Proudly wear your thinking cap
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, April 5, 2013
Sitting on the bar in front of me: A beer, a plate of tacos, 10 cotton balls, five popsicle sticks, five waxed paper cups, a handful of paper clips, a few rubber bands and a roll of tape.
The challenge, given to me and seven other teams in the upstairs bar of the Argonaut: Using only the (non-food) materials provided, build a contraption that can hold an egg and cushion it from breaking if dropped from the Argonaut’s second-story window onto H Street below.
We have one hour to do our best MacGyver-in-elementary-school-science-class impersonation before actually tossing eggs out the window. As we work, creating a cotton-cushioned chamber suspended from a paper-and-wood parachute, the hosts toss out trivia questions about Darwin and recent science news, creating a competition within a competition.
Welcome to the Argonaut’s weekly Science Night, which is part school science fair, part pub quiz. In a town like Washington, filled with overachieving nerds, PhDs and science wonks, it’s something that could really catch on.
“The idea was, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to be drinking and doing old middle school science experiments, blowing stuff up?’, ” says Argonaut owner Scott Magnuson, whose first Science Night was March 12. He spun the idea off the bar’s popular trivia night because, he says, “I was just trying to figure out something no one else was doing.” He enlisted Georgetown student Colin O’Connor to host and develop the experiments.
Each week’s theme is a different scientific principle, though the exact experiment and materials are not revealed until the event begins. The first week, “Buoyancy,” called for teams to construct boats out of tin foil, straws, toothpicks and index cards, which were then laden with coins and, eventually, silverware, to see which was the sturdiest. (Humblebrag: My team won.) Last week, the theme was electricity, so teams had to construct a basic circuit.
“I’m sure we’ll get into other stuff that will be a little messier once we get going,” Magnuson says. The goal will be to have seven or eight stations set up at which teams can work.
Science Night differs from a more typical round of bar trivia in that it requires couples and small groups to join up and chat while devising a solution to the problem at hand. And, as every fifth grade science teacher knows, the possibilities are endless. “In eight or nine weeks, we could go back and do the egg drop experiment again, but give people different materials, so it would be completely different,” Magnuson says.
The team that completes the experiment most successfully -- and there are plenty of tiebreakers, including time and style points -- wins a $50 gift certificate; the top trivia kings take home a $25 gift certificate. And because it happens on Taco Tuesday, everyone else gets discounted tacos -- and gains a little knowledge in the process.