Great (Ping Pong) Balls of Fire! It’s a None of the Above Quiz

New week, new back to back episodes of None of the Above, and a new quiz for you. WARNING: Last week, I let you off easy, asking silly questions about Tim Shaw and his proverbial funky bunch. This week, we’re stepping it up a little. That’s right, it’s time to test your science-trivia knowledge for realsies. Maybe you’ll feel good about yourself for knowing the answers. Maybe you’ll learn something new. Or maybe you’ll just feel stupid at the end.  Don’t worry, you’re not stupid. You just need to read more. And no, “reading the internet” doesn’t count.

In the first of this week’s episodes – “Raining Fire” – Tim does something that almost certainly broke the hearts of a thousand frat boys; he incinerates 5000 ping pong balls. if a million dude bros cried out at once and we’re suddenly silenced.
…as if a million dude bros cried out at once and we’re suddenly silenced.

The gist of this demonstration is that if you’re ever short on lighter fluid at your next barbeque, break up the game of beer pong for the greater good. Even newspaper, my traditional fallback, doesn’t hold a flame (HAH!) to the little bouncy orbs. So what’s the deal?

Ping pong balls are made out of celluloid and celluloid – because of its high oxygen content – is crazy flammable.  Even cooler, it leaves almost no ash. (Pro tip: use ping pong balls for all of your secret correspondence.) Of course, back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they made pretty much everything out of the stuff: toys, picture frames, jewelry, hatpins, poorly conceived fire extinguishers (j/k on that last one). It was notorious as motion picture film, often bursting into flames thanks to being constantly bombarded with heat from a projector. Despite all this, celluloid’s better qualities make it invaluable in the manufacture of WHAT:

A) Running shoes

B) Tattoo ink

C) Accordions

D) Bicycle seats

The answer is C) Accordions. Celluloid is both malleable and has excellent acoustic properties, making it vital to the manufacture of musical instruments, especially accordions. So next time you’re jamming out to Weird Al Yankovic, thank celluloid. Also, don’t smoke while playing the accordion.

The next NOTA episode – “Big Bangs” – really lives up to its name. Among the “bangs,” we get an explosive can of beans, the magic of a Prince Rupert’s drop, and good old dynamite.

The Prince Rupert’s drop is craze-mazing. If you watched the show, you know that it’s made by dripping molten glass into cold water; the result is a glass tadpole. OR SPERM. There, I said it.  It looks like a glass sperm.  Now that the giggling (mine) has subsided, back to Prince Rupert’s drop. The glass bulb can be hammered on, squeezed, and whacked without so much as a chip.  However, one little tweak of the tail and–


Shatter city. This is attributable to the large amount of stored energy in the structure due to the rapid outer cooling and resulting residual stress. But who invented this thing in the first place? Prince Rupert? Eh, not so much.  Was it:

A) Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, poet, and scientist

B) some Dutch person

C) Robert Hooke, scientist and author of Hooke’s Law

D) j/k it was totes Prince Rupert

Survey says? B! Apparently! While the glass novelties can be definitively traced to Northern Germany (the Mecklenburg region to be specific) they were known in the 17th century as “Dutch tears,” suggesting the drops originated further to the west. And let’s face it, the closest we’ll get is some rich guy who bought one for his friends and took sole credit for its discovery. Oh wait, that already happened.

Wrapping up today, I want to talk about the bit of alchemy Tim pulls with two extremely skeptical antique dealers. When he shows them his zinc-plated copper band they are just so unimpressed. He then heats it up, rapidly cools it in some coffee, and creates a brass-plated band. The antique dealers still look ready to throw him into the street. The real bit of magic is how Tim transforms the ladies from mildly annoyed to actively annoyed to physically recoiling. It’s a good bit of fun to see a charismatic and confident TV host make absolutely no progress with a couple of people who just don’t have time for this.

She's allergic to brass, Tim...
She’s allergic to brass, Tim…

Anyway, brass. Brass comes in differing ratios of copper to zinc, and thusly displays variable qualities. One such ratio (75% copper/25% zinc) is known as Prince’s Metal and has been used as:

A) Armor

B) Buttons… and ONLY buttons

C) Currency

D) Imitation gold

While Prince’s Metal has probably found it’s way into A, B, and C, it’s mostly widely known as D) imitation gold. Fun fact: it’s named after Prince Rupert…the very same Prince Rupert with the drops! C’mon Tim, where were you on that one?


Calculate Your Score

 0 Correct – that’s OK, I had to look up the answers as well

1 Correct – please don’t touch my wrist, I don’t want your brass trinkets

2 Correct – you’re rising like a can of beans

3 Correct – just like gasoline in the last demonstration of “Big Bangs”, you finally won something

Don’t miss new episodes of None of the Above Mondays at 10 and 10:30 on the National Geographic Channel.