2006.12.20 Merry Christmas from the land of exploding soap

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

Since this is my last column for the year, I should probably update some previous items and answer a few questions. And, as a special Christmas gift from me to you, I’ll describe a little experiment involving soap, sure to liven up any holiday party.

Several of you have asked if I ever received the missing-in-action Warren Zevon poster I ordered online back in April. Amazingly, it showed up in October, a short five months and eight days after it was mailed. If any of your Christmas presents haven’t arrived on time, don’t give up hope until June, at least.

On the political front, singer/mystery writer/columnist/salsa tycoon/aspiring politician Kinky Friedman failed in his run for the Texas governorship. My niece Shannon ran into him at an event in Houston during the summer and told him all about her nutcase uncle in Ohio who’s always writing about him. Kinky received over 553,000 votes, but current governor Rick Perry was re-elected.

I guess that means I won’t be getting a call to join the Friedman administration in Austin, but Kinky is making lemonade from the lemons. With sales of campaign paraphernalia dropping off, his website has introduced a new line of “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kinky” items.

Speaking of my niece Shannon, she seems poised to pick up where my late Aunt Sue left off. She claimed a selection of Aunt Sue’s cookie sheets, recipes, mixing bowls and other baking supplies after her death and last week, I received a tin of delicious cookies from Shannon’s kitchen, one of fifteen she prepared for the holidays. My nephew’s children are lucky, now they have a cool, cookie-baking aunt just like I had for so many years.

For those of you without a baker in the family, I should mention that the Miracle Box of Donuts haunting the Observer office is nearing the seventh anniversary of its expiration date. Need a great gag gift? How about a really old donut? Order today for Christmas delivery.

And then, there’s the soap trick. I suppose many of you have heard of the stunt publicized on the internet where you dump a roll of Mentos into a two liter bottle of a popular soft drink and watch the pop erupt, geyser-style. I would never suggest you try something so last year as that. Instead, why not risk death by flying metal, glass and plastic by cooking a bar of soap in a microwave oven?

Actually, ruining your microwave is probably your greatest risk if you try this, but in the spirit of not getting sued, why not just read my account of the feat rather that trying it yourself? Or, if you’re willing to buy me a new microwave oven, I might be persuaded to demonstrate the deed for visitors.

For this trick to work, it’s essential that you use a bar of Ivory soap. You science geeks out there know that it is the air bubbles contained in Ivory that allow it to float. It’s those same air bubbles that let the microwave expand the soap to many times its original size, rather that just turn it into a hot, gummy, smoking lump.

For easier microwave cleanup after your experiment, put paper towels or wax paper below the Ivory soap. Then turn the microwave on for 2 minutes or so. I used full power, your microwave may vary. I wonder why microwave ovens don’t have a “soap” button? Probably those pesky lawyers again. Thinking ahead, I had a friend standing by with “911” already dialed on the phone to cut emergency response time.

After about a minute, I swear the soap started to tremble, followed a few seconds later by swelling. The bar will continue to puff up until every air bubble has been heated to many times its original size. In my case, after the bar exceeded football size and headed toward basketball, I shut the microwave off, concerned about permanent damage if soap got into the vent near the top of the microwave cavity.

After I shut the power off, the soap collapsed like a bad soufflé. Then I had another idea. I turned the microwave back on and the fallen remains of soap puffed right back up. I tried this little trick several times and the soap continued to collapse when I turned off the power and revive again when I restarted the oven. It’s just like the perfect Christmas gift, one that keeps on giving.

    – Dec. 20, 2006 
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.snake
    Lannis Smith of the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor shows off a python last week at Stair District Library's Summer Reading Program.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
  • Pipeline Spread
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  • Front.F.school
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  • Front.rock Study
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