The Smoking Jacket: What’s the best thing about having a tin full (or a few tinfuls) of Thinking Putty on your desk?
You’ll open a can of Thinking Putty and knead it a few times in your hand and then get right back to work. Ten minutes later you’ll realize it’s still in your hand and you didn’t even notice. You’ve been stretching, playing, and kneading the whole time and it’s completely unconscious. It fills the tiny gaps in your work day (waiting for a website to load, uploading a file, etc) with a bit of hands-on fun. That’s why it’s called “Thinking Putty”. It actually helps you think and stay focused. Plus the colors and effects are totally awesome!
TSJ: What are the three most science-y things you can do with Thinking Putty?
1) Thinking Putty is a non-Newtonian fluid. That means it reacts in weird ways when stressed. For example, your finger will melt right into it but if you punch it hard with your fist, it hurts… like hitting the desk or a rock. Similar formulas are used as shock absorbers, ballistics protection, and vibration dampening. You can also see this by bouncing a big piece of it on the floor, but then watching that same piece shatter if you hit it with the force of a hammer.
2) Our magnetic Thinking Putty actually eats the magnet and then the surface develops these ripples. These are the magnetic field lines actually becoming visible on the surface of the putty. It’s really neat!
3) Our Super Illusions (Super Scarab, Super Oil Slick, and Super Lava) all have a really cool memory effect in addition to their mind blowing colors. So you stretch them and they want to pull back to their original shape. You can twist it up, put it on the table and it will physically unwind itself. It’s an example of polymer entanglement (imagine a bowl of stretchy spaghetti). The play possibilities are endless but you actually learn some real high-tech polymer science doing it.
TSJ: Glow-in-the-dark Thinking Putty. Is this a thing?
Yes, we actually have four glow in the dark colors of Thinking Putty: Green (Krypton), icy blue (Ion), orange (Amber), and violet (Aura). When I was designing them I wanted to be different than other glow products so I made them all completely white in daylight. The glow color is only revealed in darkness. They pretty much all look the same in the light which makes the guys at the factory crazy because they can’t tell them apart! Doing that added a lot of contrast and really amplifies the glow effect.
The Krypton (glow green) is the brightest and with five seconds outdoors during the day it will glow brightly enough that you can read a book in a closet for 15 minutes. It actually continues to glow for 12 hours so a lot of people use it to make stars and shapes on their walls. A lot of kids leave the tin open all the time and so they can use it as a nightlight.
TSJ: When I was a kid I was considered Silly Putty to be one of my most essential detective tools – ideal for tracking finger prints, for example. Do people do this in real life?
I don’t know of any crimes solved by pulling fingerprints from putty but we were able to show how you could use gelatin to lift a print left on the putty. We then fooled a fingerprint scanner into allowing access. Check it out here.
I have heard of some customers who tried to figure out ‘who stole my putty’ by matching up the fingerprints left behind when someone tore off a little piece for themselves. The putty is addictive and people definitely try to steal it off your desk. In fact, that’s how I got started — people kept stealing my putty from my desk at work (I was a software engineer way back when…) and I got fed up and bought a huge chunk to color on my own!
TSJ: Can your family believe you make a living with Thinking Putty?
After about 10 years I think my family realized that this Thinking Putty thing wasn’t going away. When I left my software engineering job, my family and friends all thought I was nuts. The tech economy was in a downturn then (2002) and I had a job. People couldn’t understand why I would leave it. But I always wanted to be the best at what I did. I figured that by doing something that no one else was doing, I might make achieving that goal easier! It is definitely possible that some people still think I am unemployed and just have a unique hobby.
TSJ: Why such a range of Thinking Putties? What’s your fave kind?
I guess it is a result of my obsessive nature. I make Thinking Putty for ME. I try to make the coolest putties that I will want to play with and I like variety… different kinds for different moods. I also like mixing colors. So I can blend the glow in the dark with the magnetic and now I have a putty that is a little of both.
But, my personal favorite is the Super Scarab. It has the memory effect I described above. The color shift is really amazing… turquoise, green, and blue right through to gold, copper, and red. It seems completely opaque and yet, when stretched, you can see it is almost clear. It’s weird! I spent A LOT of time developing it so that could be another reason I like it so much!!
The wide range of product we offer definitely makes planning and production at our factory more complicated. It helps that we do all our manufacturing in the USA under our own roof.
I’m always working on something different and I have so many new, innovative products to roll out over the coming years. Its hard to pace myself. My lab is so full with samples that they spill out into the hallway. But I like staying busy, and when you make something cool and different, people keep expecting that! I don’t like to disappoint.
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