Invented about 1,500 years ago, catapults were an amazing piece of technology for their time. Originally developed as a siege engine for war, this clever technology was used to bring down the castle walls of your enemy. The basic components of a catapult include a long arm that can be pulled back under tension and then released and launched with great force—making castle walls a thing of the past. Since we rarely need to take down a neighboring castle anymore, we can use the principles of basic catapulting for a more entertaining purpose. Your family can build your own mini-catapult to fling ping pong balls to knock down a target—or scale it up to do your own punkin’ chunkin after Halloween!
- 10 bamboo skewers;
- 5 marshmallows;
- a medium sized rubber band;
- some Dixie cups (one for the catapult, and others for stacking a tower);
- a ping pong ball (or other small projectile that won’t damage things);
- masking tape;
- heavy snips (for cutting the bamboo skewers).
- Refer to the picture to see where you are heading, or if you are creative, go ahead and try to build one similar or even your own model!
- Put three marshmallows in a perfect triangle on a table and connect them by sticking them with three bamboo skewers. This is your base.
- Take the next three skewers and shorten them by about 1 inch with the snips.
- Attach these to the base marshmallows pointing towards toward the center and up a bit of an angle.
- Connect all three of these together by sticking them into one marshmallow.
- Put a strip or two of masking tape around this marshmallow, as it will get a lot of stress on it.
- Take one last skewer and attach it to a Dixie cup. You can poke through its side at the bottom, or attach it by tape. Take this skewer and stick it into one base marshmallow.
- Wrap a rubber band around the Dixie cup end and over the center marshmallow.
- Now, add a ping pong ball to the cup, pull back, and bombs away!
- Set up some empty Dixie cups as a makeshift castle and try to knock it down.
Be sure to be safe as you begin catapulting. Make sure you don’t aim anything at someone’s face. Or use rocks, as things might get broken (remember the castle walls?). This is just one example of a simple catapult that you can construct. Can you think of other longer lasting materials to use to make your next catapult? Can you build a larger catapult?
Steve Davala is a middle school science teacher who likes to write both nonfiction experiment pieces as well as fiction fantasy adventures. He’s got two kids of his own, who both like science (even if what they really like doing best is mixing baking soda and vinegar.)