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To understand the story of the West Coast Robotics Last Chance event, you must first understand how the RFL operates. Don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with terms like "sanctions" and "dues" and "transmitters." I am going to bore you -- just not with those terms.

This specific event was born when relatively new event organizer Don Shiver, founder of West Coast Robotics, realized that the RFL Nationals were coming up in just a few short weeks. The 2004 RFL Nationals have been a year in the making -- at every RFL-approved (told you I wouldn't say "sanction") event, the top two finishers in each weight class, in addition to receiving prizes and honor, were given permission to be entered in the upcoming Nationals. The idea is to have one event each year that features the best of the best in combat robots. To be allowed to even fight in the Nationals means that your robot is something pretty special.

As naturally happens with such a system, a lot of robots have competed that didn't win first or second place. And their builders think that they're still something pretty special. So as the Nationals drew nearer, those builders became more and more desperate to get themselves qualified to compete.

Enter the Last Chance competition. As the name subtly implies, this event would be the final opportunity to get you and your robot into Nationals. The rules officially state that any event that begins on September 18 or earlier would be a qualifier for the 2004 Nationals. And this event just happened to begin on September 18 -- what an amazing coincidence!

This event was not held at some heavily-frequented commercial venue. It wasn't even held at some business establishment that nobody has ever heard of before. No, this event was held in Don Shiver's front yard. It wasn't even advertised. The only reason I was there was because I found out about it, showed up, and nobody there had the heart to tell me to leave.

In his driveway, Don had set up the arena, a square box of a size appropriate for containing robots that weighed 60 pounds and less. The floor was exactly ¼ of the size of the Steel Conflict floor at the Southwest Division Championships. And when the antweights fought, a couple of 2×4's were laid down on the floor to cordon off ¼ of that floor. The only thing keeping the robots from bashing against the Lexan walls was a perimeter of wood around the sides. The wood reached the floor for the most part, though I could see that there was the possibility of robots jamming themselves into the tiny space between wood and floor and getting themselves stuck.

Officially, beetleweights (3 pounds), hobbyweights (12 pounds), featherweights (30 pounds), and lightweights (60 pounds) were allowed to register to compete at this event. But no featherweights signed up, so that weight class was dropped. One competitor brought his antweights, so that morning, it was decided, what the heck, let's have an antweight competition, too.

By the way, I should tell you that the adjective that best described this event was "casual." This wasn't one of your larger events with publicity and announcers and hard-and-fast rules. This was just a casual get-together of builders who would casually fight some robots as the Saturday casually wore on. Do we have two robots in the arena? Do we have the correct number of judges? All right, you guys can start fighting if you want to. One of the teams isn't technically present at the event yet? No problem, we'll just hold off on that weight class.

In what was not a surprise to anybody, the announced starting time came and went... hey, we're starting to get ready, but let's ease ourselves into this. I passed the time by wandering through the pits, which were located by the side of Don's house. There was no plan to have an audience, so there was no need to rope off the pits. I casually spoke to the builders and stared at robots. Some of the robots stared back. I thought that was a bit rude.

Meanwhile, some people were trying to figure out what to do about the antweights and beetleweights. You see, in order for an event to qualify its top two winners in a weight class for the Nationals, there has to be a minimum of six functioning, competing robots to begin with. The problem was, there were only three antweights and three beetleweights prepared to fight that day. And what's the point of fighting the robots if there's no chance that they can go to Nationals? (You know the point, and I know the point, but this event was strictly about getting some more people to Nationals.)

So while the larger robots were prepped and primed for battle, a couple of builders took a trip to the nearest Wal-Mart to purchase some radio-controlled automobiles. These automobiles would serve as moving targets for the real combat robots. With three toys in each weight class, the total number of "robots" would be six, which would allow the top two beetleweights and antweights to go to Nationals. Who knew -- maybe one of the toys would qualify for Nationals. Yeah, right.

After a while, the builders came back with three shiny, new RC cars. We all took a good look at them, because we knew that they wouldn't be shiny and new for long. While everybody casually contemplated maybe getting ready to begin, it occurred to me that these toys would need names that could conceivably pass for real combat robot names. Pretending that RC toys were real fighting robots? Now we were on my turf!

Since each toy would be competing as both an antweight and a beetleweight, six names were needed in total. And I'm not too modest to inform you that I came up with five of those six names (I can't remember who came up with Spinner Bait -- sorry, person who thought of that).

So now we had four weight classes with enough competitors to give everybody a chance at the Nationals. It's past noon -- might as well get this thing started!

This was your standard one-on-one double elimination competition. Antweights and beetleweights fought for up to two minutes; hobbyweights and lightweights fought for up to three minutes. Three judges would each divvy up five points for aggression and six points for damage if the fight went all the way. Robots could receive free unstickings until Don Shiver got sick of it. And because of the casualness of the event, some rules could be bent or changed if someone could think of a good reason to do so.

You know how the summaries work by now. Follow along with these ladders if you want to. One of the pictures of the toys was taken from somebody's eBay auction. Special thanks to Andrew for providing the other pictures and for telling me that this site is one of his favorites. Terrible sense of taste, but a nice guy.

We're going to start out with an antweight fight. And not just an antweight fight, but a very boring antweight fight. Mario is the real antweight, kind of a scoopy wedge thing that will have a flamethrower at some point in the future, but not at this event. Chewy is an RC model of a GMC truck. Technically, it weighs more than a pound, but don't tell anyone.

By the way, I forgot to mention above -- when the 2×4's were laid down for the antweights, a gap was deliberately left between them to create a push-out zone. Go through that gap and you lose.

Fight. Both vehicles drive around at random -- truth be told, if it weren't for the obvious visual clues, I wouldn't be able to tell which is the RC car and which is the robot. Mario has a slight advantage over Chewy, since it can kind of wedge underneath it. Boy, whose brilliant idea was it to design Chewy with such high ground clearance? Mario jams itself under one of the pieces of wood around the perimeter of the arena, so Chewy frees it. Mario returns the favor by pushing Chewy through the gap and out of the fight. Mario wins.

Okay, "Gant" doesn't look like that clever of a robot name at first sight. But you see, when I was thinking up names for the toys, I came up with their beetleweight names first. Since this toy was smaller than the other toys (and the beetleweights), I thought that "Gnat" would be an appropriate name. Then, when I was working on antweight names, I came up with "Gant." See, now you see why the name is clever -- it's a very annoying bit of wordplay.

According to the decals on the toy, it was supposed to be a Dodge Viper. Apparently the Dodge Viper is now square in shape. Poly-Hazard, the real antweight, has a spinning blade rotating underneath its long bar of a body.

Fight. Poly-Hazard deliberately doesn't spin up to full speed, since Gant/Gnat needs to be operable for future fights. There are some collisions between the two, but no real damage is done to Gant (I think it goes without saying that Gant is doing no damage to Poly-Hazard). Then, about halfway through the fight, Poly-Hazard tears off Gant's front left wheel. Gant is still able to move around, though, so the fight keeps going. Poly-Hazard manages to flip itself over, so now it has an overhead spinning bar weapon. Time is up. It's a difficult decision, but Poly-Hazard is the winner.

Foregone Conclusion (which had a bye in the first round) is a replica of a Chevy Nomad. Both it and the GMC truck come from a toy line that boasts "hydraulics" in the vehicles. When you press a switch on the controller, the rear vibrates up and down, kind of as if there were hydraulics in there. This proves equally, if not more, amusing than actually driving the cars around.

Fight. One hit from Poly-Hazard's spinning blade, and Foregone Conclusion is thrown back. Then there's some driving. Another hit bounces Foregone Conclusion around a bit. Then another hit knocks Foregone Conclusion's right rear tire out of whack. Since the toy is rear-wheel drive, that pretty much immobilizes it (except for the hydraulics!). Foregone Conclusion taps out.

Point of No Return looks nothing like it did at the Southwest Division Championships. For starters, it now has a pneumatic flipping plate on its front. Also, its body is now a kind of octagonal shape, but with an extension in the front for the lifter. I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about. Matt's Slammer, which bears a strong resemblance to the BattleBots-licensed robot Matt's Bammer, has a wedge in the front and a thwack in the back.

Fight. Matt's Slammer concentrates on using its wedge against Point of No Return, and wedges the living daylights out of the robot. Point of No Return just can't get under Matt's Slammer to even try to use its flipper. So in a strange reversal of roles, it's Point of No Return that goes thwackbot, spinning in place and hoping its lifting plate will cause damage that way. And since Matt's Slammer is winning the front wedge-to-front wedge battle, Point of No Return decides to lead with its flat rear end for most of the fight. Matt's Slammer continues to wedge Point of No Return around. After about two minutes of that, Point of No Return starts to have trouble moving. It fires its lifter a couple of times, which fixes whatever the problem was and allows Matt's Slammer to dole out more punishment. Near the end of the fight, Matt's Slammer is starting to look a little sluggish, but it still pushes Point of No Return around. Time is up, and that's an easy decision for Matt's Slammer.

Fairly Vicious is an electric undercut. A Carnival of Canned Goods is yet another ridiculous name bestowed upon the robot formerly known as Herr Gepoünden.

Fight. Fairly Vicious immediately jams its blade under the wood. A Carnival of Canned Goods drives itself onto Fairly Vicious's body, so now neither of them can move. Time out to separate the robots. Okay, fight. Fairly Vicious wisely tries to stay near the center of the arena. It bounces A Carnival of Canned Goods around, then gets itself stuck under the wood again. Time out to unstick Fairly Vicious. Okay fight. No, wait, Fairly Vicious has gotten itself stuck under the wood again. Time out. All right, this is the last time Fairly Vicious is getting freed. Okay, fight. Fairly Vicious places its rear end firmly against the wall and spins up. If it stays there, it won't get stuck again. A Carnival of Canned Good repeatedly thwacks Fairly Vicious. One collision between the two robots stops Fairly Vicious's blade cold. Which also causes Fairly Vicious to be immobilized. And that's a knockout.

Yeah, this is going to be a nail-biter. Since it truthfully doesn't matter which one of these toys wins the fight, the controls are handed to two of the younger members of the audience (the families of Don Shiver and some of the builders were the only other audience there besides me). In fact, since in the grand scheme of things, this fight matters so little, they decide to let me be one of the three judges for this fight. "Yeah, he's sitting there, he seems to be paying attention, why not."

Fight. In the first half of the two minutes (really, it felt much longer), Sacrificial Lamb slowly wanders around. Gnat doesn't move at all. There goes Sacrificial Lamb, up against the wall... now it's not moving. Oh, wait, it moved slightly. Gnat starts to randomly wander about. Actually, I guess this fight is pretty nail-biting, if you're the type of person who bites their nails out of boredom. Sacrificial Lamb isn't moving. At some point, possibly even after time runs out, Sacrificial Lamb is declared KO'ed since it stopped moving while Gnat slightly moved about. Aw. I was truly agonizing over which toy to give my extra aggression point to. I'm not kidding.

Agsma has already qualified for the Nationals -- it's just here to get some last-minute practice in before the big event. Considering that the big event is just three weeks away and it could sustain some serious damage at this event, that's a bit of a risk. VD4 is special in that it was built in ten days, right before this event. Team Think Tank has built so many vertical spinning weapon robots, they can now just slap one together in ten days. Showoffs.

Fight. VD4 spins its weapon up and hits Agsma. Agsma then drives its forks under the wood, which gets it stuck. VD4 helpfully comes over and frees it. After a few hits from VD4, Agsma loses its drive on one side. Meanwhile, the belts have come off of VD4's disk, so its weapon has come to a stop. And unfortunately for us, all of this happened in the first minute. So the last two minutes consist of a weaponless VD4 and a crippled Agsma running into one another. Time is up, and the decision goes to VD4.

Itsa? is an undercut. Spinner Bait has sturdy plastic armor.

Fight. There's a lot of tension during this bout... specifically, when will the up-to-speed Itsa? hit Spinner Bait? Spinner Bait hugs the wall tightly, moving forward by scraping itself against the wood. There are some light hits by Itsa? which don't do any damage to Spinner Bait, except for maybe a bent hubcap. It's as if Itsa? wants to go easy on this clearly-outmatched opponent. Hey, Itsa? -- combat robotics is not for the merciful! Okay, there we go. Itsa? delivers a fairly big hit to Spinner Bait. But now Itsa?'s weapon has stopped spinning. Spinner Bait keeps moving. Now Itsa? is having trouble moving. It's nearly motionless on the floor, while Spinner Bait is still alive. Spinner Bait repeatedly bumps into Itsa?'s body, to the cheers of the crowd. Time is up. The judges are conferring... they really are conferring. There's half a chance Spinner Bait actually won this fight. Okay, the scores are in. And it's a split decision, 17-16! The winner is... Itsa?! So close!

Believe it or not, Rambyte has not qualified for the Nationals. I know, nobody at the event thinks it's true, either. But it hasn't, and the Robotic Death Company would really like to squeeze it in there. It received a bye in the first round. Matt's Slammer has attached a plank of wood horizontally halfway up its wedge for ablative purposes.

Fight. Matt's Slammer tries the ol' "rush across the box really quickly before your opponent spins up" trick, and actually succeeds. And for the entire fight, Matt's Slammer stays on Rambyte, giving it precious little opportunity to spin up. Not that Rambyte isn't trying... but every time it gets a chance to spin up, Matt's Slammer attacks it or it drives into the wall or Matt's Slammer pushes it into the wall. While Rambyte did get a chance to start to spin up a few times, only once during the fight did it get up to any kind of dangerous speed. Matt's Slammer absorbed the hit and once again pushed Rambyte into the wall. Plus, since Matt's Slammer's ablative wood is positioned halfway up the wedge, and since Rambyte has bludgeoning pieces at the very bottom of its shell, any time Matt's Slammer gets hit by a spinning Rambyte, the uncovered bottom of Matt's Slammer's wedge takes the blow and the wood stays intact for the most part. Time. Since Rambyte can't get anything going, the judges' decision goes to Matt's Slammer.

Snitch is yet another undercut from Team Bad Bot. Vulcan bears an amazing resemblance to Robotic Death Company's hobbyweight Romulus. Originally, Romulus was registered to compete at this event. But then somebody realized that Romulus had already qualified for the Nationals. So instead, here comes this mystery robot named Vulcan that looks a whole lot like Romulus with more metal on its back.

By the way, you may have noticed that there are always at least a couple of robots from Robotic Death Company in my event summaries. This isn't because I'm stalking them or anything -- it's simply because they enter every single robotic combat competition that is held. Anywhere. Even if there are two events held on the same day on opposite sides of the U.S., they'll find a way to fight all of their robots at both events.

Fight. This match begins with Vulcan absorbing some hits from Snitch. Then, about a minute into the fight, Snitch stops working (I can't determine the reason, though that's probably not saying much). Vulcan ineffectually rams/nudges Snitch. Snitch is dead -- the belt for its spinner is off, too. Vulcan wedges itself all the way under Snitch, wears Snitch like a hat, and starts slamming it around. The knockout is called, but the drivers don't hear it, so for an extra 40 seconds or so, Snitch continues to ride Vulcan piggyback as Vulcan shoves it into walls.

Fight. A Carnival of Canned Goods is a spaz. But its hammer arm is actually pretty good at keeping VD4's weapon away from its body. However, VD4 can still occasionally get in and pop A Carnival of Canned Goods around with that vertical disk. VD4 shears off one of the diagonal supports that braces A Carnival of Canned Goods' thwacking arm. For the entire fight, VD4 bounces A Carnival of Canned Goods around, but A Carnival of Canned Goods is sturdy and breaks no more. Time is up, and a 23-10 decision means that VD4 stays in the winners bracket.

VDB is also a robot that has already qualified for Nationals, and is just here because robotic combat is good fun.

Fight. VDB hits Gnat many, many times. One of those hits flips Gnat up against the wall. Gnat is propped up against the wall, wheels off the ground. VDB frees it. Then flips Gnat onto its back. The judges call it a knockout. But the fight continues. VDB keeps hitting Gnat, and finally flips it back onto its wheels. For the rest of the time, VDB tears shards of plastic off of Gnat. Now the toys are starting to get uglied up.

Insta Beetle is one step above Sacrificial Lamb, Spinner Bait, and Gnat in this tournament -- it’s an RC toy with a more powerful battery pack and two pieces of metal attached to it, which qualifies it as a real combat robot. It received a bye into the winners bracket. Itsa? is working again.

Fight. Itsa? spins up... and immediately gets its blade stuck in the seam between floor panels. Time out. Now Itsa? slightly drives up Insta Beetle's forks, which take its wheels off the floor. Meanwhile, Insta Beetle can't get any radio signals to reach the robot. Time out. Now Ista? spins up again and, with a very clear shot at Insta Beetle, tears off one of Insta Beetle's large wheels. Meanwhile, Insta Beetle is still having radio trouble. Since Insta Beetle can't move (not because it's completely damaged, mind you!), it taps out.

Watch us race through the lightweight ladder. Matt's Slammer still has that piece of wood from its previous fight attached.

Fight. This time, the plank of wood is right where VD4's weapon would hit, so it tears into the wood nicely. The wood splinters, shatters, and makes a mess all over the arena floor. Matt's Slammer accepts all of these blows, then moves VD4 toward the corner. Matt's Slammer moves back and charges in with the wedge... and Matt's Slammer flips VD4 onto its head! VD4 can't self-right, so Matt's Slammer wins!

Agsma was supposed to face Fairly Vicious before this fight, but it looks like Fairly Vicious has been killed for the day, as it forfeited. Agsma has replaced its forks with a small, thick I-beam that is attached to the robot with some chains and drags along the floor. It's a good defense against Rambyte, and it's no surprise that Agsma's primary operator was able to come up with such a solution in the middle of the tournament, since Rambyte and Agsma are on the same team.

Fight. While the bar that Agsma has attached is good at soaking up Rambyte's hits, the fact that it drags on the floor makes it difficult for Agsma to drive properly. Since the bar is loosely attached by a chain, Rambyte can't do anything to separate it from Agsma. While Agsma isn't exactly winning the fight, it's definitely surviving. But then Agsma's driver taps out, even though there's no visible damage to the robot. I'm not saying this was definitely a no-point-in-having-my-robot-destroyed-by-my-own-teammate-if-I'm-already-qualified-for-Nationals thing, but it does look that way.

Point of No Return simply got a bye through the first round of the losers bracket. A Carnival of Canned Goods has repaired the support that VD4 tore off.

Fight. Point of No Return tries to control A Carnival of Canned Goods through careful driving, but as was mentioned before, A Carnival of Canned Goods is a spaz. Point of No Return does manage to get A Carnival of Canned Goods trapped in the corner, on top of the lifting plate. The lifting plate goes up, but it does nothing to A Carnival of Canned Goods. There's some more driving about. With about a minute left on the clock, Point of No Return just stops moving for no good reason. A Carnival of Canned Goods wins.

As things progressed throughout the day, there came longer and longer gaps between fights. Since there was no audience to appease, this was no big deal. People found ways to kill time, such as playing poker or holding conversations. I decided to break out my BattleBots toys, which came along for the trip, and some of us went inside the arena and drove them around. I controlled Vlad, both because it could flip some of the other toys (which it wasted no time doing), and because I wanted to show off the new nifty paint job I gave it. Unfortunately, I gave it this paint job using poster paints, which didn't adhere to the plastic very well and flaked off on contact with anything, including a slight breeze. Still, Vlad kicked DooAll's keister. That's a shock, I know.

Fight. Both robots spin up. Then they don't hit one another for a long time. Ah, finally, there are some hits. VDB gets its blade stuck in Itsa?'s armor. Time out to separate the two. Now VDB's disk is all tangled up in its antenna. On the other hand, Itsa? appears to be dead, more or less -- it's barely moving. Time is up. The judges give the victory to VDB. This actually doesn't matter -- I'll tell you why after a couple of fights.

Mario was scheduled to fight Corrosive in the winners bracket, but since both robots came from the same builder, he decided to just forfeit Mario into the losers bracket. Gant received a much-needed bye into this fight.

Actually, I wasn't even aware this fight was going on. They didn't bother to put down the 2×4's to form a smaller arena -- the drivers just let their competitors run loose all over the whole floor. I assumed that they were just killing time while we were waiting for a real fight to be ready. Anyway, I'm sure you won't be too disappointed that I didn't write anything about this one down, especially when I tell you that nothing of note happened between the wedge and the RC car. Mario was the winner, of course.

Look at that, we've jumped all the way up to the last fight in the antweight losers bracket! How did that happen? Well, the next losers bracket fight was Chewy vs. Foregone Conclusion. By this point, nobody cared about seeing two toys drive around for two minutes, so Chewy was chosen as the "winner." Meanwhile, on the winners bracket side, the next scheduled fight was Poly-Hazard vs. Corrosive. Again, both of these robots came from Brad Hanstad (he was the only builder competing with real robots in the antweight division), so he decided to forfeit Corrosive into the losers bracket. The next fight in the losers bracket was Mario vs. Chewy, with the winner going on to face Corrosive (which had just arrived in the losers bracket from being forfeited). Since Brad didn't want to pit Mario against Corrosive, he just forfeited Mario out of the competition. So now it's Chewy vs. Corrosive, fighting for the right to face Poly-Hazard in the finals.

However, Chewy wasn't in working order -- I think its batteries might have been dead or something. So Foregone Conclusion was thrown into the ring instead, since it really didn't matter which RC car Corrosive defeated. And if Corrosive was going to qualify for the Nationals, it would be nice if it actually fought once during the tournament. Its weapon is a vertical disk. Which was in need of repairs, as it was slightly tilted for this fight.

Fight. Corrosive spins up its blade, which starts hitting the floor. Corrosive heads over and starts scratching up Foregone Conclusion's side. Corrosive flips Foregone Conclusion with the blade... and Foregone Conclusion self-rights! Thought you had an easy victory, huh, Corrosive? Well, okay, maybe you do, as Foregone Conclusion now appears to be dead. Corrosive continues to scratch up the side of Foregone Conclusion. Corrosive flips it again... and Foregone Conclusion rolls right back over onto its wheels! There's more to this plucky little car than anybody thought! While it may be good at landing on its feet, Foregone Conclusion is still dead, so a knockout is called. But Corrosive doesn't care -- it continues to scratch Foregone Conclusion. Okay, that's enough.

With that fight over, Corrosive moved back into the winners bracket, to face Poly-Hazard in the finals. However -- you may have figured this out already -- since Brad didn't want to damage his own bots, he forfeited Corrosive and Poly-Hazard was the champion. For coming in first and second, Poly-Hazard and Corrosive will go on to the Nationals -- assuming the RFL allows it.

Look, it's these two again! You see, since there were also only three "real" beetleweights, there was a lot of forfeiting going on in the losers bracket. Both Sacrificial Lamb and Spinner Bait received byes through the first round. In the next pair of rounds, one of the match-ups was Spinner Bait versus Gnat. Don Shiver was tired of going through the motions, so he proclaimed both toys unable to fight and threw another bye into the ladder. The other match was Sacrificial Lamb versus Insta Beetle. Since neither one of these toys would provide a captivating match either, Insta Beetle was automatically proclaimed the winner. So Insta Beetle moved ahead to the next round, where it faced the bye that was created by dropping the other two toys. Which meant that the final fight of the beetleweight losers bracket was Insta Beetle versus Itsa?. For whatever reason, this fight also never took place, and Itsa? immediately moved back into the winners bracket for this final fight. We already know that both of these robots will go to Nationals -- this is for honor. It's also the only finals you're going to read about, so enjoy it.

Fight. Both robots spin up. Itsa? is making plenty of sparks on the floor with its blade. For what feels like a very long time, they don't make contact with one another. Ah, finally, a collision. VDB has the advantage. It nearly flips Itsa?, then gets underneath it. Plus, that hit knocked Itsa?'s right wheel loose. As VDB gnaws into Itsa?'s body, Itsa? taps out. VDB is the champion!

Oh, wait -- we established that VDB had already qualified for the Nationals in a previous tournament, hadn't we? Okay, so the third place robot will also get to go to Nationals. I guess that would be Insta Beetle, by default. Everybody's a winner in the beetleweights!

For this fight, A Carnival of Canned Goods has wrapped its hammer with many, many layers of bubble wrap. He's a silly guy, that Dave Otto.

Fight. Rambyte gets up to speed and hits A Carnival of Canned Goods a whole bunch of times. Layers of bubble wrap begin to flake off. But then A Carnival of Canned Goods gets Rambyte in the corner and stops it from spinning. However, with its only weapon wrapped in plastic, A Carnival of Canned Goods can't do anything. At one point during the fight, it tries to go thwack, then quit because hitting an opponent with a big blob of bubble wrap isn't particularly impressive.

Rambyte gets out of the corner and spins up again. A Carnival of Canned Goods keeps attacking. Somewhere between a minute and a half and two minutes in, Rambyte suddenly stops spinning after a collision with A Carnival of Canned Goods. It looks like the part that spins the shell is broken. But Rambyte continues to drive around, trying to push A Carnival of Canned Goods. Oh, but now Rambyte is emitting smoke. About fifteen seconds left... we know that Rambyte is going to go the distance for the fight. Ten, nine... Holy cow, Rambyte is on fire! Time is up -- get the fire extinguisher in there! Look, Rambyte is still on fire -- get the bigger fire extinguisher in there!

It goes to a judges' decision, and they give it to A Carnival of Canned Goods. The announced score is 23-11, although that doesn't add up properly. Whatever, A Carnival of Canned Goods won. There's a substantial break in the action as everybody waits for the smoke to clear out of the arena.

Leftovers, which received a bye in its first round, is just a big long bar on wheels.

Fight. Near the beginning of the match, Vulcan gets its wedge stuck underneath the wood. Time out is called. But instead, the computer timer program is closed. Hold on, we've got to get everything back to normal. Okay, time in. Vulcan starts the fight a little weakly, but dominates things overall. It pushes Leftovers into the wall a few times. And that's really all it can do. Leftovers keeps flipping itself over as it tries to move forward and backward. Leftovers tries to spin in place, but that does it no good. Vulcan continues to push Leftovers around. With ten seconds left, Vulcan gets stuck under the wood again. Forget it, time's up. Vulcan is on the winning end of the judges' decision.

Control-Alt-Delete should have an overhead spinning bar for a weapon, but the team can't get it to work, so they're just driving as a box for this fight. Remus is a wedge.

Fight. It's a wedge-on-box fight. Add that to the fact that Control-Alt-Delete wasn't designed to be a strong pusher, and Remus owns this fight. Over the course of the entire three minutes, there's only one time that Control-Alt-Delete gets Remus in the corner. For the rest of the fight, it's Remus pushing Control-Alt-Delete into walls. It's a lopsided 25-8 decision in Remus' favor.

Amazingly, Remus wasn't damaged in that last fight, so it's immediately ready for this one. I don't think it's necessary for me to describe VD2.

Fight. VD2 spins up. Remus wedges underneath it and drives completely underneath without being touched by VD2's disk. But then VD2 gets a chance to bite Remus in the back. VD2 hurts Remus a few times. Then VD2 drives face-first into the wood, getting its disk stuck in there. Remus comes over to free it. After about a minute, Remus wedges itself underneath the wood. Time out for an unsticking. Remus seems to be having transmission problems. Meanwhile, VD2's blade isn't working and I think one side of its drive is out, too. Remus pushes VD2 into the wall once. The rest of the final two minutes consists of random driving by both robots. The judges give the decision to VD2.

At this point, there was another long break in the action to give the robots a chance to be repaired. So I brought BioCarnage (which had been threatening to leave me if I didn't remove it from its box) in to take on both Vlad the Impaler and Dr. Inferno Jr. at the same time, which is something I've wanted to try for a very long while. It was a good fight -- Vlad and Dr. Inferno Jr. even managed to get all of my wheels off the ground at one point. But I got the last laugh by thwacking Dr. Inferno Jr. and damaging the sensor that determines whether the weapon piece is inserted in the toy. Then I realized that it was my toy and quit laughing. I think I've got it working again.

Here comes the last fight of the lightweight losers bracket.

Fight. A Carnival of Canned Goods tries the box-long rush, but VD4's disk is already spinning. VD4 hits A Carnival of Canned Goods numerous times. In an early hit, VD4 tears off the chain controlling one of A Carnival of Canned Goods' wheels, so for most of the fight, it has to drive around with only one wheel working. Even with only one wheel, A Carnival of Canned Goods is a spaz. VD4 tears some pieces off the back side of A Carnival of Canned Goods. Somewhere around this time, VD4's disk becomes a little misaligned, and starts scraping the floor. Eventually, VD4's disk stops spinning (I'm not sure whether it was because it broke or because they didn't want it to keep hitting the floor). So now it's a pushing match. A Carnival of Canned Goods hits VD4 in random ways, but VD4 shows more control in the box. Time is up, and the judges say that VD4 wins, 18-15.

The lightweight finals were supposed to be between Matt's Slammer and VD4. However, VD4 forfeited (maybe they didn't want to go to the trouble of rushing to repair it), so Matt's Slammer is the champion. Both robots go to Nationals.

So all that's left are the hobbyweights.

Fight. Ten seconds in, Snitch gets its spinning blade jammed under the floor panel but good. Time out, both to unstick the robot and to pound the floor panel back down so it's level again. Fight. Now Snitch's blade is scraping the floor (perhaps it hit a big, stationary object that threw its blade out of whack). Remus absorbs a blow. Within the next ten seconds, Snitch's blade hits another seam in the floor. The blade comes to a stop (again), and now there's smoke coming out of Snitch. And Snitch taps out.

Fight. As the two head for one another, VD2 is flipped onto its back. Well, that immobilized it. Vulcan stares at VD2, dumbfounded, then makes the mistake of going over, tapping VD2, and knocking it back onto its wheels. I really wish it hadn't, though, because when VD2 flipped onto its head, that also knocked its disk out of commission. So this fight consists of nearly three minutes of driving. Whee. In the last minute of the fight, Vulcan wedges itself underneath the wood, so a time out is called to unstick it. Right near the end, Vulcan gets stuck again, but VD2 frees it. Oh, thank goodness, time is up. It's a split decision for VD2.

Control-Alt-Delete has its blade working now. And just in time -- it gets to fight Leftovers, which is on the same team!

Fight. Control-Alt-Delete's driver says that while the blade is spinning now, it isn't up to the top speed it should be at. Leftovers drives at random, and begins to passionately attack the wall. I feel dirty watching that. Control-Alt-Delete does very little damage to Leftovers with its blade. And pretty soon, that blade dies. So here comes another driving match. Leftovers continues to freak out inside the box, Control-Alt-Delete's drive begins to slow down, too. Control-Alt-Delete pushes Leftovers once. That's about it. Time is up. The 20-13 decision goes to Leftovers.

While Leftovers prepares for this fight, the Robotic Death Company analyzes the ladder. Obviously, they want to get another of their wedges into Nationals. At this point, the only way that won't happen is if Leftovers wins this fight, then also defeats Vulcan, which is standing by to face this winner. Meanwhile, since it's now assured of a place at Nationals, VD2 has gone home, so the winner of the losers bracket is the hobbyweight champion.

Fight. To no one's surprise, this fight isn't very engaging. Remus is able to control Leftovers at some points, while Leftovers is still driving all crazy, since it's a fighting robot that's just a big, long bar. It's like watching a fly that has only one wing and three legs -- somebody should just put it out of its misery. Remus shoves Leftovers into the corner so that Leftovers' body is at a 45 angle to the walls. That will prove to be the most exciting moment of the fight. In one attack, Remus shoves Leftovers into the wall and wedges itself underneath the wood in the process. Since Leftovers is high-centered on Remus, a time out is called. The rest of the fight is just more driving. It's a 19-13 decision for Remus.

Again, since Remus wasn't damaged in the least during that last fight, it's immediately ready for this one. And thank goodness -- this isn't the kind of fight people are willing to wait for. Before it begins, I predict a 17-16 decision.

Fight. Okay, time's up. And hey, I was right! It was a split decision!

What? You want details? Trust me, you don't. They're two identical wedges. They're driven equally well. And they both keep getting stuck under the wood. After the fight was over, one of the drivers even admitted that for a few seconds, he was trying to control the wrong one! The decision goes to Remus, so at least it won't have to go to Nationals under a pseudonym.

With that, it was time to go home. This wasn't a difficult task, as most of the other teams had already gone home before the final fight.

If I had to pick, the thing that I'll take away from this event is... Sacrificial Lamb. Over the course of the day, it had quit working, so I was the lucky recipient of an RC toy that could no longer drive forward or backward. Though it could still turn its front wheels. Oh, and the "hydraulics" still worked. That was the most important part.

I took it home, and -- don't tell anybody, as this could ruin my reputation -- took the toy apart to find out what was wrong. Turns out that the only reason the back wheels no longer work is because when one of the spinners tore off Sacrificial Lamb's rear wheel, it also tore into the section containing the gears that turn the rear axle. One of the gears was snapped in half, so the motor gear was spinning freely. If I could fix that gear (and reconstruct the antenna, which got ripped off by a spinner), then Sacrificial Lamb would be in working order again. That's right -- I have independently figured out why something mechanical quit working and also determined what needs to be done to fix it (if not how exactly to do it).

I'm scared.

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