Nerds Embark on a Space Adventure


By Marilynn Young | LB Indy

Alan You prepares to steer the vehicle he and team Technical Nerds built for the Destination Imagination tournament.
Alan You prepares to steer the vehicle he and team Technical Nerds built for the Destination Imagination tournament.Photos by Marilyn Young.


They scavenged in the scrap yard, toiled in the dark spray painting cardboard and ate a lot of pizza.

After four months of serious and often rambunctious meetings in a small garage, the Tactical Nerds team prepared for the day when their hand-made vehicle would compete against 51 similar teams from across the county in the regional Waves to Dunes Destination Imagination tournament on their home turf, Thurston Middle School’s Black Box Theater.

The 11- and 12-year-old math whizzes included Odin Flores, Mack Pardun, Brandon Britt, Zac Chestelson, Alan You and Trey Ovens. Team manager Kari Ovens, Trey’s mom, was to provide a creative environment, but was not to “interfere,” according to the DI rule book.

From left, Mack Pardun, Trey Ovens, and Zac Chestelson with props they will use on their vehicle.
From left, Mack Pardun, Trey Ovens, and Zac Chestelson with props they will use on their vehicle.

The program established in 1982 and led by volunteers fosters academic challenges in science, technology, engineering and math through collaboration and culminates in a tournament showcasing student solutions.

The Nerd team assembled a vehicle with bright pink duct tape and a variety of props: a snow-sled served as a shield, their crystal power source emanated from repurposed glass trophies and a script involved an astronaut and aliens.

The Tactical Nerds chose to compete in the technical challenge division, which required building a vehicle propelled by two methods of movement, none of them combustible or water. The Nerds outfitted their vehicle with sling-shot propulsion by bungee cords and a spring device similar to a piston.

The lightest team member, Alan, was drafted as the driver. The team-created backstory involved an astronaut, whose spaceship goes off course to an alien planet after a collision with a meteor. Though taken prisoner by aliens, the astronaut escapes and returns to Earth with the aliens’ power source (glass awards) while avoiding run-ins with planets (dodge balls) and satellites (car hubcaps).

When the team began the project last October, each member drew the vehicle they envisioned and specified critical parts. Trips to the hardware store procured castor wheels, PVC pipe and connectors that would serve as the foundation of their faux rocket along with recycled garage pieces. “The framework of the original vehicle was built quickly, but later dismantled and rebuilt multiple times. Ideas were bounced, thrown around, shouted and changed throughout the process,” said the team manager.

One tiff resulted when a team member pushed for the song “Hello” by Adele as their theme music. It was replaced by the soundtrack from Stanley Kubrick’s film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

As the Feb. 27 deadline neared, the team modified the vehicle again, resulting in more building and the script coming together with little rehearsal time.

“Their practice time became limited; six diverse personalities having a hard time to focus on the rules. They seemed to want to build their vehicle more than they wanted the end results,” said Ovens.

Last Saturday, the team took to the floor of the auditorium as the “2001: A Space Odyssey” soundtrack cued the audience and the Nerd astronaut was launched. Other teams from Laguna among all grade levels also participated.

Unfortunately, the bungee spring loaded sling-shot built to move the vehicle did not perform as rehearsed. The surface of the auditorium floor proved slower than their practice surface, a cement garage floor. And the distance that the vehicle was required to cover was unclear to some team members so points were deducted.

Even so, in another surprise challenge that was part of the competition that required collaborative effort, the Nerds did extremely well.

Altogether, the team took second place in their division, qualifying them for the next State Challenge in Riverside next month.

And like many scientists before them, it’s back to the drawing board for their next challenge.


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