It’s Elementary

elementaryCalling all consulting detectives…grab your sparkle stem magnifying glass and examine this most intriguing collection of 18th and 19th century puzzle cards. And, while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, the answers to these cards are at the end of the post (and you can print a set of your own)!

You’ll need:

Cut a drinking straw down to 3″. Gently fold a sparkle stem in half (soft fold, not hard) and thread the ends into the straw. Round the sparkle stem loop sticking out of the top of the straw. Done!

sparkle stem magnifying glassAnd what of those curious cards? They are reproductions of 18th and 19th century rebus puzzle cards in our library’s special collections. A rebus (also called a hieroglyphic) puzzle is created using pictures in place of syllables or entire words. Sometimes, the placement of an object is important to the puzzle as well.

Here are 6 cards from our vaults, all hailing from England. The top three cards are from Feronica’s Hieroglyphical Riddles (publisher unknown, circa 1840). Across the bottom row, from left to right, are cards from Peter Ponder’s First Pack of Puzzle Cards (J. Aldis, 1808), Wallis’s New Pack of Puzzles for 1798 (John Wallis and Champante & Whitrow, 1798), and An Entire Pack of New Puzzle Cards (W. and T. Darton, circa 1805).

Want to try these puzzle cards on a few young detectives? You’ll find a printable set here!

rebus cards, from the collections of the cotsen children's library, princeton university


The solutions, moving top row to bottom row, left to right:

Handsome is that handsome does
Better a little fish than empty dish
Awl is well that ends well
Two implements of an excellent sport: bat and ball (for Cricket, of course!)
What most people are fond of: toasted muffin
Troublesome insects: ant, caterpillar, snail, earwig, and ladybird

Mandrake Made Easy

mandrake made easy

Behold! An easy – but totally awesome – mandrake that even the littlest wizard or witch can repot. Katie and I created this project while planning a Harry Potter event. We were looking for something creative, simple, low mess, and appropriate for a wide age range. Ultimately, we decided to not do this mandrake craft at our event, but we definitely wanted to share it with you!

You’ll need:

  • Crayola Model Magic (we used the color terra cotta)
  • 1 small plastic cup (we used 1.25oz Solo cups)
  • Green construction paper
  • Clay sculpting tools (chopstick, paperclip, X-acto knife, pencil, etc.)
  • Scissors

Since this craft was going to take place in our carpeted gallery, we wanted zero mess. Model Magic is perfect for this purpose. It’s light, soft, spongy, non toxic, leaves no residue on the hands, and air dries beautifully. A 4oz package made 4 mandrakes.

First, take a chunk of Model Magic and form a root plug at the bottom, 2 arms, and a head. Gently twist the arms and head to make them appear gnarled and root-like.

twisting the arms and headUse sculpting tools and smaller bits of Model Magic to create the face. Then push the mandrake’s plug into a small clear plastic cup. Cut leaves from green construction paper, and gently pinch the Model Magic around the leaves to hold them in place. I love the expression and leaf placement on Katie’s mandrake:

mandrake with leavesYou can add a label to your pot if you’d like. Ours was a bit of manila paper adhered to the plastic cup with a glue stick. We went with the plant’s Latin genus name, Mandragora.

Also optional for this project: a pair earmuffs, charmed with extra soundproofing.

Thrift Store Costume Challenge

thrift-store-costume-challengeThe challenge? To costume as many literary characters as you can in 180 minutes. The catch? You can only use what you find on the racks of Nearly New consignment and thrift shop in Princeton.

nearly-new-clothing-rackFor those of you unfamiliar with Nearly New, it’s an independently-owned consignment and thrift store with tons of fantastic stuff. Toni Maher, the owner, is always helpful when I drop by looking for costume items for work (or, heh heh, just shopping).

nearly-newToni’s also extremely accommodating when it comes to more unusual requests, such as  borrowing a mannequin for this Cinderella dress design event, or hunting for teacups and saucers for this Victorian Tea program. She didn’t even bat an eye when I asked her if she’d be up for hosting the costume challenge.

The other major player was Princeton University sophomore James Jared. Last year, James designed and sewed the Mathamagician’s costume for our Day in Digitopolis program (you can see it in this post). He also works in the costume shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts. James is incredibly talented, and was totally game for the challenge. There’s an interview with him at the end of the post!

The big day dawned and Marissa and I headed to Nearly New with photo equipment and a long list of possible characters (we went with female characters because, as James so astutely pointed out, the women’s sections of thrift stores are much bigger than the men’s sections). James and 4 Princeton University students who agreed to model met us at Nearly New. Then it was full steam ahead. In 180 minutes, James costumed 9 characters. Are you ready to see his results?


#1 NANCY DREW

nancy-drew-costume


#2 VERUCA SALT

veruca-salt-costume


#3 THE GRAND HIGH WITCH

the-grand-high-witch-costume


#4 MS. FRIZZLE

the-frizz


#5 PROFESSOR TRELAWNEY

professor-trelawney-costume


#6 MRS. COULTER

mrs-coulter-costume


#7 DOLORES UMBRIDGE

dolores-umbridge-costume


#8 MISS TRUNCHBULL

miss-trunchbull


#9 THE WHITE WITCH

the-white-witch


James’ costumes look fantastic, but they’re even more fun when you learn some of the behind-the-scenes facts. Nancy Drew, for example, is wearing a belt in her hair because we couldn’t find a headband. Miss Trunchbull is wearing men’s shoes, men’s socks, and little kid’s jacket to make her look bigger and bulkier. Dolores Umbridge’s sweater was overwhelming her dress, but James expertly pinned it to a better length. Professor Trelwaney is holding a fishbowl. And the White Witch’s crystal daggers? Those are salad forks that she’s holding handle-side-out.

The other thing I didn’t really appreciate until we got there was the volume of items and how fast James had to sift through them. To find the perfect belt, James had to dig through dozens and dozens of belts while simultaneously looking for earrings, dresses, and boots. He did this while expertly delegating the models to bring him possible shirts, skirts, sweaters, and hats. Also, James could find an awesome dress, but if it didn’t fit the model, or match the personality of the character, it was out. Finally, I learned that it’s not easy to make pieces from different decades work together without just the right vision.


JAMES JARED

james-jaredWhat’s your costuming background?

I’ve always loved making Halloween costumes, but I officially taught myself how to sew in high school when I started to cosplay (make costumes based on characters from movies, tv shows, books, etc).

What was the costume challenge like for you?

I was very nervous going into the challenge because I’ve never done anything of the like before, and I was worried that the time constraint would prove difficult to work under. In the end, though, I had a fantastic time and I’m very proud of the costumes that we were all able to make together.

Did you have an overwhelming favorite?
I think my favorite costume had to be Trelawney from Harry Potter. There were so many scarves and shirts that fit the character in the thrift store that her outfit almost seemed to show up without having to look for it. It almost became less of a question of which scarf would be best and more how many scarves we could get away with throwing on her.

Which was the toughest character to costume?
The hardest character to costume was the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia. Her character description includes a crown, which the shop didn’t have, so it took a while for us to come up with a way to mimic the crown. Eventually we found a circlet that suggested royalty, as well as some spiky earrings that were reminiscent of icicles to use as a necklace.

If you had more time, which character were you hoping to do?
I would have loved to costume someone as Kate Wetherall, as the Mysterious Benedict Society was one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, her costume is fairly specific and there isn’t much room for leeway.

What’s your major at Princeton University?
I’m just starting out in the Electrical Engineering department.

Do you see any connections between your major and costuming?
Interestingly, I once told an employee in a fabric store I frequent at home about my major, and she said that she often thought of sewing as a type of engineering. Though I’d never have put the two together on my own, as soon as she said that I knew she was right, and I think it applies to costuming as well.

In both costuming and engineering you have to pull materials together using techniques you’ve learned to create a final product that’s more than the sum of its parts. I think I enjoy sewing and costuming so much for the same reason I like engineering, which is that it’s a great feeling to have created something new out of basic materials. And that’s something I think anyone can do.


A big, enthusiastic “Huzzah!” to James Jared, costumer extraordinaire, who aced the costume challenge with style and flair. Warm waves of gratitude to the Nearly New for letting us overrun your store and create chaos in your racks.

And finally, many thanks to models Amanda Blanco, Ailyn Brizo, Joani Etskovitz, Grace Turner, and Marissa Warren. It wasn’t easy to keep a straight face through it all, much less glower, growl, look haughty, or stare intensely into the camera wearing shoes that were at least one size too small for you.

outtake