The MakeShift Challenge: Stay Alive in a Bank Vault

Energy & Sustainability Science
The MakeShift Challenge: Stay Alive in a Bank Vault

[This “MakeShift Challenge” column originally appeared in Make: Volume 05, 2006.]

The Scenario

You and Woody have been asked to evaluate a new bank vault with a time-release mechanism that cannot be overridden. Given the size of the vault and the ¾” vent tube in the ceiling, a person could survive no more than 24 hours before the CO2 level becomes lethal. Woody claims that with its current contents (left inside by the construction crew), he could survive 48 hours. You feel like he is challenging you so you agree with him, even though you don’t see an immediate solution. The next thing you hear is Woody saying, “OK… see you in 48 hours!” The vault door closes and the lock is set to 48 hours before you can do anything.

The Challenge

Create a makeshift solution to stay alive until the bank vault unlocks. The lights and water cooler have electricity, but that’s it. Good luck!

Supply List:

(1) small table with desk telephone (line is dead)
(1) garden hose
(1) water cooler with paper cups
(1) fire extinguisher
(4) emergency lights with battery backup
Toolbox containing hammer, pliers, screwdriver, pocket knife, electrical tape, chalk-line reel, yardstick, wire, and dirty rags
(1) steel cable

The most plausible and creative solutions each won a Make: T-shirt and a SwissMemory USB Victorinox 512MB.

Analysis, Commentary, and Winners

In 1960, Woody Norris read a contest announcement in a magazine that changed his life and set him on the path of being a world-class inventor. The announcement challenged readers to submit a plausible but fictional account of a supposed new invention to be published as an April Fool’s joke. Woody took up the challenge. Here is the interesting part: during the process of trying to come up with a product that was both plausible but a bit “out there,” he came up with what would ultimately be his first successful invention. The rest is history.

Coming full circle, Woody is now the one throwing down the gauntlet, challenging you to prove your makeshift mettle by staying alive for 48 hours in bank vault with limited oxygen. Over 100 of you answered the call, and Woody and I had to break open the engineering and chemistry texts to evaluate a good number of the submissions. In the end, Woody selected two winners and two honorable mentions. To say that selecting two winners from the pool of entries was difficult would be to understate matters — it was flat-out hard.

Woody’s Solution

In Make: Volume 05, Woody Norris challenged you to prove your makeshift mettle by staying alive for 48 hours in a bank vault with limited oxygen. Over 100 of you answered the call, but before he would evaluate any of the responses, he felt like he had to submit himself to the challenge and solve his own problem. Woody’s Solution is included here for your review.

Cameron Stoker’s — Most Creative Winning Entry

Scott Baker’s — Most Plausible Winning Entry

C.T. Nak’s — “Nigel Holmes” Honorable Mention

Erik Brown’s — “Emile Gagnan” Honorable Mention

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn