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Summer Brain Games

Experiment: Cup Stacking

Ever try to get really, really fast at a game? Chances are the first time you tried a new thing, it wasn't perfect. Take our cup stacking challenge to learn how taking a scientific approach can help you get better at games.


10 identical plastic or paper cups
Stopwatch or timer
Writing utensil
Baby powder


  1. The goal of the game is to take 10 cups and make them stack into a pyramid shape with four levels (four cups on the bottom, then three cups, then two cups, and one cup on top) as fast as you can.
  2. Use a stopwatch or timer to see how long it takes you to make the pyramid the first time. Practice a few times to get the hang of it.
  3. Observe as you stack the cups, looking for things that slow you down or are tricky. Stop for a minute and think. What parts of the process are slow? Do the cups stick to each other? Is there suction when the cups separate? Do your hands bump into each other and knock the cups over?
  4. Pick one thing to try to improve. If the cups are sticking to each other, does adding baby powder reduce friction? What else could you do to reduce friction?
  5. Time yourself a few more times to see if your modifications make you go any faster.
  6. Pick something else to improve, try it a few times and time yourself to see if you got any faster. It's up to you to creatively figure out new ways to get better at the game, using critical-thinking skills. What is the fastest time you can get?
  7. Invite your friends or family to a cup stacking challenge! Who can get the fastest time? Does anyone have a new idea for improving the process?

What's Happening?

Observing a process, analyzing what's happening, and making improvements is a scientific approach to problem solving. This is the same approach that scientists and engineers use to do their work. To work like a scientist, be sure to test one variable at a time, use a timer to collect data, and collect evidence about what helps or hurts your time.


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