A mysterious exploding vase
August 11, 2013 1:11 PM   Subscribe

We have three vases of the same shape, same material, different sizes. The smallest one blew up last night... I think... maybe... I dunno. It's a mystery.

So, I bought these vases (I think they're vases, I don't know what they are, but they look funky and cool) for my hubby about a month ago and he's been displaying them in his nerd cave since then.

This morning I walked into the nerd cave and saw that the smallest vase had blown its top. I mean literally. At first I'd thought either the Mr. or one of the pets had knocked it over, but it was standing quite upright and Mr. Patheral was just as surprised and upset as I am about it being broken. We both saw it intact last night, and if one of the pets had knocked it over, wouldn't they have knocked all three of them over? Not just the littlest one in the middle? I mean, it literally looks like someone picked it up, smashed off the top then set it back in place. Of course, neither Mr. Patheral or I did that, so we're stumped. Here are pictures to show what I'm talking about.

Being secretly superstitious, my first thought was that the djinn had broken out and is now roaming free. Next thought was that there was something alive in there that we didn't know about which had maybe hatched or something, but there's nothing in there to indicate that at all... it's empty and clean, as are the others (we checked). And even if that were the case, if something had broken out of the vase, why are the bits and pieces so far away from the broken vase? My next wild guess is that some kind of projectile hit it, and somehow just knocked the top off without knocking it over or hitting anything else in the room. I dunno, it could be something really simple and I'm just not seeing it. . It's a mystery. We can't figure out what happened, so I'm asking y'all. Any ideas? We're chalking it up to one of the many strange things that happens in this house, but a logical explanation would be nice too.
posted by patheral to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It could have had a hairline crack present when you bought it that you didn't see, and it just gave up suddenly. This happened to me with a mug once-- I was left holding the handle with a shattered mug on the floor. It looked fine when I picked it up, but apparently there was a weak spot that chose that moment.

Also, could it be possible that the vases are in direct sunlight during the day, then get much colder (sun goes away/heater turned down) at night? Sometimes that will pop a glass or ceramic piece with no warning. Minute flaws are no match against a temperature-based expand/shrink.

It's also possible that the pets jiggled the end table and set off the flaw in workmanship.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:20 PM on August 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I will second the suggestion that you should look for hot/cold influences. Is it in sunlight? Is it under an AC vent? Is there any way at all that this one of the three objects is getting subjected to temperature changes but not the other two?

The first thing that came to mind for me: My husband once pulled a glass out of the hot dishwasher right after it finished, tossed in ice and poured a soda. It promptly broke. The bottom was thicker than the sides. Putting ice and soda into the hot glass caused the sides to cool more rapidly than the thicker bottom. It cracked where the thinner glass met the thicker glass. He was mystified but the sudden shrinkage from rapid cooling of a hot glass didn't strike me as mysterious at all.

I also once brilliantly poured cold water into a hot glass oven pan. Glass flew everywhere. It was quite spectacular how much of a mess it made. Sudden temperature change can definitely make shards fly.

So I would ponder hot-cold sources in the area and see if that might cast some light on this mystery.
posted by Michele in California at 2:04 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They're not in the sunlight, the stool Mr. Patheral has them on is next to his desk, which is right by the door to his nerd cave (which is always open). And they're all arranged as you see them in the pictures, very close together so they're all subject to the same temperature fluctuations (if any). There is a vent in the room, but they are not under it. His room stays at a fairly comfortable 75-80 temperature zone.

I think the real mystery is why the broken pieces are not anywhere near the vase itself. They're way off to the side next to the wall. There's not a speck of dust, powder, or broken vase near the vases, or anywhere on the stool they're sitting on. It's all on the floor between the stool they're sitting on and the wall. That's what has us stymied.
posted by patheral at 2:23 PM on August 11, 2013

Well, my theory would be an occlusion of different material.

For example, in ceramics, if someone were to get a bit of plaster of Paris into some raw clay, then make an item that is later fired, the plaster can continue to soak up moisture until it causes a crack/break/flaw. The clay changes structure during firing, and no longer soaks up moisture. (though water can fill up the empty spaces in unglazed or low fired clay)

Amalgam fillings also expand and contract at different rates than teeth, causing cracking.

So, it could be due to the stress of expansion of a slightly different material, not just from temperature differences.

*Also you didn't put down a welcome mat, did you? ;)
posted by annsunny at 3:43 PM on August 11, 2013

I don't know what kind of pets you do have, but if you have cats the vase could have broken somehow with the pieces falling in the front where you'd expect and the cats could have batted the pieces back there playing around with them.

But I have no idea how it would would break in the first place. Weird.

I'm assuming you didn't have anyone over to your place last night? It almost seems like someone broke it and didn't want to fess up so they hid the pieces behind some stuff and hoped you wouldn't notice. Not to freak you out, but are you sure no one else was in your house recently? Or that you weren't so upset over it that mrpatheral didn't want to hurt your feelings and confess he broke it by mistake? Because sometimes the simplest explanations are the easiest ones. Anyway, good luck, hope you don't have intruders or ghosts!
posted by onlyconnect at 4:27 PM on August 11, 2013

Best answer: I dunno, but you and raztaj may want to compare notes.
posted by dhartung at 4:55 PM on August 11, 2013

Response by poster: No one was over our house last night, and so far as I know, my cat isn't interested in pottery. He doesn't usually play with much of anything. annsunny, welcome mats are still absent in our house. :)
posted by patheral at 6:09 PM on August 11, 2013

Response by poster: Plus, if our cat had tried to go behind that stool, he'da knocked it over. There's no room for him back there. He's big.
posted by patheral at 6:10 PM on August 11, 2013

Are you sure the vase didn't have a small crack when you bought it? The pics of the other two vases have some lines which indicate that they might be liable to cracks.

The crack might have developed over a period while the vase was there.

It might have broken earlier and now a gust of wind (from the door opening? .. it seems pretty near and on the opposite side of where the shards fell.) separated the top part and it rolled away on the small table to fall and break behind the desk.

The gust of wind would also explain the soldier falling down.

Couple of questions: Are the vases bottom heavy? If the vases are bottom heavy, a projectile could have broken off the top without toppling the vase. Is there a table fan in pic #4?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 7:10 PM on August 11, 2013

If the vase is made of glass, it's possible that it wasn't properly annealled.
This causes a great deal of stress on the vessel that isn't visible to the naked eye.

Like, if you drop an expensive wine glass it breaks into a few chunks. If you drop a cheap tumbler it shatters all over.

I don't know if a similar rule applies to ceramic, but it might answer your mystery.
posted by Ignorance at 9:18 PM on August 11, 2013

Response by poster: They mystery isn't that the vase broke. It's the manner that it broke and how the pieces fell. There wouldn't have been a gust of wind because the door opens into an inner hallway which is not subject to drafts and the door you see in the pictures is always open. The vases are bottom heavy. The fan you see is one of those oscillating standing fans which is constantly on low (but doesn't oscillate).

As a matter of fact the fact that the pieces fell in the direction that they did with the fan there only adds to the mystery (though the air flow isn't that heavy and the pieces aren't really light enough to be blown around by anything but a very strong wind - it's a pretty thick vase). It's pointed in the opposite direction, so if anything, they should have fallen toward the fan, not away from it. Again, a mystery.
posted by patheral at 9:36 PM on August 11, 2013

evaporated milk makes a good repair for broken ceramics, wet all the surfaces and reassemble the cracks practically disappear as it dries and shrinks.
posted by hortense at 10:25 PM on August 11, 2013

What was hanging above them? The hat is on some kind of rack, and if something fell and struck the lip of one of the jars at the right angle, it could quite easily break it in that odd way.

I'd be suspicious of kitty, no matter how large he is.
posted by jrochest at 12:19 AM on August 12, 2013

It might have been knocked over by a different animal: a strange pet, or some sort of vermin such as a rat.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:28 AM on August 12, 2013

Any sleepwalkers in the house?
posted by penguin pie at 5:29 AM on August 12, 2013

Response by poster: So far as I know, neither of us sleepwalk. I'm a pretty light sleeper, so any time the Mr. gets up I'm aware of it.

I'm open to the possibility of an animal knocking over the vase. I have no problem with that. However! if an animal had knocked over the vase, then there are several things that still do not makes sense such as...

Why was it still standing upright when I found it? What you see in the pictures are exactly how I found them. I didn't move them in any way.

Why weren't any of the broken pieces near the vase (they're all quite a bit away from it)? As y'all can see in the pictures, it looks like the pieces went up and over the other two vases and feel behind them, the stool, and the desk without leaving any trace of clay or dust anywhere else. It may not be clear in the pics, but there aren't just huge chunks of vase, there are small bits too. We can't repair this, the pieces are crushed and crumbled.

How is it that particular vase broke, but the other two remain undisturbed, not even moved a cm? They're very tightly arranged on small surface there. If an animal had jostled the stool enough to break the vase, wouldn't they all have been disturbed?

My cat weighs 20 lbs. There's no way he could have gotten onto the stool and knocked the pieces off the stool without knocking everything off. Same with getting behind the stool and playing with the pieces to play with them. If he'da played with them that vigorously, he would have knocked everything off the stool. The dogs are bigger than he is.
posted by patheral at 9:50 AM on August 12, 2013

Response by poster: Oh, and we don't have a pet door, so no strange pets, and trust me, if we had vermin, chaos would ensue in our house and we'd have more to worry about than a broken vase. The cat may not be interested in critters, but our dogs love to go after anything that creeps or crawls.
posted by patheral at 9:54 AM on August 12, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry for so many answers! I keep forgetting to answer questions (no coffee yet this morning). The hat is the only thing hanging above them. It's on a wall lamp that's quite firmly attached to the wall. Mr. Patheral is a cave man and doesn't do lamps, so it became a hat rack.
posted by patheral at 9:57 AM on August 12, 2013

Response by poster: Oh well, I guess this will remain a mystery. I've had friends come over and see it too, and they couldn't figure it out either. I'll just chalk it up to another strange thing that happens in this house. :)
posted by patheral at 2:53 PM on September 11, 2013

I just had something really similar happen.
Our cat's water bowl spontaneously exploded during the night and launched itself 5 feet away in shards. Yes we have a cat (old) who has never touched the bowl except to lick water from it. No, no one else was in the house (including poltergeists and ghosts of dead grandparents, etc.). See pix here. It was on a plastic pad (seen to left of photo). It couldn't involve any kind of suction being created and released because the bowl had two heart shaped cutouts in the rim (see other pic). It's Fall here and slightly cool at night so maaaaybe it was temperature-related. It has boggled my mind so much I searched the internet and found only this post.
posted by ShaSha747 at 1:18 PM on December 4, 2013

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