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Faith In The Future Of Humanity: Restored!

, , , , , , , , , | Friendly | January 25, 2023

Several years ago, I was a referee for a First Lego League (now known as FLL Challenge) competition. This is a competition where middle-schoolers build and program Lego robots to run on a board completing various challenges for points.

This year, one of my teams had some adorable homemade outfits fitting this year’s theme. They also had a large banner that they dragged in and excitedly waved, and in general, they were full of energy and excitement.

I always encourage the kids to cheer as loud as possible when their team name is called by the announcer. That’s part of the general goal of making competitions fun and enjoyable for the kids regardless of how well they do on the table. Despite this, I usually get rather lackluster responses when team names are called. Not [Team], though. I got by far the most enthusiastic full-energy cheer I’d heard in a long time from this team.

They were at my table for their first official match. I’d watched them during their practice round and knew that their robot was decent — a bit better than the average — but was still not going to come close to the score of the best few bots.

After [Team]’s robot successfully completed its first two runs, it came back to the home base so they could swap out parts for another run. The boy starting the robot up apparently ran the wrong program. This resulted in the robot running amok over the board as it tried to run a program designed for a very different section of the board, knocking pieces out of place and losing the team points.

Then came the confusion of the kids trying to decide whether to take the bot back to home base, therefore getting a touch penalty, or leave it as it was. They ended up deciding on the penalty, but they hesitated too long making the decision, meaning they didn’t have time to complete the next run before time ran out. The net result was a rather abysmal score compared to what they should have managed.

Luckily, they would get to do three runs and only the highest score of the three counted, so they still had a chance for a better score, but having your first run go so terribly can be quite discouraging to kids.

But as I listened, rather than hearing frustration or scolding directed at the kid who messed up, I heard more cheering, proclamations that they would do better next time, and multiple teammates encouraging the child who messed up. I couldn’t help but be impressed by their relentless optimism and so resolved to keep an eye on them.

As I watched, I saw not just excitement for their own team, but compliments and cheering for the other teams. At one point, I even saw one girl from [Team] offer her help to another team when their robot wasn’t starting up right. The other team was one of the top teams, and they didn’t really need her help, but still, I was impressed by her trying to aid her greatest competition.

The final score on the tables was only one of the four areas we looked at. Separate groups of judges assessed their Robot Design, their Projects, and their Core Values. Since I usually judged, I knew all three categories well.

Core Values included inspiration (team spirit), teamwork, and “gracious professionalism”, which basically means being professional and a good sport to the other teams. I deemed [Team] to have demonstrated all three of those areas far in excess of the average team.

Not able to give up on my inner judge, I couldn’t stand the idea of [Team] not getting recognition for living up to these values on the field — and not just when they were being actively judged. Thus, I took a free moment to run down to the Core Values room and let the judges there know what I’d seen.

As it turned out, [Team] had already been ranked the top team for Core Values, even before they got my recognition. However, there were other steps for deciding what trophies to hand out beyond the ranking of the teams, and one of them was picking who got the Champion award for excelling in all four areas — the score on the table plus the three judged categories.

Usually, the Champion award tended to go to one of the teams that had a high score on the table, as they usually also had a high score in Robot Design, giving them high scores in half the areas we measured even before we considered that these teams also tended to put a bit more work into their Projects.

Still, we always stressed that all categories were weighted evenly; if anything, Core Values was usually used as the tiebreaker for otherwise even teams. In this case, they had three teams with high table and Robot Design scores, but those teams either had an abysmal Project score, in one case, or decent but not exceptional Project scores and mediocre Core Values. Competing with these three teams was [Team], with a perfect Core Values score, a good Project score, and decent, if not exceptional, Design and table scores.

The judges were split between multiple potential winners. It was apparently my confirmation that [Team]’s values continued to be demonstrated at the table that pushed them over the edge to win the Champion award.

[Team] was clearly shocked when their name was announced for Champion.

Personally, I think they earned it. I gave it my all applauding for them.

Avengers, Assemble And Spell!

, , , , , , , , , | Right | January 18, 2023

I’m a hotel receptionist, and I’m on the phone with a guest who’s booking a room.

Me: “I’m sorry, can you spell your names out for me?”

Guest: “Takayoshi. That’s Thanos, Avengers, Korg, Ant-Man, Yellowjacket, Odin, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Iron Man. My wife is Viktoria. That’s Valkyrie, Infinity, Killmonger, Thor, Okoye, Ragnarok, Ironheart, America.”

Yes, he said that with a completely serious tone and what I imagine was a completely straight face.

Thankfully, years of training allowed me to keep a poker face and type his information into our register. Immediately after he hung up, I ran straight to the washroom and laughed for like fifteen minutes straight.

Man, it’s days like this that make life worth living.

Not Kal-El Approved

, , , , , , | Right | January 6, 2023

At our bicycle shop, we sell many bike locks, with one of the brands being “Kryptonite.” A customer is looking at the locks with a confused expression. Then, she looks at me genuinely and asks:

Customer: “Are these locks made out of kryptonite?

Me: “…No, ma’am.”

Customer: “Hmm… Are you sure? Why would they call it that if it wasn’t made out of kryptonite?”

Me: “That’s the name of the brand, ma’am, not what it is made of.”

Customer: “Seems like false advertising to me. Are you suuuuuure it’s not made of kryptonite?”

Me: “Ma’am, if it was real kryptonite, it would be glowing green.”

Customer: “Yes, I suppose you’re right. It’s still false advertising, though!”

Me: “We’ll let corporate know, in case we get any Kryptonian shoppers.”

Customer: “You do that!”

Customers: Complaining Since 1799

, , , , , , | Right | January 3, 2023

I’m a tourist at a popular living history museum, where many of the employees roleplay that they are living in the Revolutionary War and wear historical clothing. At the time I’m visiting, they are still actively encouraging guests to dress up, too. As I’m a hobbyist reenactor, I bring along my own eighteenth-century garb and play along.

My outfit is very authentic, and because I’m aware that this makes me look like an employee and I’m inevitably going to get asked for directions, I’ve scanned the visitor map and memorized a few key things that people tend to ask for. I’m actually kind of proud of myself for being able to point a few people in the right direction, despite the fact that I’ve never been there before.

At one point, my phone starts buzzing in my pocket, and I step off to the side of the street to answer it. I notice a few people giggling and taking pictures of me. I also see someone out of the corner of my eye standing nearby, looking uncomfortable. When I finish my call, she gets my attention.

Woman: “Excuse me, do you work here?”

Me: “No, sorry! It’s actually my first time here, too. If you’re looking for a restroom, though, I found one right over there, just beyond that souvenir stand. The entrance is on the other side.” *Points* 

Woman: “Oh, no, apologies for disturbing you. I’m a manager here.”

I’ve been on autopilot during this conversation and finally get a good look at her. She’s wearing a museum-branded polo shirt and holding a walkie-talkie.

Woman: “I got a complaint about an employee using a modern cellular device while in costume in the historic area.”

Me: “Oh. No, I… uh… I just like to dress up? I don’t even live in this state.”

I show her my visitor pass.

Woman: “…Okay. Sorry about that again. Enjoy your stay.”

Me: “Er, thank you?”

I’m not sure what was more stunning — that some other visitor had essentially tattled on me to management or that the management didn’t recognize their own employees and costumes.

The next time I had to make a call, I ducked into a less-busy area. The guy playing George Washington walked by at one point and gave me a weird look, but that I could deal with.

It May Be A Bit Early To Start Explaining Multiverses

, , , , , , | Friendly | December 31, 2022

I am an avid collector of “Transformers” figures. My best friend and roommate’s son, who is five, frequently comes down to the basement to gaze in wonder at the ever-growing robot army. Optimus Prime is his favorite character, and he knows exactly what Optimus normally looks like, so when he notices an Optimus figure I have that isn’t red, blue, and white as Optimus typically is, he becomes curious.

Roommate’s Son: “Why is that Optimus the wrong colors, and why are his eyes red?”

The figure he’s referring to is Optimus Prime from a series called “Transformers: Shattered Glass”, which effectively reversed the factions, so the Autobots were evil and the Decepticons were the heroes. As such, this particular Optimus Prime — an evil version of himself — is light gray and dark purple and has red eyes, whereas Optimus’s eyes are usually blue or occasionally yellow.

Me: “Because that Optimus is from a series where Optimus wasn’t a good guy.”

Roommate’s Son: *Suddenly distressed* “OPTIMUS PRIME WAS AN A**HOLE?!”