AN INTERNAL JOURNEY: THE HOW AND WHY OF THINGS OR, MY INNER MECHANIC

As you have seen in my posts thus far, my penchant for knowledge, adventure, enlightenment, joy, fulfilment and so on knows no bounds – there are limitless avenues than can unveil wonders – travel, photography, the written word and more – found afar and near.  This discovery extends itself not only towards the outside world but also to the inner workings of things as well – so today I want to take you through some of my earliest explorations.

It was a great adventure watching my dad open up the back of our television set  to remove a tube that wasn’t working.  For those of you too young to remember, the first television wasn’t just a large electronic screen – rather it was composed of a combination of one large cathode ray tube (no, this isn’t science fiction – this was an actual vacuum tube containing an electron emitter and a flourescent screen and a bunch of additional smaller vacuum tubes such as these:

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FYI this is what the front of the TV looked like.  It had a 15″ screen and also included a radio.  – The remote control had not yet been invented:

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Although the above is an internet pic, the actual television we owned is visible below behind the sibling musical performance:

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When the TV went on the fritz, my father would take out his metallic tackle box that had multiple internal shelves housing an assortment of the television vacuum tubes and very carefully through trial and error would discover the failed tube and replace it. I thought my dad was so brave to face a potential electrical hazard as inside the television console was a large notice that read: “DANGER!  HIGH VOLTAGE!

On a much safer scale, I took it upon myself to open things up whenever possible   – much to the consternation of my mom who often had to clean up the resulting mess. I was (and am) obsessed to know how things work and why.  One of my first explorations was inside my Etch a Sketch.

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At the time, Etch a Sketch was considered the paramount of writing toys, with its predecessors being the simplistic Magic Slate, followed by the magnetic Wooly Willy:

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It was very easy to figure out how these two worked – Magic Slate had two parts, a sticky cardboard bottom and an acetate film on top – using any “implement” including your finger you simply made impressions as the acetate stuck to the cardboard.  To erase – just lift the acetate and voila! The impressions were removed.

Wooly Willy contained iron filings and with the enclosed magnet wand, you magnetically moved the filings to create silly hair, mustaches, beards and the like.  Simple.

The Etch a Sketch was initially an enigma.  There were just two knobs as shown – one created horizontal lines the other vertical lines on the silvery screen when rotated.  With some practice one could actually write in script (remember that?) or create fully executed pictures.  But how?

The solution to this puzzle was actually not at all problematic to someone who even at a young age could be very obsessive compulsive (or stubborn, whichever descriptive you prefer).  I started slowly, making a horizontal line moving left to right across the entire screen.  Then, using the vertical knob I lowered the line almost imperceptibly lower and then made another horizontal line back to the left side of the screen.  Repeating this process over and over I finally ended up with a screen devoid of any cover – looking something like this:

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Eureka! I could now clearly see the two bars, joined at one point with a small stylus, pushing the silvery powder off the screen, exposing the inside to view.  That powder was aluminum.  Also visible were tiny little plastic beads that, when the THis was turned upside and shook, helped to recoat the screen with the aluminum powder.

Next up, the Magic 8 Ball

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This plastic ball still ranks among many lists of the 100 greatest toys of all time and still sells around 1 million pieces per year and I have somehow managed to still have the one from childhood. Without dismemberment I could easily see the die that had answers to any yes or no question.  However in order to know exactly what was in the murky depths I actually purchased another Magic 8 Ball and promptly took it apart to discover:

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The die has 20 sides and is called icosahedral.

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There are 10 “yes,” 5 “no” and 5 “tell you later responses” (pretty positive plaything):

YesIt is certain, Without a doubt, It is decidedly so, Yes, definitely, You may rely on it, As I see it, yes, Most likely, Outlook good, Signs point to yes, Yes

No – Don’t count on it, My reply is no, My sources say no, Outlook not so good, Very doubtful

LaterReply hazy try again, Ask again later, Better not tell you now, Cannot predict now, Concentrate and ask again

The die floated within a cylinder filled with blue dyed alcohol – my Magic 8 Ball now has very little of this liquid left due to evaporation after  $#^*& years but it does still work.

I have saved the following discovery for last as it was simultaneously the messiest and the most traumatic, even though I instigated all of the investigations. It is actually double pronged: 1) How does a doll’s hair stay on its head and  2) How do its eyes open and close?

The roots (ha! pun intended) of a doll’s hair were not too complicated to figure out as it did require removing the head from the body – that procedure was necessary to resolve the eye blinking issue – more on that in a moment.  What it did require was a systematic removal of enough of the hair strands so I could see the doll’s “scalp.”  Of course, being a little girl who was a bit impatient – I proceeded to pull out all of my doll’s hair.  These internet pics are a great reproduction showing the results of this labor:

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As you can see, the strands of hair are threaded through holes with the help of this implement, which looks similar to a latch hook for making rugs:

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Finally the pièce de résistance – opening up the doll’s head to see the mechanism controlling the eyes. Again I am using internet photos to depict what I saw:

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The eyes are placed on either side of a bar and a weight below causes the eyes to roll up or down depending on the position of the doll.  If not set correctly, the eyes can go askew like this:

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I have always wondered why I preferred stuffed animals to dolls and having done this research now believe I have the cause – I was totally grossed out by the doll’s insides and when the eyes stuck even the outside skeeved me out.  It probably didn’t help my gentle psyche to see this other doll that was popular at the time:

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Someone had this insane thought to have happy and sad faces on one doll with a knob on its skull to turn the desired face to the front.  Problem with that is that there is still another face with the opposite emotion looking out backwards on the doll – like the rotated head of demon-possessed Regan MacNeil of “Exorcist” fame.

Okay now I am skeeved out again –

You can find more reflections on these and other childhood toys in my earlier post:  “Boodge No More.”

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2 thoughts on “AN INTERNAL JOURNEY: THE HOW AND WHY OF THINGS OR, MY INNER MECHANIC

  1. What a great essay. I did the same thing with my Etch-a-Sketch – I too wanted to see how it worked! Of course, I didn’t have dolls to take apart, but I did re-invent my Sheriff Garrett action figure (who was a doll after a fashion) as Saruman with white & gray felt!

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