The other day I decide to make myself a nice, relaxing cup of tea. Crazy, I know. I’m spontaneous like that.
I filled a glass mug up with water, stuck it in the microwave for two minutes (my standard tea-making, water-hottening unit of time), and then busied myself with other tasks.
In response to the beeping sometime later, I walked over and opened the door to the over. I was surprised to see that the water was completely undisturbed, as if it had not been warmed at all. Thinking that perhaps I had accidentally set the microwave for “1:00” instead of “2:00,” I reached out and tapped the side of the glass with my finger, to see how hot it was.
And then: FWOOOSH! The whole thing blew up.
Not the mug itself, just the contents. When jostled, the water went from looking like the placid surface of a calm lake to one filled with 4,000 piranhas and a cow. The water in the mug bubbled frenziedly for a fraction of a second, and then geysered upwards DIRECTLY INTO MY FACE OH GOD THE BURNING!!
Well, no. Actually, it mostly hit the ceiling of the microwave, though some slopped over onto my hand and a few drops assailed my cheekbones. Still, I did what any red-blooded American male would do in this situation: shrieked like a 11 year-old girl at a Fall Out Boy concert and flung myself backwards as if a rabid stoat had just attached itself to my windpipe.
As this took place, Squiggle was behind me, standing at his child-sized table and serenity coloring. I barreled backwards into him and we both crashed into the cupboards, our heads making cheerful coconut-clonking noises as they collided with wood, whereupon one or more of us burst into tears.
The Queen, meanwhile, was ten feet away, folding clothes on the kitchen table. She turned around when she heard me scream, missing the part where the scalding water flew directly into my eyebones and instead only seeing me do my impression of a bowling ball, with our toddler playing the role of Pin #6.
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” she said, surveying the aftermath. “What happened this time?”
Fortunately, I had an explanation at the ready. I knew exactly what had happened.
You see, a few years ago I took it upon myself to debunk every urban legend that I received via email, be it about Bill Gates and his plan to give $200 to every person who forwarded his message, the $250 Neiman-Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe, or the dying kid in Albuquerque wanted everyone to send him a postcard. As self-appointed killjoy, I would track down the appropriate page on Snopes, reply to all, and piss in the collective punch bowl (“Actually, signing this petition is a waste of your time. There is no such proposal to slash the funding of Sesame Street, as this URL makes clear …”)
But I was unable to refute one such email–about exploding, microwaved water–because, according to Snopes, it was true.
So while The Queen soothed Squiggle (“don’t cry, it was just one of your father’s … ‘episodes’ …”), I quickly pulled up the Snopes page on our laptop to justify my seemingly maniacal behavior. This is our Standard Crisis Operation Procedure, by the way: she looks after the well-being of our child, I frantically scramble to absolve myself of blame.
A few click-click-clicks from Snopes and I wound up on the University of Minnesota website, which had this to say about the phenomenon:
Overheating of water in a cup can result in superheated water (past its boiling temperature) without appearing to boil. Superheating occurs if water is heated in a container that does not assist the formation of bubbles, which is a visual sign of boiling. Glass containers are the most likely to superheat water because their surfaces have few or no defects. The presence of slight defects, dirt, or other impurities usually help the water boil because bubbles will form on these imperfections.
When I showed the exculpatory evidence to The Queen though, she zeroed in on this passage:
Water can "explode" ... However, it takes near perfect conditions to bring this about, and is not something the average hot beverage drinker who would otherwise now be eying his microwave with trepidation need fear. Odds are, you'll go through life without ever viewing this phenomenon first-hand.
“Hey, that’s terrific,” she said, turning to me. “You coulda won us the lottery. But nooooooooo, you gotta blow your one-chance-in-a-million luck on exploding water.”
Anyway, you’ll be glad to hear that the only lasting effects of The Incident were a small burn on my right hand, a few slight red marks on my face, and a crippling fear of tea. Thankfully, the greyhound has graciously offered to become my new soothing drink of choice.