When winter weather clamps a damper on your youngsters' usual activities, it's time to put a little magic in their lives by helping them build a Quiz-In-A-Box. This simple contraption holds a surefire double-barreled appeal for school-agers: They get to make up their own test questions for a change... and they get to feel the excitement and satisfaction of tackling a basic electrical project.
You don't have to be an electrical whiz to direct them, either. Just follow the easy (and safe) instructions, and even if it's your first voltaic venture, you'll carry the day.
Gather the Tools
First, of course, you'll need to round up the necessary tools and materials. (If you have more than one budding electrician, you'll probably want to ferret out the makings for a Quiz-In-A-Box for each youngster; the cost per device should come to less than a dollar, and the children will enjoy trading boxes and trying each other's test questions.)
For each game, find a sturdy, lidded box that's at least an inch deep and no less than about 8 x 10 inches overall. Department-store gift boxes are ideal, but don't hesitate to improvise with whatever you have on hand; even an ordinary shoe box will do, with some minor alterations to the following instructions. You'll also need a sheet of plain letter-size paper, about 10 feet of light insulated bell wire, at least 18 brass paper fasteners, an A-battery, and a small 1.5- to 2.5-volt bulb (such as a standard flashlight bulb). Plus, to put it all together, you'll need scissors, duct tape, a jackknife, a cutting board, a pen, and long-nose pliers. Wire strippers will come in handy, too.
If the box is white or a solid color, you can leave it as is — but if it has print or a design on it that might be distracting, scrounge up a sheet of plain wrapping paper or a paper bag cut flat with which to cover the lid, and cellophane or masking tape to hold the covering in place.
Now you're ready to call the youngsters and get started.
Prepare the Quiz-In-A-Box
If the box lids are to be covered with paper, this is the time to do it. Help each child cut and tape the wrapping or bag paper over the lid. Also, if the sheet of letter-size paper is the same size or larger than the box lid, it will be necessary to cut the sheet to fit the lid, minus about two inches at the top. This will leave enough open space at the top of the lid for the question and answer wires and the bulb.
Now, with those preliminaries out of the way, your charges can turn their attention to composing questions and answers. Give them plenty of free rein here to build in individuality; they might want to use riddles, math problems, trivia, posers on their favorite subject, or any variation thereof. Just show them how to set up a column of questions and a column of answers on the sheet of paper, and let them go at it. The items within each column should be spaced about 3/4 of an inch apart, and there should be around 2 to 3 inches between the columns themselves. (Precision isn't particularly necessary here, but if the youngsters have a really hard time keeping their columns straight, you may want to write or type up their tests for them.) The number of questions and answers, of course, is limited only by the length of the paper. Even if the children had to cut a couple inches off the paper to allow room at the top of the lid, there should be space enough for at least eight or nine items.
While your offspring are busy creating and composing their question-and-answer sheets, you can cut and strip the wires they'll need. For each box, cut as many lengths of wire as there are questions, making each piece long enough to reach easily from the top of one column to the bottom of the other. Then nip two more pieces that are 5 inches longer than the first ones, and cut one shorty just 3 inches long. Now, use your wire strippers or knife to remove about a half inch of insulation from the ends of each segment.
When the children have finished their question-and-answer sheets, have them mark a dot a bit to the left of each query and each response. With that done, each youngster can position the sheet on the lid and tape it in place. Then it will be your job (unless your progeny are old enough to use a jackknife) to put the lid on a cutting board and make the following cuts: a cross centered in the space above the questions . . . a puncture, level with but far to each side of the cross . . . and a small hole at each of the dots marked on the sheet.
It's now a simple matter for your young builders to shove in the paper fasteners, one at each question or answer hole.
Wire the Electrical Components
As they work, it would be a good idea to remind your children that, although the electricity stored in a little AA battery is not dangerous to them, wall outlets are the source of much more powerful current and should be left alone. Also emphasize at this point that they'll need to concentrate on getting their wiring just right, with good, tight connections, in order for their Quiz-In-A-Boxes to function properly.
Now it's time to connect the bulb and batteries. Demonstrate the process while the children work along: Poke the shortest wire and one of the two longest wires up through the cross in the box lid. Then wrap one end of either of the wires around the bulb's metal collar, and fasten it in place with duct tape.
Using long-nosed pliers, twist the other wire into a tight spiral at one end, and tape it securely to the bulb's bottom bump. Push the collar and wires down through the cross to wedge the bulb in place.
Now, feed the long, dangling wire back up through the nearest corner hole . . . and wrap the short-wire end into a curlicue and tape it to the knobby (positive) end of the battery.
Tape one end of the second long wire to the battery's smooth (negative) end, and poke the opposite end of the wire up through the other corner hole. And last, tape the battery itself to the underside of the lid.
At this point the youngsters can turn their boxes over and touch the ends of the long wires together - the bulb will light up if the circuit is working. If the globe doesn't gleam, check the wiring; the lamp connections are the most likely to be at fault, so start there. Once everything is working, the long wires should be taped down to the underside of the lid near the corner holes, to prevent them from being pulled out by over-exuberant test-takers.
The hard part's done now. All that remains is to join each question with its answer: Put one end of a wire between the two legs of a fastener . . . wrap it full circle around both legs . . . and spread the fastener flat. Now repeat the process to connect the other end of the wire to the appropriate fastener in the opposite column . . . and do the same for the remaining questions and answers. (You may be able to save your young friends some frustration by checking the first few links they make, to be sure they haven't become confused while trying to locate the bottoms of the correct fasteners.)
Play the Game
With all the paper fasteners connected in pairs, your little ones can put the lids to their boxes in place over the bottoms, to protect the vulnerable innards from mishap. Show the young builders how the bulb lights when one long wire is touched to a question and the other to a correct answer-and then stand back to watch the kids light up with pride as they test their completed masterpieces!