So it's all on! Networks and Systems versus R&D. No, not some trivial contest like 'guess who can get the most laxative into the other team's water cooler without being noticed' - although that's fun too, especially when you have a contact put it in at the factory. This is a game of champions - Robowars!
The Pimply-faced Youth and I are competing against Research and Development in an annual contest of skill and technology. The rules are simple: both teams enter one or more robots into the competition - robots which must find their way out of a fairly simple maze constructed of passages and rooms in the sub-basement of the building.
The PFY is particularly excited as this is his first time in the competition.
"So this is a yearly event?" he asks, helping me put together our mechanical entrant.
"Since last year, yes."
"I don't remember it."
"No, I think you were in Mr Happy mode at the time."
"On a jolly."
"Oh. How did we do?"
"Well, as far as I was concerned, we'd won fair and square - none of R&D's seven robots were left, however, there was a bit of a protest lodged about my robot."
"Aaaaahhhh, because it was basically the boss with a car aerial strapped to his back, blundering around in the basement trying to find his new laptop."
"And he won?"
"Yeah, there wasn't a laptop and when his enthusiasm waned I switched the lights off and the fire alarm on, and he picked up speed dramatically."
"And what was their protest?"
"Well, there were two actually - the first being that the boss running blindly around caused the destruction of most of the competition (which, incidentally, helped us win the demo-derby event by default) - and the second being that the boss wasn't a robot."
"So what happened?"
"Well, I showed them that, to all intents and purposes, he was a robot - he had a limited and very simple instruction set; you have to punch information into him and without it he can't think for himself..."
"I see. So why don't we enter him this year?"
"Ah. Well, the restrictions are somewhat tighter now. The robot has to be based on the processor board that R&D designed for those automatic floor polishers."
"The ones that are supposed to drift randomly around the building at night?"
"The very same."
"So what's all this crap for?" he asks, pointing at enough hardware to start my own hardware company.
"Well, part of the event is the demolition derby where the surviving robot takes line honours. My thinking is that the bigger the robot, the more chance it has of still being mobile at the end."
"So you're using a machine rack laid on wheels?"
"Yes: a) It won't attract much undue attention in the basement before the competition, and b) The rules say it has to be battery-powered, and I need quite a lot of power to keep the circular saw blades spinning, and c) It's a four foot-long steel chassis. It's going to make it through the demo-derby - especially considering the largest of the opposition robots comes to just over axle height on it."
"Where are you going to get all the batteries to run it?"
"Oh, I whipped those out of the UPS last night."
"Didn't anyone notice?"
"No, I chucked it into bypass mode - not even a glitch. Anyway, all that remains now is for me to install the polisher board with its bastardised maze-solving program, add the batteries and chuck in a little ballast..."
Three nights later, the R&D boys are down in the basement setting up their robots while the PFY and I sit around on ours. Smart money seems to be centred on a small robot nicknamed "Reggie" because of its rapid cornering ability.
"Actually, I think they've got a point," the PFY mumbles, seeing a warm-up demonstration. "It's much quicker to corner than this thing will be."
"Au contraire!" I respond. "You're forgetting two things I didn't tell you about; one: with the 20 UPS batteries and the four-wheel, rare-earth-element-magnet motors on this baby..."
"five..." the starter counts down.
"...it's got phenomenal acceleration itself..."
"But it's still going to be a pain to corner!"
"That was point two: with all the weight inside that solid steel chassis..."
"It would be a waste of time cornering in the first place..."
Ten minutes later the PFY and I are at the pub. Admittedly, the plan of driving straight through walls wasn't one of the more orthodox ways of solving mazes, but it proved successful nonetheless.
"Who'd have thought the robot would run amok in demo-derby mode and circular saw through the mains cable?" I ask the PFY.
"Who indeed?" the PFY asks, fingering the prize money that the R&D blokes were too busy to collect in their panic... "It could have chased R&D around the building..."
"Got to save some surprises for next year..."