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It is widely reported that Tom Lehrer invented the Jell-O shot. In fact, though he may not have been the first to hit upon such an elegant and simple idea, he and a friend struck upon the concept while Lehrer was in the Army, during the 1950s. While serving on a Navy base (as an "Army liason to the Office of Navel Contemplation"), Lehrer attended a Christmas party whose official rules forbade alcoholic beverages. Technically speaking, Jell-O wasn't a beverage.

"And we finally decided that orange Jell-O and vodka was the best. We tried gin and vodka and various flavors and stuff -- of course you can't sample too much. So we went over to her apartment and we made all these little cups and we thought I would bring them in, hoping that the Marine guard would say, 'OK, what's in there?' And we'd say, 'Jell-O.' and then he'd say, 'Oh, OK.' But no, he didn't even ask. So it worked. I recommend it. Orange Jell-O."

There's a great Larry Gonick cartoon in an old Discover Magazine about getting the water out of seaweed Jell-O to make aerogel. The secret? Flush out the water with CO2, then freeze it and drop the pressure so that the CO2 sublimes directly from a solid to a gas. Or you can raise the pressure above the critical point, so that the fluid filler goes from liquid to gas without a sharp phase transition. Yay thermodynamics! (Tom Lehrer interview) (thermodynamics)

Thanks for providing that fantastic Lehrer anecdote. Who knew? (Well, Blake Stacey, apparently...) Also for the news that there is such a thing as seaweed Jell-O. Personally I prefer the lime... :)

One of the defining moments in my undergrad college career occured the night I was sterilizing Agar-Agar ( for the bio lab and realized the Twinkie I was eating contained the same vile-smelling jiggly stuff as a binder. Like Jell-O, agar gels as it cools, but after smelling it fresh out of the autoclave, I never knew anyone but bacteria could mistake it for food. It made me look at processed food in a whole new way. Not to mention putting me off Jell-O for good--no mean feat for a Midwestern girl raised on Jell-O salads.

P.S. DNA comes in a helix, not a spiral. The latter curl in on themselves (so that spiral notebook you've got is really a helix notebook).

Yay! I serve a purpose!

I just noticed that the Wikipedia article for "Petri dish" says they are used for various "day-to-day laboratory practices", including agar plates. Oddly, it says nothing about the feasibility of dish-shaped Orange Jell-O shots made with laboratory-grade pure ethanol. I suppose nobody ever said the Wikipedia was comprehensive, but golly, how do they get away with this sort of omission? Didn't the people at Nature check this kind of thing?

Ah, laboratory-grade pure ethanol. . . just thinking about that takes me back. Truly manly men don't mind the trace quantities of benzene left over from the purification process (which is probably why all the truly manly men are hanging out in the oncology wards these days). As an undergrad, I knew an organic chemist who kept a jug of pure ethanol around, mostly for shock value -- it was the anhydrous caffeine which really got used. Ever seen anhydrous caffeine? He had a hundred-gram bottle of this white powder which tasted bitter as hell and looked like anthrax. His idea for caffeinated orange juice was a big success; we probably could have opened a franchise in the student center. I also heard tales that he nearly set his room on fire trying to extract the thujone from absinthe, but I wasn't there to see that. . . .

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.