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Mortimer Snert and the Jet Engine in the Bottle

It was a scientific day in the neighbourhood when Mortimer Snert entered an alternate state of reality at his lovely house. It was a nippy winter day outside, and as such days go, Mort was maybe a bit on the bored side. Maybe a bit more than a bit on the bored side. Maybe he was crawling the walls, gut wrenchingly, ripping what was left of his hair out, screaming, ready to kill people bored. And bored was not a good thing for him to be. He had already visited the no movie store, and discovered, none to his surprise, that there were no movies there that he had not already watched. Television was out, he didn’t even own a tv, much less watch one. He’s played all of the video games he had and had beaten them all miserably. So as he was wracking his brain for something non destructive to do, who should show up at his house but his buddy Elmer.

Now Elmer had much of the same problem with boredom, and when these two boys got together, it was not uncommon for things to get out of hand. Quickly. One of the favourite pastimes with these two was lighting things on fire. It was not uncommon for them to go into the back yard (which was somewhere you didn’t go at Mort’s house) and rake up huge piles of magnolia leaves, load them into a trashcan and light them. This invariably caused huge clouds of foul smelling smoke to permeate the neighbourhood, and made dogs bark and children run for cover. They had devised a special metal trashcan with holes bored in the sides at the bottom to provide airflow to enhance the combustion of the leaves. In addition to this, the can had a tightly fitting metal lid with no holes, so if they heard sirens, they could clamp the lid on and retreat to the safety of the house and the flames would be out in no time. Another part of the ritual was hosing everything down with the water hose after the majority of the leaves were burnt. This usually resulted in a water fight, as both of these fine fellows had gotten into infinite amounts of trouble as children for playing in the water.

The problem this particular day was that there were no leaves left to incinerate. In addition to that, it had come to their attention that the fine folks at the fire department took none too kindly a view on such activities, since terrorists had recently blown up half of New York City, and to engage in such things outside would almost guarantee that you would be shot or arrested and spend the rest of your life in a dog cage in Cuba. So they needed something less visible to do. Now Mort had already created a huge fire in the fireplace in the living room, and though impressive as it was, it wasn’t just a whole lot of fun to sit there and poke around at logs with the poke thing. Fireplaces had the reputation of being romantic, and romance was the absolute last thing on Mort’s mind at that moment.

So the next order of business was to find something to load into the fireplace that would burn spectacularly. The first thing to go was a particular accounting book, which had caused Mort no end to grief when he attempted to take the class. Even though he meticulously ripped each page out and flung them into the fire, this did not come anywhere near being as satisfying as he had hoped. Looking around for something else to load, he discovered a huge container of flash powder that was left over from the last theatrical event that he had tech directed. This was quite impressive stuff, it caused a huge blinding flash of light and immense clouds of smoke. After having flashed himself and Elmer silly, the next item that he came across was a can of magnesium powder. Now Mort had a healthy respect for magnesium and such likes, and this was a can of about a pound of the stuff. He briefly considered dumping half the can in the fire, but then quickly reconsidered. Carefully measuring out a small amount of the stuff, he flung it into the fireplace. The resulting flash blinded him momentarily, and burnt all the hair off his arms and torched his eyebrows.

As he was recovering his senses, he heard someone pounding on his door, and went to see what the problem was. The next door nieghbour was standing on his porch wondering just what the Hell he was up to. Varicoloured smoke and flames had been belching from his chimney for the past half hour, and the neighbour wanted to know if things were good, and if they were, could he join in the fun. Mort quickly explained a malfunction with the fireplace damper, and sent the neighbour on his way.

So it was that they decided that they should undertake some less visible (to the neighbours) form of entertainment. After a quick discussion, Mort determined that Elmer had never seen the jet engine in the bottle trick, and so, set about to find the materials to perform this function. Actually, all it required was an empty bottle of some type, a small amount of alcohol, and a lighter. Now Mort had a collection of used water bottles of the liter size, so he latched onto one of these, dumped a small bit of isopropyl into it, shook it up and lit the thing off. It made quite an impressive whoosh, and blue flames shot out the top of the bottle. Elmer was impressed. So he tried a few instances himself. Now the problem with boredom and such likes is that once you discover something to do, it too, quickly becomes boring, if it is repetitious. And this was getting repetitious. So it was now a matter of trying to modify the process to make it more exciting.

They were in the process of trying different sizes and shapes of bottles when Mort spied a five gallon water bottle lurking in the corner. A five gallon glass water bottle to be exact. Now one of the problems with the plastic liter bottles was that once you lit them, the heat from the reaction caused them to shrivel up and be useless for more than one engine session. This glass bottle would cure that problem. So they hauled it into the living room, loaded it with isopropyl, and lit it off. It started with an impressive whoosh, and then burned itself down inside with a really cool looking wave of flame effect. As the flames got to the bottom of the bottle, the reaction of the heat generated and the air temperature outside conspired to suck in outside air, and the process repeated itself. The second time was quite a bit less impressive, but nonetheless very cool looking. One thing that they quickly discovered was that once the engine burned itself out, the bottle was left filled with carbon dioxide, and no amount of effort would get it to re-ignite. So they tried different ways of getting oxygen back into the bottle, and eventually settled on a contraption consisting of a small blower and a hose, which could be inserted into the neck of the bottle. The bottle was then inverted, the blower turned on, and the hose jammed into the neck as far as it would go. After a few minutes of airing out, the bottle was ready to perform again. Now Mort was very conscious of the temperature of the bottle, not wanting to cause it to become too hot and fracture. Especially since they were performing this experiment in the big middle of the living room, which was carpeted. So the bottle was kept cool partly from the airing out, and partly because the isopropyl was lame enough that it didn’t burn very hot.

The problem with making jet engines in the living room was that between the fireplace and the windows, it was hard to see the quality of the flames that it produced. So they decided to move into the kitchen where they could close off the doors and the lights and get the full effect. It was about that time that Elmer discovered a gallon bottle of laboratory grade methanol. This was very pure stuff, and burned viciously hot. Now Elmer was about to become bored with the process, and while Mort was off doing something else, he loaded an overabundant amount of methanol into the bottle. Mort came back in, and seeing that it was already loaded, proceeded to shake the bottle to get the alcohol to evapourate. Removing his hand, he noticed that there was quite a bit more pressure than there had been before, and also the fumes smelt differently. However, the bottle was now ready to go, and thinking nothing of it, he killed the lights and held the lighter to the neck and ignited the fumes.

The resulting flames bounced off the ceiling, and the jet engine was in full roar. It quickly burnt off the fumes, sucked in outside air and repeated the process, this time almost as viciously as the first. Mort and Elmer were both in awe. This was cool. Real cool. Now Elmer had loaded quite a bit of methanol into the thing, so theoretically, it could go on for quite a while before it burnt out. Theoretically. On the third cycle of the engine, the combination of heat and pressure compromised the integrity of the glass bottle. The resulting explosion was almost as impressive as the jet engine. The top of the bottle disintegrated, raining large pieces of very hot, very sharp glass shrapnel down on the two. The bottom of the bottle remained largely intact, containing the burning methanol. For about 5 seconds. It too then fractured, and let out a pool of burning alcohol onto the floor. The same floor that Mort had spent days installing not too long ago.

Now this presented a bit of a problem. Mort knew better than to squirt the mess with water, as this would only serve to spread the conflagration, and he knew better than to hose it down with a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher, as it would cause the same problem. And all he had was carbon dioxide extinguishers because dry chemicals were lethal to electrical equipment. He remembered that you could put baking powder or baking soda on a fire to put it out, but he couldn’t remember which one, and he knew that while one would put out the fire, the other would cause an explosion. Trying to smother it was just as futile, all he had on hand were small dish towels.

So while Mort was standing there going through the options in his head, Elmer, who did not deal well with emergency situations, leaped into the big middle of the flames and proceeded to stomp around trying to stomp out the fire with his shoes. Which was not a good idea, partly because of the amount of glass involved in the midst of the flames, partly because the floor was now becoming molten, and partly because Elmer might have been a bit overzealous in his attempt to stomp out the flames, and in the process, splashed burning alcohol everywhere, melted the bottoms of his shoes, and set his pants leg on fire.

It was about this time that Mort panicked, something that he had only done once before in his life. Things were going to Hell here really quickly and Something Needed to Be Done before things got any more out of hand. Grabbing one of the many carbon dioxide extinguishers, Mort whipped out the pin and proceeded to hose Elmer’s burning pants and shoes down. Since Elmer was now in full panic mode, and was flailing around the kitchen, Mort was forced to follow him with the extinguisher, and in the process, created enough of a cloud of carbon dioxide that the flames from the burning alcohol went out. Noticing this fact, Mort now turned the fire extinguisher on the molten part of the floor, hoping to solidify it at least a bit before it was too late. So by this time the kitchen was filled to about eye level with carbon dioxide fog, Elmer was hyperventilating, and Mort was in a trance, hosing away with the extinguisher.

Finally the extinguisher ran out of juice, and Mort and Elmer retreated to the safety of the living room, only to be confronted with a blazing fireplace. This was a bit too much for the two, who headed back to the kitchen to survey the damage. By now the carbon dioxide fog had dispersed and the amount of destruction was visible. Grabbing a broom and dustpan, Mort collected all the glass shards and deposited them in the trashcan. The place where the floor had melted had an odd ripply look to it, but was apparently none the worse for the wear. The only visible sign of damage was a burnt spot around the periphery of the melted spot, where the top transparent coating of the floor had incinerated. Try as he might, Mort was unable to get rid of the burnt spot. The next item of interest was Elmer’s pants and shoes. This could potentially cause a problem, because if he wore them home, there would Have To Be an Explanation, which would not be good. Fortunately for the two, Elmer had some spare clothes at Mort’s house, which he changed to, and the crispied pants and shoes were quietly ditched in the garbage.

So ended the flagrant pyrotechnic sessions at Mort’s house. They had to limit their arsonistic tendencies to occasionally setting fire to large brush piles at the farm and other non lethal adventures. That is, until one day when Mort discovered yet another teenager who had not witnessed the jet engine in the bottle, and was forced to display the process, this time using a plastic five gallon water bottle. And only performing one instance.