Dear Mr. Chemistry Teacher,
Thank you for the inspiring pre-Halloween demonstrations you gave to your chemistry classes last week. My son told me that you showed how to make flames come out of the eyes of a jack-o-lantern, and you also set the top of the desk on fire. My son was so impressed that he decided to try the flaming jack-o-lantern feat himself. We were visiting my brothers (his uncles) who were happy to egg him on in pursuit of this goal.
I was relieved when my son said that he planned to use ordinary all-purpose flour, rather than flash powder which you used in your demonstration.
He carved a traditional scary face into his pumpkin. Then he looked for a candle to put inside the jack-o-lantern. A tea light proved to be too small, so his uncle took a thicker, fancier candle (belonging to his wife, who was not around) and sliced it in half so that it would be the correct height. Next was the search for an appropriate tube to blow air through. A straw didn’t work, but a turkey baster promised to do the trick.
Next my son needed a fire-proof shallow dish to put the flour in. First he tried a metal cup. After numerous unsuccessful trials, which blew flour all over the inside of the pumpkin and repeatedly blew out the candle, he determined that edge of the cup was too high. So his uncle then supplied him with a small paper plate to put the flour on. This is the same uncle who, when he goes hiking and encounters a sign saying “Danger – Path Closed – Turn Back Now” goes right on ahead down the path.
After my son achieved the right conditions – success! Man, those flames shooting out of that pumpkin were impressive! It was very exciting to see a home-made science demonstration work right before our eyes. We put the pumpkin on the front porch, and after a few more fiery demonstrations, my son went off trick-or-treating, leaving the candle lit inside his pumpkin. I stayed home with his aunt to hand out candy. She did not seem to miss her fancy candle.
After a while we noticed that if we kept the front door open any length of time, the smoke from the pumpkin would set off the smoke alarm inside the house. So we closed the door. Soon after that, the doorbell rang. I opened the door to see a large group of costumed preschool-aged kids and their mothers. I expected to hear “trick or treat” but instead, one of the mothers said, in a calm voice, “Your pumpkin is on fire. I think you need some water.” I looked down and saw flames shooting out of the pumpkin, even without any turkey baster action on the flour. I took the lid off the pumpkin, looked in, and saw that the paper plate and flour-coated insides of the pumpkin were fully ablaze. I quickly got some water and dumped it in the pumpkin.
Our next science lesson here at home will be to review the meaning of “fire-proof.” I just wanted to thank you for providing a very extra-exciting Halloween for us, and for continuing to make science an interesting school subject. However, if my son decides to replicate the light-the-desk-on-fire demonstration, I think I will encourage him to do that at school.
The Common Household Mom