While the kids were visiting their grandparents last week someone bought them a Smithsonian-branded DIY baking soda volcano at a garage sale and almost as soon as I arrived home from San Diego they were like “MOM! We missed you! Did you bring us anything? SO ANYWAY WHEN ARE WE GOING TO BUILD THIS VOLCANO?”

The box art made it look like this thing was going to be epic—giant sploogey eruptions of reddish lava drooling over its sides, etc. Possibly even an actual dinosaur included, once you assembled what was sure to be its MINDBLOWING contents.

Riley was so excited when I opened the box he was practically hovering in midair, and the very first thing we had to do . . . was thread a shitload of string through about fifty jillion tiny-ass fucking holes in a cardboard circle.

Screen shot 2011-08-09 at 7.25.02 AM

I mean seriously. SERIOUSLY. What kid has the patience to do this? I’m 37 and I barely had the hand-eye coordination to carry out this brain-numbing task, which took, I’m not even kidding, like FORTY-FIVE MINUTES. Why were the holes so small? Out of all the potential options for including a frame for the volcano—collapsible plastic, cardboard pieces, some goddamned sticks—who sat at the Idea Table and thought STRING! YES! CHILDREN LOVE STRING, JUST LIKE KITTENS!

I will tell you who. The same motherfucker who came up with this actual I-am-not-making-this-up Smithsonian Institute “Department of Innovation” logo, that’s who:


(Please note that those gears are not actually capable of turning.)

The current status of the Thrilling Erupting Volcano is that it’s been layered with gooey child-sliming plaster and now sits, a sodden and most decidedly NON-epic lump, on the living room table where it needs to dry for at least 2 days. OH BOY MY KIDS ARE SO STOKED THANKS SMITHSONIAN!



38 Responses to “VolcaNO”

  1. Lawyerish on August 9th, 2011 7:53 am

    From the first picture, I thought it was like a foot high, at least, but it doesn’t even have size going for it! It’s TINY and pitiful looking! WTF, Smithsonian?

  2. Mim on August 9th, 2011 8:00 am

    We got a plastic old-school volcano for the kids last year and it was, uh, not so thrilling. Baking soda and soap and food coloring just don’t make very satisfying lava. OK, this is dating me, i am sure, but wasn’t there an episode of The Brady Bunch where one of the kids made a volcano model and it exploded spectacularly? That is the dream, and let me just say, it was not our reality at all. Still, good for the boys to learn early that life is full of disappointed expectations.

  3. Penne on August 9th, 2011 8:07 am

    While you’re waiting, just get a roll of Mentos and a 2-Liter bottle of Diet Coke. Instant gratification AND sticky! Yay!

  4. Nik-Nak on August 9th, 2011 8:09 am

    Yeah, that’s pretty tiny. Better be worth it, huh?

  5. ssm on August 9th, 2011 8:17 am

    Oh MAN. This smacks of Lego-ism. It’s like every single “ages 8-14” Lego set my six-year-old wants me to put together, sorting out 1,200 teeny tiny pieces into 34 different piles and going through 67 steps while my near-sightedness dims and the scream inside me grows. So, yeah, I understand.

  6. crisi-tunity on August 9th, 2011 8:18 am

    Wow, not at all the quality I’m accustomed to from Smithsonian-branded products. (I have a moon lamp from them that’s terrific.) I think you could make a 100% homemade volcano more easily than this.

    Also, take Penne’s advice!

  7. Heidi on August 9th, 2011 8:40 am

    A few years back, I bought The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions. In it, was recipe for a volcano using 2 small paper cups, baking soda, & vinegar. (And a plate to set it all on). Kids got a kick out of it and it only took minutes to set up.

  8. Sharon on August 9th, 2011 8:42 am

    I was going to say you could probably just download instructions to build an easier volcano, but yeah. Mentos and Diet Coke works, too.

  9. HollyLynne on August 9th, 2011 9:03 am

    “NON-epic lump”. I’m dying over here.

  10. Jen W. on August 9th, 2011 9:04 am

    OMG hahaha it’s about 10 times smaller than I expected! It’s a wee volcano!

  11. Jess on August 9th, 2011 9:14 am

    perhaps that is why someone sold it at the garage sale in the first place.

  12. Nolita on August 9th, 2011 9:34 am

    I agree with Jess on why this may have been in the sale. Maybe go with Heidi’s idea but just have the boys look into the sink as you pour the vinegar into the baking soda? No muss, no fuss and clean drains. Maybe then you can have them do this to the other sinks in the house? #earningtheirkeep

  13. Faith on August 9th, 2011 9:48 am

    Ahh, so many memories of failed science experiments as a kid. I think I’m finally starting to understand the look on my mom’s face anytime I asked her if I could try a new one.

  14. Rachael on August 9th, 2011 10:09 am

    I love it when people buy my kids FUN! activity kits! that end up requiring more parental participation than child participation. I’m talking about you, Perfume Factory and also you, Bead Loom.

  15. Fiona on August 9th, 2011 10:27 am

    Hahaaa, I’m a high school teacher and I’ve never managed to fashion an exciting indoor volcano. The best one my students ever made was a massive volcano CAKE with seeping jelly…yum! If I wasn’t so far away I could do exploding methane bubbles – definitely a Chemistry lesson for them to look forward to.

  16. Amy on August 9th, 2011 11:02 am

    Hmmm….size does matter! We did a Messy Scientist class at a local art studio (for kids called Art Beast!!) Much better volcano and other exploding things. You’re so creative I’m sure you’ll come up with better things!

  17. Laura on August 9th, 2011 11:25 am

    We have that exact same volcano but haven’t opened it yet so thanks for the heads up. Today we are going to do the Smithsonian Pre-historic Sea Monsters kit, a kit that requires distilled water and if you have it, an incandescent light. This kit has disappointment written all over it. My brother’s girlfriend is a scientist and gave these kits to my boys at Christmas in an effort to get them excited about science. If the kits don’t work I am sending the boys to her lab at the CDC so they can see a real scientist at work and so I won’t have to deal with their disappointment.

  18. barb. on August 9th, 2011 11:34 am

    This reminds me of the “easy-to-assemble!” pirate ship I got for the kids. It… yeah. Frustrating, irritating, and nearly impossible is more like it, and I am well beyond the 6+ rating on the package.

  19. H on August 9th, 2011 11:36 am

    I’m with Lawyerish, I thought it was much bigger than it really is. It must have been torture to thread it!

  20. Sunshyn on August 9th, 2011 11:45 am

    If you do Mentos and soda, you have to make some sort of device so they all fall into the soda bottle at once. Also, use DIET soda to avoid stickiness. Fun to get three 2-liter bottles of diet soda and food coloring, dye one red, one blue, and have red, white, and blue going all at once! I’m sure there are tutorials online to do this… Will Smith did it with his kids, I remember… VolcaNOs suck.

  21. Donna on August 9th, 2011 11:46 am

    Yeah, I couldn’t figure out why it was so hard for you to thread the thing until the final picture with your hand for comparison. LOL, that’s just dumb. I’m all for the mentos idea tho too.
    And then I saw a thing about dry ice in a plastic liter bottle blowing up, but the boys don’t like the loud still do they? I tend to do scary not for kid experiments.
    Oh! Do an ant farm, or bee hives! That would be cool!

  22. MRW on August 9th, 2011 12:35 pm

    Oh Rachael I’m so with you. My son has received a candy making kit and some kind of pyramid making thing that I just can’t bring myself to tackle based on the experiences we’ve had with other such kits given to us by the same relatives. 2,357 hours of my time later the thing is ALWAYS a disappointment. I’d like to tell the relatives who give us this crap to keep it at their house and do them with my son if they love that shit so much. Feh.

  23. Melissa on August 9th, 2011 12:46 pm

    I thought it was bigger too! Thanks forthe heads up.

    Also? That logo made me laugh out loud before I ever read your description! My husband’s company’s marketing department was coming up with a new logo. It was similar to this one. At the presentation of it, my husband (the lOne engineer) pointed out that it would never turn. They were crushed. And one person refused to believe him. There is no arguing with someone like that!

  24. Jill on August 9th, 2011 1:40 pm

    I’m going to be another to say Mentos and diet soda. If you have a Hobby Lobby out by you – they sell a contraption (it’s usually on the wall of stuff by the registers) that helps you drop the candy into the soda – it even comes with the Mentos! Explosion satisfaction :)

  25. Katie on August 9th, 2011 2:31 pm

    Oh my GOD this is funny. Those gears are an exercise in futility if I ever saw one. And I’ve seen plenty.

  26. Cheryl M. on August 9th, 2011 3:56 pm

    I can’t believe that’s the best they could come up with! You’d have been better off using chicken wire and paper mache!

  27. Cheryl M. on August 9th, 2011 3:58 pm

    Oh! Forgot to mention…go to YouTube and look up post-it waterfalls! They’re really cool, and you can get some awesome effects that the kids will love! (No, it does NOT involve covering everything in your house with post-its, lol!)

  28. Jessica on August 9th, 2011 4:16 pm

    I’m thinking the Smithsonian science kits are marketed to non-parents who don’t have a clue what to buy…

  29. Aunt Linda on August 9th, 2011 7:06 pm

    Um, honey? It would be okay with me if you NEVER review any of my books. Okay?

  30. Katrina on August 10th, 2011 1:17 am

    Um. Needle?

    Sorry. That wasn’t helpful at all! I really hope that the actual reaction won’t be lame – especially after all that work! You would have thought they could just design a cardboard cone you could mold around the central bit that would do the same job in about 30 seconds.

  31. RockyCat on August 10th, 2011 6:44 am

    After seeing that last picture, all I can think of is the Stonehenge set from This is Spinal Tap …

  32. Deanna on August 10th, 2011 8:05 am

    My version: I dribble food coloring into the garbage disposal. Call the kids and let them dump baking soda and then vinegar into it. Repeat till my disposal is clean. ooooh – ahhhh – they *love* it! ha!
    You might be up for sainthood for making that volcano kit. And try my way – very cheap and the clean up is a breeze!

  33. Andrea on August 10th, 2011 7:09 pm

    It’s not a volcano, but it is kind of cool because you do get a reaction.
    Do this outside.

    You’ll need:
    empty plastic water bottle (20 oz is fine)
    baking soda
    balloon (uninflated)

    Do this:
    Pour some vinegar in the bottle (I never measure the stuff so…1/4 cup?)
    spoon some baking soda into the uninflated balloon (see note on measuring)

    put end of balloon over water bottle opening.
    dump the contents of the balloon into the vinegar.

    The resulting C02 will make the balloon inflate. If you’re really really lucky, the balloon will go flying off.

    I’m with the others about the mentos and diet coke (not sticky) and the epic Brady Bunch volcano stands out in my mind.

  34. mosted on August 10th, 2011 8:08 pm

    As for the diet soda and mentos….been there…have teenagers…do it OUTSIDE!!! FAR away from your house…pretty intense!

  35. Leslie on August 10th, 2011 9:13 pm

    Wow – it looks like it’s about 5 inches high. Tops. What a let down!

  36. Rachel on August 11th, 2011 4:09 pm

    That is super lame. Everyone’s suggestions of Mentos and Diet Coke is spot on. I work the Maker Faire in California and the kids always go to the soda fountain demonstrations dragging their feet and then lose their tiny minds when they see it work. A little chicken wire, papier mache and arcylic paint and the kids can make a volcano cone to go over a 2 liter soda bottle so you can have a soda volcano – way closer to the Brady Bunch volcano than vinegar and baking soda will get you.

  37. MaryPoppinSertraline on August 11th, 2011 6:12 pm

    I was going to comment, but am now too traumatized by Fiona’s mention of “exploding methane bubbles”. (!!!)

    Anyway- what Lawyerish, Mim, and RockyCat said!

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