A digital comeback for an old-fashioned science toy — just not here


    A science non-profit’s new iPad app has created a small dose of international mystery.

    The Chemical Heritage Foundation wanted to capture the magic of the mid-century chemistry set and bottle it under the smooth glass and brushed aluminum of the Apple iPad.

    Think of it as a gamified homage aimed at today’s tech-obsessed teens.

    “We knew that a digital product would not have the same tactile nature,” said the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Shelley Geehr. “Things blowing up on screen — we’ve all seen that a million times, it doesn’t have the same immediacy.”

    The app is called ChemCrafter (you can download it here), it came out about a month ago and it’s basically a bunch of retro looking vials on a screen. With the help of in-app experiment booklets, you drag and drop the “chemicals” into a beaker, mix them up and see what happens.

    The Philadelphia-based foundation wasn’t expecting a hit. A few thousand downloads would’ve been plenty. But then something strange happened.

    “We noticed in the first week that our numbers were really high,” said Geehr.

    As of press time, the app has been downloaded 221,000 times. Nearly 70 percent of those downloads — 148,000 — are from Russia. The U.S.? Just 8,100.

    “We have eight pages of reviews in Cyrillic,” Geehr said. “One person did a seven-minute video on how to play the game, in Russian.”

    But why? Why would a chemistry set app be a surprise hit in the former Soviet Union? The audio player above has some answers.

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