TWISTED, TUGGED, AND TASTY
Make a simple mechanism that pulls
delicious candy while it stretches the
limits of multidimensional math.
Sometimes the simplest things have richer histories and
more complex scientific connections than you ever
imagined. Such is the case for the taffy pulling machine.
Taffy pullers manipulate long strands of semisolid, sugary
dough into the delicious, chewy confection called salt water
taffy. After viewing myriad taffy machines in tourist traps
and internet videos, I sought to build one for myself.
Why? Well, when in operation, these devices display
a periodic, repetitive motion so mesmerizing that, when
placed in the front window of a candy shop, they invariably
attract large audiences and pull in customers.
But there’s more here than just a strangely compelling
visual experience. I believe the appeal is due in part to
a subliminal appreciation for the complex math lurking in
the motion of the taffy pulling machine. In the turning
arms of the engine, you’ll find mathematics complicated
enough to be the basis of a Ph.D. thesis. In fact, a number
of academicians have investigated the hypnotic, repetitive
motion of the taffy pulling machine as a portal to advanced
Photograph by Sam Murphy
Set up: p. 110
Make it: p. 111
Use it: p. 113
William Gurstelle is a contributing editor for MAKE and the author of Backyard Ballistics and Whoosh Boom Splat.
Visit williamgurstelle.com for more information on this and other maker-friendly projects.