A friend has married abroad. Soon after, after-wedding party invitations flew in. A bunch of friends and I grouped up to collect for a present. At some point, we decided, screw presents, because you rarely find something one might actually like or want. Quickly it was decided, we'll be gifting money.
But sure as hell, there's gonna be a catch...
The idea came quickly, as unoriginal as it was, since it probably has been done to death. In some form, anyway. We'll get a load of coins and encase them in a cube of something. Everyone agreed and was happy about it.
But in what? Concrete? Hell no, while the easiest way out for making the encasement, the guy might actually call it quits trying to get the coins out. Especially if he'll postpone it and lets the concrete dry even more. And it was been done often enough. The next idea was salt. You could make it look like one of those silly salt lamps. But screw that, too, because salt has a melting point of like 800°C. Kinda impractical. Next up was ballistic gel. Too expensive. The runner up was something called Agar Agar. I don't know what the hell it is, but if you'll ask a vegetarian, he'll probably be able to tell you. But we've been told they also use that stuff in petri dishes. So it was disqualified for impracticality, too, because we didn't want mold growing on it over night. Then we figured, sugar would be nice. Since you can turn it into caramel, which is pretty hard when cold.
So it was decided. One night, we did a little prototype. Some square tubing did the trick. That was what came of it:
Thanks to some beer, we started brainstorming a bit. The proto-cube kinda looked nice on that stainless steel plate. Thus we decided, it needs to have a pedestal, which would also make it easier to transport. We were also pretty surprised how translucent it ended up, even if the picture doesn't show. We wanted to check the internal structure due to cracks that formed, thanks to a nearby flashlight and some more beer, it was decided that it's going to be a goddamn lamp. To illuminate all coins in the cube. By putting a bunch of LEDs in the bottom.
After deciding on some proportions, trying to be dorky, a CGI version was attempted. It was next to impossible to figure out the translucency of caramel. Apparently no one cares about that sort of information. After a lot of Googling, we stumbled upon some values and put them in. Then we let it render using some "physically based renderer". If it's "physically accurate" as it claims, our lamp idea looked less feasible. Anyway, here's the stupid concept render:
As you'll notice, the coins are barely visible or even illuminated.
It was going to become a 30x30x30cm cube of sugar on a 40x40x5cm stainless steel pedestal. The measurements of the cube result in 27 liters. Thanks to Wikipedia we found out that the density of sugar is 1.6kg per liter. That means we'd need a little more than 43kg of sugar. One kilo of sugar has 4000kcal, at least that's what it says on the packaging.
Well, here it is:
One of us works in metal construction, so he made the pedestal, including LEDs. And the walls to pour the crap in. The tape means nothing, the walls were tack-welded. There's a bunch of plexiglass tubes on the LEDs. It was improvised during construction as a temperature protection (see later) and to transport the light away from the pedestal. And there's a bunch of screws to hold the cube in place, altho the prototype proved that caramel sticks like hell.
During the research, if you could call that, we found out that the color of the resulting caramel, when melting sugar, depends on the temperature. Staying below 140-145°C is supposed to keep it relatively clear altho golden. This is a good thing to know, since it was still supposed to be a lamp. We proceeded to scientifically determine the setting we should run the induction hob at:
With that done, lets start melting sugar:
Jesus Christ, it's barely melting. Goddamn it! Up the power!
Okay, that's better. Sadly, it began to darken more than we'd like. And there's lot of entrapped air in the soup. Ah well, it's half improvised, so things will not go as wished. Anyway, it's melted, let's start building the cube.
The liquid should have a guesstimated 160°C, if not hotter. We were worried that our LEDs would break under that stress. Turns out not so.
Wheeeee, they still work.
Anyway, we put another pot on the hob and started melting more sugar.
At a certain level, we let it stay a little to cool and lose some energy. Then we dropped some coins into it. They reached the bottom pretty quickly. The idea was to layer them in. The caramel didn't however lose heat quickly enough to lose some viscosity. So it required an industrial cooling solution.
Turned out later on that this didn't really help. We decided to continue to fill the cube, and drop the coins in at a later point, when it looked like the viscosity was lowering.
Packages were being emptied...
The form was filling up...
At this point, I had to go on my nightshift, and there's no pictures of this. It's not like anything exciting was going to happen anymore. It took almost three hours to fill it up to the point in the picture above. During this we overboiled one pot however, which required cleaning up the hob, so time was lost there. Another hour, and it was full. It was left cooling off for an hour, until my friends lost temper and dropped the coins into it.
Then it was left to cool off two days. It actually took that long, because after 24 hours, it was still pretty warm.
This is what it looked today:
A dremel was applied to remove the tack-welds. Then we removed the wall plating. It came off pretty quickly, which was surprising, because we expected to have to heat it with a torch first. It broke some of the edges, tho.
The glass like aggregate we expected never came to be. The part of it being a lamp turned out to be a massive failure. A 250lumen LED flashlight barely managed to shine through even the edges. Ah well.
This is the end result:
We don't know where the money ended up. Seeing the different layers, we hope it isn't on the bottom.
I hope our friend will have a nice time picking this apart. He could break off pieces and put it in his coffee, hoping to net an Euro out of it every time. Or put it in the shower or bathroom, under running water, making a whole damn mess of the room and drain. Or he could hose it off in his garden, ensuring multiple ant colonies. Anything involving water will sure as hell result in a big damn mess, as we noticed when cleaning up the hob after the screw up, as well as cleaning the pots.
Well, at this point, it won't be our problem anymore. We still didn't figure out what the hell we were doing, either.
--edit: Posting the pictures of him taking it apart later, it gets appended to this and maxes out amount of images.
Edited by John S., 13 February 2012 - 20:52. Reason: properly tagged