We’re back in the year 2000 at the hallowed “Dome” for yet another installment of the inaugural series of Techno Games. After what feels like an eternity of writing about this show, somehow we’re only halfway through this series, and there’s another three episodes to get through before the week is out. Given the quality that’s been on display so far, it’s been somewhat merciful that the episodes up to this point have only been half an hour long. So you can imagine my shock, horror and disdain when I discovered that from here on out, each episode will take at least forty-two minutes to get through. But at least it’s all in the name of comedy for the three people who actually bother to read this stuff.
Ulrika is back, as wooden and Swedish as ever, and for once she actually seems to acknowledge the existence of the two boffins opposite her. Martin looks suspiciously excited about something or other at the start of this episode, and shoots Ulrika down in a brutal display when he says it’s not surprising at all people are enjoying this sh*t. I don’t know what he’s basing this on exactly, but to be honest for once I’d say she has a point. Noel then chimes in saying he’s excited to revisit the high-jump “robots” which were powered by elastic bands (seriously), in a grim display of foreshadowing about what is yet to come.
Swimming: Heat Two
To kick off this display of high-tech wizardry is the second heat of the swimming. Since this event has actually given us one of the best robots in the show so far, Calypso, you would hope that we’d be seeing a similar standard over the next couple of heats. Basically if Ulrika comes away from it saying she wants to f*ck the winner, they’ll have done something right.
Given that the two contestants in this heat are called Cybershark and Flowerbot respectively, it’s fair to say my expectations already aren’t at a particularly high standard. Not-Philippa rears her Philippa-esq head for the third day in a row, and introduces us to said Cybershark, which does little to raise my expectations upon seeing it. It’s essentially a barrel adorned with flippers and lipstick, and is held together by red-and-white striped tape, and the school teacher responsible for this monstrosity claims it took about three months to build, which makes you wonder what they were doing for the remaining two months and three weeks of the building process. Another thing that makes you wonder about, well, everything, is Flowerbot. This… thing is essentially a glorified brick decorated in sunflowers and Union Jack flags, which tells me the elderly woman who captains the team likes nothing more than gardening and Brexit, as your average middle-class sexagenarian tends to do. It also looks like the dipsh*t who presented us with The Flea in the long jump on day one is back, and in greater numbers, meaning I’ll be grossly disappointed if their strategy isn’t to just yeet their robot from one end of the pool to the other.
Admittedly these contraptions do have passable aesthetics, but all we care about here is whether they; a) float, and b) subsequently swim down the pool. We have to cut back to the studio for some pre-race technical analysis, where Ulrika says that “yesterday’s swimming was very exciting”. Since we weren’t shown any of the swimming yesterday, I can only assume she’s accidentally referring to when she was thinking about Mark Foster shaving his legs.
Ed introduces us to the race as the battle of “a flowerpot versus a dustbin”, re-affirming my belief that he should have his own segment on this blog, as he’s the only person who can see that this set of mechanised household utilities are not, in fact, the things that will replace us as Earth’s dominant species. I’m also a little bit unsettled by the uncomfortably short shorts the teacher on the Cybershark team is wearing around his three students, but I’ll leave you, the reader, to jump to conclusions about what this means so that I don’t have to.
Anyway, the school swimming pool is ready for the next big splash, and much to my surprise, not only does Cybershark actually work, but it actually moves pretty majestically and efficiently. It’s not exactly what I’d describe as lightning fast, but it’s a darned sight better than Brexit-bot, which spends the entirety of the “race” spinning around in circles at the starting line, leaving the shark to hit the end zone after one minute and thirteen seconds, qualifying for the final against Calypso and another as-yet-determined robot fish.
Rope Climb: Heats Two and Three
Ulrika refrains from wanting to copulate with the shark, and moves us swiftly on to “one of our favourite events” (whose?), it’s the rope climb. Now, while the previous heat yielded a mightily quick little triangle and, by the year 2000’s standards, an actually impressive piece of technology, it remains to be seen what other cunning ways of scaling a rope the British public have come up with. Would the final four competitors be able to live up to the high standards set yesterday? I’m going to tell you right now that the answer is a resounding “no”.
First up is Havoc, a robot seemingly pieced together by Lego and plastic, and the most unenthusiastic team that’s ever set foot on television try to justify its name by claiming it falls apart a lot. This remains to be proven, and right now I’m annoyed that they’ve taken the Warrior approach and given their below-average and politically correct robot an overly cool name that isn’t befitting of its quality. But since it supposedly has potential to cause “havoc”, I can’t be arsed to come up with an alternative name for it right now. Anyway, facing off against Lego and Plastic will be a block of wood powered by two cogs and a battery named Tarzan. Now, Not-Philippa makes a rather astute observation that Tarzan is better known for his ability to swing from ropes, not climb them, leaving the posh, privately-educated child who “built” this thing with metaphorical egg on their face. It is true that Tarzan probably did learn to climb ropes/vines/other assorted swinging things during his exploits in the jungle, but for the purposes of this joke, as well as the status of the private education system, the point stands. The child gives us his optimistic take that Tarzan will climb “very slowly if it climbs at all”, meaning that this heat was probably used by many in the year 2000 to go to the kitchen and make another tea.
Instead of seeing these two “race” each other, we’re suddenly introduced to one of the other contestants, Stasis. It’s another wooden block with wheels, and, unlike the other rope “climbers”, there’s a strong chance this one will actually live up to its name. There isn’t really anything else to say, and we finally meet Bumblebot, named presumably because it has some sort of passing resemblance to a bee. It doesn’t, it’s an orange box held together by black tape, and despite Havoc claiming to be the one that has the potential to blow up, I would safely put at least a fiver on this supposed bee-thing to have at least one of its panels fall off.
So we get Havoc vs. Tarzan underway, and it’s about as enthralling as you all thought it would be. Havoc does well not to fall apart, actually slowly inching its way up the rope. It’s not exactly good, but it’s at least the third-best robot we’ve seen take part in this event. In contrast, Tarzan neither swings from or climbs up the rope, remaining motionless at the bottom, really putting that posh child in his place. Havoc continues making steady pace up the rope, although I should point out that it’s the two machines with the fastest times that go through to the final, and after 31 seconds Havoc is barely a third of the way up the rope, leaving neither Simian or Skeletron in trouble. This fact is only reenforced after Havoc stops halfway up the rope, presumably from mechanical altitude sickness, meaning that it has to go down under a “Did Not Finish”, whilst Tarzan has to be labelled under “Did Not F*cking Move”.
And if for any reason you thought the final heat would be better, well even Barry thinks you’re wrong before the race has even begun. When it does get underway, Stasis well and truly lives up to its name by remaining motionless at the bottom of the rope, while Bumblebot performs an action which some experts may refer to as “movement”, but because it’s near invisible to the naked eye it’s actually quite hard to tell, especially since it moves about as far as two centimetres before slipping back down the rope and eventually coming to a grinding halt. Very bee-like if I do say so myself. So in a thrilling turn of events, we’re going to end up seeing a repeat of the first heat, since those are the only two robots to have actually finished a race. And seeing as there was a near 30-second gap between the two in terms of time, I wonder how the final will go?
Robot Firefighting (where did they get these ideas from?)
We’re now treated to another “exhibition event”, or as I call it, “filler”, in the guise of robotic firefighting. For this event, a fireman by the name of Andrew will be attempting to rescue his friend Peter’s favourite childhood toy from being burned alive by navigating some sort of thing with a claw through an obstacle course and pouring a barrel of water over it. I guess this is where the inspiration for the Saw films came from.
In fairness, the thing (which I’m lead to believe is called Firespy), seems pretty flashy, it’s just a shame the editing team decided to introduce it to us in slow-motion with a very early-00s soundtrack accompanying it. The challenge itself is over almost before it had time to begin, because, well, Andrew already knows how to control Firespy and they wouldn’t in good conscience let Billy the Bear burn to a crisp and leave Peter needing years of therapy. I might, but they wouldn’t. What a fun learning experience that was. I sure hope Not-Philippa enjoyed her day out in Yorkshire. Ulrika then manages to subtly sneak in another one of her fantasies, claiming that firefighting would make a good Olympic sport. I suspect she’s been looking at those calendars a bit too much.
Now we can get back to the actual events and try to enjoy the final of the Micromouse. For those who don’t know, this is where tiny little contraptions navigate their way through a maze using sensors, and the one that does it in the fastest time is the winner. It sounds pretty interesting, but I’ve learned to reserve all forms of hope for actual quality in literally all these events so far, especially since it should be remembered that all these micromice were built by schoolchildren.
First up is Blipsqueak, which admittedly is brilliantly named, but doesn’t really look like, well, anything to be honest, which will be a common feature of this event. There’s not a whole lot to say here, it completes the maze in a comfortable time of 1 minute and 41 seconds, despite some questionable assistance from the team. The same can probably be said of the next contestant, Semi-Intelligent Archer, only it’s got a much less catchy name than Blipsqueak, but at least this actually looks like something, even if that thing is just a circuit board on wheels. It somehow manages to only finish three seconds later than Blipsqueak did, despite crashing headfirst into the wall at every opportunity, and despite the editing team needing to speed up the footage of its run because of how painfully slow it was going. I guess whoever timed its run also timed Lemming during the swimming.
“A paint lid, some extra bits and bobs, and some wheels” is how Ed describes the third runner, and that’s probably how I’d describe Horsepower, which is also adorned with a picture of one of the team members and his friend Craig, because they’re bros I guess. One thing I should also point out is that their team name is “United Simpletons”, and the show refer to them as the “U.S. Team”. Without this context, you’d think these two clearly English people have traveled from across the Atlantic to be here, and you’d be even more confused when Barry says the U.S. Team are from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, and I can assure you that High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire is absolutely not located in the USA. Anyway, ramblings aside, it turns out Horsepower is very quick and very maneuverable, and completes the course in 27 seconds despite taking two wrong turns along the way, just to rub it in the faces of the other competitors.
Ed continues his hot streak of banter by introducing T.A.D. as “a circuit board with three vanity mirrors (I think that’s what he says at least) attached to it”, and he raises a compelling argument. The ginger lad who captains the team bluntly says their contraption won’t win, and he’s absolutely right, so it’s nice to get some honesty on this show. T.A.D. meanders its way out of the starting block and gets stuck on a wall, and the team abort their mission. The crowd look enthralled, and Horsepower goes back to High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, U.S.A. with the gold medal, and fully deserved it is too.
As we move on to the high jump event and all the technical wizardry that comes with it, I notice we’re somehow only halfway through the episode and I’ve already written an entire essay on what’s gone on so far, so I’ll try to pick up the pace a bit despite all of the shenanigans that are happening on-screen.
If the high jump area looks futuristic enough, the competitors are anything but. Case in point, we’re first introduced to Bottle of Doom, which is literally compressed air in a bottle. To think people thought this was the future of tech twenty years ago. Also one of the team members looks like they’re going to grow up to be Brian from Spaced.
In a vague step up in quality, next to be introduced is Clever Cardigan, which is a small wooden thing powered by elastic bands. The team, who I’m pretty sure is the aforementioned Horsepower team, talk to us about the exciting prospect of “powering” their “robot” with not one, not two, but sixteen elastic bands for this event.
Next up is Bong, which I’m sure lives up to its name in one way or another. It’s the most technical-looking thing we’ve seen so far, in that it’s made of metal and powered by springs and, well, that’s about it in all honesty. And going back down the scale of “technical” is Mantrap, which even Not-Philippa has to point out to the rest of us. The spotty lad who doesn’t want to be on camera claims that the team only spent 4p building the whole thing, and considering it’s just two adjoined pieces of wood powered by MANY elastic bands, I’m not surprised somehow. They’ve even got a little tracked device with a lighter on it to set Mantrap into the air, in a vague attempt to be more technical.
And finally, there’s Ping, which looks a bit like a miniature washing line with an actual bumblebee attached to the end of it, and has also caused one of their team members so much excitement they’ve supposedly lost their voice, which really paints an exciting picture of what probably is not about to come. There’s not really a lot to say, it’s basically like Bottle of Doom with something that isn’t a bottle. To the event!
No, wait, British high jump record holder Steve Smith is here to not educate us about the competitors before we get started. He makes a thrilling observation that the robots don’t have to clear a bar like humans do, and Ulrika refrains from touching herself for the duration of the interview. Now that’s over we can actually go see these robots getting high.
First up is Boing, and yes, it turns out it’s not actually called Bong and my previous joke was all for nothing. Anyway, the gang pull the string that releases the energy, and, well, at least it works. It jumps a lofty 1.6m and that’s the benchmark we’ve got to work with from here on out. Ping, coincidentally from the same school as Boing, attempt to show their classmates up but end up hopping 0.5m into the air, in an action that can barely be described as a jump. The Clever Cardigan man is up next and remains very excited about using sixteen whole elastic bands at once. However, he says that here he’ll only be using twelve, upping it to sixteen on the second jump, and a whopping twenty on the third. Yes, you did read that correctly, a whole TWENTY, and yes, we really are going to have to sit through three jumps each for all these contestants. Anyway, the U.S. Team from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire launch to a new high of 2.1m.
Mantrap, the 4p block of wood, is lit up by its little companion and springs into the lead with a height of 4m. Finally, it’s Bottle of Doom, accurately being summed up by Ed as “a fizzy drinks bottle being pumped up with a bike pump”, further demonstrating his technical nous and keen eye for detail, as he so often does. And in a thrilling display of engineering, the bottle falls over. Like, it literally just topples over. If the event were to end here, as, let’s face it, it probably should, Mantrap would grab gold and the Bottle of Doom team would go home rather embarrassed. But that’s not how this game is to be played, and we still have another two jumps to go.
I’ll do my best to quickly rattle through the next two jumps, as we’ve still got another event to cover after this. Boing adds an extra 0.1m to its jump in a mild display of improvement. It remains the best of the Boston Spa Comprehensive entries, as Ping can only jump 1m on its second go. Clever Cardigan, how sporting the promised sixteen elastic bands, leaps to an impressive 3.3m. Mantrap continues the theme of jumping a bit higher than last time, making it to 4.1m. And then there’s Bottle of Doom, where any form of upward motion would be an improvement over last time. It does move this time, in fact it nearly hits the ceiling, jumping to a mighty 6.4m, and taking a substantial lead out of absolutely nowhere.
That changes everything going into the third jump, and now it’s all to play for. Boing, as ever, is up first, and performs its best jump yet at 2m, but its still nowhere near enough for a podium finish. Ping, then, at this point is only playing for bragging rights and to not come last, but it instead shoots up to 5.4m, propelling it into second place, much to the chagrin of their school rivals. The pressure really is now on Clever Cardigan to perform and get itself a medal position, now sporting the fabled twenty elastic bands. They probably should have added a few more, because they jump 4.1m, matching Mantrap. So, Mantrap needs to desperately outdo their personal best to take home the bronze medal outright. The buggy sets it free, but only to a disappointing 3.3m, meaning Mantrap and Clever Cardigan take the bronze, and Ping and Bottle of Doom to take home the silver and gold medals respectively. Boing goes back to Boston Spa Comprehensive as the only participant not to take home a medal, how unfortunate.
Bottle of Doom still needs to perform its final jump, but at this point it’s a mere formality. They still manage to outdo expectations, launching themselves against the ceiling for a maximum jump of 7.5m. Regardless of the questionable nature of the “technical” aspect of Bottle of Doom, it’s a worthy winner of the gold medal, and arguably one of the great comeback stories of our generation. One less-awkward-than-usual interview and uninspired commentary from Steve Smith later, and we’re on to the episode’s last event, it’s the much-anticipated second heat of the sprint, and the even more anticipated return of Lemming.
Sprint: Lemming vs. Skeeta
Yes, after supposedly finishing the swimming event, Lemming is back in legged form to tackle the sprint. Not-Philippa rejoins the team for the low-down on how it’s going to walk, and after hearing it I’m not entirely convinced it will, especially if its showing in the swimming is to be believed. We also learn it’s gas-powered, so so much for that outdoor event they had specifically for the gas-powered walkers I guess. Its opponent is Skeeta, entered by the evil scientist and his boy genius child that won the long jump, only they’ve replaced the additional child with what would appear to be a man. Skeeta, perhaps named after namesake Rita from the Harry Potter series, although equally perhaps not, is a stick-legged behemoth of a machine, but it looks like it’s going to fall apart if anyone comes near it. It’s also meant to sport some sort of bear/snake head, but due to it being too heavy, sadly, it will not be. Probably because it would fall apart under the weight of it.
So, for a place against the lightning-fast Waddle in the final, will be whatever the heck these two things are. Martin sneaks in a joke about Ulrika being an alcoholic, and the race begins. Neither team is confident their machines will work properly, if at all, and they’re to be proven right almost immediately. Lemming jerks awkwardly into life and moves painfully slowly down the track. However, this is speed-of-light stuff compared to Skeeta, which isn’t moving at all. The crowd, clearly loving this display of advanced engineering, are eventually put out of their misery, since Lemming has got itself wedged sideways about three metres down the track, whilst Skeeta still hasn’t moved. Incredibly, this means that because Lemming moved the furthest of the two robots, it advances to the final to face Waddle, and that only one of the four contestants has actually finished the course legally, and even then it took them three and a half minutes. I can tell you right now that things get so much better in the later series, but goodness me if there were such a thing as setting a high standard this sure isn’t how you do it.
And with that, we draw the third episode of this nonsense to a close. We’ve seen a whole range of emotions and quality, with genuinely cool swimming sharks, a ground-breaking bottle, and four broken rope climbers. There’s a whole lot more to cover in tomorrow’s episode, which I’ve noticed runs to a staggering 49 minutes long. The things I do for content.
A share, a comment, a like, any of these things would be appreciated, but it’s equally rewarding knowing there are folks still out there who want to read about Techno Games.
Thanks for reading, stay safe, and beware of the Cybershark(s).