Vegas Death Ray

by wjw on October 6, 2010

Via Gardner Dozois, the news that the new Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas has its very own built-in death ray, which it is using for the very best purpose— cooking lawyers.

“I’m sitting there in the chair and all of the sudden my hair and the top of my head are burning.  I’m rubbing my head and it felt like a chemical burn. I couldn’t imagine what it could be.”

. . . Speaking with employees, [lawyer Bill Pintas] was alarmed to find out that the hotel staff was aware of the situation.  He recalls, “They’re kind of giggling and say: ‘Yeah, we know. We call it the death ray.”

The “death ray” appears to be created by the glass surface of the hotel itself — acting as a concentrating parabolic dish — similar to those used to heat water to a boil in solar power systems.  The dish concentrates light on a 10-foot by 15-foot hot zone moving across the pool.  Temperatures in this area spike 20 degrees Fahrenheit — or more.

Bill Pintas saw his plastic newspaper bag literally begin to melt.  The bag — composed of polyethylene — is designed to withstand temperatures of up to 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  And the employees recall seeing plastic cups — which have a melting point of 160 degrees Fahrenheit – actually melting.

. . . The hotel is baffled by how to solve the problem of the “death ray”, though.  When initially constructing the building, they anticipated the issue and put a coating over the glass that absorbs 70 percent of the daytime sunlight.  However, that was not enough to reduce its painful effects.  And the ray sweeps across a wide area, making it hard to protect a specific region.

Comments Mr. Absher, “This is quite literally an astronomical challenge,” Absher said. “We are dealing with a moving target.”

Yeah, those lawyers can move pretty fast when they want to.

Matt October 6, 2010 at 5:01 am

Massive stupidity on the part of the designers and the management who decided to go ahead with the project. Even if they cut down the reflectivity by 70%, there’s still several thousand square feet of mirrors focussed on 150 square feet. That’s a lot of energy! Simple arithmatic would have indicated what a bad idea it was.

I seem to remember Steve Gould had a story in Analog a number of years ago that dealt with this same idea.

Urban October 6, 2010 at 6:48 am

10×15′?! If this is true, it can’t happen by accident. I think they mean a 10 to 15 feet wide zone which is bad and stupid enough. If you model shadows, which I think is normal procedure, you should realise there’s reflections too. And if you’re an architect, you should know about acoustics and its relevance to this…

Ralf the Dog October 6, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Make it an attraction. They should provide marshmallows, hot dogs and big sticks.

Unfortunately, the best real solution will be warning signs or moving the pool. I don’t think guests will like painting the windows black.

Dave Bishop October 7, 2010 at 2:53 pm

By a weird coincidence there was a ‘pop science’ programme on British TV last which contained a feature on solar furnaces. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention (a) because the programme is irritating and patronising and (b) I was preparing to go out (so it was on in the background). Anyway, it appeared that one of the gizmos shown could actually melt steel and granite. I think that this was a fairly minor league contraption – not a ‘full-on’ solar furnace which is ,presumably, powerful enough to singe a lawyer’s head … ?

Ralf the Dog October 7, 2010 at 4:31 pm

@ Dave Bishop,

The device on British TV could probably melt a very small amount of steel or granite. The hotel could singe a very big head on a lawyer. It is not just the total energy, it is how small of a space you can focus it down to.

Dave Bishop October 7, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Ralf, I bow to your superior wisdom. As I said I wasn’t paying much attention to the TV programme but was mainly thinking about the beer I was planning to drink in the pub.

Ralf the Dog October 7, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Not much wisdom on my part. Just an observation. No bowing required. Nothing I stated contradicted anything you said. Just pointing out, if you take the energy from a candle and spread it out over a basketball court, it will be somewhat less intense than if concentrated to the head of a pin.

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