Marshmallow Shooter, 2005


Location: Emeryville, California | Boston, Massachusetts
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Howtoons brings hands-on science education to children through a series of illustrated instructions showing how to build homemade technologies. Kids learn to use the things in the world around them to put together their own toys and create their own fun. Through the process, they develop an intuition for the physical world. The projects encourage kids to see ordinary household materials in a new light, expanding and building up a vocabulary of resourcefulness and imagination.

Howtoons was created by inventors and social entrepreneurs Saul Griffith and Joost Bonsen, who began working on the project when they were students at MIT. They were soon joined by Nick Dragotta, a professional Marvel Comics artist working in Boston, who brought the characters to life through rich illustrations and a passion for comic art. Howtoons
provide the instructions for the projects within a playful narrative. Each Howtoon features a boy and a girl who inspire each other to new heights of mischief and invention; adults are rarely depicted.

Every Howtoon is family-tested, and projects range from rocket launchers and zoetropes to light benders and musical instruments. A marshmallow shooter is made from PVC plumbing pipes and connectors, pieced together into an ingenious device designed to propel marshmallows across the room. In another Howtoon, a flute can be made from a plastic turkey baster, a few rubber bands, and a glass of water. Many of the projects are available for free on the Internet, and others are now also available in a book.

Howtoons are described by the creators as “Open Kid Ware,” and are part of the broader social movement to create an information commons available to everyone. It is a movement with global implications; Griffith’s other inventions include a system for inexpensively testing people’s vision and fabricating eyeglasses, an idea that has life-changing potential in developing countries.