The MakeShift Challenge: Under Siege in a Laundry Room

Education Science
The MakeShift Challenge: Under Siege in a Laundry Room
Photo by Jen Siska

[MakeShift was a column and competition, by MacGyver creator Lee Zlotoff, that ran in Make: magazine for its first five years. This challenge appeared in Make: Volume 14, 2008. Read past installments of MakeShift here.]

The Scenario

After an exhausting day of work — that included a tiff with your steady romance of the last few months — you drag yourself home, determined to put the day behind you with a few drinks and a couple of hours of mindless time parked in front of the tube. You thought about stopping at the gym, but the car just wouldn’t go there.

So you plug your cellphone in to recharge in the kitchen, grab some munchies and the requisite inebriants, and assume the position on the living room sofa to slouch towards nirvana. And you’re just about there — or at least on the edge of dozing off — when there’s a knock on your door.

Thinking it might be your paramour coming by to kiss and make up, you pull yourself vertical to open the door when … you’re suddenly knocked back into the room by a pair of burly guys who barrel their way in, shouting things at you that you’d rather not hear.

Scrambling to your feet, you make a break for the back door, only to see a third guy waiting outside to cut off your escape. Your only option is to duck inside the laundry room, slam the door, and shove the dryer against it with the strength of the adrenalin pump you have going. Fortunately for you, the door opens inward and the hinges are on your side. Unfortunately for you, it’s a windowless room with only one way in and out.

The Challenge

Your newfound friends are on the other side of that door, working hard to get in since they seem to know you have a heavy-duty wall safe in your office that they want to “talk” to you about. The dryer may not hold them off for long, and with no landline in here and your cellphone in the kitchen, 911 is not an option — nor is screaming for help, since the room is well insulated and your neighbors are just beyond earshot. Which means you’ll either have to find another way to signal for help, or a way to deter these guys long enough that they’ll settle for hauling off what they can carry, and leave you in one piece. Any ideas?

What You Have

In addition to what was already mentioned, you have whatever else one might typically find in a modern laundry room — including a working sink. So take a deep breath, think carefully, and make it work!

Analysis and Commentary

Nothing like a little domestic terror to get the blood pumping, eh? But, as you Make: mavens have repeatedly proved in past challenges, you didn’t let fear get the best of you and managed to come up with an impressive display of tactics to repel the barbarians at your laundry room gates — ranging from trying to produce chloroform from antibacterial soap, to turning a steam iron into a set of hot brass knuckles. Ouch!

Then, of course, there those of you who — even though we explicitly said the cellphone was out of the picture — somehow imagined that a Bluetooth device was all they needed to remotely connect with their cell and call 911. Really, gang; have we become so attached to those amazing but infernal little devices that we can’t even imagine not being connected to them?

There were also a few who suggested escaping up through the ceiling or down through the floor into an attic or crawl space. But since the architecture of the house wasn’t specified, the challenge here was really to use whatever the laundry room provided to repel the invaders.

So, returning to the crisis at hand, we thought there were many possible ways to go in this type of situation. The first step here was obvious: quickly barricade the door as securely as possible. The two objects in a laundry room that could do that very nicely are the washer and dryer. Some of you suggested that the washer could be filled with water to make it heavy enough that it could not be moved when it was jammed against the door. Good idea, but then filling a washer takes a bit of time. Barring anything else to jam the door shut, like an ironing board or a shelf, we thought it might be wise to move the washer and dryer against the door, one behind the other. Together, their weight should be sufficient to hold the door in place and keep it from opening wide enough to allow anyone through.

Then there were the options for signaling for help. These ranged from sending smoke out the dryer vent, to somehow setting off the smoke alarm (as most laundry rooms have them these days), to using the breaker box, assuming it’s located there, and switching the house lights on and off in a Morse code SOS routine. All good notions, mind you, but all dependent on the hope that one of your neighbors would notice and be willing to take some action that would come to your rescue. Possible maybe, but hardly reliable enough to effectively deter those nagging barbarians. Because even if the entire door cannot be opened, the top half of the door is still vulnerable while you’re busy burning socks or making noise. So better, we thought, to take the bull by the horns, as it were, and come up with a proactive plan — the best defense being a good offense.

It was here that we figured many of you might start looking at some electrical and chemical options. And by glory, you did.

Chlorine bleach all by itself, and/or ammonia-based cleaners all by themselves, are great weapons when directed into the eyes if it came down to it. A general-use spray bottle of the type often found in laundry rooms would work well, as many of you suggested. Or you could punch a hole in the top of a plastic bottle of bleach and use it as a squirt gun. But chlorine and ammonia mixed together form a lethal gas, and provided you were one of those who devised a delivery method that sent the fumes their way instead of yours, you’d most certainly have a potent deterrent.

Better still to chase the buggers off without having to face them at all, if possible, by using everything at your disposal to make the other side of that door a virtual no-man’s land.

That’s where the water and electricity come in. Some dryers and washers use standard voltage, but many dryers use 220V for greater drying efficiency. Either way, if you pull the cords from the back of the washer and dryer you have a good electrical deterrent — if not the ready makings of a nasty shock prod. But sending that current into water or a chemical brew poured out under the door — and/or attaching the wires to the door handle — should keep damn near anyone from getting through to you in your cleaning-room castle. So, unless those guys are prepared to die for a chance to get at your safe, you can probably assume they’ll quickly realize they’re in over their heads and grab what they can before beating a hasty retreat. After which you can heave a big sigh of relief, emerge from your makeshift panic room, pound your chest a few times in triumph, and then call the local constabulary who will no doubt be so impressed with your pluck and ingenuity that they’ll fall all over themselves to flag down the nearest news crew … book and movie deal to follow.

So congrats again to all of you who managed to hold your ground with some combination of the ideas above, and a special hats-off to our MakeShift winners. We promise never to try and mess with any of you on wash day.


The winners of the MakeShift Volume 14 Challenge are:

MakeShift Master — Most Plausible: Jay. L. Stern
MakeShift Master — Most Creative: T. Daniel
MakeShift Master — Honorable Mention: Sean Rhinehart
MakeShift Master — Honorable Mention: Bill Dallman

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Lee D. Zlotoff

Lee D. Zlotoff is a writer/producer/director among whose numerous credits is creator of MacGyver. He is also president of Custom Image Concepts (

View more articles by Lee D. Zlotoff


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