Penny for Your Thoughts?

The Cast: Abraham Lincoln (small and coppery), Hot glue gun (hot and melty), Myself (creative and resourceful).

If you haven’t read Tales of a Teenage Superhero, that’s alright. It doesn’t exist. I haven’t written it yet. So-o… Dibs! I call Dibs!* That title is mine!

A quick internet search shows that nobody else has a book entitled that—some are similar, but not quite the same.

Whew. That was close. Anyway, if you aren’t familiar with the main point of this blog, you can always take a moment to look under the Almost Heroes section. That should help.

Right, back to the information. I say information because that’s what it is, information. Wait, back up. Let’s try this start again.

A couple days ago my family decided to start watching the Marvel movies, in chronological order (not theatrical release order). I enjoy the franchise very much, and my top two are Captain America and Iron Man—the first ones. These comic book heroes are two of the reasons I became a teenage superhero. They are both regular guys wanting to do the right thing. And they use what they have to do it.

As we were watching Iron Man I got all excited, and nostalgic. Excited because I love the “Batcave” part of the story (yes, I know the universes are different, read here). And nostalgic for my own Sewer and all the gadgets that were built therein. It’s just that there is a part of the movie where Tony is building his tech and figuring things out… I love it! I love it because that was me when I was a teen. Sure, Tony Stark is freakishly brilliant and I’m only really, really smart. Sure, Tony has more money than, well, I don’t know and I only had $5 at any given time. Sure, Tony was using super-strong, light-weight, fictional alloys while was working with PVC, nylon rope, and glue. Sure, Tony had a large workspace/garage with robots and fancy cars while I had The Sewer and a vice-clamp. But aside that, we’re the same.

The looks on his face as he was figuring it all out. Running the possibilities through his mind… I know those looks. I had those thoughts. I love that part of that movie. I resonate with that part of the movie. It speaks to me, deeply.

In earlier editions of Almost Heroes, I discuss two of my best devices, the P.A.W.s and The Claws. Here, I will talk about an almost forgotten simple weapon: The Stun-Disk.

I say almost forgotten because it was. Just the other day I was talking to my oldest and she mentioned them and I was just… “Oh yeah! Huh… I had almost forgotten about them.” Which technically was a lie, as I had forgotten about them until she reminded me about them. But now I’m just getting picky. Anyway, The Stun-Disk was one of the most cost-efficient gadgets I ever designed. It didn’t cost me a single penny. It cost me several.

I was about eleven years old when I saw Nomad in Marvel Comics for the first time. Back then, however, I didn’t care so much about the storylines as I did about the illustrations. The visual story-lines, those are what captured my focus. And if you don’t know who Nomad is, he is a disillusioned Captain America who goes about fighting bad-guys. But, instead of using a shield, he used small stun disks that were set on his chest, near his collar bones/shoulders. I thought it was so cool when he would toss these palm-sized things at a criminal and watch it bounce around—like Capt. America’s shield (because it’s him)—and then return to him. His costume was terrible, but the weapon… The weapon was never forgotten.

Diagram of Nomad's Stun Disk design.
Stun-disk image found here. I did not have access to this design at the time, otherwise, I would have tried to build them like these.

Well, after beginning to design my own weapons and gadgets—you can’t stop with just one (at this point the P.A.W. was manufactured), you gotta have more—I sometimes struggled to figure out the next device (one that I could actually build). Crime doesn’t sleep, so neither could my mind.

As a toy junkie (seriously, it’s an issue), I had all sorts of cheap, fun things buried about my room. And for the longest time, I had these two small frisbees—one yellow and one orangeish-red—that I knew could do something good, one day. Normally I would just throw them about my room for fun. It was fun because it is really difficult to break something when you throw a hand-sized, light-weight, small, child-intended toy around. If done just right I could get it to bounce around, just like Nomad (I was 16 years old—play has never left me).

‘If only I could make a disk, like Nomad’ was the thought that kept running through my mind. But I didn’t have the comic book resources or technicians. If only I had access to something like lead. And a forge. Or a genie to make wishes on—as long as I was fantasizing. I had taken Metal Shop in high school, so I had basic understandings of how to melt and smelt and shape metal. I just didn’t have anything to do any of that with. Especially spare metal. Of any kind. So what’s a wanna-be inventor/crime fighter to do? I needed something cheap. Something inexpensive. Something low-cost. It needed to cost pennies… Pennies… Pennies? Pennies!!!

Pennies were the answer. I had lots of them. They are easy to come by. They are sturdy. When you have enough, they have some heft behind them. So now I only had to get them to bind together and into the shape of the small frisbees. But how? Still no forge. No way to make one. And all the epoxies I knew about—and had access to—were hard and rigid, so if I just dumped the pennies into the frisbee plastic shell and poured the epoxy into it, it would bind. But, if thrown, it would shatter. One-shot wonders. This was no good. I needed something soft and flexible. And sturdy… What to use?

I sat in my room and looked about, furiously searching for that one thing that would make this project work. I was right on the cusp of being able to make the Stun-Disk happen. All I needed was the glue! Or a glue. Hot glue? Hot glue!

Hot glue. It is sturdy. It is soft. It is flexible. It would work. I just needed to find out how many pennies would be needed. Alright. No problem. I had—for reasons I cannot recall—several dollars in pennies. Following sound financial advice, I had diversified my financial portfolio (all over my room), so, it took a few hours to collect them all. Once I did, I moved to The Sewer to begin the process of forging the latest addition of Tiger’s and my crime-fighting arsenal. This was going to be good. I hoped.

By simply placing the small frisbees upside down, like a bowl, I began to place the copper coins in concentric circular layers. Fitting in as many pennies that I could within each layer. As I noticed that heaven was smiling upon me I got even more excited. Almost too excited to work efficiently. My mind was working faster than my hands. They were now several steps behind my thoughts. You see, with each layer of coins the pennies sat almost perfectly next to each other, leaving almost no empty spaces besides the normal gaps—in the ‘corners’—that you find when placing circles next to each other. It was almost like some random engineers collaborated perfectly without knowing it, just for this moment in time.

After I had filled frisbee #1, all I needed to do was pour in the hot glue. Yeah, just pour it in. Between those small gaps, between those pennies… Yeah. Crud. How do I do this? Reality came crashing up to me as I fell from my elation like a, a… a… something big and solid and bad. That’s what it was like. It was bad. As I removed the tiny copper weights I counted them—to confirm that I had enough for a second disk—I subtly considered the properties of copper. The one that aided in my solution to my adhesive issue was the conductivity. Copper is a great conductor. Hot glue is hot. So, if I pour in the right amount of glue… at the right intervals… and work quickly enough… I could do this… I could do this. I can do this! YES!

Anticipating that stacking the coins would take a while, I had already plugged in the glue gun. And since the 1980s and ’90s didn’t care as much about the user safety of some products, that lovely rose-pink glue gun could become very hot (I still have it, it’s gross and disgusting looking, but it still gets the glue molten-lava hot).

Layer one was positioned. A little glue too. Layer two went quickly. A little more glue. Layer three. Glue. Four. More glue. It was going pretty smoothly. And, just as I had suspected, the coins were absorbing the heat. That meant that even the first few layers that had almost cooled instantly were heating up and the coins—along with the glue—were settling into perfect position. The hot glue was touching the plastic and pennies, making a solid bond. The only thing I had not considered was the burns I would get when I needed to shift a penny or two (I was overly excited—almost out of my mind).

Oh, how it hurt! Usually, I would just lick my finger and touch the molten glue and the temporarily cooled surface would allow me to mold the glue. But with the pennies holding onto the heat… Normal production methods could not be used. So, I went without fingerprints for a few days. Big deal.

In no time at all the disk was full of glue and many a miniature presidential profile portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Now to let it cool. I found a level spot and let the whole copper/glue pie sit. With all the pennies maintaining the heat, it took hours. Even after I finished the second disk, the first one was still not cool to the touch. Fortunately for me, manufacturers produced good plastics back then and the little frisbees held their shape. No melting or distortions of any kind appeared. The disks stayed disk-shaped. A little black paint on the bottom to complete the look (to hide all those Abrahams staring at me) and voilà! The Stun-Disk! Now to test it…

As mentioned in P.A.W.s an’ Claws part 2 Erich has been the Beaker to my Bunsen, and we were about to demonstrate this relationship once again.

Having executed some preliminary tests, I went over what I had determined to be the best way to throw the new Stun-Disks with Erich upon his arrival. After some more testing, with Erich, we found some great throws, tosses, hand-holds, and such using the side of my garage for a target. Now that we knew how to throw them, we needed to know how hard to throw them. At a person. So we would know if they worked. And could maybe, possibly, hopefully, stun someone. And now ladies and gentlemen, may I direct your attention to the center ring where you will see standing before you, Erich: The human test subject! Give him a round of applause would you. Yes, thank you.

Starting off with weaker tosses and building up to almost full force it didn’t take long to discover how effective the Stun-Disks were. They hurt, almost right from the start. YES! With enough force, we were easily getting the wind knocked out of us. I say ‘we’ because Erich thought it only fair to get to throw the disks back at me so that I could, how did he put it? “Let’s see how you like it!” I didn’t. ‘Like it’, that is. It was kind of difficult to not let him throw the disks at me when, after I had already hit him, they were now laying at his feet.

Illustrations of Tiger displaying his Stun Disk on his costume.
Erich, as Tiger. You can see the placement of the Stun-Disk on the chest.

It would take some practice to get the disks to bounce off walls, or roll along them to their intended target. But we did pretty well considering our circumstances. Later, I would try different designs, but none of them worked as well as those first two disks. In preparation for this story, I asked Erich if he still had his. Sadly, he did not. His was lost in a move. Mine, in combat—ages ago. All that is left now are the memories.

While the Stun-Disks only cost pennies, the memories of them are priceless.

*If you are unfamiliar with the term ‘dibs’ you can find more about it here and here.
Banner image borrowed from Wonderopolis.

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