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Summer Brain Games

Experiment: Toothpick Tops and Circle Spinners

What’s the best design for a spinning top? Does it matter where the weight is distributed or how far off the ground it is? Make two different spinning tops and try some experiments to see which one will spin the longest.

Toothpick Tops

Materials

Toothpicks
Newspaper
Tape
Scissors
Ruler

Instructions

  1. Cut long strips of newspaper that are a half-inch wide.
  2. Tape the strips together to make one strip that is at least three feet long.
  3. Tape one end of your long paper strip close to one end of a toothpick, making sure the pointy tip is still exposed.
  4. Wind the paper around the bottom of the toothpick, pulling the paper continuously to tighten it as you form a thick paper disc.
  5. When you wind the last of the long paper strip, tape the end down.
  6. Spin the paper-covered toothpick just like a top. How long does it spin? Try making a toothpick top with more or less paper and see how that affects the way it spins.

    Circle Spinners

    Materials

    Cereal box
    Scissors
    Compass or a large, round container
    Paper clip
    Tape
    Pennies
    Markers
    Pencil

    Instructions

    1. Cut the front or back off a cereal box to make a large, flat piece of cardboard. It should be smooth and not creased or folded.
    2. Use a drawing compass to make a circle that is at least 6 inches in diameter. You could also trace around a large, round container that’s approximately 6 inches to make a circle.
    3. Cut out the circle. Find the center of the circle by using a pencil to mark the point where two diameters (the longest lines that can be drawn across a circle) intersect.
    4. Partially unfold a paper clip so that it’s shaped like the number 4. The outer loop of the paper clip should unbend 180 degrees and stick out straight, and the shorter inner loop should unbend 90 degrees and point down. (Like this!)
    5. Poke the short arm of the paper clip through the center of the cardboard disc. This point is what your top spins on. Tape the longer paper clip arm in place. If you’d like, decorate your cardboard disc.
    6. Grab the paper clip loop on top of the disc and give it a spin! Tape four pennies to the edge of the disc so they are across from each other and the same distance from the center. Spin and observe what happens.  

    What’s Happening?  

    Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, until friction or another force slows it down. This is inertia. These spinning toys demonstrate that concept with rotational motion. An important part of how an object spins is how much mass it has and how far that mass is from the center, or axis of rotation.  Which top has most of its mass near the center? Which top spins longer and is more stable?

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