Now You See It…

now-you-dont This paper disappears in water before your very eyes, leaving the letters floating free. It’s the ultimate aqueous word scramble!

I was very intrigued when I spotted this dissolving paper in Educational Innovations’ online catalog. I’ve certainly seen the floating letter experiments with Skittles and M&Ms, but I’ve never seen anything like this paper! It’s made of sodium carboxyl methyl cellulose, a non-toxic substance that dissolves quickly in hot or cold water. Each sheet is 8.5″ x 11″. You can buy the sheets in packs of 15 for $7.95, packs of 30 for $13.95, or, if you want to vanish a whole novel, you can get 100 sheets for $42.50.

dissolving-paperThe paper is about half the thickness of standard office printer paper, but it went through both of our office printers and the copy machine with no tearing or jamming. Granted, I was just printing 1 sheet at a time. I did try 3 pages in a row on our most trustworthy office printer. Unfortunately, it had trouble grabbing the thin paper and actually missed the final sheet of the print job entirely. I was waaaay too chicken to try multiple sheets in the copy machine.

The product description stated that this paper works with “most laser printers and copiers.” But we took it a step further and also tested an inkjet printer, Sharpie permanent marker, roller ball pen ink, and ballpoint pen ink.

First, the laser jet printer. I filled a dish tub with a couple inches of room temperature water a dropped the paper in. It floated for a just moment, and then started rapidly dissolving. In a few seconds, it was reduced to a thin, almost transparent, paper-shaped film.

The package recommended giving the water a gentle stir, so I poked a drinking straw in the solution. It started breaking up, dissolving further, and yes! The letters started floating! How long do the letters remain on the surface of the water? A long time! I left them in the dish tub overnight, and they were still happily floating the next morning.

laserjet-testSecond test, copy machine. The letters printed considerably lighter on the page (this was a toner thing with our copier, not the paper). But that didn’t impair the letters from floating on the water like little alphabet ducks!

copier-testSo our laser jet printer and the copy machine worked. What didn’t work? Our inkjet printer. First of all, it blotted the paper during printing…

inkjet-blotchAnd when it came to the water test, the letters just disintegrated:

inkjet-testThe same applies for Sharpie permanent marker:

sharpie-testRoller ball ink and ballpoint ink also broke apart. The ballpoint ink shredded immediately (you can just see the sentence “Will ballpoint pen work?” at the bottom of the image below). Roller ball, I am surprised to report, held out a little longer.

roller-and-ballpoint-testIt was sort of cool. The roller ball ink blurred, sunk a little, and then just hung in the water (which is when I snapped this Instagram pic). Eventually, however, the roller ball ink went the way of the ball point, Sharpie, and inkjet. It dissolved into a black smudgy mess.

It’s important to note that for all of these tests, the paper didn’t dissolve entirely. There was a little cloud of solution that started hanging around the bottom of the dish tub. The more paper I dissolved, the cloudier the water become. So if you’re going to do this with a bunch of kids, you will definitely need to change the water every so often.

Finally…

Being the incredibly mature people that we are, we decided to test the paper in the toilet. It worked. Of course it worked.

toilet-testBut no matter where you’re dissolving this paper – a dish tub or a commode – the letters do float apart very quickly. So leaving a secret message for someone isn’t really going to work (unless they’re standing right next to you and reading quickly). But this would be a fantastic way to introduce the concept of the anagram. Or jump-start a discussion about biodegradable materials. Or, just experience the fun of watching a sentence you’ve written slide apart and swirl across the surface of the water. Magic!

The Rapunzel Issue

the-rapunzel-issueRapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your hair…GAAAAAAAAAAAH!

rapunzel-hair-beforeWhoa! What is this snarled, knotted, mess? Sigh. Our children’s dolls come out of the box looking so perfect. But somehow, over the course of a few weeks, their hair slowly begins to revert to a feral state. Eventually, a severe scissor intervention is required. But is a dramatic haircut really necessary? Or is there a magic recipe for working out those knots? We decided to tackle six of the Internet’s most popular methods for getting Rapunzel’s hair a little less, well…Tangled.

Our six testing methods can be further subdivided into 2 categories: 1) Detangling; and 2) Curling. We mixed and matched a bunch of different detangling and curling techniques, and then used the best results to attempt to sort out the Rapunzel doll.

But before we get started, a quick word about an essential piece of equipment – a comb. As you will soon see, plastic combs DO NOT work. They’re just not strong enough to hold up to the knots. The best thing to use is a flea comb from your local pet store. A flea comb has very fine, very strong, and very compact teeth that work very well.

flea-combTo find testing subjects, I went to the local thrift store. There, I found plenty of dolls who were having bad hair days, including Rapunzel. Then it was on to research and supply acquisition. For detangling, we decided to try spray-on detangler, fabric softener, regular hair conditioner, and white vinegar. For curling, we tried drinking straws, bubble tea straws, and markers. With these supplies in hand, Marissa headed to the staff lounge’s sink for a somewhat brutal spa day with the dolls. Take it away Marissa!


METHOD #1: SPRAY DETANGLER

doll-1-beforeFirst, I thoroughly covered the doll’s hair with spray detangler (purchased from the baby care section of Target). Then, I used a plastic comb to work on the knots, brushing from the bottom of her hair and working my way up. My first piece of advice  – make sure you hold the doll’s head tightly. Otherwise, it could pop right off! My second piece of advice – don’t use a plastic comb. It doesn’t work. In fact, I broke a tooth off mine and had to dig through the mess of her hair to find it. Phew!  Eventually, I laid the doll’s hair flat on the counter and really tore into it with the comb. The knots came out, but so did chunks of her hair!

Now that the hair was detangled and rinsed, it was time to curl it. I curled sections of the hair around plastic drinking straws, which I pinched shut and secured with rubber bands.

drinking-straw-curlersI had read that dunking the hair in hot water would lock in the curl, so I dunked the doll’s hair. Note! Be careful when you remove the doll from the water, because hot water gets into the straws and can dribble out, giving you a nasty burn. I let the hair air dry with the straw curlers in it. And…the results were great! Smooth, untangled hair with lots of soft curls.

doll-1-after


METHOD #2: FABRIC SOFTENER

doll-2-beforeI’ll start by saying that this doll’s hair was SUPER knotted. I didn’t think I was going to get any of the tangles out! I filled a plastic cup halfway with warm water and added a tablespoon of fabric softener (Mrs. Meyer’s Natural). Then I soaked the doll’s head in the mix for a minute or two, swirling her around to make sure her hair was completely soaked. This time I used the flea comb. It was much better than the plastic comb, but her knots were still pretty crazy. So I dunked her head in fabric softener again. It was much easier to comb after that! Finally, the knots were out, and her hair was thoroughly rinsed. Unfortunately, the doll lost a significant portion of her hair during testing, leaving parts of her scalp visible. She also lost an earring. Huh.

doll-2-after


METHOD #3: HAIR CONDITIONER

doll-3-beforeI rinsed the doll’s hair under warm water, then added regular hair conditioner (Alba Botanica’s Hawaiian Coconut to be exact). Using a quarter-sized amount, I massaged it evenly through her hair. Then I started combing with the flea comb. It worked well, but pretty soon the conditioner and the loose hair make a kind of paste, which was really gross. I was happy when I finally got to rinse it out. Interestingly, this doll did not experience as much hair loss as the previous 2 dolls. Maybe it was because her hair was much shorter? In the end, her hair turned out puffy and soft. Maybe a little too puffy. It necessitated a binder clip in the back to get the wave under control for her reveal photo.

doll-3-after


METHOD #4: WHITE VINEGAR

doll-4-beforeThis doll had greasy hair (ewwww!). I’m thinking a previous owner had put some product in it which left it quite unpleasant to touch. I thought she was the prime candidate for a white vinegar treatment. Hoping to dislodge some of the goop, I let her hair sit in very hot water for a few minutes. Then I used the flea comb to get the knots out.

I mixed 1 part vinegar to 1 part water and dunked her hair in it for a few minutes. Then I rinsed her hair (which successfully remove the vinegar smell), and set the doll aside to dry. Well, it didn’t work. Her hair was still greasy. In fact, it seemed greasier then before! Maybe dish soap would have been better?

doll-4-after


METHOD #5: DRY COMBING

doll-5-before I decided to not use any product on this doll’s hair. I just dry combed it with the flea comb. It was a bit challenging. If you use this method, I recommend laying the hair flat on the counter and working from bottom to top. Once the tangles were out, I decided to curl it using fatter bubble tea straws. Like the doll in Method #1, I rolled a section of the hair around the straws, then pinched the straws shut with rubber bands. Next came the hot water dunk. Then I wondered – would the curl stay in if her hair was wet?

wet-curlsYes, it worked! Even soaking wet, the hair was curled. It held its curl while drying too!

doll-5-after


METHOD #6: MARKERS vs. STRAWS

doll-6-beforeThe curl results from Method #1 and Method #5 got me wondering about the radius of the curlers and the sort of curl it produced. So for my final doll, I decided to do a side-by-side comparison. For the wide curls, I decided to try something firmer than bubble tea straws. This time, I used fat Crayola markers.

First, I dry combed her hair with a flea comb. Then I wrapped one half of her hair with markers, and the other half with drinking straws secured with rubber bands. I knew that dunking in hot water locks in the curl, but what about NOT dunking it? I skipped the hot water dunk and just left the markers and straws in to set overnight. It worked! The markers made big bouncy curls. The straws made smaller, tighter curls.

comparison-curlsShe definitely had lots of body to her hair, so we brought out the binder clip once again.

doll-6-after


AND NOW, THE GRAND FINALE…RAPUNZEL!

rapunzel-hair-before

If I thought I had dealt with knotted hair before, it was NOTHING compared to Rapunzel’s mess. To further complicate things, her hair was interlaced with sparkly tinsel. After testing six different methods, I decided to go with spray detangler. It worked really well for doll #1, and I could also spot spray the really big snarls. It took 3 people 2 days and several hours to get the tangles out. Rapunzel lost a ton of hair in the process.

rapunzel-hair-clumpSince her hair was 15″ long, I decided to use markers to curl it (I also read good things about using wooden dowels, but didn’t have any on hand). Her long hair resulted in some pretty bulky curlers, so I secured them with pieces of twine. Here’s her  big reveal…

rapunzel-hair-afterTA-DAH! You know, I think she looks pretty good! Sure, she lost a lot of hair, but there’s still enough left to climb a tower!

Promoting Programs

U.S. 1 cover 2007_2

Image courtesy of U.S. 1

Q: Do you have any suggestions for promoting programs on a small budget?

Sure! I’ll start with the obvious ones first, and then move on to the not-so-typical. These days, the go-to promotional mechanism is online media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, etc. Lower tech options are to make door signs, or put out a stack of flyers so people can grab one and stick it on their fridge. Once, for a major event at a children’s museum, I took over an entire bulletin board, adding updates to it in creative ways. I would see families stop by during visits to see what was new.

E-mail notifications are also a great ways to get the word out. We run our e-notification list through a University listserv service, but you can use the Contact Group mechanism in Microsoft Outlook (go to Contacts tab > New Contact Group):

outlook contact group screen grabI believe Google has some Group Mail options too. One very, very important thing to remember when sending group mailings? Only insert the e-mail addresses in the bcc (otherwise known as the “blind copy”) field! Otherwise, everyone on the list is going to see the addresses, which leads to privacy issues.

Press releases to local newspapers (and online news sources) are also a great way to get the word out. Here are my 4 rules for press releases:

  1. Keep it short.
  2. Include your contact information in the release.
  3. In the subject line of the e-mail, include the date the program is happening. This helps the editor file it more effectively, increasing your chances of having it run.
  4. Send the release at least 3 weeks in advance. Newspapers have crazy publishing schedules. Give them time to put your press release in place.

But my BIG hint when it comes to press releases is to include a promo photo. Most newspaper calendar listings include a smattering of photos. Nab one of those photo spots! Your promo photo does not have to be elaborate. Here, for example, is the photo for a 2007 Harry Potter event.

princyclopedia harry potter promo photoThat’s a donated graduation robe, a witch hat from the Dollar Store, and some goop I bought from a gumball machine for 50 cents. The photo ended up running in 5 local publications. How about this one for a 2011 Lightning Thief event?

princyclopedia lightning thief promo photoI’m wearing a bed sheet tacked together with hot glue, an old curtain, some costume jewelry, and a fake ponytail I bought on Amazon (which made a comeback for my Victorian Tea costume, woot woot!). That’s a paper puzzle of the Empire State Building. Oh, and I’m 6 months pregnant.

If you don’t feel like being the subject in the photo, you can always ask your co-worker, significant other, relative, or neighbor to pose. Here’s my student assistant Katie McGee in 2009. Isn’t she an amazing Alice?

princeton packet princyclopedia alice in wonderland photo by Mark Czajkowski

Courtesy of the Princeton Packet, photo by Mark Czajkowski

You can ask kids to pose too (with parental permission of course). This lad is gearing up for A Day in Digitopolis, our massive math event, which you can read about here and here. If you do photograph kids, be prepared to take lots of photos very quickly. Kids can get wiggly, distracted, bored, or suddenly shy. Also, the fewer props kids have to handle, the better.

a day in digitopolis promo photoYou can also use objects for your promo photos. When we did a Richard Scarry creative car-building program in 2015 (read about it here), I couldn’t use an image from his books, nor could I pose a person as a car. So I sculpted Mr. Frumble’s pickle car out of an oatmeal container:

cars and trucks promo photoIt took some time to make (especially that fedora) but it paid off! The photo ran in quite a few places, including a highly visible pop-up box in Town Topics, one of our local papers.

Town Topics, February 25 2015 edition

Mr. Frumble enjoyed an encore performance when we took the program to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (you can read about that here). His final destination? Jeanne Birdsall’s studio in Northampton. I am pickle green with envy because he’s totally going to get to read the final Penderwicks book before I do. Lucky pig. Jeanne sent me this shot of Mr. Frumble happily zipping along under blue skies and puffy clouds.

mr. frumble in northampton

Photo by Jeanne Birdsall

By the way, the goat on the left is from Jarrett Krosoczka’s picture book, Punk Farm. It’s hand-painted by Jarrett himself (and as a quick aside, check out this fantastic timeline of his childhood artwork – wish I had saved mine!).

You don’t have to spend hours hand-crafting an object for a promo photo. Here, for example, is a photo for our annual 350 for 50 writing contest. I borrowed a typewriter from a colleague, put it against a red background, and voila! A lovely, bold photo.

350 for 50 typewriter pop

If you do send a promo photo to a newspaper, make sure the photo is high resolution (300 or higher). Anything lower will blur when they print it, and they won’t use it. If you’re taking the photo with your phone and it only captures images at 72, that’s OK. Just leave the image as large as possible. My phone shoots in 72 and the resulting image is 34″ x 45.” The newspapers can shrink a large, low resolution file down and still print it. But 300 is really the ideal.

If you’re having an event, starting a new initiative, or just have something of interest to the community, you can always call newspapers and pitch an idea for a story. That is how my student assistant Emily Garcia and I ended up on the cover of Central New Jersey’s publication U.S. 1. Michele Alperin wrote a fantastic feature article about the event as well, which you can read here.

U.S. 1 cover 2007_2

Image courtesy of U.S. 1

Another local newspaper, the Princeton Packet, would often (and very graciously) premiere our annual literary extravaganza with a “sneak peek” article. Like U.S. 1, they would send a photographer to take a couple of fun photos to run with the article. Sometimes, one of those photos would end up on the cover of TimeOFF, their weekend insert! Here’s one of their 2010 photos from an article on Treasure Island. Aye, that’s Katie McGee again, this time sporting an eye patch and carrying a old shovel from my neighbor’s garage.

princeton packet princyclopedia article photo by Mark Czajkowski

Courtesy of the Princeton Packet, photo by Mark Czajkowski

A word of advice…if you do decide to suggest an article to a newspaper, choose your topic wisely. Don’t call the editor all the time, pitching every single program you’re offering. Pick and choose, and don’t be discouraged if he/she declines.

One final bit of unusual promo? The windows of local stores. We have a stupendous family-owned local toy store called JaZams (here is pictorial confirmation of their awesomeness). In 2013, they not only agreed to host an activity table at our Journey to the Centre of the Earth event, they let us promote the event in one of their picture windows! Katie and I gathered all the dinosaur, geology, cave, Jules Verne, and night creature related things we could find in their store and put together a thing of beauty.

jazams princyclopedia windowIn 2015, JaZams let us use the window again, this time for our Very Hungry Caterpillar food drive. If you’re wondering who created that beautiful poster, it was our very own Aliisa Lee, artist extraordinaire.

jaZams food drive window

Food drive title and art inspired by the work of Eric Carle.

The nice thing about the food drive was that every donated food item earned the donator a chance to win that gigantic stuffed caterpillar. One generous little girl came every week with new groceries to give. Pounds and pounds. And she won, too!


I always love getting questions from you guys, so keep ’em coming! danas@princeton.edu