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Fun with everyday objects
Paper bags, straws, used film canisters, old hats, Ping- Pong balls, empty toilet paper rolls. A treasure trove of tools to be used by the resourceful Dad to amuse, entertain, and instruct even the most world-weary of Internet-age children.
When they're younger, kids will probably use this detritus to build fantasy castles and spaceships. As they become more inquisitive, it's Dad's turn to show them the true potential of these mundane castoffs.
These activities don't require complex construction, or whole afternoons spent knee-deep in modeling clay, polystyrene and sticky-back plastic. (There's plenty of that in a later chapter.) Some are spur-of-the-moment tricks and games. Others require just a little preparation-the chances, for instance, of happening upon a film canister and an indigestion tablet together are, at best, slight; it's wise to start saving these items for a rainy day whenever you come across them.
The ball you can't pick up
You walk toward a ball and reach down for it. But, every time, just as your hand is about to touch the ball, it flies off ahead of you as if it's trying to escape. It looks impressive, but is terribly simple.
As you walk toward the ball, pretend to try to grab it at the very moment your foot kicks it away. And if you don't have a ball, use a can.
No more than seven folds
It's not possible to fold a piece of paper in half more than seven times, no matter how big or thin it is. Naturally no child takes this piece of knowledge on trust. They are usually convinced that somehow they will be able to prove the rest of the world wrong with a sheet torn roughly from an exercise book and a firm press or two of a ruler.
As they will soon find, repeated doubling over of the paper means that, generally around the seventh fold, the paper becomes too thick to fold over any more.
Previous generations of children simply accepted this, much as they might accept that the Earth revolves around the sun. More recently, inquisitive minds have discovered that, using enormous sheets of thin paper, seven folds can be bettered.
Indeed, one precocious schoolkid, Britney Gallivan, studied the problem as a math project and found a way to fold paper 12 times. It involves some seriously complicated equations so we'll have to take her word for it.
If you were able to fold a piece of paper a hundredth of an inch thick in half 50 times, it would be so thick that it would reach from here to the Sun!
The hole in your head hat trick
Don't worry, we're not going to suggest a spot of do-it-yourself cranial surgery. But you can convince smaller kids (and exceptionally gullible bigger ones) that you have a hole in the top of your head.
You need a hat with a hard brim. Something like a bowler, a top hat or a fireman's helmet would work well. So too should a bike helmet, though you may need to reverse it.
Stand against a wall with the brim of the hat touching it. Put your finger in your mouth and inflate your cheeks as if you're blowing hard. As you do so, push your head back slightly so that the brim of the hat is pressing gently against the wall. The front of the hat will rise.
After a moment, take out your finger, let the hat drop back and pretend to be really puffed with the exertion. Then do it again. You can even let your audience examine your head for signs of the hole.
Say "cheese," Mr. President
Want to make George Washington smile or frown at your command? Take any dollar bill and fold it backward vertically at the midpoint of his mouth. Fold it forward at each end of his mouth, making a small inverted V the full width of the note.
Without the V needing to be particularly pronounced, if you tilt the top of the banknote toward you, Washington will smirk. Tip it away and he is definitely not amused.
If you worry about exposing your children to temptation by handing them your hard-earned money, this trick can be done with pretty much any photo.
As strong as an egg
An egg? Strong? Indeed it is, amazingly so. Any architect would tell you how strong arches are and that domes are stronger still, which is why they're used in a variety of buildings from igloos to cathedrals.
And what is an egg, if not two domes joined together? Given the ease with which eggs break, you may be skeptical.
So try it. Place an uncooked egg upright into something soft and pliable, such as Silly Putty or a bunched-up tea towel. Put two piles of books of the same height nearby. Use them and the egg as a tripod on which to rest a light but solid sheet, such as a thin baking tray.
Gently place a thick book, then another, then another onto the tray. You and the kids will be surprised just how much weight the egg can bear before giving up the ghost. That's because the dome-like egg distributes the pressure evenly around its shell.
Another surprising example of an egg's strength is to wrap your fingers around one lengthways and squeeze it as hard as you can. If you're of a nervous disposition, you may prefer to do this outside or over the sink. Providing you remove any rings that could fracture the shell, the chances are that you won't be able to break the egg, no matter how hard you try. You can even get one or more children to squash your closed hand with all their might.
It worked for us, but bear in mind that we write and draw for a living, hardly occupations renowned for building up muscle strength. You won't find us of an evening tearing up telephone directories. If you've just returned from dragging a sled to the North Pole, you may succeed where we failed.
The Great Egg Trick
It was all so much easier in the olden days. Children were seen and not heard, called their father "Sir" and prefaced other adults' names with "Uncle" or "Auntie." How much trickier it is these days for Dads to keep their air of authority and superiority in this been-there, done-that, got-the-T-shirt-and-bundled-it-dirty-under-the-bed era.
If anything's going to restore the Dads of the world to mythic status in the eyes of their children, it's The Great Egg Trick. It isn't easy. In fact, it's fiendishly difficult. The chances are that you will fail. Totally, massively and messily.
But the failure will be so spectacular that your children are likely to talk about it for weeks to come. Make your attempt on The Great Egg Trick an annual event and your kids may bring their mates along to witness you getting egg on your face -and elsewhere.
Should you actually succeed in bringing it off, however, you will become a Dad among Dads, spoken of in hushed tones in parks and playgrounds. Other parents may approach you for your autograph, saying it's not for them but their little one. All you need is four eggs, four glasses, four tubes to hold the eggs, and a tray.
Practise with hard-boiled eggs by all means, but when you perform The Great Egg Trick in earnest they must be raw.
Place four tumblers or cups half full of water on a table, in a rectangular pattern. Place a tray with a lip onto the glasses or cups. If you're right-handed, have the tray protrude a little to the right (and vice versa).
You need something to hold the eggs. The outer part of matchboxes squashed into a more circular shape would do, or rolled-up index cards held together with rubber bands. Whatever you choose, it shouldn't be much shorter than the egg; the eggs should sit comfortably enough that they won't fall off if somebody breathes too heavily, but not so snugly that they'd still be there after a minor earthquake.
Examine these egg holders from all angles to ensure that they are positioned exactly above the tumblers and then carefully place the eggs onto them, as shown in the illustration.
You are now going to hit the tray out of the way, relying on inertia to keep the eggs in place long enough to plop down into the water. You can whack the tray with the flat of your hand or use a heavy book. Whatever your preferred method, you must give it enough of a knock that the tray flies clear. A quick, clean blow without a follow-through is what is needed, first ensuring that nobody is in the tray's flight path.
Get it right and you've nothing worse than four splashes of water to clear up. Get it wrong, and . . . well, there's always next year.
The broken egg on the head
We realize that most people must know this one, but there has to be a first time for every child. Place your hand, splayed, on the top of your child's head and tap your wrist with the fingers of the other hand. Inside the victim's head, it sounds exactly like an egg breaking.
Follow it by trailing your fingers lightly down the sides of their head, barely touching their hair. The whole effect is greatly enhanced if they see you holding an egg beforehand.
Other uses for eggs
We're told, on fairly reliable authority, that eggs can also be cooked and eaten. Seems like a waste of a good trick to us.
Many people know that if you rub an inflated balloon vigorously against your hair or wool clothing it will pick up static electricity and can then be stuck in place on a wall, ceiling, TV or even a face. The action of rubbing the balloon gives it extra negatively charged electrons. Other electrically neutral objects, such as a tin can, are more positively charged than the balloon, and because opposites attract, the two pull together.
You can get so much more fun from a statically charged balloon than simply sticking it on something. Hold it above your head, for instance, and your hair will stand up, with each positively charged, upstanding strand trying its hardest to get away from its neighbor. Hold it above a plate of salt, sugar or breakfast cereal and watch the stuff jump onto the balloon.
Even better, the charged balloon will attract water. Turn a tap on so there's a gentle trickle of water. Hold your balloon near it and the flow of water will bend toward the balloon, a neat way of enlivening bathtime.
Cooler still, the balloon will attract an empty soft-drink can strongly enough to get it to roll along a hard floor, pulling it in either direction. Get a couple of cans and you can have a race.
Static electricity helps explain lightning and has even powered a spaceship. Printers and photocopiers depend on it for fixing images. No doubt their inventors spent far too much time as kids sticking balloons to walls.
Piercing a balloon
Shove something sharp into an inflated balloon and you'd expect it to go bang. But if you put a bit of sticky tape on it first, you can insert a wooden barbecue skewer or pointy knitting needle without mishap. In fact, you can insert several, although the air will begin leaking out.
Stick another bit of tape on the other side of the balloon, and with care you can even pass the skewer or needle all the way through.
Standing on balloons without bursting them
Challenge your kids to see if they can stand on ordinary, inflated balloons without bursting them. Naturally, after a bout of noisy experimentation, they'll claim that it's impossible.
Not so, at least not if you use more than one balloon and spread your weight. Turn a tray upside down and use its ridge to secure the balloons beneath it.
Stand near something you can hold on to, such as a table or chair. While your children wince in expectation of four bangs, gingerly put first one foot onto the tray, then a little more weight and finally the other foot. You should be able to straighten up so that you are standing unaided on the tray.
Flatten a plastic straw at one end. Cut a little away at both sides of the flattened end so that the straw has a V-shaped point. Put the straw a little way into your mouth, blow hard and, after a little experimentation, you should be rewarded with a satisfying duck sound.
Push another straw into the other end and, although harder to blow, you should be able to produce a much lower note, more moose than mallard.
When service in a fast food joint isn't as speedy as you'd like, getting your whole party to quack together (using the straws thoughtfully provided for this purpose) should do wonders for speeding up your order.
From the Trade Paperback edition.