When I was a freshman at Rutgers (1969) I happened to read a book (Heinlein's "Farnhams Freehold") where the hero used a mixture of ammonia and some kind of iodine compound to make nitrogen tri-iodide, an extremely powerful and volatile compound, but only when dry. When wet, it can't be set off very easily at all. My father was an organic chemist so I ask him about it and then got the necessary ingredients during one of my chem labs. I mixed it into a dilute solution.
Then I sprinkled droplets of it all up and down the stairs of our dorm as well as around the door frame of one of the unpopular students who always slammed his dorm room door when he entered. Once the solution dried, the stage was set.
Guys coming back from classes and up the stairs set off the dried droplets by friction from their shoes, making a small and harmless (but very surprising) explosive puff. Everybody got a good laugh at others' plight, but the kid who came back and slammed his door as usual, was quite a bit more surprised, and most probably soiled his shorts. He heard the peals of laughter outside his door and knew he'd been had.
My father told me that this was a popular college prank in the 1940's, when they would spread droplets over the dance floor a few hours before a dance. You can guess the result.
A friend tells the story of mixing up a batch in his college days. There was a dorm mate who would come back from a bit of drinking in the wee hours and was quite noisy. They packed the lock to his door and waited. He came back, inserted his key and to his surprise the lock spit it back out with a bit of force.
My personal experiences were with a bit more powerful mixture, red fuming nitric should have been harder to obtain, then it was the 1960's...
Take care and be safe
I read about this in an old magazine of my grandfather's, when I was about ten years old, but I could never come up with the ingredients, and forgot about it until this brought it back to mind. Just think, if any of these stunts were done today there would be hundreds of federal agents investigating, and probably jail time for some, as well. Things certainly have changed.
A buddy of mine, who went to a different high school, had a teacher who tended to bang on his desk with a yardstick. He and his friends finally decided to "cure" this habit. I believe he used something of a mercury fulminate that also became explosive when dry.The next time the teacher banged that yardstick, it blew into slivers.
Ah yes, I remember it well. I used to make batches of the stuff in high school. We would put it in empty medicine capsules (one of my friends father was a doctor)and during gym class, while we were doing laps, someone would toss out a capsule resulting in a resounding bang and a puff of purple smoke. Also, there was a purple stain on the gym floor. Fortunately the stain faded over time. Again fortunately it is not a very powerful explosive. I had about an ounce of it go off in my hand and the worse damage was a couple of blood blisters. By the way at my high school's 41st reunion (they forgot the 40th) I was given the prize for the mad bomber. Don't think I have only been out of high school for about 41 years, my 55th reunion was two years ago.
I guess college pranks take on a different perspective when you are in the service. I was in a large barracks, several hundred men, when some loony decided to make an explosive that was unstable when dry. The first person to come across it was a fellow who lived down the hall. He noticed crystals on the pavement, poked them with a blade of grass, and when they blew up they blew grit from the pavement into his eyes and forehead. The next explosion took place when someone picked up the handset on the public telephone. The crystals had been placed on the ear piece. Had they gone of as intended they would have burned his ear and perhaps deafened him. The barracks was cleared and ordinance disposal was sent in to see what was going on. They found 3 of the large commercial sized mayonnaise containers filled with the stuff in a locker. It was conjectured that the threads of at least one jar probably had dry stuff in them. Next time he decided to spread some around had the dry stuff on the threads exploded it would have broken the jar. Then the problem would have been how to clean up the mess before it dried and to make sure all of it was cleaned up.
Yep my experience has a whole different feel from the ones you folks laugh about.
That "some kind of iodine compound" Murphy is referring to being...pure iodine. In crystal form. That works best. Still have half a bottle from when I made some for my niece, who'd heard all about it and wanted to play with some. We went out in December in suburban Philly with a fairly large batch of it, and smeared some (it's a paste when I make it) over a picnic table. Later, after many games of Tetris, we went out and I hit it with a broom and off it went with a 'pop' and a big cloud of purple smoke. Fun memories!
I made some in 9th grade (jr HS) and gave a few drops to one of the more delinquent kids to put on the sole of his shoe. He managed to set it off in front of the principals office. Still not sure how he managed to keep my name out of it. Later, I put some on my shoe for English, I chickened out and held my foot off the floor for most of the class. I was a surprised as anyone when it went off.
Sr year of HS in Anchorage, I took a vile into my Shakespeare class and while the teacher was out of the room, went up the her podium and dropped a glob into a crack in the base. She came back in and being pretty cool, looked around the room and saw my friend Eric turning bright red. She didn't know what was going on, but looked at him and said "you did it" then put the podium aside. The next morning, I went into the room, walked up to the podium and rubbed my gloved hand over the mixture and walked out. I don't know what the poor substitute teacher said about that.
That fall, I went off to college and my parents kept complaining about explosions in my room. Finally they set one off while in the room. The bottle had exploded and sent drops all over a large piece of cardboard I was using for a rug (the house was not finished). The chemical is very unstable when dry, but pretty safe in small quantities.
I also played a bit with silver acetylide Ag2C2 which is made by passing acetylene through a silver nitrate solution. That stuff is similar: OK when wet, feather sensitive when dry but very scary. It goes off with a real flash and bang.
I also discovered the joys of nitrogen triiodide in high school.
Having decanted (some might say stolen) a small quantity of ammonium hydroxide from the chemistry storeroom, I stashed this key ingredient in my desk.
Somehow I forgot about it at the end of class. Next period, a student discovered my container and took it up to our chemistry teacher. "Mr. H, what's this?" she asked.
Ignoring the safety warnings he had so carefully instilled in us, Mr. H opened the jar, and--instead of carefully wafting a bit of vapor to his nose--took a big whiff. Of pure ammonia. I wasn't there, but I heard several reports of the look on his face.
Needless to say, Mr. H knew exactly where I sat, and later interrogated me. I feigned innocence, but I think only his embarrassment at not following protocol saved me from a trip to the principal's office.
We had a kid in a summer AP science class in '64 make up a batch, nice and wet, and pack it into a 10 ml vial to take home with him. As he screwed the Bakelite cap on, a few grains on the threads went off, triggering the entire vial, clenched in his fist, to detonate!
Huge purple cloud, hand totally black, instructor totally white... As all were panicking and searching for a first-aid kit and a phone to call an ambulance, the troublemaker finally comes out of shock enough to start flexing his hand. "Guys, wait - I'm OK!"
Danny had a sore hand, as if he caught a fast baseball barehanded, but that was it. All we found of the vial was the cap, with the glass threads inside. The shockwave was so fast, it left no shards of glass at all...