Our Science Project

By Dave Barry

It's getting late on a school night, but I'm not letting my son go to bed yet. "Robert," I'm saying in a firm voice, "come to the kitchen right now and blow-dry the ant!"

We have a large paper-mache ant, the size of a mature raccoon, standing on our kitchen counter. Needless to say, the ant is part of a science-fair project. (Now I know how we can solve our national crisis in educational funding: Whenever schools need money, they could send a letter to all parents, saying, "Give us a contribution now or we're going to have a science fair." They'd raise billions.)

Our science-fair project is due tomorrow, but the ant is wet, so we're using a hair dryer on it. Science-fair judges hate a wet ant. Our ant doesn't look like one of those alert, "can-do" ants you see striding around. It looks like an ant that has just been informed that all 86,932 members of its immediate family were crushed to death while attempting to lift a Tootsie Roll.

While Robert is drying the ant, I get a flashlight and go outside to examine the experiment portion of our project, entitled "Ants and Junk Food." On our back fence we put up a banner that says "Welcome Ants." Arranged on a piece of cardboard are the following substances: potato chips, spicy beef jerky, Cheez Doodles, a dough-nut and cream-filled cookies. Of course you veteran parents know what happened: the ants didn't show up. Nature has a strict rule against cooperating with science-fair projects.

Fortunately some ants finally discovered our experiment. I had been led to believe, by countless public-television nature shows, that ants are very well organized. But the ones that showed up accomplished nothing. It was exactly like highway construction. It wouldn't have surprised me if some ants started waving orange flags to direct their buddies around the area.

But at least we were able to do our project and get results. I'd tell you what they were, but I think you should do your own work. That's the whole point of a science fair, as I keep telling my son, who has gone to bed, leaving me to finish blow-drying the ant.