The other day while I was pretending to work, I came across an article by my hero Dave Barry in which the following passage appeared:

Can carrots burn down your house?

This urgent question comes up thanks to reader Doug Forand, who writes to describe an alarming discovery he made recently while experimenting with carrots in his microwave oven.

(You may be wondering why he was experimenting with carrots in his microwave oven. He had a solid scientific reason: His wife was not home.)

Doug claims that if you break a carrot into two pieces, then place the pieces on a plate so they’re just touching, then cook them in the microwave, “intense flames will start to shoot out of the carrot at the contact point.”

As a journalism professional, I am always interested in new ways to make things burst into flame. (All guys are. That’s why we have a Defense Department.) So I decided to try to reproduce Doug Forand’s experiment. Because of the potential danger that I would turn my house into a raging inferno, I took the safety precaution — originally developed by scientists conducting nuclear tests — of placing the beer outside.

Well, imagine my delight. I haven’t tried this bold experiment yet but it’s on my list. I have previously been made aware of a similar experiment involving grapes. The experiment goes exactly the same except with ordinary seedless grapes. That particular experiment I have attempted to replicate. As Dave points out above, I observed the first rule of safety: my wife was not at home.

As soon as the family made a weekend foray to Grandma’s, I made my way to the Westbrook Microwave Oven of Science and began my research. Sadly, nothing happened. Now, in a former life, I did REAL experiments in a REAL laboratory and often had the same results. (Side note: this does not necessarily translate to a REAL job in the REAL world. I was lucky – I went to work for a defense contractor during a time in our history when they were hiring anything that moved. I was proud of myself until I realized that I was hired in the same group as a woman whom I never saw do anything except hang around outside smoking cigarettes.) Back then, I had a professorial advisor I could run to for sympathy but there is no such safety net now. There’s just me and my brain. As a result, I pitched the stubborn grapes and went and did something else. No college degree was at stake so why bother? (Update:  got them to work.  Very cool.)

There’s a parallel here. As the dad, you are the final stop – the last hope. When toys break, dogs tunnel under fences and go on a merry escapade, fish go belly up, water heaters fail, cars leak oil, Christmas lights don’t light, model cars don’t fit right, chairs fall apart, and any of a number of other domestic disasters strike, You, The Dad, are the one they run to. There’s nobody else. Now that my own Dad is no longer with us, there’s nobody for me to call any more so I have to succeed or fail on my own and the pressure can be intense. That’s why it’s so easy to just walk away from the non-sparking grapes; because I had the luxury of having “walk away” as an option. You don’t often have that option as the Dad.

There have been other failed or incomplete experiments. There was my idea for a gatling-style rubberband machine gun. I had the thing drawn out but it was never built after a certain someone caught wind of it and nixed the project. (The building materials were recycled however when we made a rocket out of a plastic soda bottle and the bicycle pump). Then there was the simulated grain-elevator explosion that I saw Mr. Wizard do years ago on the Letterman show. That would have been glorious but apparently, the manufacturers of common flour have figured out some way of making it so that it doesn’t form an explosive dust. DARN! One day, I’ll find a supplier of the real dust-forming variety and then watch out! Maybe I could make a rocket motor out of that stuff and an old paint can.

But it does bother me; I intend to make this grape thing work someday and when the sparks begin to fly, I intend to laugh maniacally and shout “IT’S ALIVE!” like Dr. Frankenstein. Think of what Frankenstein would have been able to accomplish with a microwave! At the very least, he would have had his own TV show.

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