Best of Maker Faire, NYC: day one

For anyone who secretly looked forward to their annual grammar school science fair – whose heart leapt at the prospect of thinking up a hypothesis, testing it through a series of experiments conducted with whatever household products you could rummage together, recording your results and then pasting them up on your beloved tri-fold poster board – the Maker Faire is for you. Of course, if you’re one of those people then your inner nerd has probably been unleashed by now, and you’re too busy framing your Maker Faire weekend pass to even read this. But for everyone who didn’t spend their Saturday and Sunday learning how to solder or watching a life-size, Rube Goldberg-inspired mousetrap, here are the first five of the ten best things I saw at Maker Faire, NY, 2011.

1. Singing Tesla coil: This may seem like the most obvious trick in the science fair book, but the Austin-based performance art group, ArcAttack, is as much about the Tesla coil as it is about cage-dancing, and at what science fair have you ever seen random audience members awkwardly get their groove on in a metal cage bombarded by bolts of electricity that move in time with music – yeah, that’s what I thought.

2. DIY Hologram: The art of holography (making holograms) has been mastered by only a few, mostly self-trained experts, but the guys at the Holography Reading Room can show you how to make a 3-D laser hologram with cheap, DIY-materials.

3. Polaroid Flipbook: I’m not sure what the value or practicality of this project is in the long run, but it definitely has audience appeal, which is probably why it was successfully funded on Kickstarter. It’s basically a ring of 20 vintage Polaroid cameras that are programmed to take images sequentially, one right after another. When the pictures are bound together they make an instant flipbook.

4. The Tornado Alley Tank: Tornado Alley is a movie about crazy dudes who drive into tornadoes. High on the list of job requirements for driving this tank is, number one, having balls of steel, and number two, designing a vehicle strong enough to withstand the considerable havoc tornadoes are accustomed to wreaking. Up close in person, the tank looks like something straight out of sci-fi, and then you remember that someone not only rode this thing into a real, freaking tornado (which has the power to uproot houses, in case you need a visual) and not only survived, he filmed the whole thing.

5. Sashimi Tabernacle Choir: “Quiet please, this is serious,” says Richard Carter, the former physicist turned mathematician who covered his old Volvo with 250 singing fish and lobsters, “300 pounds of batteries, over 5 miles of wire and a Linux notebook to coordinate it all.” The effect? A choreographed sea of Big Mouth Billy Bass’s and friends singing hits like “Time Warp” to the delight and surprise of the crowds that inevitably form around it – I know it had me smiling immediately.