physics mystery


  • a microwave that I've had for 6 or 7 years;
  • a set of plates and mugs that I've had for longer;
  • the statistical impossibility that all of these plates and mugs have not gone through this microwave many, many times.

Ok so how is it that sometimes, I'll nuke one of these vessels for the usual amount of time (say, 1:30 for tea, 5:00 for frozen food) and sometimes, the food/liquid will come out the temperature to which I've become accustomed... but the plate or mug will feel like it's been in a kiln for an hour. Like, it's so much hotter than normal that I've lost skin.

I wasn't able to determine if it was just one plate that behaved this way, since they all look alike, and it happened infrequently. But yesterday it happened to a mug for the first time. So today, I nuked it again (same contents: tap water) and it did the same thing. So my theory now is that somehow, the material these things are made of have gone though some kind of state change, and are trying to kill me.

Other theories include:

  • Plates have been abducted by aliens and replaced with super-soldier alien hybrid plates;
  • Experimental nanobots have escaped and rewritten the plate DNA to turn them into superconductors;
  • Neighbors' time-travel experiments have gone awry, causing some of my plates to be travelling forward more slowly, thus, the plate spends more time in the nuker than the food.


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10 Responses:

  1. nester says:

    I'm going to place my vote for #2, although #3 comes in a close second.

    It never fails for me though. It's the same result every time.

    Test Material: Mashed Potatoes

    Test Time: 1:00

    Test Surface: Plate

    Test Results: Plate too hot to touch, Mashed Potatoes cold in center, luke warm around edges. *sigh* The good thing is that if I increase the test time, the plate temperature doesn't get worse, and the potatoes are generally warm through out. Ok, so I haven't busted out the thermometer to check the variance of the plate, but either way it's still too hot to touch.

  2. msjen says:

    It probably has more to do with what you're nuking than the plates. Have you considered the temperature of the food as a factor?

    The only way to determine this is to systematically conduct tests by nuking a precisely measured amount of different substances on each plate and in each mug in turn, and recording the results in a colorful graph of some kind.

    Your new life's mission is now before you.

  3. king_mob says:

    Well, you're thinking of superconductors of heat, which feature prominently in the Ringworld novels. All real-world physics knows about are electrical superconductors, which only function (so far as anyone can tell) at cryogenic temperatures. So it's not that. HTH.

    I'm trying to think of what might actually cause this. Could the ceramic or whatever of the plates and mugs become saturated with water over time?

  4. baconmonkey says:

    the general test for determining of a dish is microwave safe, is to full it with water and nuke it. if the water is cold and the dish is hot, the dish is not microwave safe.

    as to why dishes would behave differently now, I have no idea.

    • moxie0 says:

      You test for whether something is microwave-safe by microwaving it?

      • nothings says:

        Why not, given that they determine the load limit on bridges by driving successively heavier and heavier trucks over the bridge until it collapses, and then they rebuild the bridge.

        --paraphrase of Calvin's dad

  5. ricka says:

    After heating up my food for a minute after removing it from the fridge, the plate was still as cold as it had been in the fridge, however the food was hot. Humm? Maybe our plates have been exchanged with teleportation?

  6. moof says:

    You may want to see if the same thing happens to the same dishes in somebody else's microwave; it could well be that the magnetron has decided to go wonky and has decided to spout microwaves at some weirdo frequency.

    Another fun thing to try is "does this happen at all locations in the microwave?" i.e. try putting the mug all the way on the left or right side and see if the same behavior happens. It could be that the cooking area has some funky shape which causes weird resonant beats in some places, yudda yudda yudda, thereby causing some locations to heat up more than others. Check out, it suggests some cool and/or dangerous things to try.

    Of course, you may have merely found the elusive philosopher's microwave which turns porcelain into ice-9.

  7. Hmm. Ceramics tend to be slightly porous. It's possible that, over the years, some moisture may have seeped into the material[1], especially if there are any chips or hairline cracks in the surface. Since microwaves work by exciting water molecules, the moisture within the ceramic will heat up as well, and it can be a complete bitch to handle.

    Unfortunately, this also means that further microwaving can reduce the lifespan of your crockery - if you've got a small crack and it gets moisture in, that moisture heating and expanding can widen the crack a little over time. We've had some of our quite old (a couple of decades) plates getting chipped, then mysteriously cracking into two or more pieces a couple of years later, seemingly with relatively little provocation. It usually seemed to be a very clean shatter line, though that may just be the shearing properties of the ceramic, I guess.

    Either that, or your neighbours are aliens who are using nanobots to slowly change your microwave into a time machine, so that they can observe the blistering effects of hot ceramic on JWZ skin, in order to secretly embed superconductors in your fingertips and force you to write emails proclaiming your enjoyment of Celine Dion's "music", and try to get it onto a playlist at Code. Or something.

    [1] Or areas of it, at least - it might spread the heat around within the medium, though I'm not physicist/engineer enough tell you for certain.