Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Newton’s Magisters Tormentorum and Their Hilltop Terror [Video]

UPDATE: Since this is currently the most popular post on my blog, I figured I should add the finished video.

Original Post:
A few weeks ago, just as I was beginning a 10-hour solo drive to visit my family Downriver, I received a call from Richard Renner, the series producer for Classroom Close-up, NJ. (Rich really seems to have a knack for catching me in the car.) I let the call go to voice mail, not because I didn't want to talk with Rich, but because I was still in Jersey and didn't have my bluetooth on. (Trust me, if the NJ State Police quota for "driving-while-using-a-hand-held-device" was one ticket per year, I'd be the lucky recipient.) Rich left a message asking if I could cover a segment for one of my fellow producers who had a schedule conflict with the May 13 taping date. Of course I could! As soon as I passed into the keystone state, I called Rich back to find out what sort of adventure he had in store for me.

Rich informed me that the story was about a trebuchet. My mind immediately jumped to France. Trebuchet sounded French. Must be a story with a world culture twist. Maybe a festival? I like stories about festivals. (Nello, our soundperson, always says those kind of stories "...film themselves.") Maybe there will be food involved. Maybe pastries...

Well, I found out that the word trebuchet does have some origins in old French, but it's certainly not a tasty dessert. Turns out this is a trebuchet...

A trebuchet is medieval siege weapon similar to a catapult. Where a traditional catapult uses some some form of torsion or tension to launch a projectile, the trebuchet uses gravity and weights. It's a big lever that throws things.

The story is about six students at Halsted Street Middle School in Newton, NJ who built the trebuchet you just saw in that fuzzy mobile video. Apparently, building mini-trebuchets is a popular project in technology classes and these guys decided they needed one with more power. So they came up with some plans and convinced some local farmers to pay for the construction of the 30' device so it could be used as a pumpkin-smashing tourist attraction.

Needless to say, the crew and I had a fun time up in Newton. First, we stopped at the high school to talk with a physics teacher who devised a lesson around the device. Then we visited the middle school to sit down and interview the six magisters tormentorum and their technology teacher. Finally, we headed over to Lentini Produce farm to see the affectionately named "Hilltop Terror" in action. We then spent the next two hours launching pumpkins and assorted produce hundred of yards across an empty field. I even got to pull the trigger a couple of times.

I'm really looking forward to putting this story together for the show. It's scheduled to air for the first time on October 12 at 7pm on NJN, just in time for Halloween.