Write It Do It

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The event description for Write it, Do it has been the same for many years. At the C level, it's done in teams of two. One team member is given a structure built from some sort of construction materials, which may be anything from toys (like legos) to craft materials (popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners) to lab equipment. That team member has 23 minutes in which to examine the structure, without touching it, and write instructions for how to build it. Writers are not allowed to use drawings or symbols, (aka:only letters) and must define all abbreviations. Then the other team member is given the instructions and a set of unassembled parts, and has 20 minutes to try and recreate the original structure as accurately as possible. Scoring is based on the number of correct connections.


There are lots of different ways to approach this event. The important thing is to find something that works for you and your partner. You may want to sit down together and talk about terms you might use in your descriptions, and what they mean - for instance, will you define "directions" in your writing as absolute (east is always east) or relative to the structure (the front is always the same part, even if it is facing away from you)? Defining some general rules that you can then assume without having to write them down may be helpful, but you should beware of making too many rules - you may find yourself spending a lot of your precious writing time telling your teammate to disregard them!

You should also come up with some standard 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. (Of course, 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. (Do remember you must list all abbreviations at the top of your paper during the event, so if you have to many, you may waste too much of your time writing abbreviations. Sometimes writing full words fast is a good option, but 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!"


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, tinkertoys, lincoln logs, construx, googleplex, k'nex and the like that are good. 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 (aka: connects! they connect in some crazy ways man!). You can also use things you find around a science classroom, such as molecule builder sets. Try things like toothpicks and jellybeans, 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 itty bitty 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.

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. 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 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.