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First of all, Pete, it's a wonderful project, and I'm so glad you're encouraging your youngster to learn! On the subject of the "pause" function, I think he's wise well beyond his years! (Glad you don't have an "audio feed" of me when my TiVo "toggles" the pause button between "pause" and "play" because of an optical path issue...)
A couple of comments: Seems to me that theoretically it should be possible to bend the acrylic using a heat gun (or hot air soldering station), but it would certainly be a LOT easier with the strip heater.
My other thought would be a slightly different approach to the "crafty" cards: they could also be done with electrical contacts of some sort (some bare wires, maybe?) with "patterns" on the cards made with conductive tape.
Aha! Genius! I love the idea to use conductive tape. I imagine this approach might end up looking a bit like a testbed. I have a little experience with those :)
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