The screaming Amazon that lives at my house walked into the living room recently and said, “Hey, uh, we have to build a catapult for the Latin Club contest in three weeks.”
Considering the Amazon’s wide range of interests, very little surprises me anymore, so I set down my book, and thus began the lessons on siege engines.

The rules of the game are pretty simple:

Small Enginges have to be less than 1 meter cubed and throw a projectile that approximates a baseball.
Large Engines must be less than 3 meters cubed and throw a projectile approximating a softball.
The engine cannot be anchored to the ground by anything but gravity.
The engine must be triggered from a distance.
The judges have final say on whether the engine is “safe”.

All pretty easy to understand, and wide open possibilities.
Fortunately a friend of mine received a miniature trebuchet as a Christmas present. After he built it he realized he did not have a suitable place in his home to display (or play with) it, so he brought it to the office.



As a “team building event” (aka nerds slackin’ off), several of us attempted to optimize the weights in the basket to see how far we could get it to throw.
The results were quite impressive. To the tune of 30′ or so.
Along the way, we “endangered” some furnishings, and surprised a couple of unwary folks who walked into the impact zone of the foam balls we were using as ammunition.
One handy thing we discovered was .

All of this mayhem reminded me of a long time favorite book called “Catapult: Harry & I Build a Siege Weapon”.


This lively philosophical tale by Jim Paul describes the adventures of a man who decides he wants to build a catapult. The project is financed by a local artist colony under the guise of “warrior art”, and Jim drags his friend Harry into the project. The immortal George Carlin would have described Harry as “One of those friends who’s good with tools.”
The story of the construction concludes with the heroes obtaining a permit from the California Parks Dept. to shoot their catapult from an abandoned shore defense battery overlooking the Pacific Ocean…on the condition that they do not use “real” rocks, but only “mock” rocks.
Gotta love the Californese for for being paragons of common sense.

With all of this handy background noise, we set to work, opting for the Small Engine category, and designing our engine of mayhem to just barely squeek its way into the 1 meter cube.
The Amazon is pretty handy with power tools in addition to being a fair hand with a saber, skean dhu, handgun, longbow, and other implements of personal expression.

amazon_fencing skeandhu

amazon1 cattle_pult

The first launch went OK. The tennis ball made about 30 yards.
Unfortunately the subsequent launches were not as spectacular.
Well, we’ve got one more weekend to work out the kinks before showtime.


If you enjoy this type of subject, check out:

“Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys: A Fairly Short Book”.


The description of the vacuum cleaner races ’bout killed me.