They’ve been shoving the whole “science is cool” thing down our throats for years. On every cartoon, show, and movie, there’s always some nerd who saves the day with science. Meanwhile, your favorite subject, lunch time, rarely recieves any credit. It never had the fame. (But I’ll put it out there — lunch is freaking awesome. Wanna trade my fruit snacks for your sandwich?)
But science really wasn’t all that cool. Science had the thickest text books, the labs, the filmstrips, the dissections…so much science. Too much science. But nothing compared to the sobering, bordering-on-full-blown-panic experience of the science fair. I dreaded the science fair, and one year in middle school, doing a project was mandatory. I hunkered down to try and come up with an idea, but everything I thought up seemed imbecile and stupid.
I had to lean on Mom for this one. She suggested something with water temperatures. We came up with What Evaporates Faster? Hot or Cold Water? I thought it was genius and ran to the kitchen to fill glasses with water. We did a damn good poster board too. I don’t remember what the conclusion was, but I do remember one kid looking at my hypothesis, looking at the glasses, looking at me, and saying “duh”.
So yeah, I’m pretty blasé when it comes to science, but even I can’t resist a Make Your Own Quicksand kit.
I’ve been fascinated with quicksand ever since it sucked down that horse in the Neverending Story. That scene’s as wretching to watch as Bambi’s Mom, Charlotte dying in Charlotte’s web, and Old Yeller getting taken out back. Combined.
The main thing that sold me on picking up this kit was getting that pink elephant figure on the front of the box. Even if the kit sucked and proved science is ultimately uncool, I’d still have a tiny pink elephant. And so I was a little bummed when all I got was this little gray elephant:
I laid the directions on the table and read them aloud:
“Make your own ooey gooey quicksand, guaranteed to make safari adventurers and jungle animals shiver with fear. Be careful where you cross! You can never be sure if you’re standing on solid ground!”
So the kit was gonna go cutesy in tone, but it came with some endearing punchouts to decorate the scene with, so I was still down with it. It also came with 1 bag of a non-Newtonian Jungle Quicksand Powder, and 2 plastic jungle animals. The bag of quicksand powder sounded scientific and chemically, and there was even a bold-fonted WARNING that read “this set contains chemicals that may be harmful if misused.” Awesome.
But the non-Newtonian power was actually just a bag of cornstarch. Yep, just cornstarch. It really deflated the mystique of the experiment when I learned I was making quicksand out of water and cornstarch. Afterwards, I could bread chicken thighs.
The directions called for
a large bowl,
and a gallon size ziplock bag.
Shit. Who keeps gallon-sized ziplock bags lying around? We ransacked the bag drawer, but there were only sandwich bags. Shit! This was scientific research, goddamn it, and I needed a gallon-sized ziplock bag!
Then I stopped sweating, and read through the directions to see if it were possible to skip the step involving the gallon-sized bag. Skipping steps: the true scientific way. Turns out, the bag was for saving the quicksand so you could play with it again. What the hell? Who would save a gallon of cornstarch to play with? Who would let their kid do that?
Crisis averted. But remember, my life is a series of innane crises, and the next one is always looming. Next step: start mixing this bitch.
Now look, the directions called for a large bowl and a pitcher of water. The girlfriend climbed through her cabinets searching for the big bowls. I even sniped down the girlfriend’s first two bowl sizes like I was Goldilocks. It says right here, we need a large bowl. And then we needed a pitcher too, one big enough to make lemonade for the whole freakin’ picnic.
Why did we need all this water and such a big bowl, when all we had was just a little bag of cornstarch? But what did I know about the properties of cornstarch? The answer is nothing. I would have thought it expanded or something. Nah, it just dissolves.
We dumped the cornstarch in. And about 10 cups of water. We waited suspensefully…waiting…for the cornstarch to start bubbling…for it to rise up and thicken….for anything.
The cornstarch mixture remained the consistency of ass milk. Another crisis loomed. We read the directions again, “keep adding cornstarch and water until you have the consistency of honey. It may take a while to get it just right.”
So we took the “a while” to heart and continued to stare into the bowl.
I began to panic again, and boldly suggested we add more cornstarch. The girlfriend shrugged. She didn’t have any cornstarch. But this was science. We had to find it for science, I demanded. The girlfriend then ransacked her roommates’ food cabinets, thankfully finding a box of cornstarch.
I don’t know why the directions called for a pitcher and a large bowl, but not an additional half a box of cornstarch. We just kept adding it. We added enough to prepare stuffing for 50 Christmas gooses. Finally, we began getting an interesting consistency that had a bit of a pull to it. Why was it doing this?
“When you squeeze a handful of Jungle Quicksand , its viscosity inscreases so it acts like a solid for a split second. When you release the pressure, the glop acts just like a liquid again.”
I began to get the feeling that this kit teaches you very little about the properties of quicksand, and a lot about the properties of cornstarch.
Making the quicksand was non-educational and stressful, but at last came the fun part. Playing with the animal figures.
The elephant dipped a toe in. The lion looked on wearily. “I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.
The clumsy, stupid elephant fell in! Couldn’t he read the sign? Couldn’t he see the skull and crossbones? He struggled but it was futile. The quicksand began to violently suck him under! The lion took a few steps back to run in.
The lion jumped in to try and save his friend, but it proved to be a fatal mistake. He began to get pulled under too. They both thrashed in vain. Goodbye Elephant. Goodbye Lion.
The elephant took one last gasp before going under. And then they died.
The girlfriend and I looked at each other. Well, that killed an hour. What now?
I also took movies. Please kill a few brain cells and take a look. The elephant is sacrificed in the first, the lion is thrown in the second video. Looks like pancake batter. Wonder if that’s a non-Newtonian powder.
What’s the opposite of spectacular?