Great read! November 16, 2009 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Hi, just wanted to say how great (I think) this story comment is. I don't get to read everything on the site, and maybe someone missed this like I miss other things.
posted by four panels to MetaFilter-Related at 8:26 AM (47 comments total)

Totally agreed. I saw this this morning when I was heading out the door. Perhaps it shoudl be sidebarred [cortex... hint]?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:31 AM on November 16, 2009


Hilarious. Thanks for pointing this comment out - I wouldn't have seen it otherwise.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:51 AM on November 16, 2009


What a wonderful story, wonderfully told.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:57 AM on November 16, 2009


This is the kind of thing I'm here for. Well done randomination, flagged for fantasticness!
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:15 AM on November 16, 2009


Hey thanks, four panels. I wouldn't have seen it otherwise, and it is a great story.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:17 AM on November 16, 2009


That story is better if you add "OH SHIT" (quotes included) to the end of some sentences.

like

"Let me have a look. Eh," he said, pulling the pin out. I stared. "I don't think you've anything to worry about here. It's just a fake. But, you know, you should probably get rid of it, just in case." He put the pin back in. "OH SHIT"
posted by qvantamon at 9:22 AM on November 16, 2009


What a great story! Thanks for pointing that out! My favorite line:

talking about how it was so great they had started smoking because it made them run faster

posted by Lutoslawski at 9:57 AM on November 16, 2009


That is truly great. Thank you for pointing to it!
posted by dryad at 10:23 AM on November 16, 2009


Yeah, that's pretty great. A sidebarring it is.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:41 AM on November 16, 2009


It belongs on This American Life. Except, you know, the British version or something.
posted by The World Famous at 11:08 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Aw shucks. Thanks guys. *blush*

While I was writing it, I only realized that my friend's story about how he acquired the grenade may not have been entirely accurate: If he found it in his grandmother's garden, why was the pin still intact?

This thought, somehow, has taken sixteen years to occur to me.
posted by randomination at 11:10 AM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Great story and great (I think) use of MeTa. I might have missed this if you hadn't posted it; thanks!
posted by lalex at 11:14 AM on November 16, 2009


While I was writing it, I only realized that my friend's story about how he acquired the grenade may not have been entirely accurate: If he found it in his grandmother's garden, why was the pin still intact?

And if it's a fake grenade intended to be thrown into tanks to generate panic, why does it need a pin at all?
posted by FishBike at 11:14 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


And if it's a fake grenade intended to be thrown into tanks to generate panic, why does it need a pin at all?

There's a fish in that river that's going to be getting a rude awakening sometime.
posted by kmz at 11:19 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


And if it's a fake grenade intended to be thrown into tanks to generate panic, why does it need a pin at all?

Because people can see out of tanks.

Great story, BTW. Maybe send it into the New York Times Magazine's Lives column?
posted by clorox at 11:21 AM on November 16, 2009


While I was writing it, I only realized that my friend's story about how he acquired the grenade may not have been entirely accurate: If he found it in his grandmother's garden, why was the pin still intact?

And if it's a fake grenade intended to be thrown into tanks to generate panic, why does it need a pin at all?


All good points -- but in a world where fake grenades exist, I'm not sure regular logic can be applied.

Fantastic story told wonderfully. Thanks for sharing and re-posting.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:23 AM on November 16, 2009


MCMikeNamara: "All good points -- but in a world where fake grenades exist, I'm not sure regular logic can be applied."

Someone, somewhere has invented fake fake grenades. Real grenades with two pins, one of which is non-functional and can't be pulled. Surreptitiously pull the real pin, throw the grenade. Opponent sees it and thinks: "Idiot, he didn't even pull the pin on the fa
posted by Plutor at 12:07 PM on November 16, 2009 [41 favorites]


Thanks! I skipped out of that thread pretty early on when it seemed to be all LOLstupidlaws! and LOLstupidpeople! and LOLguns! and I would've missed that story completely.
posted by rtha at 12:08 PM on November 16, 2009


"Someone, somewhere has invented fake fake grenades. Real grenades with two pins, one of which is non-functional and can't be pulled. Surreptitiously pull the real pin, throw the grenade. Opponent sees it and thinks: "Idiot, he didn't even pull the pin on the fa"

See, this kind of thing is why I'm glad MetaFilter users are generally the good guys.1 And the original story was indeed a good one.

1: We are the good guys, aren't we?
posted by FishBike at 12:53 PM on November 16, 2009


I can't believe that cop wouldn't take it when he clearly knew it scared you to have it. And I'm glad that other people than me have that reaction to things - "this object doesn't belong in my world, and its very presence is disturbing and I need to get rid of it safely NOW".
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:14 PM on November 16, 2009


While I was writing it, I only realized that my friend's story about how he acquired the grenade may not have been entirely accurate: If he found it in his grandmother's garden, why was the pin still intact?
This. And, i'll add: how the hell would he have boarded a plane with it?
posted by vivelame at 1:15 PM on November 16, 2009


Never heard of "flag it and more on", people!?

(Just kidding--I found that comment via this thread, so thanks.)
posted by Squid Voltaire at 1:17 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure a grenade pin wouldn't survive in a garden. From the story, this sounds like a modern style grenade (smooth) not the pineapple style grenades. I would think they would make them out of something that would corrode. But I could be wrong.

As to fakes having pins...simulators do, so why not a fake? You're probably going for realism here.

When I was in basic we had grenade simulators. They were baseball style shells with a screw-in assembly that had the pin set up on top and "bang" inside. You pulled the pin, did your count, threw it, and got down.

We spent an afternoon tossing these shells at old car tires (without the simulators even). An empty shell whistles as it flies through the air (not like a move mortar round, but like a kid's toy). One with insides bangs a bit louder than a firecracker and you shake the metal bit out of the whole in the bottom and unscrew the trigger assembly, then repeat the repeat the whole process.

Once you are comfortable with getting a metal ball to land where you want it you move onto the live fire range. You are handed a real grenade. It weighs more and less than you expect it to. It feel so dense and dangerous in your hand, but still only about twice the weight of a baseball. You pull the pin. Under supervision you put the pin back in again. Then you pull it again. You let the spoon fall away as you throw it. You'd have to see a picture to know what I am talking about by saying "spoon," but you have a little lever that goes down the side that when you hold it allows the pin to be pulled. Anyway, once the spoon falls away, there's no putting the pin back.

You don't get to watch the grenade. You toss it as far as you can down range, then you get down in a foxhole/bunker area. You get to hear yours go off, you get to see the craters, but you never actually get to see yours explode.

You do get to watch other people's go off while you wait your turn. You're behind stone and steel walls that have some incredibly thick class to look through. This is chipped and pitted. You are told these are from grenade fragments. You are also told that any grenades that fail to go off will cause the range to shut down until they can get someone out the blow it up. I have no idea if either of these last statements are true, but can only say this is what they tell you.

Once you've tossed two live rounds you are qualified to throw grenades. If you're infantry you even get a ribbon for your uniform.

Any details I've gotten wrong are because it's been 20 years since I've thrown my grenades. If any part of that story strike me as being out there it's the fact that I can't wrap my head around giving a combat troop a fake anything. I don't see someone trying to panic a tank with a paper weight.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:17 PM on November 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


@kmz
There's a fish in that river that's going to be getting a rude awakening sometime.

Nah. Not too many fish in that river. *

@LobsterMitten
I can't believe that cop wouldn't take it when he clearly knew it scared you to have it.

I have often wondered that myself, and I think the most likely answer is that he just couldn't be arsed to do the paperwork.

@vivelame
how the hell would he have boarded a plane with it?

Again, a good point. Now, taking my friend's explanation about how he acquired the grenade to be 100% true... well, I've heard of all kinds of stuff being smuggled on to airlines in checked baggage, and it's not as if explosive detectors or dogs would have sensed anything. Also, I've never been to Colombo's international airport and I've no idea what it was like in 1993, but who knows if they would have been able to run a check to find it. Perhaps somebody can put me right.

@cjorgensen
If any part of that story strike me as being out there it's the fact that I can't wrap my head around giving a combat troop a fake anything. I don't see someone trying to panic a tank with a paper weight

Thanks for the really interesting insights here. Again, if my insane friend's story were 100% true, one could explain the dummy grenade by speculating that maybe the Tamil Tigers back then had limited resources and access to live weaponry, and so maybe they sometimes used fakes. I don't think the TT were as professional as a state army. (I guess I can use the past tense now, right?)

* Yes, I realize I contributed to the problem...
posted by randomination at 1:45 PM on November 16, 2009


I have a somewhat similar story (though it won't be nearly we well written); a bit of my mis-spent youth involved blowing up stuff in a quarry. Generally we made our own stuff-go-boom-sticks, but every once in a while, someone would get their hands on something manufactured. Usually it was just detonators or whatever, but once in a while it would be something with a bit more oomph.

So I put those years behind me and became an upstanding member of society, with some kind of sketchy friends. Specifically one really sketchy friend who was a skilled con-artist and military history enthusiast. As he was fleeing town one day, I ended up with a bunch of boxes of stuff of his in lieu of some money he probably owed me. Not really caring one way or another I put all the crap into the garage and forgot about it.

So, fast forward about a decade and you have me cleaning out old boxes to make room for the snow-blower. In one I find a dummy pineapple grenade; it's a solid lump of steel about the right size and weight for practice throwing. But clearly fake to anyone taking even a second to look closely at it. I don't know where I got it, but whatever.

Then, as I dig deeper in the box I find the other grenade. The one that looks very real. The one that looks exactly like an M67 fragmentation grenade. The one I have never seen before.

So I'm sitting there, turning it over in my hand, looking for some obvious indication that it's defused (a hole in the bottom maybe?) nope.

Fuck.

Then I start trying to retrace where these boxes came from. Were from the con-artist? Did they come from the quarry? The stuff is all mixed together so I don't have a clue.

Again... Fuck.

Finally, I get ready to take the thing apart when I notice that there is a hole in the bottom, it's just been very, very carefully camouflaged with a piece of painted material which renders it damn near invisible.

So that answered my question. Because in addition to being a con-artist, this guy was a quite accomplished model maker, and the only person I can think of who would have bothered to make a very real looking fake grenade.

The "why" of it, I still have no answer for though.

I took a deep breath and reveled in the fact that I wasn't handling a god-knows how old piece of explosive hardware, and then I tossed it back in the box.

I've still got it somewhere though, I think.
posted by quin at 1:56 PM on November 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm still holding out for the "... a few moments later the whole mess went BOOM" ending. This goes for quin's story, too.
posted by ooga_booga at 3:56 PM on November 16, 2009


FWIW, some younger pals of mine ended up in the US Army Airborne in the late 80s and as a "treat" at the end of their training they got to spend a week or so in Central America working as "advisors" to the Contras. As they told the tale, they chose not to use the ammo and explosives they received, but instead to bring them home on graduation leave.

I chose NOT to go to the quarries that summer night, as the stated intent was to fire off the ammo and pop the grenades over a few cases of Rhinelander in the dark and the heat.

I can in no wise vouch for the verity of these young men's statements nor for the accuracy of my memory.
posted by mwhybark at 5:10 PM on November 16, 2009


cjorgensen: "I don't see someone trying to panic a tank with a paper weight."

Oh yeah? Consider the snow globe.
posted by mwhybark at 5:11 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


"But officer, this is a DUMMY snow globe! For training purposes!"
posted by dubold at 8:00 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is there a hole in the bottom of this thread? I want to ma
posted by davejay at 9:35 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I once had a high school chemistry teacher tell me a story about how when he was a high school student he decided to build some pipe bombs. Now, I won't even pretend to know what goes into making such a thing, but apparently he put a lot of work into these things. They were big and scary and he'd made the stuff that goes bang, filled them up, made sure the caps were firmly in place, then put them in the trunk of his car.

He planned on setting them off at the local gravel quarry after the school day was done.

At some point during the day they spontaneously exploded. When the cops interviewed him they asked, "Do you have any idea who would do this to your car? Do you have any enemies?"

This is the same guy, who in college, was shown some experiment where a tiny piece of white phosphorous is dropped onto water and it makes a tiny bang, so he got the bright idea of doing a walnut sized chunk. It blew little pieces of chemical into the air which came down on his head and shoulders. Apparently he had on some protective head gear, but his back was only protected by a lab coat.

He ended up with hundreds of little pock marks on his back (and I am sure it was not pleasant).

Oh, and if white phosphorous doesn't react like this, please insert some other agent that does into the above story, since I am not sure this detail is correct (I sucked at chemistry).
posted by cjorgensen at 7:19 AM on November 17, 2009


I suck at chemistry too, but I remember quite clearly from physics class that the leftmost column on the periodic table was the Column Of Fun.

There was a nice little video that did quick scenes of each of those plopping into some water, with the reactivity escalating from the lithium or sodium skipping around on the surface of the water up to the rubidium making the beaker explode in a great big flash. Good times.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:36 AM on November 17, 2009


Oh man, here's that video. Try to not think of it as an episode of Look Around You, I dare you.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:39 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure about white phosphorous but I heard lots of stories about sodium back when I took chem. I remember one where some guy wanted to go throw a big chunk in a nearby lake to see the boom. He had it in his pants pocket as he was walking out there, and then it started to rain...

Of course, I bet most of the stories were urban legends, but I'm sure something like it has happened somewhere.
posted by kmz at 7:41 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's something respectable about an element that needs to be stored in kerosene to make it less dangerous.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:04 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


All this talk of exploding things and chemistry teachers reminds me of my wonderful high school chemistry teacher, who really had no idea what he was doing.

There was this demonstration called the "hydrogen whistle". The whistle was a metal device looking like two funnels welded together to make a sort of metal balloon shape, with a small hole in the top, and a large hole with a tube attached to the bottom.

The demonstration consisted of filling the whistle with hydrogen through the hole in the bottom (being lighter than air, it floats up into the device), and then setting alight the hydrogen leaking through the small hole in the top.

This produces a descending buzzing sort of sound as the hydrogen leaks out and burns, until such time as it leaks out slowly enough for the flame to propagate through the small hole in the whistle, whereupon the remaining hydrogen/air mixture inside the device detonates all at once with a sound much like a gunshot.

Our teacher was performing this demonstration by reading the instructions from his book and completing each step in turn. He hadn't read ahead to the part where it says the "whistle" will make an enormously loud bang at the end of the demonstration, before it did so.

We did not know he could move that fast. We also weren't sure how long we were supposed to wait in class for him to come back. One thing we were sure of, though, was that it was the funniest thing we'd ever seen.
posted by FishBike at 8:27 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it could have totally been sodium. It could have also been totally made up.

He did have scarring on his back, but that could have been from anything.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:33 AM on November 17, 2009


up to the rubidium making the beaker explode in a great big flash.

This is why I permanently shelved the notion to try to make cesium or rubidium cored bullets. It's one of those idea that seemed really neat when it popped into my head, and as the full weight of the concept settled in, it just became more and more horrifying.
posted by quin at 8:42 AM on November 17, 2009


In discussions like this, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with one of my friends who's a high school science teacher in Ireland. She was telling me about how a lot of times she tries to come up with whiz-bang experiments to keep the kids' attention -- explosions, stink bombs, the like. At some point she sighed ruefully and said, "so, my life is pretty much nothing but bangs and smells."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:19 AM on November 17, 2009


As for boarding planes with crazy shit, I've flown home from L.A. back in 1999 with two (spent) Smokey Sams in my luggage, which I sent down the "fragile" line with all sorts of 'caution, fragile' tape around the soft bag containing them. They look exactly like this and used to be on my mantelpiece.
posted by dabitch at 9:24 AM on November 17, 2009


Try to not think of it as an episode of Look Around You, I dare you.

Thanks, lithium.

Thithium.
posted by ZsigE at 4:40 PM on November 17, 2009


Back in about 1969 or so, I found myself in the US Army.... basic training at Fort Lewis in Washington State.

Being one of about two people in the platoon with a college degree, I ended up as a squad leader... meaning that, as a 120 lb kid from a small town, I was now in charge of a group of street wise sociopaths from Detroit and Chicago....

About four weeks into training we finally went to the range and were given real ammunition for the m-16s... there wasn't a lot of accountability for the ammo, it was always assumed it was exhausted before we left the range...

naw... most of these idiots would keep a few rounds that accumulated in the footlockers at the barracks...

And, about once a week, one of the sociopaths would get pissed at someone, and load a clip into an m-16... and it was up to me to convince them to eject that clip...

Did you know that you could break the stock off of an m-16 if you swung it by the barrel against the back of some-one's head?

yep, fun times... live ordinance is a wonderful thing... I miss that war...
posted by HuronBob at 6:21 PM on November 17, 2009


"There is one more even reactive metal, francium, but for some reason, they wouldn't let us have any of that."

Yeah, there's precious little of it to spare for bathtub experiments, or any other experiments, really, but points for insouciance, Hamster.
posted by maudlin at 6:51 PM on November 17, 2009


"There is one more even reactive metal, francium, but for some reason, they wouldn't let us have any of that."

Fake.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:02 PM on November 17, 2009


I kept waiting for there to be a twist, "whoopsie!" sort of ending.

"Nobody even looked up....... five years later, I learned it had been a bong/sex toy/novelty chocolate/pineapple all along."
posted by timory at 10:09 PM on November 17, 2009


Fake.

Deplorable. All they needed was less water in the tub.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 6:48 AM on November 18, 2009


This page explains why rubidium and cesium produce disappointing results (basically, they produce less hydrogen per gram of metal and burn up what they do produce before it can build up).
posted by dirigibleman at 12:03 PM on November 18, 2009


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