“I think we can come up with something better than that.” That was the first thing my friend Russ Aldridge said to me when I told him I was meeting with jewelry designers to commission a golden globe for the Brain Chase treasure. “Why don’t you come by our office tomorrow and we’ll sketch some things out.”
I agreed to the visit, but to be honest, I was a bit skeptical. Russ is the President of Sisu Devices, a custom machine tooling and engineering shop that he co-founded after leaving National Instruments a few years earlier. I was aware of some of Sisu’s incredible work, like an insane machine that plays music with paint balls, some gigantic remote controlled Rock’em Sock’em Robots, and an automated Nerf dart board that gives the shooter a bulls-eye every time. No, really – every single time. But we weren’t in the market for fancy electronics powered by Intel. We needed an exotic buried treasure – something right out of the movies. Could Sisu do ‘small and elegant’ as well as they do ‘large and electrical?’ What exactly did Russ have in mind?
The Sisu headquarters is basically a mechanical engineer’s dreamland mashup of CAD renderings, scrap metal bins, and evil-looking machines. After a quick tour, Russ led me to a conference room where he and his engineering team began furiously white boarding a series of schematic drawings – not for what the Globe of Magellan could look like, but what it could actually DO. I was floored. I’m sure I only understood a fraction of what they were explaining to me, but the words “spring loaded,” “secret compartment,” and “press the continents in the right order” came through loud and clear. Right before my eyes, the Brain Chase treasure was evolving from a simple golden trinket to an elaborate mechanical device – an artifact right out of Indiana Jones or National Treasure. Sisu got the job, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now fast forward a year. Brain Chase is busily preparing for its second season, and one of our most important questions involves the new treasure at the heart of this year’s challenge: how do we possibly improve upon the Globe of Magellan? Not an easy task, considering how much we loved last year’s globe. But Russ and his team got right on it, and within weeks they were presenting the plans for the embodiment of this year’s Brain Chase prize: The Sunstone of Cortés. I admit that once again, I probably understood only a fraction of what they were presenting to me. But here are some words that stuck: “concentric, spinning rings,” “planetary gearing,” “plated in pure gold,” “secret button release,” and of course, “hidden compartment.” I didn’t care what the other words were. They nailed it.
Last Tuesday, after six long months of designing, machine tooling, gold-plating, and assembling, the crate holding the completed Sunstone of Cortés arrived intact at our Rocky Mountain headquarters. I wish a few cameras had been rolling the moment the Brain Chase team unboxed the prize – there were several jaws on the floor. Photographs and descriptions fail to capture how the golden calendar glows in the sunlight. Its sunken eyes and menacing face reflect the mysterious and chilling essence of Mesoamerican history. Its gearing glides effortlessly – so much so that the Sisu team affixed a magnetic back-plate for easy transparency into the treasure’s internal machinations (I think they’re hoping that the Brain Chase winner will appreciate a properly-calibrated planetary gearing mechanism as much as they do). The Sunstone is a valuable work of art in its own right, but it’s no secret that it also hides a secret compartment with the key to a safety deposit box containing the cash scholarship. It’s truly a prize worthy of a massive global treasure hunt.
After packing up the Sunstone for shipment to our office, Russ confided that he and his team had a difficult time parting with the trophy. Seeing it myself, I can’t say that I blame him. There’s a part of me that will struggle to see the Sunstone sealed up to its secret fate somewhere under a fruit tree. And I’m not the only one – my children were devastated to say their final goodbyes. They all agree that the Sunstone of Cortés is “even cooler than the Globe of Magellan.” I’d probably concur. But don’t take our word for it. Be the first to find it, and the Sunstone of Cortés is all yours.