I’m John Cassidy the founder of Klutz Books and right now I’m sitting shotgun in a long car ride. I’m so impressed that people have 20 year old memories this sharp. If you want to know about Klutz back in the day, Ask Me Anything...
Dude! We were regulars at the store off El Camino when i lived in Palo Alto in the 80's. We probably bought 10 Aerobies there. Then you had a pretty good mainstream bout through the 90's. Thanks for the foxtail, juggling, harmonica, timer games knots and all the frivolity. I swear Klutz shaped my personal ideology.
Like many here, I don't have questions either, but the Explorabook and Kid's Shenanigans were life changing for me. I always wanted a copy of Earthsearch, but some parts of it really stuck with me from copies I saw in the store (like the spinner and rice game). Thanks for the great memories and fun things learned! I can still hang a spoon off my nose, and can't wait to share with my kid. :)
Your books were a huge part of my childhood. The Klutz book got me started in origami, which became my primary hobby. I learned so much from all the earth science books. Now my own toddlers are starting to explore those old copies. Thanks for what you created.
I think I will add to the chorus: I learned to juggle via the juggling book, and still participate in the activity to this day (~25 years later). Lots of friends and memories performing around my hometown in those intervening years, as well as large juggling conventions.
Still have my old copy by the way! Good stuff. I also vaguely remember writing you all a letter (on paper!) around that time, too.
So thanks for the book! It certainly changed my life for the better in many ways.
John these books were absolutely legendary in my house growing up. I still haven't shipped any bears cross country with no packaging but I'm thinking it would be a fun project to try with my girls these days. Thank you so much for making so many topics fun and accessible. I've recently been wondering if anyone took the "Klutz" torch and ran with it but haven't found many good titles to check out yet. Nothing beats the ready to go aspect of those books. Klutz was such a unique and incredible brand. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Explorabook and Earthsearch loom hugely in my childhood memories; I can't think of another book that has stuck with me so much. Reminiscing with my mother now (I'm 30) about times spent eating biscotti in the Barnes & Noble cafe. Was recently trying to source a couple copies in Germany for a friend's kid. Now I'm reminded of the other titles, I'll probably get a set for myself as well :) Truly, thanks a million for bringing these into the world.
Woah! OP here, first of all, thank you for all the memories and skills and laughs and friendship bracelets. How did you and the team decide what to "build" / "write" next? You really did seem to have every "kid essential" covered, but was there research or chatting with real-life kids? And what would you write today if you could make a new Klutz book?
If I could do a new Klutz book it would be something that was in the pipeline when I left that I was calling The Top 100 Facts of All Time. I still have a long file of candidates. The other day on Reddit there was a subreddit on stuff that seemed like fiction but wasn’t. The top entry was the Richard Parker story (Edgar Allen Poe is involved, check it out). I appreciated that because the Richard Parker story got me started on the whole idea many years ago.
You know, if you get bored during your car ride, you might consider picking up a Klutz book for entertainment. A new Klutz book was a staple of road trips in my childhood. Parents never heard an "are we there yet?" from us. Thanks for all of the great hours.
I became an accomplished juggler thanks to your first book! Thanks you! Question: I have had an idea for a Klutz-like book that I want to move forward with. Do you know if Scholastic takes submissions for the Klutz line?
Klutz books were a huge part of my childhood. I spent hours just looking at catalogs and begged my parents to buy me Goo and yoyos (never did get that SB-1). Thank you for all the witty and charming books.
Last week I found the science book in a Little Free library and I came home so excited. I have fond childhood memories of cooking hot dog slices with the fresnel lens. A book so dense with engagement. I am keeping it as a reminder of good design. Unless my nephew wants it :)
I bought Juggling...Klutz from a small local bookshop (New Saxon Bookshop in Bury St Edmunds) in about 1992 and taught myself and pretty much everyone else I knew (some were more happy about this than others) to juggle. I made sure to start everyone with the drop, which was such a great first lesson :) I then progressed to balls, bags and clubs from More Balls Than Most in Covent Garden. It was more fun that revising for A-Levels and has been more useful in the last 28 years. Thanks!
These books were my absolute favorites growing up. I would spend entire weekends poring through them, making knots, building paper airplanes, juggling, learning magic tricks, etc. I can still juggle and it never stops impressing people. :)
The books on science that we did were the fruit of a fabulous collaboration between us and the SF Exploratorium, the finest museum in the world (personal opinion). Paul Doherty, PhD physics MIT, was their chief scientist and the source of all scientific knowledge as far as I was concerned. Our other mentor was Martin Gardner for all things magic and odd. Check out Martin’s wiki article sometime. His brain was bigger than anybody’s. We worked w him on titles that were on magic or mischief...world class guy.
I originally learned to 3 balls from the Klutz juggling book as a kid, and still have largely fond memories of it.
I have a slight sour taste from the very end of the book, which discourages people from trying to go to higher numbers such as 5 balls. So after learning 3 balls, I set juggling aside. Much later, after meeting jugglers and seeing what people could do in videos online, I was inspired to learn a lot more... including 5 balls.
If you want people to excel, don't tell them they shouldn't expect to be able to do things, and that it's not worth the effort.
A lot of people hold this belief that knowing how to do X with an "incorrect form" is worse than not knowing at all, if you want to progress at doing X.
In programming we have debugging. You have a program that does X, but with some bugs. You later improve the program by removing the bugs.
Why can't we do this in "real life" as well? You learn how to add multi-digit numbers from right to left. You then later relearn that by going from left to right. You learn to swim with your head above the water, then later learn to keep your head in the water, and turn it every two strokes to get a quick breath.
In fact, I read about this concept of "debugging" bad habits exactly in the context of juggling. Seymour Papert covers this in Mindstorms , p 111. He explains that the most common "bug" that prevents people from performing 3-ball juggling is following one ball with the eyes. Once you are aware of that, you the fix is quite easy: keep your eyes pointed at the apex of the ball's trajectory. In a later chapter he goes on to say that other things can be "debugged" as well; one example is relearning skiing to replace a v-type position to a parallel ski position.
For juggling in particular, it's also my experience that teaching complete novices is easier. People who've juggled a bit often listen less, and get frustrated with breaking things down, and just go back to doing what they know.
At the British Juggling Convention I taught a workshop for absolute beginners to pass 5 clubs following http://passingpedagogy.com/ . Most of those who'd never picked up a club got on pretty well. Whereas some people who'd passed clubs in a different way were skeptical; you could tell their heart wasn't in it, and then unsurprisingly some of them didn't get it.
I do understand the resistance to going back to basics to fix things though. I can hoop (as in "hula-hoop") fairly well, and know some tricks. But I mostly hoop in one direction (counter-clockwise). If I try to do a trick clockwise, it's frustrating and I don't feel like carrying on, so I tend to give up, or go back to hooping counter-clockwise (fortunately one of my favorite tricks involves reversing the direction of the hoop). This weakness of mine was actually really useful (back when I still hooped with people). If I was showing someone else a trick, I could try it clockwise, which was an excellent reminder of how hard the trick really is, and to understand how/where it goes wrong.
I am a pro artist and IMHO almost every single artist in the world probably started by learning terrible habits that they had to painfully unlearn. In modern times an astounding number of them (myself included!) have a period where they resist this painful process with cries of "It's my style!".
One thing that your idea prompts is thins: as I have gotten better at learning things I have gotten better at just adopting as-close-to-perfect form as I can from the get go.
When I learned to play guitar at age 20, I had horrible form, and I did go through a period of unlearning habits (after a period of trying to have a "style" LOL).
When I learned to play pedal steel guitar in my late 30s, I was careful to start with good habits from the get-go. Same with snow skiing, banjo, and yoga. :D
I dunno how I'd approach this lesson when dealing with younger folks... it was a painful process, but learning that starting with good habits/ form makes things so much faster and easier is maybe just a thing people have to experience on their own.
I learned to swim on my own as a little kid. 30 years later, I decided to join swimming classes; I saw that swimming is extraordinarily complex. There are too many things to learn at the same time for someone to be able to pay attention and learn proper form for all of them. Inevitably, you'll learn proper form for one thing, and incorrect for many others, then, with one good habit in the bag, you can start focusing on the next one, then the next one, then the next one. From time to time, you will fall back to the old habits for some certain part of the motion, so you'll need to revisit it, and debug it again.
Tom Brady, who many people consider the greatest quarterback in the history of American football, still has a throwing coach (Tom House ), and he's still debugging his throwing motion. After 20+ years of throwing in a professional league.
So, for sure, unlearning habits is difficult, but learning only proper form from the start is probably an exceedingly rare exception. I think for most people the process of learning will involve learning incorrect form first, and attempting to fix this later.
This is very true! After I'd mastered drawing to the point where I can pay my rent doing it, it became a lot easier to learn other stuff.
My pole dance teacher once pointed out how different my style of training was: most students would try a difficult new move a few times, then go back to practicing stuff they were ultra-confident at for a while, while I'd be more likely to keep on trying the new move with a bunch of different little variations, and to pay a lot of attention to her when she'd come over and point out things I was doing wrong, especially if it was a wrong thing that would make me more likely to hurt myself!
I kinda feel like I can do this because I remember how I improved my art by the long, painful process of analyzing what I was doing wrong. And also because I have much less ego invested in the new thing - I already have a thing I can do the heck out of, I don't give a shit if I look like a bumbling beginner when that is what I am.
"How to learn" is a skillset, which you have to learn along with everything else you learn in the first two or three decades of your life. Once you have it down it's a lot easier to learn stuff if you're willing to put the energy into doing it right.
For programmers, I like to make the analogy that learning to draw is like building a 3d renderer on your wetware.
You start by drawing boxes. And balls, and tubes, and eggs, and cones, and prisms, and a bunch of other shapes that are simple enough to describe in a few brief lines of code. Get good at them, learn to draw them from a lot of angles, learn how to think about them as three-dimensional shapes and how light plays across them.
Then start laying out rough, crude versions of things using these primitive shapes. What you use for a particular thing depends on what you're drawing and what suits your approach. Cars are big boxy things, maybe big wedge things if they're really areodynamic. People are mostly collections of long tubes, though some parts can get very boxy, eggs are helpful for some ways of constructing skulls too. A lot of people go through a phase where they like to draw stick figures with balls at the joints, I've never really been a fan of that and find it tends to result in stiff figures, but some people love it. Sausage people, box people, ball-and-stick people, there's a lot of ways to approach this and a pro will have played with them all and found out which one works best for them most of the time, and which ones work best for them in situations where their favorite way breaks down.
You work out a pose this way, as a bunch of sticks and balls and boxes and whatnot, then you have a solid framework to work on top of and sort of "carve" into a more realistic shape by applying your knowledge of anatomy. Which is a thing that takes multiple years of study to acquire, human bodies are complex things!
(Boxes are especially useful because there are some simple tricks you can use to make it easy to take a flat view of something and project it into perspective - if you draw an X from corner to corner on the face of a box in perspective, then you can draw a line that goes through the center of that X and lines up with the same vanishing points the sides are on to divide the face in two in perspective, then use a grid built up that way to transfer a head-on drawing into perspective and work from there.)
Eventually, as you progress as an artist, you can do more and more of this in your head. Most of the time I just lay down some really sloppy, loose shapes to plan out a pose, with a lot of parts going pretty quickly to a recognizable caricature of that body part that I can quickly turn into something good-looking when I come back and throw down some loose solid color shapes that I quickly refine into something with an appearance of anatomy, then come back later and add some shadows/highlight to really bring out the forms. I'll put out a little bit of cubes/balls/eggs/cylinders/etc when I really need to think about a weird angle, but every time I do this a little of this lingers in my head for next time, and drawing that angle again becomes something I can kind of... pull out of cache, so to speak, because I remember all the thinking I had to do on the page last time.
Loomis' books are super solid and have a lot to teach you. Bridgman is some super useful reference for anatomy too. But the teaching that really helped me the most was a life drawing for animation class whose instructor was working out of the Vilppu drawing manual, that stuff is amazing and will help to keep you thinking about how to instill a sense of life into all your work from the ground up.
The same stuff applies to simpler cartoon characters, too. You just use different proportions and don't spend as much time trying to nail down anatomy that isn't absolutely necessary to the story the drawing is telling.
Programs aren't humans. They don't "remember" bad code and resist change.
Or, do they? If a program is built with a bad architecture, but "works" for all the inputs seen so far, it's much hard to fix than if it were built with good patterns from the start, even if it has some mistakes that need to be fixed.
I'm going to say no. The difference between juggling three and five is so large that unlearning any bad habits is trivial compared to the skill needed to juggle five.
Maybe with a caveat if they learned to juggle three in a circle, which only taught them throws with one hand and no timing at all. Even then, they would be learning a three ball cascade from scratch.
The fundamental jump from three to five is that you now have things which can collide in the air. You are throwing one ball between two others that are airborne. This takes both speed and accuracy and then a lot of practice to discover the timing. Juggling three is so basic in comparison -- only one ball is in the air most of the time -- that there are hardly any bad habits one could have developed. Even if someone were juggling completely "wrong", if they have the ability to make it to five, they surely have the ability to relearn three.
With three ball, you may have a collision with a ball as it is coming out of your hand. This is an exchange. It really isn't a problem that you have one up in the air and you're hitting it. If that's happening, it's a matter of throwing too soon, not pattern accuracy.
Three ball has a simple exchange on both sides that can be extremely slow. Five ball demands accuracy with respect to the pattern in the air. There is no "pattern" in the air with three ball outside the exchange -- it is a single ball while the hand each hold one as well. Five ball has a minimum of 3 in the air and each ball will have to pass between two others from the other side, requiring accuracy and timing not needed in three ball.
Most people can brute force themselves to a sloppy 3-ball, where every toss is a challenge. More than 3 requires learning to perform precise rhythm and patterns, where the activity is making the proper motions, not throwing and catching balls,
I was a parent Of two boys during that chapter and marinating in kids. I remember I got turned down by LEGO when I first went to them for a license to do a book but the boys told me not to take no for an answer. We ended up doing a deal because I pretty much had to. Btw, when Klutz was only about ten minutes old, I got a note from a scientist describing a little book he’d written on how to solve a new puzzle that was just getting traction. I turned it down because I figured any puzzle that was so hard people needed a book to solve it would never take off. His book sold 8 million copies later that year when he sold it to a big NY publisher. I’m still not sure where my logic went wrong. Does anybody still have a copy? The Simple Solution to the Rubik’s Cube by J. Nourse?
Logic like "you can't sell book to teach things that are hard" is true relative to the popularity of casual nonfict and fiction, but not within the niche of people who like learning things.
Why would Rubik's cube be different from juggling?
They had a small store at on College Ave in Palo Alto for years. It was near their headquarters, so while you could get every one of their products there, it also functioned as a kind of beta-test distribution point; some of the items were sold on a "we're trying this out locally" basis. The whole place was colorful and inviting, and very kid-friendly.
The store closed in 2009, well after they had become part of Scholastic. The remaining product line looks to be just a "greatest hits" collection. Sad.
In response to the idea that beginners should not be taught in ways that need to be unlearned later on if they take it to higher levels: I agree. However, I also believe the greatest impediment for most people to learning anything is internal. But that’s not to say it’s some psych out thing that can be overcome w a better attitude. Internal problems are entirely real and need respect. Confusion and frustration are central to the learning experience and a good teacher makes it central to teaching as well. Richard Feynman is a great teacher and his books do not teach stuff you need to unlearn even though he teaches simplifications all the time. I cannot say the same about all of my books! Apologies!
So I’m back to this thread after a turn at the wheel. What am I up to now? I’m teaching part-time at Stanford a class on creativity. I’m also writing (at a snails pace) an adventure novel. And I spend a lot of the summer in a little town along a river in Idaho. Where we’re driving right now...
I've actually got the Klutz friendship bracelet book sitting right next to me. My sister got it as a gift when we were kids (17 years ago) and I appropriated it when she didn't use it after a year.
That book not only gave me a lifetime hobby, but it also helped me create my first business at the age of 15. Helped me learn the lesson that if you deliver quality, you can sell a product at 20x the market rate. I would sell the totem pole bracelet designs at a premium to my friends who wanted it for their girlfriends. I'd sell chevrons and other diagonal based patterns to friends who wanted their school flag colours. Sold the latter at a premium too because the material I got with the Klutz book didn't fray after the first wash (helped me decide what materials to continue to purchase later on).
All this helped pay for several shows and sporting events I wanted to go to.
I continued to make bracelets for my girlfriend (now wife) and those ones are seated on the table in our bedroom.
That book created a ton of good memories. But it got left behind when I left home when I was getting married :( .
Recently I discovered it at home and the clip (rusty) still works. And now I'm teaching my 4 and a half year old son the art of friendship bracelets too.
All that from 1 book. Thank you for all the memories given and the memories to come.
I also learned how to juggle from your book as a kid. I tried to find somebody to teach me, but I didn't know anybody who could juggle and this was before the internet! What really broke it open for me was the instruction to first learn to juggle two objects with one hand, I had actually never thought about trying that. I remember after practicing for a while my Mom saw me juggling the three bags in our backyard and she asked me 'where did you learn that?' and when I told her 'from a book' she thought I was fibbing and bragging! Thanks a million! I have totally positive and favourable memories and impressions of your books.
The Klutz ideology (so to speak)was embodied by Calvin. He was my ObiWan. We had a corporate mantra, WWCD? Still works even today. Btw, the Aerobie was invented by our good friend Alan Adler who also invented the Aeropress, the coffee maker that’s got a large online (and offline) following. Alan is an engineer’s engineer. He only makes stuff that works...
Klutz books were a huge part of my childhood. I remember the Koosh book fondly (came with an eponymous Koosh ball, of course), as well as the Bubble book (came with a device you could use to make absolutely enormous bubbles). Recently got the "LEGO Contraptions" book for my son (comes with all the LEGO pieces you need to make everything in the book), and it's just as great as I remember the others being. If this post is the first time you've heard of them, I highly recommend checking them out!
The LEGO Contraptions book is great! About six or so years ago I got it for my 12yo son, and I honestly had as much or more fun with it than he did. I had never played with gears, so learning how they interacted and how the ratios worked, was enlightening to me. I ended up buying a set of LEGO Technic Idea books , then a massive crane set with motors, etc. just to keep playing with it all. Seriously, the amount of money I spent as a result of that one book is obscene.
The Explorabook remains a highlight of my childhood. John Cassidy wrote it in collaboration with the Exploratorium and included a magnet bar, agar gel, diffraction grating, mirror, Fresnel lens, Moire spinner, and other fun stuff. More importantly it was written in a humorous, accessible way that didn't talk down to you and stoked wonder. For example, the section on light talked about how lenses worked but also hinted that light had both particle and wave behaviors (e.g. interference from the diffraction grating), which blew my mind as a kid.
Apparently there's a company called Cassidy Labs that's bringing back (and in some cases, improving on) some of the Klutz originals (e.g foxtail, now with an LED so you can play at night). Hope they do well.
Home for the holidays I found my copy of the Klutz book of Knots. I spent an hour on the floor having fun, took the book home, and have been referencing it all year for everything from shoelaces to extension cords.
Some are more eternal than others (Icky Poo) but as a child I never had one that I didn't completely devour. Any time I need a gift for a friend's young child, Klutz immediately comes to mind.
I was wondering how the OP could have neglected to mention the klutz book of knots! It came with two lengths of rope (one red one blue, just like the illustrations). I still regularly use the bowline, sheet bend, and clove hitch - although my bowline technique is quite different (and much faster) these days.
I loved the knots book. It turned me on to Clifford Ashley, and also got me questioning the gospel according to Boy Scouts. BSA taught me that the square knot was some kind of lifesaver, and here Klutz was telling me it was the worst knot ever.
It's a small thing, but that was kind of a big moment for me in terms of developing my critical thinking.
Also taught me the constrictor knot, which I have used instead of the clove hitch ever since.
Their catalog was really something special, including tons of stuff that couldn’t be found alongside their well-known books in a bookstore. Off the top of my head: chartreuse fuzzy monster paw gloves, a selection of “fancy” yo-yos with ball bearings and such, a cigar box that came pre-loaded with an assortment of covet-able childhood knickknacks. All of it (or at least everything I ever ordered from them) was highly-curated high-quality stuff—-no dollar store junk!
If you want to learn how to juggle, I believe the Klutz book is the way to start. However, I must warn you to be patient and take your time to learn and practice the very important toss so that it is accurate and precise and minimalistic. Otherwise, you may end up like me with bad tossing habits who looks like someone doggie paddling in the air while trying to juggle.
This is me. I also learned from the Klutz books, and at the time (when I was 12 or so) I was pretty meticulous. In the time since, however, I haven't kept the skill up and now I can barely keep three balls in the air.
Hi John, welcome to HN! Argh, I'm terribly sorry that you were getting rate limited and have turned that off now (I'm a mod here). Our software does that because of past abuses by trolls, and the fact that it also affects users who show up here to discuss their work is the thing I hate most about our entire system.
Please comment as much as you like. I've also unclogged the pipes so that your blocked comments have now all gone through.
One of their books that provided endless entertainment to me as a child came with a working stopwatch and provided prompts for random things to do against a timer (how fast can you re-lace your shoelaces, do 10 jumping jacks and say the pledge of allegiance 5 times, draw a gorilla that somoene else can tell is a gorilla, etc) and compete against the records published in the book, or make up your own challenges. I found a used copy a couple weeks ago and sent it to some friends' kids in the mail. Their books felt honest and fun for children, not pandering, immature, or fake-educational.
Man, I looooved those books when I was a kid. My parents bought me the Klutz book that came with polymer clay and it was wonderful. I also had the one for paper airplanes, which ruled. Almost makes me want to order some polymer clay again.
That Klutz wooden yo-yo may well have been the secret sauce to learning, my cousins and I all bought the Klutz book mostly for it.
Duncan Imperials are thinner and the de facto standard for yo-yos, Butterflies are good for tricks but a little unwieldly, but the Klutz was a happy medium between the two and perfect for beginners and we always wound up falling back to it.
I have the Magicians book on my bookshelf today. And at 42, I'm still referring to it! My daughter just had her 6th birthday and wanted me to perform a handful of tricks. That was one of my first places to look for some things that'd entertain her and might be suitable to teach forward.
I spent countless hours with these books as a child. My aunt owned a small gift shop and sold all the Klutz books. Every birthday and Christmas, we'd visit and she'd let me take one home for free. Among my favorites were:
Magnetic Magic, which featured a metal cover and five ring magnets
Kids Travel: a Backseat Survivors Guide, this was one of my favorites since it seemed to have a little bit of everything, but I really liked the puzzles included
The Klutz Book of Magic, with fake thumb for doing a disappearing handkerchief trick
I even sent a letter to Klutz (using an address from inside the book) asking for a catalog. I dreamed of owning all of their books and learning everything they had to offer. Nothing else in my childhood inspired such wonder as these books.
I absolutely loved the Explorabook as a kid. I loved even more finding out (at 18) that there was a museum that helped create the book. I still try to make it to the Exploratorium nearly every time I go to SF.
I learned both juggling and harmonica from Klutz books! (I'm horrible at these things, but that has little to do with the books). I had no idea they were started in Palo Alto, but it seems perfectly suited. Over the years I've bought these books as presents probably a dozen times.
What's fascinating to me is that this is yet another product of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, even though it has nothing to do with computers. It reminds me again of why I moved here from across the country 25 years ago.
I bought the Klutz Book of Card Games during my high school years in the late '80s. The best part IMHO was the section on solitaire games, which provided several superior alternatives to Klondike. I played quite a bit of Yukon during my freshman year of college.
I still have the book, as well as the deck of cards that came with it. The tuckbox has held up surprisingly well!
I had, and still have, 30+ years later, the juggling & harmonica books, as well as the bags and, somewhere, the cassette. Very fond memories. I recently pulled out the juggling book as my girlfriend took a juggling class with a few friends while traveling and wanted to keep going once she got home.
Keeping them in that plane is the biggest hurdle to get over for a lot of people. Try juggling in front of a wall. Or standing over a desk against a wall (no chasing drops). You can even keep juggling bounces off the wall. Also, lots of practice with just two balls doing the exchange.
I remember barely getting through the instructions when a lightbulb went off, I said, "oh!", and immediately started juggling. That book explained it so simply. Before that, juggling seemed to be some sort of dark art requiring amazing dexterity.
The Klutz Lego and Paper Airplane books stand out in my mind, but I know there where a ton of them. One of those few companies that actually managed to nail 'cool.' Not many companies managed to do that back then.