How To Beat The Egg Drop Contest
When I was an undergrad at The Cooper Union, we had an annual Egg Drop Contest. Basically build a contraption that can help an egg survive a 30 feet fall. Here I will share my 30 year old secrets on how to win!
The Cooper Union
First, a quick intro to my school. The Cooper Union was founded by Peter Cooper, a wealthy industrialist from the same time period as John D Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. Peter Cooper was never formally educated, so in 1859, he established The Cooper Union in New York City to offer free education in the fields of Engineering, Art, and Architecture. All students admitted to The Cooper Union received a 4 year full tuition scholarship!
Peter Cooper set aside the land under the Chrysler Building to fund the school. Unfortunately, the school mismanaged its endowment during the real estate crisis in the late 2000s, and is currently only offering partial scholarships.
Some of our more well known drop outs are Thomas Edison and Jeffrey Epstein. I studied there 1991–1995 for my Electrical Engineering Bachelors. Even though I was accepted into Cooper’s Masters EE program, my parents’ divorce meant it was time to get a job.
After living in New York City for four years, I moved to Texarkana, TX to work for the US Army. I have never seen so many trucks in my life.
The Egg Drop Contest is pretty simple. Design a contraption that would protect a raw egg from breaking after being dropped from the balcony of the Cooper Union Foundation Building, a height of about 30 feet.
I would say half the entries are serious, and the other half aren’t. One friend, John, put an egg on a tiny spring and called his entry Simplicity. To our disappointment, it didn’t work.
Another friend Greg put an egg in a cooler with cans of cold beer. After the cooler crash landed, he’d run up, grab a beer, and chug it on the spot, with beer foam spraying everywhere. Don’t worry, he was a Masters student so he was of drinking age. He was working on a device which would later become the Cooper Cooler. Many of us helped him with… umm… research. We worked hard to solve the carbonation foam explosion problem!
Another entry was an egg attached to helium balloons. Since it was a windy day, the balloons flew away and got caught in the trees nearby.
Yup, these are the future engineers of America. I’m sure they are all very successful now.
My Freshman year, I put an egg in some sneakers with foam, and it worked. Technically I beat the contest, but it was pretty lame. But c’mon, I was only 18 years old.
I skipped the contest my Sophomore year. By my Junior year, I learned that there was a new rule added. The device must be smaller than 12" x 12" x 12" to “win”. This means giant parachutes and balloons aren’t good enough anymore.
The Straw Cube
I wanted to build something that was lightweight, strong, and would protect the egg from all angles when the device hit the concrete sidewalk. Something designed to absorb the kinetic energy while keeping the egg protected in its center. Bingo! I got the idea to build a cube out of straws.
Imagine using straws to make a three dimensional tic tac toe board or # sign, where the egg can sit in the middle of the cube. In my build, I alternated straws each level so the contraption was hollow rather than solid. I also built each layer more of a square than a #, so it’s like a square house. Then I built a little cell in the center for the egg. The cube was one straw in height, width, and depth, within the dimensions of the new rule!
The straw cube is similar to the straw pyramid idea you find commonly on the internet, except when I built mine, we were using the Mosaic browser and you can probably buy the domains google.com and youtube.com for $50!
The cube worked great, and I was one of a handful of “official” winners, and got a t-shirt with a cartoon Peter Cooper dropping an egg with a spoon. Unfortunately, I lost the shirt when I moved to Texas.
The Pinwheel Flyer
By Senior year, I wanted to challenge myself. Everyone had seen the straw cube so it’s no longer novel. Instead of building something to absorb the landing force, I wanted to build something that would defy gravity, so the egg can fall slowly and gently. Since parachutes and balloons were obvious and boring, I needed to invent something new. Oh, and I had an exam the next day!
I came up with the idea of building something out of pinwheels. Pinwheels are kids toys that spin as you run around with it. The theory is that the air resistance will help the flyer with a slow and gentle descent.
I managed to find a store in New York City that had them. I bought six. Again, I needed to build the frame out of straws. Since I was low on cash, I went to the McDonalds nearby and grabbed a few handfuls. An older lady standing behind me asked nervously, “can I have just one?” True story.
Back in my apartment, I attach each pair of pinwheels end to end using the straws, then arranged them together so the pinwheels made the shape of a hexagon. With each pinwheel at the vertices (pointing down), I used more straws to form the sides for overall strength and stability. In the center of the hexagon, I build a little straw nest for the egg.
Next day at the Egg Drop Contest, I waited as the event organizer dropped one contraption at a time, including Simplicity and the cooler. When it was my turn, the gal yelled “which way is up!?!” Luckily she didn’t drop it upside down. That would have sucked.
As she let the flyer go, I watched as each pinwheel caught air and started to spin. Just as I had envisioned, it floated slowly in the air. With all six pinwheels spinning, it held its line and landed in the middle of the target area. It landed so softly there was no doubt the egg was safe. Woohoo! I was so pumped. It worked just as I imagined, and if I may say so myself, it had a beautiful flight!
Again, I “won” the egg drop contest, but instead of a special edition t-shirt, I got a $25 gift certificate. Oh well.
Later that semester, I had some people over my apartment for a small party. This gal, who was an art major, saw the flyer and asked “YOU built that?” Well, yes. Why else would it be here? Was that a backhanded compliment? Sometimes it hard for engineers to get some respect!
Boy Scouts Dad
A couple of years ago, our kids had an egg drop contest for boy scouts.
Jack, our older son, built the straw cube. There was a fire engine present at the event and the firemen dropped each contraption off the top of the extended engine ladder. They couldn’t believe the egg survived in the straw cube. They dropped it over and over, and each time, it worked.
I built a pinwheel flyer for Alex, our younger son. Unfortunately, the pinwheels were too small, so the hexagon wasn’t large and stable enough. It flipped over mid air and the egg didn’t make it. Pro-tip: Make sure it’s big enough and test, test, test!
Thanks for reading this story, and now you know how to beat the egg drop contest. Keep the secret between us. Don’t tell anyone!
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