What's This All About?

The Hoot-Nanny, or Magic Designer as it is sometimes called, is a toy that was manufactured in Chicago by Howard B. Jones in the early 1900s. Using a system of gears and linkages, it moves a pencil around on a circular piece of paper to produce interesting and sometimes quite elaborate designs. The Hoot-Nanny simulator is a JavaScript simulation of the Hoot-Nanny toy.

In both the toy and the simulator, you can change one or more of several adjustments to produce different designs. On the toy, these are of course physical adjustments. On the simulator, you make the adjustments by specifying numerical values for the various simulator parameters. In order to understand the simulator parameters, it's helpful to have a mental image of the physical device. Here is a picture of the actual toy:

To use the toy, you put a piece of paper on the big black gear in the middle and then turn the little crank. This turns the big gear, which then turns the two smaller gears on the left. The two pins sticking up from the smaller gears make the long arms wiggle the pencil around in various ways while the paper rotates beneath it. That's what makes the designs.

Adjusting the Toy

There are basically three adjustments possible on the toy which can be set in myriad ways to produce a corresponding myriad of (mostly) different designs. These three adjustments are:

The original instructions for the toy give lots more information about how it works.

Adjusting the Simulator

The simulator has several more adjustments than the toy, as shown in the box to the left. Some of these correspond with the physical adjustments provided by the toy, while the others are possible in the simulator only.

Adjustments That Match the Toy

Adjustments in the Simulator Only