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From Fuzzy Suckers to Dropped Marbles, Young Inventors Solve Problems

July 22, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Six-year-old Jason Francisco had a problem: He liked playing marbles but he didn’t like picking up afterwards.

Marbles kept getting lost, or they fell between his small fingers back onto the floor. And that wasn’t all.

″We couldn’t pick them up because it was too boring picking them up, and then we’d still have to put them into the box,″ Jason said.

So the kindergartner from South Pomfret, Vt., invented ″Jason’s Pop N Store,″ which consists of a plastic bottle, with a mouth not much bigger than a marble. Cover the mouth with a web of rubber bands, and if you press the bottle upside down over a marble, the marble will go in but won’t fall back out.

Jason is one of 45 inventors from kindergarten through eighth grade being honored this week by Invent America 3/8, a non-profit educational program designed to stimulate creative thinking.

On Tuesday, ″Jason’s Pop N Stop″ and the other inventors’ creations were on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

James Jertrud, another 6-year-old, also solved a sticky problem.

″We always go to the bank and we get suckers, and we don’t finish them, and they’re always on the floor in the car, sticking everywhere,″ said James, of Fargo, N.D.

″They get fuzzy.″

Enter the Sucker Tucker, a hinged plastic easter egg with a hole drilled in the bottom. Open the egg and fit the lollipop in and you can put it down anywhere - without risk to furniture or tastebuds.

Sucker Tuckers and marble picker-uppers - they’re kid-sized solutions to kid-sized problems. So is the can’t-miss glow-in-the-dark toilet seat dreamed up by 10-year-old Clint Lenz of Lake Mills, Wis.

But some of the older inventors in the Invent America 3/8 program have taken on more serious predicaments.

Take Samantha Winter of Chandler, Ariz., who worried about her grandmother going out alone to walk the dog. She came up with a walking cane that has room for a whistle, map, quarters, medicine and keys.

When Taylor Buckingham’s dad broke his Achilles’ heel jumping off a boat, Taylor noticed how difficult it was for his father to carry around his crutches. They didn’t fit easily in a car and people tripped over them in restaurants.

So the 14-year-old from Littleton, Colo., invented the Compact Crutch, a metal crutch with telescoping tubes that collapse to just 29 inches.

″Crutches are a needed thing. It’s just that they can be improved greatly,″ Taylor says. ″I found 97 patents for crutches, but not one even in the general area of mine.″

Each year, Invent America 3/8 sponsors a contest at schools nationwide to encourage children to invent. Regional winners are flown to Washington with their families.

This year’s nine national winners will be announced Thursday.

″The wonderful thing about this competition is that each person thinks he’s a Thomas Edison and his inventions are going to change the world,″ says Invent America 3/8 Chairman J. Morgan Greene. ″Thank God they have that feeling. It’s our hope for the future.″

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