When the novice could afford a commercial key, he returned it to the original owner — with a few modifications. The improved key had a nice brass knob for the fingertips, and the flimsy base was replaced with a substantial slab of oak.
The key was passed on to the next needy club member in like fashion, with the expectation that it would be returned with some significant improvement. As I recall, by the fifth or sixth iteration of the gift/improvement process, the straight key had morphed into an iambic keyer with built-in sidetone oscillator.
That is, instead of pressing down on a fancy momentary open switch, the operator used the keyer by gently touching one pad with the thumb and the other pad with the index finger. Because finger motion was used instead of wrist and arm motion to operate the keyer, the result was much faster keying speeds.
Benefits of iambic keyers vs. straight keys aside, the point is that this little game of one-upmanship was one of the highpoints of the club. Everyone looked forward to their chance to demonstrate their prowess in circuit and mechanical design. It certainly was more entertaining — and challenging — than simply building a circuit according to a magazine article or duplicating a circuit developed by another club member.
In different issues of Nuts & Volts, you'll find articles that build on the work of others. In some ways, these can be considered a form of one-upmanship. In other ways, these articles are opportunities for you to demonstrate your ability to one-up previous writers. Sure, go ahead and build one of the projects. But don't stop there. See what you can do to improve on it — whether that involves making it simpler and more elegant, or adding a few new features.
Better yet, pass your handiwork off to a fellow experimenter and challenge them to one-up your work. In the end, everyone wins. NV