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Cook up a quick lesson:

What makes a microwave oven work?

What makes a microwave oven work?

July 12, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Two weeks ago I wrote a column about how crayons are made.

We asked readers to take a little quiz.

There were two questions: What were the eight colors in the original box of Crayola crayons, circa 1903? and What is George W. Bush's favorite crayon color?

Seventeen people e-mailed responses. Only four of the entrants had all the original colors and Bush's favorite color correct.

We drew a name at random from the correct four.

William Bulla of Hagerstown is the winner of the $25 prize.

Bulla says there's one advantage to being 78 years old - he remembers the original colors: black, brown, orange, violet, blue, green, red and yellow.

Crayola came out with a 48-color box of crayons in 1949. The 64-color box was introduced in 1958.

For those of you a tad younger than Bulla, the answers are available at www.crayola.com/colorcensus/history/chronology.cfm.

Bulla admits that he had to look up Bush's favorite color, blue bell.

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That answer can be found at www.crayola.com/colorcensus/celebrity_quiz/public.cfm.

Bulla says it makes sense that this is Bush's pick.

The state flower of Texas, the bluebonnet, is a blue, bell-shaped flower.

Thanks to all who participated.

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My son was helping to prepare dinner recently and noticed that I removed the utensils from the bowls of food I placed in the microwave.

"Why can't we put forks in the microwave?" he asked.

"Because a fork could cause a spark, and possibly a fire," I replied.

His question took me back to the early '80s when I was in high school and worked part-time as a waitress.

We didn't have a microwave at home yet, so I had no idea how to use one. I didn't know that they are different from a conventional oven.

(Today, 20 years later, more than 95 percent of American households have a microwave oven, according to the 24th Annual Portrait of the U.S. Appliance Industry.)

When a customer asked me to warm his pie, I took it back to the kitchen, stuck it in the microwave and pushed some buttons.

My boss jumped in front of me, pushed the off button and quickly opened the door. I had left a fork on the pie plate.

He patiently explained the basics of microwave use. Namely, forks shouldn't be used in one.

Of course, I always want to know the reason why ... guess that's where my son gets some of his inquisitiveness.

To answer his question, I looked at the How Stuff Works Web site, www.howstuffworks.com/microwave.htm.

In a nutshell, here's how microwave cooking was explained there: Microwave ovens use microwaves - radio waves - to heat food. These waves are absorbed by water, fats and sugars. When absorbed, they are converted directly into atomic motion - heat.

Metal left in a microwave oven during cooking will cause trouble if it is very thin or if it has sharp edges or points, Louis A. Bloomfield, a professor of physics at the University of Virginia, explains on his Web site, howthingswork.virginia.edu.

"The microwaves push electric charges back and forth in metal, so if the metal is too thin, it will heat up like the filament of a light bulb and may cause a fire. And if the metal has sharp edges or points, charges may accumulate on those sharp spots and then leap into space as a spark," Bloomfield states on the Web site.

Did you know that even the points and edges formed by crinkled aluminum foil can cause sparks?

"Pointed objects act as a lightning rod, attracting electrical energy," Penn State associate professor of food science Swamy Anantheswaran explains on the College of Agricultural Sciences Web site, www.aginfo.psu.edu/News/may00/microwave.html. "A working lightning rod dissipates electrical energy by grounding it.

"In a microwave, the electrical buildup will cause sparks because there is no way to ground it."

And that's good reason to keep the forks on the table, where they belong.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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