Spaghetti monsters.

Posted on by

Tavis starts off Friday’s demo session by thanking everyone for not destroying the common room at his condo last week during Nicole’s farewell party.

Then Tavis demonstrates the admin features developed for his team’s ongoing secret project. Once again, I can’t tell you any more than that. Frankly, I’m getting tired of referring to it as “the secret project” so I’m going to give it a name – Weapon X.

Shawn is our go-to guy for demos that are impenetrable to non-technical people. He throws some code up on the projector screen and declares, “It’s group code review time!” Then he demonstrates some changes he wants to make to StepRep’s wiring to make it run more efficiently. Various people offer feedback. Shawn answers their questions and receives qualified approval from Jason to proceed with the changes. “So expect that in the near future,” Shawn concludes.

Jordan is working on the StepRep executive report. This is the report that shows up in your inbox once a week, full of graphs and diagrams that break down how your online reputation is faring.

In the past this exec report was formatted using HTML, but since some email clients and mobile devices didn’t display the formatting properly, instead we’re going to send a PDF attachment that will render identically for all users. Jordan and his team are using a tool called Pisa to convert the HTML reports into PDF, and the redesigned reports should be rolling out in the next couple weeks.

Allan is last. He shows up late, ominously carrying a grocery bag. In the past, Allan’s demos have involved standing in a circle holding hands, thumb wrestling, and throwing tennis balls into garbage pails. These exercises are meant to illustrate some aspect or other of Agile philosophy, and as random as they seem, he always ties them together with a little speech at the end that makes it all seem perfectly logical.

So when Allan asks someone to put on some background music (Brendan chooses Toto’s “Africa”), Shawn immediately asks, “Are you going to make us dance?”

No, it turns out Allan is going to make us build towers out of spaghetti. According to the terms of the Marshmallow Challenge promoted by “thought-leader and award-winning innovator” Tom Wujec,

[I]n eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top.

Supplies for the Marshmallow Challenge.

In the video on the Marshmallow Challenge homepage, Tom describes pretty much exactly how the tower-building exercise works out for the four teams at VendAsta:

Finally, just as they’re running out of time, someone takes out the marshmallow, and then they gingerly put it on top, and then they stand back, and…ta-da! They admire their work.

But what really happens most of the time is the ta-da! turns into an uh-oh! because the weight of the marshmallow causes the entire structure to buckle and to collapse.

My own team fails to build a stable spaghetti tower. We’re aiming for a tripod a couple feet high, but the tape is too flimsy to reinforce the spaghetti legs as we’d intended. The other teams don’t do much better. Brendan’s team manages to at least build a freestanding structure that collapses with the addition of the marshmallow. Jason’s team comes up with a bizarre spaghetti gallows that dangles the marshmallow below the level of the table, but Allan rules that negative height doesn’t count in the contest. No winner is declared. A poor showing for VendAsta.

Afterward, Allan explains what the Marshmallow Challenge is all about. I hate to ruin the punchline for anybody who’d like to try the game with their own team, so I’ll just give you a hint: the marshmallow is a metaphor.