The Glue Famine
July 15, 2018 5:50 PM   Subscribe

"It was December 18th, 2016 when we noticed that all the glue was gone and we had no clue why. So when the cavernous shelf was filled, only to be emptied again immediately, we began to speculate. Something as simple as Elmer’s Glue, although a little oddball, did not seem an unlikely victim for whatever might have been caught in the crosshairs of a Pinterest trend. We’d survive- whatever it was. I was in no way prepared for the reality. "

The story of one retail worker, a craft store, the slime trend of 2017 (previously), workshops, kids, and mind-numbing quantities of glitter and glue.

The author is selling the story on Amazon as a printed book.
posted by Quackles (58 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
My niece is visiting and she got me to touch slime without knowing what it was, it felt like a cold banana slug. On the whole I adore that kids are bypassing toy marketing and making their own toys. This feels like a good sign for what the future will be like.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:54 PM on July 15 [6 favorites]


MetaFilter: Workshops, kids, and mind-numbing quantities of glitter and glue.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:09 PM on July 15 [10 favorites]


The slime craze hadn't filtered down to my kids yet in early 2017, but I distinctly remember a friend texting me to ask if I had any glue because her younger son was trying to finish a kindergarten "100 days" project for which he had to glue 100 things onto a posterboard; she couldn't find any at the stores around us, and didn't know why. As a Girl Scout leader, I had lots of glue in a variety of formats and was happy to share. Not long after, slime hit, and hit hard, but was over fairly quickly in my home. Now I have a bottle of liquid fabric softener and a box of Borax taking up space in the "abandoned crafts" wing of my dining room, alongside some Rainbow Looms and their associated debris.
posted by candyland at 6:14 PM on July 15 [5 favorites]


"Hey everyone! Come to the meeting room in five minutes for a program on--"

"ARE WE GOING TO MAKE SLIME?!!"

"No, we're going to--"

"WHEN ARE WE GOING TO MAKE SLIME AGAIN?"

Our library's Youth Services team is getting really good at finding reasons to make slime that ties into every holiday.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:16 PM on July 15 [42 favorites]


Also, I have a lot of kids who come up to the desk all "Mr. Red, touch this! It's slime! Touch it!!! I made it out of glue and Tide and hand sanitizer!!" which is charming.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:18 PM on July 15 [17 favorites]


Oh man, I must have led dozens of different kids’ groups through slime making in the early 2010s in all the STEM demos I ran for Girl Scouts, the AZ Science Center, and Chemistry Days at the college. I may not have been Patient Zero for the Slime Pandemic of 2016, but I was definitely a carrier.

It’s definitely fun, as long as you set down the disposable plastic tablecloths beforehand. Otherwise, aieee!!

By 2016, I’d pretty much moved on to my Fire Mage persona, with the more dazzling pyrotechnical demos like the screaming Gummy Bear, the coffee creamer dragon’s breath, throwing lycopodium powder fireballs, mineral salt flame tests, the whoosh bottle, the calcium carbide bottles and igniting hydrogen balloons.

Not so hands-on for the kids, but still creates lots of excitement, and better suited to the nighttime schedule when we run our Sci-Tech demos outside.
posted by darkstar at 6:33 PM on July 15 [36 favorites]


The wave of this trend was observed with silent horror by myself and my Scout Leader mother, who created and abided by, in the 1980s, the Group Craft Rule: The Forbidden Three 'G's are Glass, Glitter, and Glue.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:40 PM on July 15 [27 favorites]


I spent a lot of time on Pinterest thinking about making slime with my niece, but I have now been cured of that urge and no slime has been made.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:44 PM on July 15 [3 favorites]


This is a long read, but I found the writing delightful.
posted by Adridne at 7:11 PM on July 15 [3 favorites]


I am deeply puzzled that Slime somehow has come back into vogue, it seemed like a very 2001 thing from Nickolodeon to me....
posted by yueliang at 8:16 PM on July 15 [8 favorites]


Now that I’ve RTFAed, this was a very entertaining read — thanks!
posted by darkstar at 8:19 PM on July 15


Um, is white glue still made from animals?
posted by amtho at 8:41 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


From the Elmer's FAQ:
Is glue made from horses or other animals?

No, Elmer's does not make glue from horses or use animals or animal parts. Our products are made from synthetic materials and are not derived from processing horses, cows or any other animals.
posted by hangashore at 8:56 PM on July 15 [14 favorites]


it seemed like a very 2001 thing

Whole eras have passed me by. I thought slime was a 1979 (?) thing. It was green and came in a little plastic garbage pail.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:13 PM on July 15 [24 favorites]


It is a long read, but TFA is pretty delightfully written. Reminded me of Ali Davis' old blog, True Porn Clerk Stories--the blog is dead because she published it as a book, but here's the original Metafilter thread where I learned about it. You can also read the transcript/listen to an excerpt on This American Life (segment: "Handing the People What They Want").
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:29 PM on July 15 [5 favorites]


More specifically, white glues like Elmer’s are mainly polyvinyl acetate with some polyvinyl alcohol as an additive to stabilize it as a colloidal suspension in water.

When the glue is exposed to air, the water can evaporate, leaving behind the polyvinyl acetate (PVA) behind as a solid residue.

PVA contains molecular subunits (ester functional groups) that give it high localized polarity, and therefore high attractiveness (adhesion forces) with other surfaces that also have polar functional groups (such as found in cellulose fibers). That’s why it’s great for wood and paper, but not so good for metal, which lacks those functional groups.

And because PVA is a polymer, its repeating molecular units are already chemically bonded to each other, so it also sticks to itself, in a sense.

So if the PVA in the glue is laid down in a nice, thin layer (as we have all learned not to gloop on the Elmer’s glue if you want it to bond well), then there is relatively high surface area contact between the glue residue and the bonded surface. It helps that wood and paper have lower relative densities, too, so that the adhesion forces (per area unit) are fighting against generally lower weight loads, compared to trying to bond metals or stone...

...and in the presence of an alkaline substance, such as borax, the individual polymer chains of PVA become “crosslinked”, with new bonds connecting each chain to its neighbor chain. So instead of having a bunch of separate chains of the polymer that can slip by each other easily, it becomes a woven mat of polymer that takes a more semi-solid state: SLIME!
posted by darkstar at 9:30 PM on July 15 [84 favorites]


Context for the 2001 thing - Nickolodeon's Double Dare used copious amounts of Slime as its punishment/prize, and they sold slime in Toys R Us (RIP) and also the green slime combined with the splat! like logo was part of their branding. Buzzfeed staffers re-enacting Double Dare. Nickolodeon Slime Recipe and History
posted by yueliang at 9:36 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


Though Double Dare wasn't the first Nickelodeon show to involve slime. I believe that honor goes back to You Can't Do That On Television, which Nick started airing in 1982.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:00 PM on July 15 [36 favorites]


yueliang, I feel compelled to inform you that OG Double Dare ran from 1986 to 1993. Compelled as in I tried to resist and my hands started involuntarily shaking and reaching for my phone.
posted by q*ben at 10:25 PM on July 15 [10 favorites]


darkstar, as useful and informative as that was, for me, I somehow doubt I'm going to be able to use any part of it when talking about slime to the 6-year old in this household...
posted by DreamerFi at 1:15 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Slime in cans predates even Nickelodeon the channel!
posted by rhizome at 1:22 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Just tell the 6-year-olds that the more glue dries out, the more sticky it gets, like soda and syrup and SNOT! That always elicits a satisfying “Eeewwww!” from the younger crowd. :)

Anyway, just helping them draw those connections with other things they experience in their everyday lives is about enough teaching for the really young ‘uns.

Crosslinking polymers can be modeled by knitting or crocheting, if they’re familiar with that and you have a sample at hand. (Separate strands of yarn can slip by each other, but if you link them together with loops, it forms a mat that locks the strands in place.)
posted by darkstar at 3:03 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


rhizome! My Dad bought me a can of that Green Slime in a can back in ‘78! I vividly remember playing with it on the linoleum floor kitchen, and within a day, it had picked up enough grit and dust that it was well and truly befouled. Haven’t thought about that in forever.

Just typing that paragraph brought back a momentary sense memory of the strangely pungent smell of that slime. Definitely not what slime smelled like when made with glue and borax.

Also, bonus points for the reference to Wacky Packages in that article. Huge collector back in the 70s, and probably not a week goes by that I don’t make a Wacky Packages reference to some grocery item I pass on the shelves at the supermarket. Chock Full o Nuts and Bolts is a standard, because the bright label always catches my eye as I pass down the coffee aisle.

It’s amazing how dumb stuff like that stays with you, even after 40 years. Kids nowadays will be talking 40 years from now about how all the adults in the 2010s had a Slime fetish, or something. There’s no other possible explanation for why a whole generation of children was initiated into the Cult of Slime.
posted by darkstar at 3:23 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


Oh, I am so glad I work in teaching now, retail truly is hell.

Loved this:
Don't leave your children with me! I'll teach them naughty things like self-love and how to question authority. And they'll come home with a sense of self-worth and... and... they'll grow up to dismantle oppressive systems. Trust me! Just trust me! You do not want me in charge of your children, I will teach them how to unionize.

PREACH.

This is great. I laughed a lot. (the melted snowmen goo!) I wondered at the American system of healthcare. I shook my head at capitalism. Thanks, great post!
posted by freethefeet at 3:23 AM on July 16 [14 favorites]


Needed editing. Some kind of cut and paste job, maybe.
posted by Segundus at 4:38 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


I had the 1970s slime in a trashcan toy. I remember when they released Slime with worms! Pleeeeeeeease mom pleeeeeeease ???
posted by freecellwizard at 4:53 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


By 2016, I’d pretty much moved on to my Fire Mage persona, with the more dazzling pyrotechnical demos like the screaming Gummy Bear, the coffee creamer dragon’s breath, throwing lycopodium powder fireballs, mineral salt flame tests, the whoosh bottle, the calcium carbide bottles and igniting hydrogen balloons.

Please do an FPP, I'M BEGGING YOU
posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:16 AM on July 16 [15 favorites]


You wouldn't think one could write so much about slime, but this is utterly delightful. Probably the best comedy writing I've seen in decades.
posted by happyroach at 6:39 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Came for the glue shortage, stayed for the customer service tales, the unionizing, the geese, Christmas, and the bliss of punching out and leaving the store.
posted by brainwane at 7:20 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


My sister-in-law requested educational toys for my niece for Christmas.

I found a good deal on slime in really cool colors. Slime is educational, I reasoned.

She and all the other tiny kids were captivated by it. They completely ignored all their fancy, expensive new toys to obsess over this 99-cent bottle of slime.
posted by BrashTech at 8:15 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


When I take over the world... Everyone should have to work a job in retail or restaurants for a minimum of six months. If you try to evade your 6-month term, then you are required to work in a craft store or a Chuck E. Cheese/ Showbiz Pizza or Build-A-Bear last Thursday.
posted by narancia at 8:53 AM on July 16 [11 favorites]


Whole eras have passed me by. I thought slime was a 1979 (?) thing. It was green and came in a little plastic garbage pail.
posted by Meatbomb


I remember pink slime in a white plastic container that I brought to show and tell, in the mid 1960s.
posted by Splunge at 9:42 AM on July 16


I don't even have to read the story or the comments to know that the real culprits are the Glue Bandits.
posted by clawsoon at 10:03 AM on July 16


Michaels now sells gallon jugs of white glue and when I saw one I thought to myself "who is scrapbooking so much they need a gallon of glue???" but yes, of course, slime. I had no idea it was so huge.
posted by GuyZero at 10:03 AM on July 16


This was a long, grim read, and for me it was a dark tale of labor and capitalism in the US, with a coating of glitter and goo.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:07 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


This is a great piece. I wish she'd gone more into the abusive manager and the labor organizing part, because it's such an important element of the larger expectations to be bright and perky and work with children and forfeit your time off.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:52 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Is this where we start chanting for a gross science FPP?

DARKSTAR
DARKSTAR
DARKSTAR
posted by a halcyon day at 10:59 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I live in the UK, but I grew up in the US.

I just had my 9yo lecture me on the whole history of Nickelodeon's use of slime, and the only detail I had to correct her on was the fact that You Can't Do That on Television was actually a Canadian show they syndicated. I assume Double Dare was inspired by YCDToT to include slime in everything, but don't have any data on that. I believe I read a retrospective of YCDToT by the woman who played "Moose" and later became a producer of the show on here a few years ago.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:09 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


The temptation to try to convince parents that cyanoacrylate is a great replacement must be hard to resist.
posted by eotvos at 11:12 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Just wait until they find out about silicone caulk and cornstarch as a moldable putty that turns into that rubbery solid toy.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:31 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Oh, and if you're interested in fun demonstrations... Check out The Royal Institution
- YouTube
. There are a bunch of demonstrations of fun SCIENCE in a lecture theater done for mostly family/kids/school-groups etc. The best ones are crazy old scientist types making things burn or go boom.

If you want to have some fun, go look for a Science/Chemistry type book from the '60s or even earlier. That's when the books told you how to do things with stuff you can find in the cabinets or the store...
posted by zengargoyle at 12:40 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


It appears that the villains of the story are glitter and capitalism.
posted by clawsoon at 12:41 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I worked at Michaels 10 years ago, and this is not real far off from how it used to be. Once I won a set of shitty cookware from a silver scratcher ticket.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:29 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I was trying to buy glitter during the great slime craze of 2017, and didn't understand why the shelves were bare until Instagram helped me figure out slime was a whole giant thing.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:34 PM on July 16


I guess I'm the crabby person, but I found it really over-written. There was a funny story here, if the author would have gotten out of their own way.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:37 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


I missed the 90s turn of the slime wheel almost entirely (touched the toys r us version once and hated the texture), but I do have fond memories of the edible modeling clay my preschool teachers made out of honey and peanut butter.

I wonder if you can do that with other nut butters, for the schools that ban peanuts because of allergies?
posted by dialMforMara at 1:51 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


This was definitely Michael's and not Jo-Ann, right?
posted by infinitewindow at 2:29 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think if it had been Jo-Ann, she couldn't have avoided at least some mention of sewing supplies, people working the cutting table, etc.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:56 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


The current slime trend has passed my household by like the Angel of Death on Passover (thank goodness. I don't like messy/painty/sticky art project type things in my house, and luckily my offspring inherited this same distaste.)

I remember the little plastic trashcans of Slime when I was a kid. And the variant with worms. And there was one with eyeballs, or maybe I'm making that up. It made me barf. Literally. I could not control my visceral reaction to it.

Once someone just DESCRIBED it and I threw up everywhere. I'm glad I outgrew that horrible completely uncontrollable response.
posted by 41swans at 5:08 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Can't be Hobby Lobby, because she mentions working Sundays, so Michaels is pretty much the option. Also, here's a link to an example of Michael's's $2 slime customization classes with pre-made slime.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:48 PM on July 16


Please do an FPP, I’M BEGGING YOU


Well, here’s all about the demo shows we are doing these days for Sci-Tech. Maybe it’ll scratch the itch. :)

During Sci-Tech Festival in Spring, we usually run four back-to-back demo shows on the Friday night of the event. Each demo show lasts 20-22 minutes, allowing 8-10 minutes between shows to interact with parents and kids while assistants are setting up for the next round. Thus, we’re able to run through four shows in the two-hour block (7-9 pm). Because the event is at night, we’ve shifted to demos that don’t suffer from darkness too much, and since I am a huge fan of fiery chemistry demos, I’m in hog heaven when running one of these shows.

The line-up of demos we do in each show (along with some links):

1. Hydrogen balloons. We have a few balloons filled with hydrogen (not helium) and tied to string. We also have a flame igniter on a 6-foot pole. We start the show by igniting one of the balloons, which makes a loud cannon BOOM that can be heard all over the college campus. It’s a good way to grab attention of parents and kids who may be strolling by between attending other events, so they know we’re starting something. After the boom, I give some carnival barker patter to call people over for the show and invite them to have a seat. A couple of minutes after the first balloon, we explain the difference between hydrogen and helium and why it’s important to use the igniter in the pole because of the flames coming from the deflagrate game gas. (One year, I tried igniting a balloon with a 12-inch grill starter and burned the hair off of my hand and scorched my lab coat!) After the brief explanation, I ask if they’d like for us to ignite another one, and then call a kid up to—safely—do the next one. A third balloon is still floating on its string, which teases them for the rest of the show...

...which usually cycles through the following additional demos:

2. Whoosh Bottle

3. Screaming Gummy Bear. Note: molten potassium chlorate is no joke. It his highly dangerous oxidizer, which is why it does what it does to the organic matter in the Gummy Bear. It will do the same thing to people, clothing, buildings. All of these demos have inherent dangers, but this one is especially hazardous if you aren’t using proper procedure.

4. Dragon’s Breath. This could be done with a number of powders, but I’ve found that either lycopodium powder or non-dairy coffee creamer works well. The latter leaves a nice creme brûlée aroma afterward, but beware: if we use creamer powder, we don’t tell kids what the powder is, lest they be tempted to repeat it unsupervised afterward.

5. Throwing Fireballs. This is a variation on the Lycopodium Dragon’s Breath. You place a small amount of powder in the palm of your hand (palm facing up), then hold a lit match between your middle and ring finger if the same hand. Their match flame should be about 2” directly over the powder. Then, with a very controlled vertical cast, you throw the powder upward through the flame so that it ignites. When it works, it’s very impressive. It takes practice to get right, and because it’s so sensitive to how much you use, how fast you throw the powder, etc., we’ve found that lycopodium powder is the more reliable option. Even so, we often have one attempt in three not work. That’s okay, we tell the audience, try, try again! A more reliable method can be employed by using a lycopodium powder ejector.

6. Fluorescent Dyes. We have four dye solutions pre-made, along with tonic water. We show them under incandescent light and then under fluorescent light. We don’t go into all of the science as in the linked video (our audience has some pretty young kids) but we point out how the things around us can have special and amazing properties that we might never see, unless we look at them just the right way, and how a lot of science is figuring out new ways to look at the world so we can find out more if these amazing, hidden things!

7. Mineral Salt Flame Tests (fireworks colors). I use wood splints, dipped in water and then into the salts, then held in a Bunsen burner flame. This will make the salts clump because of moisture, so it contaminates your compounds eventually, but it is easier to manage, imho, and the powders will be okay for four shows. You can also do much more dramatic demos of these, but I strongly urge you not to do them because the highly flammable solvents used in those variations are notorious for setting people on fire (as mentioned in the first demo linked).

8. Luminol / Glow Stick Fluid. Occasionally, we do a quick demo where we mix up some luminol and pour it down a series of twisting glass tubes as it glows. There’s not much to this demo, but it looks cool. This video demonstrates a really cool application of the idea (effect starts at 3:49) but it looks like a headache to set up. Pretty though! :)

9. Finally we close the show by asking for another volunteer to ignite the last hydrogen balloon. This again helps alert those nearby that something interesting is going on at the Chemistry station. :)


Two of the fire-related demos that I’ve done many times in the past, but don’t do so much anymore, are the Carbide Bottles (starts at 5:00) and the Thermite reaction. (I’m not even linking to Thermite, but there are quite a few idiot Chemistry teachers doing this demo without even safety glasses which AAAUGH.). The former demo isn’t quite as ideally visible or impressive in the dark, and the latter is significantly more work to set up and potentially makes a bigger mess with much greater danger.

Also, any demo with fire in it could bite you, and requires extra special handling. But the Thermite demo is one where I feel like a lapse in chemical hygiene is especially likely to go awry (burning a hole in the demo table, sputtering molten iron onto someone, etc.). So the risk is just not worth it for an extra ooh and aah.


These are demos that only adults should be handling. And generally, I don’t recommend you try any of these demos on your own until you’ve had someone experienced do them with you first with proper safety equipment and precautions, and then you get to do them with their assistance a couple of times until you get the hang of it. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in any chemical demo and those that involve fire are especially prone to nasty surprises. The last thing you want to do is blow flaming powder all over your audience, cause a kid third-degree burns or blindness, set fire to your stage, hair or clothing, etc.

Cheers!
posted by darkstar at 7:40 PM on July 16 [31 favorites]


My 9th grade science teacher caused a full building evacuation and lost an eyebrow doing Dragon's Breath with ordinary baking flour.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:53 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Absolutely! Grain elevator, grain mill, coal mine and sawmill explosions are well attested in history, due to the particulate powders that accumulate in the air and then ignited.

It’s surprising to think that something as innocuous as flour, if handled incorrectly, could set someone on fire. Even people experienced with these demos get stung by them occasionally. They look deceptively simple, but that leads people into trouble. Definitely not your average rainy day activities and really should only be done by trained folks under highly controlled conditions.

(For example, the popular Dry Ice in a 2-liter Bottle explosion, as simple and impressive as it is, is potentially quite lethal, and could easily rip fingers off of a hand or blind you even if it doesn’t kill.)

That said, probably the easiest way to get training doing more elaborate demos is to volunteer with a local Science Center, letting them know you’d like to help them out and also get experience doing their demos. They will have trained personnel on hand that can show you how to safely do many of them, and who can indicate which ones might be best to just give a pass. (Having a course or two in chemistry would also be helpful to build up familiarity with Bunsen burner safety, heating test tubes, etc..)

Back to Slime, though, it’s an awesome demo/activity on so many levels. It’s real chemistry using materials kids interact with on a daily basis, it’s hands-on, the materials are harmless and inexpensive and (sometimes) readily available, and the result captures kids’ attention and imagination for long after the demo is finished, as they basically just made a toy they can play with afterward. (Adding glitter to it is the Devil’s work, though.)
posted by darkstar at 8:24 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


rum soaked space hobo, Moose was a goddess.
posted by lhauser at 8:55 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


rhizome! My Dad bought me a can of that Green Slime in a can back in ‘78!

Oops — meant to give a shoutout to Meatbomb too, who was the first to link that 70s Slime in this thread. :)

posted by darkstar at 8:56 PM on July 16


A friend taught me Dragon's Breath in the dorms, said it was caused by "phosphenes."

My high school science teachers would never have demonstrated something so uncontrolled, and for whatever reason my textfiles travels never brought it into my natural learning radar.
posted by rhizome at 10:06 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I started reading this as I was headed into wilderness without any internet access and it was the first thing I returned to when I reached civilization.

What a wonderfully absurd portrait of someone getting stomped on by the boot of capitlism. The soul-abuse and lack of respect for the work of a competent thoughtful employee is neatly placed alongside the meaningless harassment by geese displaced by sprawl and the pointless dangers of glitter. I’m glad it ended with the author leaving. It is mind boggling how many people in this country are employed in environments such as this for decades.

Also, I still own a flexible squeezy Jabba the Hut (made in the same scale as the original Star Wars figures), which came with a can of the original green slime ca. 1982 that you would lift Jabba’s head and load into his hollow body and when you squeezed Jabba, the green slime came out of his mouth. Not really an allusion to anything canonical about the Hutts, but cool anyway.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:40 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


My god, Slarty Bartfast, you just revived a decades old memory for me...my brother had that Jabba the Hutt + slime toy. We mostly just played with, yes you guessed it, the slime.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:33 AM on July 22


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