Honey, Where’d You Put My Death Ray?

By Derek Clark
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

BZZZT! That was the sound I heard just before yelping like a little schoolgirl and grabbing my earlobe in pain. The next sound was the giggle of my five-year-old son.

“This is my death ray, daddy!” he said, pointing his little index finger with the thumb still cocked at me. Apparently, his older brother had taught him about the electric superpower bestowed upon all those rocking footed pajamas on carpet during winter.

Before my muscles could unclench and retaliate, the little jerk ran off to share his new-found ability with his mother. As an expletive rang out in the distance, I began to worry about a possible repeat attack. What if he comes back? What if he joins forces with his brother? What if he recruits his friends? What if he comes at me with an entire army of five-year-olds? How would I defend myself? The obvious answer being… with a real death ray!

Granted, I would never blast my own kids with it (don’t be ridiculous). But I don’t know those other death-dealing kindergartners from Adam. So those kids are fair game.

But where does one find a good death ray these days? Surely in the 21st century it must be the weapon of choice for all respectable gang members and Ted Nugent.

Unfortunately, after a few awkward calls to local gun shops, I knew I was going to have to dig a little deeper.

It seems the first historical account of an actual death ray being used was by the Greeks fending off the Romans during the Siege of Syracuse around 214–212 B.C.E. The Greek sage Archimedes is said to have used a series of mirrors to focus sunlight into a searing beam that set the approaching Roman ships on fire. Although there’s debate about whether this actually happened, the reality is that I don’t own a fanny pack large enough to carry around 50-plus mirrors in the event of an attack. Better keep digging.

When it comes to 20th century death rays, many inventors made lofty claims but there was really only one badass believed to be strapping heat – Nikola Tesla. In between nerd fights with Thomas Edison, Tesla found time to develop a concept that involved using high-voltage current to accelerate a narrow stream of particles (tungsten or mercury) to a velocity of about 48 times the speed of sound, producing a concentrated beam of minute projectiles. He claimed this method of ‘teleforce’ could melt airplane motors at a distance of 250 miles. Now we’re talking! I could take out a whole city of munchkins with that thing.

Unfortunately, Tesla never got his government funding and the FBI took possession of all of his papers after his death. Eventually, once the world got better at blowing stuff up through more traditional means (see: Atomic Bomb), interest in the death ray dwindled.

Recent attempts at developing laser-based, microwave-based and plasma-based weapons have proven to be impractical for combat situations. For now, power constraints and bulky designs keep the idea of a handheld death ray firmly planted in the pages of science fiction.


So, now I’m left with no death ray and an impending horde of statically charged toddlers wielding tiny fingers of fury arriving at any moment. Excuse me, while I go put on my footed Spider-Man pajamas.

[Death Ray Picture Source: Wired]