This past weekend, mass loads of cardboard and packing tape converged on a studio space in Brooklyn. For moving day? Nay. Instead, these paper giants were destined for transformation into brutal killing machines. Poised for the ultimate takedown, staged deep in the bowels of 722 Metropolitan Avenue (a.k.a the third floor) preparations for the 2nd Annual Cardboard Robot Battle were well underway. Hosted by the good folks at Standard ToyKraft, the space had transformed into a bit of a robo-factory – backstage, cardboard wrenches tinkered about while rolls of tape were prepped for pit crews. The magnificent machines ranged from the rugged warrior (The 3000-2000) to the too-cute-to-destroy (Wall•E), the absurd innuendo (Chaos Boner) and of course the hilarious Cardboardsaurus Rex (complete with moveable, tiny fighting arms).
Each bot had a complete backstory to compliment its bespoke cardboard design. “Ours is Trigantor the Destroyer,” explained Jessica Losner. “He’s programmed to believe he’s 12 feet tall and indestructible, so he’ll fight ‘til the end he doesn’t know exists. There’s windows on all three sides. He can hold this tube on the inside and fight with it, and he’s got a little air hole up top.” Jessica and her friend Amy comprised the Destroyer’s pit crew, while their friend Damiano Marchetti took the reigns.
Another contender, Cardboardasaurus Rex, took Rudy Duke almost nine hours to build. How did this cardboardasaur come into being? “He was originally an experiment that went wrong when scientists tried fusing T-rex and cardboard DNA," says Duke. And as for his primary weapons, spiked tail? Check. Tiny arms? Double check. Voracious appetite? Check. Check. Check. Rudy was fortunate enough to have gathered ample construction materials from his workplace. “My building has about 4500 people, so there’s a lot of cardboard,” he says. “I took it on the L train. It was kind of awful. Luckily, I work on 8th avenue so I was able to get all the cardboard on at the first stop.”
One of the most festive bots in the ring had to be Chaos Boner, whose *ahem*weapon shot out confetti at the start of the match. The bot’s mastermind told us his battle bot was actually version 2.0 of the beast, “This is an excellent opportunity to play and have fun and not take things too seriously. That’s why the first robot failed. I was trying to be too complicated with it. But as soon as I started to have fun with it, that’s when it really took shape. It’s a sturdy robot with a formidable weapon.”
The most adorable bot by far was Uttam Grandhi’s rendition of Wall•E. How did he think such a character could fare in the ring? “Wall•E doesn’t have any means of destruction. His weapon is cuteness. It took about five hours to make.” Grandhi went on to tell us about the bona fide robotic rendition he had built five years prior for the Robogrames in San Francisco (thus confirming our suspicion that he was bringing some genuine robot know-how into the ring).
Also taking the ring was Major Malfunction (who according to the builder “is a discarded army cardboard mockup/prototype who was working internals and used his AI chip to dig himself out of the trash for one night of cardbot mayhem), Zorgtron Pacification Unit Alpha (designed by the mysterious Doctor Eloysius Kranium of Jigsaw Labs and clocking in at 5 feet tall) and the 3000-2000 (also came complete with multiple weapons – outfitted with piercing, chopping and flagellating attachments).
And finally, the only returning veteran, Minibot, who took home second place at last year’s battle. “I have two legs — I don’t have a skirt like most people — and I have a giant stick as my weapon,” says Emily Leshner, Minibot’s human pilot. “I was the underdog last year and I want to come back out on top.” For this second go in the ring, she stuck to the same basic design of her original contraption. “I had to bring back Minibot,” she says. “I tried to make it pretty similar. It took me about two hours to build. I always start with a body piece. The one thing I learned from last year is that you want to be really mobile and able to get back up. When you expose someone else’s skin, that’s when they lose. But yeah, it’s really hard to rip cardboard off and rip each other up. — and it gets really hot in cardboard and you get very tired. I think at that point it’s just, who can show off the most maybe.”
According to Artistic Director Daniel Fay, the idea for the whole event came up over some leftover cardboard and a quick trip to the emergency room. “I was doing a puppetry gig last year,” says Daniel. “And one of the things we were doing was moving around with large cardboard shapes. It sort of occurred to three of us at the same time: wouldn’t it be neat if we wore these shapes and battled each other? They were so robotic looking already, and one guy, Matt Lebo, got in one and started going ‘beep-beep-beep-beep-beep!’ Then it just dawned on us: cardboard robot battle!” But that wasn’t the whole story, says Melanie Paterson, Standard ToyKraft’s Master of Finance. “Well, you guys started to fight and someone ended up having to go to the emergency room,” Melanie hints, while Daniel adds, “She actually had to get stitches because she got hit in the face.” Not to worry, though, the official Cardboard Robot Battles haven’t drawn any blood. “We were playing with really thick poster tubes, but we’re not crazy like that anymore,” Melanie laughs.
So who took home the big belt? (Wait, did we not mention the awesome cardboard belt for the first place contestant? Well, there is one.) Minibot was a clear favorite from the start of her first match, with the crowds chanting her name during each round. When her glasses came off, we knew she meant business. She took down Chaos Boner in a hail of confetti and roared past Cardboardsaurus Rex to take home the top robot honor. We salute you, Minibot, and we hope to see you all in the ring next year.
722 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn