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NJ State FLL Tournament

Since Built On The Rock decided not to compete in FLL this year, I was asked to be a head ref at the NJ State Tournament, which was held on Saturday. This was my first time reffing, and it was neat seeing all the different solutions that teams came up with for the missions. Here's a few thoughts about the tournament and season:

1. This year's challenge definitely seems harder than those in recent past years. The highest score at the tournament was a 300 by the Robo Invaders, as opposed to last year's 400 followed by a 395. Also, I haven't heard of any perfect scores being made anywhere else yet... has anyone heard of one? The difficulty of this year's challenge doesn't seem to be caused so much by hard individual missions - many are simple push-objects-to-the-right-zone missions - but more by the sheer number of missions. There are 18 missions this year: twice as many as the number of missions in Nano Quest, and 7 more than in Power Puzzle. Many of them aren't all that short, either. It seems that the key to scoring high this year is to combine multiple missions per run.

2. I refereed half of the matches, and of all the robots I saw during that time and all the other time at the tournament, I only recall seeing one RIS robot. It's nice to see that just about all teams have been able to make the switch over to the NXT system.

3. One interesting change of rules this year allows teams to accomplish missions before they leave Base! So theoretically, a team could make a robot that stays in Base during the entire match, and uses some sort of extending arm to accomplish all the missions. However, I only saw one team make use of this rule change; this team had a scissor arm set up in Base aimed at a mission model, which the robot activated as it went to complete a different mission. The scissor arm then pressed a bumper on the model, accomplishing the mission. BTW, I should note that this rule change does not make it possible for teams to grab their robot without getting penalized... a Q&A (Ruling 14) specifically states that using any kind of "leash" that "tethers" the robot to Base for this purpose will not keep the team from getting penalized.

4. Probably the most unknown rule at this tournament was part of the Active Robot Touched rule. Because of the confusion with this rule, I thought I'd post about it here so that reading teams could make sure they don't get an unhappy surprise at their tournament. This rule first states that once an active robot (one that has been started) is touched, it immediately becomes inactive and must be taken back to Base. Then the rule says the following:

"If any models or strategic objects were being strategically moved by the robot at the time of the touch:
  • Those being moved from Base go back to Base with the robot, eligible for continued use.
  • Those encountered out of Base are taken out of play (off the field)"

This rule is quite simple... any object your robot is strategically moving from Base goes back to Base with the robot. Any object the robot started moving when out of Base gets taken off the field, if it's still being moved by the robot at the time of the touch. So for example, if a robot drives over to the Insulation models and starts pushing them towards the green grid, but then a driver grabs the robot and brings it back to Base, the Insulation models do NOT come back to Base, but must be taken off the field and therefore cannot be scored in that match.

5. The two-team mission this year seems to encourage the use of sensors, which is nice, especially since it's possible to find clever ways to solve it without sensors. However, not many teams attempted it, and I didn't see anyone use sensors to determine how to align the arrows. The one team I saw accomplish the mission used a mechanical solution; they added or removed pieces from their robot to make it turn one of the arrows the right number of times - great idea!

What are your thoughts about this year's challenge?

-Jonathan

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