The MakeShift Challenge: Zombie Attack!

Education Science
The MakeShift Challenge: Zombie Attack!
Photos 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 25, 2011. Read past installments of MakeShift here.]

The Scenario

You’ve noticed a few underground reports on the web of a spreading epidemic causing hordes of undead to rampage through suburban neighborhoods in search of new victims. You dismissed the postings as just hype to promote some new horror movie. But now you’re home at night relaxing with a friend when you hear screams of panic. You look outside to see a throng of, well, zombies terrorizing your street. And a pack of them is shuffling hungrily toward your house. Good God, the internet was right, for once!

Grabbing your cellphone and laptop, you quickly retreat to the garage and lock yourself in, trying to shut out the methodical pounding on your walls and the moaning cries for “Brraaaiiinnnnssss!” Furiously surfing the web and calling, you learn that the police are overwhelmed but have secured a school two miles from your house from which they are evacuating the uninfected by helicopter. Too bad your car is at the repair shop tonight.

The Challenge

Trustworthy sources say that the mindless zombies can be kept at bay by flames of sufficient size, and worse come to worse, incapacitated by a forceful blow to the head. But it’s clear from the shaking of your garage door that you have at most an hour before you face these brain suckers head-on. Bottom line: You’re going to need whatever’s in the garage to fight your way out and through the zombie horde to get yourself to that school on foot!

What You’ve Got

You have your set of tools (hammers, saws, screwdrivers, wrenches, etc.), a working sink, two towels, a first-aid kit with adhesive bandages and hydrogen peroxide, an acetylene torch, a chainsaw (out of gas), a propane grill (with a ¾-full tank), 50′ of Class 315 PVC pipe, a framing nail gun with a box of 500 3½” framing nails, 3 full cans of oil-based ceiling paint, a bottle of turpentine, a case of 10W-40 motor oil, a six-pack of empty beer bottles, your camping gear (backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and a handful of lighters and matches), a disassembled lawn mower (half full of gas) and 3 bottles of 30W lawn mower oil, a cricket bat, and of course, some duct tape and your Swiss Army knife or Leatherman. It’s time to show those zombies what happens when they cross a real maker. Good luck and good hunting!

Analysis and Commentary

Apparently, nothing quite gets the creative juices going like the thought of having your brains eaten by a horde of the undead because the outpouring of imaginative responses to this challenge was impressive to say the least! Now, I suppose we could ruminate about the underlying causes behind the recent glut of zombie appearances in popular culture. A sublimated fear of terrorism perhaps? Or the numbing pressure of economic stress that clouds our land? But none of that will really serve in helping you overcome the crowd of zombies hammering mindlessly on your garage door as you devise a plan to get you and your friend from said garage to the nearby school where a helicopter waits to whisk you off to safety.

Fear not though, with the items available, none of you seemed to have a problem generating multiple weapons, explosives, and strategies to confront your new zombie neighbors, which I confess made picking the winners more difficult than usual. Since zombies (according to the lore of such things) are repelled by fire, virtually everyone used the gasoline from the lawn mower and the beer bottles to fashion Molotov cocktails that would either clear a path out or keep any marauding zombies at bay on your dash for the school. Many of you also found novel conversions for the chainsaw and cricket bat should close-order combat become necessary. One entrant even went so far as to build himself a flamethrower with the PVC pipe and the propane. Like I said: most impressive.

But where you really shone was in using the paint, propane, turpentine, oil, and acetylene tanks to build a variety of shaped charges to blast out the garage door — and all the zombies clamoring against it — to clear yourself a wide enough path to affect your escape. Whether all the multiple forms of shielding suggested to protect you from the blast, and direct it primarily at the garage door, would really work was debatable. But since we’re dealing with a slightly alternate universe of zombies here anyway, we were willing to cut you some slack on that. Realizing that any blast of sufficient force to take out the most of the garage door (shaped or otherwise) in a confined space like a garage would most likely do you almost as much damage as the zombies, one of the winning entrants simply chose to go down with the ship as it were from the get-go, but take out as many zombies as possible in his final blaze of glory. (He even went so far as to compose a song to belt out, anthem like, during the collective immolation. Very cool!)

Others dealt with the problem of the blast by using the chainsaw or other tools to cut a small escape hatch to sneak through just before the bomb went off. This of course assumed most of the zombies were concentrated at the front of the garage but it showed some good thinking under a situation with very limited options.

But ultimately it was the level of detail in description, diagrams, timelines, and drawings that really carried the winners to the top, and left us at least rooting hard for them to make the most of what they had prepared and see them safely to the school; helmets made from paint cans, body armor to prevent zombie bites, and shields rigged from barbecue lids! Almost had us wishing there really were zombies just so we could see if all of it worked.

Suffice it to say we were truly blown away and will now let the winning entries speak for themselves in all their meticulous brilliance. And perhaps allow us to sleep better at night knowing that — should those zombies one day actually pay us a house call — we will now know exactly how to deal with them.


MakeShift Master — Most Plausible: Patrick Tait
MakeShift Master — Makeshift25WinnerAndrewVargo [PDF]
Honorable Mention — Christopher Lerros

Bonus Images




When MacGyver creator and author of our “MakeShift” feature Lee Zlotoff sent us the text for the issue 25 challenge, we knew it was going to be a fun photo shoot to set up. When the word went out that we needed volunteers to get zombified for the photo shoot, a handful of our Make: crew stepped up to the plate. The pictures above are outtakes that we couldn’t resist sharing. From left to right (bottom photo), we have Rob Bullington (operations manager), Nick Raymond (engineering intern), Laura Cochrane (editorial assistant), Lindsey North (former Craft: intern), and engineering interns Tyler Moskowite and Brian Melani.

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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 (

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