Howdy, Matt: The other day I had a couple of brews that I’d left out and they were warm, so I put them in the freezer to hurry up the cold. These were beers in bottles, by the way. So I got to doing something else and left them in for a few hours by mistake. When I took them out and popped the cap on one, all of a sudden this pyramid of ice started to grow in the bottle. It started at the bottom and got wider at the top. What was that all about? By the way, the beer wasn’t very good after that. — DDrinker, Chula Vista
Unfortunately, this seems to be the coolest thing the elves have discovered in a long time. Grandma is in fits because all her frozen lasagna and bean soup are in a pile on the floor surrounded by open bottles of beer. But I suppose in the 50, 60 years the elves and I have been toiling at this gig, she’s been through worse. She’s always asking me to get a real job, and I keep trying to convince her this is a real job; but not even I believe that, so I guess I don’t make much of a case because I haven’t convinced her yet.
So, this ice-tree thing... It’s a lot of pent-up energies inside your bottles that are just screaming to be set free. When you take your beers out of the freezer, after that length of time they actually are at below freezing temperature. It’s still liquid because the water doesn’t have enough room to form ice crystals, what with the pressure built up inside the bottle. A frozen liquid takes up more room than the same liquid at over-freezing temps.
When you wave your magic wand (the bottle opener), all the pressure on the beer is released and ice crystals start to form your mysterious triangle. To form the first ice crystal, the molecules need what’s called a nucleation point — something to attach the molecules to. Your beer uses the CO₂ that also leaks out when the top’s popped. One molecule forms, rises to the top of the beer, then other crystals attach to the first and pretty soon you have an upside-down pyramid as the crystals diminish.
So, I hope you feel bad about asking this question and causing so much hoop-de-do in the Alice household. Grandma hasn’t made us a pie in a week. She’s still shoveling beans out the back door.
Dear Matthew: I have five or six crows that hang around my neighborhood. They eat my dog’s food, pester the fish in my pond, and generally squawk and make a nuisance of themselves. I suppose that is normal crow behavior. However, about a half hour before sunset, I see scores if not hundreds of them flying southeast. Where are they going? Are they having a crow fest? Are they planning dastardly deeds? I really hope you can find out. — Lanny, via email
Everybody has five or six crows hanging around, making a nuisance of themselves. You’re right. That’s what crows do, since they’re pretty fearless, will eat anything, and feel comfortable in the day being within squawking distance of some friends. I can’t hear the whispering that goes on in the big flocks you see. But they’re actually acting like most other “flock” birds. They forage alone after sunrise, they hook up in a traditional spot with other local crows at sunset, maybe for cocktails, maybe to catch up on the day’s gossip. Anyway, it all ends in the big flock heading off to their favorite sleeping place. That will be somewhere they feel safe, a tall, dense grove of trees, probably. The flock also provides safety for them; predators have a harder time picking an individual bird from a huge fluttering flock. Lucky you don’t have to put up with their morning routine. The flock wakes at sunup, stretches their wings, and start yakking like crazy before they head out for the day. Ask any person who lives near a tree that’s popular with the dawn flock. No need for an alarm clock.
Heymatt: When I look at fireworks, it seems like they are all coming toward me or geared to be seen by people on my side of them. I don’t see any of the fireworks going away from me. If I were to stand on the opposite side of a fireworks display, would it look the same? — Langston, Spring Valley
Things in the sky are a little hard to read because you don’t really have anything to relate them to visually. Anyway, aerial fireworks are correctly visible from 360 degrees. They’re globular, not two-dimensional, so there’s no real front or back. When a shell is shot into the sky and breaks into glittery stars, they shoot out in a full circle, not side to side. If it looks as if a break is coming toward you, it is still seeable from the other side of the lake.