Specification Clarification Questions

MESA does its best to ensure our specifications are as clear as possible. However, there are times during the Engineering Design Process rules need to be clarified. In those instances student participants may submit Specification Clarification Questions. Specification Clarification questions must be emailed to azmesa@email.arizona.edu or submitted via our webform at MESA Day Question. Questions should be discussed with MESA teachers prior to submission. Submitted questions should include your name, your school, and the MESA teacher should be copied on the email.

Question: During the pitch are video clips allowed?

  • Answer: Yes, per Pitch Rule 4 “Teams are allowed to bring additional audio and visual aids to enhance their presentation.” However, teams cannot use a video as their entire pitch.

Question: Can you switch out wheels in between races for a particular race?

  • Answer: Yes this is allowable.

Question; Can rubber bands be used in a pulley system to power the car as long as they are not being used to add extra power to the car?

  • Answer: Yes, rubber bands can be used as long as they do not add power. Teams will need to be prepared to explain to the judges how they are being used and show that they do not add power. The design notebook is a good place to keep data and information for this purpose.

Question: Are we allowed to get a bigger motor for the solar car?

  • Answer: No, per the specifications under mandatory materials you must use the motor that was provided.


Question: If students are using found items, construction scraps, items brought from home or donated do they need to give these items a dollar amount?

  • Answer: In most cases they do not need a dollar amount. Per Design Parameter 10a “Commercially available materials or kits (i.e. legos, k’nex, Arduino) must have a price listed in the budget.” However, Per Design Parameter 10b ” Salvaged items do not need to have a price but should be listed in the budget. Salvaged items are defined as items that were designed as single-use (straws, soda bottles, paper towel tubes) or would otherwise be thrown away (scrap lumber, pvc, metal)

Question: Do we list the price we paid or the retail value of items purchased at thrift or second hand stores?

  • Answer: Please list the purchase price of the item.

Question: If we are using shelves to build on, does the shelving have to be included in the budget?

  • Answer: Yes, they would be considered a part of the contraption and should be included in the budget.

Question: Can we use a lego mindstorm in our contraption?

  • Answer: Yes this can be used, however, it must be included in the budget. Please remember that the budget cannot exceed $60.

Question: Is a notebook part of the judging for that competition?

  • Answer: A notebook is not part of this competition but there is a poster required. The rubric for the poster will be available in the Spring.

Question: If we are not allowed to use PVC glue to "create" members that are 2' X 6" X 6", what other types of material could be used to make these with?  In other words, if the members can be 2' X 6" X 6",  how can any member be rigid and shaped this way without some sort of bonding material used to create the 6-inch depth?

  • Answer: Glue can be used. Pieces of half-inch schedule 40 PVC, including half-inch fittings, can be glued together. Once they are glued they are considered a single member and must fit within the 2’ x 6” x 6” parameter. The 6” width and height of the parameter allow for a fitting to become part of a member. Remember that members can only be made from half-inch schedule 40 PVC.

Question: Are screws allowed in pre-assembled pieces or “members”?

  • Answer: No,  members can only be made from ½” schedule 40 PVC. Screws are considered connections and must be “loose” which means only attached during the construction process and not permanently affixed.

Question: Should the bridge have a platform built in for testing or will that be supplied by you?

  • Answer: No, The platform, called the “decking surface”, will be provided by MESA during testing. Rule 4e states that the bridge “shall provide exactly two decking support surfaces that are continuous along the full length of the bridge” So the bridge must have a place for the “decking surface” to be placed on AND once it’s in place Rule 43 further states that the bridge should have “a straight rectangular vehicle passageway…” so a place for cars to drive through. For our purpose a car will be a 2 foot wide by 1 foot tall box, called the “Vehicle Clearance Template” that should be able to travel through the bridge without obstruction.

Question: Can we use grip tape around the pipes?

  • Answer: Yes, tape can be used as a loose connection as long as it is added only after building has started.

Question: Can we add materials, like filament, inside the PVC to help stabilize the bridge?

  • Answer: No, these materials would become part of the member and members can only consist of half-inch schedule 40 PVC.

Question: Can there be supports under the bridge deck?

  • Answer: Yes, you can have support structures under the bridge deck as long as it meets all other parameters, including 4d which states “Vertical clearance of 1’6” shall be provided under the bridge at all points directly over the ground and river.”

    Question: Can you make a homemade parachute for the water rockets?

    • Answer: Yes, homemade parachutes are allowed but commercially available parachutes are prohibited.

    Question: If we use an epoxy to secure fins and the bottle  still is holding the air pressure, would this be allowed?

    • Answer: No, Per the specifications under Materials, “materials that could compromise the integrity of the … bottle will not be allowed…” Although the bottle may be holding pressure now there is no way to determine if that will remain the case after repeated testing. Unless students, through research, can provide specific information in their design notebooks that can definitively prove that the epoxy has in no way compromised the integrity of the bottle. This information would have to be presented to the lead judge who would make a final determination.

    Question: My team wants to cut the 2 liter bottles and glue them together. would this still meet the #4 (has one 2liter bottle) and #5 (integrity of bottle is intact)? 

    • Answer: This would fail both during spec check. All rockets should have 1 Two-liter bottle that has not been altered to serve as the booster rocket. This is done to ensure the safety of students and volunteers and prevent a bottle from exploding. This bottle can have attachments but judges will make the final call as to whether they feel the integrity of the bottle has been compromised.

    Question: Can we use flex tape to hold the fins on the bottle?

    • Answer: As long as the adhesive does not compromise the integrity of the 2-liter bottle it is allowed. If during specification check judges feel that it does compromise the integrity they have the authority to disqualify a rocket for safety purposes.

    Question: Can a team attach their egg capsule to the side of the bottle as long as it is smaller in diameter than the bottle, or does it have to be attached so that it's at the top of the bottle when launched?

    • Answer: The capsule must be contained within an imaginary cylinder that is no wider than the diameter of the 2-liter bottle and extends above and beneath the bottle. This is what design parameter 2, which states that “The egg capsule shall fit within the diameter of the of the 2-liter bottle(s).”, is meant to describe. So in essence the capsule cannot be attached to the side of the bottle because that would reside outside this imaginary cylinder.

    Question: Are we able to use a hand pump at state competition for our bottle rocket?

    • Answer: Yes, if you may choose to use a hand pump but the 5-minute time limit for the launch remains the same.

    Question: Can you use poster board as the paper for the paper boat challenge?

    • Answer: Yes, poster board can be used. The range of items considered paper is very broad and was chosen for this specific reason. Students should experiment with different papers and can mix papers in their designs. Any information collected on paper types and data from experimentation on and with paper types should be included in the Engineering Design Notebooks.

    Question: Can a water boat have more than one deck as long as the paper is physically connected to the structure?  Can we instruct the judge to maneuver this deck to place more bottles?

    • Answer: Yes, however judges must keep to the timing of placing the bottle so the judge’s will use their discretion to determine if the deck can be moved within the timing of the event. If they determine they cannot then they have the right to refuse. Also, judges are not responsible for any issues that may arise from moving the deck that may cause the boat to prematurely capsize. If this occurs boats will not be retested and a score will determined based on how many bottles were held prior to the issue. Any requests must be handled during spec check and not during testing.

    Question: is there a specific kind of tape that needs to be used.

    • Answer: No, the type of paper and tape is not specified for this project. Students should experiment with various tapes and papers to determine what will work best for their design and help them maximize the efficiency of their boat.

    Question: Can cardboard be considered a paper with the paper boat challenge?

    • Answer: No, cardboard is not an allowable material for this year’s challenge.

    Question: Are students allowed to use "Flex tape" for the paper and tape canoe?

    • Answer: No, after careful thought and research into Flex Tape we have decided not to allow this material or other similar rubber or silicone tapes specifically designed to be waterproof. The reason is that it removes a lot of work needed to engineer a solution for the challenge. We want students to experiment, test, and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of various materials and design in order to determine the best approach to the challenge. Judges will ask students about tape used and look for evidence of tape used in the design notebooks.

    Question: Can we use wax paper or Puffin paper to make the tape and paper canoe?

    • Answer: No, while we do want to leave room for teams to experiment with different types of paper, papers that have been modified or that have been made from synthetic materials are not allowed. Wax paper is paper that has been modified by adding wax and puffin paper is a synthetic paper.  Although these papers are a great idea for their waterproof nature, they eliminate too much of the engineering challenge from this event.

    Question: Since cardboard is not allowed - are toilet paper/wrapping paper tubes forbidden?

    • Answer: Toilet paper and wrapping paper tubes are made of cardboard so they would not be allowed for this challenge.

    Question: Are manila folders an allowable material for the paper and tape canoe?

    • Answer: Yes, manila folders are considered paper for this activity.

    Question: Can you use cereal boxes as a form of paper? Is that considered cardboard?

    • Answer: No, Cereal boxes are considered cardboard.

    Question: Can the boat have a flat bottom?

    • Answer: No, per Design Parameter 1b “Boats must have a keel (i.e. no flat bottom)”

    Question: Can compressed air and/or helium be used in pontoons for the paper and tape boat?

    • Answer: No, the compressed air or helium would be considered a material for the purpose of this competition and the only materials allowed are paper and tape.

    Question: Can we use construction paper?

    • Answer: Yes, construction paper is allowed.

    Question: If an item is printed with filament can you add other materials like magnets to the 3D printed tool?

    • Answer: Yes other elements can be included, however, the printed piece must be the primary element of the design and be the focal point for demonstrating the math/science concept.

    Question: Can we paint on our 3D printed additive manipulative? 

    •  Answer: Yes, that is allowed.

    Question: Does it violate the parameters of 150mm x 150mm x 150mm if the pieces print larger but when the pieces are separated the meet the design restrictions?

    • Answer: This would not violate the parameters. Only the finished product must fit within the 150 mm x 150 mm x 150 mm parameter.

    Question: If the design fits the size parameters while disassembled but exceed them assembled, is the design violating the specifications for size?

    • Answer: Yes this would violate Design Parameter 3 which states that “The maximum size of the design is 150 x 150 x 150 mm total.”

    Question: Will the scavenger hunt already be made up into units (like meters blocks) or will the students have to measure these in order to create the code?

    • Answer: Students will have to take their own measurements.

    Question: Can a student use anything on their body to measure distance as long as they are able to wear it?

    • Answer: Students will be allowed to use measurement tools to determine distances. The exception being smartphones, tablets, or computers that take measurements for them.

    Question: Are comments in the code allowed?

    • Answer: Comments are allowed and encouraged in order to provide some insight into the type of command that is written but should not supersede the code itself. Adding comments is good coding. See example below (code//comment)
      I.E. –      Jump Forward 20 pixels//Move without drawing
      Move Forward 100 pixels//Draw as you move
      Turn Left 90 degrees//Zero considered same direction of line not direction drawer is facing

    Question: Will Coders be coding on pencil and paper only or using computers on Code.org and printing the code?

    • Answer: They will be using paper and pencil

    Question: What unit of measurement will be used for length? Inches? Centimeters? Pixels?

    • Answer: That will be up to the coder to decide and they should define that within their code.

    Question: Are artists allowed to use tools in their notebooks for the cryptography questions? (Cesar wheel, etc.)

    • Answer: Yes they can use tools from their notebooks to help them. No electronic devices will be allowed.

    Question: Will students be asked to do a presentation and create a design notebook?

    • Answer: Students will be asked to present their design to the judges and answer a few questions about their process. They will also be asked to share any written documentation they created during building. Both will be score items.

    Question: Will teams be asked to do the same challenge that was done during the regional event?

    • Answer: No, the challenge will be different.


    • Answer: