Nifty Neon

nifty neonTime for another post from our kid tester, Hope! Today she will be reviewing the Neon Light Writer by Thames & Kosmos. It’s intended for kids ages 8 and up, and retails for about $20.


Hello, Readers!! Upon opening the box for the Neon Light Writer, I was surprised to discover that what looked like a chic pegboard on the front of the box was really just black, 20” x 8” piece of cardboard with holes punched in it! I fished for the other items in the box and found a coil of wire, a plastic battery holder attached to the wire that had a little switch on it, a collection of 25 black plastic pegs, and a manual. I opened up the manual and saw the “Kit Contents” list. Double checking to make sure I had everything I needed, I turned the page.

kit contentsAfter reading the handy dandy instructions, I learned that the concept of the project was to insert the plastic pegs in the pegboard in a certain pattern, then thread the wire through the pegs to spell out a word. Cool! was my immediate thought.

I decided to follow the instructions and try my hand at writing the word “GEEK” as a first attempt. As I put the pegs into the cardboard, I noticed that the peg holes were a little small for the pegs. The manual said that the sign is supposed to hang from nails, though there was no kind of hanging device mounted on the back, or any nails included within the rest of the kit.

Maybe because the nails were supposed to be inside the peg holes the holes were small? It’s also a possibility that the holes were small so the pegs didn’t fall out while the sign was hanging up. It was annoying because small holes meant that the pegs had to be forced into the board. Since the pegboard was flimsy cardboard, I was afraid I would rip it.

When I was finally through painstakingly pressing in pegs, I unwound the little bundle of wire and started threading it through the pegs, which had little notches in them.

notched pegs close upIf I thought putting the pegs in was bad, then this was a pain in the tush! The wire was flexible, but moderately thick compared to the size of the peg notches. In some places, it was necessary to double the wire over because of the shape of the letters. This made it even harder to thread through the peg notches.  Another challenge was that the wire would bunch up between each peg if I didn’t keep it pulled taut as I threaded it through. If I tried to straighten it after I had put it through a peg, the peg would come out of the board. This was frustrating, as pegs popped out of the board quite a few times!

working with wireWhen it was finally finished, I turned on the little battery holder box button. The light was faint inside the bright room, so I moved to a darker room to test the magic. There we were, Katie, Dr. Dana, and I, cramped in the gallery’s storage closet, better known as “The Black Hole.” As I clicked the button the wire became illuminated with neon blue light. I said, “EPIC!! It actually works!!!” In the dark, we noticed that the blue light was sort of flecked, in a way that made it look like the wire was malfunctioning or something (more on the fleckiness later).

flecksNext, I decided to make a word of my own (“Zap!”). Instead of using paper, tape, and marker as suggested, I used the letter chart in the manual. The chart was super helpful. The letter chart showed the pegboard as a diagram, and showed you where to place pegs for each letter in the alphabet. Here’s the finished word:

zap set upWe went back into “The Black Hole,” and there were still flecks in the wire. We checked the manual (and the box) and discovered that the wire was real EL wire (Electroluminescent wire)! The manual listed the different components of EL wire (copper core, phosphor, copper wire, PVC plastic sleeve, colored outer PVC plastic sleeve, AC power source) and how it works. I thought it was very considerate to include all of the cool bonus information! That was definitely one of the best parts about the product.

Though I was excited to know I was using real EL wire, the manual didn’t “shed any light” on the whole fleckiness issue.

So, a few days later, I decided to call the company, Thames & Kosmos, and find out what was up. I talked to a very kind man, named John. He asked me to describe my issue. I informed him about the flecks in the wire. He told me that that was NOT natural! He even offered to send me a replacement wire! Great customer service! Hats off to John! He asked for my email, name, and address so he could inform me of any problems with shipping.

He told me it should arrive in 2-3 days, so I started waiting for the wire. I waited. And waited, and waited. And it wasn’t there a week and a half later! So I called John’s personal extension. I was told that the wire wasn’t in stock when they went to ship it, so they had to wait for a new order to come in. They were evidently shipping it that day. They should have emailed me! I thought.

Finally(!), the wire arrived three days later! I set up the new wire and clicked it on. Voila! A wire with no flecks, a stream of fluorescent (haha, phosphorescent!) blue! The new wire was beautiful. It was a feast for the eyes compared to the old flecky wire!

wire 1 vs wire 2All in all, this product was pretty fun, but it has its faults.

First, the directions called for extra items I didn’t actually use. Two sheets of white paper, markers, and tape. Those items were to help you write your word and place the pegs in their proper places on the board for the wire, but they were not necessary. Unless you wanted to write in cursive, or some other kind of script, you could use one of the handy letter guides inside the manual.

Also, the instructions called for black tape to cover the part of the wire between the letters. I don’t know about you, but I don’t own any black tape. Thankfully, Dr. Dana had some black masking tape handy.

The company’s customer service was excellent! However, I felt that I should have received an email about the delay of my replacement wire. That left me a bit frustrated.

Additionally, the cardboard was pretty flimsy. I mean, who wants to pay $20 for a piece of cardboard that’s supposed to be a pegboard!? The box calls the cardboard a “pegboard,” so I was expecting a sturdier base for the project. And why would you want to buy a product, not knowing how many extra materials you would need? (I checked the outside of the box for the product, but it mentions only two of the six other things you need!)

Oh, and this brings me to another pet peeve about products and books: the recommended age.

neon light writer age 8 plusThe recommended age for this product is 8+. Considering the frustration I had at age 12 signals to me that maybe the product should either A) note that adult assistance is needed, or B) it should be recommended for ages 10+.

This product was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed how it actually lit up! I was really skeptical about that! I loved how you could use the switch on the battery box to change the light mode to “Fast Blinking” or “Slow Blinking.” It was definitely a project I would recommend for science lovers or engineers-to-be!

THE SCORE

Pros: Fun, cool that it actually lit up, educational information in manual, great customer service/friendly and helpful staff, lovely new replacement wire.

Cons: Frustrating at times, wire hard to use, pegboard a bit low quality, no email about shipping delay.

GRAND STAR TOTAL: 4 STARS OUT OF 5!

Though this product had some faults, most products do. Overall, it was a super fun little project that could double as a science lesson!

When Chicken Pox Totally Rox

pox totally roxNo one likes to get sick…unless you have our special strain of story time chicken pox! These pox are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. But, just in case you’re still feeling under the weather, we have a cozy bed tray and get well card for you!

bed trayWe read Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox, written by Erin Dealey, and illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama (Antheneum Books, 2002). Poor Goldie. She’s absolutely covered in chicken pox, and her little brother has decided to be a total pest while she convalesces. He demands to connect her dots with crayons, whines that she’s eating all the ice cream, and teases her relentlessly about her “polka-dots.” Finally, Mother steps in to break things up. But justice has already been served. There’s a new case of chicken pox in the house, and guess who has it?

You’ll need:

  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (I used a 9.5″ x 13.5″ cake pad)
  • 1 small paper plate (mine was 7″ in diameter)
  • 1 paper bowl
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 1 paper napkin
  • 1 plastic spoon
  • 2 rectangles of yellow tissue paper (approximately 5″ x 6.25″ each)
  • 6 pieces of white yarn (approximately 5″ each)
  • 4 tiny squares of orange craft foam (approximately 0.5″)
  • A rectangle of tagboard (approximately 4.25″ x 4.5″)
  • A small square of yellow self-adhesive foam (approximately 1.25″)
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • 1 flower template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 green drinking straw
  • 2 small rectangles of stiffened felt (approximately 1.25″ x 1.75″)
  • A piece of string (approximately 4″ long)
  • A small rectangle pf white card stock for tea bag label (approximately 1″ x 2.5″)
  • 1 paper cup
  • 1 small strip of white poster board for teacup handle (approximately 0.75″ x 4″)
  • 1 blue cotton ball (or a small piece of blue tissue paper)
  • A large piece of white card stock, folded like a greeting card (approximately 5″ x 7.5″)
  • 1 sheet of red dot stickers for the “Everyone Has Chicken Pox” game
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

labeled bed trayThe bed tray has many pieces, but the assembly is a snap! The only thing we prepped in advance was the tea bag. Otherwise, the kids put together all the the pieces themselves. Begin by decorating the borders of the corrugated cardboard base, plate, and bowl.

step 1 tray plate bowlTo make “soup,” gently crumble two yellow tissue paper rectangles and place them in the bowl. Add 6 white yarn “noodles” and 4 orange craft foam squares of “chicken” (or “tofu”).

chicken soupPut your soup bowl on top of the plate, and tuck a napkin and plastic spoon next to it. To make buttered toast, cut a rectangle of tagboard (or brown poster board) into a toast shape, then use a brown marker to color the border of the toast. Add a pat of self-adhesive foam butter (or simply draw the butter on with a yellow marker).

buttered toastTo make a flower vase, wrap a toilet paper tube with patterned paper (or use white paper you’ve decorated with markers). Next, color and cut the flower from the template. Note: the flower on the template is double-sided. As you see in the image below, you cut both flowers out as one piece, making sure to cut up to the edges of the dotted line:

cut flower templateTape a green drinking straw to the bottom half of the flower…

taped flowerThen fold the template along the dotted line, bringing the top half of the flower down to match the bottom half. Secure with tape, and stick the flower in the vase!

Time for tea! We’ll begin with the tea bag. First, hot glue a 4″ piece of string to a square of stiffened felt. Hot glue a second square of felt on top of the first. To make the “label” for your tea bag, fold a small rectangle of card stock in half, then hot glue the free end of the string to the bottom half of the card stock. Fold the card stock over the string, and hot glue in place. Decorate the tea label with markers!

tea bagTo make a teacup, cut a paper cup down until it is about 1″ tall. Decorate the rim with colored masking tape and/or patterned tape. Tab the ends of a small strip of white poster board to create the handle, then attach the handle to the inside and bottom of the cup with tape (or hot glue). Drop a blue cotton ball (or a crumpled piece of blue tissue paper) into the cup, then set the tea bag inside.

finished teacupFinally, use markers to draw a get well card on white card stock. When the card is done, assemble the items on your tray. Some kids wanted me to hot glue everything to their trays, others wanted most of their items loose. You’ll definitely want to hot glue the flower vase to the tray. Otherwise, the top-heavy flower will keep tipping the vase over.

Ready to get sick? Setting our bed trays aside, we gathered in the story time area to play the “Everyone Has Chicken Pox” game. Basically, every child was given a half a sheet of  Avery red dot stickers (meaning each kids received 12 dot stickers total):

chicken pox stickersWhen I said “Go!” the kids had to run around, sticking a “pox” on different people in the room (including adults!). When everyone was good and sick, we returned to our bed trays to get “better.”

Top Secret Fooj

foojA recent re-reading of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang inspired today’s post! This highly entertaining and action-packed book was written in 1964 by Ian Fleming. Yes, THE Ian Fleming. Who knew the book would lead us on a mission of the chocolate variety?

Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang follows the adventures of the Pott family and their fabulously magical car, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. At one point in the story, some gangsters force the Pott twins, Jeremy and Jemima, to assistant in the robbery of Le Bon-Bon, the world’s most famous chocolate shop. The clever children manage to save the day, and, as a reward, the shopkeepers reveal the secret recipe for their famous fudge (which they pronounce “fooj”). The recipe is included at the end of the book (click the image to enlarge it).

recipe in book

From Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Random House, 1964.

So…what does the famous fudge taste like? Does the recipe hold up after 51 years? Katie decided to test drive it in her kitchen. Take it away Katie!


With my trusty sous-chef son by my side, we gathered and set out all of the ingredients for the “fooj.” There were only a handful of items needed to make the fudge and most we had on-hand in our pantry. We did have to purchase corn “sirup” (we went with the clear corn syrup, not dark) and a bar of unsweetened chocolate (from Ghirardelli, yum!). We also had to figure out a few measurements, like how many ounces are in a tablespoon (the answer is 0.5 ounces).

We took a wild guess at how much evaporated milk to use because the recipe called for one small can, so we used a 5 ounce can rather than the 12 ounce. Trusting our guts and confirming measurements courtesy of Google, we set forth to make our own batch of fudge.

adding milkWe followed the recipe exactly as it was written. It took some time to slowly melt all of the ingredients together, but this step probably would have been faster if we hadn’t used frozen butter. It didn’t take long for the mixture to start boiling, and we were careful to not let the chocolate burn on the sides of the pot. Incredibly, the fudge did form into little balls when dropped into a glass of cold water! I was skeptical of this description listed in the recipe, but was amazed when we watched it happen.

water testWe even beat the boiling hot fudge mixture with a wooden spoon instead of the silicone mixing spoon we had been using earlier.

wooden spoon Once we decided it had been appropriately beaten, we poured the concoction into a greased pan to cool. I used a toothpick to draw lines and mark the fudge into small squares. This is when I had my first inkling that something was not quite right. The marks immediately disappeared. I figured the fudge just needed to harden and then I could redraw the square lines.

scored fudgeHowever, the fudge never hardened. It remained a gloopy, runny mess. I put the fudge into the freezer to see if that would help the hardening process. Freezing it worked great, but then the fudge was rock solid and nearly impossible to cut. Once it cooled, it was back to its original state.

Cue sad music. Fudge failure.

However, the fudge didn’t completely go to waste. We asked a number of kids to try the fudge to let us know what they thought of it. Here’s what they said:

Boy, age almost 9: I think it looks like fudge. It tastes good, really good! Can I have more?

Girl, age 10: I think the fudge kind of looks like brownie batter. Mmm, it’s good!

Boy, age 8: The fudge does not look like fudge. It’s not square. It’s flat and round, like a pancake. It tastes sweet, but it doesn’t really taste like fudge. It tastes like a Hershey chocolate bar.

Girl, age 9: It tastes like chocolate. I can’t tell if it’s milk chocolate, but I like that it is creamy. It doesn’t look like normal fudge, but I like it!

Monsieur Bon-Bon’s Top Secret “Fooj” recipe remains a secret because somewhere between the written page to my kitchen, the recipe got lost in translation. In an effort to discover what I may have done wrong, I again consulted Google and learned from experienced bakers that making fudge can be quite a difficult task. It has to be boiled to a certain temperature after slowly melting the ingredients together, and it has to be beaten for an exact amount of time before pouring it into a pan. Apparently I failed at one or both of these steps.

Perhaps the fudge needed to be shaken, not stirred.