Sunday, October 5, 2014

Summary of the 6th Annual Vermont Pumpkin Chuckin' (VTPC) Festival

Summary of the 6th Annual Vermont Pumpkin Chuckin' (VTPC) Festival, Sunday Sept 28th, 2014 at Stoweflake Resort and Spa Event field in Stowe, VT.

The Format

Twenty homebuilt trebuchets competed this year in 4 weight classes. Each competitor has 3 chances to fling a pumpkin the furthest using only gravity and the mechanical leverage of their homebuilt “medieval siege engine”. Teams competed for best throw within their class, but also for overall best, by proportioning the results of the throw to the length of their trebuchet.

Tightest contest ever

This year, in a contest where the best throw exceeded two football fields, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place were separated by only 16 feet! The field was wide open due to our two-time champion, Dwight Snowberger, being out of the country. By the last round, the venerable “Team Jordan”, a team of 2 brothers from upstate NY (ages 84 and 79!) had calculated that they were behind by only 9 feet to “Hammer of the Gourds”(HOTG), a 6-person team from NH captained by last year’s Heavyweight Div. winner, Chris McGrody.

With only 1 throw to go they had to try something, so they adjusted the cable on their trigger to release the arm later – hoping for a better throw. But alas, the final throw fell 5 feet short of the previous throw. Then, to add insult to injury, HOTG, who made the last throw of the day, loaded up their machine with an extra 160 pounds for a truly spectacular throw, far exceeding their previous best, and literally “wowing” the crowd.

But wait, a penalty?

The Grand Prize of “Best Design” is awarded to the trebuchet that throws the farthest FOR THEIR HEIGHT. So as live music from “House Dunn” played on, event organizer Dave Jordan and indispensable volunteer, Mike Gladu furiously calculated the results of the 1st, 2nd , and 3rd places in each of 4 divisions, then “scaled-up” the Lightweight(LW) and Middleweight(MW) distances to Heavyweight(HW) size to allow all results to be compared.

This is unique to the VTPC where we allow the different size trebuchets to compete not only in their own size division, but also directly against the other divisions. The physics of trebuchets scales well – a treb that is twice as tall, and built with the exact same design, will throw twice as far. The Lightweight Div. has a vertical arm limit of 41”. The Heavyweights have a 120” (10 ft.) limit. So the Lightweights best distance is scaled up by 120/41 or roughly 2.9, to match what they would throw if they were Heavyweight height. If a Lightweight throws 100 feet, for example, it is adjusted up to 290 feet.

Middleweight height is limited to 70”, so they are scaled up by 120/70 or roughly 1.7. So a Middleweight throw of 100 feet would be adjusted to 170 feet. The Heavyweight distances are not adjusted at all – the other divisions are adjusted up to meet them.

In addition to the throwing arm limits, each division has a weight limitation. This rule evens the playing field for competitors and puts the focus on the design of the trebuchet – rather than merely how big it is. Since the physics is easily calculated, when a treb exceeds the height or weight limits, an adjustment is calculated, which makes it fair for all the other trebs which stayed under the limit, without disqualifying the overweight or overheight trebs. For example, if a treb is 10% overheight, its throws would be corrected to roughly 90% of the actual distance.

Back to the calculation

What Don Jordan didn’t know was that after the first round of throws, HOTG had added 50 lb to their treb, making them 40 lbs overweight, incurring a penalty of roughly 10% on the second throw. The mathematical correction brought them back down into second place, by a mere 14 feet. So team Jordan, a fifth year competitor who had come in 3rd and 2nd in the previous two tournaments, finally took home the overall Grand Prize! Congratulations to Team Jordan on a victory well-deserved.

Ironically, Team Jordan lost two years ago because they were inadvertently overweight by only 3 lbs., which was enough to push them down from 1st to 3rd place!

Which division has the advantage?

There is a fierce debate over which division has the advantage after the proportional scaling. The lightweight trebs are much stronger for their weight than the bigger trebs, allowing a higher percentage of weight to be used in the counterweight instead of the being necessary in the frame and arm. This would seem to be a big advantage to the LW, but since LW competitors are 9 years old or less, we can grant them this allowance.

The heavier a projectile is, the less it is affected by air resistance, so all other things being equal, this would strongly favor the HW. But at a 500 lbs. weight limit, they are much harder and more dangerous to build, and take a lot more time. Further, they must “waste” more of their overall weight in their beefier structure, rather than in their counterweight. Still, the heavyweight division really “makes” the tournament and the crowd loves you, so please hang in there heavyweights!

In practice, the Lightweights have never won, and the Heavyweights won only in the first year of the competition. For five years in a row, the Middleweight Open Division has taken the title. But this year the Heavyweight was very close, and might have taken the overall had they not chosen to over-weight their crowd-thrilling last throw.

He won the category that he invented

Full disclosure: winning team captain Don Jordan is the father of event founder and organizer Dave. Don came to the first festival as a spectator. After the first festival, he suggested that Dave add another category so that older participants could compete. A 500 lbs. treb would be too much to handle, but a 100 lbs. machine would not. So we made a Middleweight Division and separated it into Middleweight Junior (17 and under) and Middleweight Open Divs. Both have the same height and weight limitations and both can compete for the Grand Prize, as well as within their own divisions.

The Climax

Back to "Hammer of the Gourds" final throw… With the extra 160 lbs., they were in uncharted territory. It isn’t clear if they were still even thinking about winning the Grand Prize or just wanted to send a pumpkin beyond the limits of the known world. In any case, with weights stacked far out to each side and raised high, team captain Chris pulled the release cord of the now-top-heavy “floating arm” type trebuchet. The machine rocked, almost tipped, rocked back the other way, finally (to the relief of the team) remained standing. He pulled it again. Another rock, almost tip, rock back, and rest. Chris asked for a few minutes to evaluate. The crowd collected their breath. Everyone sensed that something big and dangerous was happening.

Dave used the opportunity to ask for volunteers to collect all the broken pumpkins littering the Stoweflake’s field and then watched in amazement as dozens of kids (led by Jana Bagley of Nightmare Vermont acting troop) flooded the field and swooped down on the pumpkin refuse at lighting-speed.

With the field cleared and spectators once again behind the safety tape, Hammer of the Gourds was ready to try again: the pull, the rocking, the nearly toppling, but still no launch – there was just too much weight on the trigger mechanism. As the headliner band “House Dunn” struck up another awesome song to fill the gap, HOTG removed all the weights, deliberated, tweaked the trigger mechanism, and put it all back together – all the weight still on! No one was going home early.

Attempt number 3: Chris yanked hard on the trigger chord, surely this time it would fire, the machine rocked yet again, rocked back – no launch, as it rocked back he yanked again and the pumpkin shot out like cannonball. The crowd stood mostly silent, mouths agape as the projectile rose, grew smaller, and smaller, and finally slammed into the underbrush having totally cleared the field and landed 30 feet into a hedge beyond – a whopping 626’! An amazing end to an awesome day of hurling, record-breaking weather, and great music from 3 bands/musicians.
Official Results of Trebuchet contest

All throws are given in actual distance in feet, and also scaled-up to Heavyweight size with any penalty if needed.

Lightweight Division:
limited to 41”, 20 lbs. (total weight of trebuchet and counterweight), age 9 and under, throwing a minimum 3 ounce tomato or similar projectile.

Name of Trebuchet – Actual measured distance (ft) / Best adjusted distance (ft)
  • 1st place: Dante's Little Torch – 93.6 / 273.9
  • 2nd place: Kinetic Pumpkins – 70.5 / 206.3
  • 3rd place: Stapleton #1 – 67.2 / 196.7
  • 4th place: Tomato Crusher – 56.7 / 165.9

Middleweight Junior Division: limited to 70”, 100 lbs, 17 years and under, throwing a 1 pound pumpkin or gourd.

Name of Trebuchet – Actual measured distance (ft) / Best adjusted distance (ft)
  • 1st place: Phoenix Rising – 135 / 229.8
  • 2nd place: Hartford High Flyers – 120 / 205.7
  • 3rd place: Atomic Pumpkins – 60.5 / 103.7
  • 4th place: Donec Iaculus – 55.9 / 94.4

Middleweight Open Division: (same limits as Middleweight Junior)

Name of Trebuchet – Actual measured distance / Best adjusted distance
  • 1st place: Team Jordan – 300 / 514.2
  • 2nd place: Carbon Destroyer – 343 *penalty / 496
  • 3rd place: Queen Cristine – 258 / 442.9
  • 4th place: Out of Our Gourds – 169 / 290
  • 5th place: Waterbury Rotary – 140 / 240
  • 6th place: Cheezit – 124 / 213
  • 7th place: SUNY Plattsburgh Physics – 122 / 209
  • 8th place: Stapleton #2 – 112 / 192

Heavyweight Division: limited to 120”, 500 lbs, throwing a 5 pound pumpkin.

Name of Trebuchet – Actual measured distance / Best adjusted distance
  • 1st place: Hammer of the Gourds – 560 *penalty / 498
  • 2nd place: Weapons of Medieval Destruction – 522 *penalty / 404
  • 3rd place: Dante's Inferno II – 153 / 153
  • 4th place: Bad Boomer – 113 / 113

Results of Chili Cookoff

The chili cookoff was a great success again this year. Six competitors each brought 2 gallons of chili that disappeared in about an hour.
  • First place trophy and $100 cash went to Mark Browning from Barre, VT (28 votes)
  • Second place trophy and $50 cash went to Ken Elwood (26 votes)
  • Third place trophy and $25 cash went to Regina Crosby from Stowe Barber Shop (22 votes)

Creatures in the festival, oh my, oh my

Nightmare Vermont (interactive Haunted House) brought their brand of entertainment to the festival in the way of 8 creatures, including a large creation which was briefly enlisted to help the Master of Ceremonies by standing next to him as he made his way down the line so the spectators could follow the action. Thanks for coming Nightmare Vermont and we hope to see you again next year.

Free water provided compliments of Blue Cross Blue Shield

Ahhhhh…much appreciated on a record breaking warm day!

Thanks to Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa

The Stoweflake was an excellent host again this year in providing the field, the fencing and other facility support to us for free. All they asked was to be the main sponsor of the event. Great job Stoweflake! We’ll be back again next year.

Thanks to the Lamoille Family Center

The LFC did most of the work behind the scenes, putting up and taking down miles of fencing, numerous tents and canopies, a band stage, tables, chairs, signs. And thanks to all the other volunteers that helped with parking, shuttling, registration, surveying, etc. Some of the work is less fun and less glorious – and deserves an even biggest thank you!

Hot day left some hoodies left over

I ordered a lot more hoodies and tshirts this year because last year sold out. Because of the hot weather, a lot of hoodies and long T’s were left over. If you want a hoodie or long sleeve tshirt, contact Lamoille Family Center at (802) 888-2590. Hoodies cost $20 plus shipping, Long T’s cost $13 plus shipping and regular T’s cost $10 plus shipping.

Here are the sizes available:
  • XL Hoodies
  • L Hoodies
  • XL Long Sleeve T’s
  • L Long Sleeve T’s
  • XL Short Sleeve T’s

Dave Jordan’s final thoughts on trebuchet design and the evolution of pumpkin chuckin'

My motivation for this festival was to create a competition where kids and adults build something and learn by doing. I was, and still am, motivated to build a better trebuchet next year. At least my treb actually fired (forwards!), if only once, but hopefully breaking a six year curse. That’s how hard a heavyweight treb is to build!

But this festival is not about me, it is about the evolution and pursuit of perfection with all teams competing on a level field (metaphorically), namely the same height and weight. In the first year, I think almost all the trebuchets were of the 1000 year old design. And the trebuchet that won, won because it worked while many of the others didn’t. The next year, things progressed so quickly that the first year’s winner didn’t even place. In the third year, SUNY Plattsburgh Physics team debuted a floating arm design and won. The fourth year, the floating arm design was copied by a guy from CT and he won over a “King Arthur” (double pivoting) design by my dad. In the fifth year, a fierce competition between the floating arm and King Arthur designs went, by a nose (a pumpkin stem?) to the floating arm. I believe there were 4 floating arms and 3 King Arthurs. This year, almost all the trebuchets were either floating-arm, King Arthur, “Merlin” or “Over-the-Top” designs. Only a few of the basic Medieval design remain and most of those were in the Lightweight category.

Not that I wish to discourage anyone who wishes to participate from using any approach they choose. Any trebuchet is fun and satisfying to build, and shoot; and the festival gives everyone a chance to show off their efforts publicly. Hopefully participants will want to evolve bigger, better, and more competitive designs in subsequent as the years. The festival is a competition, and winning it is a completely legitimate goal (in fact it’s MY goal), but as anyone who has ever attended knows – it is most decidedly not ALL about winning.

I can hardly wait to see what will happen next year. We may have to alter the rules and limit the heavyweights to 400 lbs or reduce their height a bit to stay within the limitation of the field. But for right now, the rules stay mostly the same. I will make one small rule change for sure. I did notice one King Arthur design where the launcher added energy (i.e. pushed) the counterweight as it was “tipped” for launch. An official gravity-only, not gravity-plus-a-shove, policy will be enforced for next year’s competition.

Dave Jordan (Festival organizer)