Monday, July 13, 2009

Mattel and Perfect Robot Justice

This story is totally made up. Or is it?

Mattel, Inc.
Rock Em Sock Em Division
333 Continental Boulevard
El Segundo, CA 90245-5012

Dear Mattel,

Recently we purchased Rock Em Sock Em Robots for our office for the purpose of conflict resolution. We spent about a day and a half raising the necessary $14.95 plus tax, and sent Chris to the toy store with instructions not to return until he had Rock Em Sock Em Robots in his hands. Boy were we lucky. Chris returned after lunch and reported that he purchased the last Rock Em Sock Em Robots set in the whole store! Just letting you know that Rock Em Sock Em Robots continues to be as popular today as it was many years ago.

The robots were set up adjacent to our expansive 4x8 white board, a high traffic area on our floor because of the outlandish things sometimes seen written on the board. Red Rocket and Blue Bomber occupied their own little table, and a win/lose grid was drawn on the board. The mood in the office improved dramatically. Rivalries were established, and money changed hands as we sorted out our differences according to the Robot Solution. Forgive me if this sounds crude or barbaric, but if you’ve ever worked in an office then you know that it is an improvement over the usual boring office politics.

Unfortunately, we soon discovered a fatal flaw in our plan to use Rock Em Sock Em Robots for peaceful conflict resolution. Our tool was inherently unfair! I am speaking of course of the Blue Bomber’s “glass jaw”. This is a problem. We can no longer rely on the robots for fair appraisal of our difficulties. We have tried the usual patterns of “best out of three” and “best out of five”, and employed alternate switching and tiebreaker strategies, but the Blue Bomber statistically loses, sometimes even without having actually been slugged by Red Rocket. It seems that his own violent movements can trigger the dreaded head-pop. I have attached a photo here.

As you can see, Red Rocket has once again soundly whooped Blue Bomber. Chris declares the match another knockout, and Red Rocket’s improbable winning streak continues.

Now I must beg your indulgence as I explain the following. Yes it is true that I work in an office, but that is not most frightful aspect of my day, for I work with the most unusual and bizarre of all of the office species: The Engineer. If you have ever encountered this peculiar specimen, then you know that engineers never see problems, they only see solutions that can be discovered by taking things apart. It was not long before the hoard was upon the robots. I managed to prevent actual disassembly from taking place, but not before being subjected to an in-depth analysis of why Blue Bomber was taking a dive. The mechanical engineers said the head lock mechanism was faulty. The manufacturing engineers called it a defect, and wondered about tolerances. I am not an engineer, but I solve problems too, and I have an idea. Actually, I have two ideas.

Here is my first idea:

I’ve played Rock Em Sock Em Robots since I was a kid. Let’s be honest, we all know that this was always a problem. I even remember when the robots were bigger, and heavier. Back then the difference between the tolerances of the two robots wasn’t as pronounced. But these days, in a clear effort to bring the word of the Robot Solution to an even greater demographic, certain high speed manufacturing processes have been put in place. In my opinion this is a good thing, because it means that the Robots will gain more and more respect and power as more and more people turn to them for answers.

Unfortunately, (and here I must admit to freelance speculation) these same processes have produced a Robot population in which one of a pair will tend to have an advantage. Now in most situations this will not matter too much, because the players will accept the game for what it is, an amusing diversion and a cool mechanical wonder. Also, not all Robots will be as unevenly matched as ours, so many fighters won’t notice at all. Unfortunately, I work with engineers, and it makes them crazy that this toy is sitting there and I won’t let them fix it.

I’ve been exposed to, and even worked directly on hundreds of processes in my career as a problem solver. And I’m guessing that out of say, a hundred Robot boxes right off the line, maybe two or three of them will be almost perfectly matched. So I propose the following:

Mattel should send to me here in the office 25 unadulterated Rock Em Sock Em Robots. Bill, Jacques, Chris and I will volunteer to test each and every one, tournament style, until we find the most evenly matched set. Then we will donate the remaining twenty-four toys to a charity for parentless children. It would really mean a lot to us if we could surprise everyone with a big toy donation like that.

And here is my second idea:

It is possible that it is not the manufacturing process but the natural evolution of “live Robots in the field” that produced the imbalanced effect. For instance, if Ole Blue takes it really hard on the chin a bunch of times early in his career, he could really be at a fatal disadvantage. He might never statistically recover. I mean, we’ve all known people who were dropped on their heads as kids. They’re just not quite right, and seem disadvantaged in many situations.

If this is the case, then it doesn’t make much sense to send twenty-five or even a hundred Rock Em Sock Em Robots to our office. So maybe you could send us some toys anyway, and we will give them all to the kids without playing with them first. Personally, I find this option depressing, and I hope you can find the strength to look deep inside your heart and ask yourself, “What am I really doing to help bring about the final Robot Solution? What have I done today that brings us all one step closer to a perfect world ruled by infallible Robot Justice?”

Thank you for your attentions to these matters. I hope to hear back from you before some kind of horrible Robot vivisection takes place, and the Engineers extract their own sick, twisted “final answer” from the innocent plastic red and blue messengers of truth. I appreciate the good work you are doing. Keep up the good fight.

Yours very truly,
(name deleted)


We received a form letter stating that Mattel does not contribute to small time charities like this, and instead prefers to make large donations directly to their preferred cause. We also got a brand new Blue replacement robot, which worked pretty much the same as the old one. But this enabled us to fight the ultimate fight!

Want a hint? Blue always wins.

No comments: