Don’t play with matches

Hallowe’en is almost upon us, so now’s the time to start mixing toxic chemicals and getting ready to play some pranks on neighbours. Or maybe not.

Gizmodo had a few ideas, including spiking drinks with methylene blue and mixing match heads and ammonia to make a sprayable stink bomb! Methylene blue turns some people’s urine bluey-green (hilarious) but it also interferes with some prescription meds and could cause serious damage to the central nervous system in some people (not so hilarious). It’s not really a good idea to spike anyone’s drink with the stuff or indeed with any chemicals, drugs, whatever.

Spraying a mixture of ammonia and match heads around with a water pistol also seems to be a rather stupid idea and Hull University chemist Mark Lorch has an interesting response to the Gizmodo article.

I have written to the Royal Society of Chemistry regarding this matter and await their response. I think Gizmodo needs to offer a formal warning regarding their article.

I remember not being “allowed” by the publisher’s lawyers to include a copper sulfate crystal garden experiment in a kids’ science publication I worked on back in the early 1990s because it’s not an entirely safe chemical if ingested. I wasn’t even suggesting that the junior experimenters ingested their crystals, but you do have to be extremely cautious.

Techie websites dipping into the science realm ought to take more care in what they offer up as ideas to lay readers.

The same author mentioned an earlier article on the same site listing various rather hazardous pranks that one should not do and proclaiming via twitter that it had received 350,000 reads. That’s a lot of people who might misinterpret or abuse the advice. Among the pranks on that page he says we shouldn’t do are mixing two different types of household cleaner, making a flesh-burning laser out of a Maglite is another. Yes, those are best avoided…we could go on…