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National Lampoon’s … Chemistry Vacation?

Today’s post is from See Arr Oh, who finds chemistry lurking in a holiday classic. See Arr Oh is a chemist working in industry.

It’s that time of the year again! ‘Tis the season for snowflakes, gifts, and, of course, watching holiday movies.

Which one’s your favorite? Maybe Miracle on 34th Street, or Frosty the Snowman? For me, it’s always been National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Watching it again last week, I recalled, perhaps even subconsciously, one of the many reasons I like it so much.

At the core, it’s a Christmas movie about a wacky family man—who works in Chicago as a food chemist (well, “additive designer” according to the script).

That’s right. Look around Clark Griswold’s office in the film. See anything interesting? I see catchy product art, miniature swimming pools (the “last true family man”), and look, molecular models! Sadly, they appear to have been set up by an errant props person; I can’t think of any stable chemicals with a sulfur-bound peroxide, nor a stable N,O carbene!

Let’s delve deeper for more evidence of Clark’s chemistry connection. First, when he encounters his boss in the hallway, Clark gets complimented on a new “non-nutritive cereal varnish.” Clark himself refers to it as a “crunch enhancer.” What could this bonus-worthy product be? Perhaps a derivative of carnauba wax? Or a cyclodextrin? Could it be a soluble fiber, like Metamucil, that preserves the precious cereal flakes?

Second, the infamous silver saucer scene, which ends with Clark toppling into a Walmart dumpster. Remember the compound he smeared on the bottom of the saucer? A “noncaloric silicon-based kitchen lubricant,” which he claims is more slippery than cooking grease. Given the low friction coefficient with the snow cover, one suspects derivatized mineral oil, or maybe Clark has presaged the lotus-leaf-inspired superhydrophobic coatings developed recently.

Whether you watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for holiday joy, or for scientific enlightenment, we here at Newscripts hope you and your families have a wonderful holiday season. And please, if your sewer is glowing green or evolving strange gases, don’t let anyone light a match.

7 Comments

  • Dec 20th 201114:12
    by John Spevacek

    If it is “silicon-based”, then how can it be a “derivatized mineral oil”?

  • Dec 20th 201114:12
    by stewie griffin

    I watch this movie every year. Once I got into chemistry during my undergrad I started noticing the chemistry stuff. Now I always get a little extra chuckle each year.

  • Dec 21st 201101:12
    by Gabberhook

    Merry Christmas! Shitter’s full!

  • Dec 21st 201109:12
    by Bernie Windsor

    I have been telling my girl friend for years (who is a flavor chemist) that hand down CLARK GRISSWALL is the most famous of all in this industry.

  • Dec 21st 201109:12
    by Bernie Windsor

    What do you think the chemical properties are of what Cousin Eddie is putting into the sewer from his RV. I should have taken at least one chemistry course but it would have lowered my GPA into that dangerous D area and that can’t happen when you work so hard to keep the C level going.

  • Dec 21st 201122:12
    by See Arr Oh

    @John – Good catch. Should have said a polysiloxane derivative, maybe.

    @Stewie – That’s right where I am. I feel like I detect a new piece of science minutiae each year.

    @Gabberhook – Have you checked ours yet, honey? (To Beverly D’Angelo, in a Blackhawks jersey)

    @Bernie – RE: Sewer gas – the internet tells me that “older” chemical toilets used formaldehyde and bleach…along with the human-derived gases likely present. Fun stuff.

  • Jan 7th 201202:01
    by anasınıfı

    What do you think the chemical properties are of what Cousin Eddie is putting into the sewer from his RV. I should have taken at least one chemistry course but it would have lowered my GPA into that dangerous D area and that can’t happen when you work so hard to keep the C level going.

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