Hair-Trigger Explosive YKTTW Discussion

Hair-Trigger Explosive
Explosives + any impact = boom
(permanent link) added: 2012-12-24 01:16:31 sponsor: spacemarine50 (last reply: 2014-03-11 11:42:03)

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Indexes: Tropes That Go BOOM!, Stuff Blowing Up, Tropes Examined by the MythBusters

(Formerly Hair Trigger Nitro. Expanded to include all explosives)

There are powerful explosives, and can blow up almost everything. But Hollywood gives it a nasty drawback: anything can make it explode. And I do mean anything. You have to be super-careful or it will blow up. Or maybe it blows w/out any apparent reason.

Some Real Life explosives really have a hair trigger, some...don't. Usually in fiction, a plunger or a similar device is used to safely blow up explosives. But also in fiction, they get the volatility of explosives wrong, especially TNT and dynamite.

Subtrope of Stuff Blowing Up and Wafer Thin Mint. Supertrope of Nitro Express. Also see Explosive Stupidity when someone doesn't know this. This applied to a car intentionally is Molotov Truck, and unintentionally is Every Car Is a Pinto. Compare/contrast Made of Explodium, in which something that should not be explosive explodes anyway.


  • Double subverted in Rooster Cogburn from 1975 starring John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn. Marshall Cogburn and Eula Goodnight travel downriver by raft, carrying firearms and explosives, including boxes of nitro glycerin. The raft takes a wild ride through some whitewater rapids, but none of the nitro detonates. Once the raft reaches calmer waters, Hawk and his outlaws wait in ambush to recapture the munitions. Cogburn and Goodnight gently float the boxes of nitro in the river, where they drift downstream toward the outlaws. Cogburn then uses a rifle to trigger the nitro to blow the outlaws to smithereens.
  • In The Legend of Zorro the villains' plan involves a train full of nitroglycerine. To demonstrate one tosses a small drop onto the floor causing a huge explosion.

  • Subverted in The Guns of Navarone. While Corporal Miller is explaining how his gear has been sabotaged he holds up his time pencils and says "75 grains of fulminate of mercury in each of them, enough to blow my hand off. And very unstable, very delicate." He then ruthlessly crushes them. Instead of exploding, they do nothing - the traitor removed the fulminate of mercury.
  • Briefly discussed in the children's novel Ghost Town Adventure. Abe Winters, mayor of the eponymous ghost town, tells the children about a time one of his burros had fallen down a cliff while packing a load of dynamite. Chuck (the youngest) asks if the burro blew up and Abe says no, all that happened was the burro got a bruise on its tailbone.

Live-Action TV
  • Subverted on MythBusters. They were testing out the myth that a defibrillator could cause a nitroglycerin patch to explode. It was soundly busted.
    • Another one is if C4 can blow up if put into a microwave. It can, but only if it has a blasting cap in it.
    • Another subversion is that burning C4 doesn't make it go off. Also, dropping an anvil, stomping it, and shooting it with any bullet they tried didn't make it blow. For the final try, they ignited thermite right on top of C4. that didn't work.
    • Busted the Breaking Bad scene (below). The mercury of fulminate didn't explode when thrown. Then the actors (who were guest-starring) tried to Handwave by saying Walt had a bit of fulminate of silver with the mercury.
    • Another MythBusters example would be the claim that a binary explosive used in special effects work can be set off in a car wreck. (Busted, it's far too stable to be set off that way ... and that's assuming anyone's dumb enough to transport the stuff mixed.)
  • Arzt from Lost dies when he waves a stick of TNT too roughly and it detonates in his hand. Ironically enough, he was in the middle of a lecture on how to handle dynamite safely.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Whom Gods Destroy". The madman Garth of Izar has developed an explosive so powerful that a single flask of it could vaporize a planet. It will go off if dropped to the floor.
  • In Breaking Bad, Walt throws a handful of mercury of fulminate on the ground and it explodes, causing major damage to the room.

Truth in Television
  • Pure nitroglycerin is extremely unstable and prone to exploding if roughly handled. The reason dynamite was invented was make nitroglycerin safer to transport and use.
    • However, by freezing nitro, it becomes very hard to blow up.
  • Another hair-trigger explosive is fulminate of mercury, which is used in blasting caps in order to set off other explosives and percussion caps for muskets in the mid 1800s.
    • And if you think fulminate of mercury is bad, then look at fulminate of silver. It can explode under its own weight.
  • There are "contact explosives" (see The Other Wiki) that are almost ridiculously sensitive. Nitrogen triiodide is so sensitive that being exposed to alpha radiation is enough to detonate it.
  • Anyone who has seen the lab demonstration concerning how quickly and simply nitro can be made (if you have the correct chemicals) will remember the inevitable sequel for life. The test-tube, in which a very small quantity of nitro has been made, is held at arms-length by the demonstrator and then dropped. The impact imparted simply by dropping the damn thing causes a large bang and sends glass shards flying everywhere. (This was in the context of an Army lecture about improvised explosive devices and how simple explosives can be made from scratch. The instructors are usually experienced NCO's and officers who know how far they can go. I don't think this is taught in schools!)
  • C4 is famous for it's stability and inability to go off w/out a blasting cap.
  • A website of Real Life stories involving this trope: stories

Video Games
  • Crash Bandicoot has Nitro boxes that go off like this. They also bounce randomly.
    • TNT is less sensitive than nitro, as in you can touch the side w/out dying. Hitting the top triggers the timer, but you can still kill yourself like it's nitro.
  • The Incredible Machine has a vial of nitro as an item. Any impact even a fan blowing air against it can set it off, except one. That's important in one level.
  • The two Castlevania games on the Nintendo 64 have the item "Magical Nitro" which is used in conjunction with "Mandragora" to make an explosive that destroys cracked walls. However, the game cautions that the Nitro is extremely volatile; the player must avoid jumping or being hit by enemy attacks or else the Nitro explodes and instantly kills the character.
  • TNT blocks in Spelunky's HD remake will explode violently when hit by anything, even by flying blood drops and shrapnel that are generally harmless.

Western Animation
  • During the ending of the Spongebob Squarepants episode Dying for Pie, Spongebob shows Squidward that he never ate the bomb pie, he was saving it in his pocket the whole time. He then trips, dropping the pie and causing an explosion (a live-action nuclear one to be specific), and then it cuts back to Spongebob and Squidward, completely covered in ash from the explosion.
    Squidward: Ow.
    • Before that, a bite of that pie is enough to blow up Mr. Krab's office when that hits the ground.
  • Zigzagged in "The PTA Disbands", a tour guide in Fort Springfield is giving a lecture on a "fully restored and in ready to fire condition" Civil War cannon aimed directly at the base of a manned lookout tower. She mentions that these cannons are "very sensitive and that the "slightest jolt" can set them off as the Springfield Elementary bus starts swerving towards the cannon. The bus hits it and... one of the cannon's wheels falls off.
    Tour Guide: Of course for safety reasons, we don't keep the cannon loaded. That's just common sense.
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