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Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Chickens, eggs, and balls

I've always been one to eschew the old chicken and egg debate. The theological consequences are too grand and if I got involved I'd end up making an philosophical omelet. Getting the chicken across the damned road is hard enough.

This morning, as I struggled to maintain a sense of right and wrong, responsiblity and righteousness, and a greater sense of what is good and pure in this world, I found myself slipping into an old habit. When the stuff of life becomes too much to consider with any sense of real understanding, I tend to focus on inane subjects of anachronistic debate.

So, if you will (and I think you have in the past, nudge, nudge), put aside the cluckers and scramblers, and consider with me which came first: Flubber or the Superball?

The good folks at WHAM-O! (so named because the company's original product was a slingshot, the ammunition of which made that very noise when hitting its target) tell us that the SUPERBALL was created in the early 1960s by a chemical engineer named Norman Stingley. He offered the product to the toy producer who in a much talked about and ultimately dangerous promotion, produced a giant SUPERBALL in Austraila. Someone "accidentally" dropped it out of a 23rd story window. Apparently, the ball bounced back up 15 floors and eventually landed on a convertible, totalling it. Now, that's a promotion. WHAM-O sold 20 million SUPERBALLs in the 1960s.

If you're curious, as I was, a SUPERBALL is made from a compound called Zectron and contains 50,000 pounds of compressed energy.

Around the same time, the good folks at Disney were giving us "The Absent-Minded Professsor" and more importantly the star of the film (sorry Mr. MacMurray), Flubber. The movie hit the big screen in March of 1961.

Like the SUPERBALL, Flubber bounced uncontrollably. Unlike the SUPERBALL, the polymer had an uncanny ability to propel basketball players into ballet-like dance and power the engines of Model-Ts (or maybe it was Model-As).

What no amount of internet research offers, however, is which came first. It would seem that the SUPERBALL inspired Flubber. However, I find no evidence to support that claim. And frankly, most of the evidence points in the other direction.

So, I ask: Which came first, Flubber or the SUPERBALL?

While you ponder that, and in exchange for you having read this far, I offer you this recipe for disaster and fun.


Flubber is a polymer made by a chemical reaction. Polymers are very long chains of repeating units. When the two solutions are combined, polyvinyl acetate chains are linked together in a 3-dimensional arrangement by borate ions and other chemical bonds. This produces the thick, sticky polymer called Flubber.

Container 1 (4 cup capacity)
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 cups white glue (this is your polyvinyl acetate)
food coloring (a few drops)

Container 2
1 1/3 cups warm water
3 teaspoons Borax (this is where you get your borate ions)

Pour container 2 into container 1. Gently lift and turn the mixture until only about a tablespoon of liquid is left. The Flubber will be sticky for a moment or two. Let the excess liquid drip off and the Flubber will be ready.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

First came Flubber, THEN the superball. I know because I owned a Hasbro toy called flubber which was sort of like Silly Putty long before I ever saw a Superball (and I got one of those when they first hit the market).

9:57 PM  

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