How to Plan Your own EvEnt - Wired

How to Plan Your own EvEnt - Wired

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.

decorate! 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

chocolates, banners,

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,

party location

Planned activities and a list

of any tools or supplies they

should bring

• 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.

Geek out!

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

classic credentials.

I played Dungeons &

Dragons, watched

Star Trek reruns

every night, and had

an awesome HO-scale

train layout. But at

that stage of our

cultural evolution,

geek was still an

epithet. I didn’t

want to identify

with such a

blighted subclass.

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

science fiction.

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

error—and error.

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

Adam Savage

(dad and hOst OF discOvery

netwOrk’s Mythbusters)

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

blanket fort


1 2


should not


3 4

130 WIRED JuN 2012



to brooms.

Hang third


halfway up



to floor.

A Secret Page for Parents: Just Crack the Code

Visit (The eight missing letters are somewhere in this package.)

How to












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

of “tensional

integrity.” It refers to

structural systems

that derive their stability

from various elements

acting against

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


You’ll need:

• 3 brooms with holes

at the end of the handle

(tip: Swiffer mops with

the heads removed

work perfectly)

• 1 ball of twine

• 1 queen-size bedsheet

As told to Patrick

Di Justo by the

Buckminster Fuller


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.

—Corrina Lawson

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,

dearborN, micHiGaN

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

must-have hardware

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

with superglue.

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

metal surface.

6. Rotary cutting tool A cordless

Dremel turns you into a cyborg

capable of slicing, grinding, deburring,

or carving any wood or metal in

your path.

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

Colored Concoctions

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.

Underwater Sounds

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.

—Mark Frauenfelder

Flotation Device

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.




3 6





(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

Adam Savage

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.


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.


YouTube to




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

Light Stick

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



kits 8

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.

(Ages 10+)

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.

(Ages 8+)

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+)

Cook Up




You’ll need:

• 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

to set.

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!















3 6





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

series follows

two fourth graders,

George and Harold,

who hypnotize their

school principal

and turn him into

a superhero called

Captain Underpants.

The Captain then

does battle with diabolical

villains like

Wedgie Woman and

Bionic Booger Boy.

DreamWorks purchased

the rights to

this series in 2011.

1 WIRED JAN 2012

Warriors by

Erin Hunter

Target age: 8–12

Gist: Clans of

thoroughly undomesticated


stalk, scratch, and

bite to defend their

territory and hunt

for prey. The books

(and there are lots)

have an elaborately

constructed universe


a clan of strays, a

clan of spirit cats,

a lengthy origin

story, and inevitable

attempts to

avoid contact with


Ship Breaker

and The

Drowned Cities

by Paolo


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

machines. Ship

Breaker follows

Nailer, a teen who

scavenges wiring

from wrecked oil

tankers. Cities

chronicles kids

caught in a civil war.



• 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




3 6





The 39 Clues

by various


Target age: 8–12

Gist: When their

grandmother dies,

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

Adam Savage

PhotoGraPh By David Clugston

Mold a

Dino Fossil


• Work surface, like a

piece of plywood

• Clay

• 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

polymer-based Super-Sculpey—

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.


how to

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

and knead.




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










Toys for



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

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

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






3 6





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




8 3

3 6


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.



1. WInduP-toY

FInGer PaIntInG

(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

• Paint

• 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

2. never-endInG

deMolItIon derbY

(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

• Ruler

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

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

• String


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 doesn’t.

• 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

the reaction?

• 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

steam power.

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.

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