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Plunger Detonator
Acme detonators, for all your demolition needs.

This detonator is usually a plain square box with a T-shaped plunger on top and wires attached. Although typically not seen anymore in Real Life, it is ubiquitous in classic Western Animation and is period-accurate in stories set between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. In the real world these are actually called "blasting machines" because the plunger spins a little magneto similar to an old-fashioned hand-crank phone to generate the electricity used to detonate the explosives.

As often as not, a comedic character attempting to use it results in Where's the Kaboom?. Alternatively, a comedic character may accidentally set it off early (or during the moment of relief after an explosive crisis has been averted) by absently sitting or leaning on the handle. Bonus points if the detonator actually explodes instead of the attached explosives. May be Played for Drama, as someone throws their body weight on the handle as a Last Breath Bullet.

Modern blasting devices use either hand crank or a twist handle instead of plunger to rotate the magneto to create the electric charge needed to detonate the blasting cap.

Compare Cartoon Bomb and Incredibly Obvious Bomb. Possibly related to Big Electric Switch, insofar as the obsolete look of the device is a deliberate choice of Rule of Cool over realism. Hair Trigger Explosive doesn't need this to set it off. note 


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • In at least one Federated Superstores commercial from the 1980's, Fred Rated (Shadoe Stevens) uses one.
  • In The Seventies Panasonic sold "Dynamite 8" 8-track tape machines shaped like these. You pressed the plunger to change tracks. Jimmy "JJ" Walker did the commercials, using his Catch Phrase "Dy-no-mite!"

     Comic Books  
  • In the Achille Talon album "La Traversée du Disert", a demolition worker uses one to set off charges in a stone quarry—where, unbeknownst to him, the protagonists have ended up. He is prevented in the nick of time from pressing the plunger, only to sit on it by accident the next minute.
  • The bass tuba in The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra has a plunger detonator attached and a "go" light standing near.
  • In Destination Moon, a plunger detonator is used to remotely destroy the rocket X-FLR6 when its radio control is captured by spies.

    Film 
  • Patton. During the Battle of the Bulge a German soldier uses one to detonate some explosives and start an avalanche onto an American column. Combines Hollywood History with Hollywood Science because no such incident ever happened and real German detonators used a clockwork mechanism using a handle that turned.
  • The Thing (1982). The remaining crew members set up dynamite charges to blow up the base, with a detonator to set them off. Unfortunately the title monster grabs it before they can use it, but The Hero improvises.
  • Battle of the Bulge (1965). A group of German paratroopers disguised as US MPs pretend to rig a bridge behind American lines for demolition while actually holding for their own army. Part of their act includes two men ostentatiously hooking up a detonator while other men pretend to rig charges. Everyone is fooled until the leader of the squad of U.S. Army engineers actually assigned to blow the bridge arrives and immediately protests such a clear (and stupid) violation of basic safety procedures. He and his men get shot dead for his trouble.
  • Blazing Saddles. Sheriff Bart tries to use one to detonate the explosives in the fake Rock Ridge and blow up the villains, but it doesn't work. The Waco Kid has to set them off with a shot from his revolver.
  • Two bad guys attempt to use this on a bridge that the titular car is passing over in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Implausibly, the explosives don't explode, but the detonator itself does, resulting in Ash Face.
  • Ocean's Eleven: When Reuben's old building is blown up.
  • One is a big part of a major scene in The Bridge on the River Kwai. In fact, what happens at the end with it is actually another Dead Horse Trope: The dying guy falling on the Plunger Detonator and setting off the explosives.
  • The Bridge At Remagen has the Germans use a plunger detonator to try to demolish the eponymous bridge to prevent it from being captured, only to have it fail because the wires were damaged in the fighting. Also counts as a Critical Research Failure since the German army didn't use this type of detonator as noted above.
  • The protagonists use modern ones in Tremors 2 - explosives strapped to remote-control cars which they got the Graboids to eat before blowing them sky high.
  • In the opening of The Party, Hrundi V. Bakshi rests his foot on the handle of one of these to tie his shoelace, causing the premature demolition of a film set.
  • The Dragon uses one of these to blow up a train in the Jonah Hex movie.
  • Pretty sure I recall Professor Fate using one of these in The Great Race, but I can't recall the specific instance.
  • A couple of these show up next to a rack of hand grenades in an early scene in The Ipcress File. Palmer pushes the handle of one down, presumably to see if it's connected to anything.
  • Batman (1966). The Riddler uses a small one to detonate explosives and blow open a door into the United World building.
  • One is seen in Lawless, when the police blow up the Bondurants' bootleg still.
  • Dudley Do-Right. When Snidely Whiplash's chief minion Homer goes to blow up Dudley's house, he brings one along bust accidentally prematurely detonates the dynamite when he tucks the detonator under his arm.
  • Joe in Without Warning rigs an explosive trap inside the shack that the alien hunter uses to store its victims, which ends on a plunger detonator. For dramatic purposes, it fails on the first push because the wirings were off.

    Literature 
  • In The Sheikh and the Dustbin, George MacDonald Fraser tells of a piece of outside-the-box thinking used by an eccentric brother officer to put down a riot in Libya circa 1947: He wired up a plunger to an (empty) crate and parked the crate on a bridge in full view of an angry mob that was about to cross it. As soon as the plunger was raised ready for "blasting", the crowd dispersed with extreme alacrity.

     Live Action Television  
  • The Muppet Show. Crazy Harry loved these.
  • The Mythbusters use these occasionally, with an arming device for safety, but usually just go with a Big Red Button.
  • Young Indiana Jones: I seem to remember a scene where Indy had to put the plunger back into such a detonator just in time or something.
  • Often used by our saboteur heroes on Hogan's Heroes when time bombs were not sufficient. In one case they even got their Nazi 'captor' to press the plunger himself, under the impression that he had loaded the tunnel with fake dynamite while pretending to be one of the Allies.
  • On Richard Hammonds Blast Lab, the losing team has to press down a plunger to blow up their prizes.
  • Several episodes of the US version of Distraction featured the winning contestant having to push down a plunger that would randomly blow up one of his or her prizes for each question missed in the final round.
  • Nickelodeon's Wild and Crazy Kids used these on occasion, most memorably to blow up sandcastles.
  • The Monkees. The title characters occasionally tried to use one, by clipping two alligator cables to whatever they were trying to blow up, then pushing the plunger on a hand-sized box, at which point something else would blow up.
  • And some people claim wrestling isn't real.
  • Used in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Graduation Day" to set off the explosives that destroyed Sunnydale High.
  • Farscape sees plenty of these in a few of the episodes which take place in John's mind. In this case, the landscape is transformed into a Looney Tunes style desert, with John as the Roadrunner and Harvey as Wiley E. Coyote. Hilarity and explosions ensue.
  • Batman episode "While Gotham City Burns". When the Dynamic Duo are trapped inside a giant steel book and about to be steamed to death, the Gotham City police use one to detonate some explosives and blow the book open.
  • Lost in Space episode "Mutiny in Space". Dr. Smith uses one to set off the explosive chemicals in his rain-making machine.
  • In The Wire, Mayor Royce makes a big publicity event out of demolishing a crime-ridden apartment complex. He pushes an old-fashioned plunger...which is then revealed to be a dummy mock-up while the explosives are actually set off from a nearby control panel.
  • One of the assassination techniques used by the South American revolutionary in a sketch on The Dave Allen Show. This one comes unstuck when his intended victim places his foot down on the plunger while the assassin is still planting the dynamite.
  • Many of the buildings in Walnut Grove were thus destroyed.

    Newspaper Comics 

    Pinball 
  • An animated plunger sits on the playfield of the Premium editions of the AC/DC pinball.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Dungeons & Dragons Ravenloft setting, Masque of the Red Death campaign expansion. The setting is an Alternate History version of 1890's Earth, so explosives are available. This device is one of the ways of detonating explosives mentioned in the rules.

    Video Games 
  • Used in Red Dead Redemption once or twice.
  • There's a used one in one of the Submachine games, surrounded by soot and bits of clothing.
  • Used in the Half-Life demo, "Uplink", and in the Half-Life: Blue Shift expansion in the "Power Struggle" level.
  • In the Xbox LIVE Arcade version of Settlers Of Catan, one of the emote animations shows a player using one of these to blow up the dice. The AI sometimes uses it when it has a run of particularly bad rolls.
  • In Serious Sam series, it can be found in a few places. It's a trigger marker by default though.
  • Blood includes this on the "Thin Ice" secret level.
  • Three of the castle destruction cutscenes in Super Mario World featured Mario/Luigi jumping on a plunger detonator. One worked as expected. One caused the castle to launch like a rocket. The third seemed to fizzle until Mario/Luigi got close.
  • In the Glitter Gulch Mine level of Banjo-Tooie, Banjo and Kazooie could transform into a detonator. Its explosions were self-damaging but not necessarily fatal.
  • Guilty Gear. Faust uses one for his Instant Kill from X onward. The exact results vary from game to game (sometimes the explosion is delayed and gives both players a Funny Afro, sometimes it goes off like a nuke).
  • The cave level (and some others at times) in the SNES The Smurfs game.
  • The title characters from Worms remove themselves from the battlefield with one of these.
  • In one level of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Nazis attempt to use one to blow up a bridge, and you must snipe them before they can reach it.
  • One cutscene in the original Wing Commander, if you do well in the campaign, shows a group of Terran soldiers demolishing a Kilrathi base using one.
  • The cannons in Kirby Super Star sometimes have these hooked up to their fuses, allowing them to be triggered without a flame. Some of said cannons are actually traps and will simply explode instead of firing if Kirby jumps into them, though, whereas the ones without detonators are never of this nature.
  • The Binding of Isaac has this as an item that allows you to manually detonate your Cartoon Bombs.
  • Used a couple of times in Borderlands. Fitting, given the Space Western setting.

    Web Comic 

    Web Original 
  • Simon uses an Acme detonator to set off a stick of cartoon dynamite in The Cartoon Man.

    Western Animation 
  • A staple accessory of Looney Tunes characters, especially Wile E. Coyote.
  • Jonny Quest TOS episode "The Quetong Missile Mystery". The guards use these to detonate underwater mines to blow up intruding boats. At the end the Big Bad suffers a Karmic Death when he shoots one of the guards, who falls on the detonator and detonates a mine under the Big Bad's boat.
  • On The Simpsons Sideshow Bob's brother Cecil uses one of these to try to blow up Springfield Dam.
  • The Animated Adaptation of Tintin in America switched Bobby Smiles's box with buttons for such a detonator.


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alternative title(s): Blasting Machine
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