Toy Shop – Pre-Intermediate Level

Colonel “Biff” Hawton stood over six feet tall. Because there were mainly children in the crowd, he could see every detail of what was happening. The children (and most of the parents) watched in wonder. Biff Hawton had seen too much of the world to think that it was anything special. He stayed on because he wanted to find out what the trick was that made the toy work.

“It’s all explained right here in this book,” the demonstrator said. He held up a cheaply printed booklet, opened to a four-color picture. “I am sure that you all know how magnets pick up things made from metal. The earth itself is one great big magnet. That’s why compasses always point north. Well… the Wonder Space-wave Tapper hangs onto those waves. Although you can’t see them, they are all about us. They even go right through us. The Space-wave Tapper rides these waves just the way a ship rides the waves in the ocean. Now watch.”

Every eye was on him as he put the model rocket-ship on top of the table and stepped back. It was made of metal and seemed as likely to be able to fly as a can of meat — which it very much looked like. It had no wings and there wasn’t a sign of any kind of engine. It sat on three rubber wheels. Coming out through the bottom were two thin electrical wires coated in plastic. These wires ran across the top of the black table and into a control box in the demonstrator’s hand. A small light, a switch and a knob appeared to be the only controls.

“I turn on the power switch, sending an electric current to the Wave Detectors,” he said. He moved the switch and the light began flashing on and off. Then the young man began to slowly turn the knob. “A careful touch is needed as we are tapping into the magnetic powers of the whole Earth here….”

A cry of “ahhhh” came from the crowd as the Space-wave Tapper moved from side to side a little, then lifted slowly into the air. The demonstrator stepped back and the toy went higher and higher, moving slowly on the waves of magnetic force that supported it. He lowered the power ever so slowly and it dropped back to the table.

“Only $17.95,” the young man said, putting a large price sign on the table. “For the complete set of the rocket-ship, the control box, battery and book…”

At the appearance of the price card the crowd broke up noisily and the children ran off towards the model trains. The demonstrator’s words were lost as they noisily left. After a moment he stopped talking and put the control box down. Looking bored, he sat on the edge of the table. Colonel Hawton was the only one left after the crowd had moved on.

“Could you tell me how this thing works?” the colonel asked. The demonstrator brightened up and picked up one of the toys.

“Well, if you will look here, sir…” He lifted the lid at the top of the model. “You will see the space-wave coils at each end of the rocket-ship.” With a pencil he pointed out two plastic forms of about an inch in size. Around them, seemingly with no special pattern, were a few turns of wire. Other than these coils, the inside of the model was empty. The coils were wired together and other wires ran out through the hole in the bottom of the control box. Biff Hawton turned a very questioning eye on both the toy and the demonstrator. The young man took no notice of this sign that Biff did not believe him and continued talking.

“Inside the control box is the battery,” he said, opening it and pointing to a common flashlight battery. “The current goes through the Power Switch and Power Light to the Wave Detectors…”

“What you mean to say,” Biff broke in, “is that the power from this fifteen cent battery in this cheap control box goes to those meaningless coils in the model. Then nothing at all happens. Now tell me what really flies the thing. If I’m going to pay eighteen dollars for some bits of metal I could buy for seventy-five cents, I want to know what I’m getting.”

The demonstrator’s face turned red. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to hide anything. Like any magic trick, I can’t show you how this one works unless you buy it.” He came closer. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do though,” he said quietly. “This thing is way too expensive and hasn’t been selling at all. The manager said I could let them go at three dollars each if anyone wanted to buy them. If you want to buy it for that price…”

“Sold, my boy!” the colonel said, putting three dollar bills down noisily on the table. “I’ll give that much for it no matter how it works. The boys at the missile base will really enjoy it,” he added as he pointed to the winged rocket on his uniform. “Now, what really holds it up?”

The demonstrator looked around carefully, then pointed. “Strings!” he said. “Or more correctly a thin black thread. It runs from the top of the model, through a tiny hook at the top of the room, and back down to my hand. Tied to this ring on my finger. When I back up, the model goes up. It’s as simple as that.”

“All good magic tricks are simple,” the colonel said, following the black thread with his eye. “As long as there is enough talk or other things going on to make people take their eyes away from the real action.”

“If you don’t have a black table, a black cloth will do,” the young man said. “But you need to make sure that the room behind where you are standing is dark.”

“Put it in a bag, my boy. Don’t worry about me, I have done a lot of this kind of thing.”


Biff Hawton showed the trick at next Thursday night’s poker party. The other players all worked with him at the missile base. They laughed as he gave the same introduction as the demonstrator.

“Let me have a copy of that picture, Biff,” said one of them. “I could use some of those magnetic waves in the new missile we are working on!”

“Those flashlight batteries are a lot cheaper than rocket fuel,” said another. “This is the way of the future!”

Only Teddy Kaner saw the trick as the rocket-ship began to lift into the air. He studied magic in his free time and could see how it worked at once. But he didn’t say anything, and smiled as the rest of the group stopped talking one by one. The colonel was good at acting and he had prepared well. He almost had them believing in the Space-wave Tapper before he was through. But when the model had landed and he had switched it off, he couldn’t stop them from coming up close to the table.

“A thread!” one of the engineers shouted. He laughed, happy to understand the trick, and they all laughed along with him.

“Too bad,” the head scientist said. “I was hoping that a little space-wave tapping could help us out. Let me try it.”

“Teddy Kaner first,” Biff said. “He saw it while you were all watching the flashing lights. But he didn’t say anything.”

Kaner put the ring with the black thread over his finger and started to step back.

“You have to turn the switch on first,” Biff said.

“I know,” Kaner smiled. “But that’s part of the trick. You make people look at the box so that they don’t notice the thread. I’m going to try this without tricks first, so I can get it moving up and down smoothly, then go through it with the whole works.”

He moved his hand back smoothly. The model lifted from the table, then fell back down.

“The thread broke,” Kaner said.

“You pulled it too quickly. You need to do it smoothly,” Biff said. “Here… let me show you how to do it.” He tied the broken thread together and pulled slowly back.

The thread broke again, which got a good laugh that made Biff’s face go a little red. Someone asked about the poker game.

This was the only time that poker was talked about or even remembered that night. Very soon after this they found that the thread would lift the model if the switch was on. The thread was strong enough only when two and a half volts were passing through the meaningless coils. With the current turned off the model was too heavy to lift. The thread broke every time.


“I still think it’s a silly idea,” the young man said. “A week getting sore feet, showing how those toy rocket-ships work to children for hundreds of miles all around. Then selling them for three dollars when they must have cost at least a hundred dollars each to make.”

“But you did sell ten of them to people who would be interested?” the older man asked.

“I think so. I caught a few Air Force officers and a colonel in missiles one day. Then those two professors you said were from the university. And there was one man from the government that I remembered from one of our visits. Luckily he didn’t remember me.

“Then the problem is out of our hands and into theirs. All we have to do now is sit back and wait for results.”

“What results?!” said the young man. “These people weren’t interested when we first tried to show them what we found. We’ve patented the coils and anyone can see that the weight around them is less when they are operating, but…”

“But it is only a small fall in weight. And we couldn’t tell them what is causing it. No one can be interested in a thing like that. A tiny drop in weight in a cheaply made model is certainly not enough to lift it. Their minds are caught up in the single idea that you must burn huge amounts of fuel to create tons of lift. They have no time to listen to a mad man who thinks he has found something that goes against Newton’s laws of physics.”

“You think they will now?” the young man asked.

“I know they will. The thread we have used will break if you try to lift the model with it. Yet you can lift the model after a small amount of its weight has been taken away by the coils. This is going to trouble these men. Nobody is going to ask them to spend time trying to find out why this happens. But it will always be at the back of their mind because they know this effect can’t possibly exist. They’ll see at once that the magnetic wave idea is silly. Or perhaps true? We don’t know. But they will all be thinking about it and worrying about it. Someone is going to try different things at home — just for fun of course — to find why it happens. And he or someone else is going to find out what makes those coils work, or maybe a way to make them work better!”

“And we have the patents…”

“Correct. They will be doing the research that will stop them having to worry about carrying huge amounts of fuel. Then we will enter into the field of real space travel.”

“And in doing so they will be making us rich whenever the time comes to produce them,” the young man laughed.

“We’ll all be rich, son,” the older man said, touching him on the shoulder. “Believe me, you’re not going to know this old world ten years from now.”