It’s holiday movie season — lots and lots of holiday movies. It’s very doubtful that you think about science when watching those movies, but it sure is there.
More often than not, it’s not a great science, but it still exists. Let’s take a look at some of the good and bad science we see when enjoying the season’s movies.
You can’t have a holiday movie discussion without “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!” There are some accurate scientific scenarios. The tree dries up if the dog drinks all the water from the tree; Vacations add stress to people; And applying varnish to the bottom of the sled will make it go faster – but just barely!
Then there are some things we have to wonder about, like the house’s pretty lights (which weren’t twinkling). Clark Griswold states that the house is illuminated with 250 strings of lights. With an ordinary strand of 100 lights, the house is illuminated by 25,000 lights.
Now these are not the lights that are in most homes today. These were big lights and before we had efficient LED lighting. Electricians say the average home electrical system won’t come close to handling that kind of power. The circuit breakers will trip immediately and this will be the end of the light show.
Let’s talk about cost. Using the average cost of electricity in the United States, the cost of lighting in the Griswold home was about $35 per string of lights for the season if they were on for eight hours a night. Remember, he had 250 strings of lights so that works out to $8,750 for the season.
However, if you recreate the same look today and use LED string lights, you will be much happier. Each string of LED lights will only cost about 32 cents for the season. Multiply that by 250 strands and a season will cost you $80.
Finally, Clark Griswold puts no-calorie kitchen lubricant in the bottom of his metal plate. He chose the right kind of skates. Plate skates distribute your weight and provide the best gliding over fresh snow. And while it is true that his company’s lubricants will reduce friction slightly, it will hardly be noticeable.
create something Hollywood’s Winter Wonderland
There’s rarely a holiday movie without snow. However, holiday movies are almost always made in the summer and in very warm places. This has been the case for as long as holiday movies have been made. How do they do it?
Historically, the first fake snow film was made of fluffed cotton. They stack them all over the set to create beautiful scenes. That was until fire officials realized that a single spark could cause an entire group to engulf a flame in seconds.
For a long time, they used cornflakes coated in white. It looked fine on the ground, but the grind was so loud that they couldn’t get in sight with both talking and walking. Over the years, they’ve tried everything from shavings of snow (which melted instantly) to asbestos (which caused cancer) to paper that worked but didn’t fall to the ground properly.
Things changed dramatically in 1946 on the set of It’s a Wonderful Life. They needed large outdoor scenes of snow falling and piling up in the 90-degree heat. That’s when they developed the ice formula that’s still used today: fire extinguishing chemicals mixed with sugar, water, and soap flakes. It was pumped through big fans and it looks perfect.
Today, many of our movies are set in a winter wonderland that has no snow at all. Snow is added later using computers. Sometimes physical “snow” is still needed in the collection and a modern composition can be safely done at home.
There is a chemical called sodium polyacrylate that can hold up to 600 times its own mass in water. Add a little water and it will instantly swell up like snow. Add a lot of water and it looks like slush. Better yet, you can get a little bit of this chemical by slicing a diaper into a one-gallon bag and shaking it. The corner of the bag will contain a small amount of this powder. Add a little water and you will get “snow”.
Mike Szydlowski is a science teacher and zoo coordinator at Jefferson STEAM School.
It’s time for a quick test
How much money would have been saved if the Griswold house had used LED lights instead of the old version of the bulbs?
Why is a plate sled better than a sled with rails in fresh snow?
What should homes do to prevent electrical wiring from overheating to dangerous levels?
Why don’t movie sets use real snow in their movies?
What were the two previous fake snow that turned out to be so dangerous?
Last week’s POP quiz answers
What is a parasite?
A parasite is an organism that steals from another organism in order to survive.
Why is mistletoe considered a parasite?
Mistletoe steals water and nutrients from trees to use for their growth and survival.
Why do some people call mistletoe “Robin Hood”?
Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor. This compares to how mistletoe steals from large trees and ultimately gives nutrients to microorganisms.
Why do so many organisms depend on the mistletoe’s fallen leaves?
Mistletoe leaves contain many more nutrients after they fall than all other deciduous leaves. Small organisms have learned to take advantage of this.
What other organisms help mistletoe plants thrive? How do?
More than 90 species of birds help spread the sticky mistletoe seeds after they pass through their digestive tract.
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