ROOMBA ROULETTE (a Pandemic Pastime)

Thanks to videos sent to me from some friends in Phoenix, I hatched an idea. I’m calling it: Roomba Roulette. The rules:

1. Venmo me $5 – I’m going to keep a dollar of every entry for myself and the winner gets the rest of the pot. One, because I can, and two, I need to pay for supplies. I think I said on Instagram the money that goes to me will be used to support local businesses, which if you look at my Postmates history, is guaranteed.

2. I put the names of the entrants on balloons and attach pushpins to Stove (the Roomba) – The pushpins are because I am afraid of weaponizing a moving robot with kitchen knives and I want to protect my furniture. I think pushpins will pop the balloons without ruining my furniture if Stove goes rogue.

3. Saturday, 4pm EST I will let my Roomba loose on Instagram Live — because, have you really quarantined if you haven’t gone live on Instagram?

I got this idea from videos my friends sent me where people would tape steak knives to their Roomba and let it loose on balloons. It looked so easy, so what can go wrong?

Update—a lot can go wrong.

Roomba roulette went about as well and as poorly as everyone expected. I had 45 entrants, so many that I had to cut the entrants off. I would have had closer to 50, but I didn’t want to run back to the store to buy another 15 pack of balloons. I was running out of room in my apartment!

45 balloons (an $180 pot!) later, I had an arena to set up. I invited my two neighbors and one of my friends from Chinatown to help me out, but that just added more stress. I only had 45 balloons, no extra, and was afraid of popping one before the even started. To combat the threat of popping I directed my crew to slightly under-inflate the balloon. That caused its own issues, since the balloons didn’t pop as easily as I thought they would (more on that later). I wrote everyone’s name on each balloon, but when we blew them up, it stretched the writing so much that it was almost transparent. I could generally tell whose balloon was who’s, but nobody in the room or watching on IG Live had any idea.

After I taped the balloons along the perimeter of my living room, attempting to be as fair as possible while protecting my furniture, I had to weaponize Stove. I taped about 12 pushpins to the front of him, effectively giving him braces. I pressed the “clean” button and of course he went straight for my couch, ignoring all of the balloons behind him. I adjusted him to try to point him towards the wall of balloons while staying fair, attempting not to single anybody out. Quickly, I stopped trying to be impartial in order to get the people the exploding balloons they wanted. 

The under-inflated balloons were stronger than the pushpins, which was a surprise to us all. Stove had to capture the balloons and drag them across the room until he ran up against the wall to pop them. Then, he would suck up balloon guts, causing him to turn red and cry. (Have you heard a Roomba cry? It’s equivalent to WALL_E when he thinks his girlfriend died). We had to constantly stop the game to clean up the carnage before Stove broke. My friends were in charge of entertaining the people watching, a job they did not know they were signing up to. I was too busy taping balloons to the ground and pushpins to the robot, picking up popped balloons and lost pushpins, and avoiding injury from my brace-face vacuum cleaner to see if my friend’s jokes kept the crowd engaged. The comment function seemed to keep my viewers entertained enough.

Eventually I gave in and taped steak knives to Stove. We had about 25 balloons left, and we were not leaving without a winner. Of course, the balloons proved to be too strong for the knives, too. Plus, the knives are only sharp on one side, so it creates some logistical issues. We were able to pop some more balloons, but it required stopping every 8 minutes to re-adjust.

At this point, we were about 37 minutes into Roomba Roulette, twice as long as I thought it would take. We had about 8 balloons left when my neighbor had the brilliant idea of finishing the competition in my kitchen. It was a small enough space to be exciting, and I didn’t care if my baseboards got a little cut up—paint would be an easy fix. We moved the competition into the kitchen, letting the balloons go wild and used a large Walmart box as the barrier between the humans and Stove. I had the job of hopping up and down from the counter to grab burst balloons before Stove could suck them up. I have no idea how I wasn’t injured, but I made it out without a scratch.

Finally, 58 minutes later, we had two balloons left: my younger brother and a friend from college stationed in Quantico. There was no way I was going to let my brother have $180—that’s nepotism! At the same time, Instagram only allows you to go live for 60 minutes (news to me!) so I had to give the people a winner within the next 120 seconds. After the final adjustment, I accidentally (swear to God it wasn’t on purpose, although I was okay with the outcome) pointed Stove at my brother’s balloon. He set off an alarm in the comments, but it was too late. With 34 seconds to spare, my college friend was crowned the winner of Roomba Roulette. He had $180 in his Venmo, the people had a Marine win (go America!), and I had $45 to spend at sushi across the street.

All in all—generally successful even with everything that needed to go wrong, going wrong.

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