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When you think of catapults, the first image that comes to mind is either the ancient Greeks, who invented the projectile weapon, medieval castles under siege, or, if you’re a Monty Python fan, a catapulted cow in midflight.

But as several College of Engineering students recently demonstrated, catapults are alive and well—and, well, fun to build. Seven teams of two or three gathered in mid-November 2018 in ENG’s Binoy K. Singh Imagineering Lab, aka the Tinker Lab, to work on their entry for the third annual Tinker Catapult Challenge.

The contestants had 12 hours, spread over two days, to design and construct a 2-foot-by-2-foot-by-3-foot catapult. Each team was given a set amount of lumber, springs, and brackets and could augment those with any other materials on hand in the lab. The one rule: no trebuchets allowed.

On November 18, 2018, the teams were ready to test their mettle—er, catapults—against one another. They assembled late in the afternoon on Nickerson Field, catapults in tow. This year’s projectiles were rainbow-colored golf balls (in 2017, they were small beanbags). Each team had three tries, and first, second, and third prizes were awarded to the teams whose golf balls went the longest distance.

The competition started in 2016, when mechanical engineering major Calvin Earp (ENG’18) built a catapult in the Tinker Lab for fun. He was curious to see how his classmates would go about designing one, which led to the first challenge. The project is supervised and funded by Richard Lally, ENG associate dean of finance administration.

“The first year, we ran out of wood on the first day,” recalls Tinker Lab event manager Rebecca Arce (ENG’19), who organized the 2018 challenge with Mary Angjeli (ENG’20). “We were definitely a lot more prepared this year.”

This year’s third place winners were Kaihui Gou (ENG’20) and Lei Shi (ENG’20). Coming in second, it was Zechen Wang (ENG’22), Shen Gao (ENG’22), and Yixuan Lu (ENG’22).

And the champions of the 2018 Tinker Catapult Challenge? Pavel Gromov (ENG’22) and Peter Siegel (ENG’22).

Aaron Hwang can be reached at