Most people don't see a radio when they look at a penny, or a microphone when they hold a pencil, but Cy Tymony isn't most people.
A technical writer and computer expert by day, Tymony has a second life as a "re-inventor." He uses household items to re-create objects that are fun (electronic greeting cards) and practical (a homemade fire extinguisher).
Tymony -- whose third installment in his gadget-making book series, "Sneakiest Uses For Everyday Things," came out last week -- sees his gimmicks as a path to sparking interest in science.
"I want to attract young people to the science books that are already in their libraries, but they probably don't read," he explained by phone from his Torrance home. "I want to show them something that's intriguing and mysterious but practical and easy-to-do."
Growing up in Chicago, Tymony was fascinated by comic books, science kits and such '60s TV shows as "The Wild Wild West" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." Superman, somewhat surprisingly, wasn't as big an influence on the mild-mannered Clark Kent-esque Tymony as arch-villain Lex Luthor. Luthor, as Tymony explains it, "is an ordinary guy who would use his mind; he would use spring coils and a light bulb to escape prison."
As a kid, he emulated the tricks he saw on page and screen, and found his first success in grade school by fashioning a shocking device to ward off bullies. During his teenage years, he astonished friends by starting his car with a Green Lantern-inspired "power ring" (magnets glued to a ring) rather than a normal key.
He still enjoys amazing people with his low-tech trickery. At his book signings Tymony employs a little show-biz pizazz, staging demonstrations that reveal how a simple magnet can check for counterfeit money, or demonstrate how to craft business cards into a boomerang. And then there's his 6-foot robot, the Trashformer, constructed out of . . . well, let's just say once he pops, he doesn't stop.
Tymony, whose books have won praise from the National Science Teachers Assn., wants young people and adults to better understand science and the world around them.
"If you learn science and certain techniques," Tymony says, "there are all sorts of things you can do that you're not taking advantage of."
He even devotes a section of his new book to the timely issue of alternative energy after discovering during his appearances that people are largely clueless where energy comes from.
Being resourceful with our resources is one of Tymony's guiding principles. He uses his fun, scientifically grounded tricks to grab his audience's attention (check out his YouTube videos) in hopes of inspiring a deeper exploration of the seemingly dull subject of science. His website www.sneakyuses.com lists sites for science camps, scholarships and grants.
"If you change your way of thinking and stop wasting things, you put a lot more tools at your disposal, and you can solve more problems," says Tymony.
Like a real MacGyver, Tymony is hoping to save the world one gizmo at a time.
-- Michael Berick
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CY TYMONY AT CHILDREN'S BOOK WORLD
WHERE: 10580 1/2 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.
WHEN: 10:30 a.m. Sat.
INFO: (310) 559-2665