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Jonikas ‘Schwings’ to 2.007 Win Over Parness

By Jennifer DeBoer


“Three ... two ... one ... GOOO!” shouts a boisterous, suspendered M.C.

“Spank that monkey weeeeeee,” he calls to the contestant who fervently jerks her controls back and forth, swinging the PVC pipe as the points on the massive screen add up.

Opposite her, another bespectacled driver launches his quick little machine into a scoring bin and sits back.

“No!” she shouts and the boy laughs and raises his hands in victory. Next to him, a green beaver waves his hands as his eyes shine an LED red.

The quarter-final round of the annual 2.007 contest has been decided.

Yearly contest challenges students

Every year since 1970, students in 2.007 have walked into class on the first day and been presented with a challenge -- to create a machine that, under strict guidelines, will outperform everyone else’s in the class. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s matches were the culmination of a semester spent designing, building, and testing these ten-pound remote-controlled machines.

This year’s contest, “Schwing,” redefined the playing field by allowing two distinct methods of scoring. Students were asked to push street-hockey balls and pucks into scoring bins, as in past years. However, they could also score points by rotating the PVC pipe pendulum on their side. At the same time, their opponent, who also had a pendulum and scoring bin to worry about, tried to block their attempts to score, and vice-versa. Restrictions such as a ten pound weight limit and rules on intentionally damaging the opposing machine made the scenario even more challenging.

Winner predicted early on

“Martin Jonikas. That guy’s going to win. He’s the winner,” says spectator Darien B. Crane ’03. Crane, who predicted the soon-to-be winner before Wednesday’s finals even began, knows Jonikas from his Unified Engineering class, which Jonikas took last year as a freshman.

The quarter-finals, which now have just finished, saw Martin C. Jonikas ’04 achieve the first (and last) six-digit score, with over 110,000 points.

“I was very confident about my machine,” Jonikas said. “I tested it about thirty times.”

Early on, 2.007 host and lecturer Professor Alexander H. Slocum ’82 “figured either Martin” or one other classmate would win.

Sponsors contribute prizes

“This course is about tradition,” Slocum announces to the audience. He sings and shouts at the audience with the voice of an auctioneer, encouraging them to accompany his strange machine sound effects.

“More power Mr. Scott! I can’t do it Captain. I lost my battery. Time!” Slocum shouts. Another round eliminates another hopeful hunk of metal.

One of his graduate students, Sean J. Montgomery, lines up the prizes donated by Microsoft, one of the contest’s corporate sponsors. Students will receive a t-shirt if they make it to quarter-finals, and, if they are lucky enough to reach the final four, an XBox and several games.

Different methods face off

Because of the way the contest was designed, students were torn between two scoring methods -- swinging the pendulum or putting weights in the bin.

“If you do the sensitivity analysis, it actually turns out that scoring potential of putting weight in the bin is ten times more than that of the pendulum,” Slocum explains.

Some machines scale the slippery PVC pipe, clamp on, and spin. Others, arms flying, whack the pendulum back and forth. Some try to impair their opponent by throwing fences across the table. Jonikas’ machine clamped its sharp-toothed jaws to the side of the scoring bin and pushed the scale down, sending his score into astronomical figures. And then there are the suicide machines, who, with a running start, throw the full weight of their machines into the bin.

“If I were to design a machine, I would have tried to maximize the scoring with both methods, but I definitely would have concentrated on the weight, and I would have done something similar to Martin’s design,” Slocum says.

Spectators get into contest

Amidst competing cheers of “Har-vard!” and “M-I-T!” teams 56 and 74 face off -- individual competitors are allowed to have an assistant driver. After an intense forty-five seconds, the Harvard team is eliminated.

Kids with signs touting their status as future MIT geeks scream as the camera pans in their direction. College-age spectators sport signs with the names of their friends and their contraptions. Still older spectators watch the contest quietly; some have sat in Johnson watching 2.007 each year for decades. Professor Ernesto E. Blanco, who Slocum calls his inspiration for becoming a mechanical engineer, is honored between rounds with an MIT clock similar to that given to the winner.

Prelims determine the best of the best

“Tuesday was just to weed out the machines that shouldn’t be here,” said Henry Hilton ’04, the third place finisher. Tuesday’s competition marked the beginning of the fast-paced single elimination tournament.

“It was kind of intense; do or die,” Hilton said.

After Tuesday, the location of the control podium was changed, causing some anxiety among the competitors.

“When I came in today, I was worried because they changed the location ,” Jonikas said.

Fortunately for his machine, Jonikas rewired “Bomb Totin’ Mama” to make the change easy to handle.

Contest precursor to IDC

The top four finishers, as well as two other competitors, will be given the opportunity to participate in the International Design Contest (IDC), the brainchild of MIT and the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Students from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Brazil, Japan, and MIT will gather in Cambridge in early August. For two weeks, they will work in mixed groups on a contest similar to 2.007.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Jonikas said, a permanent grin stretching his face.

Final round

Two are left. Others, machines in hand, have left or retired to the spectator seats. Aaron J. Parness ’04 steps forth to challenge Jonikas. The much anticipated final competitors set up their machines one last time.

“Ready ... Steady ... And ... .”

They’re off. Quickly the two race to the other’s starting point to stop the swinging pendulums. Their points have stopped climbing. Now what? They reach an impasse as each blocks the other. The seconds go by, neither one blinking. Both contestants’ main scoring strategies had been thwarted.

With only a few seconds to go, Jonikas turns away and drives to his own scoring bin, toppling over a load of balls and preparing to unleash his “lethal press.” Parness scrambles to follow suit, but it is too late. Time is up. This is not obvious to Jonikas, who is still intent on driving the scoring pit downward. A knowing pat on the back from a friend tells the warrior he has won.

Grabbing Jonikas around the waist, Slocum throws him over his shoulder and swings him around.

“It’s tradition,” Slocum says.

Post-contest reflection revealing

“It felt great,” Jonikas says. “As long as the other machine didn’t impair mine, I was pretty confident of myself. Some of them put up a good fight.”

“I was definitely worried in the last round. I thought some of the other machines had a chance.”

“Martin was kind of scared of me,” says Hilton, the third place finisher. “There was a small possibility that I could have beaten him.”

Jonikas spent “lots and lots and lots of time” on his machine. “It’s unfair to the people who have lives,” his friend adds.

“I enjoyed it, though. It’s an opportunity to be creative, and I love to build things.”

The aftermath

The pendulums are being disassembled. The judges tables are abandoned and most of the caution tape on the floor is pulled up. Teaching assistants and judges walk through the stands, collecting garbage.

Jonikas remains to speak with reporters while the other finalists pack up their machines. Jonikas approaches Slocum, who is conducting the clean-up process.

“Thanks a lot Professor Slocum. Your class was amazing,” Jonikas says, shaking Slocum’s hand as the tables are taken apart.

“I’m just the catalyst. You guys are the fuel,” Slocum says.