Warning: This Post is Gross

special effects make-up kitToday, it’s cuts, burns, nosebleeds, and more! Our intrepid kid tester reviewed the Disgusting Special Effects Make-up Kit by Science Explorer (ages 8+, retails for $15-$25). Warning…some of the images really are quite gross. If you don’t feel like scrolling through the post, I’ll cut to the chase. The kit received 3.5 out of 5 stars. The pros were: fun, lots, of activities, fascinating in a gross way. The cons were: messy, some of the activities didn’t work too well, time consuming, and skin remained dyed for a few days. And now, I’ll turn things over to Hope…

Hello, folks! I’m back again, and this time with a revolting twist! As the name suggests, this kit was DISGUSTING!!! I mean like ugh, blech, *gag*, barf, disgusting. Gross. Repul- okay, I don’t want to discourage you from buying this kit and using it, because it was pretty fun. But I’m sure you got the message. This kit was not for the weak stomached.

The kit came with petroleum jelly, corn syrup, corn starch, gelatin, food coloring (red and green), 5 water based markers (red, blue, green, black, yellow), Elmer’s brand white glue, 3 plastic cups, 2 “stir sticks”, and a measuring scoop. It also came with a little instructions booklet.

In addition to what came with the kit, you’ll need:

Cocoa powder
Vegetable oil
Toilet paper
Paper the same color as your skin
Black thread
Clear tape
White construction paper
Plastic wrap
Paper towels

Dr. Dana’s fabulous new assistant Marissa had already assembled these additional supplies, so I opened up the instructions and got to work.

ACTIVITY 1: “A Bloody Mess”

Yes, the first activity was called “A Bloody Mess.” (Sorry, British friends). It called for corn syrup, a cup, red food coloring, a stir stick, cornstarch, a measuring scoop, green food coloring, cocoa powder, water, and paper towels. The instructions in the booklet were straightforward: mix corn syrup and red food coloring. Observe. Add some green food coloring to make the “blood” darker, add cornstarch to make the blood thicker, add some cocoa to both darken and thicken the mixture. The result? Fake, delicious smelling blood.

bloodWait, you might be thinking. Did she really just say it smelled delicious!??! What is this insanity!?!?!?!?!?!

Well, it smelled delicious because of the cocoa powder and corn syrup. Chocolate and sugar. YUM. But I’ll admit, it was really weird to like the smell of thick, goopy red stuff that was supposed to be blood. Ah. Goopy. AND sticky. The blood was SUPER sticky as a result of the corn syrup.

Even though the directions had me add all that stuff to thicken and darken the blood, it was still pretty pink. So I went out on a limb, adding more green food coloring, more red food coloring, and more cocoa. It turned out pretty dark, but definitely more realistic than before. The Weasley Brothers and their nosebleed nougats would be proud.

ACTIVITY 2: “All Dried Up”

This activity called for white glue, a plastic cup, red food coloring, green food coloring, and a stir stick. Additionally, it called for paper towels, cocoa powder, and plastic wrap.

The directions said, “Pour ¼ cup glue into the cup.” However, as there was no way to measure exactly 1/4 cup (a measuring device for that amount was neither provided nor mentioned) this was rather inconvenient. Then the directions called for “10 to 15 drops of red food coloring and one drop of green food coloring.” Then, following the directions, I mixed the food coloring with the glue. The result looked more like washable paint than blood.

blood needs workI made an executive decision, and added some of the experimental blood from the previous activity to the mix. After I had stirred it up a bit, it looked dark enough to pass as real blood. I used one of the stir sticks to put a stripe of the blood onto a paper towel. While Marissa and I waited for it to dry, we started Activity 3.

ACTIVITY 3: “Pop Goes the Blister”

Blech! I mean, honestly! Naming an activity for children “Pop Goes the Blister?” That’s just absurd! (and kind of a bad joke, considering the name of this blog). It kind of turned me off to the activity in general and made me want to gag. But Marissa and I pressed on, collecting the supplies needed for the activity and assembling them on the table in front of us.

The supplies provided by the kit were a stir stick, petroleum jelly, and red food coloring (or the red marker). Marissa and I had to collect paper towels and scissors. Toilet paper was also on the list, but I just grabbed a tissue instead.

The directions asked you to “Form the petroleum jelly into the shape of a bubble.” So I pulled out the jar of petroleum jelly, grabbed one of the handy stir sticks, and got to work putting a ‘bubble’ of petroleum jelly on Marissa’s arm.

As I was doing this, I noticed a strange smell. The petroleum jelly smelled like… Home Depot. (If any of you folks have ever been to a Home Depot, it has an extremely distinct smell. In fact, when Marissa and I had Dr. Dana take a look at our handiwork, she too commented that the petroleum jelly smelled like Home Depot. What’s up with that?)

smelly jellyAnyhow, even though I tried to avoid physical contact with the petroleum jelly, I ended up having to shape it by hand. It was greasy. I’m talking worse than pepperoni pizza greasy. Blech. Definitely not on my Top Ten Things I Want On My Hands List.

The next step of the directions asked me to “Cut or tear a piece of toilet paper into the same shape and size as the glob of petroleum jelly.” Well, as my hands were greasy, I tried to just rip a piece of tissue (remember, we were using that instead of toilet paper), into a small piece, but it was nearly impossible. Marissa ended up cutting a small piece for me. I placed the little piece of tissue on top of the petroleum jelly to let it soak up the grease.

Then I applied more petroleum jelly on top of the tissue. By the time we were finished, Marissa had a nasty large white bump on her arm. Marissa then tried two blisters on me, one with toilet paper, and one with tissue. The one with toilet paper looks slightly less pathetic. When we showed it to Ian, the Curatorial Assistant at Cotsen, he said, “Looks like you were reaching for the best doughnut and got frosting on your arm.” Sad, but completely accurate.

toilet paper vs tissueBefore we started on Activity 4, we checked back on our dried blood. It was dry, crusty, and dark. Perfect! I applied a bunch of blood to Marissa’s arm. We were ready for the next activity.

ACTIVITY 4: “Cut It Out!”

marissa with an owieActivity 4 required red food coloring, a stir stick, petroleum jelly, and fake and dried blood from previous activities. We also needed water, white paper towels, scissors, cocoa powder, white construction paper, clear tape, thick black thread, and paper towels.

The first step was to smear red food coloring on the area where the cut was to be made. I smeared some food coloring on Marissa’s forearm, directly above the dried blood. After applying some petroleum jelly to the red area, Marissa and I cut two pieces of toilet paper the same size and shape as the petroleum jelly glop.

Marissa used the arm that wasn’t covered in goop to arrange the toilet paper in just such a way that it looked like (gross alert) freshly torn skin. Then I smudged and sprinkled cocoa around the cut for a dirt bespeckled touch. After I had dripped some blood in the “cut,” it looked positively repulsive (and eerily realistic)!

cutThere was a little section beneath this activity that had directions for a cut with stitches showing the bone. The directions were almost exactly the same, with two exceptions: at the beginning, after you smudged the red food coloring on your skin, you soaked a white piece of paper in a cocoa powder- water paste, and added it atop the red as the ‘”bone.” And, at the very end, you added little pieces of black thread, representing stitches. Blegh. Cutting the thread was definitely a two person job. I cut the threads, and Marissa placed them across her gaping “wound.”

stitched cutBlood, blisters, cuts, and stitches done. Now it was time for Dr. Dana to be “wounded.” What could be more ironic for an artist to be impaled with a crayon and a pencil?

ACTIVITY 5: “Take a Stab at It”

dr. dana with an owieIn this activity, you impale yourself with a crayon/golf pencil. The supplies needed were red food coloring (or red marker), a stir stick, petroleum jelly, and dried blood (previously made). Marissa had to assemble, a crayon, a golf pencil, a small piece of paper the same color as your skin, scissors, white toilet paper, cocoa powder, clear tape, and paper towels. Step one had us, once again, smearing red food coloring onto the site of the future “injury.”

impaled step 1Then we had to, once again, apply petroleum jelly to the area (sarcastic “Hooray!’”). After that, we had to lay a golf pencil on the red area and slather it with petroleum jelly.

Next, we had to lay a piece of construction paper about the same color as Dr.Dana’s skin across the middle of the pencil (we used multicultural construction paper), making it appear as though it had been jammed through her skin. Then we had to smear petroleum jelly over the piece of skin colored paper, and put toilet paper over everything.

Drizzling blood came next, my real favorite part However, because the piece of paper wasn’t exactly the same color of Dr.Dana’s skin, and because the paper wouldn’t lay quite right, it did not look at all like she’d been impaled. Not even a little bit. It looked like something you would see in kindergarten or preschool, where she had been playing with art supplies and then stuck them to her arm with glue.

We decided to attempt the impaled crayon next. This was much easier. I broke a crayon in half, and, using the half that didn’t have a point, taped it to Dr. Dana’s arm. Then Marissa and I smeared petroleum jelly onto the tape, so it lost its shine. Finally, we added toilet paper on top of the petroleum jelly, and dripped blood onto it. A despicable masterpiece.

impaledACTIVITY 6: “Black & Blue”

Activity 6, bruises, was by far the simplest. All we needed were the markers included in the kit. Marissa used the red marker first, attempting to smudge it around with her finger. However, the ink dried too fast, so it really looked like I had wiggly chicken pox. Pulling out the black and blue markers, Marissa dotted the middle of the bruise, adding to the poxy effect. Finally, she added some green and yellow to the edges. It looked an infected monkey bite at first. But after I got home and it became smudged with water, it looked so much like a real bruise that my parents asked me how I had gotten it!

bruiseThe real con about this activity was that the markers took a day or two to come off completely, so putting it somewhere like the face could be problematic.

ACTIVITY 7: “Sizzling Skin”

This activity wins the WORST award. To make burned skin, we had to put some glue on my arm and wait for it to dry. And wait. And wait. And wait and wait and wait and- well, you get the idea. It took more than 30 minutes for some glue the size of a quarter to dry. Then, Marissa had to peel it off of my arm with tweezers, which hurt terribly, because it pulled my arm hair. (Not Marissa’s fault!!) Glue + Arm hair = PAIN!!!!!!!! It’s like oil and water. They just don’t mix.

tweezersThis little circle of glue was supposed to be fake skin (which would’ve been pretty cool if it hadn’t involved both tedium and pain). Next, we mixed gelatin and warm water together to get an amber, clumpy mess.

gelatinMarissa tweezered out the smallest possible piece and put it on my arm, covering it with the fake skin we made .Then, as the directions suggested, she added some blood to nastify it.

burnIt looked nasty all right, but it didn’t look at all like a burn. It looked like an infected hive or inflamed…something.


hope with an owieAt the end of the testing, Dr. Dana wanted a bloody good photo of me (sorry again Brits!). I had brought along an old Princeton shirt that we decided to splatter with blood in front of the Cotsen Library.

I didn’t want to stain my underclothes, jeans, or shoes, so Dr. Dana found me a plastic garbage bag. A cut here… a cut there…VOILA! Plastic bag dress. I slipped it on, threw the old shirt over it, and headed outside to be splattered.

Marissa applied liberal amounts of blood to the shirt as innocent passersby gawked at our shenanigans. Then Dr. Dana had to cut the shirt off my back so that the blood didn’t splatter onto my other clothes or the floor.

plastic dressOverall, this kit was fairly fun, but I definitely had some issues with it.

First of all – the recommended age. This product is advised for ages 8+. That would be all well and fine, except that the kit is extremely hands-on, and with all the setup, applications and dripping stuff you definitely need someone else to help you. Additionally, some of the things were pretty gory (the cut, the stitched up cut), and might not be suited for an 8 year old. And of course, the tedium and pain of the burnt skin activity made me want to scream, and I’m thirteen.

Secondly, the whole mess factor was overwhelming. My hands were sticky and dyed red from the blood, greasy from the petroleum jelly, and cakey-dry from cocoa. The testing table was littered with paper towels, and a low pressure system of blood blobs and cocoa powder had moved through the area, leaving so much cleanup that the president of FEMA would’ve resigned. The red dye on my fingers didn’t come off for several days.

stained fingerAnd lastly, in my opinion, the directions had a tone directed to an audience of four year-olds, not second graders. For example, in the directions it says, “Real blood is red. What makes fake blood red? Food coloring! Add 3-4 drops of red food coloring to the corn syrup and use your stir stick to mix until completely combined. Is this starting to look like blood?”

In my opinion, it sounds slightly condescending, in the way adults talk to toddlers. I would’ve worded it more like… “Real blood is red. So when we make fake blood, we use food coloring. Go ahead and add 3-4 drops of the red food coloring to the corn syrup, mix, and observe how it changes.” I know that this sounds similar to the original phrasing, but I also think that wording it this way sounds more scientific and less condescending.

As for the science, that’s great, as they’re trying to enhance the educational value of the kit. There were little boxes sprinkled throughout the directions that had little science tidbits in them.

science stuffThat was pretty cool, and added a unique edge to the kit. In my opinion, most kids are more eager to do the actual activities, and aren’t as focused on the science. They’re all for looking like a zombie.


PROS: pretty fun, lots of activities (7!), gross-out factor (the cuts that we did)! The gross-out was kind of a disgusted fascination, like when kids hold a tarantula at the zoo.

CONS: messy (testing table), some of it lame (blisters = doughnut frosting!), time consuming (3-4 hours!), dye stained my skin for a couple of days.

I think that kids ages 8-14 would like this product because of both the fun and fascination factors. I liked the blood brewing and the cut making, but the blisters didn’t look realistic and were just plain gross. I would recommend it to those who enjoy makeup, disgusting stuff, and laugh out loud fun. Marissa and I had a GREAT time testing this project, with much laughing, giggling, chuckling, guffawing, and grossing out.

Marissa seemed to have the most fun while we tried to apply the blisters, and during the cut making. My parents thought that the bruise on my arm was real, but they didn’t seem shocked by my red-dyed fingers (probably because I mess with food coloring all the time). In addition, this is not the type of kit that I would have bought for myself. I’m not exactly your Walking Dead or Twilight enthusiast. I’m also not a fan of gaping wounds or stitches.

Finally, I definitely DO NOT (!!!!!) recommend the kit for those with weak stomachs or fears of gore. Because there is a lot of blood. And gore. And stomach-wrenching.

So I hope that you guys enjoyed the review- SHRIEK! There’s a vampire coming my way, and it’s wearing a shirt that says I HEART CHOCOLATE… Uh oh. I’m covered in cocoa blood!! Got to RUUUUUUUUUNNNN!!!!!

Ice Cream, Thrice Tested

ice cream thrice testedTest three different methods for making ice cream? Yes please! When our kid tester pitched this idea to me, it didn’t take much convincing. After a little research, we decided to test the Young Chef Ice Cream Maker by Five Stars (retails for $20-$40), the Camper’s Dream Ice Cream Maker by UCO Industrial Revolution (retails for $25) and the Plastic Bags Method (2 plastic baggies! Woot!). Let the battle of the ice cream makers commence, Hope!

young chefHi everyone! First up is the Young Chef Ice Cream Maker by Five Stars. The ice cream maker came in separate pieces, which Dr. Dana hand washed and assembled at home. The set also contained 4 little plastic cups, 1 orange plastic serving spoon, 4 blue plastic “eating” spoons, 2 small containers with holes in the tops (for sprinkles, alas, none were provided in the kit! ☹), and directions in English, German, Spanish, Dutch, French, and Italian.

The machine consisted of a white, high-sided “bowl.” Suspended above the bowl was a resealable metal cylinder that sat on pegs. A blue plastic handle connected to one side of the cylinder. When you turned the handle, the metal cylinder spun on the pegs. There was also an orange plastic “scraper” that you could raise or lower to scrape your ice cream as it solidified on the cylinder.

young chef ice cream partsWe got started on the recipe. The directions were pretty hilariously translated from German. For instance, at the beginning of the directions it said: “Before starting, you have to read the instructions, which inform you about how to assemble your ice cream machine and use and clean it.”

Another example, from the end of the directions: “Put a biscuit, one you like, on a plate. Put a ball of your favorite ice cream on the biscuit. Put one more biscuit on top of the ice cream. You can now eat your ice cream sandwich or deep freeze it until another day.” PRICELESS!

The recipe was in milliliters and grams, so Dr. Dana had to use the handy dandy internet convert it to ounces and cups. Here’s the Young Chef Ice Cream Maker recipe:

4 oz cream
4 oz milk
2 tsp sugar
1 pinch of salt

Dr. Dana and I wanted to make sure that all of the ice cream recipes were as similar as possible. So even though the Young Chef directions called for regular salt in the cylinder, we used rock salt for all three recipes. We also used half and half in all the recipes as opposed to cream and milk in the Young Chef recipe. Once the ice cream ingredients were mixed, I put ice and 1/2 cup rock salt into the metal cylinder.

loading the cylinderThe directions said to pour hot water (!) into the cylinder with the ice. I was confused! Why hot water? But I followed the directions, and moved on. I put the cylinder in place above the bowl, which was holding the ice cream ingredients.

According to the directions, if I turned the cylinder around and around, the ice cream ingredients would freeze and solidify on the cylinder. When enough ice cream was stuck to the cylinder, the scraper could be used to literally undermine the ice cream, causing it to flake off into a plastic cup. Dr. Dana and I were deeply, deeply, skeptical of this method.

I started turning the cylinder around and around. It was VERY noisy. WHIR! CLANK! WHIR! CLANK!

The crank was kind of awkward, so Dr. Dana and I took turns spinning it around and around, until finally, the ice cream started solidifying. Yes, the machine worked! Basically, when the freezing cylinder passes through the liquid ice cream ingredients, some of it freezes and attaches to the cylinder. We used the scraper to ease the ice cream off the cylinder in a long, creamy ribbon.

ice cream ribbonOnce we had enough, we put it into bowls and grabbed some spoons, anxious to try our creation. Scooping up a spoonful we counted 1! 2! 3! Put it into our mouths, and…..

BLECH!!!! YUCK!!!!! GROSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT WAS DISGUSTING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The yellowish ‘ice cream’ had almost no sweetness, and was watery. To be honest, it tasted like frozen milk. Yuck. The ice cream consistency was a little weird too, because it came off the machine in a ribbon. Oh and there were a lot of parts to clean up afterwards. The actual machine was cute though, and it worked.

Now for test #2, the Camper’s Dream Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker by UCO Industrial Revolution.

camper's dreamThis ice cream maker was a blue plastic sphere with two chambers. One chamber was the outer part of the sphere (where the ice and the rock salt was poured in). The other chamber was a metal cylinder within the sphere (where the ice cream was going to be made). The sphere had two openings that lead to each chamber. I packed ice and 1/2 cup rock salt tightly into the outer chamber. It was hard to shove the ice in – I had to do it one cube at a time.

stuffing the iceI mixed up the ice cream ingredients and poured them in the inner chamber. Here’s the Camper’s Dream recipe:

1 pint half & half
1.5 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

Then it was time for the fun (and noisy) part.

The whole point of the sphere shape was to play while making the ice cream.  I quote: “Shake, roll and pass it around as you mix and freeze the ingredients. You don’t need electricity, just have a ball!” Sadly however, Dr. Dana and I had to crouch on the floor and roll it back and forth, back and forth, because you could not (the directions stated) bounce or kick the ice cream ball. This was slightly disappointing, because rolling the ball around was a tad anticlimactic. However, the ice cream chamber had a little ‘window’, so I could check the progress of our ice cream, which was cool!

rolling the ballAfter rolling the ice cream ball around for about 10 minutes, we opened up the metal cylinder and scraped the sides as best we could. The directions called for a plastic spatula or wooden spoon. I used a wooden spoon, but the sides were super hard to scrape! I had to use the handle of my wooden spoon!

wooden spoonThen, as the directions suggested, we replaced the ice and rock salt in the outer chamber, as it was melting. We rolled the ball around for 7 more minutes. And shook it up and down too! (At this point, Dr. Dana and I were convinced that it was really a giant maraca with anger issues. It was SO DANG LOUD.) Nervous, (because of our past taste-testing experience) we unscrewed the inner chamber. Inside, we found a soft-servish liquid (it probably would’ve been thicker if we had shaken it longer). Scooping it into some bowls, Dr. Dana and I raised our spoons… and…

YUM YUM YUM YUM YUUUUUUMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ice cream was delicious, delectable, enticing, exquisite! Dr. Dana and I gobbled up a whole bowlful each.

Then we started to clean up our mess to prepare for the next (and final) testing. But when we tried to open the ice chamber, it was frozen shut! We tried to use the tool that came with the kit to open it. Not strong enough. We had to ask a passing gentleman to open it for us! Then we had to dump everything out of the ice chamber. NOISY! And messy. We had a glob of ice and rock salt sludge in the sink. Also, ice cream ‘puddles’ formed on the exterior of the maker.

getting messyIt was… messy. No. Not a little messy. It was catastrophically messy. Not a camper’s dream!!!! After finally finishing off the titanic disaster of a mess, grinning and licking up the excess ice cream in our bowls, we moved to the final ice cream method…the Plastic Bags Method.

plastic bagsSimple, and easy, all we had to do is put 1 pint-sized plastic bag inside 1 gallon-sized plastic bag. We put ice and 1/2 cup rock salt in the gallon bag, and here’s what went into the pint-sized bag (the recipe is from wikiHow):

2 tablespoons white sugar
1 cup half & half
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

ice cream bagWe zipped the smaller bag inside the bigger bag, and…noticed that the small bag was leaking. So we double bagged it. Then, as the directions suggested, I started shaking it up and down, while holding it inside a towel. The recipe calls for a towel or gloves and THAT IS DEFINITELY A GOOD IDEA. Holding an ice bag for 10 minutes is COOOOLD!

shaking the bagWe shook it for 7 minutes. Then 10 more. Then we pulled the smaller bag out and stuck our spoons in. It definitely had the best consistency, and it had decent flavor (we maybe could have used more sugar), but the winning super wowsie recipe was the Camper’s Dream Play and Freeze. Dr. Dana and I returned to our hoard of Camper’s Dream ice cream, and chowed down. By the way, cleaning up the Plastic Bags Method was a snap. Just toss everything in the garbage!


Young Chef Ice Cream Maker by Five Stars: 2 OUT OF 5
How ironic. This ice cream was not five stars, nor was the machine.

Camper’s Dream Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker by UCO: 4 OUT OF 5
Delicious ice cream, kind of fun, the lid froze shut, SUPER LOUD!

Plastic Bags Method: 5 OUT OF 5
Good ice cream, fast to make, easy to do, cheap, quick clean up, good ice cream consistency.

Overall, the easiest and most effective method of ice cream making was plastic bags. The most delicious recipe came from the directions of the Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker. Even so, the plastic bag recipe could be tweaked to match the Play and Freeze one. All in all, this was a most delicious testing! SPOONS UP!

(Hey Dr. Dana, I heard we had some ice cream left over….?) ;)
(Wait! Don’t tell the readers! They might invade the staff lounge!)

If you’re looking for a more earth-friendly version of the Plastic Bag Method, I spotted a cool, kid-friendly technique at a Colonial America demo. Stick a tall canister (or pot) with lid in a bucket of ice and rock salt. Add your ice cream ingredients to the canister, cover, and rotate briskly for 10-15 minutes (or until the liquids solidify). You might need to take the lid off once in a while to scrape the sides of the canister. No plastic needed!

Dragons & Catapults

dragons and catapultsEnter the realm of mythical beasts, sieige engines, and truly stunning Medieval headdresses…it’s time for more kid-tested product reviews! Today, Hope is taking on the Aquarellum Junior paint kit by SentoSphere (ages 7+, retails for approximately $20) and the Tabletop Catapult kit by Sterling Innovation (ages 8+, retails for approximately $25). Have at thee Hope!

Hi everyone! I’m back… and this time, with a Medieval twist! First, I’m going to review the Aquarellum kit.

aquarelleum kitOpening the box, I found four pieces of light, thin, cardboardy canvas, referred to in the instructions as “Aquarellum Board.” The face of each board had a rendering of a dragon outlined faintly on the surface. One of them looked like a Chinese dragon, and the other three were a jumble of Viking and Medieval. There was also a plastic paint palette, six watercolor paints in bottles, a paintbrush, a plastic eyedropper, and a set of instructions. Dr. Dana thought the instructions were beautiful, and their bright colors captured my attention too.

french instructionsThe instructions were a 3 page, double-sided foldout. I started reading them hoping to glean a bit of information on using the product. But the instructions were written completely in French! Scouring them, I finally found a miniscule paragraph written in English. Sadly, it offered me only a vague idea of the procedures of the project. It described the board and how to paint on it, how to mix and dilute your paints, gave a few application tips for the paints, and then… nothing. But I got the “picture” (hahaha). However, I was sad that I couldn’t read the rest of the lovely illustrated instructions. Ah well. C’est la vie!

Basically, each Aquarellum “canvas” had a picture of a dragon outlined in wax. Since the paint was water-based, any messups would be deflected by the wax. What an epically cool concept! It was almost impossible to mess up!  Choosing one of the canvases, I assembled the extra materials recommended for the project.  And I quote…

  • a blank sheet to test mixed colors on
  • absorbent paper
  • A glass of water in which to rinse your brush, dilute inks, and clean the dropper used to dose the inks
  • Direct light (sunlight or a desk lamp), allowing you to clearly see the designs, since the varnish is very pale.

Setting up the materials, I readied the brush and paints.

prepping the paintI used the plastic dropper to place the paint in the cavities of the palette, tested the mixed colors on a piece of paper, and washed the dropper and the brush off in a cup of water.

paint testsThen I started to paint. Oh! What fun!!! The colors were vibrant, the paint easy to use, and it was nearly impossible to mess up!

wax outlines I finished one dragon, and moved onto the next. I found that the paint dried super quick, which made it easy to layer more colors onto the canvas, creating new shades. It was awesome! The only downside was that the paint dried so quickly, it sometimes dried on the wax, creating smudges. Here’s a finished canvas:

finished red dragonOverall, I really enjoyed this project! It was super fun, and my results turned out beautifully, even though I am not an expert at painting. The only downsides of the product were that if you went outside the main outline of the dragon, the smudges dried so fast that they could permanently mar your art.

Also, the bulk of the instructions were in French! This was especially frustrating because the French instructions were beautifully illustrated and clearly had more detail than the paragraph written in English. Also, Dr. Dana and I could not figure out the correct way to pronounce the product name! Aquarellum? What a tongue twister!

And the Scores Are In!


PROS: Fun to use, vibrant colors, easy, entertaining, beautiful results.
CONS: Directions mostly in French, smudges dried too quickly.

SCORE: 5 OUT OF 5!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Setting aside the dragons, I turned to the weaponry….BEHOLD!  A catapult!

catapult kitOpening the box, I found a book titled The Art of the Catapult, wood pieces, wooden pegs, directions, a chunk of brown clay in a plastic baggie, metal washers, white twine, a wire, and some glue. Unfolding the directions, I discovered that they were mostly illustrated. While I liked that they were so precisely illustrated, the text directions were vague, which confused me. The directions also called for a “Healthy Snack,” which was funny, because we only had marshmallows handy (more on those later)!

I used the inventory sheet on the first page to make sure I wasn’t missing any pieces, and started building the catapult. It was pretty straightforward. Use the wooden pegs to connect the wood pieces together to construct the base of the catapult.

base of catapultHowever, some of the pegs were loose. I used some glue, which (thankfully) seemed to help. Other pegs were too tight and had to be hammered in with a piece of stone that Dr. Dana had in her office!?! It was ludicrous, but equally hilarious, to see me pounding pegs into the wood with a huge chunk of stone. Rock dust flew everywhere, and the noise… let’s just say it was painful.

hammer timeAfter I had finished building the base and support structure, I had to construct the torsion string. When I saw the word torsion I thought, “WHAAAAAAAAT?!?!” (Torsion means “to be twisted” or “the act of being twisted”).

In a nutshell, to make the torsion string, I had to coil the string several times and use a wire to thread it through two washers and two holes in the catapult base. Then I wound the ends of the string loops around two pegs (called the “tensioners”). The catapult’s swing arm was inserted in the center of the torsion string and I used the tensioners to tighten it. Dr.Dana assisted, using her knightly muscle.

torsion stringThe directions for this part definitely could’ve used more clarification. The picture/word combination was just too weak for the complexity of the task. I couldn’t figure it out, so I called in Dr. Dana, who also had to carefully inspect the directions and fiddle with the catapult. But figure it out we did!

finished catapultWe made a ball out of the clay…but there was another problem. The wooden peg on the “trigger” was too weak to hold the catapult arm back – the peg just kept popping out. So Dr. Dana reinforced it somewhat with masking tape.

taped trigger pegBut there was another problem. Now the entire trigger would flop over, releasing the catapult arm. It just wasn’t strong enough to hold the arm down. So we ignored the trigger and used our fingers to hold down catapult arm while we loaded it.

But it was fun to use! It was just so utterly entertaining to watch stuff fly through the air! First, we launched the clay ball. Later, we launched a marshmallow and a ping pong ball. The clay ball had the lowest altitude when launched, the marshmallow went the farthest distance, and the ping pong ball went the highest.

Then we decided (of course) to try to launch a marshmallow into curatorial staffer Ellen’s mouth. First, we made sure she was wearing proper head and eye gear:

ellen's awsome headgearEllen sat in a chair approximately 65” away from the catapult. We tried again and again, moving the chair all over, but missed every time! Finally, Ellen took matters into her own hands:

Needless to say, we had fun!

The kit also came with a book called The Art of the Catapult, by William Gurstelle (Sterling Innovation, 2004). The book was broken up into nine chapters. Each chapter contained at least one or two additional catapult-like projects you could build. However, they were far more complex and difficult than the catapult that came with the kit.

The rest of the book was information about the evolution and variation of catapults around the world. To me… well, some of it was cool. Alexander the Great, Saladin, and Richard the Lionheart. But the rest of the projects and history of the catapult…. frankly, it felt like too much dry detail.

In addition, the writing style seemed to change throughout the book. Sometimes it felt like an adventure novel, sometimes a history textbook, and other times, translations of ancient writings, like the Torah, Bible, or Koran. It was odd, because the book was by one author. But maybe the author’s interests were also varied, and his writing simply reflected that. It just didn’t flow very well.

The catapult kit was kind of fun, but overall it was more confusing than excellent. The directions were annoying with their briefly captioned illustrations. The project was recommended for ages 8+. Yet I had to use a rock to hammer pegs into the catapult. To me, it suggests that something is wrong. And so…

The Scores Are In!


PROS: Fun to use (because of laugh factor. It was so fun to launch marshmallows at Ellen), good excuse to eat marshmallows, sturdy materials, came with a book (yay!), built a catapult!

CONS: Confusing directions with not enough written description, aiming was hard, trigger not effective, clay projectile a bit disappointing, book was a little dry.


Postscript: Dr. Dana here! Last night, I took the catapult home to my 2 children (ages 4 and 6). For 3 straight hours, they launched ping pong balls around the house. The little catapult held up beautifully, even though the trigger never worked. We ended up removing the trigger and just using our fingers. For extra fun, use a Sharpie to draw silly faces on the ping pong balls.