Alex Rider’s eighth adventure, Crocodile Tears, hits stores November 17 and Penguin is partnering with MAKE magazine to challenge young inventors to come up with a gadget cool enough for the teen spy’s arsenal. After all, author Anthony Horowitz says that when he needs a new tool to get his hero out of peril, he goes to his own kids for inspiration.

“I look around their bedrooms to see what kind of electronics and such they have littering the place,” said Horowitz, father of Nicholas, 20, and Cassian, 18.

The challenge is to design a gadget inspired by an everyday object—Alex’s gadgetry is highly sophisticated but always built around something a normal teen might have on his person or in his backpack—a bicycle that launches missiles, an iPod that can hear through walls.

Anthony Horowitz.
Photo: Des Willie.

Contestants must send MAKE a schematic or sketch of their gadget, including the materials from which it would be constructed, and an explanation of how it works. The winning gadget will be built in the MAKE lab and demonstrated in a video on the MAKE blog.

The grand-prize winner will receive an iPod Nano, a collection of autographed of Alex Rider novels, and a backpack filled with gadgets from (For complete contest details, visit the MAKE Web site.)

Horowitz’s personal favorite among Alex’s gadget, by the way, is his exploding bubble gum. “What I particularly like is the name of the gum is ‘Bubble-O 7.’ That always makes me smile.”

Though Horowitz is also launching a five-part series, Collision, on British television this month, he’ll spend 10 days touring the U.S., with stops in 13 cities. In addition, Penguin is offering “green screen” technology to stage “Be Alex Rider” photo events. Fans will be able to get their picture taken dangling over a pit of crocodiles just like Alex does in his latest escapade.

Penguin's "green screen" lets kids face danger like Alex Rider (in a photo, anyway).

Horowitz plans to write two more novels starring the reluctant teen spy, bringing the total to 10. He didn’t have a set number in mind when he started out. “I always thought it was a series, but the success of the books to a certain extent took me by surprise.” More than 10 million copies have been sold worldwide.

The one restriction Horowitz put on his character was eternal youth. Alex is 14 and always will be. “I have always thought the story would stop when Alex got to be 15,” Horowitz said. “It would be just one year in the life of Alex Rider, although a very, very exciting year.”

Crocodile Tears by Anthony Horowitz. Philomel, $17.99 385p 12-up ISBN 978-0-399-25056-9