Write It Do It

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Write It Do It
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Division B Champion Auburn Junior High School
Division C Champion New Trier Winnetka High School

In Write It Do It, one team member is given a structure built from some sort of construction materials, and writes a set of instructions on how to build it. The other team member will receive the instructions written by their teammate and a set of unassembled materials, and attempt to recreate the object as accurately as possible.

Contents

Objective

The object given can be made of virtually anything from toys (like Legos) to craft materials (popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners) to lab equipment. The first team member (often referred to as "The Writer") is given 25 minutes to write instructions, and the second team member (often referred to as "The Doer") is given 20 minutes to build from his/her teammate's instructions.

The Writer can use any numbers or symbols that can be typed on a standard keyboard by pressing one button, or one button in combination with the shift key, and must define all abbreviations. The Writer cannot use pictures or diagrams of any sort.

The Doer is given a set of unassembled materials to work from. This kit may or may not include replacement or extra materials, so beware and don't break anything if possible! (balloon, styrofoam cups, etc.)

Scoring is based on the number of correct connections. Ties are broken by the time of the doer.

Strategy

There are many different ways to approach this event. It is important that you find the strategy that works best for you and your partner.

The key to this event is practice. It is advised that you practice both writing and doing with your partner to identify certain good and bad elements of you or your partner's writing. As you practice, it will become apparent who is the better 'writer' and who is the better 'doer.' Another good strategy for preparation is to come up with a set of terms that you and your partner can both follow. For example, north, south, east and west (as well as southwest, northeast, etc.) for direction. If you and your partner can come up with a set of abbreviations to use at the event, you will be even more efficient in your communications.

Developing General Rules

As you practice, you may want to develop a set of "rules" for your writing. This may include terminology for describing the relative positions of your structure, or a "directional" system to describe the direction which certain pieces point or face.

However, it is very important that these rules are general in nature. Excessively complicated or specific rule systems may confuse you or your partner and may also be interpreted as 'code' by event supervisors. As this is a highly subjective event, you will want to avoid the suspicion of event supervisors. Also, as per Write It Do It rules, any words used out of their standard definitions must be defined. Note that centimeters or inches, however common the abbreviation is, must also be defined as abbreviations (cm and in) otherwise you get points off.

Tips

You should also come up with some standard or easy (but not code-like) way of describing characteristics of building materials. For instance, what will you call the little buttons on the tops of Lego pieces? Be careful not to have the same word for two different things, as that can be very confusing for the person building!

You will probably find that some abbreviations are particularly useful to have, such as words and terms for different colors, sizes, shapes, lengths, and so forth. For example, common phrases that are used are "horizontally flat" (lay the item flat on the table, horizontally.) or "vertically standing", (make the object stand tall and vertical.) It's easier and faster to write two words than a whole sentence. Shortcuts like this might not seem worth it, but in the end, you could save yourself a good 5-10 minutes. (Note that some of these will be dependent on your building materials, and some won't.) Words like "piece" and "attach" are also good candidates for abbreviation. You may use a lot of abbreviations or just a few depending on how systematic your approach is. (Remember: you must list all abbreviations at the top of your paper during the event, so if you have too many, you may waste too much of your time writing abbreviations.) Sometimes writing full words fast is a good option, but be sure to keep it neat.

Bear in mind that this is a very subjective event, and a lot of the interpretation is left up to the people running it. Both partners should ask the event runners about their specific scoring style, as you will find it varies greatly from competition to competition. For instance, at the '99 nationals, the scorers viewed the structures in layers, starting from the bottom up. As soon as a layer was wrong, they stopped scoring, because they considered all the connections above that layer to be incorrect. Knowing things like this might affect the way you budget your time or how much attention you pay to detail. And even if they don't want to answer your questions, it can't hurt to ask - that way you won't end up later thinking "if only I had known..."!

Sample Team Strategy

Some sample strategies you may wish to employ are given below to help get you started. This is by no means a complete list of ways to approach this event, but rather methods that have been tried and tested. Most have won medals at the national competition in both divisions B and C.

1. Decide how to approach the horizontal plane, as well as the vertical plane. For instance, for objects all on the same level (horizontal plane), you may choose to use North/South/East/West. If using this system, it is highly advised to divide your grid into sixteenths. That is, rather than just simply N or W, use NNW or WSW. This yields a much higher degree of accuracy on the placement of tricky pieces. Another method is the compass. Decide, for instance, that 0 degrees is as far away from the builder as possible. Then, going clockwise, count up to 359 degrees. So, for instance, an object to the south west of another would be at approximately 225 degrees. This provides for very very accurate measurements, assuming both you and your partner have the same perspective, and both know how to count to 360 (harder than it sounds sometimes). The third commonly used reference frame for objects is the clock face. For example, the point farthest from you is 12:00 and the point closest is 6:00, going clockwise. So an object to the south west of another one would be maybe 7:30 (rather than going to the nearest hour, an object can sometimes be in between. Therefore you may wish to go to quarter hours. That is, 3:15 would be 1/4 of the way between 3:00 and 4:00.)

2. The second important thing is to come up with a standard set of definitions for everything. Make sure you know what to call everything. And if you encounter something new in competition, pick a name that makes is obvious what you're referring to- preferably a short one that doesn't take long to write repeatedly.

3. The next key is figuring out distances with your partner. As much as I would love it to be so, the things at competition will most likely not all be in one fluid piece all connected together. Therefore, you're going to have to know how to describe a piece that's out making its own island away from the main structure. We've already covered the relative angle part in step 1. But saying something is 80 degrees (ENE; 2:30) from another object, really doesn't do you much good. Units are also important! Is the object a foot away? Across the room? How far? This is where it gets interesting between you and your partner. You can always stick to standard measurements. I recommend cm, because they're metric and spaced nicely for estimations. (Remember to define 'cm' as an abbreviation if you use it though!) The key to this though is making sure you and your partner can estimate lengths the same. It doesn't matter if you're both accurate, you just have to be consistently equally wrong! This in itself requires some practice. However, I found an easier way, and one that's more consistent. Get together with your partner. Grab his or her hand... and compare them. Everyone has probably a ton of various lengths on their finger joints. For instance, the third knuckle to the tip of your middle finger may be exactly the same length as the third knuckle to tip of your partner's pinky! Just find two joints on your hands that are as close to exactly the same length as possible. Then, when you're writing, you can use that as your standard. Count off and, for instance, that lego is 3.5 joints away from the set of K'nex. Just remember which you're supposed to be measuring with. The key here is to have steady hands... at least steady enough to make sure you don't actually touch the structure when you're writing. You can always guesstimate by hovering your hand a little above the table rather than touch it and risk a DQ.

4. This fourth idea is possibly the most secretive in the event, so pay attention. It's one that's not always obvious, but will save you a LOT of time when writing. Go back and read the rules. You can't use abbreviations. You can't use secret symbols. It says nothing about proper grammar. Put your IM and texting skills to good use. Don't use any words that aren't necessary. For instance, rather than saying "Place a long gray K'nex piece vertically on the table in the 12:00 - 6:00 position." Think about "Gray stick 12:00-6:00" This conveys exactly the same idea, your partner will understand (especially after practicing), and you can save a ton of time writing. The key here is figuring out what is necessary to include and what is fluff you can remove without confusing your partner or leaving out key descriptions. Here could be a description though:

White K'nex piece flat on table. Out of 12:00 slot gray stick, 4:30 - red stick, 9:00 - white stick. Connected on other end of gray stick, red piece, extra slots on left. From middle slot in red piece, another gray stick coming out at 7:30.

Basically, the lesson you should get is, don't worry about proper grammar. You can't abbreviate words, but you can completely omit words you don't need. Save yourself as much time as possible. You'd be amazed at how much time you can save with such a simple concept.

It will also help a lot if you reread the instructions written by your partner if you are the builder just to make an adjustments before you are finished

5. A good idea time wise is to spend the whole time you have writing, because the time of the writer doesn't matter. Only the time of the doer matters. So spend the whole time even if you finish early checking and re-checking, clarifying, etc. The doer should also not rush, but if it is easy, they should try to go fast while not making mistakes. Don't worry to much if you don't finish writing, just try to get enough down that the builder can understand what you are trying to relay to them.

If you find yourself with yet more extra time, make lists of everything included so the builder knows if anything was included with the materials that wasn't in the original model. Reread your instructions again and if you still have yet more time, clarify everything and anything that might come across as meaning something else. More often than not, the Doer won't get to these, but you can never be one hundred percent sure and it might be that one sentence which saves you points.

6. Before you even start writing, take a breath. Many builds may look more complex and challenging to describe than they actually are. If the build still looks impossible to write about, start somewhere simple and work to the harder areas. Similarly if something requires multiple steps to build, start simply. For example, say you've got a foam cup that's got a pencil stuck into it, but on the pencil are stickers which hold a rubber band in place that itself supports another part of the model. Sounds complicated, right? Write the other part of the build, note you will be returning to it later, and move on. Breaking down builds into smaller pieces and staying focused help reduce stress!

Practice

The absolute best way to prepare for this event is to practice - a lot. Fortunately, this is usually a lot of fun. The first thing to do is find a bunch of practice materials. See if you or anyone on your team has building toys. Things like legos, Tinkertoy, Lincoln logs, construx, googleplex, k'nex are good to use. Don't rule out a paper one (with cut outs glued in a way on a sheet of paper, they are HARD.) Also practice with craft materials, (Some states- for example, Colorado- use nothing else) like styrofoam, pins, straws, fake flowers, bent paper clips and such. Also try pipe cleaners, beads, CDs, anything. Some regionals have even used American flags and potatoes, so it's clear that most event supervisors will use anything and everything. If you have a budget, go shopping (although most people sometime in their life played with things like this)! Try to find things that have different ways of fitting together (for example, K'nex). You can also use things you find around a science classroom, such as molecule builder sets. Try things like toothpicks and gumdrops, too; if you can write good instructions for them, you're in pretty good shape. Challenge yourself!

Once you have a stash of building materials, practice as often as possible. Find another teammate or someone to build for you. (Before you start, make sure you have duplicates of every piece used in the construction.) If it's your first time, you might want to start small, with perhaps no more than twenty pieces. Try find a quiet, secluded place to do your practice runs. You should keep the original construction and compare it to the one you and your teammate produce. Go over the written instructions together, and find places that were unclear or misleading. Talk about what the directions meant and how you interpreted them. If you were writing, describe your thought process and which things you were unsure about. If you were building, be sure to mention any problems you encountered following the directions - did your structure fall apart repeatedly? Did you find yourself trying to make the pieces do something physically impossible?

You should try and practice as many different ways as possible. Even if you know who will be writing and who will be doing, you should take turns practicing each different role. It really helps if you understand both parts of the process. (Plus, it's fun!) On most runs you should stick exactly to the given times, so you learn how to work against the clock. However, if you find yourself consistently running out of time, do a few practices where you just work until you finish, no matter how long it takes you. Then you can work on cutting your time down. Work with all the different materials you can find. It's always nice when you get to the competition and your structure is made out of something you've already worked with before, but if it's something completely new you'll be better equipped to handle it if you've practiced with diverse materials. You might even try working with more than one type of material at once. At that same '99 national Olympiad, the main structure was made of legos (mostly tiny legos), but it also had a bunch of little plastic toys incorporated into it. Practice writing on lined paper and unlined paper (you never know what they'll give you, and not all judges will let you bring your own paper). Work under different conditions - sitting at a desk, standing at a lab bench, and so forth. Practice not touching the structure while you write. You might have to share it with other writers! If you need to get a different perspective, walk around it and look at it from the other side. It will be very helpful to you if you learn to visualize the object from different angles without actually moving it around yourself.

Also, try an oral WIDI. Put up a screen between the writer and doer. Give the writer a model and the doer the parts and have at it. Just start talking to the doer on how to build it. The doer should feel free to talk back. It helps work out problems in the future.

Once you find that you and your teammate are consistently doing well and producing structures that are identical or nearly so to the originals, find ways to make things harder. Add more pieces. Ask the people building for you to make them as complicated and asymmetrical as possible. Have them build so that you have pieces in more than just two or three different planes. When you separate your pieces into two sets, add some extra ones to the set that will be used for doing. Get your builders to work in trick pieces - one of the most common (and deceptive!) tricks with legos is to use several pieces of the same color together so that they look like a single lego brick. You don't have any advantage for finishing your writing early, so you should always use the entire twenty five minutes. If you finish early, go back and check and make sure you didn't write anything you didn't mean. Also, leave some space so you can add in additional information if you need to. This can be very helpful to your doer and very worth the 5 minute time sacrifice. However, time can be used as a tiebreaker in the doing section. If you and another team have the same number of correct connections, the team that finished building first gets a better score. So, try and work as fast as you can without sacrificing accuracy.

Most of all, have fun. This event is considered one of the absolute best ones to prepare for - you get to play with toys! And the more you practice, the more you'll feel confident in both yourself and your partner.

Remember: Practice is crucial. Try everything and anything competitions can throw at you. Above all else, make sure you know each other's thought process. If you do, you can handle anything the event administrators can think up.

Past National Competition Materials

Division B

Ohio State University 2003 - K'nex

Wichita State University 2007 - Googolplex (They are no longer produced... they were mainly a teacher's toy, and for some reason more common in Ohio than anywhere else in the US)

George Washington University 2008 - Googolplex

University of Central Florida 2012 - Craft materials, including coffee strainers, pipe cleaners, and a paper peanut bucket

University of Central Florida 2014 - Beads, pipe cleaners, foam "flowers", dowels, wood cutouts, base with evenly spaced holes

Division C

Wichita State University 2007 - Googolplex

George Washington University 2008 - K'nex

University of Illinois 2010 - Miniature PVC and copper pipes

University of Wisconsin 2011 - Assorted materials, including K'nex, bendy straws, index cards and wheels.