This article was first published on Medium in January 2020. The Completely True Story of How I Ended Up Hanging a Spinning “Prize” Wheel Over My Living Room Window
I like watching movies and I prefer watching movies with friends. So this last summer I called up everyone I knew and invited them both over to my house for a movie night.
Movie Night became a weekly event. It was a day I looked forward to with the same excitement my PC exudes when it’s telling me about a new software update: way too much.
A month or so into our film-themed gatherings we discovered one of our trio had not seen The Fast and the Furious Franchise, so we promptly began working our way through the… octilogy? … series.
By the end of the second film our friend was furious that the films weren’t fast enough, and by week three he had completely checked out. Which is too bad because Tokyo Drift has at least two good parts in it. We told our friend that the later films were better, much better, than the first three, but our assurances fell on deaf ears.
We had reached an impasse, a climactic clash, one which could easily rip our small social circle asunder. This was the dramatic pinnacle of our own little drama. Tensions were high as we debated, using Robert’s Rules of Order of course, the next movie we would be watching. It seemed no one would ever be happy again.
Until we stumbled upon an interesting idea. What if… what if we chose our movie randomly?
And just like that, deus ex machina, the problem was solved. Well, one of our problems was solved. We’d build a spinning wheel to select our movie with. It would have 12 wedges. Each of us could bring a movie to put on the wheel. We quickly wrote up the “Rules of Movie Night.”
There is no prohibition regarding talking about movie night.
Films added to the wheel must be physically present via disc or able to be rented/streamed via online service.
Everyone attending may put a movie on the wheel. Attendees may put multiple movies on the wheel (as space allows), but each movie an attendee adds must be unique. (Unique each night. Unwatched movies can be put on the wheel again in future weeks.)
A film can appear on multiple wedges times if, and only if, it is added by a different attendee.
Basically we didn’t want someone to put the same film on 4 different wedges, but if everyone wanted to put the film on the list it could still show up multiple times. It seemed simple and everyone was onboard with our solution. So I got down to work building a spinning prize wheel.
I stumbled onto wheel version 1 by accident. I was shopping at Target and they had learning clocks in the bargain bins near the entrance. It was the perfect size and already divided into 12 sections, which was perfect! For $3, I felt most the work had been done for me and I set about working to paint it, number it, and add little spokes around the outside edge.
I was wrong.
The pathetic material of the clock the clock was made of was like masonite, or perhaps a heavy cardboard. I made a beautiful little wood flipper for it, but as soon as the wood hit the brad nails I pounded around the outside edge it sent one of them sailing across the room.
We used this wheel only once, before immediately realizing it was not a feasible solution to our long term movie problem.
Wheel version 2 took almost a full week for me to put together. I found some plywood and cut it into a circle 16 inches across. It was lovely. I painstakingly painted the wedges. I spent 45 minutes in Michaels looking for just the right kind of numbers for it. I drilled holes for dowels along the outside edge. I glued everything in place.
The wheel spun on a fidget spinner bearing because who doesn’t have a few extras lying around.
For the arrow/flapper/pointy thing/whatever it’s called, I ended up using a thin piece of 1/64 inch project board. It made a pleasant slapping sound.
It was absolutely lovely. And terribly, terribly flawed.
For months this wheel dutifully served by picking our films and keeping us from disowning each other. Dutifully, we took notes each week. Partly, we were interested to see if our wheel was weighted fairly, but mostly we’re just huge nerds and I love an excuse I have to build a database and website like movienightstats.com.
Wheel 2.0 worked really, really well… except for one thing. It did not work really well.
In the first 20 times we spun the wheel it landed on Wedge #8 five different times. It landed on Wedges # 7 and #11 three times. If you stood the wheel upright, rather than lay it on the floor, it was clearly weighted to one side.
And once again we had dissension in the ranks. The wheel was not fair! It couldn’t be trusted. Corruption!
To be fair, I lost my statistics book back in college. It’s one of the few math books I no longer have in my collection of books I’ll never look at again, but 20 spins is a relatively small sample size. It’s entirely possible that given only a few years of movie watching we’d be able to put the rest of the Fast and Furious Franchise onto Wedge #8 and never have to worry about using the wheel again. But the numbers still seemed suspicious.
The suggestion was made that we use dice instead. Indeed, I even have a 12-sided die which we could easily use to pick our movie. We even found a 5-inch, 12-sided foam die on Amazon that might make it more fun… but that is not… forgive me, how we roll.
No, as much as I now want to own or make a large 12-sided die, I wanted even more to tackle the spinner problem. This had become a personal challenge. My own integrity was on the line. I would not stand for the slanderous accusations that my wheels were weighted and unfair. Not only could I do better, but I was going to.
This was a mistake.
Instead of using the treacherous plywood which plagued my last design, this time I went straight for particle board. And I went big. I made wheel 3.0 twenty-four inches in diameter.
This was a mistake.
I cut a square and I drew my angles. I put a hole in the middle and I stuck a nail through the hole to see if was balanced. It was not. I cut a perfect circle with my circle-cutting jig. When I tested my circle for balance, it was perfect.
It took three days to paint the new wheel, I would apply a coat of paint and return in a couple of hours to add another one. When the paint had dried, I tested the balance. Again, it seemed perfect.
I cut dowels and inserted the short pegs into the holes around the edge. I glued them carefully in place. I applied glittery numbers, this time using lowercase L’s for the number 1 because I still had stickers left over from wheel version 2 and I wasn’t going to spend another $3.99 on this dumb thing.
When the glue dried, the wheel…was no longer balanced.
I had placed two fidget spinner bearings in the middle of the wheel, an effort to provide a wider axle for the larger, heavier piece of material. It wobbled slightly and one side was clearly heavier than the other side. When I bolted the wheel to its stand Wedge #11 swung to the top each time.
I was distraught. Confused. Deflated.
I called my Dad.
My father proposed that I use thumbtacks along the outside edge to help balance the scales. This was the type of brilliant fatherly advice that I can only get from my Dad. I headed to my supply closet and grabbed a box of thumbtacks.
Six carefully placed thumbtacks later I was surprised to find that the wheel no longer spun of its own accord. It held, balanced, at any position. Mostly. The only thing left to do was build a flapper/pointer/thingy, and wait until movie night.
My new problem, is storage. At 16-inches, wheel version 2.0 fit nicely next to my shelf of board games. At 24-inches, wheel version 3.0 was bolted to a 4-foot long board which took up a sizeable portion of my living space. I didn’t have room for it.
Since the wheel was well balanced, it could be hung on the wall… but the precious little wall space I own is reserved for photographs.
However, I did have window space… … …
My living room windows are always closed. The blinds are permanently drawn because I don’t want my neighbors to see my growing collection of spinning wheels. I also don’t want them to know I haven’t been inviting them to movie night.
Why not mount the movie wheel over the window? …?
So like a fool, that’s what I did.
I wish I was making this up. I am not.
I wish my friend thought this new wheel is perfect. He did not.
And that, is how I ended up hanging a spinning “prize” wheel over my living room window… I need a new hobby.