The 555 Timer Contest Returns!

555 Timer Contest

It’s back! The 555 timer contest wants to see you do something cool with the 555 timer chip. At stake is the adulation of electronics geeks everywhere. Three top winners will be awarded a $150 shopping spree in the Digi-Key warehouse thanks to Digi-Key’s generous sponsorship of this contest.

Memory Lane

First a bit of history… “the 555 timer contest” that sticks out in our minds is the one conceived of by [Jeri Ellsworth] and assisted by [Chris Gammell] that took place a decade ago. It was a runaway freight train from the start, with numerous sponsors putting up prizes and a list of celebrity judges. Surely it is not the only contest based around the 555 timer in it’s long and glorious history, but there’s a fond place in our hearts for that one in particular. A lot of those entries have been lost to the annals of time — even the contest page itself is gone, save the Internet Archive version.

Circuit board with a 555 timer on it
LED strip dimmer (circa 2019) uses a 555 timer, because what else would you use?

This year is the 50th anniversary of the original design. Back in 1971 [Hans Camenzind] combined 23 transistors, 16 resistors, and 2 diodes, and changed the world forever. Core to the concept of automation is timing, and this chip is a near-universal timing mechanism that was cheap and reliable. Designers can use a 555 along with just a few passive components to configure how its output works. We’ve heard it said that this is the most sold integrated circuit in the history of the world but have been unable locate a reliable source for the claim. Anecdotally, this thing is everywhere!

Right, We Promised a Contest

The short of it is you just need to use a 555 timer and you qualify for this contest.

The longer story is that we want to see just about anything 555-related. In fact, projects that don’t use a 555 are fine as long as they are based on the idea. So, if the global chip shortage has you struggling to even find one of these, just build the parts of the internal circuit yourself and you’re golden. The real trick here is to explain what you’re doing and why.

555 timer built from tiny components
Discrete 555 timer by [Robo] still fits the DIP footprint
For instance, this project recreates the 555 in a DIP8 package using surface mount components. It doesn’t use a 555, it is a 555!

If you’re not up to that kind of crazy soldering, consider joining in on the long-history of abusing the internal circuitry for your own purposes. A recent example that is this circuit-sculpture vibration sensor that repurposes the 555’s flip-flop.

But hey, it doesn’t have to be world changing. Everyone should get a chance to play around with this chip, so if you’ve never built a circuit around one, now’s the time (har har). Use it like a timer; blink an LED, fading one, or making some sweet sweet music with twenty of them.

Prizes and Recognition

For the top prizes, we want you to wow us, and by us we mean everyone who reads Hackaday. We’ll consider all entries and choose three that are creative, clever, and well documented to receive a $150 shopping spree from the Digi-Key warehouse.

But while considering every entry, we’ll also have a set of special recognitions in mind. There’s something magical about blinking that first LED, so if this is your first rodeo with the 555, say so in your writeup and we may recognize you with the “Hello, world!” award. A couple years ago [Ted Yapo] wrote about building the fastest 555 timer — these kinds of shenanigans would be recognized with the “Bandwidth Buster” award. Play some funky music and you might grab the “Chiptunes” award. Build something that definitely should not be done on a 555 and you could score the “Shouldn’t have used a 555” award. And make it a thing of beauty to be in the running for the “Art for art’s sake” award.

These recognitions have no tangible prize value. But just consider the geek cred!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Timers

You have until January 10th at noon Pacific time to get your entry in. Just start a project page over on and use the drop-down menu in the left sidebar of your project page to enter it in the 555 Timer Contest. For complete rules, head over to the contest page.

16 thoughts on “The 555 Timer Contest Returns!

    1. Interesting, if you were to receive (win?) another tube (tape?) of 555s, would you increase your consumption of them?
      (Please, don’t ask me how many tubes of ICs I have, and my consumption rate of them B^)

    1. I think v2.0 should upgrade to a 558, and there would still be enough room to add a 565 (phase locked loop) including input and outputs on the Expansion Port.
      Heck, while we are discussing it, there is room on the board for a 7400 quad-NAND, and a Signetics 25120!

      1. Thanks very much! I wouldn’t enter it though. It was a good joke, but it’s had it’s time in the sun and there’s a heap of actually amazing things other people are making.

    1. The maximum frequency you can generate with a 555 is somewhere between 1 and 3 MHz, depending on which version you use. That falls significantly short of the usual 16 MHz Arduino clock frequency. It would certainly be possible to use a PLL to multiply some frequency generated by a 555 to 16 MHz. Stability and accuracy of the clock would also be less than ideal.

  1. I used 555s when I was a young lad, in many hobby projects. I even used one in a real work project once. But I haven’t fired up one of those in maybe 20 years now. There’s always a better way.

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