How to Plan Your own
How to Plan Your own
choose a theMe
Having a special theme can
inspire you and help guide
decisions about putting the party
together. Pick something your
crew loves—and won’t get tired of
seeing. The options are limitless:
science, robots, space, DIY, even
Hollywood (science fiction,
superheroes, zombies, fantasy,
vampires). Or mix and match
themes for a party that’s all yours.
(Zombie makers from space,
anyone?) Remember: Your theme
should find its way into every part
of the event.
Etsy.com is a great place
to get started with party
paraphernalia. Just type
“party” into their search
engine and you’ll be
presented with unique
banners, flags, decorations,
and trinkets. “Robot party”
returns homemade robotshaped
decoration kits, invitations,
stickers, bottle labels, and
a clip-art set. Want to amp
up the DIY factor and make
decorations on your own?
Craft Magazine is the digital
sister publication of Make
Magazine. Craft has a website
filled with ideas for do-ityourself
party crafts. Plus,
their designs trend toward the
nerdy side of life.
WIRED GeekDad is taking over Father’s Day on June 17, and it’s time for a
celebration. Gather your family or invite your favorite geeky dads, moms, and
kids to a nerd extravaganza. All you need is a theme, the right food, and some
engaging projects that everyone can work on together. Here’s how.
InvIte Your Guests
Since the day’s activities will be
do-it-yourself, be sure to invite
parents and kids who like getting
their hands dirty. You don’t want
anyone throwing a wrench in the
fun, sitting on the sideline while
everybody else is busy building.
Also, make sure your guest list
isn’t so large that the projects are
difficult to manage and the cost of
supplies becomes prohibitive. Of
course, you can always provide a
shopping list and tell them to bring
their own tools and materials!
Feed the PeoPle
It’s not a party without party
food, and there’s no better way to
make your guests remember your
GeekDad Day than with geeky
eats. Skip the sit-down meal and
go with snacky dishes that can
be eaten with your hands. Make
sure there are choices for kids,
then throw in an adult optiona or
two. For some cool, nerd-themed
food solutions, visit ThinkGeek.
The site has astronaut ice cream,
bacon in a tube, Angry Birds pork
rinds, Ninja cookie cutters, brainshaped
jello molds (perfect for
zombies), lightsaber ice pops, and
a lot more. Also check out the
science-inspired cookie ideas (like
a periodic table of cupcakes!) at
Not So Humble Pie.
There are lots of options for
invitations. If you want to go
the printed route, you can use
the Zazzle website to design
your invites, keeping your theme
in mind. For the more digitally
inclined, there’s always Evite,
which lets you monitor RSVPs by
iPhone or Android app. You might
also check out alternatives like
Punchbowl, Anyvite, Crusher, or
PurpleTrail (which has digital and
print options) and see which one
best meets your needs.
set the Mood
Be sure your invitation clearly
states your theme and lets guests
know what to expect when they
arrive. The basics:
• Date, start and end times,
• Planned activities and a list
of any tools or supplies they
• A note about National
GeekDad Day so they know
they’re getting in on an event
that stretches coast to coast
Every good party needs music, so crank up the volume on
your favorite streaming radio service to create a playlist that
fits your theme. Make it something you can set and forget—
you don’t want to fiddle with the radio in the middle of the
fun. In fact, we’ve already curated an hour of music for you.
Just hop over to Spotify and queue up the National GeekDad
Day Hiptrax Playlist.
Once the party’s in full swing and everybody is enjoying
their hafnium (Hf) element cupcakes, gather the troops
and get them busy making, building, and tinkering. We’ve
put together a list of projects excerpted from the books of
the original GeekDad himself, Ken Denmead as well as 14
projects from the June issue guaranteed to make you the
coolest Dad on the planet. Bonus: Many of these projects
will let you send your guests home with toys and crafts
they’ve made themselves.
The WIReD guIDe To beIng The
coolesT faTheR* on The planeT.
PhotograPh by Dan Forbes
14 projects to jump-start a lifelong love of
science, technology, and making your own fun.
* oR MoTheR oR uncle oR gRanDpaRenT
Before I was a geek
dad, I was a geeky
kid—with all the
I played Dungeons &
Star Trek reruns
every night, and had
an awesome HO-scale
train layout. But at
that stage of our
geek was still an
epithet. I didn’t
want to identify
with such a
by Ken Denmead editor and publisher of the GeekDad blog
What a difference a few decades
make: Geeks are no longer social out-
casts. Indeed, my obsessions have
seeped far enough into the mainstream
that even my kids share them.
My sons’ passion for exploring every
last detail of the role-playing videogame
Skyrim mimics my own love for
pen-and-paper D&D campaigns. They
race to the latest superhero movies at
the multiplex, just as I frequented the
comics shops for the source material.
And my tech skills now let me play
IT manager for their devices, which
when I was young existed only in
Yes, my kids actually think I’m
cool. Well, about some things. They
still recoil in horror when I wear my
Jedi robe. (It’s very comfy!) But raising
geeks goes beyond teaching them
the difference between Darths Vader
and Maul. It means teaching them
an empowering worldview. It means
showing them how things work and
that with a little research, determination,
and trial and error, they can bend
the world to their will. It means raising
them with the maker call to arms
echoing in their ears: “If you can’t open
it, you don’t own it!” It means getting
them to approach problems technically
and solve them with imagination,
which makes anything possible.
It means encouraging them to tinker,
even if it means voiding warranties. It
means building a better world.
For five years, we at the GeekDad
blog have been coming up with projects
that dads (and moms!) can do
with their families. We’ve published
a bunch of them in a series of books,
including—plug alert!—The Geek Dad
Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists. And
on the following pages we’ve culled
a bunch of tips, tricks, and projects
to help turn your offspring into Geek-
Kids. We’ve also asked übergeek and
awesome dad Adam Savage (of Myth-
Busters fame) to share some of his
family projects. Whatever your children’s
age, whatever your level of
technical expertise, you’ll find something
here that will inspire you to
have fun with them, educate them
about geek values, and do your part to
build a better future.
Opening spread: prOp styling by Jesse nemeth; (trebuchet) prOp building by JOhn duncan/FOncO creative;
prOp styling by shannOn amOs; illustratiOns: JOel kimmel
Build a Trebuchet
My son had to build
a trebuchet for a
school science project.
It turned into
a case of trial and
Amazing as it may seem, I’d never
actually built a trebuchet. I know, I
know, I’m not sure how it happened
either. But it wasn’t like I was totally
in the dark. A trebuchet is a relatively
simple medieval projectile
weapon. Basically, a weight swings
an arm around and slings something outward. Except … I realized I’d never
learned how a sling works. And that provided a unique opportunity for me
and my son to do a little problem solving. I decided not to look it up. I told my
son that we should just get building, and we’d figure it out together.
Working from drawings his teacher gave him (and inch-thick Trupan
fiberboard from my workshop), my son put together the main structure in
about an hour. Its arm, weighted with ball bearings, swung on a nice pivot.
We cut a piece of leather into a cradle to hold the projectile. I figured that
one end of the sling had to be attached to the swing arm while the other
end had to come free as the arm reached the top of its arc. But how?
Drawing ideas at the whiteboard, my son had the same hunch I did:
Attach one end of the sling to a hook that it could slide off of. We made a
phOtOgraph by David Clugston
Making Fun With
(dad and hOst OF discOvery
small wooden hook and attached it to the arm. One end of the sling got tied
to the arm, and we tied a loop in the other end to go around the hook. Time
to test-fire: We put a 1-inch ball bearing into the sling, lifted the weighted
end of the swing arm, released it, and …
Total, hilarious failure. The sling neatly whipped that sucker straight
down onto the table. Made a little dent. It was awesome—loud, and with
a lot of force. So at my son’s suggestion, we gentled the angle of the hook
from 90 degrees to 45. Again we loaded the sling, lifted the weight, and …
Again, failure. Instead of smacking the table, the sling released too
early. But we were getting somewhere. The right solution occurred to us at
exactly the same moment—the proper hook wasn’t a hook at all, but just a
little stick jutting out from the end of the swing arm. Hang the looped end
of the sling on it and the loop will slip off at the peak of the arc, launching
the projectile. We set it up, lifted the weight, and … SUCCESS!
make a buckminster fuller
130 WIRED JuN 2012
A Secret Page for Parents: Just Crack the Code
Visit wired.com/geekdad/????????. (The eight missing letters are somewhere in this package.)
It’s one of the great pleasures
of parenthood: strapping your
kid to a bike and going for a ride.
There are lots of ways to do it.
Tons, in fact. Too many, actually.
Rear-mounted seats, frontmounted
seats, trailers, cargo
bikes, trailer bikes, duct tape—
each with its own trade-offs and
advantages. It’s enough to send
you back inside for the car keys.
In 1975 Buckminster
Fuller first defined the
term tensegrity, a portmanteau
integrity.” It refers to
that derive their stability
from various elements
each other with equal
force, like the surface
tension of a bubble.
Tensegrity lies at the
heart of giant projects
like the Georgia Dome.
But you can apply it to
build the ultimate blanket
fort, supported by
finely balanced brooms
that never touch one
• 3 brooms with holes
at the end of the handle
(tip: Swiffer mops with
the heads removed
• 1 ball of twine
• 1 queen-size bedsheet
As told to Patrick
Di Justo by the
So let’s make this easy. If
you have only one kid, go for a
front-mounted seat. You don’t
want a trailer, which puts your
kid 3 to 4 feet behind you, leaving
them bored; you’ll only know
you’re engaged in a parent-child
activity by the extra drag. Rearmounted
seats are slightly better;
the tyke sits right behind
you, but it’s still tough to inter-
iLLustratioNs by Joel Kimmel
robots: mitsu overstreet
Garry mcLeod; NatioNaL Park services
1 2 3 4 5
When it comes time to show your kids the
Star Wars movies (start at 6 years old),
you will face an existential conundrum: In
what order should they be viewed? If you
show them in the sequence they came out,
they see the defeat of the Empire in Return
of the Jedi … and then wade through all the
prequel crap. Or should they absorb them
in episode order, in which case they lose the
the right waY
reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father? A
difficult problem, this is. How do you spotlight
the stuff that makes Star Wars great
while dodging narrative Sarlacc pits like Jar Jar Binks, the galaxy’s most alienating alien?
One option would be to hunt down fan remixes like The Phantom Edit, which streamlines
The Phantom Menace, reducing Jar Jar to a puff of pixels, or The Editor Strikes Back, an
85-minute cut of all three prequels created by the actor Topher Grace. But let’s say you want
to stick to the actual movies. We support the Machete Order, named for the blog that first
proposed it: A New Hope (IV), The Empire Strikes Back (V), Attack of the Clones (II), Revenge of
the Sith (III), Return of the Jedi (VI). Drop Phantom Menace (I) altogether: Every character in
it vanishes, dies (Darth Maul, we hardly knew either half of ye), or is transformed in Attack
of the Clones. The Vader reveal is preserved, his turn to the Dark Side becomes a flashback,
and the series climax is still full of yub- nubby goodness. To ensure complete assimilation,
parallel-track genuinely good extended- universe matter like Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone
Wars cartoon. It’s how Obi-Wan would have wanted it. —Adam Rogers
act. With a front-mounted seat—
like the WeeRide Kangaroo
($90)—the kid is almost sitting
on your lap, taking in the oncoming
world. You can tell jokes, sing
songs, or kiss them on the head.
For two or more kids, things
get tricky. You could add front-
and rear-mounted seats, but
you risk toppling. You can get
a high-end cargo bike, which
allows you to strap kids into an
open box in front of the handlebars,
but that will run you $3,000
or more. Our recommendation:
an Xtracycle, the breed of elongated
cargo bike that lets you
mount multiple seats on a long,
flat, stable platform in the rear.
The downside: Your kids are once
again stuck looking at your butt.
But they’re close, and the ride
*That’s right, no Phantom Menace.
is both smooth and stable. Plus
you can upgrade—infant seats
when they’re small, footrests and
handlebars when they get older.
You can buy an entire bike for a
little over $1,000, or an $825 kit
to extend your current ride. In
no time you’ll be flying down the
street amid shrieks of delight—at
least until your offspring ask you
to be quiet. —Robert Capps
Plan a Trip
Family vacations can be great—
as long as they don’t involve
endless lines at a brain-dead
amusement park. Good thing
there are plenty of less crowded,
more enriching alternatives.
Hoover dam, border of
arizoNa aNd Nevada
The famous exterior is striking, but
this dam’s insides are where the
real magic happens. Check out the
30-foot-diameter pipes that carry
90,000 gallons of water a second
to the hydroelectric power plant,
then watch 17 generators turn all
that rushing water into electricity.
tHomas edisoN NatioNaL
HistoricaL Park, West
oraNGe, NeW Jersey
Screw Menlo Park! Edison’s West
Orange lab contains the stuff of
legends, including a tour intimate
enough to put you within inches
of the great man’s chair. Don’t miss
the Black Maria, a replica of the
first movie studio.
ford rouGe factory,
uS manufacturing may be struggling,
but the Ford assembly line still
pumps out 350,000 trucks a year.
The factory tour will show kids what
an industrial-size Erector set can do.
tHe orieNtaL iNstitute of
tHe uNiversity of cHicaGo
Travel back to the golden age of
archaeology (i.e., before countries
in the Middle East clamped down on
such plundering). Treasures include
a clay tablet from Mesopotamia and
parchment from the Book of the
Dead. (Pro tip: Don’t read it out loud.
There are mummies nearby.)
LauNcH coNtroL ceNter
at deLta-01, soutH dakota
Take an elevator 31 feet below the
surface to an original launch control
center where Air Force officers
worked 24-hour shifts, ready
to launch 10 Minuteman missiles.
This relic of the Cold War (below)
is run by the National Park Service.
(Don’t touch the red button.)
JAN 2012 WIRED 2
the geekdad toolbox
1. Lego bricks Buy lots of bricks
at garage sales, toss them in a mesh
bag, and run them through the dishwasher.
Use them to build model car
bodies and robots. Secure masterpieces
5. 8X illuminated magnifying
glass. Shed some light on the quality
of your solder joints and read part
numbers on small components.
Muppets Puzzle (ages 6–9)
2. LEDs and watch batteries
Make anything light up with a bag of
cheap LEDs and some CR2032 3-V
lithium batteries. Just tape the leads
of the LED to the battery (the short
lead connects to the negative side)
and attach to your model car or kite.
Or add a neodymium magnet for
an “LED throwie” that sticks to any
6. Rotary cutting tool A cordless
Dremel turns you into a cyborg
capable of slicing, grinding, deburring,
or carving any wood or metal in
Science in the Bath
Experiments make a bath fun (and messy). Plus, says Shar Levine, author of Bathtub Science,
your kids “won’t be terrified” in Chem 101 later on. Start with this lab work. —Rachel Zurer
Fill plastic cups with water and
food coloring. Then give your
kid empty containers and start
mixing it up. be sure to
mention: We see the colors
we do because our eyes have
special sensors to detect them.
Some animals see more colors;
others see no color at all.
Clank two spoons together
underwater. Have your little
mermaid listen from above,
then ask her to dunk her head
By 6, kids can associate pictures with words. (They may need help with instructions,
though.) Using these pictures, put the Muppet names in their numbered
blanks. The highlighted column will spell out the name of another Muppet.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
3. Hobby wheels Combine large-
diameter hobby wheels with Legos
and LEDs and you’ve got a cool gravity
racer or the base of a rolling robot.
7. Plastic molding material Make
custom parts using moldable plastics.
Sugru starts like Play-Doh and
cures into a tough rubber. ShapeLock
comes as pellets that get moldable
in hot water. Super Sculpey is like
clay that hardens when you bake it.
Cured ShapeLock and Sculpey can be
drilled, carved, or sanded.
and listen again. The sound will
be much louder the second time.
explanation: Sound waves are
good at swimming through water
or wiggling through air, but not at
moving from one medium to the
other. So it’s hard to hear a noise
that starts underwater when your
ears are in the air.
4. 3-V motor and gears Add a
motor to your Lego car and watch
it zoom. Swap the gears to teach
kids the relationship between
speed and torque.
8. Key to a hacker space For $50
to $100 a month you can get a membership
to a community-run maker
shop with laser cutters, 3-D printers,
CNC shop equipment, and more.
Bonus: You’ll get access to experts.
Place a sheet of foil on the water.
Note the float. Now ball it up.
Sinker! wHat’s GoinG on: When
the foil is flat, its weight is spread
across a lot of water molecules,
which team up to hold it up. When
it’s in a ball, all the weight’s in one
spot and it breaks through.
(tools) joel kimmel; (robots) mitsu overstreet; (bubbles) corbis; muppet Quiz: (muppets) disney; (sesame
street) everett collection; (Grover) nicHolas kamm/Getty imaGes; (count) marc bryan-brown/
Getty; (HovercraFt) prop buildinG by joHn duncan/Fonco creative; prop stylinG by sHannon amos
Getty; (HovercraFt) prop buildinG by joHn duncan/Fonco creative; prop stylinG by sHannon amos
non-commissioned credits tk
Build a Hovercraft
When Jamie Hyneman and I built hovercrafts for Mythbusters, I realized that these floating-onair
vehicles were easy to make, not too expensive, and fun. So I built one with my kids.
• 1 sheet of 3 ⁄4-inch plywood
(get the cheapest you can
find; quality is not an issue)
• 1 leaf blower (gas or electric)
• 1 heavy-duty shower curtain
• 2 rolls of duct tape
• 1 lid from a gallon paint can
• Foam pipe insulation
• Assorted screws
pHotoGrapH by David Clugston
Making Fun With
Cut a 4-foot-diameter circle from the plywood. Put your
leaf blower in the center and figure out where the nozzle
ends up on the circle—trace around the nozzle and cut
a hole to match so it will fit tightly.
Next make the skirt. Lay your shower curtain down
flat and place the plywood circle on top. Fold the shower
curtain up and around the edges of the plywood and use
a staple gun to secure it all along the perimeter of the circle.
Cut off the excess curtain and seal the edge, all the
way around, with duct tape. Make it airtight. Don’t skimp.
On the underside of the plywood circle, nail a gallon
paint can lid in the center to hold down the shower curtain.
Cut a ring of six 2-inch holes in the curtain, all a
couple of inches from the lid. The air escaping from the
shower curtain “pillow” will be the cushion that puts the
hover in your craft.
Next, secure the leaf blower with screws and connect
its nozzle to the hole you cut. Use duct tape to hold it in
and seal it up. We also stuck pipe insulation, which has its
own adhesive, around the edge of the plywood to protect
our hovercraft—and innocent bystanders.
Now you’re ready to fire it up. You can screw a chair
onto the disc for seating, using wooden risers under the
legs if the leaf blower needs more clearance. (That’ll
depend on the leaf blower—and chair—you use.) in any
case, keep your center of gravity as low as you can—
the lack of friction can make the hovercaft slip out from
under you quite fast. i know this from experience.
iLLUSTRATiON BY fIRsT LasTnaME PHOTOgRAPH BY fIRsT LasTnaME JAN 2012 WIRED 2
dissect it Nothing
Is It safe to open? Yup.
technIque: Put it in a vise, then go at it with a hacksaw.
What your kIds WIll learn: That the material inside affects the
ball’s behavior. Cores used to be made of rubber but were changed to
cork in 1910. This made the ball more bouncy, ushering in the “live ball” era
that allowed Babe Ruth to become a legend. But home runs shouldn’t be
too easy, which is why the outer layers consist of yarn, deadening the ball.
Is It safe to open? Absolutely not.
technIque: Find a professional with a lab and a saw.
What your kIds WIll learn: That when the battery is inserted into
a flashlight or other device, a circuit connects the positive cathode and
negative anode, sparking an electrochemical reaction between them. The
anode starts spitting out electrons, which flow through a wire toward the
cathode, producing an electric current.
WIRED JUN 2012
impresses a kid like brandishing a knife and saying, “Let’s cut
that open and see what’s inside.” Here are three household objects that
are fun to slice apart. And one you really shouldn’t. —Judy Dutton
Is It safe to open? Sure—if you’re smart about it.
technIque: Cut with scissors near the end and pour the liquid into
a glass jar. Remove the inner glass vial and put it in another container.
What your kIds WIll learn: That two fluids (typically hydrogen
peroxide and phenyl oxalate ester) rearrange themselves into phenol
and peroxyacid ester when combined; the chemical reaction gives off
energy in the form of light called chemiluminescence.
Is It safe to open? If it’s not hooked up.
technIque: Use a utility knife to slice around the cone.
What your kIds WIll learn: How electricity is turned into sound.
When the audio signal courses through the wire coil, the coil turns into
an electromagnet that subtly moves the paper cone, pushing air molecules
in and out of the speaker. And since all sound is essentially the movement
of air, this is how a speaker reproduces the strains of Taylor Swift.
When my dad was young, he loved a cartoon called The Gerald McBoing-Boing Show. It
was about a kid who spoke in sound effects. Or something. I don’t know, because I
was born in 1974, and my father couldn’t just pull an episode up on YouTube. My son
enjoys no such freedom. At any minute, I can call up some dimly remembered jewel
from my youth. “C is for Cookie.” Zoom. The opening credits from the short-lived
Pac-Man cartoon. Small. Freaking. Wonder! I can, but I don’t. And neither should
you. Your children are not some excuse to relive your own misbegotten youth. They have to explore the
world for themselves, and they have access to everything from Yo Gabba Gabba to some dude’s home video
of his safari vacation. Don’t squander that by force-feeding your kids old G.I. Joe PSAs.—Jason Tanz
photographs by davId clugston, prop stylIng by shannon amos; (gummIes) melIssa lehuta/modernIst cuIsIne; (robots) mItsu overstreet
Ah, the wonders of old-school chemistry
sets: a little explosive powder
here, some radioactive material there,
and acids strong enough to dissolve a
corpse. Then came the lawsuits. Today’s
kits can’t really compare, but a handful
do pack the proper equipment to get
kids started. —Dave Mosher
mIlestones In scIence ($80)
Most scientists stand on the shoulders of giants.
With this kit, kids can walk in their shoes. Milestones
re-creates 100 experiments, from the
camera obscura to Principia Mathematica.
snap cIrcuIts extreme ($134)
This kit packs enough parts for budding circuit
monkeys to build a voice recorder, an FM
radio, a lie detector, and 750 other gizmos.
scIenceWIz chemIstry plus ($20)
Don’t look for the colorful flasks or beakers
shown on the box. Still, it provides the right
stuff to test for pH level, change the color of
flames with salts, and even generate a bit
of hydrogen gas. (Ages 8+)
chem c3000 ($250)
Short on gimmicks and high on versatility,
with 75 well-picked parts, including an alcohol
burner, electrochemistry supplies, and flammable
and toxic chemicals. (Ages 12+)
• Fishing lure molds
• Immersion blender
• Food processor
• Black light (a 390-nm LED
UV flashlight won’t work;
you need something that’s
around 365 nm)
• Tonic water
• 9 sheets 200-bloom gelatin
• ⅔ cup isomalt
• ⅛ cup clear honey
• 1 Tbsp. glucose syrup
• 3 Tbsp. gum arabic
• 1 ⁄4 tsp. vanilla bean seeds
• Dash of thyme oil (or orange,
rose, or any other flavor)
• Several Oreos
(Makes about 1 pound; try
the Modernist Pantry or the
Baker’s Kitchen websites
for the more unusual items.)
Star Wars Puzzle (ages 10–12)
By 10, kids can associate clues with answers. However, they may still be flummoxed by
alternate possibilities, so clues must be carefully written to eliminate them. Fill the numbered
blanks with the Star Wars characters described below. Reading down the highlighted
column will be another character from the series.
1 princess of alderaan 2 little green guy 3 queen of naboo 4 anakin’s Jedi teacher 5 red-faced
sith lord 6 evil emperor 7 swashbuckling mercenary 8 owner of cloud city 9 furry Wookiee
10 Jedi from tatooine 11 green-armored bounty hunter 12 anakin, later 13 droid pal of c-3po
You can make extra-creepy candy
crawlies by swapping a secret
ingredient—tonic water—into a
gummy worm recipe. This one is
adapted from Modernist Cuisine,
and the quinine in the tonic causes the sweets to glow
under a black light. Your kids (and your dentist) will
totally freak out. —Christina Bonnington
1 Bloom the gelatin by combining it with 3 Tbsp. of water
and sealing it in an airtight plastic container. Soak the container
in a hot (140° F) bath for about half an hour.
2 Combine the isomalt, honey, glucose syrup, and gum
arabic with ½ cup of tonic water in a pot. Bring the mixture
to a boil, then cut the heat. Stir in vanilla bean seeds
and essential oil.
3 Whisk in the bloomed gelatin. Use an immersion blender
to fully emulsify the mixture.
4 Pour the warm mixture into the molds. Let them cool to
room temperature, then refrigerate for at least four hours
5 The worms must be grimy and dirty. So remove the filling
from the Oreos, and toss the cookies in the food processor.
Pulse until you’ve got a dark-brown, soil-like consistency.
Spread the crumbs on a plate.
6 Remove the worms from their mold, arrange them in the
“dirt,” and click on your black light. Behold the luminescence
of your chewy snack!
Page Turners for
Despite what pop culture (and screaming tweens on Facebook) might have you think, there are
tons of great kid-lit series beyond The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight. Start one
with the kids tonight to get in on the next megafranchise before it hits the multiplex. —Erin Biba
by Dav Pilkey
Target Age: 7–10
Gist: The eightbook
two fourth graders,
George and Harold,
who hypnotize their
and turn him into
a superhero called
The Captain then
does battle with diabolical
Wedgie Woman and
Bionic Booger Boy.
the rights to
this series in 2011.
1 WIRED JAN 2012
Target age: 8–12
Gist: Clans of
stalk, scratch, and
bite to defend their
territory and hunt
for prey. The books
(and there are lots)
have an elaborately
a clan of strays, a
clan of spirit cats,
a lengthy origin
story, and inevitable
avoid contact with
Target age: 14+
Gist: Set in a postapocalyptic
these books tell
the stories of children
trying to elude
rulers who would
turn them into killing
Nailer, a teen who
from wrecked oil
caught in a civil war.
HOW TO BUILD AN ART BOT
• Paper or plastic cup
• Foam tape
• Low- voltage DC motor
(4 inches of wire on contacts)
• 2 AAA batteries
• Wide rubber band
• Electrical tape
• Hot-glue gun
• 3 or more thin washable markers
The 39 Clues
Target age: 8–12
Gist: When their
a brother and sister
learn that she has
given them a choice:
Inherit $1 million
each or compete
against other family
members in a great
hunt. With just five
minutes to decide,
the kids choose
the hunt (naturally).
They end up chasing
clues that take
them around the
world in 11 books.
Geeks come in all shapes, sizes, and genders.
So why do publishers assume that
girls are just princesses-in- training?
Here are a few books that can teach your
daughter—or son—that girls can geek
out too. —Rachel Swaby
violet the Pilot
Who needs a starter kit when you’ve got a
family-owned junkyard? Violet engineers DIY
flying machines using cast-off parts. Can an
Arduino obsession be far behind?
akiko and the missinG misP
This sixth grader uses her formidable skill
set—creating manga, piloting spaceships,
solving puzzles—to defend the planet Smoo.
Emily’s gadget attachment goes well beyond
iPhone worship; she’s physically tied to a
powerful amulet around her neck. It’s super-
helpful in a bind, but data charges are severe.
secrets, lies, and alGeBra
Math may get confusing, but it’s nothing compared
to the routine humiliations of eighth
grade. Tess uses her algebraic mastery to help
her navigate some tougher-than-average preteen
Being a sci-fi geek has its benefits. When
Hazel finds herself in a modern-day version
of The Snow Queen, she relies on her detailed
knowledge of The Golden Compass’s Lyra
Belacqua and A Wrinkle in Time’s Meg Murry.
1. Turn the cup upside down and layer foam
tape on the bottom (which is now the top).
2. Stick the motor onto the tape. 3. Tape
the batteries end to end, positive to negative, and stick them next to the
motor. 4. Wrap a rubber band around the batteries so it covers the terminals—you’ll
tuck the ends of the motor’s wires under the rubber band
later. Make sure everything is secure. 5. Push a cork onto the rotating
shaft of the motor. Off- center weight makes the bot shake, so hot-glue
some craft supplies (beads, tongue depressor) onto the cork. 6. For the
bot’s legs, tape at least three markers around the rim of the cup, points
down. 7. Add googly eyes, pipe cleaners, bells—whatever pleases your
small person. 8. Place your robot on its canvas, put the wire ends under
the rubber band, and watch a masterpiece unfold. —Kathy Ceceri
as seen in Robotics: DiscoveR the science anD
technology of the futuRe, from nomad Press
scholastic; harPer collins; Garry mcleod; (Plaster) ProP BuildinG By John duncan/fonco
creative; ProP stylinG By shannon amos
non-commissioned credits tk
Making Fun With
PhotoGraPh By David Clugston
• Work surface, like a
piece of plywood
• rolling pin
• 1-pint mixing cup
• Plaster of paris
Making plaster casts
is a good exercise:
You have to think
upside down and backward.
One of my
sons made a “space
remote”; the other
made a fish.
roll out a piece of clay—I like
about 8 inches square and of
roughly even thickness, about
three- quarters of an inch. once
it’s smooth, cut off the edges to
make a square. Then carve what
you want—or press something,
like shells, into the clay.
once the negative space of
your project is complete, it’s time
to make it into a mold for the
positive-space version: Take more
clay and build a half-inch-tall wall
around the edge of your piece. The
best approach is to shape a long
piece of clay into a cylinder, roll
it flat, and then press it along the
perimeter of your workpiece.
Next, mix the plaster. You can
get it at the hardware store or,
for a small amount that’s perfect
for a project like this, from an artsupply
store. Fill the mixing cup
about a quarter of the way with
water. Start sifting in the powder,
letting it settle to the bottom.
(Adding powder to water gives
you a nice mix.) Keep going until
a little island forms on the surface
of the water. At first the water will
soak it up. When you get to the
point where the water can’t soak
up the island, you’re very close to
the ideal ratio. Add just a tiny bit
more plaster (you have a lot of
flexibility), then mix thoroughly
(it’ll be thinner than you think) and
pour it into your mold. It’ll set in
about an hour.
Note: If you’re careful and willing
to make another retaining
wall, you can sometimes get two
or three castings. How you finish
the plaster piece—leaving it raw
or painting it—is up to you.
ILLUSTrATIoN BY FIRST LASTnAME PHoToGrAPH BY FIRST LASTnAME JAN 2012 WIRED 2
make electric play-doh
Want to introduce your kids to electronics? Ditch the circuit boards and
go with that sticky staple of early childhood: Play-Doh. The off-the-shelf
variety isn’t conductive enough, but adding the right amount of salt
and cream of tartar to your homemade version lets you create circuits,
illuminate LEDs, and even make motors spin! —Christina Bonnington
1. Make the
Mix 1½ cups flour, ½ cup
sugar, 3 Tbsp. vegetable
oil, ½ cup distilled
water, and food dye in
a medium-size bowl. Stir
until doughy. Turn out
onto a flour-coated surface
1 WIRED JAN 201212
2. Cook the ConduCtive
Mix 1½ cups flour, ¼ cup
salt, 1 Tbsp. vege table
oil, 1 cup tap water, food
dye, and 3 Tbsp. cream
of tartar in a pot over
medium heat. Stir constantly
until the dough
thickens. Lay out on a
floured surface to cool.
(Keep small fingers
away—it’ll be hot.)
3. CoMplete the
Sandwich a piece
of insulating dough
between two balls
of conductive dough.
Insert the terminals of
a DC power supply (one
that takes two AAs or
four AAAs, available at
electronics shops) into
each conductive piece
and join them with an
LED. Let there be light!
Refrigerate the dough in plastic bags for future experiments.
Developed at the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering
It’s way too easy to build up a bunch of junk in
your kid’s toy trunk. But if you invest in the right
stuff, your youngsters will enjoy playthings that
they can grow up with, not out of. —Daniel Dumas
1) the PerPlexus
Cooler- looking and more addictive than an Xbox, the Perplexus
is a colorful 3-D maze encased in a clear plastic
sphere. The mission? Rotate that sphere to move a small
metal ball through a series of obstacles (picking up some
serious spatial and problem- solving skills along the way).
Best part? No red ring of death. $25 fatbraintoys.com
2) mr. rootBeer home Brewing kit
Home-brewing beer? Awesome. Giving junior a taste? Illegal!
That’s where Mr. Rootbeer comes in. Using ingredients common
to domestic beer barons (yep, yeast is included), it’s a
great toy to help jump-start an appreciation for hand-crafted
microbrews. $27 mrrootbeer.com
3) Fuel cell 10 car and exPeriment kit
This build-it-yourself fuel-cell car will prepare your children
for the day when pitch-hearted oil Once-lers suck
the last drop of crude from the earth. It runs on water—
electrolysis provides the gas that pushes this buggy along.
4) gordian’s knot
Alexander the Great “solved” the original knot with a swipe
of his xiphos. But as tykes untangle this puzzle, they’ll be
stimulating the abstract-thought and pattern- recognition
portions of their brains. Don’t worry—a solution manual is
included, so no cutting necessary. $12 thinkfun.com
Comic Book Puzzle (ages 13–17)
By 13, kids are able to handle anagramming, make logical inferences, and adapt when
they receive conflicting information. Unscramble the words below to fill the numbered
blanks with the names of comic book superheroes. The scrambled words are in random
order, so you’ll need to figure out where they go. The highlighted column will contain the
name of another comics character.
weekhaY Broni dreamsPin inmanor wineloVer khlu giltBar maQuana
Punmares roth matnaB sPYcloc namewordnow
non-commissioned credits tk
daVid clugston, ProP stYling BY shannon amos; garrY mcleod; (roBots) mitsu oVerstreet
It’s official: We’re taking over father’s Day.
On June 17, grab your safety glasses—and
your kids—and join us for wired-curated
activities, projects, and experiments.
Get in on the fun by visit ing
one of several museums
across the country hosting
GeekDad events. These
include the California Academy
of Sciences in San
Francisco, the Museum
of Science and Industry
in Chicago, Space Center
Houston, and many more.
For a complete list, go to
the National GeekDad Day
Host your own GeekDad
event with our help. Just
go to the website and
check out our planning
guide, “How to Make your
Own GeekDad Event.” It
provides a slew of ideas,
tips, and awesome projects
for creating a geekarific
good time. you can
even share activities with
Get the Kit
In honor of National Geek-
Dad Day, wired is offering
the littleBits electronics
kit. For $89 you get a pack
of 10 electronic modules
that let you build all manner
of blinking and pulsing
gizmos, including a buzzing
doorbell and a light-up
pressure sensor (below).
There’s even a step-bystep
guide for creating
a special wired-designed
project. See the kit at the
GeekDad Day website.
ILLUSTRATION By fIRsT lasTnamE PHOTOGRAPH By fIRsT lasTnamE JAN 2012 WIRED 2
(From Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky
Projects and Activities for Dads and
Kids to Share )
On a creative scale, this projects sits
somewhere on the line between classic
finger painting and Spirograph. The simple idea is to use whatever
windup toys you have as the brushes for your painting.
age range: 2–8
• Butcher paper
• Cups or saucers
• Bumpers (such as rulers or carpenter’s levels)
• Self-powered toys
step 1: Prep Your canvas
The setup is easy. Butcher paper, available at your local craft
store, is the easiest canvas. Lay it out on a floor or table to the size
you want for your final artwork.
step 2: rein It In
First, and this is key for this project, you need bumpers. Set up
barriers to constrain the toys so they don’t go wandering off
the canvas while they’re working. Carpenter’s levels, rulers, and
lumber will all work, depending on the required size.
step 3: select Your toys
Toy choice is important. There are quite a lot of windup toys in
fast food kids’ meals these days, so you probably have some of
those lying around. But if you want to make this more of a techie
project, consider looking for the various mini toy robots that have
simple sensors on them so they can “see” and avoid walls. These
will give you maximum painting bang for the buck.
step 4: unleash the Painting Fury!
Unless you’re worried about the work of art lasting for all eternity,
pick up the cheapest paints you can find at your art store in a
variety of bright colors. Pour a bit of each color into low cups or
saucers and dip the feet or treads of one of the toys into it. Wind
it up, then set it down on the paper to start doing its stuff. Repeat
with different toys and different colors. Hilarity will ensue.
Illustrations by Bradley L. Hill
(From Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and
Activities for Dads and Kids to Share )
The demolition derby holds a special place in our
culture. Not unlike ultimate fighting, the premise
is simple: Two cars enter, one car leaves. Problem is, once someone wins,
someone else has to go looking for a new car. Actually, even the winner
often has to look for a new car. Kind of a waste of materials, really.
So why not make your own Lego demolition derby with R/C cars covered
in breakaway components, which can be reattached or easily replaced
after each match? Now the competition is a matter of the strategic ablation
(knocking pieces off) of your opponent’s vehicle, rather than a simple
age range: 4 and up (fun for all ages!)
• 2 (or more) R/C cars (controllers must be on separate frequencies)
• Lego bricks and plates
• Peel-and-stick Velcro or foam tape or a hot-glue gun
• Foam pieces (optional, as needed)
step 1: Prep Your cars
Using R/C cars that have flat surfaces so the Legos will attach easily,
select a sticky option above and glue Lego plates to the roof, hood, trunk,
and sides. The goal is to cover as much of the exterior surface as possible.
Select Velcro or foam tape if you want the flexibility to remove and reaffix
the plates mid-derby.
step 2: customize Your Game
Once the pre-plated cars are dry and ready to go, they can each be
customized for maximum smashing. Give everyone their own car and some
Lego bricks to build scoops, armor, battering rams, or any weapon they think
will inflict maximum damage.
step 3: the arena
To add to the derby sensibility, you can build an arena for all this model
carnage. If you have some spare 2-by-4s, lay them out in a useful shape
and use duct tape and a staple gun to temporarily connect the ends.
For an easier and potentially cheaper approach, use pool noodles as the
borders of your arena, and try duct tape and rubber bands to loosely tie
the ends together.
step 4: Fight!
Once your arena and wicked-looking combat cars are assembled, it’s
time to smash! But there’s more you can do besides just bashing into each
other. Why not turn it into a game? Decide what kind of game you want
your demolition derby to be and build brick structures on the base plates
accordingly. Here are some ideas:
• Each player gets a certain number of bricks to plug on their car. Hold
a timed battle (say, two minutes), and the car with the most remaining
bricks at the end wins the round. Hold multiple rounds with multiple
challengers to create a tournament.
• Each player has a group of specifically colored bricks that he plugs
into the outside of his car. Build up structures around them to protect
the special bricks. Then hold a timed battle. Each colored brick that’s
knocked off earns the opponent a point. Score points to win games, win
games to win a set, win sets to take the match!
• Each player has a minifigure “driver.” The driver is attached on the roof,
and then structures are built on the sides and around the minifig to
protect it. Hold a battle, and the last minifig still attached wins.
3.nerF dart bloWGun
(From The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun )
If you take a Nerf blaster apart, you’ll learn
that its propulsion system is based on
a mechanical force applied to the dart,
usually by a spring-loaded firing pin. A dart
is loaded, the pin is cocked, trigger pulled,
and the pin hits the dart and launches it
down a barrel. This works pretty well. But it
can work better.
Aside from mechanical force, another good way to propel something
down a tube is by pneumatics. Indeed, if you think about it, that’s
how real guns work: The explosion of gunpowder causes rapidly
expanding gases to launch the bullet down a rifled barrel at high
velocity. This project creates a blowgun that actually works better
with Nerf darts than the mechanical version.
age range: 5+
• 1/2-inch copper pipe in 20- to 24-inch sections
• Various copper pipe fittings such as T-connectors, 90-degree
elbows, and reducers
• Silicone caulk
• Nerf darts
step 1: the Basic Blowgun
The simplest part of this project involves very little work: Go to your
local hardware store and pick up a 20- to 24-inch section of 1/2-inch
copper pipe—the kind that’s commonly used for water in domestic
plumbing. It’ll cost about a dollar. Take a Nerf dart and insert it into
one end of the pipe, with the “business” end of the dart pointing up
the length of the pipe. Hold the pipe up to your face and aim it at
an unsuspecting target. Put your mouth on the pipe, take a deep
breath, and blow out with a short, sharp puff. Without much practice,
this design can hit targets more than 60 feet away.
step 2: choose Your customization options
While you’re at the hardware store, browse through the fittings
that go with the 1/2-inch copper pipe. You’ll find 90-degree elbows,
45-degree turns, T-connectors, and reducers. Use these extra parts
to make your blowgun even cooler:
• Reducer: This is a fitting that’s used to connect one pipe
size to another. A 3/4-to-1/2-inch reducer works nicely as a
mouthpiece for the blowgun, allowing you to purse your lips
and blow into the gun like a trumpet rather than wrapping your
lips around the end of the pipe. It’s more sanitary and lets you
build up air pressure more easily for a nice burst.
• Elbow: Taking a shot from cover can’t be any easier if you can
literally shoot around corners! Link two lengths of pipe with an
elbow, load a dart into the end tube, stand at a corner with the
end tube directed around the corner, and shoot!
• T-connector: This allows you to branch off several barrels
from one blowpipe, so you can rain down destruction with a
multishot blowgun. Just keep in mind that lung capacity will
be the ultimate arbiter of how many darts you can shoot and
how far you can shoot them.
Illustrations by Bradley L. Hill
step 3: Build a Better Blowgun
One thing to understand about fittings: The inside dimension
of a fitting is just larger than the outside dimension of the
pipe—meaning the pipe is meant to slip inside the fitting, but
fittings won’t slide into each other.
• If you want to attach a series of fittings together, cut
small pieces of pipe, about 1 inch in length or slightly
more, to use as connectors between the fittings.
• If you’re using fittings, you’ll need to secure them so they
don’t flop around. A clear silicone caulk (the kind you
might use to seal around bath or kitchen fixtures) will
keep the pieces connected and pretty airtight. Just run
a little bead of caulk around the end of the pipe, slip it
into the fitting, and let it dry. (Drying can take a couple
of hours—check the instructions on the product). If you
want to take your creation apart again, it’s not that hard
to break the seal.
• Because of the versatility of the fittings, you can
put together a series of pipe constructs that are
interchangeable, depending upon need. Maybe you’ll have
a mouthpiece and short pipe section that can be used as a
simple single-shot device but also carry an elbow attached
to another short length, which your Nerf warriors can slip on
the end for an emergency corner shot.
step 4: Blowgun war!
After you’ve built your arsenal, it’s time to play. Try some
target practice and see what the accurate range of the
blowguns is compared with traditional Nerf blasters. Or just
go have a backyard firefight and see how well the custom
blowgun stacks up.
4. Measure the sPeed oF
lIGht WIth chocolate
(From The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend
Fun, adapted from an idea by Kathy Ceceri)
It sounds crazy, but you can indeed verify
the speed of light by briefly heating some
chocolate in a microwave. Now, there are many other materials that
would work just as well, but chocolate makes an appropriate medium
because the heating property of microwaves was first discovered by
a scientist whose candy bar melted in his pocket when he got too
close to the microwave device he was testing for use in radar. Plus,
you can eat the results.
The experiment works because microwave ovens produce standing
waves—waves that move “up” and “down” in place instead of rolling
forward like waves in the ocean. Microwave radiation falls into the
radio section of the electromagnetic spectrum. Most microwave
ovens produce waves with a frequency of 2,450 megahertz (millions
of cycles per second). The oven is designed to be just the right size
to cause the microwaves to reflect off the walls so the peaks and
valleys line up perfectly, creating “hot spots” (actual lines of heat).
When you put the chocolate in a microwave for a short time,
the peaks and valleys of the microwave will form hot spots on
the chocolate, which will then cause localized melting. First,
find the hot spots and measure the distance between them.
From that information, you can determine the wavelength of the
electromagnetic waves. We already know the frequency (the 2,450
MHz mentioned earlier—though you may want to check the sticker
inside your microwave to make sure), and when you multiply the
wavelength by the frequency, you get the speed!
age range: 8+
• Chocolate (truffles, liquid-filled bonbons, or bars of solid
chocolate—darker is better; you need enough to cover an area
at least 8 inches square)
• Microwave-safe pan
• Microwave oven
Illustrations by Bradley L. Hill
step 1: arrange the chocolates
Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe dish. If you’re using
bonbons or truffles, arrange them in a tight grid so there’s no space
between them. Or lay two chocolate bars side by side to create a
step 2: Bombard them with Electromagnetic radiation
Remove the turntable from the microwave. (The turntable is there
to keep your food moving so it cooks evenly, but we want the
chocolate to remain stationary.) You may need to put an upsidedown
plate over the center pillar that rotates the turntable, and then
you can place your dish of chocolate on top. Close the door and
heat the chocolate on high for 20 seconds.
step 3: Inspect the Irradiated candy
Open the door, and using a flashlight to increase glare, look for hot
spots. Depending on the candy you use, you may have to feel the
candy to see where it has softened. With liquid-filled cordials you
may see several shiny spots and even spots where the chocolate
shell melted through, releasing the sweet syrup inside. Chocolate
bars may just show a series of small shiny dots. If you see none of
these, close the door and run for another 10 seconds. Check and
repeat if needed until you see the spots. Take the pan out of the
step 4: Measure and calculate
Using your ruler, measure the distance between two adjacent spots
(geeks like to use metric, so that’s what we’ll do here). The space
between two spots should be the distance between the peak and
the valley (crest and trough) of the wave. Since the wavelength
is the distance between two crests, multiply by 2. Finally, multiply
that result by the frequency expressed in hertz—i.e., 2,450,000,000
(2.45 x 10 9 for those learning scientific notation). Remember: If your
microwave uses a different frequency, use that instead.
• If you want to use some proper scientific protocol, you can
perform a series of tests and do some simple statistics to
refine the answer by establishing your standard deviation and
determining your results within a specific degree of certainty.
This will require you to eat quite a lot of chocolate so it doesn’t
go to waste after each test. The things we do in the name of
5. exPlorInG FluId dYnaMIcs:
the MaGIc oF Mentos and soda
(From The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists, based on an
original idea from Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe of Eepybird.com)
Soda is an interesting material. Most sodas
are basically flavored water that has been
carbonated. What does that mean? Well, you
know what carbon dioxide is, right? It’s the gas
we exhale when we breathe out. It also happens
to be soluble in water (though not very soluble).
When CO 2 is dissolved in water under pressure, it
forms a very tenuous relationship with the H 2 O.
It doesn’t take much encouragement for the CO 2 to go from being
dissolved back to being a gas again. Letting an open soda sit and
get warm will do the trick. Eventually, most of the CO 2 just turns into
little bubbles of gas, floats to the top, and makes its escape into the
German countryside on a stolen army motorcycle. Or it just blows
away. Same difference.
Certain candies and sodas interact in almost explosive ways. This
project will explore what you can learn by playing with the variables in
the reaction, including the materials and the release mechanism.
age range: 6+ (an adult may want to do the gluing)
• 2-liter bottle of diet soda (you can also experiment with other
• Mentos (and maybe some other candy)
• PVC irrigation pipe and fittings (schedule 40 pipe, 3/4-inch
• Glue (Gorilla Glue or a strong silicone sealant)
• Large paperclips or heavy wire
• Power drill
step 1: select Your Materials
Diet cola and Mentos are the classic choices for this project, but it’s
fun to experiment with different materials. Like a real scientist, you
can set up hypotheses and then test them to see what works and
• What type of soda will provide the strongest reaction? Diet or
sugared? Do colas work better, or can fruit-flavored varieties
spout just as well? If you have a home carbonation system like
Soda Stream, you can also set up a control using distilled water.
• How does the amount of soda affect the reaction? Will a
12-ounce bottle spout just as high as a 2-liter bottle? (Since they
both have the same standard mouth size, you can use the same
spigot, which we’ll build below.)
• Why do Mentos work well? Try experimenting with other candies
and see if you can figure out the properties necessary to set off
a really big geyser.
• Is there an optimal number of Mentos to drop in? Does altering
the candies in some way (breaking into pieces, grinding into
powder, roughing up the outer surface) strengthen or weaken
• Since we can make our own spigot, why not try varying the
diameter of the release hole and see if there’s an optimal size for
generating the maximum vertical spout?
Illustrations by Bradley L. Hill
step 2: Make a spigot
Cut yourself a 2-inch length of PVC pipe. Take the cap from a soda
bottle and drill a 3/4-inch hole dead-center in the top. This may be
the most challenging part. You might want to make a starter hole
with a smaller bit and then finish it with the larger one.
Using Gorilla Glue or a similar adhesive, attach the top of the soda
bottle cap to one end of your PVC. Prepare the pieces per the
instructions, apply the glue, and use a clamp to keep the pieces
attached for the recommended drying time. You need a good seal
that will hold up under pressure.
Take a 3/4-inch PVC end cap and drill a hole in the end. Glue it to
the other end of your PVC using standard PVC glue or a silicone
adhesive (Gorilla Glue will not be quite right for this). About 1/4
inch up from the soda cap, drill a 1/16-inch-diameter hole directly
through one side of the PVC and out the other. Straighten out a large
paperclip, then put a little loop in one end and tie some string to it so
you can trigger the candy drop from a safe distance.
step 3: Basic Procedure for a soda Fountain
Hold your spigot upside down and put three to five Mentos candies
inside the tube. Insert the paperclip through the tiny hole on one side
and back out the other, so it keeps the candy in place.
Open a 2-liter bottle of diet soda (Coke, Pepsi, RC Cola, or
otherwise) and replace the cap with your spigot, tightening it
enough to make sure there will be no leakage, but not so much that
you break the seal between the spigot cap and the PVC. Set the
bottle carefully on the ground. Take the string from the trigger and
walk back as far as you can.
Give the countdown, and pull. You should hear and see the candy
fall in. There will be a brief pause, then the soda will erupt in a
geyser up to 20 feet high.
6. hoMeMade steaM enGIne
(From The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists, adapted from
an idea by Natania Barron)
The steam engine has been around for
hundreds of years. It works by heating
water until it turns to vapor and expands—
creating pressure that, when released, can be
transformed into mechanical energy. In this
project, you’ll build your own steam engine,
which you can use to test some properties of
As projects involving fire go, this one is pretty tame, but please
use caution. Older kids should be fine with adult supervision. And
remember, even the most careful geek parents can get singed by
steam as well.
age range: 11+ (with adult supervision)
• 2 feet of 1/8-inch copper tubing (available at Amazon—get some
extra to practice with)
• 1 tea light candle
• 1 aluminum beverage can
• Sturdy scissors
• Hole punch (optional)
• Aluminum tape (optional)
• Long-stemmed matches or a candle lighter
• Basin or bucket of water (6+ inches deep)
• Protective gloves
step 1: Prep the can
Use the scissors to cut a soda can horizontally about 1/3 of the way up,
then fold down the cut edge. Careful: That edge is sharp. You might
want to wear gloves. You can also put some aluminum tape over the
edge for added protection.
step 2: secure the candle
Melt some candle wax in the center of the bottom of the can. While
the wax is still warm, press a tea light down on top of it, anchoring it
in place. Make sure it’s well centered, as balance is important for the
step 3: Bend the tubing
Measure out about 1 foot of copper tubing and bend it in the middle
into two small circles, leaving the extra on either side. Try to keep
the ends as even as possible. (It should look a little like those hand
exercisers you can buy to strengthen your grip, which use a V-shaped
spring.) This takes some finesse—the tubing is prone to crimping and
breaking. Try warming it a bit in your hands before starting. Rolling it
around a hard surface like the neck of a wine bottle will help get the
shape right. The faster you work, the less likely it is to break. Trim any
excess using needle-nose pliers, or simply bend it off (making sure not
to crimp too much).
Illustrations by Bradley L. Hill
step 4: combine!
Punch a hole in either side of your can about halfway from the top,
allowing enough space so that the coil of tubing sits above the candle
where it crosses the inside of the can. (When lit, the flame will heat
the coil.) You may be able to use a paper hole-punch for this, as the
aluminum is not very thick. Slip each end of the copper tubing through
one of the holes, from inside to out, pointing each of them downward.
Make sure there’s enough copper pipe poking through on each side to
hang below the bottom of the can by at least an inch.
step 5: create the Jets
Bend the extra tubing to a 90-degree angle tangent to the can, but in
opposite directions. (Picture in your mind that jets of water are coming
out of these tubes; if you hung the whole construct by a string tied
through the coil, the jets would cause it to spin—which is exactly what
it’s going to do!) The bent jets need to be at the bottom of the can or
lower, to ensure that they’re completely submerged when the can is
floated in water.
step 6: Make It Float
Water time! Fill up your basin or bowl. And prime your pump. What
does this mean? Well, you need to get water into the copper tube.
There are a few ways to do this. You could hold one end under a
faucet until water comes out the other, then quickly cover both
ends and float the can to keep the water in. Or you could use an
eyedropper. The important thing is to get the water in the coil, and
the can into the basin with the jet ends submerged, so the priming
water doesn’t escape.
step 7: Ignite
Light the candle (this can be tricky, what with it sitting in water and
all) using long matches or a long candle lighter. Make sure the flame is
directly under the copper coil.
step 8: wait and watch
You’ll notice a few bubbles at first, which is a good sign. As the
copper heats up, the water inside will get warmer and warmer. As
it turns into steam it will expand violently, eventually popping and
sending the little vessel in circles.