Big thanks to Josh Boitnott  spontaneous problem writer!!!!!

Hands-On Spontaneous Problem:


  1. When the team members enter the room, tell them, “This is a hands – on problem. You have one minute to select the five team members who will compete.  The others may sit in these seats and watch or leave the room (indicate seats). They may not assist in solving the problem and may not talk at any time.”





(1) This is a two part problem.  In Part 1, you will be given 5 minutes to build a structure or structures and practice your solution.  In Part 2, you will be given 2 minutes to test your solution and accumulate additional score.


(2) Your problem is: to create a structure that will span a distance, hold a container and as many jewels as possible.


  1. In Part 1, you are to create a structure that will span a distance of 6, 8, or 10 inches.  Your solution may not touch inside the taped area including the edges on the tape. At the end of Part 1, you select for the judges the structure you choose to be scored.

    You will be given materials to create your structure(s).  Only the materials provided may be used.  You will also be given scissors for construction but they may not be used in your solution.  


The 6, 8 and 10-inch distances are marked on the table with pairs of tape strips.  Your

structure must span one pair of taped lines, either the 6”, the 8” or 10” set, for score in

Part 2.  The structure must begin behind one of the pair of lines and end on the far side of           the second line that is part of the same pair of lines.

You may practice with the container and glass jewels during Part 1.  The container may remain on your structure at the end of Part 1; however, no jewels may remain in the container.  You may not break or alter the container or jewels in any way. 

  1. In Part 2, you are to place as many jewels as possible in the container for score.  If the container was not placed on the structure during Part 1, it should be placed on the structure during Part 2.  The container must be placed on the same structure used for score in Part 1.  However, you may not alter or adjust the structure in any way during the placing of the container.  The container must be supported in between the taped area on the table for 1 second.

    You may only load one jewel at a time into the container.   To be counted for score, your jewel must be supported in the container for 2 seconds.

    The competition will end when your solution or container touches the table in the taped area or you run out of time.


(3) Your scoring will be as follows:



Structure spanning the distance

5 points

10 points

15 points

Each jewel in container for 2 seconds held within spanned area

1 point

2 points

3 points





Supporting the container on the structure for 2 seconds

5 points

Team work

1-15 points


For Judges Only: 

Give each team the following materials:

2 pieces of 8.5 X 11 construction paper

10 pieces of spaghetti

6 straws

2 paper clips

8 tooth picks

2 sticky labels

12 inch piece of string

1 small container, such as a small Tupperwareฎ or margarine container

60 “Jewels” such as marbles, heavy glass beads or rhinestones, or even poker chips (or gum drops, which the team could eat if they wash hands before beginning the problem!)


Setup:  .Before the team enters the room, mark out the distances of 6, 8, and 10 inches with 6 pieces of tape across the entire width of a 6’ table.  Mark 3 X’s with the tape between each of the 6”, 8” and 10” strips to indicate the area that needs to be spanned.  You should also write on the X 6” area, 8” area or 10”area.  Or use colored paper in between the tape strips to indicate the different areas.  You should write on the paper 6” area, 8” or 10”. 


As you read the problem indicate the marks for the 6, 8, and 10 inches.  Also demonstrate the loading of a jewels in the container and where the structure may not touch. 

Make a reasonable allowance for the two-second time limit … a stopwatch is not necessary, but the container must hold the jewel for a count of 2 before the next one is added.  If the team seems to be adding jewels too quickly, ask them to slow down.


Scoring chart:



Distances spanned:

6”(5pts)/ 8”(10pts)/


Supporting container:

5 pts

Each jewel held for 2 seconds:

6”(1pt  X # held) / 8”(2pts X # held)/10”(3pts X # held)









Josh Boitnott 2004