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Solar-Powered Magnifying Glass

"God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass, and I'm the ant."
Bruce, Bruce Almighty

Someone uses a magnifying glass or similar optical instrument to concentrate sunlight to kill, burn, or melt something. This may take a few different forms.

Children at play may experiment with using setting fires or killing small insects with a magnifying glass. At times this may be used to demonstrate that the child is an Enfant Terrible, or (in works written from the perspective of the insect) that Humans Are Cthulhu. On the other hand, sometimes children who do this are just portrayed as scientifically curious.

In some cases, a larger lens may be used as an Improvised Weapon. Many attempts at this — both fictional and real — are inspired by the story that the ancient Greek scientist and engineer Archimedes used this sort of contrivance to destroy a Roman fleet during the 214-212 BCE Siege of Syracuse. Supposedly, he focused the rays of the sun using an array of polished shields, mirrors, or lenses. (Sadly, MythBusters tested this example of the trope — three times — and found it less-than-effective.)

Finally, people stranded in the wilderness may use magnifying glasses in order to set the fire they need to survive.

This trope may seem fairly modern but it's in fact Older Than Feudalism. In Aristophanes' ancient Greek comedy The Clouds, the gods use a set of mirrors or lenses to ignite the Olympic Torch (a smaller device traditionally lights the torch for the running in modern days).

Also this is Truth in Television. It works, but not as quickly as usually depicted.

Related to The Power of the Sun and Sundial Waypoint. Not to be confused with a Kill Sat, which uses a remote controlled satellite and may or may not actually use sunlight.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Used by Nova Shenron in Dragon Ball GT. He summons a giant lens and use it to fire an extremely hot sunbeam.
  • In Bodacious Space Pirates, the Odette II is being fired upon by a pirate ship using optical targeting. Marika reconfigures the solar sails to reflect Tau Ceti's sunlight directly onto the pirate ship, blinding their spotter and heating the hull. She stops just short of melting the ship.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam has the Solar System, a superweapon wielded by The Federation that is a scaled-up version of the old Archimedes "Death Ray". In this case it's somewhat more plausible, because the array consists of four million mirrors, each the size of a small building, and they're all aimed by computers. Gundam 0083 introduces the Solar System II, which is much more efficient thanks to better materials and targeting software, meaning it can achieve the same destructive power with only 408,000 mirrors.
  • The Red Stone of Aja from Jojos Bizarre Adventure has this effect. Putting it upto a light source will cause it to reflect the light a million times and emit it out the opposite side as laser. This can also be used to power up the Stone Mask to turn a Pillar Man into the Ultimate Lifeform.
    • Caeser Zeppeli uses this trope with bubbles to reflect light from outside a castle to the inside at Wamuu.
  • A filler villain in Naruto had the ability to create a giant lens to fry people with.

    Animated Films 
  • In Toy Story, Sid burns Woody's forehead with a magnifying glass while "interrogating" him. It serves as a Chekhov's Gun, as it gives Woody the idea of using Buzz's helmet to light the rocket that takes them back to Andy.
  • Antz. Used for an Independence Day spoof when a mysterious round object floats overhead ("It's beautiful!"), then a deathray-like beam shoots down causing the insects to burst into flames. Turns out the anthill is located in a public park where a kid is using a magnifying glass.
  • In Ice Age: Continental Drift, Sid's little brother Marshall uses a piece of clear ice in this manner to burn an ant hill. We then pull back to see Sid's Granny doing the same thing to Marshall's head.

    Films - Live Action 
  • Die Another Day's Kill Sat was essentially this, being one large mirror with a center focusing array to concentrate the light into a single, extremely hot beam.

    Comedy 
  • Bill Engvall talks about what a great day it was when you discovered you could do this as a kid ("You got to be God!"). Then he goes on to talk about when he was doing this and saw an ant on his arm...
    Bill Engvall: Let me tell you something: you burn your arm with a magnifying glass, you're on your own. You can't even tell your mom, because she gives that face like, "Oh...he is that stupid."

    Comic Books 
  • Adam Strange of the DC Universe fought one of these on a gigantic scale as a Monster of the Week in his Strange Adventures appearances. He does so again in Batman: The Brave and the Bold but with Batman and Aquaman's help.
  • In one old (1960s/1970s) Green Lantern comic, the villain used a giant flying magnifying glass as a weapon to burn his opponents. He used time travel to acquire it.
  • In the Tintin book Prisoners of the Sun, that's how the Incas plan to light the fire that will burn the protagonists at the stake.
  • When Lobo got The Mask, he went on a galaxy-shaking rampage of random violence, at one point doing this to people of some unfortunate planet.
  • In one issue of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Doctor Doom builds a flying ring base whose center is actually a giant magnifying glass. However, he doesn't unleash it at once, instead opening its shutters slowly and making everyone suffer from increased heat. Spidey's able to stop him, though.
  • This is the supervillian's plan, coupled with a reagent that reacts to filtered light, in the Batman comic Messiah of the Crimson Sun.

    Literature 
  • Using a magnifying glass to kill ants is listed as one of the misdeeds of Bruno the Spoiled Brat in The Witches.
  • The large, weaponized variety is used by Tavi in Cursor's Fury, in one of many CMOAs for him. Earlier, he starts a fire this way to disguise the fact that he has no firecrafting himself.
  • Piggy's glasses are used to start fires in Lord of the Flies.
    • This is a Crowning moment of fail on the author's part. Nearsighted lenses disperse light, not focus it.
  • Mentioned in The Dresden Files in Changes, with rays of sunlight hot enough to melt metal.
  • Jules Verne was big on this.
    • Dr. Clawbonnie used a lens made of ice to start a fire in Captain Hatteras.
    • Cyrus Smith McGuyvered a water-filled lens from two watch glasses in The Mysterious Island, as the castaways initially had no other means of starting the fire.
  • In Small Gods, the Omnian fleet that attacks Ephebe is set ablaze by the rays from a massive mirror in a tower in the harbor. This is a direct reference to the ancient legend of Archimedes's "heat ray" in the siege of Syracuse.
  • Alice, being a specialist in light magic, uses a spell to this effect in The Magicians. It's not very practical however—she was using it not long before sunset, and, after nothing the "lens" was a mile long, it still took her quite a long time just to burn through a door.
  • Jenna from Septimus Heap used a magnifying glass she had stolen earlier to reflect the light onto and burn Simon's face. While being on a flying dragon.
  • Occurs in the Star Wars novel Wedge's Gamble. As part of a lunatic plan to take down the city-planet Coruscant's orbital shields, thus rendering it vulnerable to invasion, the Rogues require a massive thunderstorm (to take out the power grid). To get one, they settle on vaporizing all the water in a reservoir by redirecting and refocusing an orbital satellite. Used as intended, the satellite focuses sunlight on portions of Imperial City to make the temperature more livable. Used as unintended, it vaporizes the target — reservoir and all — in a matter of seconds.
  • Used for a Bait and Switch in the drabble Research Project 12B by Richard Cassidy in which an apparent Mad Scientist Tested On Humans plot turns out to be a sadistic kid with a magnifying glass frying ants.

    Live Action TV 
  • In an episode of the Shazam live-action TV series, Captain Marvel creates a lens out of sand by rubbing the sand very fast, in order to focus the sun on something.
  • Most wilderness-survival shows, like Dual Survival or Survivorman, will demonstrate this method of fire-starting at least once.
  • Used by Amy in Doctor Who series 5, in The Vampires of Venice, when she uses her make up mirror to kill one of the alien fish vampire things while pre took several thousand levels in Badass Rory distracts it.
  • Catwoman once put Batman and Robin in a Death Trap that worked this way.
  • An episode of The Little Rascals involved Porky and Buckwheat having a bunch of firecrackers. Spanky and Alfalfa "confiscated" them by posing as a G-Man. Spanky tried to set off the firecrackers with a magnifying glass, but the school bell rang. Alfalfa took the firecrackers and stuck them in his back pocket - and Porky picked up the magnifying glass. During class, Alfalfa is called on to recite "The Charge of the Light Brigade",and this is when Porky uses the magnifying glass to set off the firecrackers.
  • Lil' Bat tries to fry some ants this way in a cartoon segment of The Aquabats! Super Show!. The ants retaliate by eating him.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun:
    Dick: This afternoon I tried to borrow Mary's magnifying glass. You know, to burn some ants.
    Sally: Of course, go on.
    Dick: So anyway, she's like, "No, you'll break it!" And I'm all, "I will not!" And she's like, "It's mine, you can't have it!" So we had this huge fight. Finally, she let me borrow it... when she wasn't looking.
    Sally: Let me guess, you broke it.
    Dick: Yes! A particularly large queen burst into flames and I got scared and dropped it on the sidewalk.
  • Aside from the giant-lens-as-Death Ray myth, Mythbusters also tested whether it's possible to light fires with lenses made out of shaped ice or the polished bottoms of soda cans.
  • In the last scene of the two part season 8 CSI NY opener, the perp, a serial arsonist/killer does a version of this with his glasses and a book he was reading.
  • In 1000 Ways to Die, a jerk builds a giant version of one and uses it to destroy objects for his own amusement and he also tricks people into sticking their hands into the beam. He meets his end when he tries to cook a can of beans with it. The can explodes in his face, causing him to thrash around until he falls in the path of the beam, which quickly burns through his head.

    Music 
  • In the Brad Paisley song "Anything Like Me", the narrator imagines what his son will be like in the future, and says what said son will do if he's anything like his father. Among the activities listed is trying to melt a Tonka truck with a magnifying glass.
  • The video for Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" features a couple of little boys frying bugs this way, only to have the tables turned on them.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • A Calvin and Hobbes strip had Stupendous Man use a giant magnifying glass from an observatory telescope in order to fry Calvin's school off the map. Of course, since it was all in Calvin's imagination, his Mom doesn't believe him when he says that the school got fried, and has him do his math homework.
  • FoxTrot: One strip has Jason seemingly roasting ants with a magnifying glass and them eating them to gross Paige out. It turns out they were really just raisins.
  • The Far Side: Two ants are on their hill, one of them saying "Now I'm starting to feel kinda warm!" while looming over them is the shadow of a kid with a magnifying glass.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Mage: The Ascension, one of the marauders (insane chaos mages) was rumoured to use a magnifying glass from a cereal box as a magic tool for his energy attacks.
  • One Dungeons & Dragons supplement of amusing traps included a breastplate with a massive gem in the center that radiated magic. It did nothing while in the dungeon, but upon being struck by sunlight, it immediately focused an intense beam of concentrated light into the chest of the wearer, causing massive amounts of damage.
    • The Dungeons & Dragons 3E adventure "The Eye of the Sun" centers around a magical artifact that acts as one of these. It's used by a cult of lizardfolk to burn a village down.
  • The Mutants & Masterminds adventure "High Noon", part of the Lame Mage Evil Genius adventures, Dr. Null post-humously launches a doomsday device that deploys a cloud of small nanotechnology crystals that float around and focus beams of indiscriminate destruction from the sun's rays to destroy major cities.
  • Tabletop Game/Warhammer has two war engines based on the focusing of solar magic with lenses and crystals. The Empire has the Luminark of Hysh, which uses an array of eight giant lenses to focus a mote of light magic into the ravenously destructive Solheim's Bolt of Illumination spell. The Lizardmen, meanwhile, have the Solar Engine - a giant faceted crystal held in a retaining harness that produces a similar burning death ray effect.

    Video Games 
  • Invoked in Shadow of the Comet, an Adventure Game in the Call of Cthulhu series, for a Solve the Soup Cans puzzle. Basically, the hero is stuck in a lighthouse, and cultists are bashing at the door. Here, he finds a pair of wings and a candle. Using the magnifying glass in the inventory, he melts the candle to add wax to the wings. Guess what you do with the wings.
  • In the text adventure Dragonsworld, Amsel signals an airship by using his magnifying glass to ignite a pile of leaves.
  • In Crossfire, "magnifying glass" is a somewhat useful (increases Dexterity when held) Joke Item — a weapon with minimum damage and ant slaying property. Works even underground.
  • In RTS Army Men games, this appears as a super weapon in some games. Due to the fact that all units are either little plastic men or (rarely) bugs, it works fairly well.
  • In the Rise of Rome expansion to Age of Empires, there is a scenario that places you in control of the ancient Romans invading the Greek city of Syracuse. Surrounding the city's seacoast are several towers that shoot beams of light that set your ships on fire, referring to Archimedes and his heat ray.
  • Appears as one of Penny's microgames in WarioWare: Smooth Moves. (BURN!)
  • In The Incredible Machine magnifying glasses are used to set things on fire. With a flashlight.
  • The lens from a broken telescope provides one of several ways for Mina to start fires in Return to Mysterious Island.

    Web Original 
  • After George Lucas reveals his plan to destroy all the original VHS copies of Star Wars in Half In The Bag, a montage of him doing just that is shown, with one part featuring this.

    Western Animation 
  • In an Adventure Time Ad Bumper, Ice King is trying to burn a giant ant. He then aims the magnifying glass at Finn, yelling, "You want some of this?"
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Marge vs. the Monorail": After it all, we hear a voiceover from Marge.
    And that was the only folly the people of Springfield ever embarked upon. Except for the Popsicle stick skyscraper. And the 50-foot magnifying glass. [the sun focused through the magnifying glass sets the Popsicle stick skyscraper on fire] And that escalator to nowhere.
  • The Tick had an inverted version of this, with evil giant ants that planned to deliver Karmic Deaths to all of humanity via one gigantic magnifying glass.
  • In Futurama, Prof. Wernstrom's plan to stop global warming is a giant mirror that reflects excess light away from the Earth. Then a small piece of space debris knocks it askew, and a beam of concentrated light slices through the city.
  • In The Perils of Penelope Pitstop episode "Hair-Raising Harness Race", while Penelope is trapped in a shed filled with explosives, the Hooded Claw has the Ant Hill Mob bound with a rope and hanging from a tree limb. A magnifying glass is set so that the sun's rays will burn the rope and send the mob plummeting into a deep chasm.
  • In a Robot Chicken sketch a boy has his magnifying glass out to burn ants and laughs. God then hits him with a lightning bolt and laughs.
  • The title character of Johnny Bravo does this in one episode, however, his real goal was to use the light from the ants to burn a hole in the sun.
  • 'The Inspector' episode 'Napoleon Blown-Aparte' - which detonates a beaumb under a sun-bathing Commissioner.

    Real Life 
  • One of the ideas of the "Strategic Defense Initiative" program was to combine orbital relay mirrors and directed-energy weapons into a Kill Sat effect similar to Archimedes' legendary mirrors, but much bigger.
  • During the late 1770s, Antoine Lavoisiernote  used a large glass lens (filled with alcohol for better refraction) to melt iron and attempt to melt platinum at short range. With some bit of improvement, the Napoleonic Wars might have been fought with laser-like solar guns - if some revolutionaries did not execute Lavoisier under the charge of treason.
  • This is roughly how Concentrated Solar Power systems work: use mirrors to focus a lot of sunlight into a small area, use the resulting heat/high temperatures to generate electricity.
  • One of Those Wacky Nazis' insane wunderwaffen projects was a contrivance known as the Sonnengehwer ("Sun Gun"), a gigantic orbital reflector array made of metallic sodium that would be used to incinerate enemy cities. Obviously it never got off the ground.


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