wars" contraption.

"The hydraulics work! When the submarine's rockin', don't come a-knockin'," a triumphant team member tweeted for the online progress report.

Their brainchild works like a carnival game, Heisserer said, testing players' memories and challenging them with six different programmed events in about one minute.

"The player is warned of an event by name and has a second or two to find the lever or button with that name to avert that catastrophe and avoid getting sprayed with water," he said. "If they avoid each problem quickly, they stay dry. If they get through all the problems in less than a minute their time is recorded and put on a best-score list."

One particularly ingenious bonus: A webcam is mounted inside so people can remotely tweet a "depth charge" to see the resulting dousing of the player.

As to how the thing was made and actually works, well, that's a bit more complicated.

"The solenoids turn the water off and on," he said. "The structural hull members were designed first in 3-D using Sketchup, and then cut from plywood using a CNC router called a Shopbot.

Some of the components were 3-D-printed from plastic on a machine controlled by three microcomputers. The rocking motion is achieved by a linear actuator, originally from a hospital bed."

OK, OK, you had us at solenoids.

So, did the hot mess that our weather has been for weeks on end play a role in inspiring a game that douses you with water?

"Oh, yeah, definitely," Heisserer said. "It was 98 in here."

Alex Schroeder, a sculptor, said that having multiple areas of expertise on hand was crucial to the process.

"One person thinks of how to do something, and then another builds on that, and it keeps going from there," he said.

Heisserer figured that the whole shebang cost about $2,500, but with store credit and cash donations from supporters, only about a fifth of that came out of their own pockets.

The team finished their project "at the final buzzer, so to speak, 8 p.m. our time," Heisserer said. Now they'll await word on whether they'll take their big wood-and-steel baby to New York.

"Hunt for Red September" wasn't the only product achieved over the weekend, however. On Saturday night, during an open house barbecue that the team held for friends and fans, they realized no one had brought a spatula to flip burgers.

No problem.

In about 10 minutes, they'd made one on a plasma cutter "out of mild steel, probably about 12-gauge sheet, cut flat and bent to shape," Heisserer said.

Of course they did.

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046

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