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The Universal Misery of the Baking Soda Volcano

The baking soda and vinegar volcano project is something of a cultural meme. And, like memes of all types, it is mostly useless and not altogether informative. This by itself is not even among the good reasons to avoid the project. Here are a few of the best.

1. You don’t really know the science behind a baking soda and vinegar volcano. You’re reasonably sure it has nothing to do with volcanos. The children could not care less.

2. You don’t own any chicken wire, which is traditionally used to form the superstructure of the volcano. If you do own chicken wire, you own used chicken wire, which is in an inextricable tangle with snake skins and construction debris somewhere behind your woodpile.

3. The characteristics of chicken wire that make it suitable for a baking soda volcano also make it hateful in every single other human context. It can, and will, be bent into any imaginable shape other than the flat sheet you need.

4. Children’s projects are usually structured to avoid the risk of injury. Chicken wire, on the other hand, always maximizes opportunities for injury. A single crosswise cut in chicken wire produces a number of sharp points approaching infinity.

5. The only thing inherently messier than flour is the mixture of flour and water that forms papier-mâché paste. Everything sticks to it. Many of the things that will stick to the side of your volcano are not ideally found on the sides of model volcanos, such as cat hair, items of children’s clothing, earrings, and small, once-curious but now alarmed and violent birds.

6. As with chicken wire, many people have few of the key components that make up a baking soda volcano lying around their garages. And none of these components are sold in quantities appropriate to the task. You will likely need to buy 32 square feet of plywood for your platform, 50 feet of chicken wire, a $5 Sunday newspaper, etc. (You will use around 10% of these materials, max.) Some households will also need to buy common flour, in case their organic gluten-free vegan almond flour might not form a gluey enough paste. So, the estimated cost of this project can easily exceed a reasonable car payment.

7. Your staple gun is likely to be stored amidst the Christmas decorations in the attic, since the last time you used it was to hang the exterior Christmas lights. You will be tempted to buy a new staple gun. Give in to that temptation. You don’t want all your heirloom Christmas decorations stuck to the side of a volcano.

8. You will allocate about two hours to complete this project. It will take six hours. Then you must wait for the paste it to dry, which will take around 48 more, possibly a week. Then you remember that you do not have any paint, so you will go to the store to buy paint, return home to use it, and wait two more days for that to dry. During this process, your children will grow impatient and test the volcano’s dryness by poking it as hard as they can. Repair, repeat.

9. Your children will become bored with every stage of this project about 10% of the way through. Make no mistake, this is your project, not theirs. Own it.

10. The children will, however, remain interested in the papier-mâché paste long enough to spread it around your entire home. Just paint over it every now and then.

11. It turns out that your wife has used the last of the baking soda for some task that, much like volcanos, is unrelated to either baking or soda. You must make a trip to the store to purchase more. While you are there, buy vinegar just in case, because you did not remember to check your vinegar supply before you left home. Protip: do not say to yourself, “rice vinegar will work just fine.” It will not, possibly out of pure spite.

12. Finally, it’s time to try out your volcano. Remember when I told you that you do not understand the science behind this project? You still do not. Consult Google.

13. After all that waiting and build-up, your children will be expecting rather more dramatic results than your volcano can hope to deliver. My children, for example, were expecting explosions, projectiles, and actual flowing hot lava. You should consider having sweets or fireworks on hand to dispel the inevitable disappointment. This, of course, means another trip to the store.

15. During the demonstration you will be tempted to explain the science, which you now know by virtue of several recent googlings, to your children. Do not to do this. Lengthy scientific explanations are the only way to make the project more disappointing at this point.

However dull they ultimately found the outcome, your children will not allow you to dispose of the completed volcano. It would be smart to tell them in advance that papier-mâché naturally evaporates into nothing within a few weeks. Confidently misuse words like “sublimation” and “quantum states.” It’s safe to assume they won’t know enough to challenge you, or they wouldn’t be making a baking soda volcano.

Hide the volcano, and sell it to parents wiser than you on Craigslist. Smart purchasers will be willing to spend up to $400 on this treasure, which is a bargain really.

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This piece originally appeared on Ron’s very strange blog.