King Rat Hat Hack


Sometimes, out of the blue, you may be asked to describe a “hack” you’ve done. A person in my position had better be prepared to answer, and answer good.

I got asked, and here’s how I answered:

As an adult student of ballet*, I was cast several years as the King Rat in the “The Nutcracker Ballet.” The first year, I was unhappy with the company provided costume, in particular, the head; it was poorly constructed out of unstructured felt – clearly a “bad rat hat.” For the second year I was determined to design and craft a superior costume, which I did. The crowning achievement was a hand-built rat head. While the overall result was fantastic, the hack that I am claiming, is the ingenious way I devised to attach the plastic “eyes” to the bulk of the head which was otherwise made of carved upholstery foam covered in gray felt – the binding of these unlike materials was a challenge.

Here’s a detail shot of the eyes after completion:

detail of King Rat Hat Hack – “eyes” – photo credit Michael Jay LaRue

Wondering about a “parts & material list?” – what about “tools?” – here they are:

Parts & Material list:
– 2 “leaf-shaped” eye border bases, cut to shape from black felt
– 2 24 inch lengths of dental floss
– 2 Silly Putty storage container, ellipsoid half-shells, male version, in hot pink
– Elmer’s White Glue

– straight pin
– needle-nose pliers
– exacto knife

Here’s a drawing that may, or many not, help:

Rat Eye Hack Assembly Drawing – part art, part instruction – you decide
(art and photo by Michael Jay LaRue)

Ready to hack some rat eyes? Follow these instructions:

The “Hack”:

– NOTE 1 – repeat these instructions for each side
– NOTE 2 – you may discard or re-purpose the female halves of the Silly Putty containers – they are not needed for this rat hat hack
– carefully center the Silly Putty shell on the black felt eye base
– using the exacto knife, make 4 small cuts in the black felt eye base, approximately 1/8th inch long, corresponding to the 4 interior latch tabs of the Silly Putty shell
– with straight pin held in pliers for safety, heat end of pin to glowing red
– for each of the 4 interior latch tabs on the Silly Putty shell, pierce it with hot pin create small hole
– place Silly Putty shell on black felt base, aligning the materials such that the four latch tabs protrude through, and are accessible on, the reverse side of the base
– thread the dental floss through one of the latch tabs are secure with a knot
– proceed clockwise to each of the other three tabs and thread the floss through each sucessive hole
– while executing the above step, keep moderate tension on the floss so that the Silly Putty shell will be snuggly secured to the black felt base
– repeat this process to use the entire length of the floss
– when complete, secure the end of the floss with a knot at the last used tab, at which point the Silly Putty shell should be firmly attached to its black felt base
– once both sides are complete, experiment to determine proper placement of the eyes on the main rat head component of the costume (NOTE – this can not be empasized enough, take time to place the eyes properly to acheive your desired effect – eye placement is extremely important to fix the personality of the King Rat – one quarter on an inch change in either X or Y, or even 2 degree of angular offset can spell the difference between a “menacing” character and a “silly” character – “silly” may be in order for a younger audience, while “menacing” would be fully appropriate for a more mature audeince – if in doubt, check with the you company’s Artistic Director)
– once satified with the proper placement, apply Elmer’s White Glue to the back side of the felt bottom of the eye assembly and attach to the King Rat hat and allow to dry before use

The King Rat Hat in action on stage – Fear the King Rat! He’ll haunt you in your dreams! (photo credit Robert Salas)

Many chocolate chip cookies have been consumed in the years that have intervened, but if pressed into service, I could still do this role, proudly, from memory – perhaps even blindfolded. Few things in life capture the magic and mystery of bringing a character like this to life on stage – especially in the context of such an iconic role in a cherished and time-honored ballet as “the Nutcracker.” – such a joy!

*(many thanks and much gratitude to Mike and Monique at The Metropolitan Ballet Company in Orange County California, for the opportunity, support, and the memories)

POST SCRIPT: Perhaps a little context is in order. This post is a supplemental response to a question on the application for the upcoming Y-Combinator Winter Session 2014. I have previously committed to apply, and I beat the October 21st deadline by a week, having hit “submit” late last Monday night. This post answers the question that was posed as follows: “Please tell us about the time you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage.” If you are interested in sampling the enterprise for which I am applying  to Y Combinator, please visit Zejoop.