Your hair is spun like what?
June 30, 2016 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Chemists of Metafilter: Please help me decipher the second formula on this old-timey comic strip.

It floated onto my facebook feed pretty much context free. It's bothering me more than it should that I can't figure it out. I'm pretty sure the compliment goes something like:

Brenda, your eyes are like twin pools of [cupric sulfate - a very pretty blue salt] --- your hair like spun [some kind of yellow/golden colored chemical]. [perhaps some kind of pun involving iodine, water (want'er), or hydrate?]!

I'm having trouble deciphering No4FE(CN)6. I2H2O though. I definitely went down a rabbithole assuming that Nobelium (No) was involved, but now I think the letterer is playing fast and loose with the capitals. I've determined that ferrocyanide salts are definitely things, (and sodium ferrocyanide is yellow. But I can't figure out what the "No"or the I2H2O are for.

I think maybe the I2H2O is part of the salt?

I'm willing to believe that it's nonsense, but they did get it right with the cupric sulfate eyes, so...
posted by sparklemotion to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was reading I2H2O as 12 H2O or 12 waters.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:10 PM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think its 12 H2O not I2 H2O
posted by biffa at 12:11 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

It is a yellow crystalline solid that is soluble in water and insoluble in alcohol.
In its hydrous form, Na4Fe(CN)6·10H2O (sodium ferrocyanide decahydrate), it is sometimes known as yellow prussiate of soda. The yellow color is the color of ferrocyanide anion.
posted by jamjam at 12:19 PM on June 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Huh...I think I overlooked that on wiki because of the stubborn lack of sodium in the formula, but it works if you assume that the letterer screwed up on the "a" and the "0."
posted by sparklemotion at 12:23 PM on June 30, 2016

I do see it as an 'a', but it's a remarkably easily confused one -- and the cartoonist makes it "12H2O", as opposed to to Wiki's "10H2O". My Merck Index doesn't write out the H2Os in its article, but names the compound a "decahydrate", which is consistent with 10, since 12 should be 'dodecahydrate', presumably.
posted by jamjam at 12:48 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Okay, I did a little research and have more information than you asked for.

The lettering for that comic was almost certainly done with a Leroy Lettering Set, which is basically a set of stencils for creating very even letters by hand.

It's not easy to find clear pictures of the non-italic lowercase letters in a Leroy set, but if you look at the top of one of the images from that page, you can see that the lowercase "a" is basically an "o" with a very small stem, one that could easily disappear when being lettered or reproduced. You can also see that the number "1" is just a straight line, essentially indistinguishable from a lowercase "l" or an uppercase "I."

All of this is to say that it's pretty clear that jamjam is right, that it's an imperfectly-reproduced "a," and you're dealing with sodium ferrocyanide dodecahydrate.
posted by lore at 2:40 PM on June 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

He's probably referring to Potassium ferrocyanide or Sodium ferrocyanide. The No.4 might be referring to the oxidation state of the iron atoms, sort of like how we now write Fe(III). He might be saying the ferrocyanide without any mention of potassium or sodium as it is a salt and it separates completely in water, so, it might not be important to talk about that extra cation. The ·12H2O means that the compound likes to associate with 12 water molecules and will attract them from the air. You can drive that water of by heating but, usually, they get sucked out of the air and crowd around the compound again as it cools off.
posted by Foam Pants at 6:40 PM on June 30, 2016

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