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(c)1998 William J. Beaty

Beautiful radial symmetry and pristine mathematics,
perverted into a revolting, horrible,
yet highly amusing little optical toy.
[3 tapered mirrors attached edge to edge]
(down to links)

In 1988 I was playing with some 12" squares of mirror while looking for interesting decorative effects to use in a museum exhibit on electronics. I found that a trio of mirrors placed together on edge upon a tabletop would cause a "kalidoscope" effect. Even better, the view inside this 3-sided mirror-chamber revealed infinite vistas of three-dimensional polished wood, stretching off into the distant horizon. And if I tilted the mirrors slightly outwards, the flat tabletop became a sphere. Cool!

This was different than a regular kaleidoscope because the effect was 3D. In a normal kaleidoscope we look at colorful patterns inside a triangular mirror-tube, but we use just one eye. If the end of the kaleidoscope tube was enlarged so that both eyes could look into the end, then the scene would become 3-dimensional. The 3D scene within the mirrors is eerie, since it stretches off into the distance in all directions. Reminds me of childhood, and looking into the tilted world within those mirrors at the shoestore.

I used this idea and built the kaleidoscope below. By placing it against any textured surface, it would convert the surface into a spherical geodesic dome, where little triangular facets are all made from the original textured surface. Quite beautiful.

Unfortunately the esthetic history of this device immediately was diverted from "wow!", and became "feh!"

I placed the device against the table and made a beautiful wooden sphere. I stuck it on paper and made a "Japanese lantern." Shadows on the paper created animated, symmetric geometrical patterns. I moved it in and out, and the "lantern" would change size. I stuck it against my arm and... YEESH! A FLESHY BALL OF SKIN, COVERED WITH SWEATY HAIR!

I moved my arm up and down. The ball of flesh throbbed. I put the palm of my hand on the end of the mirror device, and made a nice clean smooth sphere of skin. I cupped my hand to fold the skin, and this produced an obscenely pulsing wrinkled flesh-ball. I shoved some fingers into the end, and saw a spiny sphere of waving fleshy pseudopods. I placed it against the side of my fist, clenched and unclenched it, and created throbbing organic orifices. I grabbed coworkers, placed my mouth against the end, made biting and tongue movements, and said "Look into this thing." They recoiled in revulsion and/or hilarity.



[GIF anim: pulsing globe of fingers]


Obtain some mirror material. Glass mirror works best, although acrylic mirror is very easy to cut with a saw and is much safer for kids. (Glass looks better though. The 3D images in the glass mirror are clearer because it's flat, and the acrylic mirror is always very slightly wavy.) I used a package of 12" glass mirror tiles bought from a large hardware store, and cut them with a glasscutter-scribe and a straightedge. The 1/16 inch mirror works fine, although it is easily broken, therefor young children shouldn't use a Disgustoscope made from glass. For a plastic disgustoscope, use 1/8" acrylic mirror.

[Plan of one side of d-scope mirror]

Make three mirrors in the above shapes. Use duct tape to fasten the shapes together edge to edge, with the mirror facing inwards. If you use glass, then either use emery sandpaper to grind down the sharp glass edges, or cover them with more tape.

Note: to make a much smaller Disgustoscope, cut your mirrors so they are 8.5 inches long, so the narrow end is 2.5 inches across, and the wide end is 6.5 inches.

[Look into large end, put objects against small end]

Try it out. Place yourself under a ceiling light. Put the smaller end of the Disgustoscope flat against a wooden tabletop, and look down into the wider end. You'll see the wooden geodesic sphere. (Note that it isn't a real geodesic shape, since lots of the triangles overlap strangely.) Place your hand there instead, and you'll see the throbbing ball of skin. Place the smaller hole upon your eye, then have a friend look into the larger hole while you glance from side to side. They will see a spherical glob-monster covered with eyes, and the eyes will be swerving about crazily. WARNING, your victim may become overly amused, and experience a sudden need to collapse onto the floor with uncontrollable giggling.


With your face on the big hole and your hand upon the small, both ends are plugged and it gets dark inside. To solve this problem, I cut pieces off the corners of the mirrors on the larger end. This leaves holes through which outside light can shine. If you've made your Disgustoscope of plastic, you can scrape off some of the mirror material near the sides of the larger hole. This leaves translucent patches. Or, rather than taping the three mirrors together, you could glue an acrylic half-round rod between two or more of the acrylic mirrors. (Orient the rod so the rounded part faces inwards.) This would produce a transparent slot for illumination.

Spoiling the fun

It's possible to convert your Disgustoscope into a non-Disgust-oscope. Cut out a triangle of clear acrylic plastic to match the size of the small opening in the device. Sandpaper one surface of the plastic to give a frosted finish. Glue the triangle permanently into the end of your nonDisgustoscope. This gives a "Japanese Lantern" effect, and all sorts of moving colorful patterns may be placed upon the sanded plexiglas. But those 3-D... uh... "organic" shapes... are no longer possible.

Am I insane? I could get rich!

The original Kaleidoscope was invented in 1816 by Sir David Brewster, a Scottish physicist. He demonstrated it during a lecture, and soon the streets were full of Kaleidoscope-sellers. Brewster did patent his idea the next year, but he was far too late. The cat was out of the bag, the light had escaped from the mirrored box! Word is that he never made any money from it at all.

So in the grand tradition, I put Disgustoscope on the internet. If it gets really really popular, then I can go and get a worthless patent.

Just like Sir David! :)

OK, now go and DRAW YOUR OWN HOLOGRAM. Man, if I was alive in 1930, I could have founded holography. But with my luck, I would end up in 1500, and get burned at the stake, especially after they've looked at their own fingers.

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