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Matt:

Here's a question that might give you fits. Can you make fire with ice? (Good luck.)

-- Doubtful Tim, Shelter Island

We suited up half the elves in parkas, half in flame-retardant pajamas and took on the challenge. The parka crowd went off to the 7-Eleven for a bag of ice. The PJ group went to Blockbuster. When they all got back, we filled our glasses with ice, cracked a liter of Mountain Dew, kicked back, and slipped a copy of that dumb Mamet-makes-a-movie, The Edge, into the VCR. Anthony Hopkins and one of those danged Baldwin brothers are staggering around, lost in the wilderness. Baldwin's screaming and crying and throwing himself on the tundra; the aloof, effete Hopkins whips out his Davy Crockett hat and saves the day. He makes a compass out of a paper clip and a leaf, traps a squirrel for dinner, navigates by the stars, kills a Kodiak bear with stuff he finds lying on the ground. (The bear has already eaten the piano player, so we know he's serious.) I mean, the elves were laughing so hard we almost missed the fire-from-ice part.

Anyway, just when you think Hopkins can't get any more insufferable, he pulls this out of his survivalist's bag of tricks (a Louis Vuitton bag of tricks, I think). You hold the ice in your hands until it melts into the shape of a lens. Hold the lens over some combustible material and let it focus the sunlight into a point, which, if the bear doesn't get you first, will eventually set the stuff on fire. It occurred to me that if the ice is pure enough to bend sunlight that precisely, it would also act as a magnifying glass. Hopkins could have used it to enlarge the fine print in his contract before he agreed to star in this dog. And by the way, Tim, if you expected us to actually go into the wilderness and see if it works, you don't know us very well. Once we had our answer, the elves rewound the video three or four times to check out the part where Elle McPherson is lounging around in a satin nightie.

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