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Any failed science experiment or invention will result in some form of explosion.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
DragonQuestZ on May 17th 2012 at 10:48:50 AM
Last Edited By:
Arivne on Oct 4th 2017 at 9:38:59 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

If someone tries to make a cool new device, make some chemical concoction, magical or alchemical spell, etc., and such an attempt fails (or is sabotaged by a rival or prankster), then the failure will result in a comical explosion, with a cloud of smoke, and ash on someone's face.

This tends to happen even if the device/concoction doesn't have any agents that can cause an explosion. Basically anything involved in these will be Made of Explodium somehow.

Science is not inherently dangerous when properly prepared, but many scientists in fiction fail to wear things like safety goggles or crash helmets. Luckily, this trope is typically Played for Laughs, so Ash Face is the worst of their worries, whereas death or dismemberment could be a potential consequence in real life experiments. Explosions aren't harmless, despite what a certain trope would lead us to believe.

See Don't Try This at Home.

A Sub-Trope of both Artistic License Physics and Rule of Funny.

A Sister Trope to Disastrous Demonstration (and is often a result of those demonstrations), Readings Blew Up the Scale, Explosive Instrumentation (both are devices blowing up for other reasons), Explosive Overclocking. Oft times used to Trash the Set.

Compare Awesomeness Is Volatile, Gone Horribly Wrong, and Epic Fail.


Anime And Manga

Film

  • In What's Up, Doc?, Judy recalls how she accidentally blew up a school chemistry lab. Howard though she was part of the student protest movements, but she said she was just taking a class there.
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Charley Bucket's science teacher has him help mix nitric acid, glycerine and a special mixture of his own to create a wart remover. Do you know what you get when you mix nitric acid and glycerine together? You get nitroglycerine. The mixture explodes but only creates a lot of smoke. With the amount they mixed together, in Real Life it could have leveled the entire building.
  • In Young Tom Edison, after mixing a bunch of chemicals, Tom accidentally re-invents nitroglycerin and has to get it off a moving train before it explodes.
  • The beginning of the original The Nutty Professor, the one with Jerry Lewis, may qualify. Prof. Kelp blows up his lab and gets chewed out.
  • At the end of Flubber, Robin Williams's character is getting married via video screen as he continues his experiments. He mixes two smoking chemicals together assuring his bride that "there is no chance, that anything could go wroooonnnngggg!!" as his house explodes. Again.

Literature

  • About halfway through the Malloreon, Garion, Belgarath, and Beldin are visiting the College of Alchemy in Mallorea. Explosions are so common the building was reinforced to handle them.
  • Discworld. The alchemist's guild in Ankh Morpork blows up with such regularity, people aren't even alarmed anymore.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: Lampshaded with the smoke test in Falling Free of the one-off replacement vortex mirror on the super-jumper.
    His quaddies moved fast. Within minutes the vortex mirror was fitted into its insulated clamps, its alignment checked. "All right, gang. Let's move back and let Ti run the smoke test."
    "Smoke test?" Ti's voice came over the com. "What's that? I thought you wanted a ten-percent power-up."
    "It's an ancient and honorable term for the final step in any engineering project," Leo explained. "Turn it on, see if it smokes."

Live-Action TV

  • The Big Bang Theory, episode 22 of the third season "The Staircase Implementation", a series of flashbacks to sometime before the series began, shows Leonard explains to Penny the story of why the elevator in their building has been out of order since before she moved in. As it turns out, Leonard was testing an experimental rocket fuel in a giant model rocket that he was going to launch with his buddies. Sheldon realizes the chemistry is unstable and quickly moves the smoldering rocket into the elevator where it promptly explodes moments after the door closes. This lead to a change of heart for Leonard who felt indebted to Sheldon for saving his life.
  • Invoked trope in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Bounty", where Dr Lee is giving a "demonstration" of a new device to the wider scientific community not in on The Masquerade and has rigged it to short out, smoke and spark, to make believe it is a highly temperamental prototype and not something they stole wholesale from Aliens.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40K: Any ork teknology, since to them a good explosion and the ensuing destruction is just as desirable an outcome as the intended use. Their heavy use of Tim Taylor Technology doesn't hurt either.
  • Champions supplement The Blood and Dr. McQuark. Dr. McQuark is an absent minded scientist/inventor. The first time the PCs visit his laboratory, there's a minor explosion caused by one of McQuark's experiments/inventions.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition. Module L1 The Secret of Bone Hill. The PCs can find a number of potions that had been experimentally mixed together. Under the standard rules, mixing potions together could cause an explosion.
  • In Genius: The Transgression this is the safest thing a wonder can do when it malfunctions (which can happen if it's damaged or if a mere mortal gets too close and starts pointing out that it shouldn't work).
  • Forgot in Magic: The Gathering in the Ravnica expansion the Izzet Guild has a huge amount of explosions.

Video Games

  • Gadgeteer Genius Li Kohran of Sakura Taisen often makes devices that blow up instead of working.
  • In Anno 2070, anytime your laboratories are building something, there's a set chance of them spontaneously blowing up, setting the whole building on fire and (sometimes) spreading disease throughout the nearby area. This is true even when they're working on things you generally wouldn't expect to be particularly combustible, like a water-filter - or maybe some firefighting gear...
  • This is part of game mechanic in Deadlands, especially in the simplified Savage Worlds edition (the first edition had way more fun and destructive ways for inventions to malfunction).
  • Pajama Sam: No Need To Hide When It's Dark Outside had a mad scientist's laboratory room with a bench containing color chemicals. A recipe book displayed all the spell combinations, but if a three-color permutation that wasn't in the book would be mixed, the result was harmless Ash Face, which Sam would wipe off with his cape and remark that he should have read the instructions.
  • League of Legends: The Blast Zone skin for Heimerdinger, a Magitek Einstein, has had some contraption blow up in his face. Complete with Ash Face.
  • Half-Life
    • The basic plot element at the beginning. A failed experiment causes the test chamber to explode, in what is termed a "resonance cascade".
    • Later in the game, a scientist and security guard are overheard discussing a new type of gun the scientist developed, called the Tau Cannon. The scientist warns the guard that the gun has a possibility of overloading, when suddenly there's an explosion, killing both and blowing out a wall.
  • Professor Layton and the Unwound Future: The time machine explodes both times it is powered on. Lives are affected. The case in the present was intentional, making this an invoked trope.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • In the opening of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987), Dontello's elaborate device turns out to accidentally be a rocket launcher.
  • Jonny Quest TOS episode "The Invisible Monster". Dr. Isaiah Norman is conducting experiments with energy and mass. The process gets away from him and a large explosion occurs. Dr. Norman finds out too late that the explosion is the least of his worries.
  • The Simpsons
    • When Homer decided to become an inventor, there's a big explosion. Description from snpp.com:
    Down in the basement, Homer works out a few equations on the chalkboard, hammers, saws, welds, and finally blows up the basement. Walking over to a chart, he changes a "greater than" sign to a "less than" sign, and goes back to work. Later, a much bigger explosion rocks the house; walking over to the chalkboard, he erases a stick of dynamite from his schematics.
    • Another Simpsons example occurs in the episode where Bart is mistaken for a child genius, in which he blows up the school during a chemistry lesson.
    • There's an episode where Homer manages to make cereal catch on fire, just by pouring milk, does that count?
  • In the second act of the Mr. Bogus episode "Babysitting Bogus", Bogus is dressed up as a chemistry professor on TV where he is preparing to pour one chemical into another beaker. When he does so, however, this causes an explosion that destroys the interior of the laboratory.
  • An episode of Phineas and Ferb has the title characters working on rockets. Each time they try and fail, a major explosion, accompanied with stock footage from the 50's wipes out the backyard and most of their clothes and, each time, they go back to their chalkboard and modify their equations.
  • Happens pretty often in Dexter's Laboratory.

Real Life

  • Alfred Nobel is a serious example - before he got the formula for dynamite right, his brother died in a lab explosion.
  • Building bombs and other devices intended to explode. The failure here being the bomb detonating while in its stages of development.
  • A practical way of making guncotton (the first smokeless propellant/explosive found) was discovered when Christian Friedrich Schönbein spilled nitric acid and sulfuric acid in the kitchen. He dried it up with his wife's apron, and left it to dry near the fire. Shortly, he had a violent and spontaneous combustion.


Feedback: 77 replies

May 17th 2012 at 2:41:38 PM

Just wondering as you mention Made Of Explodium... do examples like experimental cooking (Lethal Chef is optional) fit as those of experimental cooking?

May 17th 2012 at 4:02:26 PM

The alchemist's guild in Ankh Morpork blows up with such regularity, people aren't even alarmed anymore.

May 17th 2012 at 4:14:10 PM

Forgot in Magic The Gathering in the Ravnica expansion the Izzet Guild has a huge amount of explosions.

May 17th 2012 at 7:10:45 PM

I love the trope name and I've seen it a million times. I wonder if examples where the experiment simply catches fire or smolders incessantly count too?

Anyway, a smolder and actual explosion example:

- Live action television: The "Big Bang Theory", season 3 episode 22 The "Staircase Implementation". In a series of flashbacks to a point before the series began, Leonard explains to Penny the story of why the elevator in their building has been out of order since before she moved in. As it turns out, Leonard was testing an experimental rocket fuel in a giant model rocket that he was going to launch with his buddies. Sheldon realizes the chemistry is unstable and quickly moves the smoldering rocket into the elevator where it promptly explodes moments after the door closes. This lead to a change of heart for Leonard who felt indebted to Sheldon for saving his life.

May 17th 2012 at 7:36:43 PM

May 17th 2012 at 7:38:44 PM

May 17th 2012 at 7:46:04 PM

This happened to Yolei in an episode of Digimon Adventure 02.

May 17th 2012 at 10:29:14 PM

  • Played For Drama in Baccano, messing around with a chemistry set ends up getting Nice a lost eye and a lot of burn scars for her trouble.

May 18th 2012 at 1:20:29 AM

I assume this includes failed magical/alchemical experiments? If so, that could be added to the description.

Film

  • Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. Charley Bucket's science teacher has him help mix nitric acid, glycerine and a special mixture of his own to create a wart remover. Do you know what you get when you mix nitric acid and glycerine together? You get nitroglycerine. The mixture exploded but only created a lot of smoke. With the amount they mixed together it could have leveled the entire building.

Tabletop RPG

  • Champions supplement the Blood and Dr. McQuark. Dr. McQuark is an absent minded scientist/inventor. The first time the PCs visit his laboratory there's a minor explosion caused by one of McQuark's experiments/inventions.
  • Dungeons And Dragons 1st Edition. Module L1 The Secret of Bone Hill. The PCs could find a number of potions that had been experimentally mixed together. Under the standard rules, mixing potions together could cause an explosion.

Western Animation

  • Jonny Quest TOS episode "The Invisible Monster". Dr. Isaiah Norman is conducting experiments with energy and mass. The process gets away from him and a large explosion occurs. Dr. Norman finds out too late that the explosion is the least of his worries.

Web Comics

May 18th 2012 at 9:25:01 AM

Alfred Nobel is a serious example - before he got the formula for dynamite right, his brother died in a lab explosion.

May 18th 2012 at 10:02:38 AM

  • The Simpsons: When Homer decided to become an inventor, there's a big explosion. Description from snpp.com:
    Down in the basement, Homer works out a few equations on the chalkboard, hammers, saws, welds, and finally blows up the basement. Walking over to a chart, he changes a "greater than" sign to a "less than" sign, and goes back to work. Later, a much bigger explosion rocks the house; walking over to the chalkboard, he erases a stick of dynamite from his schematics.
  • In the film Young Tom Edison After mixing a bunch of chemicals Tom accidentally re-invents Nitroglycerin and has to get it off a moving train before it explodes.

May 18th 2012 at 10:06:34 AM

Another Simpsons example occurs in the episode where Bart is mistaken for a child genius, in which he blows up the school during a chemistry lesson.

May 18th 2012 at 12:22:34 PM

I don't know if this should count working with actual explosives. This is more when it explodes "just because".

May 18th 2012 at 4:56:15 PM

In Anno 2070, anytime your laboratories are building something, there's a set chance of them spontaneously blowing up, setting the whole building on fire and (sometimes) spreading disease throughout the nearby area. This is true even when they're working on things you generally wouldn't expect to be particularly combustible, like a water-filter - or maybe some firefighting gear...

May 19th 2012 at 12:04:48 AM

The beginning of the original The Nutty Professor, the one with Jerry Lewis, may qualify. Prof. Kelp blows up his lab and gets chewed out.

Aug 19th 2013 at 2:57:55 PM

This is part of game mechanic in Deadlands, especially in the simplified Savage Worlds edition (the first edition had way more fun and destructive ways for inventions to malfunction).

Aug 19th 2013 at 4:38:29 PM

I'd like to add a comment about this trope: if science is so dangerous, then why do so many scientists fail to wear things like safety goggles, or crash helmets? Luckily, since many of them are cartoon characters, Ash Face would be the most of their worries, instead of things like death or dismemberment. Explosions aren't harmless, despite what a certain trope would lead us to believe.

Just something that bothers me that Science Is Unsafe, because in the real world, science is supposed to be very safe if you prepare beforehand and know what you're doing. See also Dont Try This At Home.

Aug 19th 2013 at 4:50:20 PM

Video Game example:

  • Pajama Sam: No Need To Hide When It's Dark Outside had a mad scientist's laboratory room with a bench containing color chemicals. A recipe book displayed all the spell combinations, but if a three-color permutation that wasn't in the book would be mixed, the result was harmless Ash Face, which Sam would wipe off with his cape and remark that he should have read the instructions.

Aug 19th 2013 at 6:05:10 PM

^ On that note, would it be more clear to call this When Science Fails It Explodes?

Aug 19th 2013 at 8:26:06 PM

May I point out that explosions are very visual? In other words, they make the failure graphically clear, which is rather useful in visual media.

Aug 19th 2013 at 8:40:51 PM

^ That is a good point. In a couple days, I'll work on Rolling Updates, which will incorporate that into the description.

Aug 19th 2013 at 9:28:12 PM

^ The current title is shorter and more concise. :P

Aug 19th 2013 at 9:50:55 PM

Subverted in the very first scene in Futari Wa Pretty Cure, which introduced Nagisa and Honoka. Though Honoka's experiment does result in an explosion, the results are just as she had predicted.

Aug 20th 2013 at 8:44:56 AM

Western Animation

  • In the second act of the Mr Bogus episode "Babysitting Bogus", Bogus is dressed up a chemistry professor on TV where he is preparing to pour one chemical into another beaker. When he does so, however, this causes an explosion that destroys the interior of the laboratory.

Aug 20th 2013 at 9:18:31 AM

^^^^ "The current title is shorter and more concise."

I'd still like a title to make it clear that the explosion is rarely justified other than "that's what science does".

Aug 20th 2013 at 10:43:05 AM

Literature: about halfway through the Malloreon, Garion, Belgarath, and Beldin are visiting the College of Alchemy in Mallorea. Explosions are so common the building was reinforced to handle them.

Aug 20th 2013 at 12:04:05 PM

Webcomics

  • Happens somewhat regularly in Girl Genius and is implied to happen very often to new "sparks" (mad scientist geniuses).

Aug 21st 2013 at 1:50:27 PM

Similar to the Simpsons example, an episode of Phineas And Ferb has the title characters working on rockets. Each time they try and fail, a major explosion, accompanied with stock footage from the 50's wipes out the backyard and most of their clothes, and each time, they go back to their chalkboard and modify their equations.

Aug 21st 2013 at 2:34:00 PM

More drama:

Sep 4th 2013 at 10:19:13 PM

Sep 5th 2013 at 9:00:42 PM

...no chance of naming this in tribute to Scientific Progress Goes Boink, I suppose? e.g. Scientific Failure Goes Boom? (Mostly wishful thinking on my part.)

Sep 5th 2013 at 10:46:06 PM

^ Context for the first title please.

Sep 6th 2013 at 12:09:17 AM

  • There's a Simpsons episode where Homer manages to make cereal catch on fire, just by pouring milk, does that count? Also this League Of Super Redundant Heroes strip, with a similar gag.
  • Warhammer 40 K: Any ork teknology, since to them a good explosion and the ensuing destruction is just as desirable an outcome as the intended use. Their heavy use of Tim Taylor Technology doesn't hurt either.
  • At the end of Flubber, Robin William's character is getting married via video screen as he continues his experiments. He mixes two smoking chemicals together assuring his bride that "there is no chance, that anything could go wroooonnnngggg!!" as his house explodes. Again.

^ Scientific Progress Goes Boink is a line by Hobbes, where Calvin's duplicator machine goes 'boink' when the button is pressed.

Sep 6th 2013 at 8:50:23 AM

Anime and Manga:

PS, I love "Scientific Failure Goes Boom"!

Sep 6th 2013 at 8:58:47 AM

Invoked trope in the Stargate SG 1 episode "Bounty", where Dr Lee is giving a "demonstration" of a new device to the wider scientific community not in on The Masquerade and has rigged it to short out, smoke and spark, to make believe it is a highly temperamental prototype and not something they stole wholesale from Aliens.

Oct 31st 2013 at 5:33:33 AM

  • The basic plot element at the beginning of Half Life. A failed experiment causes the test chamber to explode, in what is termed a "resonance cascade".
    • Later in the game, a scientist and security guard are overheard discussing a new type of gun the scientist developed, called the Tau Cannon. The scientist warns the guard that the gun has a possibility of overloading, when suddenly there's an explosion, killing both and blowing out a wall.

Oct 31st 2013 at 1:41:50 PM

Nov 1st 2013 at 12:05:37 AM

I don't think Science is the correct word. Failed Inventions Explode seems right. Experiments could be anything from weather experiments to psychological experiments and don't strictly pertain to inventing.

Nov 1st 2013 at 10:03:30 AM

Real life example - Rocket science. More often than not, when there's something wrong, the whole thing explodes.

Nov 1st 2013 at 11:21:36 AM

^ That's really not "more often than not".

Nov 1st 2013 at 12:53:09 PM

Literature:

  • Vorkosigan Saga: Lampshaded with the smoke test in Falling Free of the one-off replacement vortex mirror on the super-jumper.
    His quaddies moved fast. Within minutes the vortex mirror was fitted into its insulated clamps, its alignment checked. "All right, gang. Let's move back and let Ti run the smoke test."
    "Smoke test?" Ti's voice came over the com. "What's that? I thought you wanted a ten-percent power-up."
    "It's an ancient and honorable term for the final step in any engineering project," Leo explained. "Turn it on, see if it smokes."

Real Life:

  • A practical way of making guncotton (the first smokeless propellant/explosive found) was discovered when Christian Friedrich Schönbein spilled nitric acid and sulfuric acid in the kitchen. He dried it up with his wife's apron, and left it to dry near the fire. Shortly, he had a violent and spontaneous combustion.

Nov 1st 2013 at 4:42:04 PM

Mythbusters, anyone? ("Did I just lose an eyebrow?")

Nov 1st 2013 at 9:59:24 PM

@chobal: fixed

@nlpnt: can you name an example?

Dec 31st 2014 at 8:30:54 PM

Not quite an explosion, but in Kikis Delivery Service Kiki's mother (a witch) is concocting some sort of potion. She gets distracted, which causes the potion to discolor and give off a puff of smoke, which probably indicates that whatever magic was present has discharged. See before and after.

Jan 1st 2015 at 5:42:31 AM

Here is a Muppets example. Not sure which category it belongs in (live-action TV?):

  • This sketch from The Muppet Show involves an old scientist repeatedly making potions to restore his youth. The final potion results in a small explosion, and when the smoke clears it's shown that the scientist is old again.

Jan 1st 2015 at 6:17:49 AM

In the 2014 version of The Flash, an attempt to get the first particle accelerator working in Central City failed, which resulted in an explosion that led to the creation of metahumans.

Jan 1st 2015 at 9:32:39 AM

^ Not this trope. It can't have major consequences.

Jan 1st 2015 at 10:20:54 AM

^ what, you saying that this can't be Played For Drama?

Jul 9th 2015 at 11:16:39 AM

Five hats ... is this launchable?

Jul 9th 2015 at 5:03:41 PM

The last time I suggested this it was pretty much a Zero Context Example, so let me try this again:

  • Happens pretty often in Dexters Laboratory, usually as a result of Dee Dee's antics. In particular, any concoction that has an incorrect ingredient put into it WILL explode immediately or shortly after.

Jul 10th 2015 at 4:58:04 AM

Jul 10th 2015 at 6:17:10 AM

Remove the "Does that count?" from the third Simpsons example. Either it counts and should be left as an example or it doesn't and remove the example completely.

Jul 10th 2015 at 3:17:36 PM

I don't care that this already has 5 hats, I love this idea so much that I'm adding a 6th one! (Edit: Oh. Looks like I can't add a 6th one. Well, I would if I could.)

Jul 10th 2015 at 3:26:20 PM

Video Games:

  • In Episode 2 of Life Is Strange, Warren has a science project in which he has to decide what chemical to add to a solution: Sodium or potassium. If Max suggests sodium, he'll pour it in and nothing will happen; if potassium, it will spark; if Max says "a shitload of potassium", the blast will almost knock Warren out of his chair. (If Max finds out from the teacher that the correct answer is chlorine, she can suggest chlorine to Warren. The mixture reacts, but is harmless and unspectacular.)

Also, the Dexter's Lab one is a complete ZCE.

Sep 14th 2017 at 8:08:55 AM

YKTTW Bump this one looks like it's ready for launch almost but just... didn't

Sep 15th 2017 at 8:20:13 AM

In The Sims 3, Sims can get set on fire or just "singed" (basically the Ash Face trope applied to a Sim's entire body) if they fail at the potions-making set or the inventor's station.

Sep 15th 2017 at 3:55:18 AM

Web Original - Literature.Whateley Universe: Devises, devices powered by Magic Powered Psuedoscience, have a chance of exploding when the powers powering them, stop working.


Fanfic.Triptych Continuum: Students at the School for Gifted Unicorns, are known to constantly have explosive experiments as said in Luna's Lottery Lunacy.

Literature.Harry Potter: Ron's wand blows up when he casts a spell wrong? Or something? Might be wrong...

Sep 16th 2017 at 12:39:56 AM

Technically, this is Successful Science Explodes, but squirrel-girls are involved, so ...

Webcomics

  • The Gadgeteer Genius squirrel-girls from Sequential Art strip #674 create a toy spring that can tumble up stairs as well as down, and travel on the ceiling due to Techno Babble about gaining energy rather than losing it. The toy coil explodes when housepet Leonard tries to suppress it. Kat Vance has to bawl out Amber in the next strip: "Stop building things that explode!"

Sep 16th 2017 at 3:45:11 AM

This is usually justified 'cause high energies usually mean more explosive failures?

Sep 16th 2017 at 2:08:32 PM

I think this is meant as a visual cue: The Dud Goes Boom is to Hollywood Science the way the Losing Horn is to Game Shows. Science abhors an abomination, and gets rid of it as spectacularly as possible.

Sep 16th 2017 at 2:38:10 PM

On the cover of an Archie comic book / digest:

Archie: Gosh, what blew up?
Mr. Flutesnoot: Your chances of a passing grade in chemistry.

Sep 16th 2017 at 7:44:17 PM

In Earthbound Beginnings, Lloyd takes Ninten to the science room of Twinkle Elementary to conduct an experiment using the bottle rocket that Ninten brought him, which fails and results in it exploding, leaving the room in shambles.

Sep 17th 2017 at 11:39:29 PM

Zero Context Examples and Weblinks Are Not Examples have been marked as such. They need more information to show how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.

Sep 17th 2017 at 7:35:53 AM

Sep 28th 2017 at 3:46:54 PM

  • This happens in the Sims 3 ambitions expansion when a failure occurs at the workbench, setting the sim on fire. If firemen don't extinguish them in time, this can prove lethal.

Sep 28th 2017 at 5:41:45 PM

I'd say get a rename before launching, since the current title's kinda bland. "Explosive Results", perhaps?

Oct 4th 2017 at 9:38:59 AM

How is this not a trope yet? It shows up so often in media and it's so blatant (i.e. only a few science experiments would realistically run the risk of exploding) thatI'm suprised we don't have this yet.

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