July 1959 Popular Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
John Frye, as it turns out, was way ahead of his time. Many of the somewhat zany electronics devices his fictitious teenage experimenters cum hobbyists cum scientists cum Ham radio operators cum amateur sleuths Carl and Jerry came up with have turned out to be products available and popular in today's consumer marketplace. This episode can be regarded as an early developmental version of a wearable calorie burner facilitation device. Jerry's "Blubber Burner" sports an un-politically-correct name and uses that element now considered to be the devil in liquid metal form (mercury), but it managed to get the job done. FitBit bands do not go so far as to zap you with a jolt of electric charge to get you moving if you are idle for too long, but the concept of reminding the wearer to exercise is not so far in principle from the Blubber Burner. Their friend Norm invented another use for it - the first recorded use of a taser.
Carl & Jerry: The Blubber Banisher
By John T Frye, W9EGV
"Say, what's the matter with you? You got ants or something?" Carl demanded of his chum Jerry. "Every few minutes you glance at your watch and then get up and pace around the lab. This can't be old hate-to-make-an-unnecessary-move Jerry. Am I keeping you from something?"
"Oh, no!" Jerry said quickly. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm just restless."
He sat down gingerly on the worn leather couch in the boys' basement laboratory, and there was a moment of deep silence.
"Hey, what's that ticking sound?" Carl suddenly demanded. "Sounds like it's coming from you."
"Okay, okay! It is coming from me," Jerry shouted in exasperation. "If you must know, it's my new Blubber Banisher."
Carl's look of complete bafflement was answered by Jerry's pulling up a pants leg to reveal a small glass tube with a bead of mercury in it strapped to his pudgy leg above the knee. Two wires from the device vanished up his thigh.
"I've decided I'm a trifle overweight and should take off a few pounds," he explained. "There're just two ways to do this: eat less or burn up more energy. Dieting isn't my dish; but I've noticed that nervous people who tap their fingers, shuffle their feet, and are constantly hopping up and down seldom become fat. So-o-o-o, I cooked up this little device to see to it that I move around nervously."
"I don't get it," Carl said flatly.
"This thing is the guts of an automobile clock," he said, taking a gadget out of his hip pocket. "Such a clock has a short mainspring that is rewound every few minutes by the closing of a set of contacts that actuate a solenoid. In this case the solenoid is operated from five penlight cells connected in series. I have the clock arranged so the contacts are closed by the unwinding spring every ten minutes.
"Now this little glass tube taped to my leg is a mercury switch. As you can see, when I stand up, like so, the glob of mercury rolls against the contacts in the end of the tube and shorts them out; but if I sit or lie down, the mercury rolls to the other end of the tube and leaves the contacts open. The primary winding of this model airplane ignition coil is connected across the mercury switch contacts. The coil's 'hot' lead is taped against my skin.
"The batteries, the solenoid, the mercury switch, and the rewinding contact points of the clock are all connected in series. If I'm standing when the contact points close, the solenoid simply rewinds the spring. No current flows through the primary of the ignition coil that's shorted out by the mercury switch. But if I happen to be caught sitting or lying down when these contact points close, the current to the solenoid flows through the ignition coil primary and produces a high voltage in the secondary. I get a sharp shock when the contacts close and another when they open. After you're stung with that a couple of times, you make very sure you're on your feet well before the time the contacts should close. As soon as I've checked the thing out, I'll patent it and get filthy rich taking pounds off women."
"That will be the day!" Carl jeered to conceal his envy of Jerry's Rube Goldberg ingenuity. "I'd like to see you get a woman to wear that thing."
"I see you don't know much about women," Jerry said loftily. "They will undergo any torture or suffer any indignity if they're convinced it will make them more attractive eventually."
"Okay, Mr. Know-All-About-Women!
Let's see you prove it. I noticed Norma taking a sunbath out in her backyard when I came down here. Let's see you get her to wear your contraption."
Jerry hesitated a moment. "That's hardly fair. You know as well as I that Norma doesn't have an ounce that isn't right where it belongs; but I'm game to try. Let's go."
Sure enough, their young neighbor, Norma, looking very trim and lovely, was stretched out in her swim suit on a blanket in the back yard. She glanced up lazily through her dark glasses as the boys came through the hedge and waved a languid welcome to them.
"Don't move!" Jerry said in hushed tones as he stopped short. "Just let me stand here and drink in your loveliness. I want to remember you always just as you are at this moment!"
Norma rolled over, sat up, and whipped off her sun glasses as she looked suspiciously at her two youthful neighbors. "I don't like this," she muttered dubiously. "You sound like you've been smooching with the Blarney Stone."
"I never kiss anything that can't kiss back," Jerry retorted with what was intended to be a leer but which came out more like an engaging grin. "Say, Pal, Carl and I are going up to the lake with the folks Sunday. How'd you like to come along and have us teach you to water-ski as we promised you we would last winter?"
"You mean it?" Norma said excitedly.
"You've got yourself a date! I'm just dying to learn to ski. On top of that, I need the exercise. While I'm afraid to get on the scales, I just know I put on three or four nasty old pounds last winter."
Carl and Jerry exchanged glances. "Well! Isn't that a coincidence," Jerry exclaimed. "You're a very lucky girl. You shall be the very first one to benefit from our B-B our Secret Slenderizer!"
"Oh,oh! Me and my big mouth!" Norma groaned as she sloshed suntan lotion on her arms. "What have you two Marconi moppets dreamed up now?"
Jerry pulled up his pants leg and gave a simplified explanation of the workings of the Blubber Banisher.
"You mean you think I'm going to cart around that pint-sized Big Ben?" Norma asked. "I'll become a big fat slob first!"
"We just want you to wear it tomorrow and give us your reaction," Jerry wheedled. "You said yourself you wanted to lose weight, and I'm sure this will do it."
"Sounds more like it would give me a nervous breakdown," Norma retorted.
"Okay; it's your life," Jerry said with a shrug; "but Carl and I have always been so proud of your appearance. When and if we take you skiing, we'll really be sad to see our former streamlined neighbor looking so pudgy and-"
"Okay, you brute; I know when I'm being blackmailed," Norma said through clenched teeth. "I'll try out your gadget."
The next night Carl and Jerry were already seated in the moonlight on Norma's front step when they heard her high heels clicking smartly along the sidewalk; she greeted them cordially and sat down between them.
"Well," Jerry asked anxiously, "does it work?"
"Does it ever!" Norma said with an irrepressible giggle. "It's the best wolf-repellent I've found yet."
"Did you say wolf-repellant?" Carl asked. "Check; but let me take it from the top.
This was a very busy day at the office; so I had no trouble at all keeping your little monster from shocking me; but if I get the reputation of being a clock-watcher, it's all your fault. And it's amazing how much of my work I find I can do standing up. Anyway, I wanted to see a show at the State Theater; so I dropped in there about seven. No sooner had I got settled, though, when a specimen of lupus cinernacus sat down in the seat next to me."
"Lupus Cinemacus?" Carl repeated. "That's right. It's a type of wolf that inhabits dark movie theaters and tries to pick up lone women. A girl with good sense has no trouble handling them. First, you move. If he moves, too, you call the ushers. They will take care of him muy pronto.
"This greasy character used the standard approach. First he tried to get me to talk about the picture. Very casually he allowed his arm to rest on the back of my seat. I was just getting ready to pack up my popcorn and move when, during a quiet part of the picture, he said something that gave me an idea: 'For a little thing, that watch of yours sure has a loud tick,' he said.
"With a start I realized your little time bomb was still ticking and time was running out. Very abruptly I jumped up and placed my popcorn on my seat. 'Watch this for me,' I told White Fang.
"As I reached the aisle, I felt the little doojiggy wind the clock spring. That had been close. I knew I had to disarm the gadget if I were to enjoy the show; so I repaired to the powder room and pulled the little wire loose from where it was taped against my skin. Then I carefully worked it through the cloth of my skirt so that a couple of inches of bare wire was protruding from the right side. Finally I waited until it was only a couple of minutes until the next clock-winding was due, and then I went back to my seat.
"White Fang was waiting for me eagerly.
I had scarcely got seated when that arm was across the back of the seat and his fingers were casually touching my shoulder. That was what I wanted. I carefully moved my knee so that I was certain the bare end of the wire was pressing against his leg, and then I braced myself for the shock I knew would be coming.
"All at once he let out a yowl and jumped to his feet. 'Help,' he bellowed, 'I'm being electrocuted.' I didn't blame him for thinking so. Even though I was expecting it, that jolt that went through both of us shook me up.
"The usher came running with his flashlight, but Mr. Wolf almost ran over him in his haste to get away from me. 'There's a short circuit or something in that row of seats,' he called back over his shoulder as he limped up the aisle rubbing his leg.
"Is anything wrong here?" the usher asked me and the others in the row of seats.
"'Not now,' I said. The usher gave me a long look and then a knowing grin spread over his face as he flicked off his light and returned to his station. I guess everyone likes to see one of those low-lifers get what's coming to him."
For several minutes the three of them talked and laughed about the event.
"Well," Norma finally said, "I'm hungry. After all, I'm sure that all the exercise I got today, thanks to your Secret Slenderizer, plus the emotional wear and tear of playing Little Red Ridinghood to that wolf, plus the exercise I'll get water-skiing tomorrow with you two entitles me to a little indulgence. I know where there are three wedges of chocolate cake with icing all gooey and fattening and this thick as well as some Cokes to go along. Would my favorite inventors care to join me?"
"Would we!" Carl and Jerry chorused as each grabbed an arm and hoisted Norma up. "Lead the way, Little Red!"
Posted March 9, 2017
Carl & Jerry: Their Complete Adventures is now available. "From
1954 through 1964, Popular Electronics published 119 adventures of Carl Anderson and Jerry Bishop, two teen boys with
a passion for electronics and a knack for getting into and out of trouble with haywire lashups built
in Jerry's basement. Better still, the boys explained how it all worked, and in doing so, launched countless
young people into careers in science and technology. Now, for the first time ever, the full run of Carl
and Jerry yarns by John T. Frye are available again, in five authorized anthologies that include the
full text and all illustrations."
Carl & Jerry Episodes on RF Cafe
Picture, June 1955
- Electronic Eraser,
- Electronic Trap, March
- Geniuses at Work, June
- Eeeeelectricity!, November
- Anchors Aweigh, July
- Bosco Has His Day,
- The Hand of Selene,
- Feedback, May 1956
- Abetting or Not?, October
- Electronic Beach
Buggy, September 1956
- Extra Sensory
Perception, December 1956
- Trapped in a Chimney,
- Command Performance,
- Treachery of Judas, July
- The Sucker, May 1963
- Stereotaped New
Year, January 1963
- The Snow Machine, December
Education, July 1963
- Slow Motion for
Quick Action, April 1963
- Sonar Sleuthing, August
- TV Antennas, August 1955
- Succoring a Soroban,
- "All's Fair --", September
- Operation Worm Warming,
Stomping, March 1962
- The Blubber Banisher,
- The Sparkling Light, May
- Pure Research Rewarded,
- A Hot Idea, March 1960
- The Hot Dog Case, December
- A New Company is Launched,
- Under the Mistletoe,
- Electronic Eraser,
- "BBI", May 1959
- Ultrasonic Sound Waves,
- The River Sniffer, July
- Ham Radio, April 1955
- El Torero Electronico,
- Wired Wireless, January
- Electronic Shadow,
- Elementary Induction,
- He Went That-a-Way,
- Electronic Detective,
- Aiding an Instinct,
- Two Detectors, February
- Tussle with a Tachometer,
- Therry and the Pirates,
- The Crazy Clock Caper,