Gobbledy Gook

Okay. I admit that I am old, well I’ll admit than I am older than some. But when did I fall off the boat or turnip truck, or whatever it is people fall off of these days?

My nine year old grandson has been staying with me the past couple of weeks while his father is in another state working. Up until last night I was handling it well. We read when he needed to read. We practiced vocabulary. We drilled on spelling words. We even did math. Last night we did baby talk.

At least I think that’s what it was. The conversation went something like this:
Him: “Mawmaw can we make something?”

Me: “What do you want to make?”

The suspicion factor was running high. The last time I was asked “do you want to make something” he wanted to make a scope for a gun out of a toilet paper roll, or was that rolled paper?

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a paper that was folded too many times for it to be good for me. It turned out to be a small piece of torn notebook paper with a recipe scrawled in child’s handwriting.

Him: “This Mawmaw.”

Scratched on the top of the paper it read “ooblek recipe”.

Me: “What is ooblek?”

Him: “It’s just stuff.”

Me: “What do you do with this stuff?”

Him: “Nothing.”

Me (trying to be cool and smart):”Is it like slime?”

Him: “No.”

Me: “Well, what is it like then?”

Him: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Do you play with it?”

Him: “Sort of.”

I gave up and tried to outsmart the nine year old.

Me (the smarter me): “I don’t think we have enough cornstarch to make this ooblek stuff. We can do it tomorrow night.”

I have found that postponing things like this is always a smart idea when dealing with things you are clueless about. It gives you time to a) figure out what the stuff is; b) figure out how to avoid the stuff entirely.

My investigation revealed that ooblek is made and used in schools for science classes. It moves, but when hit fast or hard it appears solid. Most ooblek is colored with a drop or two of food coloring, green being the preferred color.

Questions asked of the students while their hands are covered with the ooblek are as follows:
o What is strange about the oobleck?
o Can you make a ball out of oobleck? What happens if you let go of the ball?
o What happens if you hit the oobleck fast and hard? What does it feel like? What happens if you just set your hand on top?
o When does it act like a solid and when does it act like a liquid?

I can answer all of these questions with one statement – it serves absolutely no purpose other than to use up time in the classroom and piss off parents who are hounded by children who want to make ooblek at home.

Curses on the inventor and Dr. Seuss who first wrote about ooblek in the book Bartholomew and the Oobleck. In this book, ooblek is fictional green precipitation. Wikipedia describes ooblek as a non-Newtonian fluid made from 2 parts corn starch to 1 part water. I wish to add it is also non-parent/grandparent friendly, difficult to clean up, and one horribly wrong thing to put into the hands of a child.

I am hoping that my grandson has forgotten about this ooblek stuff before I get home this evening. I suspect he will remember. I am stopping by the store on the way home to get some cornstarch and tequila, just in case.

Post Script and post story
We make this ooblek stuff. It was worse than expected. It required massive amounts of strength to mix it. As soon as the water hits the cornstarch it becomes the consistency of dried cement. The food coloring now colors my counter and the floor. It is green. We kept the ooblek in a container with a lid, it in it’s semi-state (solid, liquid, ooblek – I’m not sure which) for two entire days after which my grandson tired of it and tossed it in to the garbage. The entire “making of something” took 5 days, 2 boxes of cornstarch, 1 bottle of tequila and 2 bottles of wine, 4 separate trips to the store, 4 rolls of paper towels, and three additions to the parent’s book of helpful phrases, not all consumed on the same day. If anyone mentions ooblek to you, run. Run very, very fast.

From the life and mind of:
Wanda M. Argersinger
© 2010 All Rights Reserved

About Wanda Argersinger


  1. Oh gosh, is this what I have to look forward to? I saw a demo of it on tv. Fascinating stuff, but I really don’t want it in my house. Great story, btw.

  2. Ack! My son is in 2nd grade. I’m already running…very fast!

  3. Can honestly say, I was never confronted with making this stuff with my girls….we did have to mess with the plaster of paris which totally destroyed several cooking utensils….so glad did not have to mess with this stuff and girls are out of elementary school…

  4. Wanda, I loved this story. Sounds to me like you did a good job since you’re still able to move and not stuck to something like the floor or kitchen counter top, etc. If I remember correctly this sounds like the same kinda stuff that body casts and leg casts used to “set” broken limbs is made from. That stuff is harder than diamonds and maybe even ‘Chinese Algebra’. Anyway, good job, good story. Will

  5. HA! Already been there done that only my 9 yr old was trying to make silly putty to sell on Free Enterprize Day. I got Ooblek confused with the silly putty. You use cornstarch and water for Ooblek but cornstarch and Elmer’s glue for silly putty. I’m still scraping the ooblek (which solidifies after 8 months) off carpet, chairs, windows, the 5 yr old…..and we went belly up trying to sell silly putty to kids who were covered in ooblek. I guess it was a marketing error.

  6. Wanda, Thanks for heads up! With 9 grandchildren I’m sure that this would have come up sooner or later. Now I’m prepared to say……let’s bake cookies instead!

  7. Sounds like something that should be restricted to the classroom. Even if you home-school, they should be sent to the nearest school for this. Eeewwwww!!!!!

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