9th March 2007

Tripping the Pickle Fantastic

Electric Pickle demonstration from Duchamp on YouTube

I got this from Penn & Teller’s very fun 1992 book, “How to Play With Your Food“. I picked up all kinds of neat tricks from that book, but this is far and away my favorite: the glowing pickle trick. I’ve done this dozens of times. It’s pretty simple really: you just plug a pickle into the wall. You’re probably saying to yourself “that sounds dangerous,” and you’re right — it is. As a matter of fact, Penn & Teller’s book doesn’t actually tell you how to do it — they just point out that it’s possible, without giving instructions. I like you better than Pell & Teller do, though, so I’m going to tell you the particulars. But still — this involves exposed wires, which makes it dangerous, so don’t do it. Now that I have that disclaimer out of the way, here’s how to do it:

  1. Buy pickles — dill pickles. You want ‘em nice & salty.
  2. Get an electrical cord. You can cut one off of an old appliance (buy one on the cheap at Goodwill), or just buy an extension cord. It doesn’t need to be very long, a few feet will do.
  3. Split the cord down the middle into its two halves, to about a foot and a half down the cord.
  4. Carefully remove the plastic sheathing around the copper wiring inside, a good couple inches down.
  5. Twist the copper wires into a point. From here, you’ve got a few options:
    • Try spiking the copper wires directly into the pickle. This can be a bit tricky if your wires are… flaccid.
    • Wrap the copper wires around the loop end of a metal spike. The spikes they sell for lacing turkeys work pretty well, or you can use a fork, or a nail.
    • I spike the cord into opposite ends of the pickle, but I’ve also seen configurations where the spikes both come into one end of the pickle, and are spaced a bit apart.
  6. Make sure your pickle is on a safe surface (i.e., one that won’t conduct electricity) and stand back.
  7. Turn out the lights and plug the sucker in.

You caught that bit where I said to not do this, right? Good.

Here’s a truncated version of how & why it works: the electricity is conducted across the pickle by the pickle’s moisture, and the yellow light is emitted when the sodium ions in the pickle become excited. The smoke & charred pickle smell are because you’re electrocuting a pickle, yo!

Penn and Teller’s How to Play with Your Food [Amazon.com]

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