The Magic Wand


Please note that the names and details have been changed to protect the silly.

Twelve kids gather around my 3D printer. Their fingers and noses are pressed against the plexiglass. From a distance, it looks like a blue fish is being conjured out of nothing. Up close, the nozzle deposits hair-thin layers of molten plastic. This is happening at about the speed of drying paint, but they’re transfixed nonetheless. When the kids ask what they can print, I say anything they want.

A few light up; the object of their desire is instantly visualized. Others let their jaws drop, too stunned by the rush of power to think clearly. And then, of course, there are the limit-testers.

Anything?” “What about a million dollars?” “Can I make something bigger than the earth?” “No… bigger than the GALAXY?”

I say sure, why not? The class pauses, furrowing their brows and looking at me for the first time. A couple of them even believe me for a moment. But then they start to grapple with the physics of it and realize I’m just letting them think it through. I’m going to be one of those adults and this is going to be one of those classes where the teacher keeps them on their toes. They sulk briefly at the lack of resistance, but quickly recalibrate their requests.

They think I’m just doing it to keep them in check, but wish-fulfillment is a powerful thought experiment. Hypothesizing about what could go wrong takes paranoia, but imagining best-case scenarios takes vision. As a kid, I had a teacher who called it “the magic wand.” The power is yours: what would you do with it?

In the classroom, the kids create 3D designs. They all face away from me, working on standard-issue black laptops. From where I stand, I can see their dreams take form… for the most part. I spot Solitaire on one of the screens, which is instantly alt-tabbed when I approach.

Solitaire Boy is on the small side for fourth grade, and all business. I ask him how it’s going. He says fine, he’s just not sure what to make yet. There’s an obvious subtext to our conversation: he’s promising to pretend to work if I promise to look the other way. I suggest he take a break to look around at what the other kids are doing for inspiration, and then I let him be.

I help out some of the other children with the topography of their dream-things, giving Solitaire Boy a few minutes to himself. When I come back, he’s not at his chair, but leaning over the shoulder of one of the other children. There’s a small galaxy taking shape on his screen.

“What’s he making?” Solitaire Boy asks me.

“What are you making?” I ask Galaxy Boy.

He grins at us. “I dunno!”

Solitaire looks downright offended. He asks how you can make something you want without even knowing what you’re making. Galaxy just giggles. He presses a few keys and all the objects vanish.

“Look – I made everything so big you can’t see the edges anymore!”

Solitaire’s had enough. He returns to his seat and starts arranging shapes on his screen. He declares that he’s going to “at least make something that’s realistic.”

By the end of class there is a menagerie of animals, videogame characters, and abstract art. When I come to Solitaire’s screen, I see he’s built a tiny ladder. I ask him if it’s what he’d like to print, and he says yes, it’ll be useful for his pet hamster.

Solitaire listens with glee as I explain to Galaxy that he cannot, in fact, print something that’s 9.99x10⁹ centimeters tall and also invisible. But Galaxy just smirks, deletes everything he’s made so far, and calls up a plain, simple sphere. He hovers over the radius number entry and looks up at me.

“What are the maximum dimensions again?”