Good afternoon all, we’re back again with coverage of the second day of the 2001 Techno Games series, which will henceforth be known as 2001: A TechnOdyssey. Yesterday caused a shock by presenting us with at least three genuinely functioning contestants, matching the entire total from last series. Things already seem to be looking up, but, me being the pessimist that I am, I’m not holding out much hope for the standard being kept up.
Today marks the return of some classic events, such as the Micromouse, the High Jump, the first heat of the Swimming (woop!) and even more f*cking rockets than there were last year. Jayne reminds us of the continued existence of Noel and Martin, and we start promptly with a dip in the pool.
Swimming: Heats One, Two and Three
The Swimming event is another which seems to have amassed a great amount of popularity, since the field has only gone and increased from four to fifty. Yes, FIFTY whole (well, mostly whole) robots will be dipping their cogs into the water for a chance at the gold medal, including the holder Calypso, making a triumphant return to “test” itself against the “best” the country has to offer.
However, the ice cream machine won’t be appearing just yet, and we’ve got three heats of newbies to get through today. There’s ten heats, five robots each, and the winners of each go through to the semi-finals. Easy peasy.
In heat one, there’s an ungodly selection of technology to feast your eyes on. Ed rattles us through them so quickly the editors can barely keep up, let alone me, but there’s; Technoduck, which basically looks like two poles stuck togetherwith a duck painted on them; Swimosaurus, a small, untested platypus-looking thing; Froggit, an acid-induced frog wearing lipstick which the team insist is the gold standard of comedy; The Fat Salamander, which is well, a fat salamander; and finally Flippersaurus, which looks as though it’s trying to cheat its way to the end by taking up half the length of the pool. It’s basically at the finish before it’s even started the race.
It’s not exactly an electrifying race, with Technoduck, Swimosaurus and Flippersaurus all gently paddling away from the starting block, with Froggit and The Fat Salamander floating idly by, just happy to be there. Calypso’s world record is in no danger whatsoever, epitomized further by Technoduck deciding to change course and swim into the wall, and Flippersaurus seemingly breaking down about a third of the way up the pool, leaving Swimosaurus to complete the race on its lonesome. It comes in at 1:45.17 after zig-zagging its way all over the pool and changing as many lanes as it possibly could, finishing in the opposite corner from where it started.
Before we can catch out respective breaths from that exhilarating display, Ed’s suddenly racing us through the next batch of watery wonders; Techno Tyrant, a nice looking shark that Noel will probably enjoy because it looks like a shark; Roboducky, which is a wonderful mix of string, plastic bottles and rubber ducks that looks like it’s going to fall apart upon touching the water; Wavecutter, made of a winning combination of drainpipe, wood and, in the words of the team, “floppy stuff”, which could mean any number of things; the imaginatively-named Aquabot, which is a literal box with a massive f*cking flipper at the end of it, as well as a mohawk for… decoration, I guess?; and finally, Quackers, a large piece of polystyrene entered by the same team that brought us Flippersaurus in the previous heat. And get ready to see more of them, because they’ve got another three robots still to enter here, meaning their polystyrene claptrap makes up a tenth of the robots in this event.
If the last race got off to a slow start, well, this one isn’t much better to be honest. At first it looks as though it’ll be a tight, but overall meandering race between Techno Tyrant and Roboducky, with Wavecutter sort of just bobbling along in the distance, and the other two nowhere to be seen. However, although it’s movement is very satisfying and the below-the-water shots of its shark face look Instagrammable, Techno Tyrant can’t keep up with the comparable rapidity of Roboducky, which finishes with a time of 1:02.41, which, sure, is better than Swimosaurus, but does nothing to make me think Calypso’s in for a challenge this year. Noel then confirms his favourite was the shark, and that’s a square checked off Techno Games bingo.
There is, of course, one more heat to cover today, and we go “live” back to the pool (literally Ed and Jayne forget where they’re meant to be looking when “talking” to each other) to see what shipwrecks await us now. The line-up reads; Dippy Flippy, presumably christened after the first two words the team could think of, and resembles some sort of paper maché dolphin, and keeps up the trend of using plastic bottles as floatation devices; Mike the Swimmer, which is literally just a bottle with some extra bits tacked on to the side of it; Splashing Fun Barbie, which is honestly one of the most horrifying things I’ve seen recently, as it bears a decapitated dolls’ head which sits on top of a large white box. Imagine the floating heads in jars from Futurama, but if they’d been created by the thing from The Exorcist. That’s what we’re dealing with here, and it’s all the more traumatizing for me knowing it was created in my hometown. We’re also dealing with yet another shark for Noel to lose self-control over, this time going by the name Gums, because it doesn’t have any teeth, like basically every other robot in this event, and despite the fact the team have painted teeth on it for decoration. It also looks like it’s made exclusively out of plastic bags, and I exclusively reserve no hope for it. Finally, we have The Destroyer, which mercifully isn’t one of the five robots the Flippersaurus team have entered. Instead, we get a tiny “warship” that looks like it was designed by a six-year-old, mounted with Coke cans and covered in duct tape. I sh*t you not, that’s legit what it’s made out of, and even Jayne predicts only bad things will happen to it.
Now, I was hoping for at least a bit of excitement at the start, but this might just be the worst race of the day. Firstly, none of them actually start when the klaxon goes off, and only after a couple of seconds does Dippy Flippy tear away from everyone else with, well, some speed I guess. It’s definitely helped by The Destroyer sort of just milling about in the end lane, Mike the Swimmer going the wrong way, and Splashing Fun Barbie attacking Gums instead of joining in with the race. I knew that doll had to be evil. Dippy Flippy actually ends up being the fastest qualifier of the day, finishing in 55.17 seconds, which is more a testament to the standard of machine we’ve seen so far today, especially since it appears to break down and float slowly to the end of the pool in the final few seconds. Regardless, it’s the most impressive swimmer we’ve seen so far, and I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to seeing the other thirty-five robots taking part.
Jayne and Ed remind us that at this pace Dippy Flippy is on course for the gold medal, and before I can throw something at my laptop screen in existential anger, we move on to the High Jump.
High Jump: Day One
Seeing as last year’s winner, Bottle of Doom, was a literal plastic bottle on a string, you’d home that in the year between the events we’d be seeing some proper classy technology being created to replace the primitive bottle launching method. You’d have also hoped they’d stop bringing in human “experts” to give their opinions on things they know nothing about, but after an episode and a quarter of getting my hopes up, much like my dreams of success in life, those hopes are shattered into a thousand un-mendable little pieces with the appearance of Olympic high jumper Ben Challenger. Great name, great hair, but why is he here? The two events are almost completely different, and all he contributes to the conversation is “I can jump here”. Thanks, five-year-old child.
Any hopes of technological advancements in this event are also semi-shattered with the introduction of the first jumper, Rod Knee (get it?). There are two key reasons not to have any faith in this thing; firstly, it’s taking the approach of trying to recreate human movement with the old “bend down, touch toes, jump up” routine; and secondly, and perhaps most crucially of all, it’s made out of f*cking K’nex. Remember K’nex? Yeah, it was great to build fun little toy vehicles out of, but man was never meant to mechanize this thing, regardless of what the adverts used to tell you (extra shout out if you remember the K’nex adverts).
It pretty much lives up to expectations, throwing its arms in the air and hopping up to 0.45m. Somehow the bottle continues to set the bar here. But if you thought that experience was cringe-inducing, next up is Frogger, which is, wait for it… two mousetraps stuck together with a piece of string. It’s absolutely tiny, and there’s literally no technology involved in it whatsoever, they tie the traps back, light the match and wait for the jump. At least Mantrap from last year has that little buggy thing to light its fire. Clearly the High Jump has somehow generated even less interest than the year before. Worse still, it leaps into gold medal contention with a 2.7m jump, and I storm off in rage.
Upon my return, I’m introduced by Ed to contestant number three, Leaping Larry. It’s… a bit better than the other two, since neither is it made from a children’s construction kit, nor does it possess a distinct lack of “techno” for the Techno Games. It’s a wooden thing with a frog pattern on it, and presumably there’s some sort of spring mechanism to send it spiraling into the air. You’d assume so, except it doesn’t actually jump, remaining idle on the podium and being left with a “no jump”. Yes, that does mean the mousetrap thing is still winning this thing.
Last up is the triumphant return of the Eagling boys, fresh from their victory in the Long Jump a year ago. Hoping to add a gold medal in the High Jump to their collection is Rivet Rivet, which is, erm… well, it’s… phallic. Like, it’s inescapably phallic. I know it was designed by a small boy who probably wanted it to look like a rocket ship, but surely someone could have stepped in and altered the design a little bit? This was being shown at teatime on the BBC for crying out loud! It even has two big circles at the bottom of it for, well, you know what. However, in a nice turn of fate, it sets aside its unfortunate design and leaps into the lead, landing bang on the 5m mark to take the lead from that small bit of metal we saw two jumps ago.
Unfortunately, we have to watch all these things do a second jump, so here’s a nice and swift recap of what goes down. Rod Knee lines itself up from, get this, the opposite side from where it did its last jump, and whether that’s why it lost its left foot in gaining an extra 0.1m remains to be seen, but we know its probably going to come last. Frogger jumps 2.6m and that’s all the attention I’m going to be giving it anymore. Leaping Larry proves that it does actually work, somersaulting its way into third place with a 2m jump. And thus, Rivet Rivet have already claimed first place without having to jump again, but for some reason we have to go “live” to the floor to watch this fabled second jump, as if it really matters at this point. Barry assures us that it “looks like a missile” and absolutely nothing else, as it self-destructs and barely makes it off the floor, in a shower of rubber bands as its frame contorts all out of shape. An explosive end to a decent performance, and the benchmark has been set for the other contestants to come. Yes, there really is more of this.
Time for a short break to see the latest installment of Julia Reed’s travel vlog through Japan, and the latest futuristic contraption we still haven’t seen nineteen years after the show was first broadcast. Today, she’s tickling a small robotic dog called Dog.com (back when it was cool to put “.com” at the end of things), which can also talk and ask for massages, and swing between being a “happy dog” and “sad dog”, and, as the evidence suggests, an extra setting called “existential dog”. Julia tells us we can’t buy them in England yet due to the language barrier, and, presumably, that’s still the case nineteen years on. If anyone in the West actually owns Dog.com some more info on it would be nice.
The same people also make small robotic bugs that look like Nosey the House Zook from Bamzooki (seriously, who else remembers Bamzooki?), and, even more pointlessly, solar-powered jellyfish that can swim. Whatever will they think of next?
Micromouse: Day One
So the sun sets on another day in Japan and rises back in the Technodrome for us to watch the Micromouse challenge. You’ll probably remember it best from last year as the one where the small circuitboards try and navigate a maze, some with a lot more difficulty than others. Nothing’s really changed, except the maze is bigger and the robots are quicker, hopefully anyway.
First up today are Millennium Bug (not the one from Robot Wars) and Dash (not the really quick one from The Incredibles). Millennium Bug is apparently a “maze-solver”, meaning it’s programmed to work out the bast pattern in the maze instead of being guided by the wall. And solve the maze it does, in 28.22 seconds, no less, a mighty quick time that must have everyone worrying about the potential powers of small maze-solving robots. Dash (or “Dash 24” as it’s apparently now being called) isn’t as remarkable as Millennium Bug, which is a shame considering it’s from the same bloke who brought us last years’ gold medallist, Horsepower. In fact it’s so slow to the point where the editors just take the p*ss out of them, having to speed up their run due to it coming in to the finish at 1:59.00. It appears that there really are two types of micromouse in this world.
Also, Dr. Myra Wilson, the third judge from Robot Wars, replaces Noel on the sofa for this segment, meaning that for once we have an actual expert talking about the event! I’m really glad the production team didn’t seek out a human maze-solver to give their opinion on it, although admittedly that could’ve been brilliant.
Rocket-Powered Egg-Lofting: Day One
We’ve only got ten minutes of day two left, which is just about enough time to cram in some big f*cking rockets, as we gladly say hello again to the Rocket-Powered Egg-Lofting event. Last year’s winner was a small toy pig, and I’m hoping for the same level of cutting-edge technology and aerodynamics as we saw last year.
There’s six rockets that are sending eggs into orbit today, and because every launch is over and done in about fifteen seconds, that’s probably how long I’ll spend describing the rockets on show. Hermes is first up, a white and silver coloured rocket, and spends a few seconds in the air before twirling gently to the ground. Little Red Booster, a top-heavy red rocket, does pretty much the same, but with a slightly uneasier landing. The third rocket, Phoenix, diverts from the status quo and shoots off to the left, barely staying in the air before diving head-first into the ground with no parachute, and the fate of the egg appears unpromising at best.
As expected, both Hermes and Little Red Booster deliver intact eggs, with Phoenix getting the beans and bacon ready to serve with its scrambled egg. With the Booster spending significantly longer in the air, that’s who currently occupies top spot. Onto the second bunch of rockets, starting with Hen Grenade, a very spindly and unbalanced looking thing, but it takes pretty much the same course of action the first two rockets did, so who am I to judge? Spegtrum, adorned in rainbows, performs basically the same, but somehow manages to fire itself behind the starting pad before bringing itself down to earth safely. Last up is the bombastic D Rooster Booster, which sails so high into the air you can almost hear ‘The Blue Danube’ accompanying it, and almost gets lost in the mist on its way down. D Booster and D Hen bring their eggs home to roost safely, but Spegtrum finds egg to be split in two upon redelivery, but at least it was the most colourful rocket there.
Hen Grenade, as it turns out, stayed upin the air for 1 minute 15 seconds, claiming the gold medal at the expense of D Rooster Booster, who could only claim silver with an airtime of 55 seconds. I guess egg-lofting was an unforgiving sport back in its heyday. Jayne tells us there’s more eggs and rockets to come our way tomorrow, so I guess no-one has any medals just yet after all.
Solar-Powered Sprint Final
There’s just about enough time for us to watch the final of the Solar-Powered Sprint, since only two robots are taking part this year. Yes, somehow the event that favours eco-friendly technology has gone down from three participants to two. I weep for humanity sometimes.
The Armstrong team make a return with Goliath, a solar panel with four wheels attached to it, and they’re up against Push It, a slightly bigger solar panel with four wheels attached to it, though it does also look like a video tape bandaged up in duct tape. I bet they’d get along with the Destroyer team. The future of power gets underway, as Push It meanders its way down the track under the scorching sunlight, and Goliath stays at the starting line. Despite a quite frankly tedious time of 2:08.50, it’s an easy gold medal for Push It, with more disappointment for the Goliath team, but at least they have a medal to show for their failures this time.
Jayne reminds us that no robots were harmed during the filming of the show, meaning that the episode’s end has been reached. It’s not been quite as eventful as day one, by we’ve still had poolside wrestling, scrambled eggs, a sassy dog and a high jumper which looks like a cool rocket and nothing else. You couldn’t have any of these things in a show other than Techno Games.
Two days in and we remain somewhere near the bottom of the metaphorical iceberg, with much more wacky shenanigans to follow. More swimming, more sprinting, more competitors who you’ll remember from Robot Wars at a time when they could consider themselves to be minor celebrities. I’m sure they’d all be telling you to give this page a like and to share it about with anyone else who’d be interested, and that you should stay tuned for Day Three tomorrow.
Thanks for reading, and remember, robot sharks are only for the pool or for Noel Sharkey’s enjoyment. Goodbye.