Thursday, July 31, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Pop Pop Fizz Fizz

No, I'm not talking about antacid. I'm talking about that most glorious of all summer kid activities: burning holes in stuff with a magnifying glass.

For many of you, just reading those words immediately brought to mind the odor of scorched leaves, burned paper, and charred twigs. You were instantly swept back to days when you spent hours crouched in a sandy driveway or a corner of the back yard, practically holding your breath as you focused that tiny spot of light and waited, struggling to keep your hands steady until you were sure the darkness behind the light wasn't caused by your dazzled eyes, but by real, honest to goodness teeny tiny almost-fire. SO COOL. You bickered with friends and siblings for a turn holding the glass, or shoved bits of grass and stone and orange peel at the glass bearer and said, "Hey, see what happens with this!"

I'm not alone in this, am I?

We, being the aspiring little pyromaniacs most children tend to be, also took on slightly more daring materials. As one example, does anyone remember those dirt-cheap rolls of caps you could buy for cap guns: long rolls of red and white paper layered with a tiny dot of gun powder every inch or so? We rarely had actual functioning cap guns, so mostly we used those caps in other ways. We had a back room in the basement where the chest freezer lived. It was musty and damp and cold year 'round, and it had a bare cement floor. I remember sitting back there with my brothers, taking turns with a roll of caps and a hammer (and oh, it makes my fingers hurt just remembering--I was not always accurate with that foolish hammer). We'd tear off about six caps, lay the strip of paper out flat, and hammer each one. BANG, BANG, BANG. Mesmerizing....

Anyway, of COURSE at some point one of us had the bright idea of using the magnifying glasses on the caps. It was a little bit anticlimactic: you got a bigger pop using a hammer. But the not knowing exactly when it was going to go off...that added an element of excitement that was hard to ignore. You'd focus the beam of light, and sit there blinking and cringing, knowing it was going to snap-fizz, but not just when.

The MOST EXCITING thing we ever burned, though, isn't quite what you'd expect. We were sitting around one day in...well, I guess it had to have been early November. One of us had the idea of burning holes in some of the little mini boxes from our Halloween candies. Mostly this wasn't that more than a time-passer. But then, we made a discovery: for some reason--something in the geometry, maybe, or something about the ink used--when you used the magnifying glass on mini Milk Duds boxes, instead of just ending up with little browned holes in the sides, they would suddenly burst into flame.

Which makes their name rather ironic, if you think about it.


Joe V said...

Yes! I do remember magnifying glasses and burning. Like in the playground in elementary school, having my neck burned by some mischievous ne'er-do-well. But in later years I discovered a fresnel screen from a 36" projection TV comes in handy for burning weeds in the summer. It projects about a 1" spot when tightly focused, will set a 2x4 board on fire in just a few seconds.

Thanks for reminding us about what it was like being a kid.

Ted said...

you are not alone. Every word is an echo from my own memory (:

Bill M said...

I fondly remember burning things with a magnifying glass. Got in trouble though for butning a hole in my clothes. I'm lucky I never got burnt.

We used to lay the caps out in a strip and see how fast we could hit them with a hammer in an attempt to immitate a machine gun.

And I'd tell you about more of my pyrotechnic adventures, but the government spies may be reading this and think I was training as a terrorist in my young days. Children can't do that these days or the ATF folks would haul them off.

michaeliany said...

totally remember burning dandelions and whatever other flower or plant. We all did it. And then one day, this kid in the neighborhood called us over and he aimed the magnifying glass on a snail.
even then, i knew it had gone too far. some kids stayed and witnessed whatever happened but most of us ran off to play kickball. And i think that was pretty much the end with playing with magnifying glasses.
Years later, i found out that kid's parents got divorced that summer.
Sorry to bum anyone out.

Vikram said...

I learned my lesson after trying to burn my initials into a (vinyl) two-pocket folder; it basically combusted and I was lucky to get the fire under control. No more magnifying for me.

Anonymous said...

Great memories! I used caps in my Roy Rogers two gun rig, a Christmas present that came with the hat and cowboy boots. I personally tamed the Wild West every day after school. (Until I ran out of caps.) Being boys, we also used a hammer but preferred to hit a whole roll of caps if we could afford them. The sound echoed off any hard surface. Awesome!!

Burning things with a magnifying glass was necessary to retain your Kid Card. Leaves were good but dandelion puffs were best. Trying to burn our names in scrap wood took too long for a six year old's attention span.

BTW, magnifying glass burning isn't new. In the early 1800s, the Hudson Bay Company issued a tinderbox with a magnifying crystal in the lid. If the flint and steel didn't work, the crystal was a viable backup to ignite the char or tinder. Reproductions copied from museum pieces are available today. And yes, they work.

Thanks for another fun topic.

Jeff The Bear