Tag Archives: explosives

RE: playing cards
iirc with really old desks playing cards, the red ink contained nitrocellulose, which becomes flammable when wet. it’s an old urban legend and it’ssss confirmed as true on snopes and a few other places of more questionable repute, but I also read somewhere that it would take something like 20+ decks of cards to get enough nitrocellulose to make a decent explosion

I was not aware that nitrocellulose was used in red dyes. But, this actually makes the scenario even stranger. As I recall, nitrocellulose is flammable when dry. This is a major issue with storing and handling early film reels; they’re highly vulnerable to catching fire, and burning. Modern film reels have moved away from nitrocellulose as a result.

I’m making it sound like Nitrocellulose is simply an explosive, which isn’t entirely accurate. It is used in smokeless powder, but it’s also used in a lot of consumer products in a denatured state that burns slowly, and doesn’t explode. A good example of this is guitar picks.

This creates a situation where it’s entirely possible that the red dye would actually be less flammable than the cards themselves. I’m not inclined to dig up an old deck of cards and set it on fire just to check, but this story doesn’t sound very credible.

It’s also not helped by the fact that I can’t find anything on the Snopes story from even a semi-credible source. On the whole, I’m left very suspicious of this one. It sounds like exactly the kind of thing that thrives as an urban legend, because it sounds just credible enough, until you start poking it with a stick trying to figure out what actually happened.


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Do you have any resources on how to write realistic bomb defusing that isn’t just the “red wire, blue wire” stuff you see on tv?

Not really. Neither of us have any experience or specialized training in demolitions. I’m almost certain the red wire/blue wire setup is an electrician’s joke, something to do with live versus grounded lines. Though, honestly, it might have to do with the steps necessary to break a circuit without overloading it. I’ve never had a head for electronics.

That said; the time bomb, which usually goes along with that kind of a crude wire setup, is more in the domain of the thriller, rather than real life. It’s 2015, if someone wants to set off a bomb, their best option is probably going to be a pair of burner cell phones, one of them wired into the device.

If the bomb absolutely has to go off once it’s armed, they’re better off booby trapping whatever container it’s located in, or you know, not color coding the wiring, though that brings it’s own risks along with it.

If it has to go off when it gets kicked around or moved… then you’re looking at a mercury tilt switch. The idea is that, once the bomb is armed, there’s a suspended bead of mercury in the circuitry. If the device is jostled or someone attempts to move it, then the mercury will shift, completing the circuit and detonating. These are getting harder to obtain, because environmental regulation of mercury is tighter now than in the past. But until 2003, mercury switches were used for various components in cars. So this isn’t some bizarre unique technology that only exists for crazed bombers. They’ve also been used as anti tampering mechanisms in landmines and vending machines.

Beyond that, I’d suggest starting with Wikipedia’s bomb disposal page. The hard part with a question like this is that actual disposal techniques are pretty well guarded. To the point that a couple of things I know exist (like shotgun disruptor shells) are irritatingly difficult to verify.


So I have a character who’s good at making homemade explosives and stuff. I want to write it realistically, so I have to look up how to make this stuff, but I don’t want the feds to come knocking at my door. I know it’s not ‘illegal’ to look this stuff up, but will I be put on a watch list or something? I swear I’m a nice person I’m just a writer.

I’m not going to go into a discussion on surveillance overreach, but “watch lists” don’t mean what they used to.

Anyway, The Anarchist Cookbook, is the classic primer on improvised explosives. The US Army also publishes a handbook on IEDs. Or, because it’s a government document, and not subject to copyright, you can just dig up a copy online. I’d worry more about letting this information out into the wild if the DoD hadn’t literally published a how to guide on the subject.

The big takeaway is that explosives are just basic chemistry. People are reliably shocked by how easily available the information is, but at the same time, this is basically stuff you learned in high school, slightly re-purposed.

If you’re uncomfortable with actually turning out live recipes, you can fudge them. This was actually the case with Fight Club, the novel uses live recipes from The Anarchist Cookbook, but the film swaps out various ingredients to produce duds. On almost any other subject, I discourage messing with details like this, but explosives are a somewhat unique case. So, I’ll leave that one to you.

It’s worth remembering is that law enforcement takes a very dim view of someone using explosives. If your character is actually using these against people, expect a federal task force to start crawling down around their ears.


What kind of injuries would a soldier have to sustain to end up permanently blinded? Would, say, them being near an explosion work/be plausible?

Yes. Anything that damages the eye has a potential to result in permanent blindness, this includes shrapnel from a blast. Eyes can also be burned with intense heat, damaged via chemical exposure.

Now… your character’s probably going to have some scaring on their face in addition to being blind, but it is quite possible.


perspi-looks said: Not to mention anything that causes a hit to the head, which means your brain can knock against your skull. Damage to the visual centers or optical nerves could happen that way, which may leave your character blind without much facial scarring.

Perpsi’s right, and I need coffee. Thank you for catching that.