Impressive Marshmallow Challenge Result

Autodesk colleague, Tom Wujec, gave a popular TED presentation in 2010 about team building and a Marshmallow Challenge that has received over 3.5 million views. The Marshmallow Challenge is a great team building exercise that involves dry spaghetti, one yard of tape, and a marshmallow.  In the past few years, I have seen 20-30ish inch towers created and heard of towers a little higher (and some a little lower), but Tom received an email with a photo of an impressive tower that stands 55 inches. This is the largest tower ever seen with photographic evidence.

Tom Wujec: Build a tower, build a team | TED Talk | TED.com
Tom Wujec: Build a tower, build a team | TED Talk | TED.comMarshmallow Challenge

Software Engineer (but also went to school as a Mechanical Engineer), Mike Barron, sent that email to Tom and included a photo of his team’s creation.
Marshmallow Challenge - Mike Barron

I followed up with Mike and asked him how long construction took, what allowed the team to build such an impressive tower, and could he provide some details on how they created it.

“I took us just over 16 minutes to fully assemble and erect the tower.  We built it sideways in about 12 minutes, then used the strings to stabilize and center the mass in around 2 minutes, and then put the marshmallow on top and perform some little adjustments to the leg lengths in about another 2 minutes.  (From past similar challenges, I know the importance of tweaking time and wanted to get it standing as soon as possible)”

“I built a mast and the rules say that the structure must be "freestanding" and/or a "tower".  But I asked before the challenge started if we could use the string to support the structure by having it taped to the table and was told we could.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_masts_and_towers#Mast_or_tower.3F

About the tower:  We used Prince Spaghetti which is on the thin side.  I later made some Barilla at home and noticed it was a bit thicker.  And I think each piece was around 9" long.  We used 3/4" masking tape.

I laid out the spaghetti flat on the table as a two dimensional, unrolled structure.  One person cut the tape in to even 1/2" pieces.  The other person took the string and unwound it into its fibers so that there were three 36" lengths of string.

The three sides of the tower have overlapping pieces of spaghetti with an overlap of around 1/2".  The bottom three segments are full lengths.  The fourth segment is two lengths.  The tip of the tower is a single full length with a single leftover half-length where it connects to the fourth segment.  (The first thing I did was to find out if a single length of spaghetti could support the marshmallow and found out that it could not. So it needed the half-length there)

The top and bottom middle supports are a single length cut in three (so each was 3").  The middle segment was two lengths cut in half (so around 4.5").  The extra half-length was added to the top as I mentioned earlier.

One other thing that helped was to have loosely taped connections between segments so that you could adjust it easily when standing to make it all square up and adjust for where the marshmallow tilts over to.”

I wonder if you have ever thought about opening this challenge up to the world with unlimited time to see what the limit really is.”

I wonder if anyone has the physical properties for tensile and yield strength of spaghetti to properly model and simulate the tower. I’ll bet if I challenge the Autodesk Simulation Team, I will get something cool, and crazy showing spaghetti deforming under loading and a von Mises analysis. I will send the challenge to the SIM team and see what we get from the propeller heads.
von Mises

I work with a disaster team FIT innovating in natural and human disasters where they used the Marshmallow Challenge in their training as well as therapy with some teenage refugees. It is amazing to see how many have used this activity that Tom developed. Tom is an amazing Autodesk collage and more importantly a great human.

Email me any of your Marshmallow Challenge results and team photos. I will see if I can wrangle up some fun rewards for entries.
Thank you Mike and Team for inspiring us and challenging us!

Cheers,
Shaan