Even before stepping outside the state fair grounds, I had managed to ruin a brand new piece of clothing. Before leaving the state fair one August night, a box of snap its had given me a chemistry lesson at the expense of a brand new t-shirt. I'd just purchased a brand new t shirt sporting an array of fishing lures from one of the many stands at the expo center. Among the treasure trove of cheap novelties I'd begged my parents to buy were a box full of snap its. I'd tired of the conventional, 'safe' and recommended ways of setting these off - throwing them on the ground, hitting them with other objects or stomping them. Grinding them between my fingers had become boring too. What next? Inspiration struck. Was it possible to set them off by slapping them against my body?
Pat . . . Smack . . . POP!
An ugly gray blotch swam between the collage of spinnerbaits, silicone worms and spoon lures. I tried to
wipe it away, thinking it was only easily removed dust. No, this would be a permanent addition to the tacklebox. The chemical hooks had caught.
Silver fulminate, along with being highly sensitive to shock, produces a stubborn staining residue full of silver salts. Similar to silver nitrate once used to cauterizing wounds, a miniature cloud of reactive gas instantly discolored the white background of my new clothing.
At the time, I didn't know the contents of the snappers, and didn't imagine them as staining. They were so small and lacked the billowing puffs of smoke that I saw from larger fireworks. I took one of the snappers apart, to reveal what looked like ordinary gravel. It looked like ordinary quartz or dolomite gravel, each
grain roughly round and the size of a metal BB. Some of the faces had shiny surfaces, but I had seen these before on gravel where the grains had cracked from a larger piece. They were a uniform color, a translucent off-white tinted weakly yellow, like green tea or ginger ale. Some of the grains were a bit
darker, but nothing approaching the black powder of bottle rockets, or the silvery flash powder of black cats and bottle rocket reports. In between the grains, there was only empty space. I found none of the
bright white propellant I'd seen in moon traveler rockets. Closer looks revealed none of the orange powder I'd discovered in pulling fireworks, a mixture of red phosphorus and potassium chlorate. Since silver fulminate is very powerful, only a small amount is needed to coat each grain.
Another detail surprised me. The box of snap its displayed, along with a predictable 'Made in China' label, that it was made under the authority of an animal-byproducts group. Had I mistaken the quartz gravel for some unknown component of livestock? I never knew cow shit could explode. Maybe it wasn't the active chemical that came from the slaughterhouse. Might ground pig teeth impart more of a squeal to the popping? Could claws from hypervigilant chickens make the snap its more sensitive to shock? Maybe I could start calling them red snapper snap-its. My mind searched through any lessons in physiology that might have offered clues. What mysterious alchemy had the Chinese performed to transform offal into ordinance?
Now, a quick search for 'animal byproducts fireworks' revealed several hits for 'Zhejiang Native Produce & Animal By-Products I/E Group Corp.' This company sells everything from consumer fireworks to shiitake mushrooms and bus hand grips. So I hadn't stained my t shirt with a hot dog of fireworks, instead I had done business with a Goya or Albertsons of China.
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