O Frabjous Day

go ask aliceThis year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland, and we decided to honor the occasion at Princeton University’s Community & Staff Day! Our event table was stocked with some super, yet simple-to-assemble, thaumatropes. There was also some breakdancing. Well, sort of. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see our mashup of Alice and the 1980s.

A thaumatrope is a Victorian optical toy. It consists of two images printed on opposite sides of a paper disc or card. When you twirl the thaumatrope, its two pictures appear to blend into one. Most thaumatropes are twirled using string. We decided to mount ours on pencils.

thaumatrope demoYou’ll need:

  • 1 Alice thaumatope template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 pencil (I ordered terrific ones from Oriental Trading Company)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Colored pencils (or crayons) for decorating

We offered 4 Alice-themed templates, drawn by our amazing student artist, Aliisa Lee.

thaumatropesFirst, select a template, and use colored pencils or crayons to color it. Then, fold the template in half (along its faint grey line).

folded thaumatropeFlip the thaumatrope over, and tape a pencil to the back of one of the panels like so:

thaumatrope step 2Fold the thaumatrope closed, then secure the panels together with a piece of tape. You’ll also want to tape both sides of the thaumatrope to the pencil, to make it extra sturdy.

thaumatrope step 3Hold the pencil between your palms and roll it briskly back and forth. Your thaumatrope will turn, and the two images will appear as one!

twirlingHere’s what our craft table looked like (and, if you’d like to explain a bit of the science behind how the device works, here’s a pdf of our thaumatrope table sign):

thaumatrope work tableWe also had some pens and blank thaumatrope cards on hand, just in case kids wanted to try their hands at making one from scratch.

blank thaumatropeOn the other side of our event tent, we loaded a table with optical illusions cards, tops, Photicular bookmarks, flip books, replicas of vintage thaumatropes, kaleidoscopes, and mini chess boards.

optical illusion tableWhile color print-outs of optical illusions work just fine, I highly recommend this pack of Usborne optical illusion cards. There are 50 illusions in the pack. They’re colorful, sturdy, and the science behind the illusions is explained on the back of the cards. The deck retails for $10.

optical illusion cardsNo event is complete without a little costuming, and Marissa and I raided both our closets and the Costume Shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for our garb. This was completely unintentional when we snapped the shot, but…don’t Marissa and I look like we’re going to bust out some 80s breakdancing moves?

break danceMaybe it’s the shoes? The jaunty pose? Hmmmm. What if we adjust the backdrop a little…

welcome to the 80sOh yeah. I dare you to pin it.

Many thanks to the Costume Shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for the costume loans, and to Aliisa Lee for triggering some totally radical 80s flashbacks.

Quill Pens

quill pensNeed a simple project for a big event? Perhaps these quill pens will do the trick!

Last Saturday, Cotsen hosted a table at Princeton University’s Community & Staff Day event. Because of the big crowds, we needed something simple, fun, fast, and literary. Last year, we made flying books. This year, we decided to make Harry Potter-esque quill pens.

We were, of course, dressed in hats and robes. Even though it was 85 degrees out. Because comfort never comes before costuming, am I right?

wizard robes   You’ll need:

First, twist a sparkle stem into the desired shape. We offered 3 different shapes to choose from (even though some kids made their own shapes of course):

stemsPlace the sparkle stem on top of the feather. Then use masking tape to attach the feather and the sparkle stem to the the top of the pen. You can continue covering the pen with tape if you’d like (just make sure you don’t accidentally tape the cap on). Done!

pen from sideBelow you can see the layout of our event table, including a display pen floating in the upper right-hand corner of the photo. It’s always a good idea to have an example of the project displayed somewhere. That way, kids can see what to expect and grown ups can get a jump on gathering the appropriate supplies.

table side 1On the opposite side of our event tent was a mirror activity. Here, kids could use their newly-created quill pens to do some inverted writing and try their skills at mirror mazes.

table side 2The mirror activity is very simple to put together. We duct-taped 6 bookends to the back of an inexpensive door mirror and stood it up on the table.

mirrorSince we weren’t able to staff the mirror activities during the event, we printed up some display instructions (here are my mirror writing instructions). I put the instructions in a double-sided plastic display stand.

instructionsWe stacked practice paper and 4 types of mazes (which we found using Google images) on either side of the mirror. The mazes were really popular, even with older kids!

boys writingAt neighboring table, the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab brought all sorts of science toys for the crowds to play with. Including this Van de Graaff generator…

wizard hairAnd yes, it is twice the fun when you’re wearing wizard robes.

Looking for a few more simple Harry Potter crafts? Try these PVC pipe wands, or this wrist owl (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the owl example). Defense Against the Dark Arts enthusiasts might enjoy this boggart!


mythomagicFancy a game half-blood?

In 2011, the Cotsen Library hosted a large-scale event called Princyclopedia. The whole event was based on The Lightning Thief series by Rick Riordan (Disney-Hyperion 2006). We had tables featuring art, architecture, science, engineering, nature, dyslexia, ADHD, myths, the Greek language, and the Socratic Method. We had a professional harpist, Greek hoplites in full battle armor, and blue chocolate chip cookies. We had giant live snakes (Medusa’s lair), Minotaur rides (an inflatable mechanical bull woo hoo!), and a 1,400 lb. ice sculpture carved to look like a temple in honor of Poseidon.

In addition to these activities (and a few more – check out the 2-page event map!) we wanted to bring the game Mythomagic to life.

From the start, we knew there was no way we could develop something as detailed as Nico’s version in the books. Because the event was going to be crowded (5,000 people attended) we didn’t want a game that would run too long. Finally, since a wide range of children would be attending the event (ages 4 -14) so we needed something that could be understood quickly and easily.

After some research, we decided to base our version on War, a card game that moves quickly, is based on winning via hierarchy, and can be played with multiple kids at once. In addition to the traditional labeling of the face cards (Ace, King, Queen, Jack…) and suits (Hearts, Clubs, Spades, Diamonds) we added our own Greek labels and suits.

three cardsThe artwork for the cards was created by  April Lee, a talented Princeton University student. Using art direction from Greek myths and the book series, she also added her own funky manga twist!

three more cardsHere’s a quick breakdown of the 32 cards in the deck. We made it smaller than a standard deck to keep the production costs down, and we kept the same characters on all the number cards to avoid asking April to make 12 more drawings on top of the original 20 drawings, plus the 4 suit borders, plus the design on the back of the card,  PLUS keeping up with her rigorous academic schedule!

Fire Suit:

  • Ace: Kronos
  • King: Apollo
  • Queen: Artemis
  • Jack: Achilles

Air Suit:

  • Ace: Ouranus
  • King: Zeus
  • Queen: Hera
  • Jack: Hercules

Water Suit:

  • Ace: Oceanus
  • King: Poseidon
  • Queen: Amphitrite
  • Jack: Theseus

Earth Suit:

  • Ace: Gaea
  • King: Hades
  • Queen: Persephone
  • Jack: Jason

Number cards (4 in each suit):

  • 5: Ladon
  • 4: Aegis
  • 3: Cerberus
  • 2: Ophiotaurus

Here’s a pdf of our Rules for Mythomagic.

We had the cards professionally printed, and – this really made the deck awesome – had the edges rounded like real playing cards. The results were fantastic. Best of all, the game lives on. I’ve brought Mythomagic out at a number of events and programs since. It’s always a hit.

A final shout out goes to the Princeton Public Library, who hosted the Mythomagic table at the event, playing it for 5 straight hours with the crowds. My hat (or helmet rather) is off to you!

princeton public libraryIf you’re looking for another Lightning Thief project, how about these simple pan pipes?