Many years ago, my brother showed me a neat trick with a large bottle
(probably about a gallon) of methyl hydrate. It was about 3/4 full. He
removed the cap, struck a match, and applied it to the neck of the
bottle. What happened next was mesmerizing. A beautiful bluish flame
started working its way to the surface of the alcohol. It was like a
silk curtain filling the entire diameter of the bottle, and wavered
and settled as if it were falling through the air..
Half expecting the surface to light, I was surprised to see it go out
right at the surface. My brother said it was because all the oxygen
and fuel had been used up. For a few years after that I would show
friends that trick, and it always brought a gasp of delight, probably
intensified by the relief of it not exploding.
Years later (and still many years ago) I was working on a problem in a
large mainframe computer room a little after midnight. We had some
methyl alcohol for cleaning the rollers on a high-speed card reader,
and since there were only a few operators (all friends) around, I
decided to show them the trick.
I twisted off the cap, lit my lighter, and applied it to the neck of
the bottle. What I hadn't taken into account was that the bottle was
plastic and quite flexible. As well, the level of the alcohol was
somewhat less than half full.
There was a flicker of flame disappearing into the bottle, followed by
a sort of "Whoosh" sound accompanying a gout of flame out the top of
the bottle (I would guess it to be about two feet high). Immediately
the flame seemed to suck back into the bottle, and again, "Whoosh". As
I sat there on the floor, looking at it oscillating between gouts of
flame and sucking back in, I made what was probably the only sane
decision of the evening, and capped the neck with the palm of my hand.
That stopped the oscillating flame fountain, but not the pounding of
I theorized that the heat of the burning forced air/gasses out of the
bottle, and when it sucked air back in to fill the vacuum, it
replenished the oxygen and supported another round of alcohol burn.
I've never tried it since, in glass or plastic, but now and again I
think about it, and it's very tempting to do it in a safe place.
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