By Lee D. Zlotoff
Tick, Tick, Tick …
The Scenario: You’ve worked late into the night as a computer engineer in the high-rise
headquarters of an international bank, and you’re finally heading with your briefcase to your car
in the subterranean parking garage. Your car is the only one left on this dimly lit level, parked
along a cement wall right near the elevator. But, as you pull out your keys and are about to hit the
unlock button, you hear a loud beep behind you.
Startled, you turn to see an object against the wall just a few feet away with a pulsing red light
on it — and in the poor light, you can immediately make out an illuminated timer which is now
ticking off the seconds from a 3-minute window!
There is a jumble of multicolored wires, and an array of three motion detectors set to cover
a 180º field off the wall, all of which are wired into a small black box sitting on a large brick-shaped object that’s slightly smaller than a shoebox. Also atop the brick and on its ends, you see
three horizontal glass tubes that appear to contain mercury with wires at both ends, as well as
a metallic-looking cylinder with several long wires jammed into the side of the brick-like mass.
There’s little doubt left in your mind now that this is a bomb! — and your arrival here must’ve
set off the timer.
The Challenge: Though you know how mercury switches work, you’re uncertain of the
purpose of the motion detectors, or of the black box — could it contain a hidden transponder?
If you try to move out of range or call for help with your cellphone, might your attempt to flee or
the cellphone signal set the device off? Hell, even pushing the unlock button on your key ring
now could send the wrong kind of signal, no? But panic is not an option, as it seems you have less
than three minutes to decide your best course of action. So what are you going to do?!
What You Have: Your briefcase and pockets contain what a computer engineer might
normally have, within reason — if that includes a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool, so be it.
Beyond that, your brain is the best tool you’ve got. So think fast, and … good luck.
Send a detailed description of your MakeShift solution with sketches and/or photos to
email@example.com by March 6, 2009. If duplicate solutions are submitted, the
winner will be determined by the quality of the explanation and presentation. The most plausible
and most creative solutions will each win a MAKE T-shirt and a MAKE Pocket Ref. Think positive
and include your shirt size and contact information with your solution. Good luck! For readers’
solutions to previous MakeShift challenges, visit
And the next MakeShift challenge could be yours! That’s right, we’re throwing open the doors
and offering you the chance to create your own MakeShift to challenge the world. Just submit an
original scenario in the familiar format — the challenge, what you have, etc. — with some ideas of
how you think it should be solved. The winning scenario will not only be published right here but
will also earn you a $50 gift certificate for the Maker Shed. The deadline is March 6, 2009, so get
out there and start looking for trouble!
Photograph by Jen Siska
Lee David Zlotoff is a writer/producer/director among whose numerous credits is creator of MacGyver. He is also
president of Custom Image Concepts (
184 Make: Volume 16