The Flaming Pop-Tart Experiment
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The Flaming Pop-Tart Experiment

As Performed By Dr. Roger A. Hunt, Ph.D., Director, American Institute of Pyrotartology

The Report and all photos used with the permission of Roger A. Hunt

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The Report, by Dr. Roger A. Hunt, Ph.D.

REPORT:                  Toaster pastry combustibility test 

EXPERIMENT DATE:         Sunday, September 18, 1994

EXPERIMENT LOCATION:     NW Corner, Kearney & 7th Streets, 
Laramie, Wyoming

NATURE OF EXPERIMENT:    Physical properties of overheated breakfast 
pastries within micro-radiant-convective environment; observed social 
effects of same.

DESCRIPTION:   The purpose of this experiment was to place the common 
breakfast pastry in a radiant-convective micro-environment of high 
temperature, in order to observe ensuing physical manifestations.  
Secondary purpose:  to determine whether social
effects of overheated pastries.

Previous test results (see Barry, 1991, p. @) indicate that overheating 
of said pastries should result in combustion of same, producing organic 
atmospheric compounds in the form of smoke, glowing combustion of organic 
material in the form of flames, and possibly partial or total destruction 
of the laboratory apparatus.

The experiment was commenced at 12:45 pm Mountain Daylight Time. The 
principal investigator, R. Hunt, having previously obtained the 
laboratory apparatus (one General Electric chrome-plated four-slot 
toaster, approximately 10 years old), cleared a workspace of about 8 x 8 
feet in the lab environment behind his house, between the back door and 
the hedge.  Nearby were placed the other needed materials: two (2) 
Kellogg's-brand Pop-Tarts(tm), with strawberry-flavored filling 
manufactured by Smuckers, Inc; one (1) extension cord; one (1) fire 
extinguisher; one (1) garden hose; and one (1) camera, for recording the 
experiment by photo-optical means.

Hunt's lab assistant, S. Jones (R. Hunt's spouse), the designated 
experiment recorder of record, maintained the camera in ready position.  
Hunt's other lab assistant, Z. Hunt (R. Hunt's offspring, age 4.5 years), 
was on hand to provide philosophical meaning to the experiment ("WHY are 
you burning up our toaster, Dad?")  (A third member of the research team, 
assistant assistant lab assistant E. Hunt, age 1.667 years, was not 
present in the laboratory setting, due to a pre-scheduled nap.)

Hunt connected the toaster via the lengthy (approx. 10 feet) extension 
cord to a 110-volt AC wall socket, to supply energy. Hunt then removed 
the silver-colored Mylar foil from the two Pop-Tarts and placed them in 
slots 1 and 2 of the toaster.  Next, using a rigid oblong wooden safety 
device consisting of an ordinary broom handle (broom attached), Hunt 
moved the toaster trigger to the "Engaged" position, and held it there.

Following is a chronology of events:

12:45:00:      Toaster triggering mechanism engaged.  Coils within all 
four toaster slots observed energizing with radiant heat.

12:46:00       Convective heat waves observed rising from all four 
toaster slots.  Fragrant, faint strawberry odor detected wafting from 
toaster slots 1 and 2 (containing pastries).

12:47:00       Continuation of heat-waving and fragrance-emitting 
phenomena; no observable change in experimental vicinity; observable 
change in assistant lab assistant Z. Hunt's behavior ("Are they burning 

12:47:30       Toaster begins audible sound-wave emissions, best 
described as a cross between a buzz and a rattle.

12:48:00       Faint odor of over-cooked pastries begins wafting over 
test site.  Buzz/rattle continues.

12:48:30       Visible organic-compound gases (smoke tendrils) emerge 
from slots 1 and 2.  Death-rattle continues, seeming to grow louder and 
more desperate.

12:49:00       Smoke has thickened to steady stream pouring from open 
toaster slots.  Fragrant Pop-Tart odor has now changed in character to 
rancid pseudo-strawberry stench.

12:49:30       First sighting of flames emerging from toaster slots 1 and 
2.  Smoke belching forth in large quantities.  Discoloration of toaster's 
formerly-shiny chrome exterior detected.

12:49:45       Flames reach height of approximately nine inches, 
accompanied by vaguely-disturbing "crackling" sound from within slots 1 
and 2.  Smoke thick enough to cut with knife (Swiss Army, model 37-Z).  
Assistant lab assistant Z. Hunt asks, "Why are you burning up our 
toaster, Dad?"

12:50:00       EXPERIMENT ABORTED at this point when lab assistant S. 
Jones, at the camera, discovers she has no film and thus no photographs 
of experiment.

12:50 to 12:55 Laboratory site cleaned up.

1:00 to 1:20   Lab assistant S. Jones, accompanied by assistant lab 
assistant Z. Hunt, drive to flea market to obtain replacement toaster, 
muttering.  Principal investigator R. Hunt prepares site for next round 
of testing.

1:24:00        New toaster (Signature brand, chrome-plated with hideous 
lime-green trim in dead-giveaway of late-1960s color scheme, two slots) 
placed in experimental setting.  Extension cord connected.  Two Pop-Tarts 
inserted.  Toaster trigger deployed with broom handle.  Assistant lab 
assistant Z. Hunt provides philosophical commentary ("We're burning up 
ANOTHER toaster!") to next-door-neighbor kids (ages 5, 6, and 7) who have 
gathered as experimental observers.

1:26:00        Smoke begins rising SILENTLY from both slots.  Observers 
noted a distinct lack of any buzzing, rattling, or other signs of toaster 
distress.  It was also pointed out that smoke commencement in this 
toaster environment occurred a full thirty seconds earlier than in the 
previous round.

1:27:00        Dense, heavy cloud of genuinely-smelly smoke wafts over 
observers.  Nasal examination indicates that smoke flavor consists of 
rapidly-charring Pop-Tarts along with approximately 25-year's worth of 
ancient toast fragments, now undergoing incineration.

1:28:00        First flames emerge from toaster slots.  Unlike previous 
round, flames almost immediately attain a respectable height of approx. 
one foot.  Neighborhood kids disappear.

1:28:30        Genuinely scary-looking flames shoot from mouths of 
toaster slots (not unlike those reported by Barry, 1994, p. 65), 
attaining maximum height of approx. 1.66667 feet.  Toaster exterior has 
begun changing color to an alarming shade of "dark".  Observers report 
seeing curled-up Pop-Tart husks rapidly shriveling inside toaster slots, 
accompanied by loud crackling noise with occasional sizzles.  Lab 
assistant S. Jones observed coughing as smoke drifts in her direction and 
complaining about "for better for worse, but nobody mentioned THIS".  
Assistant lab assistant Z. Hunt observed yelling to strangers walking dog 
across the street, "HEY!! My Dad's burning up our toaster!  On purpose!"  
(Strangers observed accelerating to a trot as they continue across 

1:29:00        Having deemed experiment a rousing success, R. Hunt 
releases broom handle and unplugs extension cord.  No appreciable 
reduction in flames or smoke detected.

1:29:30        R. Hunt aims garden hose at still-flaming toaster while S. 
Jones turns on water.  Massive cloud of steam erupts as water hits 
toaster, accompanied by extremely satisfying hissing sound.

1:30:00        Experiment concluded as soggy toaster, with 
pathetic-looking burnt shriveled waterlogged Pop-Tarts still inside, is 
ceremoniously carried to isolated metal containment facility 
(conveniently located out by curb for next-day pickup) and dropped inside 
with a gratifying THUD.  Assistant lab assistant Z. Hunt's friend from 
down the street, Neil, shows up and wants to know when we will be burning 
up the NEXT toaster, so he can watch, too.

OVERALL CONCLUSIONS:  In general, the experiment succeeded the 
experimenter's expectations.  The production of scary-looking flames was 
the definite highlight of the whole thing, observers agreed.  The 
accidental aborting of the first experimental round provided an 
additional bonus, by affording a comparison of 1980s-vintage and 
1960s-vintage toasters.  It was agreed by all present that the 1960s 
model produced by far the better results, including the following:
*    More, thicker, and darker smoke;
*    Bigger flames;
*    No annoying death-rattle, to distract observers;
*    More fragrant odors, due to presence of ancient breadcrumbs
     and bagel-parts below cooking-planes in slots;
*    Better audience participation.

In general, the results reported by previous experiment D. Barry (1994, 
pp. 63-65) were confirmed.  Additional work might include:  (a) 
utilization of different-flavored Pop-Tarts; (b) variations in the 
toaster environment, including age, brand, and content and/or quantity of 
previous crumb-deposits; and (c) performance of the experiment indoors, 
so as to avoid potential uncontrolled interruptions of the experimental 
environment by passers-by such as police, who, it is speculated, may not 
be sensitive to the delicate demands of pure scientific research.

REFERENCES:    Barry, D. (1994)  "Tarts Afire", in _Dave Barry Is Not 
Making This Up_.  New York:  Crown Publishers, Inc., pp. 63-65.

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