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Three Inventions Danny Dunn Doesn't Talk About

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There was never any doubt that Joe would end up writing books about the adventures he, Danny, and Irene shared while growing up in Midston. But they’d agreed from the first that he’d have to change everyone’s names and publish the stories as fiction – partly because of Professor Bullfinch’s government connections, and partly to ensure that their own careers wouldn’t be compromised by some of the wilder aspects of their exploits.

Joe also made a deal with a popular children’s writer to bring the books out over that writer’s byline. The arrangement worked out well for everyone involved – but there were still certain stories that the Midston trio chose not to share with Jay Williams, concerning various inventions that had been less than successful….

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The Electrified Cat

The professor’s original idea – sparked by a friend of Irene’s whose pet cat Sprite had briefly gone missing – had been to create a collar with a small, easily traceable radio transmitter so that its wearer’s owner could easily locate a lost pet by tracking the signal.

Unfortunately – and for once, entirely by accident – two things had gone wrong. A tiny wire on the prototype collar had sprung loose and embedded itself in Sprite’s skin, thereby linking the transmitter directly into the cat’s nervous system. And there had been a power surge in Professor Bullfinch’s laboratory just as Irene was testing the modified radio headset designed to interface with the collar’s broadcast signal.

The result: instead of getting a simple ping from the transmitter, the radio link established a direct two-way connection between Irene’s brain and Sprite’s. And because most of the power was being generated on Irene’s end of the connection, Irene’s brain found itself attempting to manage the sensory input from both bodies at once. As she explained it later, her mind felt as if it was bouncing back and forth between her own head and Sprite’s – just as the cat had gotten itself lost again.

The link and its associated sensory overload made it almost impossible for Irene to speak or write, and while the Professor realized what had happened almost at once, it took most of a day for Danny and Joe to locate Sprite and remove the collar. To everyone’s immense relief, Irene reported no lasting harm from her experience, “although,” she privately told Joe and Danny, “I can whack houseflies out of the air now, and I’m a little better at actually watching birds. But I promise, I am not going to go hunting for mice!”

Nonetheless, Dr. Miller was sufficiently alarmed by the affair to bar Irene from visiting Professor Bullfinch’s house – a penalty that lasted for a full month before Mrs. Dunn finally persuaded him to reconsider.

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The Knight Watch

On one hand, Danny had always liked superheroes – but as a scientist, he had to admit that getting bitten by a radioactive spider or shouting “SHAZAM!” wouldn’t really give you amazing powers, Space Ghost’s “power bands” were completely impossible, and Roger Ramjet’s Proton Energy Pill was just plain silly.

Then the Batman series came along.

“You know,” Danny pointed out to his friends, “Batman doesn’t have superpowers, and a lot of the gadgets are dumb. But you could put a lot of useful stuff into a utility belt like his....”

Joe and Irene had both voiced objections. Joe raised the costume issue (“NO ONE is getting me into tights!”), while Irene pointed out Midston’s complete lack of supervillains (“You don’t need a utility belt to get a cat down from a tree”). Danny persisted, however, and it took remarkably little effort to recruit Professor Bullfinch. The result was, strictly, a bandolier rather than a belt (“more compartments, easier to reach”, the Professor explained), but it more than met Danny’s specifications. The Professor also donated a supply of fabric to the cause – two bolts of a very dark purple cloth with silvery fibers shot through it, which was light as silk but incredibly strong – and spun a story for Mrs. Dunn about needing costumes for a film he was making as a test of a new type of movie camera.

Joe, despite a great deal of grumbling, came up with a fifteen-minute script that allowed them to put both the costumes and the bandoliers through a solid test. Danny pronounced the project a success...

...and they waited, and waited, and waited some more...

...but a situation simply never arose that felt to Danny as if it called for the intervention of the Knight Watch. They eventually found uses for the bandoliers as camping and hiking gear, but not for super-heroic purposes. “Although,” Danny wrote to Irene during their junior year in college, “I actually used the throwing-rope and the scoop net this week, to get a cat out of a tree. Without getting scratched!”

BAIT & Switch

Even Dr. Grimes eventually admitted that the Great Peanut Butter Disaster was partly his own fault. “I should have included a mass limitation in the original code,” he said some years later.

The invention involved was Dr. Grimes’ Biomagnetic Attraction, Intake & Transport system – BAIT, for short. It looked rather like a cross between an oversized basketball and a vacuum cleaner, and its intended purpose was to isolate and contain hazardous materials – oil spilled from a damaged tanker ship, acid or chemical leaks on factory production lines, even nuclear waste – for storage and disposal. He had brought the prototype device to Midston both to show Professor Bullfinch and to conduct a few early tests, and as usual, Danny, Joe, and Irene had wanted to see it as well.

Joe, as it happened, was eating a peanut butter sandwich at the time – and no one noticed when a dollop of peanut butter dropped from the sandwich into the BAIT device’s sample compartment. As a result, when Dr. Grimes activated the unit a few minutes later, it immediately went looking for all the peanut butter it could find – first in Mrs. Dunn’s pantry, then at the Miller house next door, and so on till it reached the grocery market down the road.

By that time, it had accumulated more than enough peanut butter to overflow its containment tank. But it simply kept going – generating an electrical field strong enough to attract and hold onto the ever-growing mass, and fueling itself by burning off a tiny fraction of the material as it went. So it looked for all the world like an immense living blob of sentient peanut butter – which proceeded to “eat” the Midston Market’s entire supply of peanutty goodness.

By this time, of course, the police and fire departments had arrived, but the BAIT unit’s electrical field simply shunted aside the streams of water and small-arms fire directed at it. (At the same time, it extruded octopus-like tentacles into several police cars, neatly sucking the peanut butter out of the officers’ lunch bags.) Having exhausted the supply of peanut butter in its immediate vicinity, the BAIT device’s scanner probed outward seeking more nourishment…

…and found the mother lode: the main production facility for Granny Sam’s Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter, located just outside of Midston to the south.

Luckily for Dr. Grimes and Professor Bullfinch, local law enforcement entirely failed to associate the appearance of a giant peanut butter creature with their nearby laboratory. The two scientists, of course, realized almost at once what was happening – but Dr. Grimes’ remote control had shorted out, and the BAIT device’s onboard instrument panel had long since been covered with an ever-deepening layer of peanut butter.

Joe and Danny were also following the monster, but it was actually Irene who saved the day, by rewiring her short-wave radio set to broadcast on the frequency of Dr. Grimes’ remote, and issuing the shutoff command just in time to save the Granny Sam’s plant from imminent doom. Of course, when the BAIT unit’s electrical fields collapsed, it left some seven hundred pounds of peanut butter in Granny Sam’s parking lot – with the BAIT device buried underneath. Dr. Grimes, the Professor, Danny and Joe had to wait till nightfall to go in and recover the invention.

Afterward, despite his best efforts, Dr. Grimes never succeeded in marketing the BAIT technology. And Joe Pearson swore off peanut butter forever:

“Neither Peter Pan nor Skippy, neither Jif nor Granny Sam’s,
Not with bacon or bananas, not with jellies or with jams,
Not in cookies or in ice cream, not with chocolate or with yams;
Peanut butter is no longer on my list.

For when peanut butter rises like Godzilla to attack,
When it rolls down my sidewalk like it’s looking for a snack,
When it’s big enough to eat me, then there is no turning back;
Peanut butter, I decree, does not exist.

I won’t eat you in a sandwich, I won’t eat you with a spoon,
I won’t eat you, even powdered, if I’m trapped upon the moon,
I won’t eat you if I’m threatened by a pistol-packing goon;
And I tell you, peanut butter, you’ll be missed.”

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