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I love the smell of burning celluloid in the morning.
December 12, 2013 12:25 PM   Subscribe

This is what it looks like when you set 2500 ping pong balls on fire. [slyt]
posted by Lutoslawski (48 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fire! Fire! Fire! heh heh. Fire!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:26 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would've worked even better if they lit from the bottom instead of the top, probably...
posted by rollbiz at 12:28 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only you can prevent forest fires.
posted by 256 at 12:33 PM on December 12, 2013


I'm going to pretend I just learned something scientific.
posted by malocchio at 12:34 PM on December 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, but what does it smell like?
posted by bondcliff at 12:35 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but what does it smell like?

Victory.

(We would also accept "Pageviews.")
posted by entropicamericana at 12:36 PM on December 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


So something to put in my survival kit, then?
posted by alex_skazat at 12:41 PM on December 12, 2013


Ach, ze Germans.
posted by Madamina at 12:42 PM on December 12, 2013


Great balls of fire!
posted by altersego at 12:42 PM on December 12, 2013


"I'm going to pretend I just learned something scientific."

From the video description,
Why Do Ping Pong Balls Burn?
Old ping pong or table tennis balls would sometimes combust or explode when hit, which made for an exciting game! Modern balls are less sensitive, but if you take a lighter to a ping pong ball, it will burst into flame, burning like a tiny flamethrower. Do you know why ping pong balls burn? Here's the answer.

Some people think ping pong balls must be filled with some flammable gas, but they only contain regular air. The secret to the spectacular way they burn is in the composition of the actual ball. Ping pong balls burn because they are composed of celluloid, which is like gun cotton or nitrocellulose. It's extremely flammable. The old balls consisted of acidified celluloid, which became increasingly unstable over time. The slightest spark or heat from friction could ignite these balls.

How To Ignite a Ping Pong Ball
You can try this project yourself. All you need is: ping pong ball long handled lighter fire-safe surface

If you look around online, you'll see people lighting ping pong balls while holding them. Usually what they are doing is lighting the ball from the top. No matter where you light it, most of the heat escapes above the ball, but they burn so rapidly, it's a bad idea to try to hold one. You'll almost certainly burn yourself, plus you could catch your clothes or hair on fire. Also, there is a chance the ball could explode, which would spread the flame and may result in injury.

A better way to light a ping pong ball is to set it on a fire safe surface (e.g., metal bowl, brick) and light it with a long-handled lighter. The flame shoots up fairly high, so don't lean over it and do keep it away from anything flammable. It's best to do this outdoors, unless you want your smoke alarm to go off.

A variation of the project is to cut a hole in a ping pong ball and light it from the inside with a match. The ball will disintegrate while you watch.

How Ping Pong Balls Are Made
A regulation ping pong ball is a 40 mm diameter ball with a mass of 2.7 grams and a coefficient of restitution of 0.89 to 0.92. The ball is filled with air and has a matte finish. The material of a regular ball isn't specified, but balls typically are made from celluloid or another plastic. The celluloid is a composition of nitrocellulose and camphor that is produced in a sheet and soaked in a hot alcohol solution until it is soft. The sheet is pressed into hemisphere molds, trimmed, and allowed to harden. Two hemispheres are glued together using an alcohol-based adhesive and the balls are machine-agitated to smooth the seams. Balls are graded according to how evenly weighted they are and how smooth they are. Part of the reason people may think the balls are filled with a gas other than air is because the plastic and adhesive off-gas into the interior of the ping pong ball, leaving it with a chemical odor, similar to that of photographic film or modeling glue. Based on the likely composition of the residue, reports that inhaling the gas inside a ping pong ball produces a "high" may be justified, but the vapors almost certainly are toxic, even though the ping pong ball itself is not. While there is no rule that the balls be filled with air, it's the simplest means of manufacturing them and there hasn't been a reason to form the balls filled with other gases.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:42 PM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


It is near the end of the year two thousand and thirteen, you can film better than 360p with fuzzy, incomprehensible audio.
posted by kafziel at 12:42 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dude, you have to work up to conjuring a fire elemental, don't raise what you can't cast out, etc, etc.
posted by The Whelk at 12:44 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ping pong balls are basically made of the same material as old film (pre 30s-40s). I handle nitrate film some times, and this video is an excellent example of why I'm really fucking careful when I do (the film Cinema Paradiso provides another example). Nitrate film has the fun advantage of becoming increasingly unstable over time, to the point where it can actually self-ignite when stored at high temperatures.

I've never actually seen nitrate film burn, but this video gives me an idea of what it looks like, which doesn't exactly motivate me to get first-hand experience.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:46 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


You'd tell me if this was a snuff film, right?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:48 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only you can prevent forest fires.

Once upon a time there was a little town in which all the flower shops were the "legitimate business" fronts for the mob. It was pretty well known, and the townspeople didn't like it much, but the mob flowers were the only game in town, so whatever.

One day some monks from the monastery up the hill decided to open a flower shop business of their own. Everyone much preferred buying their flowers from the kindly monks and so all but abandoned the mob-run shops. Of course, this caused a logistical problem for the mob--without the flower business they were going to have a pretty tough time laundering all their ill-gotten gains.

So the mobsters went down to the monks' shop and asked them to pack up. The men of the cloth refused to kowtow to their request. Then the mobsters tried extorting more money from them, charging higher rent and ramping up their "protection" fees. But the monks' business was so good, that didn't matter, either. As a last resort, since you know how mobsters just hate to get their hands dirty, they decided to send their biggest, toughest lackey down there to make the monks an offer they couldn't refuse. They figured send Hugh, badda bing badda boom, problem solved. And before they knew it, the little monk-run shop was out of business.

Just goes to show, only Hugh can prevent florist friars.
posted by phunniemee at 12:49 PM on December 12, 2013 [34 favorites]


I saw him light the single one and was like 'big deal', and was then very impressed with the whole kit and kaboodle.
posted by codacorolla at 12:50 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ping pong balls are basically made of the same material as old film...

"It was also used for dressing table sets, dolls, picture frames, charms, hat pins, buttons, buckles, stringed instrument parts, accordions, fountain pens, cutlery handles and kitchen items."

America, 1900: "Let's make everything out of guncotton!"
posted by Iridic at 12:51 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just goes to show, only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

This joke AND you live in Chicago? We are obviously related. That was like reading a comment posted by my late father, so thanks for that.
posted by davejay at 12:54 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


My cats, who bounce adorably after ping pong balls, find this distressing.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:54 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw him light the single one and was like 'big deal', and was then very impressed with the whole kit and kaboodle.

Similar in effect to 1000 sparklers.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:57 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was like reading a comment posted by my late father, so thanks for that.

This is literally the third time today (all unrelated incidents) someone has told me I have their dad's sense of humor.

posted by phunniemee at 12:58 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ooh now do kittens!
posted by item at 1:05 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was pretty sure this was going to end as a cautionary tale with a moral and everything.

Now I'm vaguely disappointed.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:13 PM on December 12, 2013


Calcifer?
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:21 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ja, zup-ah.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:22 PM on December 12, 2013


The firebug that is my inner ten year old child rejoices in this newly acquired knowledge.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 1:26 PM on December 12, 2013


Someone needs to apologize to Mr. Moose.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:39 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would've worked even better if they lit from the bottom instead of the top, probably...

That would probably cause flaming ping pong balls to go flying through the air.

So I guess what I'm saying is, I agree.
posted by inigo2 at 1:39 PM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


If Tom Clancy were still alive, he would write a 1,400 page novel about rogue Chinese Intelligence operatives masquerading as members of the national ping-pong team. There would be a 500-page long subplot in which an Ikea joint-venture is used as a cover for manufacturing hundreds of tons of flat-packed ping-pong balls for nefarious intent.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:20 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was pretty sure this was going to end as a cautionary tale with a moral and everything.

The moral of the story is don't not burn ping pong balls.
posted by aubilenon at 2:33 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


b1tr0t: "hundreds of tons of flat-packed ping-pong balls"

As anyone who's ever played ping pong can testify, flat-packing ping pong balls is extremely easy, all it takes is a small misstep.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:37 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The moral of the story is don't not burn ping pong balls.

Were we watching the same video? Because my takeaway was oh man I SO need to burn some ping pong balls.
posted by phunniemee at 2:38 PM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Old ping pong or table tennis balls would sometimes combust or explode when hit, which made for an exciting game!

Why would they change this? This is awesome.
posted by DynamiteToast at 2:44 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The moral of the story is don't not burn ping pong balls.

Were we watching the same video? Because my takeaway was oh man I SO need to burn some ping pong balls.


There you go.
posted by The otter lady at 2:49 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jesus, phunniemee, learn to grammar.
posted by phunniemee at 2:51 PM on December 12, 2013


Two thousand, five hundred and thirty eight.
posted by ooga_booga at 3:06 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Tom Clancy were still alive, he would write a 1,400 page novel about rogue Chinese Intelligence operatives masquerading as members of the national ping-pong team. There would be a 500-page long subplot in which an Ikea joint-venture is used as a cover for manufacturing hundreds of tons of flat-packed ping-pong balls for nefarious intent.

One sec, I have to change the 3rd act of this Archer script.
posted by The Whelk at 3:07 PM on December 12, 2013


Thats was great! Thank you,
posted by smoke at 3:26 PM on December 12, 2013


Ping pong balls burn because they are composed of celluloid, which is like gun cotton or nitrocellulose. It's extremely flammable. The old balls consisted of acidified celluloid, which became increasingly unstable over time. The slightest spark or heat from friction could ignite these balls.

I knew about this because of the billiard balls in Pratchett's Men at Arms.

That's pretty much how I know anything these days.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:35 PM on December 12, 2013


James Burke also talked about it in the BBC/PBS "Connections" miniseries from the early '80s. The unintended side-effects of Billiard balls made out of gun cotton was one of my favorite episodes.
posted by KGMoney at 3:38 PM on December 12, 2013


Yeah, but what does it smell like?

I'm betting pretty nasty. And fairly sure it's toxic, too.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:41 PM on December 12, 2013


In The Towering Inferno, the fire chief (Steve McQueen) makes particular mention of table tennis balls, noting that they produce toxic (cyanide?) gas when they burn.

And when Steve McQueen tells you to be careful, you'd damn we'll better be!
posted by ShutterBun at 8:05 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I especially liked the part where they burned the ping pong balls.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:13 PM on December 12, 2013


I especially liked the moment when the camera man suddenly accelerates his standing-back pace.
posted by straight at 9:25 PM on December 12, 2013


Needs more fire ants.
posted by blueberry at 9:50 PM on December 12, 2013


Loved the actual fire. Frustrated seeing the tripod so close by and the shakey filming.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:55 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just the other day I spent hours on a Wikipedia trek that started, or perhaps involved, the entry on nitrocellulose. This wasn't the first time I'd spent a lot of time reading about explosives, just, you know, for informational purposes. I'm 49 years old. Now, if the internet had been around when I was 17, all bets are off.

Anyway, guncotton is pretty easy to make. You just need cotton and nitric acid. And sulfuric acid. The only problem there is that nitric acid isn't easy to obtain because, you know, lots of blowing stuff up stuff involves nitrating stuff. Also, nitric acid is generally pretty dangerous. There's an interesting YouTube video (interesting for numerous reasons) with a guy demonstrating the "easy" way to make white fuming nitric acid, which is especially dangerous. His process is interrupted by a severe weather alert and a power outage, but luckily he was able to use the ice outside to moderate his reaction.

There's another video of a guy demonstrating how much more effective guncotton is than black powder, by drilling holes in a couple of small boulders and blowing them up.

You can buy nitrocellulose paper on the web, magicians use it as "flash paper".

I'd like to explain the chemistry of all this, but I'm not a chemist and surely there'll be a real chemist along that will do a good job of it. In short, though, plants make a lot of cellulose, there's actually quite a bit of energy stored in it. That's why herbivores eat it. Cellulose is available everywhere, obviously, and cotton, for example, is basically really pure cellulose in a convenient form. You nitrate that and you get something that has both the oxidizer and the reducing agent and you only have to add some heat and you get an really fast and hot exothermic reaction that also releases a fair amount of gas. That is, an explosive.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:15 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


256: "Only you can prevent forest fires."
At one point in the video the unseen girl is heard saying "what do we do if we start a forest fire".
posted by brokkr at 2:27 AM on December 13, 2013


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