Tinkering School

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Deep Questions in the Sandbox

Sean Murray

Some of our projects at Tinkering Camp have very clear goals. Shape a fort out of clay and sticks. Build a pulley system and haul yourself to the ceiling. Make a giant, climb-able bridge in the shape of a rainbow.

Some projects have no single, crisp-edged goal, other than to generate questions and, maybe, answers. You might call these "sandbox projects".*

This week's exploration of Color Spinners started with the introduction of one simple concept: when colors move fast, the eyes and brain perceive them as blending together.


From Monday's rudimentary experiments spinning paper plates on drills to Wednesday's collaboration between two self-chosen groups working in parallel--a "hardware" group perfecting a motorized spinner and a "software" group designing colored discs--campers came up with lots of interesting questions.
* How fast does a disc have to spin to cause blending?
* Why don't car wheels come flying off their axles?
* What makes a motor spin?
* How can you make a clockwise motor spin counter-clockwise?
* Why does the color towards the outside of the disc "blend" more than the color towards the inside?
* What happens when you blend all the colors?
* Does a disc divided into two halves blend the same as a disc divided into four quarters? Eight eights?
* Do people with glasses see the blending differently without their glasses?
* Why are the threads on the axle of the motor "backwards"?
* How fast does the disc have to spin to produce the blending effect?
* How does distance between eyes and disc affect blending?

And, most baffling and still not satisfactorally answered:

Why does it do this?:


*The term "sandbox" was used to describe the video game "SimCity". Unlike most video games, which challenged players to move along a linear path towards a well-defined end (e.g., "Super Mario Bros."), "SimCity" furnished players with a suite of tools,concepts, and an open invitation to combine them in interesting ways.

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