Incendio!

Want to make your fire pit extra, extra, EXTRA cool this summer? How about featuring flickering flames in hues of purple, green, and blue? I’m always on the lookout for igniting things in the name of Harry Potter (see giant green fireball here) so when I found packets of Big Fire at our local fireworks store for a mere $2, I had to try them out.

Big Fire purports to add color to flames on any wood fire (and “Fireside Romance,” to your next date, apparently). It’s about the same size as a Kool-Aid packet. You don’t open the packet. You just toss the whole thing right on the fire and let the cupric sulfate, cupric chloride, and the polyvinyl chloride take the lead!

We had a small to medium fire, but what the heck…I threw in 4 packets at once. Within minutes, we had incredible green and blue flames, with little hints of purple too:


Were there any weird chemical smells? Nope! But the packaging is quite clear – this product is for outdoor use only in a well ventilated area. Also, I was expecting just a quick flash of color flames, but I am happy to report that the flames burned different colors for well over 30 minutes. And the flames were wildly beautiful.

Big Fire color flame packets are an inexpensive science experiment with extremely cool results. Definitely recommend tossing these in your backpack for your next campfire, Halloween shindig, or Harry Potter party.

A very special thanks to Mr. Fran P. Chismar for the experimental use of his fire pit. You make Gryffindor proud, sir!

 

Play With Your Food

play with your foodIt’s dinner time and the peas are flying! Can your land the pom-pom peas on the plates, bowls, and cups? Bust out your pea catapult and get ready to do some physics and math!

We recommend reading Eat Your Peas, Ivy Louise by Leo Landry (HMH Books, 2005). Toddler Ivy Louise has been tasked with eating her dinner. However, those energetic peas are running a full-scale circus on her plate, complete with acrobatics, impressive weight-lifting, and a high dive act. The grand finale? We’ll let you guess. Very entertaining for Ivy Louise. Not so much fun for Mom and Dad to clean up!

You’ll need:

  • 2 jumbo craft sticks (ours were 8″ long)
  • 6 medium craft sticks (mine were 4.5″ long)
  • Masking tape
  • 4 medium rubber bands
  • 1 plastic spoon
  • 5-10 green pom-poms
  • Paper plates, bowl, and cup
  • Markers for decorating

Our awesome craft stick catapult is from this bouncing bedtime post, so I’ve repeated the instructions below. Stack 2 jumbo craft sticks on top of one another, then wrap a rubber band tightly around one side.

rubber banded craft sticks

Now stack 6 medium craft sticks on top of one another and wrap both ends tightly with masking tape.taped craft sticksWedge the stack of 6 craft sticks in between the jumbo crafts sticks like so:

wedged

Then wrap 2 rubber bands around both sets of craft sticks to secure the catapult mechanism in place (a criss-cross formation works best).

banded

An additional step for you pea catapult…secure a plastic spoon on the end of the catapult arm with a rubber band. Don’t secure the spoon with tape – you might want to adjust the placement of the spoon later when you’re launching peas. Here’s our finished pea catapult, all loaded up:

pea catapultNow for your targets! Use markers to decorate paper plates, bowls, and cups. Make sure to assign a numerical value to each item.

pea targetsReady to play? Set your table, load up your catapult, and launch some peas! Use your math skills to tally points, and play around with physics as you adjust your spoon and your catapult to achieve maximum results.

Don’t Try This At Home Kids

don't try this at homeA monkey on a unicycle rolls down a ramp towards a snake. The bar holding the snake drops, which causes a bag of peanuts to fall into a container that sends a cart down a ramp into a tennis racket rigged to a mechanism that touches a match to a cannon fuse and fires an acrobat through a ring of fire!

Rube Goldberg’s inventive cartoons have fascinated me since I was a kid. A few years ago, our library even hosted a Rube Goldberg program, complete with a behemoth of a page turner and other activities. So imagine my delight when I spotted Wonderology’s Rube Goldberg kits on the shelves at Target.

wonderology rube goldberg kitsIntended for ages 8 and up, Wonderology offers 6 different kits that cost between $10 – $20. Each kit contains a plethora of parts and a fully illustrated set of instructions. I purchased the Acrobat Challenge, the Garden Challenge, and the Speeding Car Challenge, then invited 3 kid testers (ages 6, 8, and 10) to try them out.

kid testers at workThe kids were very excited as they unpacked the kits. The parts are fun, bright, and nice quality plastic. Here, for example, are the various pieces of the Acrobat Challenge:

acrobat challenge kit partsHere are the kit’s illustrated instructions. They’re presented in classic Rube Goldberg format (they even use his special font!):

acrobat challenge instructionsBut as soon as construction started on the kits, well…that’s when things started to go wrong. Take the Acrobat Challenge, for example. In one part of the instructions, it clearly shows the yellow “monkey release” flag facing right. In two other sections of the instructions, it’s facing to the left! Also, either way I turned the flag, I never could get the monkey to work quite right.

problem with instructionsThere was a lot more of this I’m afraid – mechanisms not working like the instructions suggested, confusion with where to place the various pieces, the whole schbang toppling over when you tried to adjust it. Soon, there were shouts of frustration, explosive sounds of exasperation, creative G-rated cursing, and a box kicked across the floor (and it wasn’t just the kids doing all that).

Between me and the 6 year-old, we never did get the Acrobat Challenge to work. So our kid tester used it like a play set instead, creating and narrating an involved story about a monkey snake circus. Cool.

Meanwhile, things were looking a bit more promising at the Speeding Car Challenge. It was, against all odds, assembled with somewhat minimal adult assistance.

speeding car challengeBut…see that chicken? It’s supposed to get a feather “plucked” from its tail, which causes it to lay an egg, which triggers the tennis racket, etc. But the egg just wouldn’t stay under the chicken. It just kept dropping and triggering the rest of the mechanism. So you had to skip the chicken all together, which is rather disappointing.

Also, the 8 year-old kid tester wants you to know that the balloon on the car is a little tricky. Once you blow it up, you have to: 1) Block the tailpipe with your finger; 2) Rapidly remove your finger; then 3) Plug in a plastic cork in juuuuuust right. The seal on the balloon starts to leak pretty quickly too. But it was, he admits, a cool-looking car.

balloon car testSo that just leaves the Garden Challenge. This kit was particularly intriguing to me because it involves real water! Our 10 year-old tester managed to assemble it just fine.

the garden challengeBut we soon discovered a fatal manufacturing flaw. See the orange gutter at the top of the mechanism? It’s supposed to tilt downward and let the 8 ball roll down and hit the watering can. But there was a little plastic piece that wouldn’t allow the gutter to tip down far enough! Katie had to saw the piece off with a box cutter in order to get it to finally work.

bad partThen it was test, adjust, retest, adjust, curse quietly under one’s breath, test, adjust, and retest. It took dozens and dozens of attempts, close to an hour of concentration, and Katie’s sheer determination to get it to work. And yes, I did say work. Katie and the kid tester got it to work! Drumroll please…


OK. So maybe the ball bounced off that final ramp, but I’ll take it and call it DONE.

I really admire Wonderology’s concept. The kits are a clever idea, they look fantastic, and the quality of the plastic is good. However, they’re simply not for kids. Especially 8 – 10 year-olds (unless said 8 – 10 year-olds have the patience of saints and the hands of neurosurgeons). Heck, some of us adults had trouble getting them to work! Our testing group found them difficult and rather vexing. While we ultimately had success with one kit, we encountered enough flaws along the way that the ultimate take-away was more exhaustion than exhilaration. Alas, not recommended.