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This section looks at the various experiments that several college students (myself included) tried out of simple curiosity and, more often, sheer boredom. I hope that you find this stuff funny... but I also hope that you don't do it yourself. I have the feeling that we were just lucky that we didn't royally toast ourselves, or burn down our poor dorm room that we repeatedly bar-b-qued on a nightly basis, but then that's just my opinion. You'd be amazed what you can do with duct tape and a gallon of common, household bleach.

On to the Experiments!

Experiment #1: Propane Balloons

This little adventure wasn't what we might call a resounding success, but it was entertaining in its own way.

The Situation

Being college freshman without cars, my roommate and I often found ourselves stuck at the dorms in the evenings on weekends. Having slaved away over books and having pumped out homework all week, we were (quite understandably) irritated that we were forced to spend our free time stranded on campus. Where was our entertainment? Television reception was close to squat on our side of the dorm (the school had claimed, when WE entered the dorms in 1995, that cable TV would be available in all of the dorm rooms. When they finally did put in cable in late 1997, we had already ran away screaming from the college's on-campus housing to a cozy apartment.) Those that are denied entertainment are forced to create their own...

The Equipment Involved

A propane torch (one of those simple $15 jobs that you buy at K-Mart), a package of balloons, a fishing rod (briefly "borrowed" from one of my roommates), and imagination.

The Plan of Action

By placing a balloon on the end of the propane torch's nozzle, we simply turn on the gas flow and viola, balloons filled with propane. It was our guess that a propane-filled balloon would make a pretty spectacular show if we somehow managed to get it into an open flame and get away fast enough to appreciate the show without getting sizzled. After pondering the best way to accomplish this feat, we devised our plan of action:

What Actually Happened

This is where that "not quite a resounding success" bit comes in. We made the mistake of simply placing the actual propane torch on the ground, instead of making a small, open fire. After lowering the balloon from the second floor balcony of the dorm down to the propane torch, I waved the fishing rod around until the balloon swung into the torch's flame. A quick "POP" noise was followed by the propane torch's flame being blown out by the sudden WHOOSH of escaping propane from the balloon.

Not to be discouraged by this, we pulled out our second balloon (which, by the way, was MUCH bigger than the first.) At this point, I was grabbed by an ROTC cadet and hauled off to do some inane ROTC thing (I think it was making a banner out of a bed sheet...) This left my roommate alone holding a fishing pole and a balloon filled with propane. This all occured about ten seconds before 3 RAs (resident advisors... commonly known to us as the "Fun Police"...) showed up on the scene.

I happened to miss the resulting show between my roommate and the RAs, but it was all captured for posterity on video tape.

Lessons Learned

Experiment #2: Radiation Testing

This was, in hindsight, pretty stupid... but it was the college's microwave, not ours, so why not?

The Situation

At 2:00 AM, the typical college dorm has just quieted down because everyone has realized that they have only six hours to complete that term paper they haven't started that is due for their 8:00 AM class. This quiet time is when the adventurous dorm experimenters (who had the common sense to do their homework several hours earlier), have their free time. Since the idea of doing homework BEFORE screwing around throws these experimenters into a different time zone than the rest of the dorm, they are again forced to entertain themselves (instead of taking part in a relatively safe activity... like watching cable TV.)

The Equipment Involved

The standard microwave found in every suite of our dorm and several items (both edible and non-edible) that were randomly designated as test subjects.

The Plan of Action

I think that just about every kid, when reaching that magic age of 5 or 6, suddenly begins to take an interest in that magic thing known as a microwave. As much as everyone seems to deny it, the microwave still holds some fascination for folks of all ages. In our particular case, the microwave was designated a source of experimentation because:

Therefore, our plan of action was set. We were going to nuke into oblivion anything we thought we could fit in the microwave.

What Actually Happened

Item Microwaved

Item Reaction to Microwave Radiation

Delicious Apple

Apple began to smolder at the 4 minute mark, whistle at the 7 minute mark, then REALLY stink.

Filled Pepper Shaker

We now know where tear gas comes from. After about 2 minutes, we were all rubbing our eyes and hacking our lungs out. This one might be good if you plan on doing it in the room of someone you hate.

Typical Florida

I really think this little fellow fits into that "non-edible" category. After sizzling for about half a minute, the little guy stopped doing laps around the microwave interior and gave up the ghost.

Aluminum Foil

The Fourth of July had nothing on this display. A dazzling lightshow and the neat noise of foil crisping is not quite worth damaging the microwave to the point where it takes 2 minutes to cook a hot dog.

AOL Trial CD

Every Internet enthusiast has about a dozen of these babies lying around. Microwaving a CD creates a lightshow that reminded us of the scenes in any "Highlander" movie when an immortal gets his head chopped off. Acts like aluminum foil, but doesn't damage the microwave as much.

60-Watt Lightbulb in Glass of Water

Any of you Mr. Wizard fans out there already know the results of this one. The lightbulb lit up while making a slightly unnerving buzzing noise. There is THAT much power in there.

Car Keys

Obviously not belonging to us, these keys put on quite a show. Little bolts of lightning raced back and forth between the keys. Boy, were those babies HOT when we took them out.

Plastic Fork

A big disappointment. Other than getting a little warm, nothing happened. Then again, it was one of the few items that we were pretty sure didn't damage the microwave when we nuked it.

Lessons Learned

Experiment #3: The Act of God

You might want to hold back on doing this one if you want your security deposit back when you move.

The Situation

Having a candle in a dorm room is just asking for trouble. It takes about ten seconds for a candle to make the transition from decoration to toy... especially when it's around people who don't have access to alternate, safer entertainment sources (say, cable TV.)

The Equipment Involved

One large candle (about 2 inches in diameter and 8 inches tall), one can of soda, one coathanger, and the always-necessary propane torch.

The Plan of Action

Anyone that has ever heard about a grain silo blowing up when a spark of static electricity touched off the dust in the silo will appreciate this one. Our plan of action was fairly direct:

The water jumps to a boil almost instantly. The suddenly-boiling water launches all of the flaming wax up into the air, increasing the burning glob's surface area and WHOOSH, Hiroshima revisited.

What Actually Happened

After scraping a decent amount of wax off of the candle, we hacked the can in half and went to work creating a make-shift holder for the can from the coat hanger. I don't relish the idea of holding a can whose temperatures are approaching that of the sun, so our newly created can-holder was put into action.

We began dumping flakes of wax into our little can-shaped miracle maker. After filling half of the can with wax chunks, we brought the propane torch into play by cranking the baby up and bar-b-queing the bottom of the can. The wax chips started to melt into a little liquidy glop of stuff. The glop then proceeded to turn into a watery puddle of stuff. We watched with eager anticipation.

It is probably important to mention that, at that moment in the experiment, I still had hair on my body.

Once our soda can o' wax reached the point where it was hot enough to catch on fire, we brought the propane torch out from underneath the can and pointed the torch's flame directly into the wax. A few quick licks of flame over the surface of the wax became a steady glow. We now had a can, filled with molten wax, that was ON FIRE.

At this time, we shut off the lights in our room to add to the event. I gingerly reached over the top of the flaming wax with a shot glass filled with water. After a moment of hesitation, I dumped the water into the soda can.

I'm fairly certain that all of the energy that disappears into a black hole popped into our room for a brief visit. A flaming mushroom cloud that was a good five feet in diameter lauched upward from the can, sailing into the ceiling. However, the power we had just unleashed wasn't yet satisfied. The ball of flame did not disperse when it hit the ceiling, like we had originally planned, but instead rolled across the ceiling like a scene from Backdraft. Good thing the ceilings in our dorm are made of concrete. After crusing across the ceiling, the flaming mass finally gave up when it hit the far wall of the room. This whole process took roughly one second.

It is probably important to mention that, at that moment in the experiment, I no longer had hair on my body.

We were, quite obviously, very proud of the mighty display of open flame we had just pioneered. We were not, however, very happy about the somewhat obvious blast mark that now existed in the middle of the ceiling. We set to work scrubbing the ceiling, but our moods were not heightened by the six inches of smoke that crept along the ceiling, or the fact that the temperature in the room had just jumped a good 15 degrees.

Lessons Learned

Experiment #4: PVC Artillery

Maybe the Army should check into this one, seeing as how they always have so many peeled potatoes lying around...

The Situation

After one of our intrepid experimentors came back after a weekend visit back home, he told us about his adventures with a small cannon, made completely of PVC, that he had the chance to play with during his visit. We all listened to his stories with keen interest, and we began to get that gleam in our eyes that makes insurance companies shudder.

The Equipment Involved

Somewhere around $20 in PVC parts (pipes, caps, reducers), duct tape, a couple of bolts and a bar-b-que grill ignition sparker.

The Plan of Action

The PVC cannon is a bit of pyrotechnical folklore that has been passed down for many years. Many folks have heard about fashioning heavy-duty artillery from common, household plumbing, but we decided to give it a whirl because, quite frankly, we thought it would be fun to launch vegetables into the next county. After drawing up a plan for the cannon, we went to work on the straight-forward construction of it:

The hair spray is ignited by the spark arcing from one bolt to the other, and the resulting explosion sends the potato up and out of the cannon's barrel, flying into lunar orbit without any help from NASA.

What Actually Happened

The PVC cannon's construction was fairly straight-forward, since we all had a pretty good idea of what we were doing. All of us had played with PVC artillery back home, and we all had different ideas as to how the cannon should be constructed. The net result of our planning was a cannon that was powerful enough to punch through a street sign with a pipe fitting, but light enough to carry at high speed if the need for a quick exit arose.

After the glue had dried, the cannon was ready to be tested. Our first test involved filling the blast chamber with hairspray, then firing it without anything loaded. The rather interesting result of this test was a large plume of flame spewing out of the end of the cannon's barrel, accompanied by a noise that sounded like the yelp a puppy makes when it has just been accidentally stepped on. The noise echoed off into the night, probably waking up most of our apartment complex.

Our second test involved launching something soft from the cannon. One of my socks was the next lucky contestant, so we filled the blast chamber with hairspray, rammed the sock down the barrel, and fired. The cannon fired the sock with a MUCH louder boom, and my sock, now on fire and travelling in a nice arc, sailed a short distance and then landed in the pond at the middle of our complex with a quiet plunk.

It was finally time for the main event. I once again filled the blast chamber with hairspray, but this time an honest-to-goodness potato was rammed down into the cannon's two inch wide barrel. I pointed the cannon off of the second-floor balcony of our apartment and into the night. We all held our breath.

What happened next is probably still being told as a story by the people in the next apartment complex over, since I recently found out that our little friend actually dented the roof of their leasing office upon landing.

The quiet click of the sparker was completely drowned out by the Earth-shattering BOOOOOOOOOM of the cannon. The gases inside the blast chamber expanded, winning the battle with friction, and the potato shot into low Earth orbit. The spud sailed high into the air, with a cruise speed somewhere around mach one, and landed in the apartment complex next to ours. I was knocked backwards from the blast, my ears ringing, and slammed into our sliding glass door. The next morning all of our neighbors were complaining that someone in the neighborhood had "fired a gun in the middle of the night", and I had a black and blue mark of my leg that was about the size of the bottom of a coffee cup.

After the cannon's "trial by fire", it went on to bigger and better things. One evening at a soccer game at our college, all of the players stopped playing and just looked up at the sky when a potato came sailing out of the woods with a deafing BOOOOOOOOOM and flew over the soccer field. Another time, a pair of underwear was tested to see if it was "tough enough to handle Earth re-entry" when it was launched high into the air, landing in the highest limbs of a tree (where I imagine it is still hangs today).

Lessons Learned

I think the police have staked out my house just because I read this page. Better take me back to the college page.