Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Safer Fourth?

Firecrackers don't always require gunpowder.

The history of fireworks goes back thousands of years to China during the Han dynasty (~200 B.C.), even long before gunpowder was invented.It is believed that the first "firecrackers" were likely chunks of green bamboo, which someone may have thrown onto a fire when dry fuel ran short. The rods sizzled and blackened, and after a while, unexpectedly exploded. Bamboo grows so fast that pockets of air and sap get trapped inside of the plant's segments. When heated, the air inside of the hollow reeds expands, and eventually bursts through the side with a long bam!

The strange sound, which had never been heard before, frightened people and animals terribly. The Chinese figured that if it scared living creatures so much, it would probably scare away spirits - particularly an evil spirit called Nian,who they believed to eat crops and people. After that, it became customary for them to throw green bamboo onto a fire during the Lunar New Year in order to scare Nian and other spirits far way, thus ensuring happiness and prosperity to their people for the remainder of the year. Soon, the Chinese were using bursting bamboo for other special occasions, such as weddings, coronations, and births. The "bursting bamboo", or pao chuk as the Chinese called it, continued to be used for the next thousand or so years.

Before I was allowed to mess with lady fingers, ash cans, or cherry bombs, (and before I had the pocket change to buy my own) Henry took pity on my innocence and offered the following sweet corruption which he called a "Chinese fire cracker". I doubt that makes sense any more. Lest it offend, let's call it a toothpick fire cracker.

Step 1.: take three flat toothpicks. Form and 'X" and place the third upright in the middle. Hold the junction carefully with two fingers.

Step 2.: Take a fourth toothpick and weave it through one end so that two opposite ends are on one side of the toothpick while the central pick is opposite.

Step 3.: Weave a fifth toothpick through the other ends the opposite way.

Light one corner and wait for the surprise.

It is important to use flat toothpicks. Round ones aren't supple enough to make the tension structure.

Matches are required. So "safe" is a matter of individual care. Do, please, be careful.
And enjoy a glorious, undamaging. Fourth.

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