Creating a Spooky Mad Science Laboratory
Not the Usual Trick-or-Treating
If you are having a Halloween party, a mad science-themed birthday party, if you work at a school, have kids, or want new parlor room decor, I’ve got some fun ideas for you.
Blame it on the summer sun addling my brain, but I have a kooky plan to make my front yard a hot spot for trick-or-treating this year.
For the last few years, I haven't known what to do with myself on Halloween. I am much too old to go door-to-door without being considered loony, and I don't have any kids to live through vicariously. Being on the other side of the door and passing out candy was enjoyable for about two or three years, but then it started to hit me, I am getting nothing out of this holiday. So, this year I have decided to step out of the usual trick-or-treat candy distribution rut. I have formulated a plan to transform my front yard into a spooky laboratory for the entertainment of would be trick-or-treaters (insert maniacal laughter here).
Creating the Scene
Mad scientists are known to prefer an environment replete with impenetrable swamps, eerie caves, and other treacherous and perfidious impediments that prohibit the discovery of their surreptitious and peculiar lairs.
To create this environment, I have some tips to turn what would be an otherwise average, ho-hum suburban yard into the sort of place where a kooky scientist might want to hang out.
I don’t know if you’ve price compared for beakers and flasks lately, but I’ll just tell you that they can leave quite a hole in your wallet. If you do happen to have an unlimited budget, you can always order a huge chemistry set. If you are like me, and can’t drop a few C-notes on Halloween decorations, there are other ways to set the scene for a laboratory without sending yourself into a fiscal crisis.
Vases and regular bottles can pass for lab equipment. So can many standard kitchen items such as measuring cups, timers, thermometers, and stirring and mixing devices. Just search your house for anything that could be used to mix potions or concoctions.
Some laboratory items can be purchased for relatively cheap. Dollar stores or second-hand stores often have treasures. I found incense packaged in vials in a dollar store in my area. I tossed aside the incense cones (you could use them if you like) and had mad scientist vials for practically nothing.
Another good source for lab stuff is specialty toy stores. They usually have lots of science apparatus. I found droppers and Petri dishes for pocket-change.
The plumbing supply section of hardware stores can be full of useful items. They usually carry plastic tubing that can be wrapped, stretched, and coiled from beaker to beaker.
Food coloring is a simple and effective way to make bottles appear as if they contain some vile, toxic chemical that would make toenails melt. Get a box of food coloring, mix various shades with water, and pour it into beakers or test tubes. It looks really cool and is safe and cheap.
With some selective gathering and shopping, a spooktacular laboratory is very feasible.
The key to swamps is creating an oozy, mushy, muddy mess without ruining anyone's Halloween costumes. It is hard to focus on experiments when angry mobs of disgruntled parents are beating down your door because you turned their beautiful princesses into a mud monster. So, the appearance and feel is much more important than the ground actually being muddy.
Take a kiddie swimming pool, which is typically on clearance around Halloween, and add a little water. Try to find a shallow wading pool or just barely fill the one you have.
Next, cover the pool with large garbage bags, or a tarp, or some kind of plastic material. Black, dark brown, or dark green will give the best swampy appearance.
Add some fake bugs and ferns, or other swampy looking props around it and presto, you have an instant swamp. As people walk over it, it will feel squishy and muddy underneath them. It works great, especially in the dark at night, where no one can see what it really is.
I am fortunate enough to work at a daycare, so I have access to playground equipment. I took the slide part off of our equipment, covered it with dark material and made an instant cave for the kids to crawl through and explore.
Another way to make a cave is to take a tarp or garbage bags and drape them over something. Be creative. Tie it and hang it between two trees or across your porch. Think about when you were a kid and put a blanket over a table to make an instant tent.
If your project is for kids, don't worry. Kids have big imaginations. Give a few contextual clues like fake bats attached to the “roof” of the cave, and their imaginations will run with the idea.
How to Create an Eerie Environment
- Fog Machine: Buy one, rent one, borrow one. Once that fog starts rolling out, you have an immediate creepy environment.
- Sound Effects: CDs with sound effects are usually pretty cheap and are prevalent starting in late September. Playing one of these in the background will give an authentic feel. You can also find playlists on YouTube.
- Dry Ice: Use dry ice to create even more fog and add to that eerie feel. It is available at a lot of grocery stores, especially around Halloween. It is safe to drink, just harmful if it comes in direct contact with skin. Drop it in punchbowls, into the cups of your guests, into beakers and flasks, wherever a spooky fog would come in handy. Best advice for drinks is to put a cube in the bottom, and then add regular ice on top. Fog will roll out of the glass as the guest sips it and your guests won’t burn their lips. This is all in fun, and to not really hurt the guests, I hope.
- Dark Decorations: Use dark material on everything. Black equals goth. ‘Nuff said. Ripped up cloth is also a good addition. Buying large black trash bags is another good idea. Shred them and hang them from the ceilings, shelves, on plants, and anywhere that needs a little creepiness. Spread them under your lab to give an extra touch of eerie.
- Background Story: The story I have created to go along with my spooky laboratory is that it is in the Victorian mansion of Dr. Wienerscnitzel, a physician who went mad trying to create a robotic man. Yes, it is a blatant Mary Shelley knock-off, but who has time to invent their own monster story?
Mad Lab Creations
Entice and stimulate the senses of your guests or audience. This mad science tickles the nose, mesmerizes the eyes, interests the ears, disgusts the fingers, and compels the tongue.
Explosions and Fizzies
To make a chemical reaction that looks cool without actually being rocket science, I have four words for you. Baking soda and vinegar. You can use them to make volcanoes. Or you can mix them in a cup and drop a few raisins in it. The raisins will look like they are dancing.
If you want a fizzy brew, just mix baking soda with lemon juice. Another fizzy explosion can be created with Mentos and 2-liter bottles of soda. Be careful. This one causes a massive, messy eruption.
You can also change the color of fire by adding certain chemicals to it. For yellow fire, add table salt. For purple, add lite salt (potassium chloride). For white, add Epsom salt.
Rumbles and Creaks
A thunder tube places the power of thunder in the palm of your hand. It is a plastic tube with a metal spring attached to it. When you shake it, the spring vibrates against the plastic causing a thunder-like sound.
A horrid screaming noise can be created with a latex balloon and a hex nut. Before the balloon is blown up, place the hex nut inside. Blow the balloon up and tie it. Swirl the balloon around to make the hex nut roll around inside. As it rolls, it sounds like screaming.
Icky and Stinky
A very easy way to make an odorous addition to your mad lab is to make sniff bottles. All it takes is a bottle with a potent smelling substance in it. The container can be as simple as an empty water bottle or as ornate as a glass potion bottle. Drop in something that has a strong odor such as garlic, vinegar, perfume, or spices. For liquids, soak a cotton ball with the substance, then drop the cotton ball into the bottle. Don’t add anything toxic or with toxic fumes.
Slime is another gross but appropriate addition to any spooky laboratory. You can make it with cornstarch and water. Take about a cup of cornstarch and half a cup of warm water. Add food coloring for the all-important aesthetic appeal. Mix until the slime is at the desired consistency.
Body Part Factory
Mad labs are required to have a least three spare body parts lying around. Here are some choices:
- Brains: To create brains, either buy a brain mold or shape one yourself. If it is to be looked at and not to be touched, raw hamburger meat has a cerebral look. Shape it to the desired size and turn a jar upside down over it. Put an LED pumpkin light that is purple, blue, or some other strange color, underneath the brain or behind it. It will look like the brain is in some kind of machine. If the brain will be touched, you can make one out of mashed potato flakes, sand, and water. The ingredients are mixed in a Ziploc bag and will be the same weight as a real human brain. Mmm brains.
- Guts: Ramen noodles with green food coloring and linked sausages make great guts.
- Bones: Left-over bones from dinner can be cleaned and then bleached for a spine-chilling effect in your lab. They have the added benefit of being real bones!
- Halloween Feely Boxes: These spooky and gross boxes are a great idea. Take a shoebox or a box roughly that size, and cut a hole on one end. Painting the box or decorating it is a nice touch. Then put something inside that feels like a body part. Peeled grapes pass for eyeballs, flour tortillas for skin, cooked noodles for veins, a wet sponge or cooked cauliflower for brains, carrot sticks for fingers, wet sponge for feces, crumbled potato chips for scabs, peeled tomato for the heart, and pumpkin seeds for fingernails. The slime recipe from above will work for snot. Take a big bowl and mix in some tissues with the “snot” for a nasty spectacle.
Mad Scientist Apparel
- Lab Coat: A white lab coat is ideal—preferably knee length. If it looks dirty, bloody, ripped, or burned, it will look more authentic. Stick a pocket protector in for an extra touch of geekiness. It’s all about the details.
- Hazmat Suit: A hazmat suit would work as well. A white, black, or silver sauna suit can pass as one. Check the fitness section of department stores. You might shed a few pounds during the party as well.
- Hairstyle: Hair should be wacky. If your hair can stand on end like you just stuck your finger in a light socket, then you are good to go. If not, look for a crazy, messy wig.
- Gloves: Gloves are high-fashion with the mad scientist crowd. Rubber gloves will work. Aim for elbow-length. Welding gloves are another excellent choice. They will give a more Dr. Horrible flair.
- Eyewear: Goggles are a must. Welding goggles have a certain je ne sais quoi, especially the ones that have flip-up lenses. Welding helmets and hoods are other options, depending upon what type of mad scientist you want to be. Although, there is nothing wrong with plain old safety goggles.
- Masks: Respirators and dust masks look extra creepy.
- Footwear: Rubber boots complete the look, although black dress shoes are another option that works.
- Assistant: Try to rope one of your friends into playing the part of the hunchback lab assistant. Stick a throw pillow up their shirt in the back. Tell your assistant to practice dragging one leg around and presto, the mad lab look is complete.
As for you, mad scientist, practice your maniacal laugh as you plot to take over the world!
Dry Ice Concoctions
- Making Drinks with Dry Ice
Using dry ice to make drinks is easy and entertaining. You can use dry ice to make root beer, sodas, spooky punches, and mysterious fogging drinks.
- Lighting Money or Your Hand on Fire Without It Burning
Have you ever wanted to play with fire without those pesky burn marks? With this experiment, you can light money or your hand on fire without it burning. This is a neat and relatively safe trick for all the pyromaniacs out there.
- Fizzles, Explosions, and Eruptions: Simple Science Experiments Gone Mad
Erupting volcanoes and bubbling test tubes are fun to watch and even more fun to make. Creating strange mad scientist concoctions using stuff you already have in your kitchen is more simple than you'd think.