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Waterguns - Shoot to Thrill

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A hand holding a watergun, seen through cross-hairs, fires at bird as it flies past.

Certain exhortations belong to certain activities: the official race starter has always shouted, 'Gentlemen, start your engines!'; fight umpires immemorially have intoned the imperative, 'Shake hands and come out fighting'; Runners have forever been instructed, 'On your marks, get set, go!'. But the epic water battles now taking place in university dorms and neighbourhood backyards around the globe, using the latest generation water guns, are usually launched with just one word: 'Shoot', pronounced, 'Sheeeeeit!'. This most often happens when the combatants see the ambushing enemy's massive arsenal.

The Tools of War

Among the new water-powered weapons of mass destruction are the pump-action Super Soaker CPS 3000, which comes with nine-litre tank and a firing range to drench targets 12 metres away. And suddenly it seems as though every little squirt has a water weapon. Already the new-technology guns - some priced over $NZ1001 - are the top-selling summer toy in the world. With 'saturation coverage' of four guns to every kid in the US, and a surprise market among adults in New York, they're more hip than colonic irrigation - if not a lot different.

A Worldwide Phenomenon

All around the world, university students form squads of two or more Super Soaker XP (extra power) or SC (super charge for quick refill) guns, for rapid hit-and-run assaults. The best strategy is to back that up, they say, with something like a CPS (constant pressure system) for slow-moving, heavy-hitting, badass gun power. Couriers have water fights driving around town; the police use them for a blast of inter-team rivalry during marathons; students see water fights as part of the search for the Holy Grail of existence.

And just when the world is beginning to think that the most significant contribution by today's young people will be in the field of body piercing, they have now devised ways in which water-gun technology can be utilised to benefit humanity. Should a classic dude car2 pass by, there's really only one clear duty for the water-gun warrior. The annals of aqueous crime also feature an unusual number of drive-by cigarette extinguishings in outdoor restaurants and cafés.

The Water Babies

Children, like golf balls, always head straight for water. And little boys have always been into guns; even if in the '70s they had to disguise their pea shooters as pacifism: 'All we are saying is give peas a chance'. The new-generation water-gun manufacturers have been careful to distinguish the toys from real weaponry by making them in fluorescent colours. But it literally took a rocket scientist to figure out how to give water-guns their new firing capacity.

Turning Water in to Wonga3

Lonnie G Johnson, an engineer responsible for power subsystems on the Galileo spacecraft, was fooling around in his bathroom in 1982 with the idea of a heat pump that used water instead of Freon4 as a coolant.'I hooked up the pump to the faucet5 and shot a stream of water across the bathroom into the tub', says Johnson, 'The pressure was so great that the curtains were swaying. Boy, I thought, this is a great water-gun'. But it was seven years before Johnson pumped a stream of water across a boardroom of stunned toy executives using a prototype gun made from a coke bottle and PVC pipe. Royalties have made the 49-year-old a multi-millionaire.

The 15-metre firing range, though, may be the natural limit. 'You can go to a larger diameter barrel', says Johnson, 'but then you run out of water faster. It just gets to the point where Mother Nature is not co-operating'.

'The essentials of a fine educator are a good sense of humour, a little compassion, and an endless supply of water guns' - Anonymous

1That's about £30.2Low to the ground, open windows, boom box sound system thumping out bass notes strong enough to affect the Earth's rotation3'Wonga' is cheifly a British slang word meaning money.4Freon is a trademark name for a variety of nonflammable gases or liquids used in fridges, air conditioning and aerosol propellants.5The 'faucet' is an American word for tap.

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