Tim Kehoe

[TOY INVENTOR]

“ALL THESE PHDS WERE TELLING ME ‘YOU CAN’T DO IT.’ I SHOWED THEM A PICTURE AND THEY THOUGHT I PHOTOSHOPPED IT.”
Facilities used to invent Zubbles:
Magic shop
Garage
Kitchen
Former forensics lab
Bathtub

Tim Kehoe is a toy inventor living in St. Paul, Minnesota, whose many inventions include the Aquaradio, a device that allows children to talk underwater. The founder of Ascadia Inc., he was recently awarded the title of distinguished alumnus at his elementary school alma mater for his invention of Zubbles, the world’s first nonstaining colored bubble. In the history of bubbles, there has been nothing quite like them: they are nearly opaque colored orbs that do not stain after popping—a marvel that, until now, had been understood to be scientifically impossible.

In a regular bubble, surfactants lessen surface tension and allow the bubble to form. Kehoe learned that a colored bubble would require a dye that was able to bond to surfactants, that would disperse evenly, and—on top of all that—that would not stain once the bubbles burst. The trouble was, this dye did not yet exist. With the help of dye chemist Ram Sabnis, Kehoe arrived at this groundbreaking color technology only after nearly twelve years of failed attempts involving Jell-O, ink, and many, many dollars. Zubbles are scheduled to hit shelves in spring 2008, and will come in purple, pink, blue, and teal. Additional colors will follow, Kehoe explains, if this initial run is successful.

This conversation took place over two cellular telephones in the fall of 2006, braving lots of mysterious but persistent static. At the time, Kehoe was hard at work developing a new kind of search engine—“more like a ‘discovery engine’”—that his wife assures him will be better than Google.

—Rachel Khong

*

THE BELIEVER: So this new color technology, that’s going to be in soap and toothpaste soon?

TIM KEHOE: Yeah, we signed a deal with a major consumer products company to put it in hand soap. Sounds like it’ll be a little while before the toothpaste hits the market, because that stuff takes a long time to get through all the regulations. Can’t you imagine kids brushing their teeth with Shrek green and their whole mouth is foaming green and then you keep brushing for two minutes and then it’s all back to clear?

BLVR: What other cool stuff have you done with bubbles?

TK: Along the way I invented all kinds of bubbles and lost a lot of them because I didn’t know what I did. I had bubbles that bounced and those were really cool. I blew ten thousand bubbles over the years; I’d blow them in the bathtub to see if they were colored. One day I blew these bubbles and they bounced, like superballs, in the bathtub. I could never re-create them. I never took notes. I’m really bad at that. It was just, a little more of this, a little more of that. They were bouncing, but I couldn’t repeat it.

BLVR: Did those eventually, uh, dissolve?

TK: Yeah. Well, they’d sit there for days, you know, and they were bouncy. I have these really cool glow-in-the-dark bubbles that are just so amazing they’re like… you blow them in a dark room and they light up the room, they’re just bizarre.

BLVR: Whoa.

TK: Yeah, I invented them about a year ago but we can’t launch them because there’s a patent that they kind of interfere with. That patent expires in a couple years so I think after a couple years we’ll do something with them. But they’re just amazing, I mean, they’re like alien balls!

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Rachel Khong is a writer based somewhere, TBD. Won’t you gainfully employ her? Please email rachel.khong@gmail.com.

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