Or keep you occupied if you aren't feeling the party
Whether you’re looking to entertain your holiday guests or desperate to kill time at a family gathering, there’s always a cool science trick you can fall back on.
Here are some of the best tricks fit for this holiday season using only stuff you’ve already got lying around the house. Just remember to stay safe!
1. Forget the egg nog — impress your guests with eggs that bounce. Soak an egg in vinegar, and the vinegar dissolves the egg shell over time. What’s left on the egg is its membrane, which is surprisingly tough and gives the egg a bounciness:
2. But if you’re set on egg nog, try out this easy egg yolk separation hack. Crack eggs onto a plate. Then squeeze an empty plastic bottle to lift up the egg yolks from the egg whites. The air pressure in the bottle sucks up the yolk:
3. Did your candle go out? Light it with its own smoke. When a candle blows out, it emits a brief trail of vaporized wax. If you hold a flame to this vaporized wax inches from the wick, the wax will ignite, and the flame will head back down to the wick:
4. Or just get rid of your candles and make these green fire lanterns. Mixing methanol and boric acid and lighting a fire creates a chemical reaction that emits a green flame. This is how flame jugglers make their green fires, too. Just remember to do this safely!
5. Defy gravity during dinner. It’s possible to press two forks together and balance them on the edge of a toothpick over the rim of a glass. It seems odd that a tiny toothpick can hold up two forks, but it’s because their center of gravity isn’t where it seems to be:
6. No corkscrew? Open your wine by cutting the bottle with fire and string. Loop a string around a wine bottle a few times and wet the string with acetone. Light the string on fire, then carefully spin the bottle in your hands to heat the glass evenly. When you plunge the bottle into cold water, the heated molecules tighten so quickly the glass fractures. Again, stay safe with this one!
7. Grow a last minute Christmas “tree.” Cut out cardboard in the shape of a tree. Then, stand it in a mixture of water, salt, ammonia and a fabric bluing agent. The cardboard soaks up the mixture and crystals grow from a salt crystallization process:
As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his classic Cat’s Cradle, “science is magic that works.” The same can be applied to these seemingly magical bar tricks, which are not really tricks but based in simple physics and science. They were shown to me by an affable Englishman named Tim Shaw, who hosts a show called “None of the Above,” debuting tonight (March 24) on the National Geographic Channel at 9 p.m. ET. In the show, Shaw will conduct a series of outrageous feats like landing a helicopter on eggs–without breaking a single one–to illustrate “how cool science can be,” he said. (In this example, the science-based explanation is that the shape of the eggs is surprisingly strong, and when many eggs are put together, their collective strength is greater than you might imagine.) Here are some tricks that Shaw demonstrated for PopSci last week.
1. Upside-Down Wine Bottle Trick
Shaw pours the contents of a wine bottle into a bowl, leaving a small amount in the bottom of the bottle. Then he puts the bottle into the microwave for nearly 3 minutes. What will happen when he puts the bottle, top-down, into the bowl?
The answer: it will suck up nearly all of the wine.
How does it work? The microwave turns much of the water and alcohol in the wine into steam and vapor, causing the pressure in the bottle to rise. Although the bottle isn’t sealed, the opening is small enough so that most of it remains within the container. Once he takes it out and places it upside-down in the wine, however, a seal is formed and the bottle and gases within quickly cool. As the water condenses, going from a gas to a liquid, the pressure in the bottle drops. That causes surrounding atmospheric pressure to push the wine from the bowl up into the bottle, Shaw explains.
2. Create A Plasma Ball In Your Microwave
Shaw lights a match inside a microwave oven, and his assistant places a wine glass over it. He turns on the microwave. Almost immediately, a ball of plasma appears. Shaw says that this can reach a high temperature, enough to crack the wine glass. After several failed attempts he gets it to work, as you can see in the video, but it doesn’t break the wine glass. Probably for the best. (Note: I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home.)
How it works: the microwaves (produced by the appliance’s magnetron) cause the gases released by the burning match to become weakly ionized, or charged, creating plasma. Some electrons in the gases absorb the microwaves, achieving a higher energy level. But they don’t stay there for long, and as they come back down to a lower energy level, they release light and heat.
3. Gaseous Whiskey
Shaw puts some whiskey in a 20-ounce plastic bottle, and then pumps it up a few times with a bicycle pump. The connection between the pump and the bottle must be air-tight, which Shaw achieves with a rubber stopper. Once he releases the seal, a haze of whiskey and water appears inside the bottle. This whiskey fog can then be inhaled. (It may be okay to do this once or twice, but inhaling alcohol in general is dangerous.)
How it works: the gradual build-up of pressure causes a small amount of the alcohol to vaporize and become a gas; the pressure overcomes the intermolecular forces that typically make alcohol a liquid at room temperature, and allows it to make the phase transition to a gas. When the pressure drops again, the alcohol condenses to form small visible droplets.
4. Transfer Water Into A Glass
You’ve got a bowl shallowly filled with water, an empty glass, a lime wedge, and a book of matches. Now get the water from the bowl into the glass (without pouring it in–that’s cheating).
The solution? Place the lime wedge in the middle of the bowl. Light a match and stick it upright (flame up) in the lime wedge. Place the glass over it. Watch the water get sucked into the glass as the match is gradually extinguished.
How it works: As the match burns, it consumes the oxygen in the glass. While this creates some water and carbon dioxide, it reduces the pressure, sucking in the water.
5. Break the Bottom Out of a Bottle
Shaw fills a beer bottle almost all the way to the top with water, leaving about a one-inch gap. He then firmly hits the top of it with the butt of his palm. The bottom pops off, and the water goes with it.
I had previously thought this was an urban legend, but apparently it is not. One key to doing this is holding the bottle firmly in the non-striking hand, preventing it from moving downward as much as possible. This creates a shock wave of pressure that moves through the liquid, breaking the bottle its weakest point, the bottom.One important note: this doesn’t work with carbonated beverages like beer, Shaw said. Instead, water or flat beer are ideal. Bubbles in the liquid interfere with the movement of the shock wave, he said.By Douglas Main