Rescue Mission

Make a pinball machine that can shoot a marble and send it zigzagging down an obstacle course.

  • Target Age: 6-11
  • Skills/Subjects: Science
  • Related Episode: Episode 19: Ruff Ruffman Spaces Out


1. Get what you need:

  • 3 film canisters with snap-on lids
  • Pot, bucket, or dishpan
  • Paperclips
  • 12-inch length of thread
  • Towels
  • Plasticine, clay, or poster putty

2. Make an ocean. Fill a container with enough water to float the film canisters.

3.Assemble your capsules.Make the space capsules (i.e., film canisters) float in different ways by doing the following:

  • Remove the lids. Stick a large lump of clay inside each canister, as shown in the diagrams.
  • Poke a hole in each lid with a pen or pencil. If this is too hard for you, ask an adult to help you. Push a paperclip through each hole so it sticks straight up from the lid. To get a paperclip to stay upright, you may need to bend it a bit. Snap the lids back on.

How to put the paperclip into the film canister

Example of a paperclip hook4. Design your rescue hook. Make a hook, using another paperclip and the thread.

5. Test your design. Float your capsules. Hold the end of the thread. Try to snag each capsule's paperclip and deliver it to the tabletop or the floor. Did you get all three quickly and easily? If yes, hooray! If not, redesign your rescue hook and retest it.


You've probably heard the saying: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Engineers and inventors are always looking for ways to improve their designs. Take Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb. He tried over 1,000 different materials to use for the part of the light bulb that glows (the filament). A friend asked him how he could keep going after so many failures. "Failures?" replied Edison. "They're not failures. I learn something each time. I haven't failed 1,000 times. I've just found 1,000 things that don't work." The process you used to design and refine the rescue hook is very similar to the one engineers and inventors use!


  • Try these variations to make the rescue more challenging:
    • Let only a tiny bit of the paperclip stick out of each capsule's lid.
    • Have a friend make gentle waves with a spoon or blow gently on the dangling hook while you try to rescue the capsule.
    • Adjust the clay or add pennies to make capsules that float (or sink) in different ways.
    • Make five different capsules. Try to rescue them all in a minute or less.
    • Make a multi-pronged hook and rescue two capsules at once.
  • Build a rocket that can actually blast off. Get the Film Canister Rocket challenge from the ZOOM Web site.

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Dinosaur Train A to Z


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