Dave Barry's Science Fair Tricks Host Scott Simon visits with humorist Dave Barry and the kids of Ms. Wilson's classroom at Cutler Ridge Middle School outside of Miami, Fla., to explode things.

Dave Barry's Science Fair Tricks

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We're at the Cutler Ridge Middle School in Cutler Bay, Florida, in the science classroom of Charmaine R. Wilson for a novel test, if you please. Dave Barry, who writes so many books that he needs partners, has a new book for young readers and their parents with Ridley Pearson, the thriller writer. Their new book is called "Science Fair". "Science Fair" is the story of Toby Harbinger - of course, the stuck-up kids in class call him hardbonger(ph) - who needs to win first prize at a school science fair because there are large, hairy, smelly, menacing men from the Republic of Kr...

Mr. DAVE BARRY (Author, "Science Fair"): Kiburshishtan(ph).

SIMON: Kiburshishtan, thank you. Kiburshishtan...

(Soundbite of throat clearing)

Mr. BARRY: Gesundheit.

SIMON: Thanks very much - who are after him. And they have a plan to subvert the United States by using Toby's school and science fair for their own nefarious purposes. Dave Barry joins us here in Florida. Thanks so much for being with us, and thank you to all the students here. Did you folks have a chance to read the book?

(Soundbite of children responding affirmatively)

SIMON: Like it?

(Soundbite of children responding affirmatively)

SIMON: All right. Well, that's it. That's all...

Mr. BARRY: Yeah, I loved it, Scott.

SIMON: What made you decide to put a science fair at the center of the story?

Mr. BARRY: I always felt science fairs were one of the most stressful parts of any child's existence, any parent's existence. I always thought that if we want to raise money for the school systems, all we need to do - we don't need taxes, we just need the principal to bring the parents in the first day of school and say, if you don't give us the money we need to run the schools this year, we're going to hold a science fair. And they'll get the money because the parents get...

SIMON: Because the parents often wind up doing...

Mr. BARRY: Yeah, I learned that when my son was in second grade, and competing children were coming in with working cold fusion reactors. There are some serious competitive science fair people out there.

SIMON: Is it your impression that it's getting harder in science fairs to come up with something that will impress people?

Mr. BARRY: Yeah. When I was a kid, my science fair projects were always unbelievably lame because I didn't do them until the morning of the science fair. Typically, I would get a - this is an actual science fair project I did. I got a ball - it was a rubber ball - and I colored it with ink. That was the hardest part of the science fair, coloring half the ball with ink. And it was called phases of the moon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARRY: So my whole - no, I'm not kidding. My whole project was - it was a sign that said "Phases of the Moon," and it was a ball. And it had - I put pieces of tape around it showing if you were looking at that part, that would be that phase. This didn't prove anything except that I didn't do anything to do my science fair project. But then when I brought it to school, my friends - my so-called friends - immediately thought that was funny.

And it's in the gym. So they take the ball and they're shooting baskets. So most of the time when you went by - you'd be going by all these actual projects, and then you would come to a sign that said "Phases of the Moon," and nothing was there. There was just nothing. It's like the moon was in a phase where it was just gone, you know. So that was the kind of science fair project I did.

SIMON: Mr. Barry is going to bring us through a couple of experiments. What experiments?

Mr. BARRY: So in our book, a kid - one of the kids - named Micah, for his science fair project, he just got - decides he's going to make a nuclear Mentos, the biggest Mentos-Diet Coke experiment ever performed. He gets a 55-gallon drum, big barrel, fills it with Diet Coke. Then he makes the world's biggest Mentos, the nuclear Mentos, by gluing together 40,000 regular-size Mentos. So he has a Mentos the size of a truck tire, which then he drops in. And that becomes a critical part of the plot when the nuclear Mentos goes off in this gym with this doomsday device near the end of the science fair. But I have to ask first because it's pretty dangerous. And I want to stress to the young people here, Scott and I are trained professionals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARRY: Do not try this at home unless your parents are gone. OK?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARRY: Scott and I, however...

SIMON: Yeah, we have to be exposed.

Mr. BARRY: We're going to have to put on scientific equipment. We're putting on our lab coats now.

(Soundbite of rustling)

Mr. BARRY: It's also very important. Scott...

SIMON: Thank you. The scientific name for these is Groucho glasses.

Mr. BARRY: All right. All scientists - all we scientists always wear protective headwear. These are actually - these are called mad scientist wigs, and I got them on the Internet. And I don't know who else has been wearing yours, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARRY: If you see anything jumping around in it. Anyway, OK, here we have a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke. And I'm going to ask, Scott, this is a really critical part. We call it cracking the Coke.

(Soundbite of Coke hissing)

Mr. BARRY: That sounds good. The issue is how many Mentos to drop in. That's always the big question. The more Mentos, the higher it goes. So, what do you think kids?

(Soundbite of children responding "ten" in unison)

Mr. BARRY: Ten. OK, you'd like to see - there's a danger we'll just knock down the entire Cutler Middle School. Is that OK with you?

(Soundbite of children responding affirmatively)

Mr. BARRY: All right. Then we'll have to take - no, I'm going to try three because I don't want to - you know, I'm a Dade County taxpayer. So, whatever happens here, I'll have to help pay for it. But anyway, what we need to do is count it down, and then I will drop these in. Are you ready for the countdown? OK. Go ahead, count from 10.

(Soundbite of children counting down from ten to one)

(Soundbite of children cheering)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARRY: Well, we hit the ceiling there. I didn't really think we were going to hit the actual ceiling.

SIMON: That was great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: That was terrific.

Mr. BARRY: I saw you laughing, Ms. Wilson.

Ms. CHARMAINE WILSON (Teacher, Cutler Ridge Middle School): Because I knew it was going to hit the ceiling.

Mr. BARRY: Did you really?

Ms. WILSON: Yeah. How many did you drop in?

Mr. BARRY: Three.

SIMON: Ms. Wilson is a woman of science.

Mr. BARRY: She knows her science. OK, the other we're going to do - and I haven't done this in a long time. I did this on television. Have you ever heard of "The David Letterman Show"? I did this on "The David Letterman Show". What it is - and it's another part of the book "Science Fair" - we have a key role played by, in the "Science Fair", Barbie. This is no ordinary Barbie doll. This is called a Rollerblade Barbie, and you can't get it anymore. They don't sell it. Mattel doesn't sell it. And I'll show you why.

If you watch what I do when I roll her little - she has little pink booties on with wheels on - regular-looking wheels in the front. But the rear wheels do this. They spark. They are actually like from a lighter. Flint wheels, sparking wheels, it's a sparking Barbie doll. This turned out to be not such a great idea. And again, as Ms. Wilson would point out, it's not really an experiment because we already know what's going to happen.

SIMON: Ms. Wilson, what's the scientific utility of this experiment?

Mr. BARRY: A reason for this. Make it educational, Ms. Wilson.

Ms. WILSON: Setting Barbie on fire?

Mr. BARRY: No, we're not setting Barbie on fire.

SIMON: Setting a T-shirt on fire.

Ms. WILSON: The T-shirt on fire. OK, then...

Mr. BARRY: (Unintelligible) there's oxygen or something.

Ms. WILSON: Very important scientific concepts at play. There is energy. There is transfer of energy. There's a law of conservation of energy.

SIMON: Way to go, Ms. Wilson. I loved that, thank you.

Mr. BARRY: We need Ms. Wilson.

SIMON: Oh, boy. Absolutely.

Mr. BARRY: Now, I'm going to ask Scott to spray a lot.

SIMON: A lot?

Mr. BARRY: A lot of hairspray because my experience was it's hard to get it to work without a lot of hairspray. But we're also going to have somebody standing close by with a fire extinguisher.

SIMON: Let's underscore there is an assistant principal standing by with the fire extinguisher.

Mr. BARRY: No, he's got a camera in his hand.

SIMON: Actually, he does have a camera in his hand. He's taking - he's taking pictures. All right. OK. Yeah.

(Soundbite of spraying)

Mr. BARRY: You know, right in one spot. We're going to do it in one spot. All right, let's see if it works. We should give it a try. We need more. We need more hairspray on her, Scott.

(Soundbite of spraying)

Mr. BARRY: We might use another kind, too. We're not getting combustion. OK, ready? There it goes.

SIMON: Yeah! Look at that.

Mr. BARRY: OK. We have that. Da dah!

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. BARRY: Now, students, haven't we learned a lot about science here today?

(Soundbite of children responding affirmatively)

Mr. BARRY: Did anybody have any questions about the book or...

Unidentified Child #1: Why did you decide to make most of the names without vowels?

Mr. BARRY: Yeah, you know, when we - the names of the country that the bad guys come from is called Perskstan(ph), and the bad guys are named Mrtsy(ph) and Vrst(ph) and Vncm(ph). And that was sort of the beginning, we were just kind of running our hands on the keyboards there, you know. Later on we'll come up with real names for these because there's almost no vowels in most of the names. They're almost impossible to say. But then we sort of came to like the names, and we left them that way because they just sound so weird. Ridley, my co-author's idea was that we would change the way we spell the country every time we spell it, so it would never be spelled the same way twice. But we decided that would be pushing it a little too far.

Unidentified Child #2: Have you set anything else on fire except clothing?

Mr. BARRY: No, I have not. And again I want to stress how important it is to not go around setting fire to things. This is strictly for science. Ms. Wilson, we thank you for letting us spew Diet Coke and flames all over your classroom.

SIMON: Thank you, Dave.

Mr. BARRY: My pleasure.

SIMON: Dave Barry, his new book along with Ridley Pearson - his co-writer Ridley Pearson is "Science Fair." And thanks so much to the students in Ms. Wilson's science classroom of the Cutler Ridge Middle School in Cutler Bay, Florida. Thanks so much. This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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