Couch Burner Project at Burning Man


Last status update: August 13, 2010

July 31, 2010 – We had a Couch Surfing party in our back yard to try out the Playpen. (Note: What a blast… it turns out one young woman went to High School with my son, and another was a neighbor of ours 6 houses down the block from us… wow, CSers are everywhere!)

This picture shows the Playpen as it will be set up at the Couch Burner’s camp except that: 1) It will also be filled with 13 inch globe beach balls (the default world of CSers), 2) There will be a net across the top to hold in the balls.

The walls are made of bungee cord spaced 6 inches apart which should allow easy access by players, but will hold in the beach balls.

Two or more players will solve rather off-color puns by matching pairs of pictures to be found on the floor of the playpen. When you and a partner put your hands on the right pair of pictures, and then touch some other body part together (like your feet) you’ll complete a sensor circuit and the appropriate pun will light up on the board. (More details and evolution below.)


We will have 5,000 postcards to hand out to players, and to give out on the playa to advertise our camp.

FRONT (listing the various puns to be solved).





As of August 13, the board has been shipped to the Playa in the New York Container. I am still working on the final wiring of the control panel.


History of the evolution


My college roommate, Andre, and my son, Davis, and I are working on an interactive project for Couch Burner camp at Burning Man. (The Couch Burners are members of the Couch Surfing Collective, operating under a different name for legal purposes since the Burning Man effort is not officially related to the collective.)

We call the instillation the Puzzle and Pun Playpen. It will measure 8 feet by 12 feet, with a net about 2 feet high around the perimeter. It will be filled with beach-balls printed with the globe of the world, and custom printed with the phrase “The Default World of the Couch Burner”

The floor of the playpen will be made of plywood. On it will be mounted various objects that will be wired underneath to a controller board that can tell when someone touches the object. For example, somewhere might be a hammer. Somewhere else there will be nails. These two things will be more than 6 feet apart, so one person can not touch both the hammer and the nails at the same time. But if one person finds one object, and another person finds another, and they can figure out the puzzle or the pun, and then they both touch each other at the same time, then they will complete a circuit that will ring a bell and light an appropriate sign. In this case: ‘We got hammered at Burning Man” Find other complementary objects and you and your partner will complete other circuits, lighting up, “Got Busted” “Got Screwed”, “Got Stoned” etc.

The game will be played by two people lying flat on the floor of the playpen, looking for these objects among the beach balls. Typically they will touch the objects with their hands and touch each other with their feet. (Variants might include a massive play where lots of people try to complete all circuits at once, naked playpen, etc… I don’t care as long as everyone is consenting).

On the last day, we will give the beach balls away.

Additionally, I plan on printing up a few thousand postcards advertising the game that could be handed out on the Playa and elsewhere to attract people to the camp. The postcard would have check-boxes for “I got stoned” “I got screwed” “I got hammered” etc. People would be instructed to visit the camp to play the game.

The Sensor

The electronic heart of the Playpen will be a dozen Love Tester circuits from Vellman. When one person touches the metal pad behind the lower-left circuit board, and another person does the same on the lower-right, and then they touch hands, they complete a very sensitive circuit that lights the column of lights in the middle, and rings a buzzer. The lower the resistance, the more lights turn on. Extremely low resistance (which can happen if they keep their hands very clean and moist, or perhaps they kiss, the lights go crazy – flashing and beeping.

One dozen of these circuits will be mounted in a display panel. The LED lights and buzzer will poke through the panel. The lowest (most sensitive) of these LEDs will be removed and used to drive relay circuits instead that will control two functions: 1) It will optionally ring a loud alarm bell instead of the buzzer. This will signal to the players that they have solved a puzzle. The alarm can be used in a noisy environment. 2) It will close a latching relay that will turn on a bright light that will remain on for the duration of game play. This way, when the players leave the playpen, they will be able to read off the panel which of the puzzles they solved.

A timer circuit switch will determine how long the players have to solve the puzzle, and a push button will reset the game for the next players.

Status: As of May 23, 2010: 15 Love Testers have been purchased. One has been completed and installed in the board. The remaining are approximately 80% complete and are nearly ready to be wired into the display board.

The Display Panel

The panel measures 3 feet by 4 feet and has room for 12 puzzles. The top will contains a sign: “Puzzle ‘n Pun Playpen” The sign will be lit from behind with low wattage florescent lights. The control panel will be mounted a few feet off the ground above one side of the playpen.

The rear of the playpen will display instructions for play along with a sample puzzle. People can read the instructions and get ready to become the next participants while another couple are in the playpen.

Status As Of May 23, 2010: The wood structure of the panel has been created, and one sensor circuit has been installed.

The Solution Display

A clear window will contain frame the puzzle being solved. In this case, one participant might touch a hammer and the other a box of nails, and then they touch their feed. This will light LEDs on the left.

Status as of May 23, 2010: The Display Panel is ready for the remaining 11 sensor circuits. The display windows can accommodate any set of puzzle names and they can be easily since they are only printed paper mounted behind the plastic face of the panel.

The Playpen

The Playpen consists of three 4′ by 8′ sheets of 3/4″ plywood with 4″ by 4″ around the perimeter. Here are shown the three pieces on saw horses ready to be finished.

The Playpen will be assembled at Black Rock City by aligning the three pieces flat on the ground. This photograph illustrates the basic principle. By each player touching an object and then touching each other they complete a circuit. For example, if the man touches the hammer and the woman were to touch the box of nails between her head and her hand, the “I Got HAMMERED at Burning Man” sign would light.

In the final configuration, finding objects will be confounded by the fact that the playpen will be filled with beach balls. The walls of the playpen will be constructed of PVC pipe dropped into holes drilled around the 4×4 perimeter and secured with pins. The entire playpen will be covered by a custom made sports netting (of the kind used in batting cages). The players will enter the playpen from one side by lifting the netting. The net can be secured around the entire perimeter to prevent the balls from blowing away during wind storms.

Status as of May 23, 2010: The three pieces have been constructed and have been sealed. They await a second coat of polyurethane. Then we will begin installing the puzzle pieces.

Status as of July7 28, 2010: We have decided to use photographs instead of objects for clues. This gives us much more variety (and many more bad puns).

The boards have been created and the photographs mounted. The sides of the pen will be made from bungee cords which can be separated so players can easily enter. There will be a net across the top so that players must lie down. There are LED lights at both ends above the photographs to light them at night.


The three pieces will fit together to form a single unit measuring 4 feet by 8 feet by 15 inches. The two end pieces will fit on top of each other, with their insides containing the puzzle pieces facing each other. Temporary 2×4 by 8′ pieces will enclose the open ends, and internal wood pieces will provide structure so the entire structure can be walked upon safely. The middle piece will hold the control panel and be closed in with temporary 2 x 4’s. It will then be mounted on top of the other two pieces.

Each component weighs about 150 pounds. Two people can carry each piece into the shipping container to be stacked and secured in place. It can be shipped flat on the floor of the container, or it can be transported vertically if lashed to the side of the container.

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