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Zubbles

Soap bubbles are fun. If you have ever watched a baby play with blown bubbles for the first time, or seen a dog snap at them, or given a child a bubble bath, then you know how magical they can be. How could you possibly improve on such a simple yet fascinating amusement? Tim Kehoe though it would be nice if they were colored. Kehoe is a toy inventor, and colored bubbles became his life's work. Going into the project, he didn't know it would take 15 years and $3 million to complete. You'd think it would be a simple matter of adding dye to the soap mixture, but there were problems.

Standard food coloring or dyes have no effect; they simply run down the sides of the bubble, creating a drop of color on the bottom. Other dyes can stain bubbles, but when they pop they also stain clothes, dogs and eyes, as Kehoe discovered during one accident. Other tests, including one for a bubble dye that washed out, didn't fare much better.

"I thought a washable bubble was a great idea," said Kehoe. "But the kids (of a large focus group) were covered head to toe in red dye. It looked like a scene from Braveheart."

In 2005, the Kehoe won the Grand Prize for Innovation from Popular Science for his Zubbles. At the time, we thought we'd be able to get our own Zubbles soon. Two years ago, we expected to see this product on the market any day. 250_zubblesThat was an optimistic promise.  But he persevered, and now the product he calls Zubbles is available to the public. So far, the bubbles only come in pinks and blue, sold separately for $14.95. That's for a mere four ounce bottle. The latest dye technique makes your clothing pink (or blue) but is supposed to disappear in about 15 minutes. A commenter elsewhere provided the first customer review I'd seen, and said the bubbles are less than impressive; that the dye pools at the bottom of the bubbles as in earlier prototypes, and that the dye hadn't disappeared from her clothing, but it washed off her skin easily. You can see a video made by another customer here. Maybe for this one, I'll wait until they get the bugs worked out before I place my order.

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Pop Culture
Wise Quacks: A History of the Rubber Duck
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IStock

In the middle of a raging storm in 1992, a cargo ship carrying a huge assortment of vinyl toys tipped over. Descending into the Pacific were nearly 29,000 tub playthings, including untold thousands of rubber ducks. Bobbing and drifting, the tiny yellow birds took weeks, months, and years to wash ashore in Hawaii, Maine, Seattle, and other far-flung locations. Their journeys were able to tell oceanographers crucial information about waves, currents, and seasonal changes—what one journalist dubbed “the conveyor belt” of the sea.

The humble little rubber duck had, once again, exceeded expectations.


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Aside from soap, shampoo, and towels, there may be no more pervasive an item in a kid-occupied bathtub than the rubber duck, a generic aquatic toy that usually squeaks, sometimes spits water, and can be teethed upon without incident.

The ducks had their origins in the mid-1800s, when rubber manufacturing began to gain ground. Out of the many animals crafted, they were the most native to water and broke away from the pack. Families who used to make bathing a weekly event prior to Sunday church sessions would entice children to submerge themselves in the murky tubs with a duck, some of which didn’t float. They were intended as chew toys.

In 1933, a latex supplier licensed a series of Disney characters and made inexpensive bath floaters: The most popular were Donald and Donna Duck. While Disney’s brand recognition helped, companies looking to mass-market cheap ducks didn’t want to depend on a license. Sculptor Peter Ganine is believed to have been the now-familiar generic duck’s primary designer, patenting a toy in 1949 for a period of 14 years. Ganine reportedly sold over 50 million of them.

By the early 1960s, the vinyl ducks were free from patent restriction and became a bathroom fixture. They were cheaply made, cheaply acquired, and a soothing presence for children with apprehensions about being dipped into water. Any hydrophobia was eased by the bright yellow duck, who didn’t appear to have a care in the world.

On February 25, 1970, rubber ducks got their biggest break yet. On the first season of Sesame Street, Ernie splashed in a tub while singing an ode to his maritime companion:

Rubber Duckie, you’re the one

You make bath time lots of fun

Rubber Duckie, I’m awfully fond of you

Rubber Duckie, joy of joys

When I squeeze you, you make noise

Rubber Duckie, you’re my very best friend, it’s true

The song went on to sell over 1 million copies as a single and has been included in well over 21 different Sesame Street compilation albums. The image of Ernie playing with the duck was licensed for T-shirts, storybooks, and other merchandise that further endeared the ducks to child-occupied households.

The duck has since undergone some minor advancements. Some, molded to resemble celebrities or athletes, are a popular gift or marketing tool; others are sculpted to giant-sized proportions to bob in lakes during summer festivals. And while the toys now come in $99, Bluetooth-enabled versions, it was the classic yellow duck that made it in 2013 into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Additional Sources:
“Rubber Ducks and Their Significance in Contemporary American Culture,” The Journal of American Culture, Volume 29, Number 1 [PDF].

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Make Your Own Ship in a Bottle With a New LEGO Set
LEGO
LEGO

Building a ship in a bottle doesn’t need to be a stodgy affair, as LEGO’s latest release proves. LEGO Ideas is coming out with a new, 962-piece set called Ship in a Bottle based on the design of an Idaho-based fan named Jake Sadovich.

Sadovich spent three weeks designing his own version of a ship in a bottle using 1400 LEGO bricks before uploading images of the finished result to the LEGO Ideas site in November 2016. His project received the 10,000 supporters it needed to garner a review from the LEGO team in less than two months, and in August 2017, LEGO green-lit plans to build and sell an official set based on his design.

A product shot of a LEGO ship in a bottle against a white background
LEGO

Placed inside a bottle made of transparent bricks, the miniature ship boasts an outsize number of features for its 5-inch-long size, including three sails, six cannons, a crow’s nest, a compass (sorry, it isn’t a working one), and a flag. There's a wax-sealed cork built out of LEGO bricks, too, as well as small LEGO pieces designed to serve as the water beneath the ship.

“There was room to do some crazy building techniques and sneak in some elements in cool colors,” LEGO designer Tiago Catarino told the LEGO Ideas blog, so we expect the set to be a delight to put together. Hopefully, it won’t take you three weeks to build, though.

Some of the other fan-submitted LEGO Ideas projects the company has brought to life include a Women of NASA set, a LEGO version of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, and a design for a fishing store.

The Ship in a Bottle set goes on sale February 1 and will cost $70.

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