Category Archives: toil and trouble

Toil and Trouble, Part I

So. Another Halloween has passed, and while the denizens of Casa de Zheng did manage to get some nice homemade costumes out the door, it’s been another year of postponing bigger Halloween projects because I’m Just Too Busy Right Now. For years I’ve wanted to make a classic black cauldron over which The Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3 can stand on All Hallows’ Eve, dispensing hot cider to chilled trick-or-treaters with a cackle and a grin.

She does have an adorable cackle.

A fortnight past I was discussing Halloween projects with a friend and neighbor and I lamented my lack of time for such things. I’ve wanted to engineer monstrous spiderwebs and motion-sensing jump-scare zombie automatons for years but always get too caught up in Halloween costumes and daily minutae in the weeks before the big day to ever get to even starting any of these grand designs.

The hard truth is that there is never enough time for such opuses. Some meeting, some job, some illness, some obligation always interferes, and it’s just too easy to sleep in until 7am on a Satudray. And yet this cauldron must be made.

If not me, then who? If not now, then when? Am I to wait until the youngest spawn has wriggled off to college, when I’ll finally, finally! have the time to pursue every creative project of which I can conceive, unhindered by the demands of short mutants who share slightly less than half of my DNA, when the dawn of retirement peeks over the horizon and the iPhone 9 announcement is nigh?

No. If it is to be, it is up to me to do this now. As important as getting the project done is instilling by example the creative process into my kids. To plan, to build, to fail, to learn, to feel finally feel the pride in a piece of art just-completed and yet never quite done.

The deadline: Full beta testing in September 2014. Public release date October 31, 2014.

The requirements, purposefully done in broad strokes:


  • The cauldron’s got to be big enough to be impressive, even when it’s just sitting there doing nothing.
  • It must be light enough to be easily moveable, but strong enough to withstand some jostling in case a child bumps into it.
  • Must support a hot plate for cider mulling.
  • Must be non-flammable.
  • Non-toxic eerie smoke needs to pour from the top of the cauldron while it’s in use. Dry ice, maybe?
  • Drizzle-proof would be a nice touch.

The inside of the cauldron must glow.
Needs variable-intensity fake fire underneath.
Must run unattended in an idle mode, and also needs user input for choreographed performance.

Determining scale is the first order of business. We own a circular patio table that would make an excellent jig for bending the cauldron’s armature, so I’ll use that for reference when figuring out just how large this cauldron should be.


Winter is coming (natch) so much of the construction will likely wait until spring, because I think this will be too big to fit through the doors on the house and it’ll have to live in the garage.

Goal for next week: get the mouth of the cauldron bent into shape. I can make a hoop in a week, right?