How to make "Easy Buttons" into a Game Show buzzer system

And the Alternative to Do-It-Yourself...

The instructions below are a great do-it-yourself project. But what if you are not so inclined? Or you don't have the time? In that case, check out the the Team-size button system from www.affordablebuzzers.com. You get 10 great table-top style buzzers -- perfect for team sharing -- at an affordable price.

By Gerald Auguste

While you can buy top notch game show-style buzzers from many vendors, the cost of that may be too high for personal use. So here's a clever solution for do-it-yourself minded individuals. The following article tells how to adapt the Staple's "Easy Button", which are well made buttons that sell for under $5 each, so they communicate with a computer and with Game Show Presenter software.

The cost of this do-it-yourself game show buzzer depends on how many buzzers you build. Since ten is the maximum number of players or teams that Game Show Presenter can track, this article will describe a ten buzzer system. The materials for ten buzzers came to $123.78. (Materials for a 3 buzzer system would cost about half that.)

Overview:

Game Show Presenter software uses the press of a number key to identify which player has buzzed in first to answer a question. The "1" key is player 1, the "2" key is player 2, etc. So this buzzer project involves making Easy Buttons act like computer keyboard number buttons to send those "1"s, "2"s, etc. to the PC via a USB port. Doing that will require taking apart a USB keyboard to remove the key encoder -- the device inside a keyboard that translates the electronic signal that a key was pressed into a signal that a PC can recognize as a keyboard character. The project described below creates connections for 10 buzzers, but you could make fewer if you want.

Warning:

This is a do-it-yourself project that should only be attempted by adults who are skilled with soldering irons, drills, electrical components and other tools. Wear safety goggles and always take safety precautions. As with any do-it-yourself project, proceed entirely at your own risk. We do not provide any technical support for this do-it-yourself project.

What you will need:
    Tools
  • Wire Cutters
  • Drill, 3/32" drill bit, 3/16" Drill bit
  • Hot Glue gun
  • Solder Iron
  • Lighter
  • Scissors
  • Utility knife
  • Flat Toothpicks
  • Safety goggles
    Materials
  • CAT 5 Cable
  • Rosin Core Solder
  • Mono 1/8" Phone Plug
  • In-line 1/8" Phone jack
  • Heat-Shrink Tubing
  • Project Enclosure 6X4X2"
  • Amp Butt Splices
  • USB Keyboard
  • Hot Glue sticks

The CAT 5 Cable Instructions

  1. Cut the CAT5 cable into 6 inch strips with the wire cutters.
  2. Cut the plastic casing with the utility knife and remove the twisted pair of wires.
  3. Strip about a ¼ inch off the ends of each side of the wire.

Note: You will need 1 pair of wires for each button, 1 pair of wires for each 1/8 Phone plug and 13 individual wires for the Keys. During the project you may cut the wire down in size to fit your space.

The Easy Button Instructions

  1. Remove the Staples Easy button from the package (Pic 1)
  2. Remove the batteries from the Easy Button
  3. Remove the 4 rubber feet from the bottom to access the screws
  4. Unscrew the 4 screws holding the Easy Button cap and the ring
  5. Remove the Easy Button cap and the ring (Pic 2)
  6. Solder a pair of the CAT5 wires to the Easy Button (Pic 3)
  7. Wrap the wire around the base and put the Easy Button cap and the ring back on.
  8. Drill a 3/32-inch hole on the side of the Easy button (Pic 4)
  9. Remove the Easy Button cap and the ring, then fish the wire through the hole
  10. Put the Easy Button cap and ring back on
  11. Screw in the 4 screws and put the 4 rubber feet back on the base. (Pic 5)
  12. Put the wire through a Heat-Shrink Tubing (Pic 6)
  13. Cut the wire to your desired size
  14. Solder the wire to the In-line 1/8-inch Phone jack (Pic 7)
  15. Light the lighter under the Heat-Shrink Tubing to shrink the tube around the wire. (Pic 8)

The Keyboard instructions

  1. Remove the screws from the keyboard (Pic 2).
  2. Remove the circuit board (Note: during the building process I would accidentally pull out the USB wires from the circuit board, so I would suggest using the hot glue to glue these wires down. Of course this depends on how your keyboard is made. This one was cheap!) (Pic 3)
  3. You need to find the key input circuits for these keys: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0. The software will read a 1 key press signal to buzz in player 1, a 2 key for player 2, etc. The 0 key buzzes in player 10. (If you also want to map the r,w,spacebar and enter keys, those keys could be routed to a separate control device for your game show host to run the game without the computer keyboard, but building that control device is not part of this project, though the pictures do show the extra holes and wiring to make jack outputs for those controlling keys.) I’ve read you can follow the membrane of circuits that form a matrix mapping to get these key inputs, but this took a long time for me so I just did it by trial and error.
  4. I plugged the USB Keyboard’s circuit board into my computer and I flipped the circuit board over.
  5. I started Notepad on my computer to see the readings from the keyboard.
  6. I took one of the CAT5 wires and placed one end of the wire on a pin on the circuit board and the other side of the wire on another pin. This gave me a reading in notepad. Once I got all of my readings the hard work began.
  7. Being very careful, I soldered the CAT5 wires to the circuit board (Pic 4 and 5) (Note: this was very hard because you do not want to create a short by soldering more than one key on the circuit board to a wire. I burned by finger tips several times. I would sometimes use a Flat Toothpick to keep the space while I Soldered)
Note: Make sure you test when you’re done. I also put a thin layer of glue from the glue gun over the wires to keep the wires in place

The Enclosure Instructions

  1. Take the enclosure and measure holes for each buzzer plug-in (Pic 1)
  2. Drill the holes with the 3/32" Drill bit. (Note I used Scissors to adjust the hole when needed.)
  3. Solder the CAT5 wires to the Mono 1/8" Phone Plug. (Pic 2 and 3)
  4. Insert the Mono 1/8" Phone Plug in to the drilled holes of the enclosure. (Pic 4 and 5)
  5. Now with the Amp Butt Splices, connect the wires from the Mono 1/8" Phone Plug to the wires on the circuit board. (Pic 6) (Note: Before I used the Amp Butt Splices I used electric tape and tested Pic 7)

The Wire instructions

  1. I used an old speaker wire and cut them to be 10ft long
  2. I stripped the ends of the speaker wire and Soldered them to the Mono 1/8" Phone Plug (Pic 1)
  3. Now I have my wire connect the Easy Button to my enclose case.
  4. Test again and you’re done.

Testing the buzzers:

For testing, you can simply open a notepad document and press the buttons to see if they output the correct key character. Once you know they are all working, you are ready to run the game show in buzz-in mode using Game Show Presenter. The software will receive the key signal for the first person to buzz in and that will lock out all other attempts to buzz-in. The software then puts the name of the player on screen who buzzed in first and starts a countdown clock to motivate a fast answer. Use the "r" key to signal a right answer or the "w" key to signal a wrong answer. If nobody buzzes in, use the "Enter" key to pass the question. And any time the game reaches a paused state, use the SPACEBAR key to move to the next screen. If you don't already have the software, there is a free trial version here.