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Plunger Detonator

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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  Weapon of choice for a Dastardly Whiplash. Notably, some satchel charges are actually triggered by detonators like these, at least when they aren't shot at or being triggered through a wick and trigger system.


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  • In at least one Federated Superstores commercial from the 1980's, Fred Rated (Shadoe Stevens) uses one.
  • In The '70s 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 catchphrase "Dy-no-mite!"
  • One Wilkins Coffee ad has Wilkins blow up Wontkins in this manner.
    Wilkins: You know, people who don't drink Wilkins coffee just blow up sometimes.
    Wontkins: Ah, that's a load of... (Wilkins blows him up before he can finish his sentence)
    Wilkins: See what I mean?

    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.
  • An early Cattivik story from Bonvi had the titular character trying to blow up a shop with some dynamite and a plunger detonator, but accidentally mistakes the bomb's plunger with the one of an air pump for a nearby bike. When he finally realize the mistakes, he laughs over it... only to accidentally lean on the real detonator, blowing himself up.
  • Tintin: In Destination Moon, a plunger detonator is used to remotely destroy the rocket X-FLR6 when its radio control is captured by spies.
  • In the Spirou & Fantasio short story "La peur au bout du fil" (Fear at the end of the wire), the "fear" in the title is caused by the discovery of the "wire", with such a detonator on one end... which means the other end must be a bomb. It's actually a bomb filled with the Count's metal-melting gas, and at the end of the story it's accidentally triggered by the marsupilami.

    Comic Strips 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Hellfighters. Used a few times throughout the movie when the team detonates their nitro barrels to snuff out oil well fires.
  • 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 Phantom (1943): The villains try to bury the heroes in an artificial landslide by setting off explosives on the mountainside above them, using one of these.
  • 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 their 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.
  • Born To Defense opens with a massive war scene during the Sino-Japanese war, where Chinese soldiers defending their border tries using one such detonator to blow up the advancing Japanese tank column. The PRC soldier attempting to use the detonator was killed before he could push it though, leading to the film's hero (played by a young Jet Li) to cross a flaming trench via Improvised Zipline and grab the plunger. It works.
  • Two bad guys attempt to use this on a bridge that the title 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 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.
  • Likewise in A Bridge Too Far. The Coconut Effect may apply here — as the explosives don't actually go off, it needs to be clear to the audience that the Germans are trying to set off explosives, but fail, hence the use of a more familiar detonator.
  • The protagonists use modern ones in Tremors 2: Aftershocks — 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.
  • In use on a film set in Free and Easy. Elmer, who is The Ditz, puts his foot on it and blows the charge prematurely, ruining the shoot.
  • 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 but accidentally prematurely detonates the dynamite when he tucks the detonator under his arm.
  • Joe in Without Warning (1980) 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.
  • Trail of the Pink Panther has a scene where a young Jacques Clouseau is using one while he was a member of the French underground during World War II. Typical of Clouseau, it doesn't work right.
  • In the Woody Allen comedy Sleeper, there's a Running Gag involving a laser cannon that's fired using a plunger detonator. Each time part of the weapon is destroyed, instead of what's in front of it.
  • The Rock Riders use one to blow the canyon in Mad Max: Fury Road. Justified as the Scavenger World is full of pre-digital technology as it holds up better in the harsh conditions. It's also a distant shot, so as per The Coconut Effect the plunging motion is used to make it clear to the audience what is happening.
  • The Desert Rats: The raid on the German ammo dump nearly goes horribly wrong when the Aussie soldier charged with pushing the plunger detonator is shot dead before he gets the chance. Major MacRoberts has to leap out of the truck and do it himself.
  • Street Fight: In this documentary, Newark Mayor Sharpe James and others push down a ceremonial Plunger Detonator, followed by the explosive demolition of a decrepit old public housing building.
  • In A Fistful of Dynamite, the demolitions expert Mallory uses it a few times.
  • In High Plains Invaders, the heroes use a plunger detonator to set of all the dynamite simultaneously when they attempt to kill all the Bugs at the same time.
  • Death Race 2000. When the Resistance tries to blow up Frankenstein's car using mines, they explode the mines with a plunger detonator.
  • A non-explosive version occurs in the teaser of Live and Let Die. A British Secret Service agent stationed in the United Nations building is killed when someone unplugs his translator and replaces it with a plunger device that sends a deadly sound to his head. Incidentally the climax does involve Stuff Blowing Up, but activated by Time Bombs.
  • Recycled In Space with Forbidden Planet. The Self-Destruct Mechanism is activated by turning a disc, causing a long rod to rise from the floor which is then pushed down to activate the 24 hour timer.
  • Averted in The Lighthorsemen (1987) when a switchboard of Big Electric Switches is used by the Turkish/German force trying to blow up the wells at Beersheba before the Australians can capture them intact. This is to create suspense as the German officer throws one switch after another trying to get the crucial one.
  • Another Australian World War One movie Beneath Hill 60 has both plunger detonator and knife switch being used to set off the massive mines that have been planted beneath the German trenches.
  • Spice World: The "explosives expert" Mel B uses one to blow up some buildings.

  • 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.
  • Charlie Wilson's War. The CIA's dirty tricks technician notes the Afghan's use of this trope reminds him of old cowboy movies, so rather than have them lug a heavy wooden box and plunger into the mountains, he develops an electronic blasting device that weighs only six ounces and is about the size of a Walkman.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Mythbusters use these occasionally, with an arming device for safety, but usually just go with a Big Red Button. Also used for the appropriately named Detonation Collection: the box is shaped like a plunger detonator, and the spine art of the DVD cases form red sticks of dynamite with a clock.
  • 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.
  • 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 (1966) 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.
  • In Little House on the Prairie, many of the buildings in Walnut Grove were thus destroyed.
  • Doctor Who.
    • A Regency-era villain uses a prochronistic Wimshurst machine with a plunger stuck on the top to set off explosives manually after the Doctor sabotages his Time Bomb.
    • Used in "The Pirate Planet", though it's not mentioned why the Doctor would have one in the first place.
  • The Crystal Maze had one game in the Aztec zone where the player had to fish plunger handles out of a river, then use them to detonate the entrance to a mine shaft.
  • A Whammy on Press Your Luck uses this to wipe out contestants' scores. The detonator blows up in the Whammy's face.
  • While only described and never seen on screen, the Only Fools and Horses episode "The Frog's Legacy" explains that gentleman thief Freddie "the frog" Robdal died when he sat on his own detonator. Given this was 1960s England, one can assume it was this type of detonator.

    Music Videos 
  • In Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock", the villain (played by Mark Metcalf, aka Niedermeyer) is planning to blow up the band during a concert. As he's planting the dynamite by Dee Snider's feet, a butterfly lands on the plunger handle, pushing it down and setting it off.
  • The squirrel in the Junior Senior video "Move Your Feet" uses one to blow up several items... and himself.
  • In Def Leppard's video for ''Pour Some Sugar On Me'', where the band perform the song in a house which is being assailed by determined women, who seem to want to make a point about the perceived gender politics of the song. They assail the building with sledgehammers and the room in which the band are performing is seen to disintegrate around them. A big beefy looking woman spits on her hands and takes a JCB with swinging demolition ball to the house. Finally she sets demolition charges and retreats to trigger the Plunger Detonator. There is an explosion... and then the band are seen alive and well outside despite the near miss...

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

    Puppet Shows 
  • On The Muppet Show and in all other Muppet media, Crazy Harry sets off explosions by pushing down on a silver plunger. In "Chanson D'Amour", Harry brought his onto the stage and set off explosions with every line he sung (culminating in him setting of an array of explosions while cackling madly), and in "Wild About Harry", he revealed an instrument he calls the explodophone, which is a series of plungers he pushes in time with the song to trigger explosions.

    Tabletop Games 

    Theme Parks 


    Video Games 
  • Afraid of Monsters: Getting through the sewers requires David to explore several rooms and hallways connected to them, eventually finding a plunger detonator on top of some shelving which sets off TNT in the main waterway, which punches a hole through the wall for David to swim through and continue on.
  • Battlefield: The TNT, dynamite, and exppacks all use a plunger detonator.
  • Enemy Front have you using one such detonator in the cutscene where you blow up a bridge sending an armored train into a ravine.
  • Used in the Half-Life demo, "Uplink", in the Half-Life: Blue Shift expansion, and used in the Half-Life: Opposing Force expansion to blow up an alien Gargantua.
  • 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.
  • Shadow Guardian has one of these in the first level, Luxor, and you trigger it by stepping on the plunger.
  • Three of the castle destruction Cut Scenes 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 Smurfs (1994).
  • The title characters from Worms remove themselves from the battlefield with one of these.
  • Silent Dragon: Occasionally in a few areas, you can find dynamite sticks strewn about, and a single plunger detonator in a corner. Pressing the attack button on the detonator will trigger the dynamites taking out multiple enemies all at once.
  • The minigame Bowser's Big Blast in Mario Party fits here. The minigame involves pressing down on a plunger detonator in hopes of picking one which doesn't blow up the Bowser head.
  • Medal of Honor:
    • 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. In a later level, Powell uses one to blow open a reinforced door in order to move deeper into Fort Schmerzen.
    • In Medal of Honor: Airborne, you use one to destroy a FlaK Tower in the final level. Prior to that, you are tasked with destroying one such detonator that the Germans plan on using to blow up Nijmegen bridge as one of your objectives.
  • One Cut Scene in the original Wing Commander, if you do well in the campaign, shows a group of Terran soldiers demolishing a Kilrathi base using one.
  • In the 4th Submachine game, The Lab, A used one shows up in one of the places you visit, surrounded by blood, soot, and bits of clothing. A note nearby explains that it was used in a vain attempt to blast open a locked hatch.
  • The cannons in Kirby Super Star sometimes have these hooked up to their fuses, allowing them to be triggered without a flame. Some of the 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.
  • Tomb Raider II features one near the end of Bartoli's Hideout, though Lara needs to find the key before she can use it.
  • The third Exmortis game requires the player to rig up explosives with this as the detonator, in order to blow open a subway station before a nuke levels the city you're in. Granted, the player can try using their telekinetic powers first, but it won't help.
  • In Terraria version 1.3 onwards, all explosive block traps are connected to an incredibly obvious one that is triggered by landing on top of one or activating one yourself, much to the relief of players. (Before this, they were triggered by hard-to-see pressure plates)
  • In the Edutainment Game Widget Workshop, one of the switch parts is an ACME Plunger Detonator. Like the light switch, it's triggered by having the player click on it; unlike other switches, it can only be turned on.
  • In Khimera: Destroy All Monster Girls four of them are hidden, their purpose is to blow up the obstacles that block the entrance of the optional stages on the world map.
  • Land of War - The Beginning sees you using one in the game's Downer Ending, to blow up yourself and the rest of the invading Germans.
  • The Nobelisk Detonator in Satisfactory is one of these, despite the fact that the Nobelisks themselves are futuristic wireless explosives. The detonator has to be equipped to place the Nobelisks, and multiple can be placed to set off simultaneously by "reloading" the detonator. If the player hits detonate immediately after a reload, the Pioneer will mash down the detonator with the Nobelisk in her hand... good thing Nobelisks don't arm until thrown.
  • These are used in Final Fantasy XIV to clear out piles of rubble in Copperbell Mines.
  • In Fallout 4, the icon for the endgame mission "The Nuclear Option" has Vault Boy pressing a plunger to set off an explosion at the ruins of CIT, and by extension the Institute. (The actual trigger and explosion are... significantly more complex.)
  • In Trakka, one of the built-in games packaged with Repton Infinity, your assistant "Kevin" can be pushed next to sticks of dynamite, which are then triggered by the player using a detonator.
  • In Red Dead Redemption II, the Van der Linde gang uses these detonators at several different points in the story, and Arthur is tasked with hooking them up to the explosives each time. Notably, when the gang first tries to use one to blow up the tracks beneath a train they intend to rob, the explosives fail to go off altogether.

    Web Comics 
  • In this strip of Dresden Codak, Kimiko's house is blown up using a plunger detonator. It's all the more remarkable as advanced Cyberpunk technology is otherwise available.
  • In Karate Bears: the hero rigs explosives and an election at the same time!
  • In Latchkey Kingdom, Ash's trap for the Titan is apparently triggered by having it step on a Plunger Detonator. We never get to see this, because Willa falls onto it first and nearly gets blown up.
  • A portable plunger detonator is how you explode your demolition charges in Unturned. The format makes it easy to recognize in the game's minimalistic art style.
  • Memorably used by Conquest-932 on The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids to destroy the Cupid Parliament building.

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

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes. A staple accessory of its characters.
    • Bugs Bunny short "The Windblown Hare". When The Big Bad Wolf huffs and puffs and blows at The Three Little Pigs' house of bricks, the house explodes. The camera pans right and show Bugs standing next to a plunger detonator. Bugs used it to blow up the house while he was offscreen.
    • Wile E Coyote And The Roadrunner episode "Zipping Along". The Coyote puts a pile of explosives behind a wall with a door in it. He sets up a plunger detonator so it will detonate the explosives when the door is opened. A truck comes around a bend and forces him to open the door to escape, blowing himself up. The Coyote would try several other tricks involving hand-detonated explosives over his series, resulting in mishaps such as the detonator exploding while the dynamite remains intact (shouldn't be possible), or the plunger dropping due to gravity and setting off the explosives while they're still being planted (unlikely, but this is why the safe way to use explosives includes not attaching the wires to the detonator until the bomb is in place and you are a safe distance away).
  • Jonny Quest TOS episode "The Quetong Missile Mystery". The guards use plunger detonators to detonate underwater mines to blow up intruding boats. At the end, the Big Bad, General Fong, suffers a Karmic Death when he shoots one of the guards, who falls on the detonator and explodes a mine under Fong's boat.
  • On The Simpsons Sideshow Bob's brother Cecil uses one of these to try to blow up Springfield Dam.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Mermaid Man & Barnacle Boy VI", Sandy blows up the duo with one of these every time someone says the word "boom."
    Sandy: Did somebody say boom? [detonates]
  • The Animated Adaptation of Tintin in America switches Bobby Smiles's box with buttons for such a detonator.
  • Winnie the Pooh's Gopher, as a miner, will often be seen with one of these and a whole lot of dynamite. On one occasion, Rabbit disguised it as a pogo stick in an attempt to stop Gopher from using it, and then somehow got tricked into using it himself.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: In "Hex Games", Vicky uses one to blow up a section of the skating ramp that Timmy is riding down.
  • Dick Dastardly uses one in the Wacky Races debut episode "See-Saw To Arkansas." It fails to detonate the dynamite he employs to block a pass and stall the other racers, so he runs over to the dynamite to see what went wrong. Muttley sees what it is: the wire leading from the detonator to the dynamite was severed, so he reconnects it. The dynamite subsequently blows up in Dastardly's face. Cue Muttley snicker and Dastardly's Dope Slap.
  • Dynomutt, Dog Wonder: Dynomutt sits on one in the intro.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Blasting Machine


The Video Nasty Family

The sight of Norman Tebbit and the rest of The Video Nasty Family drives moral guardian Mary Whitehouse to kill HAROLD ANGRYPERSON.

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