By MICHELLE SCHMIDTThe No. 1 problem facing Americans these days, according to Facebook, is the question of what to do with leftover Halloween candy.
For some of us, this is not a question of “What?” It is “When?” “How much?” and “Can I sneak more from my kids’ stash without them noticing?” But there are, it appears, those with more self-control and emotional stability than the rest of us, for whom a pile of candy presents a challenge.
The candy-laden laments are met with solutions that tend to fall in one of two categories: give it away (via candy buy-back programs at dental offices and programs like Operation Gratitude that sends candy to the U.S. military overseas) or delay its consumption (store it in the freezer, use it for bribing your kids, add more sugar and effort to the problem and use it in your baking).
But alternatives exist that consider the educational potential in that pile of candy. The term “science experiment” piques most kids’ interest — certainly mine, anyway — especially when followed by a devious “mwa-ha-ha” or preceded by the word “candy.”
That’s right, candy, if used properly, can make you smarter. And to prove the hypothesis, I Googled “candy science experiments,” then hauled my kids and their candy stash into the kitchen. Here were our favorite experiments:
Sink or swim
Gather a variety of candies and compare their density by filling up a glass, cup or bowl with water and placing the candies in the water. Some will sink, others will float. Cutting open the candy reveals why: Candies that are denser than water (pure chocolate, caramel, nuts) will sink, and candies with airy centers (like wafers) will float.
Our findings: Testing candy density is simple and easy to observe, which means the kids could focus, even with excess sugar in their bloodstream. A few candies in, they could accurately predict that Whoppers would float and Milky Ways would sink. Plus, the experiment teaches this important fact:
Candy that has been floating in water is still, technically, edible.
Plop, plop, fizz, fizz
Explore candy acidity by adding it to a baking-soda solution. Whether you mix baking soda and water and add candy to it or mix crushed candy with water and add baking soda, you’ll get fizzy carbon dioxide bubbles if the candy is strongly acidic.
Our findings: To demonstrate the desired reaction, we started with a baking soda-water solution and added a bit of both vinegar and lemon juice — which are acidic and always good fun. Then we created fresh baking soda-water solutions for Sweet Tarts, Nerds (both of which fizzed) and Milk Duds (which truly were duds). Some of the reactions weren’t immediately visible and took a close listen for bubbles, which was perhaps the only 10 seconds of stillness and silence we experienced that day. The kids’ only complaint was that baking soda-coated candy is not delicious.
The idea behind this experiment is to compare the color solutions used for different types of colored candies. There are a number of methods for testing this — search the Internet to find one that suits your supplies and attention span. We picked one that applied candy coloring to coffee filters.
Our findings: We extracted the coloring from candy-coated chocolates by dissolving it into a couple drops of water. Then we painted a line of the colored water near the bottom of the coffee filter strips. We taped the strips to pencils and hung them over glass cups that had water in the bottom to barely touch the filter. The water soaks up in the filter and disperses the colors. Of the candies we had on hand, only a handful of colors separated in an interesting way. But at least the remaining colored water was fun to paint with.