Summer is the time for parties, but are you looking to add a little science to your usual backyard barbecues and late-night gatherings? Try these science-themed cocktails, tricks, and party games for soirées that are both fun and fascinating.
What's your favorite science-y thing to do with your friends? Tell us in the comments.
The Science of Booze
DNA Cocktails: Freeze and thaw a package of strawberries in advance and teach your guests how to make a strawberry DNAquiri. Follow the instructions below to create a drink with visible strands of DNA floating about in the booze.
Space-Age Cocktails: If you like to work (carefully) with dry ice, you can try mixologist Russell Davis' Big Red Button, which he imagines is the sort of cocktail you might "drink" in space. In the episode below of io9's podcast We Come From The Future, Davis shows us how to make a futuristic version of the sazerac:
You can also try the flaming cocktail if you've got an appropriately safe setting (and a fire extinguisher) handy.
Fluid Mechanics Cocktails: If you'd like your drink to come with a fluid mechanics garnish, try one of the rheological cocktails developed by Mark Jellineck. The Tears of Brandy and Baileys relies on variations in surface tension to create the appearance of "tears" in a glass, while the ice melting in a boozy drink can provide a lesson in thermal boundary layers. You can experiment with Tia Maria and dairy of varying curds (milk, half and half, and cream) to create very different designs in your cocktails.
Osmosis Gummi Bears: The classic method of demonstrating osmosis to children can become a boozy party game. Soak your gummi bears in various alcohols for days before your party, weigh a handful them to see which varieties have soaked up the most alcohol, and have your guests taste them to identify the alcohol in the heaviest and lightest bears. Of course, you can always just skip the science lesson and eat the drunken candies.
Supertaster Taste Test: Are you a supertaster? There is a way for you and your friends to find out. Get a set of taste test strips coated in PTC, thiourea, and sodium benzoate, compounds that different people can and cannot taste depending on their genes. See which chemicals you can taste and compare notes with your friends about foods (especially bitter ones) that you love and hate.
Miracle Berry Party: How do you make a lemon taste as sweet as candy? First suck on a tablet made from the fruit Synsepalum dulcificum, better known as the miracle berry. The glycoprotein miraculin binds to taste receptors on the tongue, causing you to perceive acidic foods as sweet. Collect a variety of acidic foods, gather your friends, pass out the miracle fruit tablets, and watch everyone trip on the unexpected flavors.
Scientific Party Tricks
Blow Things Up in Your Microwave: Easter may be over, but you don't need Peeps to have messy fun with your microwave. Ivory soap is a classic item to play with in the microwave since nuking it creates a soapy soufflé. But if you don't particularly care about your microwave (and have a fire extinguisher handy), you can make microwave lightning with grapes:
Racing on Eggshells: Usually an egg race involves a single egg and a spoon, but there is another possibility when it comes to egg races. While we may think of eggshells as fragile things, but an egg's shape actually gives it impressive strength. Line up several cartons of eggs and challenge your guests to race to the other side without breaking any. There is a trick to keeping the eggs intact, though: you have to make your foot as flat as possible while you walk. Keep a camera handy.
Have an Oobleck Dance Party: Even if you don't have rhythm, you can make a substance that always moves with the sound waves. Mix cornstarch and water (plus a little food coloring for effect) to make oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid. Set a cookie sheet of the stuff near your subwoofer and see how it dances to different types of music.
Dry Ice Bomb the Pool: If you happen to have a pool handy and no one is planning on swimming, you and your guests can still use it as a venue for your dry ice bombs. Have everyone build a container for their dry ice, toss the containers with dry ice in the pool, and watch the watery explosions.
Just make sure that no one is in the pool at the time. The resulting gas will displace the oxygen near the surface of the pool, making it impossible for swimmers to breathe.
Make Bouncy Balls: It's a classic science craft for kids, but come on, who doesn't love a good bouncy ball? Supply your guests with borax, glue, cornstarch, and water, plus food coloring and glitter for decoration. Then prepare for bouncy ball chaos.
Build a Marshmallow Catapult: Encourage your guests to start their own marshmallow armory with marshmallows, bamboo skewers, rubber bands, plastic spoons, and masking tape. Then mark off a target and see who can hit it with their marshmallow ammo—if your guests aren't too busy pelting each other with sugary treats.
Come Up with a Clever Thaumatrope: If your guests are artistically inclined, have them make a thaumatrope, a simple optical illusion device. Thaumatropes are often associated with the image of a bird in a cage, but encourage your guests to get creative. Print out photos of your friends to make silly thaumatrope images or have a dirty thaumatrope contest.
Add Science to Your Other Party Games
Scientific Pictionary: Some games are made even more fun with a small scientific tweak. You can play science-themed charades, for example, but Bio-Pictionary sounds like particular fun—and a good way to reinforce scientific concepts. The Journal of Biological Education has a few suggestions for a molecular biology version of Pictionary, but you can come up with topics based on your guests' interests and knowledge.
Cards Against Science: Cards Against Humanity gets horribly scientific in this expansion pack made for Science Hack Day San Francisco 2013. You can mix cards like "Carl Sagan's turtlenecks," "mouth pipetting," and "Newton's virginity" to your larger Cards Against Humanity deck, or play the science cards by themselves.