Despite its seemingly violent title, Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare by John Austin has become one of my go-to books when I'm looking for a fun, easy project that doesn't require a fortune in supplies. Though the target audience for the book is clearly bored cubicle slaves, I've found that a lot of the projects make for great engineering builds and excellent physics experiments.
One of my personal favorites, which I build literally hundreds of times, is the tongue depressor catapult. This little beauty takes just minutes to make and costs pennies. But every kid has a blast with it. I've made my own adjustments, of course. Instead of gluing on a soda cap to make a bucket for ammunition, I just attach a disposable spoon. And rather than launching erasers, I love to shoot marshmallows. Now that tongue depressors come in so many fun colors, the projects are even more fun!
The book also has fun designs for other catapults and trebuchets, many based on historical reproductions. I've used it in class to explore how designs have change through time, as materials and technology have changed. Have students research each design then build their mini-weapon is a great integrated study, which doesn't cost a fortune.
Not every design is perfect; I've had some that took quite a bit of tweaking to work.However, for the shear number of designs and the creative play possibilities, this is one of my favorite books. In addition, the instructions are generally well-written, with clear black and white line-art diagrams of each step. That makes it something that many kids can explore on their own, building as they go.
The book has a companion, written by the same author: Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction 2: Build a Secret Agent Arsenal. Once again, the designs are well-written and clearly illustrated and the content encourages a strong DIY vibe. I have made the oragami-style shooting star many times in many settings. And the recycled marker converted to a crayon launcher is pure genius. This book always gives me ideas for my spy classes and parties.
As I was writing this book review, I found that the author is at it again! He's published a third installment: Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction 3: Build Siege Weapons of the Dark Ages. I have, of course, ordered it. I'll let you know what my favorite projects are, just as soon as it arrives!