We’re nearly there, everyone. With every passing episode we take a step closer to the promised land of actually entertaining episodes of Techno Games. For now, we’re only two episodes away from the end of the 2000 edition of the show, and if it’s felt like a long week for you reading it, imagine how it feels for me writing it.
Today’s episode, clocking in at a whopping 49-minute runtime, promises a practical sh*tload of content, everything from swimming, sprinting and the final of the rope climb, to robot gymnastics and even f*cking rockets. Yup, literal rockets. We’ve got a lot of stuff to get through today, so we’d better be getting started.
Solar Power Marathon
First up is none of the stuff I mentioned in the introduction, and with a first event that will span the course of a whole episode, it’s the solar powered marathon. Three machines, all harnessing the wonder of solar energy, race around the Millennium Dome for as long as possible, and I guess whoever goes for the longest wins. Fortunately the editing team will be on hand to show us the bare minimum of the ensuing hour. Ed also claims they’re doing this event at night, but they’ve clearly just turned off the lights.
The first solar soldier is a self-described “tea tray” called Mad Dog, and well, that’s basically what it is. It’s four wheels and a panel. Whoa. Up against Mad Dog, built by a teacher, is Mad Pup, built by his students. I wonder where they could have gotten that name from? Anyway, the puppa looks significantly sleeker than its South Bank counterpart, making me wonder if the teams swapped entries to make the students seem smarter than they actually are. Finally, there’s Sunburn, a slightly smaller tea tray from a team of kids. As much as I endorse solar energy and all variants of it, I’m not sure how many people will be making the switch to it after watching this event. Martin even says that right now (the year 2000), solar power is basically useless, so he’s clearly an optimist about this stuff. He also begins to start getting oddly philosophical about the subject, but Ulrika thankfully cuts him off before he can make younger viewers question the meaning of their existence.
In a thrilling start, Sunburn and Mad Pup jettison away from the starting gate, and Mad Dog remains in its kennel, making my previous suggestion that the competitors had been swapped around a bit less mental. Anyway, I believe we’ll be checking in on the race halfway through and at the end of the show, and I for one am on the edge of my seat just thinking about it.
Swimming: Heat Three
The first proper event of the day is the final heat of the swimming, with another three machines hoping to join Calypso and Cybershark in the final. The swimming was always a childhood favourite of mine, and even though it’s not exactly the same quality as the later series, and that it’s basically just some schoolkids f*cking about at a local pool, it’s still been the most entertaining event of the series, for better or for worse.
Hoping to add to the entertainment value in the final heat are Sarj, Snappy, and K.I.P. Not-Philippa is once again on hand to introduce us to the trio, and already K.I.P. looks like one of the most horrifying creations I’ve ever seen, almost like something out of a Mary Shelley novel. The team have basically tried to model their robot on a human, but something clearly went wrong along the way, most notably since the head is a football with goggles and a wig stuck to it, as well as fly swatters for legs and plastic bottles as floatation devices. And while the teacher responsible for creating K.I.P. is upfront about this, in an unashamedly desperate attempt at corporate sponsorship, we can see they bought their bottles from Tesco, hence the logo on the bottle caps. Darned capitalists.
Whilst looking less horrifying than its opponent, Sarj carries on the theme of using bottles to keep itself afloat, and holds the rest of itself together with what appears to be Lego and string, without exaggerating. I sure hope those exposed wires don’t come at a great cost in the pool. Lastly, it’s what looks like the clear winner of the heat, it’s professional fish and/or lookalike Snappy. Not-Philippa has the audacity to ask the team what they based the design on, and the three schoolkids all confusingly tell her that it is, indeed, based on a fish and/or shark, after being treated with the integrity of a four year old who’s just finished drawing a stick figure. Snappy does genuinely look impressive, as it should, theoretically, swim like a fish, even if the team say it can only go at “walking pace”. Still a darned sight better than what the other two it’s up against can probably do.
Mark Foster is also back in the studio for some reason, because apparently Ulrika’s innuendo the last time he was here was just too good to be kept away from again. Mark does agree with me that Snappy looks the best of the three machines, though you could have asked anyone the same question and you’d hopefully get the same response every time, save for some die-hard K.I.P. fans. Noel also adds his technical knowledge to the conversation, stating that he too likes Snappy, because it looks like a shark. Thanks, Noel.
The race begins and, much to no-one’s surprise, Snappy speeds away from the starting block, leaving Sarj and K.I.P. as tiny dots on the horizon. Sarj does actually move, but not only is it frustratingly slow, it also drifts off to its right, in the direction of K.I.P., who’s encountering problems of its own. Most significantly, the fact that one side of it doesn’t move, and the half that does move just sort of pointlessly flaps about to no great effect. So basically, provided it doesn’t break down, Snappy should cruise its way to the finishing line without much of a problem. And that’s just what it does, reaching the end in a respectable 58 seconds. At the other end, Sarj ends up trying to mount K.I.P., and the race promptly ends. At least Sarj didn’t electrocute anyone, I suppose. Mark and Noel are smug about being right, and we move on.
This next event is one that I’m sure whoever came up with it is way more proud of it than they should be – it’s the gymnastics. How does this work, I hear you cry? That’s a very good question, Greg. The robot gymnastics is much like human gymnastics, but, for all intents and purposes, is mechanised. The four competing acts just do a fun little dance to a piece of music, and Annika Reeder, three-time Commonwealth gold medallist in gymnastics and Harlow’s finest export before Rupert Grint came along, gives each of them a score out of twenty, ten points for technical creativity, ten points for artistic interpretation.
The first entrant is Prime Time Swimmers, four small boxes with hand-drawn swimmers stuck to the top of them (and an extra one with a shark fin), moving in sync to a piece of classical music that someone more educated than me will know the name of, from our old friends from High Wycombe, U.S.A. The routine is pretty standard, but it quickly becomes apparent that Annika is much the same as the other “experts” we’ve been presented with so far, but sounds completely disinterested in what she’s looking at. At least she got a good paycheck for this (or at least I hope she did). “Yeah, synchronized… a few turns… I like the flowery leotards” f*ck me where did they find these people? Anyway, she appears to like it, apparently for the hand-drawn leotards more than anything, and gives the Swimmers a 16.2 overall score.
Looking to top that is (audible sigh)… Penny the Pig, a paper maché pig on some sort of skateboard? It also has wings and a sign I can’t read. The students claim they’ve won an award with this… thing, so I can only assume the other contestants were K’nex wheels held together by Mars bar wrappers. Based on their routine, this looks pretty likely. Barry reliably informs us that their music is “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin, which will make many people go “Oh, that’s what that’s called!”. There’s not really any rhythm going on, as the pig trundles across the floor, eyes blinking, tail twirling, not really doing much else. Annika seems suitably unimpressed, and despite criticising its inability to perform summersaults (yes, she actually says this), still gives a generous score of 13.9.
From the same school as the pig comes the adorable Chuckybug, a nippy little bug-eyed thing with some sort of flailing fishing line on its back end. It looks cute and all, but the problem is that it keeps driving itself off the stage. It eventually finds its rhythm, much to the relief of the person in charge of playing the music (in this case a piece from Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” because these teams are just oozing class today), and Annika seems to be a big fan of its ability to spin in a circle. It’s grievances with the stage area mean it doesn’t get enough points to challenge the swimmers, but with a score of 14.4 it comes out as the best of the two entrants from Trinity School, and the Pig will most likely have been subject to abuse upon its return home.
Finally, we get to see the copyright-infringing Tom and Jerry (seriously they managed to get away with this, probably because no-one watched this show). Tom and Jerry looks like the most technically complex entrant (if that means anything), since it’s basically two micromouse-style robots that follow a black line with sensors, and another robot does a pirouette in the background. They’re also the only entry not to use a piece of classical music, instead opting for what I think is some sort of Crazy Frog song, but I’m not cultured enough to know. If it were up to me to enter a competitor here, I’d have four little blighters that twirl around and shoot sparks out of them in time to the tune of Blur’s classic hit “Parklife”. It’d be a real f*cking lights show. Anyway, it turns out that Tom and Jerry works mostly as it should, and that’s enough for Annika to give it the gold medal, with an overall score of 16.5, including a ludicrous 9.2 score on the technical side, even though the robots kept going off track and had to be nudged back on by the team. It seems Annika just wanted to get out as quickly as she could so that we can enjoy the next event.
Robot Egg-Lofting (featuring f*ckin’ rockets my dudes)
That’s because the next event is the motherf*ckin’ rockets, my dudes. No need to care about what the event actually involves, we just want to some rockets. Unfortunately, there needs to be some sort of judging system, not just who has the biggest rocket (not a euphemism). Basically, there’s five rockets, and they shoot up into the sky containing an egg. Whichever rocket comes back with the most intact egg is the winner. I cannot f*cking wait.
So we head to a field of sheep to join Ed and five nutters who have built their very own rockets. One comically over-the-top intro later and we’re introduced to our first nutter, a bloke called Stuart, and his rocket, HV-AR CAS. Catchy, I know. Anyway, you can tell Stuart is a man who takes his rocketry very seriously, since he’s wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day, and his egg is going to be placed inside a toy pig. You did indeed read that correctly. The rocket soars into the sky and gently falls back to the earth, suggesting that his egg stands a good chance of being intact. There isn’t really a whole lot else to say for this competition, so I’ll just whizz my way through the next four so that we can get to the end of the episode as soon as possible.
Nutter number two is a bloke called Ivan with his big rocket Viper 4. The egg goes up covered in bubble wrap, which usually does a good job of keeping things intact, but it doesn’t help when there’s a small explosion inside the rocket which sends it tumbling back down to the ground with as much grace as me making my way home on a Friday night. Not looking good for the egg. Nutter number 3 also has a rocket called HV-AR CAS, which leads me to believe it’s probably a model of rocket and not a name. It looks like, on evidence, that it’s a pretty decent model of rocket, with another quality launch and a seemingly decent landing. I’ll leave it up to you at home to decide whether the off-camera comment of “it’s ignited” is a bad omen or not.
Nutter number 4, Tony, is wrapping his egg up nice and tight in his rocket, a Strongarm. A nice smoky launch leads to the rocket being lost in the stratosphere, and no-one seems to know where it’s gone, including the cameras. So we may never know the fate of the egg. Our fifth and final nutter, unlike the others, has a sense of humour, christening his rocket “Egg Flied Nice”, which is probably the best joke you’re likely to hear in all 35 episodes of this show. Despite looking like several cardboard toilet rolls stuck together in a neat little tower, the take-off and landing appear impeccable, despite the separate parachute and capsule for the egg nearly landing in the car park, much to Barry’s discomfort.
Now that all nutters have launched all rockets, it’s time to have a look at the eggs. Rocket one, sent up bearing the cuddly pig, has an intact egg, and we’re off to a cracking start (not literally). Rocket two, which appeared to explode mid-flight, did indeed do just that, and now contains an omelette in a bag, a poor result for the second nutter. Rocket three, which apparently practically built an on-board house for its egg, reveals said egg to be intact. This is indeed a fine day for HV-AR CAS rockets. Rocket four has eventually been found, but as far as results go it wasn’t really worth the effort, with a big yolk-y mess to be discovered upon opening. And finally, Egg Flied Nice did indeed fly nice, but retrieval from the car park reveals another omelette in a bag, meaning it’s rockets one and three up for the gold medal – but that’s something the off-camera judges need to decide on. Based on “innovation, style, and design”, rocket number one takes gold due to its use of the pig as a protective capsule. I’m not even joking with that judgement, and nutter number 3 looks insulted to the core at the decision. But he really should have brought a pig.
Rope Climb: The Final
Now that we’re done with the rocketry, we have the formality of crowning the gold medalist in the rope climb. If you’ll recall, Simian and Skeletron raced each other in the first heat, both finishing with times ranging from phenomenal to respectable, and the four competitors to have taken to the rope since have all failed to finish, meaning for some reason we need a re-match between these two to decide who takes gold, if it wasn’t already obvious. I think this would also mean Havoc can claim the bronze medal for getting stuck halfway up the rope, but you’d have to ask the Havoc team about that matter.
After Noel suggests the future of robotic rope climbing lies in the window cleaning and picking coconuts off palm trees industries, it’s time to head to the ropes to crown Simian the winner. I know we all love a good upset, but, discounting a sudden breakdown and/or explosion/implosion, there was never really going to be any other outcome. While Simian races to the top in 3.71 seconds, Skeletron makes its way majestically up the rope, and despite not capturing the gold medal, it certainly has captured the hearts, minds and imaginations like no other Techno Games competitor has to this point. It manages to shave four seconds of its previous best upon reaching the top, leaving Simian to win the gold, and Skeletron to win all the cool points.
It’s also revealed that Havoc is apparently spelled as ‘Havak’, but it’s too late for me to go back and change everything now.
Before we head to the sprint track for the lightweight sprint final (seriously why did they do three separate sprint events here), it turns out the editors had neglected to update us on the solar power marathon, which I’m sure everyone reading this will also have forgotten about by now. Not a lot’s changed; Mad Pup’s in the lead, Sunburn’s just behind in second place, and although Mad Dog has started moving now, it’s not exactly giving the other two much of a challenge, and I’m sure that will remain the same come the end of the episode.
Now we can watch the lightweight sprint, though for some reason we need a recap of the ‘senior’ sprint event, which not only has been mind-numbingly dull (save for the explosion of Scuttle), but also has no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of this race between The Little Drunken Plastic Spider and Mark III, and yes, this really is the caliber of name we have to work with here. Mark III, according to the builder, was built as their dissertation project, which is basically just four legs on a metal base, and for some reason there’s a hoop going over the top of it? Whatever way you look at it, it’s surprising the builder can look upon Mark III and refer to it as finished. Little Drunken Plastic Spider (or LDPS as it shall henceforth be referred to) meanwhile, looks almost exactly the same as Mark III, just with twice as many legs and no hoop. Basically both are just glorified circuitboards with legs, and I won’t be expecting much out of this race.
I should also point out that these two have even less distance to travel than the ‘senior sprinters’ given their size (at least I should think they do), so maybe things won’t be as painful as I’ve anticipated? No, it’s somehow worse. Mark III does actually move, but because there’s literally no grip on its feet it just sort of slides about along the floor. But it’s a darned sight better than what LDPS can do, since it’s just sort of raising itself up and down on the starting line. It looks live we’ll be in for an excruciating experience, but one quick wipe transition reveals that Mark III has actually made it to the finishing line, and crosses it in, brace yourselves… just under seven and a half minutes. If I were Salford University I’d take back that boy’s degree. But at least it did actually finish, with LDPS revealed to have made it about six inches past the starting line before being timed out, much to the relief of what few onlookers were probably left by that point.
Before we finally bring episode 4 to a close, we should reveal who the solar power marathon winner is – of course, it’s Mad Pup. The students become the masters and take home the gold medal. There’s also a quick reminder that the “University Challenge” is happening, which I’m sure many will have forgotten about since it’s literally the first we’ve heard of it since its brief cameo in the first episode. Both teams are doing fine, and I’m sure we’re all eager to see how tomorrow’s final goes.
We’re left with a snippet of what to expect from the series finalé tomorrow, where we’ll be seeing the robot soccer championships. That’s right, there’ll be actual robot soccer, and this website will, at long last, have a relevant name. The Match of the Day theme plays us out, much to my enjoyment, and also making me realise what I’d much rather be watching.
And that’s all, folks, we’re nearing the end of the first ever Techno Games, and I’m sure you’re all as happy about it as I am. Shares, comments and likes would be a much appreciated gesture. Tune in tomorrow for the review of the final day of the 2000 event, and please, be responsible with your eggs. This day truly was one small step for man, one giant leap for egg-kind.