if you're bored, you're not paying attention

Help! My daughter wants a UFO.

Thanks to repeated viewings of Jimmy Neutron, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and Scooby Doo, Clara is now obsessed with the idea of building a super-duper clubhouse that contains, among other things, trap doors, secret pools, a waterfall, and levers that make things happen (like pop people into the air). But most of all, she wants it to have a flying saucer — that really flies.

KJ and I really want to encourage this obsession but it’s getting hard to figure out what to do with it that will be a) practical and b) satisfying to Clara, and maybe even c) educational and inspirational for her. With KJ’s help she’s made spec lists and has started drawing plans.

I posed my problem to Chris Anderson, who edits the Geekdad blog (oh yeah, and Wired mag too). He was nice enough to pose my question to his readers — many of which have some great suggestions here:

Ask Geekdad: My daughter wants a UFO


  1. Merrilee Proffitt

    Hmmm, Dylan. I think once she gets this thing built, she’ll need to showcase it on the playa! Or at least at the Maker Faire. No suggestions, but I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with.

  2. Matthew E.

    I would think about using a hammock as a base, and then building the UFO frame around it.

    If you felt particularly daring, you could put wheels on the frame and scoot it down the street.

    The major problems you’d need to solve with with hammock include:

    1. Stability of the hammock– you want some wobble for flight-like feel, but you don’t want to do barrel rolls with the child inside. You need ballast.

    2. Stability of the frame– Adding wheels may cause certain problems– you’d probably want to widen the base if you add them.

    3. Structure of the UFO– Do you want a classic saucer? Or something streamlined like the cigar-shaped ones that you used to get in the 50s? I’d go with an elongated saucer. What to use for construction? Dunno– what a nice semi-circle that’s about 7 feet long and you can buy 2 of? Could you fuse 2 toboggans (easy to find those in the Bay Area!) or even just a plywood construction that you then amputate a outdoor-table-umbrella to cover the bottom and then decorate?

    4. Power– Do you want to add a car battery and power the wheels or the flashing lights? Or even just a fan that makes it feel like you’re moving (even though there’s no wind in outer space)?

    5. Noises– you could add one of those Ray Gun Zappers with adjustable noises into the ‘control panel’. Or mod an old iPod into a Control Panel, which would then have tracks that make the appropriate noises for the control.

    6. Lights– Christmas tree lights? Bah. You need Times Square. Get something like a mini-disco light set. I bet you can find those on EBay.

    7. Turning– this is a problem to which I have no easy solution yet. I suspect this will be a parent-guided vehicle.

    8. Does the UFO come in peace (Close Encounters) or to send evil rays of death upon our cities and suburbs (Independence Day)? Does it need a set of weapons or should it just synchronize the music to the disco lights?

    9. Space food– I think thinkgeek.com still sells freeze-dried ice cream. Also good simulation of space-food: eating Cup O’Noodles without water.

    10. Aliens– Have your old college friends visit.

© 2024 dylan tweney

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑