In the third episode of HBO’sWatchmenseries, Laurie Blake aka Silk Spectre pulls out a gigantic electric blue dildo. It’s an obvious sight gag—her ex is a blue man who can control his size, right down to the most intimate level. That said, it does raise some questions. Like, how would the “Electromagnetic Lithium Powered Excalibur” even work? Would a 13 by 4-inch vibrator even be enjoyable? What kind of parts are we looking at here? Did HBO fuck up in the construction of their fuck toy?
As io9 noted earlier this week, the blueprints for the electric blue wonder are available at HBO’s Peteypedia. Perusing it is a minefield of discoveries. This thing has Faraday shielding and electromagnetic induction nodes. It’s also got two lithium transducers and shitty battery life despite having two removable batteries. (A handwritten note on the blueprints remarks that the “size & vibratory FX lead to diminished duration…recharge nightly.”) Another note remarks that a rubber sheath failed in a self-test, and that the device should be boiled between uses.
Um. There’s a lot to unpack here.
First off, I get this is a piece of fiction and some producers probably did minimal research and then slapped a bunch of physics-sounding words together in a rough schematic. Nevertheless, you can’t expect a bunch of gadget nerds to look at this thing andnottry to poke holes.
The insides of the Excalibur don’t…really resemble a typical battery-powered vibrator. Asimple vibrator designgenerally consists of a circuit board, contacts for the battery, battery case, and a small motor with a small cylinder on top. That cylinder is attached asymmetrically so when the motor gets going, that unbalanced cylinder gets you that vibrating sensation.
“Vibrators are really, really simple. It’s just an unbalanced motor,” Lux Alptraum, a sex tech writer for OneZero who has also consulted on building sex toys, told Gizmodo over the phone. “That blueprint was kind of funny because it seems like it’s trying to make it out to be high tech, but even the most super high tech vibrators we have are fundamentally an unbalanced motor.”
“The complexity of most vibrators is insanely uncomplicated,” Lora Haddock DiCarlo, the founder and CEO of Osé, an innovative sex toy that caused abit of a ruckus at this year’s CES, told Gizmodo over email. “Generally, there are one function machines containing a counterweight motor, power supply, electrical wiring, simple board and firmware, and a rudimentary U/I. Most of these products have 20-50 parts total.”
Looking at the Excalibur, it’s not immediately clear what the vibrating element is. There would appear to be no motor. Technically transducers can vibrate, but when I asked Gizmodo’s very own science reporter Ryan Mandelbaum, they said it wasn’t clear why lithium was involved. Subharmonic resonators also don’t quite make sense as that refers to frequency, and subharmonic oscillations are not physical vibrations you can get off on. The Excalibur does have a “strigiform counterweight.”Strigiformmeans “pertaining to owls” and this blueprint was supposedly crafted by Dan Dreiberg—known as Nite Owl in theWatchmenuniverse. So I’ll let you infer the weird psychosexual themes of a dude putting in a counterweight that refers to himself into a vibrator based on his ex-girlfriend’s more famous ex.
“This blueprint is amazing,” says DiCarlo. “They’ve literally taken the most rudimentary technology that I could hack together in my garage—a counterweight motor you can find in any simple vibration machine—and paired it with tech that is so advanced most human beings can hardly grasp it yet. And of course, just to make sure it isnevercompromised, they wrapped it in a tiny Faraday cage! All they need to complete this is to add a flux capacitor.”
So actual science and Vibrators 101 don’t exactly support the Excalibur’s existence as a workable, viable gadget. Or if it is somehow workable, the Excalibur is definitely over-engineered. DiCarlo told Gizmodo that while the blueprint contains tech that most people can barely wrap their heads around, the overall construction is “strikingly simple.” Yet this is clearly a special vibrator and is referencing that in the comics, Laurie likens licking Doctor Manhattan’s finger to “licking a flashlight battery.” That would imply this thing gives you a bit of an electric buzz buzz in your giblets—again, a product category thatalreadyexists.
Erotic electrostimulationis a thing and is often referred to as electroplay, electrosex, or e-stim. And while therearee-stim vibrators, most are in the form of external sex toys like nipple clamps. That’s because you tend to find them in the BDSM sections of sex sites. And assuming Laurie is into that stuff—no kinkshaming—it still doesn’t explain why things like subharmonic resonators, lithium transducers, or faraday cages are needed when… the category already exists without that.
The Excalibur has several other design problems too. Starting with the 13 by 4-inch size. Yes, haha, Doctor Manhattan is hung. Except when you take into consideration the actual size of that thing and the fact that in screenshots, Laurie can’t even fit her entire hand around the shaft.
“A penis that would generally be considered thick is about two inches in diameter, and that’s about six inches in circumference,” Alptraum told Gizmodo over the phone. “You can get a fist into a vagina, which is probably around four to five inches in diameter, I guess, but it takes a lot of work and [the Excalibur] does not look like a thing you warm up to. It’s presented as like, ‘Oh yeah, you just insert it.’”
Alptraum went on to explain that 13-inch toys are generally dimensions you’re more likely to see for anal play, but even then, the Excalibur would be considered an “extreme anal toy.” For context, DiCarlo told Gizmodo that based on Osé’s product research, most people with vaginas prefer toys measuring 7.2 inches.
So, basically, Laurie is fisting herself with a 13-inch electrodick. Again, no judgment, except the damn thing could have been designed in a much more appealing way. For starters, the Excalibur has been likened to a Jeff Koons sculpture, partly because it’s so shiny, partly because it’s just a straight, 13-inch vibrator with zero curves. Alptraum pointed out straight vibrators aren’t nearly as pleasurable because they don’t conduct vibrations as well as their curvier counterparts because they don’t provide a lot of contact points to the body. That makes sense as well, the human body has curves and requires flexible materials. Softer, curvier sex toys are also easier to fit into the body.
“If you look at the iterations in toys that have become more popular and are considered more innovative, you don’t see a ton of straight hard things,” Alptraum noted.
So, what would a more thoughtful Doctor Manhattan vibrator look like? You know, one that HBO completely missed the boat on making and selling as a tie-in gag gift?
“I would like to imagine that their Big Blue would be a step ahead of current tech abilities by using soft robotics or light controlled polymers,” says DiCarlo. “Soft robotics is the next step in biological movement mimicry, employing the ability to morph into other shapes using electrical, chemical, or thermal actuators.”
“I think there was a missed opportunity with texture because Doctor Manhattan has those markings on his body,” adds Alptraum. “I think it would be kind of cool to do something that had markings carved into it or raised markings because the erogenous zones often respond really well to different textures, especially somewhere like the G-spot.”
Who’s to say what Laurie’s needs are? But for the rest of us, this is a monstrosity.
Update, 12/6/2019, 12:44pm:Added clarification re: a straight vibrator’s ability conducting vibrations.