Creating your Halloween Experience

Learn how to rig up a haunted house by building one-way mirrors, starch ghosts, real-flying bats, create the best-ever slime, glow juice for fountains, and build a super-popular Morph Box that really changes one object into another. You don't have to worry about inappropriate guts and gore, because we're just focusing on the physics and chemistry of each project. Some of these are illusions, some are chemistry experiments, and some just plain fun. Enjoy spooking your friends and neighbors!! (Get ready for some 'vintage Aurora'! She did these back when she first started out filming videos.)

Project #1: Halloween Slime Recipes

PVA Slime

Instead of using glue as a polymer (as in most slime recipes), we're going to use PVA (polyvinyl alcohol). Most liquids are unconnected molecules bouncing around.

Monomers (single molecules) flow very easily and don't clump together. When you link up monomers into longer segments, you form polymers (long chains of molecules). Polymers don't flow very easily at all - they tend to get tangled up until you add the cross-linking agent (which is the borax in this experiment), which buddies up the different segments of the molecule chains together into a fishnet design.

For this experiment, you'll need to get PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) and borax (sodium tetraborate). You'll use the borax in other slime recipes also. Make sure to use disposable cups and popsicle sticks for easy cleanup. When I do this project with a crowd, I cover the table with a plastic tablecloth and wrap up the whole mess when we're done into the trash can.

If you're having trouble finding PVA, you can make a different slime using clear glue (also called glue gel). Here's how you do it: By adding borax to the mix, you cross-link the long chains of molecules together into a fishnet, and the result is a gel we call slime.

PVA is used make sponges, hoses, printing inks, and plastic bags. You can add food coloring (or a bit of liquid Ivory dish soap to get a marbled appearance). You can also add a dollop of titanium dioxide sunscreen to your slime before cross-linking it to get a metallic sheen.

Sewer Slime

Guar gum comes from the guar plant (also called the guaran plan), and people have found a lot of different and interesting uses for it. It's one of the primary substitutes for fat in low-fat and fat-free foods. Cooks like to use guar gum in foods as it has 8 times the thickening power of cornstarch, so much less is needed for the recipe. Ice cream makers use it to keep ice crystals from forming inside the carton. Doctors use it as a laxative for their patients.

When we teach kids how to make slime using guar gum, they call it "fake fat" slime, mostly because it's used in fat-free baking. You can find guar gum in health food stores or order it online. We're going to whip up a batch of slime using this "fake fat".


Bouncy Putty Slime

The glue is a polymer, which is a long chain of molecules all hooked together like tangled noodles. When you mix the two solutions together, the water molecules start linking up the noodles together all along the length of each noodle to get more like a fishnet. Scientists call this a polymetric compound of sodium tetraborate and lactated glue. We call it bouncy putty.

Glowing Slime

Imagine a plate of spaghetti. The noodles slide around and don’t clump together, just like the long chains of molecules (called polymers) that make up slime. They slide around without getting tangled up. The pasta by itself (fresh from the boiling water) doesn’t hold together until you put the sauce on.

Slime works the same way. Long, spaghetti-like chains of molecules don’t clump together until you add the sauce … until you add something to cross-link the molecule strands together. The glue is the “spaghetti” (the long chain of molecules, also known as a polymer), and the “sauce” is the borax (the cross-linking agent). You need both in order to create a slime worthy of Hollywood filmmakers.

Don’t forget: You’ll need a long-wave UV source (also known as a “black light”) to make it glow (. tend to work better than LEDs) - check the shopping list for where to get one. This slime will glow faintly in sunlight, because you get long-wave UV light from the sun — it’s just that you get all the other colors, too, making it hard to see the glow.

Is your slime a solid, a liquid, or a bubbly gas? The best slimes we’ve seen have all three states of matter simultaneously: solid chunks suspended in a liquidy form with gas bubbles trapped inside (which is why clear glue works the best). Yeecccccch!!


How to Make Glow Juice

You can add glow juice in place of water in any experiment, and we've had glowing fountains of this stuff lit by hidden UV black lights. Here's how you make the glow juice by itself:

Corny Slime

Ever wonder why ketchup doesn't flow easily out of the bottle? Now you know it's because the ketchup acts just like the cornstarch-water experiment here. More examples of non-Newtonian fluids are ketchup, blood, paint, and shampoo.

We're going to whip up a batch of non-Newtonian fluid that's going to act like both a solid and a liquid.

Here's what you do:

  • Fill a large bowl with two cups of cold water.
  • Mix in one cup of cornstarch. The faster you stir, the harder it is to stir. Go s l o w l y .
  • Grab it with your hand - it should form a hard ball that you can't squish. When you relax your grip, the ball should melt and drip between your fingers as if liquid.

If this is not what's happening for you, adjust the amounts of cornstarch and water you have in your bowl.

The water-cornstarch mixture is made up of long molecular chains (polymers) that get all tangled up when you scrunch them together (and the slime feels solid). The polymers are so slick that as soon as you release the tension, they slide free (and the slime drips between your fingers).

Think of spaghetti noodles with butter - they get tangled up, but are still allowed to slide freely. This cornstarch-water substance is both a solid and a liquid. Scientists call this a non-Newtonian fluid. Here's what happens

if you run sound waves through your cornstarch solution:


Project #2: Real Bats That Fly

When trick-or-treaters knock on your door, turn off the inside lights, open the door, set off your Real Bats that Fly, and fire up strobe lights (if you have them) for a completely disorienting effect that will leave most people shrieking (this works best if you do all of that within seconds of the knock at the door, but don't terrify any small kids.)

You'll need an ornithopter (a wind-up bird toy just like the kind that Leonardo d'Vinci sketched out centuries ago) and a few other items.

Here's how to make the bats:

Project #3: One-Way Mirrors

You can install One Way Mirrors (most tinted windows can be converted into a one-way mirror) in your house by hanging one in a hallway and cover up the background with a thick blanket or sheet.

This is very similar to the "Haunted Mansion Mirrors" effect at Disneyland, where you can project another image on top of your reflection. Here's how to set up the mirror:


Project #4: Starch Ghosts

Hang Starch Ghosts from a slow-moving fan for a spooky and fun effect! It looks like they are simply floating around by themselves with nothing holding up their shape. Here's what you do:

Project #5: Fast Slingshot Bats

Using a 6" piece of black foam insulation for 3/4" PVC pipe, you can make a slingshot bat if you have a lot of outdoor space to launch in.

Here's how to make these:

 

Project #6: Morph Box Illusion

Have you ever been to the Haunted House at Disneyland? They use an effect called "Pepper's Ghost" for you to be able to see the ghosts dancing around (and through) the banquet hall. We're going to make this prop and it will absolutely stun your audience!

Transform one object into another with this magician-style illusion box! You'll need to hide the box so people can't see the extension, but rather simply focus on the object itself. (This is NOT a project for beginners, as it uses high voltage.)

Here's what you do:

Project #7: Science Experiments with Halloween Candy

If you've tried the experiment of "eating it all yourself", why not try a different experiment? Here are some of my best ideas for science experiments that involve candy!

Creating a Mad Scientist Lab:

Set up a Mad Scientist Lab using the Chemical Matrix experiment. If you use clear disposable cups and popsicle sticks, the clean up is a LOT easier! Do this outside if possible. 

 

Screaming/Humming Balloons:

Fill a room full of orange and black balloons, but make Screaming Balloons in only half of the balloons. Hide coins or candy in the other half and let the kids figure out which ones are which. All you need is a balloon and a hexnut.

Consider Your Lighting:

Replace your chandelier light bulbs with flicker bulbs and turn down the lights in the evening.

Click here for flicker bulbs (make sure you get the right size base for your sockets!)

You can also replace bathroom light bulbs with black lights (they come in both fluorescent and incandescent) because the bathroom is usually a dark, mirrored location, perfect for creating amazing illusions!

Halloween Carnival for Kids

Join me for a tour of our Halloween Fall Carnival. This is the first time I've done this indoors, so come on in!
A lot of these elements are homemade (I have been slowly adding elements for over 18 years), and the burlap tables that the games sit on are actually the storage boxes that I keep them in the attic.
 

Homemade carnival games make it special

Using simple, fun Halloween-themed carnival games like tic-tac-toe, bingo, mini golf, ring the bottle, knock down the cups, skeeball, and more ... this will be a really fun surprise for the kids!
 
Join me in a video tour of the room that I set up for the Halloween Carnival this year. I'll show you the different elements that I used and how I put them together. There's a lot that you can do with simple materials.
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How the carnival room works

The "currency" is small, individually wrapped candy that they earn through the games, and there there are also stations where they can spend it, like "5 candies" at the Leaky Cauldron gets you a chance to ring a pumpkin juice or soda, or "7 candies" earns you a "flying" lesson where you get to try to make a golf ball to go through the loop and hence earn a larger candy.

And "20 candies" gets you the choice of a small stuffed animal at the Magical Pet Shop... you get the idea. There's also a specialty candy shop where they can spend small candies for homemade ones at Crazy Cat Candy Shop, or try to solve the jokes and riddles at Black Cat Potions Shop.

Kids solve hidden riddles to win candy and prizes

It's totally fun, and this year I set this up earlier than usual so the kids can enjoy it for a couple of weeks, not just one weekend. Normally this is outside, but due to the fires and smoke, we had to move it indoors for kids to play with. (The bobbing for apples is still outside, though - too messy indoors!)
 
It took about four days to put this together. If you're doing this with your family, I would suggest each person coming up with 2-3 carnival games. That way, you (parent) don't have to do it all yourself, and you'll also get to be surprised by the creativity of other family members, and they all feel part of it as they each get to contribute.
 

Screamball Skeeball, Labyrinth Candy Corn Lane, and Pumpkin Mini Golf

One more thing - I didn't put all the elements (games) out - I am going to swap a few each week to keep it interesting and fun. The candy shop candies will also have small toys or books this year, and the jokes and riddles will get harder and harder each week.

And the whole thing glows! I took the candles from the huge floating solar system I made over the summer and re-used them to illuminate the room, and I've lined the baseboards with strings of lights so kids can see well enough at night with the lights out.

Crescent Moon Cafe & the Leaky Cauldron

There are two places to eat and drink in the carnival - at the Crescent Moon Cafe (serving butterbeer, spider cider and cauldron cakes) and the Leaky Cauldron (serving iced pumpkin juice).

Here are the recipes on how to make these:

CAULDRON CAKES (pumpkin cakes)
1 box spice cake mix
3 eggs
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup melted butter
1 15oz can pumpkin puree
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Mix everything together on high speed for about 2 minutes. Batter will be a little thinner than regular cake mix. Pour into muffin tins and bake 15 minutes at 350 deg F.

ICED PUMPKIN JUICE
4 liters apple juice or cider
1 15oz pumpkin puree
1/2 sugar or maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla (non-alcohol kind)
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Mix everything in a blender on high speed. Pour into pitcher and chill for two hours. Serve over ice or with carbonated water.

More recipes...

BUTTERBEER (Butterscotch Hot Cocoa)

Using your favorite hot cocoa mix, simply add in 2-4 tbl butterscotch chips when hot, and stir well. Top with pumpkin pie spiced whipped cream! (Yes, the actually have this at my grocery store!) You can also instead of the chips use butterscotch ice cream topping (use only 1-2 tbl per cup) and 1 tsp vanilla and stir into hot cocoa. Yum!

SPIDER CIDER (homemade Apple Cider)

Into a saucepan on the stove, put one quart of apple juice, 3 cinnamon sticks, 2 tbl cinnamon, 1 orange (cut into slices, not peeled), 1 diced apple, 2 tbp whole allspice, 8 cloves, and stir until barely simmering (do not boil). Turn off heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Remove solids if desired, pour into cups and enjoy.

Costumes, Anyone?

Now let's talk costumes. What do you think a mad scientist needs to look like?

Aurora's big addition to her "Mad Scientist Look" this year is to get her hair to "smoke and she's managed to figure out an easy solution without frying her mane

(HINT: handheld fog machine and flexible tubing with holes punched along its length).

In the past, she's had goggles, lab coat, pocket protector, about 175 pens, rubber gloves, lots of hair spray to maintain the 'Einstein' look, and plaid pants.

What else can YOU come up with? You don't need to explode anything to get a dark face ... just rub some black make-up or cocoa powder on your face in uneven patches and enjoy your night!

Halloween Poetry Play


It's a tradition for my family to put on a "Halloween Poetry Play", totally in the dark. Only the actors get a light shining on their faces so it's a lot of fun to coordinate props, lines, costumes, etc for this type of play.

There's everything from a kid secretly hiding under a table with spinach-gloved hands to bubbling cauldrons (from dry ice) with glow sticks thrown in and witches dancing around to chairs sliding across the stage as they grab hold of a kid and pull him away!

The recording below is only audio (there's no video, because it was so dark...)

Most of the poems are relatively short, and kids memorize 2-3 each, and a lot of them require more than one person.  I hope you enjoy it!

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If you'd like to perform any of the poems listed above, please download the Halloween Poetry PDF. Enjoy!