Fun_People Archive
26 Oct
All in the name of science, of course.

Date: Wed, 26 Oct 94 13:12:17 PDT
To: Fun_People
Subject: All in the name of science, of course.

[In certain circles this is known as a "don't try this at home."  Other famous
"don't try this at home"s include microwaving CDs and electrocuting hot dogs...

Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)

Found in, which includes 
full-color photographs. All in the name of science, of course.


Strawberry Pop Tarts may be a cheap and inexpensive source of incendiary
devices. Toasters which fail to eject Pop Tarts cause the Pop Tarts to emit
flames 10-18 inches in height.


Last year, an article by well-known newspaper columnist Dave Barry noted
that Kellogg's Strawberry Pop Tarts (SPTs) could be made to emit flames
"like a blow torch" if left in a toaster too long. Given previous work in the
field of food-entertainment (see Fun With Grapes - A Case Study), it was
obvious that this was a new frontier that requires further exploration. The
present work describes our independent verification and experience with
SPT-based combustion. 

Materials Used

Only two basic materials are needed to cause SPT-combustion: a (hopefully
inexpensive) toaster and some Strawberry Pop Tarts (Figure 1). In this
work, the authors used Kellogg's Strawberry Pop Tarts with Real Smucker's
Fruit. SPTs can be obtained either with or without frosting; the non-frosted
variety were used for this experiment. 

Figure 1. Toaster and Strawberry Pop Tarts 

In addition to the basic materials, a number of safety-related items were
needed to conduct this experiment. First, a suitable location for the
experiment was required, it being expected that the kitchen was not the
appropriate place for blow-torching SPTs. The author's driveway was
chosen as a suitable site. Second, an appropriate means for extinguishing the
SPTs would be needed; a research assistant brought along some baking soda
for the purpose. 

Experiment Preparation

The toaster and SPT both had to be properly prepared for this experiment.
In order to guarantee that the SPT would receive sufficient heat to begin
combustion, the toaster was set to its highest setting and the lever was
jammed in the "down" position using adhesive cellophane. A SPT was
removed from the box and its protective packaging and carefully placed into
the toaster slot (Figure 2). 

Figure 2. Preparation of Toaster and SPT 

Next, the toaster and SPT were taken to the driveway, and an extension
cord was arranged to provide power to the toaster. At this point, we were
ready to begin the experiment. 

Figure 3. Toaster Prepared for SPT combustion 

The Experiment and Observations

The toaster was plugged in. First the toaster went through a normal
"toasting" cycle (approximately 60 seconds), which more than thoroughly
cooked the SPT (since the toaster was set to its darkest setting). By this point
we could definitely detect a burnt SPT aroma. The toaster then attempted to
eject the SPT, but was prevented from doing so by the adhesive cellophane.
The toaster then began emitting loud rattling and buzzing noises due to its
inability to eject the SPT. 

(At this point the researchers became somewhat concerned that the noise
from the toaster would wake the neighbors and attract undue attention.
However, we decided that we were already committed to the experiment and
that the neighbors would be able to sacrifice some sleep in the name of

Soon thereafter, large amounts of smoke began pouring out of the toaster.
The researchers noticed that some of the neighbors down the street were
beginning to get a little curious, but the experiment proceeded nonetheless.
Approximately 40 seconds later, small flames began licking their way out of
the toaster. The flames steadily grew larger and larger until reaching a
maximum height of about 18 inches above the top of the toaster. Figure 4
presents a time-series collage of the flames emitted from the SPT. 

Figure 4. Time Series Photograph of Flaming SPT 

As the flames were reaching their maximum height, the toaster abruptly
stopped making buzzing noises. We speculate that the flames had by this
point shorted the electronics within the toaster. The toaster was quickly
disconnected from the primary electrical source to avoid any potential
damage to the author's house. At this point, the researchers also realized
that the heat could inadvertently melt the adhesive cellophane and cause
the flaming SPTs to suddenly eject from the toaster. Unfortunately, this did
not occur. The flames continued for several minutes. 

At this point there was some slight concern that the flames might take
considerable time to diminish. We then enlisted the help of a reluctant
research assistant to sprinkle baking soda on the flames. (The reluctance
was understandable given the potential for premature SPT ejection
described in the above paragraph.) The baking soda quickly extinguished the
flames and produced still further smoke (Figure 5a). 

Figure 5. Extinguising the SPT 

Once the flames were extinguished, the researchers noted an unanticipated
problem: what to do with the (now defunct) toaster and the spent SPT. It
became obvious that the toaster could not be returned to the author's
house due to both a continued potential fire hazard and the smell of burnt
strawberries. In addition, it was noted that the toaster was still "too
hot to handle," necessitating the use of a nearby garden hose to cool the
toaster off.  This is illustrated in Figure 5b. Finally it was decided to
just leave the toaster by the curb for the sanitation experts to pick up
the next morning (Figure 6.)

Figure 6. Toaster Disposal 

Summary and Recommendations

In summary, overcooking the SPT did produce a good size flame. The effect
was not as pronounced as the researchers had hoped, but was satisfying
nonetheless. The research assistant noted that the flames produced did
appear to have some color variation. We believe that frosted SPTs may
successfully produce even larger torches. Further research in this area is

We did desire to repeat the experiment with the remaining five SPTs, but we
could not do so because there were no more suitable toasters available for
further experiments. In the future, we recommend that toasters be sold in
six-packs to accomodate important SPT research. Instead, the remaining
SPTs were sacrified over the course of the next several days in private,
undocumented consumption experiments. 


Special thanks to Jennifer "Svetlana" Reckard for her suggestions and
proofreading of this work. 

Followup Comments

The response to my Strawberry Pop Tart article has been overwhelming. In
October 1994 alone it's been accessed more than 2000 times. Here are some
of the terrific followup messages I've received: 

 1. 12-Aug-94: 
 2. 13-Oct-94: 

Please send me your comments! I'm especially interested to learn how you
found out about this page, since I haven't advertised it much of anywhere. 

Patrick R. Michaud/ 

[=] © 1994 Peter Langston []