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Crumbling Dice & Exploding Billiard Balls

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decompsed dice

Cellulose nitrate was used to make dice from the late 1860s until the middle of the twentieth century, and the material remains stable for decades. Then, in a flash, they can dramatically decompose. Nitric acid is released in a process called outgassing. The dice cleave, crumble, and then implode.

From Dice: Deception, Fate & Rotten Luck by Ricky Jay and Rosamond Purcell, 2002.

[Via Wiki] Because of its explosive nature, not all applications of nitrocellulose were successful. In 1869, with elephants having been poached to near extinction, the billiards industry offered a $10,000 prize to whoever came up with the best replacement for ivory billiard balls. John Wesley Hyatt created the winning replacement, which he created with a new material he discovered called camphored nitrocellulose—the first thermoplastic, better known as celluloid. The invention enjoyed a brief popularity, but the Hyatt balls were extremely flammable, and sometimes portions of the outer shell would explode upon impact. An owner of a billiard saloon in Colorado wrote to Hyatt about the explosive tendencies, saying that he did not mind very much personally but for the fact that every man in his saloon immediately pulled a gun at the sound.

[Found here.]

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3 Responses to “Crumbling Dice & Exploding Billiard Balls”

  1. thomasnwafor Says:

    wouldn’t like to have two of them dice in my trouser pocket when they became unstable

  2. IzaakMak Says:

    Wow man, that’s just quazee! 😆

  3. Bunk Strutts Says:

    thomasnw– If they caught flame everyone would think you were a liar. =)

    IzaakMak– I like the story of the billiard balls. An armed saloon is a polite saloon.

    BTW, the author of the book mentioned above, Ricky Jay [Potash], is an amazing sleight of hand magician and card manipulator. (Rosamund Purcell was the photographer.)

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