Darwin Awards Candidate

Tonight was my ward talent show. It was a fairly typical ward talent show with fairly typical ward talents. You had the guys who play guitar and sing. You had the girl who plays piano and sings. You had dancers. You had comedians. You had weird, melodramatic people sharing personal poetry about how truly desperate they are. But tonight, we almost witnessed natural selection in action.

One guy's talent, as listed in the ward directory, was "Explosions?" There are two things you need to know before I go on with this story:

1) We were in the auditorium of the Tanner building, which has a carpeted stage.

2) I was sitting in the front row with one other person.

So two guys wearing blue lab coats walked onto the stage, rolling carts full of tubes and containers and sciencey-looking stuff. And a bobble-head doll that they got from our ward Christmas white elephant gift exchange.

First, our main presenter (we'll call him Mr. Lucy) poured a mysterious liquid into a container, promising a great reaction once he threw in a match. Mr. Lucy threw in several matches. No reaction. Mr. Lucy decided to move on to his next demonstration. He took a container of liquid oxygen and started pouring it all over the top of one of the carts (the carts had high lips so they could hold liquid). He even spilled some liquid oxygen on the floor. Someone yelled out in concern for the carpet but Mr. Lucy reminded us, "It's oxygen. It's not going to hurt the carpet."

Mr. Lucy lit a match and threw it on top of the cart. No reaction. It was too late; the liquid oxygen had all evaporated.

Mr. Lucy pulled out his next demonstration. He put two pieces of cotton on top of the cart. One was normal---he threw a match onto it. The fire singed the cotton slightly. He said that the other piece of cotton had been otherwise altered (soaked in something, maybe?) and he threw a match onto it. The cotton turned into a huge, bright, and short-lived fire ball that burned a hole in my retinas. I couldn't see anything in front of my for a few seconds. I have to admit, it was cool, but I was wondering how much I really wanted to be on the front row at this point. The girl who I was sitting beside was the organizer of the activity. She leaned over and said, "This can't be allowed! But he said that he'd get permission from the building to do this..."

His next two demonstrations were setting balloons full of gas on fire. Again, short bursts of bright fire accompanied by loud popping noises.

Then he set up his equipment for his final and most dramatic demonstration. He had two clay pots over the head of the bobble-head doll. He said that he'd destroy the bobble-head doll. He had a mixture of two substances---I think they were iron oxide (rust) and aluminum (any chemistry people can correct me here---El Senor, it's late, so that's why I'm not calling you, but help me out here). He explained that adding heat would turn these substances into molten iron. So he poured the powders into one of the clay pots and stuck in a fuse. Then, using a blow torch, he lit the fuse.

What happened next could be described as a rain of fire. The substance caught fire and started shooting flames all over the stage. Once these little airborn pieces of flaming molten iron hit the ground, they caught the carpet on fire. Soon, the dozens of little fires started on the carpet burned out, and the audience was left gasping (for air because the entire auditorium was filled with stench and smoke). The molten iron had melted through the clay pots but had done surprisingly little damage to the bobble-head.

At this point, the girl beside me stood up and announced that this talent was over. The bishop, I noticed, had also stood up at this point. I just sat, calculating how far the closest molten iron drop had landed to me. It was only a couple feet. Then I sat back and wondered what a little molten iron drop would do if it landed on my head. Or my face. Or my eye. For the next fifteen minutes, I kept on blowing away ashes that were continually falling all around me.

I had the opportunity to go up on stage after the talent show to look at the damage. Everywhere that the molten iron had touched, the carpet was burned through to the floor. It looked like drops of acid had been spilled all over the stage (all the way down to the carpet of the first row) except for the drops of metal that were fused to the floor at the bottom of each hole. Mr. Lucy came up on stage, fully aware of how much trouble he was going to be in. He explained that first the bishop would be called, because this happened at a ward event. Next, he'd be called in and asked to explain himself in front of the chemistry department. Who knows what then? I feel bad for him---I really do. What he did was incredibly stupid but it will end up costing him a lot more than he ever expected (how much does it cost to recarpet an entire auditorium?).

Maybe I'll write him a poem so that he can do something a little less dangerous at his next talent show.


The Divine Miss A said...

I'm not sure what was worse, that had did hundreds of dollars worth of damage to the carpet, or that he did hundreds of dollars worht of damage to the carpet in front of his entire ward.

Miss Hass said...

Oh my goodness.

Brinestone said...

Wow. Wow wow wow.

I wish I had been there.

Squirrel Boy said...

Holy crap. That reaction is called a thermite reaction, and my high school chemistry teacher did it once. It apparently produces molten iron at temperatures up to 4500 F. Seriously, how stupid do you have to be to try something like that?

The Divine Miss A said...

Just read squirrel boy's link. Holy cow!

Nemesis said...

I still don't trust myself to speak on this one, because I just can't even FATHOM 1) the degree of stupidity that would lead one to try such a thing 2) how horrible it would have been if some of that stuff had hit my beloved Cici and burned a hole right through her body.

There would be a reckoning, people.

DP said...

But if [she] had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of [her trips to school without socks]
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.