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JOB: “mystery box” game/puzzle for an educational documentary film

A film production MFA candidate is looking for a collaborator to design a “mystery box” game/puzzle for an educational documentary film.

The box must be an opaque sealed container, with a variety of fixed partitions and a moving part inside (probably a sphere). In the film several groups of students of different ages will be asked to determine the structure of the internal “labyrinth”by manipulating the box and listening to the movements of the sphere. (Please look over the proposal below for a more detailed description of the “black box” experiment and its role in the film.)

While the concept is simple enough, the design process will invariably involve some research, consultation and trial and error to make the box a functional and engaging puzzle for a wide variety of students: the dimensions of the box, the materials used, the placement of the partitions, the look of the box, etc. must all be worked out carefully to create a compelling experience.

This is a paid assignment. All the work – including the construction of the box – must be finished by early-mid March. Please get in touch with Sergey Levchin ( to discuss terms. Please include links to a portfolio and a CV.


The Black Box Experiment

proposal for a short educational film

The black box or “mystery box” exercise is used in the classroom to illustrate some of the fundamental principles of natural science: a) science studies natural phenomena, the vast majority of which are inaccessible to direct observation: things that are too big or too far away like a distant galaxy, too small like the atom, or simply impossible to get to like the earth’s core; b) in order to study such phenomena scientists conduct experiments and construct models based on their inferences; c) scientific knowledge is never completely certain; it is always open to revision and refinement as new experiments yield new data and existing theories are contradicted.

In this black box exercise groups of students of different ages try to determine the interior structure of a permanently sealed opaque container. Several partitions and obstacles have been placed inside the box, along with a metallic sphere. By manipulating the box and listening to the movements of the sphere students endeavor to learn what the inside of the box might look like and to produce a schematic diagram of the interior. In order to make predictions the groups will need to develop strategies for maneuvering the sphere and controlling its progress through the space. Once the box has been “mapped” students will be asked to “replicate their results” by successfully moving the sphere from one end of the box to another, following a path suggested by their diagram.

Within each group one or two students are charged with handling the box, another with drawing the proposed model on the blackboard, and all students are free to suggest operations, propose “strategies” and make guesses about the movements of the sphere. The groups of students taking part in the experiment should range from 3rd-4thgraders to high school students. A group of teachers will also be invited to participate in the experiment. Since the design of the “labyrinth” is fairly nuanced, each group will produce an increasingly more complex and sophisticated picture.

After the exercise each group will be invited to discuss what they learned from the experiment, what difficulties they encountered, whether they believe they have mapped the “labyrinth” accurately, whether they think it unfair or unproductive that they are not permitted to look inside the box to ascertain the accuracy of their guesses, etc.

Both the black box experiment and the proposed film illustrate a principle that is not only fundamental to science, but permeates nearly every aspect of our everyday experience. In all walks of life we are perpetually “manipulating the mystery box” – from our earliest days to the very end of our lives – and though our theories about its interior usually grow more sophisticated with time, we are never granted absolute certainty even in our most basic beliefs, are never permitted to look inside. Instead we spend our days reasoning with our friends and colleagues about what we think truth might look like, about the very nature and purpose of the experiment, about its role and significance in our lives – about our love of mystery and our frustration with the unknown.