Second Annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest Semi-Finalists

On April 1, I announced the Second Annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest:

Your goal: invent a terrorist plot to hijack or blow up an airplane with a commonly carried item as a key component. The component should be so critical to the plot that the TSA will have no choice but to ban the item once the plot is uncovered. I want to see a plot horrific and ridiculous, but just plausible enough to take seriously.

Make the TSA ban wristwatches. Or laptop computers. Or polyester. Or zippers over three inches long. You get the idea.

Your entry will be judged on the common item that the TSA has no choice but to ban, as well as the cleverness of the plot. It has to be realistic; no science fiction, please. And the write-up is critical; last year the best entries were the most entertaining to read.

Well, the submissions are in; the blog entry has 334 comments. I’ve read them all, and here are the semi-finalists:

Cast your vote; I’ll announce the winner on the 15th.

Posted on June 5, 2007 at 12:01 PM116 Comments


Michael Ash June 5, 2007 12:27 PM

I don’t buy the first and last ones for plausibility. They’re both based on the idea of using a very small explosive to take out an airliner. However evidence would seem to indicate that this doesn’t work, and that you need a pretty big bang to do the job. The case of Pan Am 103 was exceptional and due to extremely bad luck in the placement of the bomb, and I don’t think it could be replicated at all from the passenger cabin. What’s more, the explosives described are extremely weak, and would probably do nothing more than scare people.

I know that these aren’t necessarily supposed to be 100% realistic, but I have a tough time suspending my disbelief at all with these two.

David June 5, 2007 12:30 PM

Butterflies and beverages. And since urine is mostly water, we’ll have to keep people from going to the bathroom….

Haapi June 5, 2007 12:31 PM

I’ll start the Instant-Runoff Voting:

First choice: “Butterflies and Beverages” — very plausible, and props for an entertaining story.

Second Choice: “DMM” — Plausible and it gave me a shiver, as I’ve always thought that the huge crowds at checkpoints were equal targets to flying planes in most regards.

And once again, I give thanks that Richard Reed’s plan involved shoes and not suppositories.

X the Unknown June 5, 2007 12:44 PM

For “Butterflies & Beverages”, the conclusion is: “We’re going to have to ban water, and anything containing a significant amount of water, from all passenger flights.”

Of course, that means banning passengers, too – not only are they 60%+ water inherently, all of them are capable of excreting water (and often do, on long flights) in quantities sufficient for the reaction.

Petréa Mitchell June 5, 2007 12:46 PM

I vote for dimethylmercury. In fact, I think if the TSA ever reads that entry, it would be scared enough to implement new security measures, even if no one ever tried it.

Mr. Mike June 5, 2007 12:50 PM

Bonus Prize: Hired by DHS to join the Sci-Fi writers and/or a one way trip to beautiful, sunny Guantanamo Bay. 🙂

AndrewS June 5, 2007 1:00 PM

I vote for the Butterflies and beverages just for the artistic storytelling.

Second place for the very nasty Dimethylmercury idea.

X the Unknown June 5, 2007 1:00 PM

For the Oxy-Hydrogen bomb approach, “Anonymous Brit” suggests that the explosion could be more-powerful using acetylene, but suggests problems getting it aboard.

How about an instant coffee jar, filled with Calcium carbide? Just add water, generates acetylene (it’s how carbide lamps work).

Mark IJbema June 5, 2007 1:02 PM

I’m voting for the Butterflies and Beverages. Whereas i also like the DMM attack it’s not conceptually much different from blowing yourself up while waiting in line at the airport, except for the creepy people-suddenly-dieing factor of course 😉

xyzzy June 5, 2007 1:15 PM

I particularly like the DMM attack, as it has a delay factor that is really insidious. If it just started killing people right then and there, it would be a localized panic. The 1-hour delay, though, lets things spread around a lot, spread the damage more, and generally mix things up.

When people have de-centralized panic, it’s usually signifiantly worse…

Ale June 5, 2007 1:20 PM

I vote for “Dimethylmercury”. “Butterflies” is excellent, but sodium seems to unpredictable.

David June 5, 2007 1:20 PM

I definitely like the DMM idea best, if for no other reason than that the need to radically change the screening process may indeed get the PTB to start thinking about real security replacing S. Theater.

Fred X. Quimby June 5, 2007 1:26 PM

#1 Dimethylmercury – HSA employees must wear oven mitts from now on.

#2 Butterflies and beverages – makes a good movie.

#3 Oxy-hydrogen bomb – my body generates methane faster than you could electrolyze water. Sorry.

Tom Grant June 5, 2007 1:31 PM

Full Disclosure: I had no entry in this year’s contest. This is an impartial review. 😉

Two of the three involve a hydrogen explosion. Of these, the first (butterflies and beverages) is the more dangerous. A larger volume of hydrogen could be produced via this method in a short amount of time by droping the sodium into a latrine tank (or 4 simultaneously). And you get the added benefit of an encloses container during ignition for a bigger boom. Plastic bag method just simply holds less gas…you’d get a fireball and maybe do some damage…but it seems much less likely (and much more involved) to work well.

DMM, however, is nasty stuff and should be banned from every public place. Which is why it’s commonly only seen in a lab. Terror? Oh yeah. But since the goal was to “hijack or blow up an airplane” I’d have to say it doesn’t stack up against the first entry.

“Butterflies” gets my vote.

Kee Hinckley June 5, 2007 1:45 PM

Butterflies and beverages; water must be banned.

Note that even if it didn’t take down the plane, it could probably blow open the pilot door and/or start a fire. (How about grinding it into a dust, and then spraying it the air, followed by shaking up a soda bottle and spraying the air?)

How I miss the 70’s, when air travel was so safe and predictable–so long as you didn’t mind ending up in Cuba occasionally, or serving as an impromptu launch pad for novice parachuters.

Alex June 5, 2007 1:55 PM

Oxy-Hydrogen bomb is a certified mission failure for various reasons.

DMM is the absolute winner in terms of spreading REAL terror (a blow up plane lasts max. a day as news item)

However, the contest said “invent a terrorist plot to hijack or blow up an airplane …”

So “Butterflies” has to get my vote

tordr June 5, 2007 1:59 PM

Since the goal of the competition was to blow up an airline Butterflies and beverages wins.
In pure terrorism terms DMM comes in at a good second.

Dwayne June 5, 2007 1:59 PM

The DMM plot is very plausible, and scary – sounds like something the TSA would try and stop. However, as noted by another poster, it doesn’t involve hijacking or blowing up a plane.

Therefore, I vote for the Butterflies. This is also very well thought out, and plausible. It would be my second choice if DMM actually involved hijacking or blowing up a plane.

Marty Smyth June 5, 2007 2:14 PM

DMM wins for overall psychotic lethality, I’d say, but it hijack or blow up an airplane, nor is it as good of a tale as butterflies, which gets my vote.

AlphaPrime June 5, 2007 2:19 PM

The toilet tank is normally near the surface of the aircraft and normally has a backflush prevention valve. A chemical reaction that would produce an explosion in the toilet could be done with under 3 ounces of something (not sure what, but an HE expert would). Anyway, a large source of water mixed with reactive compounds, possibly binary. Boom.

huh June 5, 2007 2:34 PM

See the “ask the pilot” entry on a toilet malfunction. The blue stuff in the bowl isn’t necessarily water.

dragonfrog June 5, 2007 3:05 PM

DMM – precisely because it doesn’t involve blowing up planes, and yet falls squarely in the lap of the TSA. Once you open the idea that terrorism can be more than blowing up airplanes, there’s no telling the silliness the TSA will be ‘forced’ to stoop to.

Sowha June 5, 2007 3:08 PM


The blue stuff doesn’t have to be water. Much of what else goes into the tank IS!

Jess June 5, 2007 3:18 PM

Butterflies, definitely. You’d need a couple of sodium chunks larger than what the story described to be certain of making a hole, but I think that would still be doable. A lot of electronic things could have large sodium chunks embedded in them. The sodium itself would be completely consumed in the blast, so investigators would have no idea what it had been disguised as.

The Mailman June 5, 2007 3:31 PM

I vote for Dimethylmercury scenario, just because of the brilliant irony in it.

dk June 5, 2007 3:31 PM

The only problem with #3 is that it assumes there are any airlines left that still serve meals….

Neal June 5, 2007 3:35 PM

Wow, tough call. I have to vote for the DMM as most likely, most frightening, and best suspense movie plot. It could carry an entire movie. I love the butterflies though – they would make for a great CSI (or other television) episode.

The sodium has real threat potential. A couple years ago a professor at one of our local colleges threw a small chunk in a pond of water and the resulting explosion blew out windows for a hundred yards. Apparently it was already starting to react to moisture in the air and he panicked. That highly reactive nature would be the downside to forming metallic objects with it though… it reacts with any moisture, which is why the pure stuff is kept submerged (kerosene?). Anything less pure isn’t explosively dangerous – anything that pure must be sealed somehow until needed.

Ben June 5, 2007 3:38 PM

Two votes for DMM. It’s quite terrifying just to read.

Why do I get two votes? Either, A: my coworker is sitting right next to me or B: it’s a social engineering attack.

Kristin June 5, 2007 4:00 PM

DMM. So what if it doesn’t involve bringing down an airplane? It’s thinking outside the box.

Michael Chermside June 5, 2007 4:20 PM

Dimethylmercury is my first choice for sheer terror, but Butterflies and Beverages is a close second with props for an EXCELLENT writup.

BunBun June 5, 2007 4:39 PM

I’m for dimethylmercury first, and butterflies & beverages second. The oxy-hydrogen bomb scenario is interesting, but seems to lack the apparent plausibility that would really make it a movie plot scenario.

Richard June 5, 2007 5:07 PM

My vote goes to dimethylmercury, simply for the delicious irony of having to ban security checks to tackle the problem.

Heather June 5, 2007 5:15 PM

Butterflies. Definitely butterflies. Well written. Dimethylmercury comes a close second for the oooooooh factor.

Filias Cupio June 5, 2007 5:35 PM

I vote for DMM, for simplicity and plausibility.

I’m not so sure the sodium plot would work as advertised – dumping it into a glass of water would just spray all the water away before a large quantity of hydrogen had been generated. (The remaining sodium would set the cabin on fire, however.) I also doubt that a moderate explosion in the unconfined space cabin would penetrate the side of the plane. The explosive force would take the path of least resistance – expanding into the air of the cabin.

I think flushing a few hundred grams down the toilet would work better. The confined space prevents the water from escaping and the hydrogen from dispersing too much, and I think would make the explosion much more effective. The main problem here is to have sufficent oxygen in the sewage tank to react with the generated hydrogen – so it probably works best early in the flight on a long-haul aircraft.

Anonymous June 5, 2007 5:51 PM

As a chemist who has deliberately thrown sodium sticks into snowpiles in his youth (nothing happened, no fire, no explosion, nothing!) and who has built electrolyzers for a living in the past (no, you cannot throw salt into water and generate hydrogen with friggin aluminum foil electrodes!) my vote is for the DMM scenario. It is a realistic one that could work. The other two are absolutely unrealistic.

David Donahue June 5, 2007 6:08 PM

I hate to say that for Dimethylmercury scenario, the conclusion that the TSA and common gathering/inspection points must be banned is incorrect.

The reaction to such a plot is insidiously more general. The TSA would ban knowledge of dangerous chemistry and/or materials. Prospective Chemists should be background screened, registered and tracked until such knowledge passes out human memory.

This of course makes us all safer since almost all of us can go about our daily lives without knowledge of how to make explosives or poisons.

Such dangerous knowledge would then be restricted to military scientists and those with a registered “need to know” issued from the government. If such knowledge was found or admitted to in the general population, then clearly it shows intent to commit illegal/terrorist acts.

Frighteningly, this thinking is already in place to some degree, my comments only take it to the next level.

JohnnyBGood June 5, 2007 6:54 PM

Anonymous (June 5, 2007 05:51 PM) touched upon my objections with the “Oxy-hydrogen bomb”. The main problem with the method is the sodium chloride that needs to be added to the water. From experience I know that hydrogen chloride gas will also be produced and:
(1) it’s acrid odor will be readily apparent to the passengers and crew long before an appreciable amount of H2 is produced
(2) it will corrode the electrodes making them fail before enough H2 can be collected

I can’t comment directly on the plausibility of the other two but “Butterflies and beverages” is the better read.

So Butterflies and beverages.

Dylan June 5, 2007 8:43 PM

DMM. At the very least, if the TSA employees are only concerned with protecting themselves, “the only safe precaution is to handle dimethyl mercury while wearing highly resistant laminated gloves underneath long-cuffed neoprene or other heavy-duty gloves.”

Nice look.

Note also that Karen Wetterhahn, who died after spilling drops of DMM on her gloves, didn’t even start showing symptoms until months later.

MEP June 5, 2007 9:22 PM

Dimethylmercury gets my vote. When I read it, it actually scared me a bit. It would sure make for one hell of a blockbuster with the right script and director, and it does actually sound pretty plausible though I sincerely hope someone here can debunk it somehow.

MEP June 5, 2007 9:31 PM

And btw, the real TSA reaction to DMM is not to ban anything, but to spend billions of dollars (trillions if you got ’em) on the latest and greatest in “belt scrubbing” technology. Guaranteed to work 98% of the time when proposed on paper, and about 30% of the time in real life (still better than those radiation detectors at the ports), and it’s 100% guaranteed to generate more “security” spending and provide a pork project for some lucky Senator.

Jon Sowden June 5, 2007 9:56 PM

From the rules:
“I want to see a plot … just plausible enough to take seriously.”

The comments about “Oh, the hydrogen plots won’t work, trust me I’m a ____” kinda miss the point. Remember that the plot doesn’t have to be plausible, rather they have to be plausible_enough. Recall that, in the objective world, the London Liquids plot wasn’t really plausible, but is was plausible enough that we can’t take liquids (or even solids that might become liquids) on aircraft anymore.

My vote is:
1st) Butterflys and beverages (plausible enough, and bonus points for the writing)
2nd) DMM
3rd) OHB

djg June 5, 2007 11:06 PM

DMM by far. Fits the bill of terrorizing perfectly. Would practically stop air travel overnight. And not complex like the other two finalists – very simple deployment mechanism that isn’t likely to fail, so high chance of success.

Andrew June 5, 2007 11:11 PM

I’m going with DMM.

Of course, if someone launches a DMM attack after this, it’s all Your Fault. Morally if not operationally.

Not sure I’d want the bad karma from that one.

Another Fan June 6, 2007 12:04 AM

I vote for the Butterflies.
I think there are easy ways to re-engineer the TSA screen conveyors to prevent successive contamination of articles. For example, porous belts and liquid detectors. Of course, it might work once, the first time….

Ankylosaurus June 6, 2007 12:40 AM

1st: Butterflies.
2nd: Dimethylmercury.
3rd: Oxy-Hydrogen.

The presentation of Butterflies is very good; you might argue that DMM would generate more terror. OTOH, as you pointed out in another article, terrorist events that kill more than 25 people are very rare.

aracne June 6, 2007 2:27 AM

I vote for Dimethylmercury. That it does not attack a plane makes it even better (the idea of the contest being that you can’t protect everything against everything). And it could even be compatible with the other plots.

g. June 6, 2007 3:35 AM

I have to admit Dimetylmercury is my favorite, just because of the willies any poison with creepy abilities (wanders through PVC!, your skin! and has no problem getting into your brain!) gives me.

Student June 6, 2007 3:36 AM

Dimethylmercury is about as nasty as they get. It goes through most kind of protection within seconds, including rubber gloves. You need reinforced gloves to protect from it. Those that does not die from the initial poisoning dies of mercery poisoning within a year or so. Perfect terror weapon.

I wonder how long it will take before somebody smears this chemical on a door handle in a public location…

I like the DMM best, even if it doesn’t follow the rules perfectly (but what terrorist has ever followed the rules?)

Second would be butterflier

Third Oxy-Hydrogen

Byron Thomas June 6, 2007 3:39 AM

Dimethylmercury for me.

It just fits so well with the recent busts in UK of supposed sarin gas labs and the hysterics surrounding anthrax.

Hans Voss June 6, 2007 4:34 AM

I vote for DMM because I think that would generate the most terror.

“Butterflies” as close runner up, it is by far the best movie plot.

greg June 6, 2007 4:42 AM

I know the point is not full acuracy. But I have a point.

Sodium… You not going to fasion that into any particular shape. It reacts with the water in the air. It would need some protective covering. Why not just use Li from laptop batteries. Niether will explode however, you will get a fire. Its gets exciting when the metal hits melting point. But its not going to get close to bringing a plane down.

DDM. It will dilute out very quikly. Toxic levels of 0.1mL PP means that it may not be nearly as good as people think when considering the large airport, so vapor trasmission would not be effectice. Also you going to need quite a bit once is spreed out on the belt and will evaporate fast. However You will get at least a few people killed will >10mL and the panic in the airport and all travlers who may have come into contact with DDM would be effective. You could rig it so the attacker can survie. Thats gets my vote.

Posions in general don’t work as well as people think. Remeber Toko underground with the gas. Chemical wepons are very hard to devlope because effective dispersal is hard.

The last one is just funny. I have done this. Its just wont work. It would take many HOURS to get the gas. The gas is less than 1bar when the plane is crusing and even a bag the fills the whole tolet is only going to make a loud bang.

My point is that Terrisom that is effective in terms of kills/asset damage is hard. Its much harder than people think. none of these attacks would be effective…. In that sence. But getting caught planning it…….

The best attack remains to get caught plaining a attack. You don’t even need passports or lots of chemicals……

Otherwise DDM.

Peter June 6, 2007 5:01 AM

“filled with busty babes playing guitars and sipping evian”.

Didn’t need to read any further to know this was the winner

John Phillips June 6, 2007 5:26 AM

  1. Butterflies, for quality of writing combined with an idea that is at least plausible and actually meeting the criteria of bringing down a plane.

2.DMM deserves an honourable mention but doesn’t meet one of your criteria, i.e. hijacking or blowing up a plane. However, if the author had found a way for this to affect the aircrew as well as the TSA staff and others on the ground then this one would have been a winner for the genuine and widespread terror it would produce. Especially with the widely delayed effect making it even harder to pin down and thus orders of magnitude more frightening.

haro June 6, 2007 6:02 AM

DMM although butterflies & beverages was an impressive script. My main reason is that I believe the more likely next attack is not going to be against the plane, but against the queue waiting to be screened. Why blow up a single plane when you have a several planes worth of passengers assembled and no screening prior to the attack point.

dlg June 6, 2007 6:36 AM

I liked the writeup of Butterflies. And even if it will most likely not bring down a plane, it is still plausible enough to provoke some knee-jerk reaction. Remember, the shoe-bomber would most likely not have brought down the plane either, had he succeeded. I don’t think the TSA would ban water though, that’s too pointless even for them to consider.

In terms of pure terror, DDM definitely wins. It’s truly creepy. Didn’t have to be on an screening station either (although the irony… ah… the irony), escalator rails would work even better from a terror perspective.

I would say #1 for Butterflies, and a Think-Outside-The-Box award for DDM.

Ed T. June 6, 2007 6:41 AM

My vote goes to “Dimethylmercury” – the thought of the TSA banning security checkpoints at airports is just too funny, but at the same time I can actually see it happen.


Anonymous June 6, 2007 8:17 AM

the London Liquids plot wasn’t really plausible

Actually it was VERY plausible. Fortunately most of the press reports haven’t correctly figured out the widely available and cheap compounds that could be used to create a powerful explosive (about as strong as TNT) suitable for such an attack. Actually I haven’t seen any press reports whatsoever correctly identifying the substances required to create this explosive, and I’m not going to provide the names of the substances either. It isn’t acetone peroxide, btw. But rest assured that countless people have access to these substances (everyone can easily buy them, worldwide), and many know about their effectivity.

Harr D Harr June 6, 2007 8:35 AM

By Peter:

“filled with busty babes playing guitars and sipping evian”.
Didn’t need to read any further to know this was the winner

I picked that one too. I don’t hit the theaters for drama and suspense. I go for the T&A.

Syskill June 6, 2007 9:01 AM

I vote for the dimethylmercury plot, since I think the reaction to either of the other two plots would only be a short period of heightened security. This plot is the only one I could see affecting lasting change.

Max Plank June 6, 2007 9:46 AM

Butterflies is well written and certainly plausible enough to work (in a movie). In real life may be another story. Sodium is VERY reactive to even ambient levels of water vaopur, ergo you would need some sort of inert covering over the metal or submerge it in a non-H2O liquid (liquids are already greatly curtailed on flights).

Filias Cupio (above) states that there may not be enough oxygen within a toilet tank to work…and this is false. The reaction with sodium and water generates it’s own oxygen/hydrogen environment AND enough heat to ignite (autoignite) the gas mixture.

DMM is certainly a dangerous material, but as pointed out above evapourates readily would quickly dissapate. Not that this event wouldn’t cause some commotion in a few weeks time.

Butterflies gets my vote.

Scarybug June 6, 2007 10:23 AM

Dimethylmercury. It’s the creepiest scenario, and points out that hijacking a plane shouldn’t be the only thing the DHS should be concerned about.

pip61 June 6, 2007 11:32 AM

  1. Butterflies. Well written & sufficiently plausible.
  2. DMM. Very nasty but doesn’t bring down a plane. (rules is rules)

X the Unknown mentions Calcium Carbide, that could be substituted for sodium and would be easier to handle for the terrorist. I wonder what would be the likeliest outcome of just pouring a pound of it into the toilet.

Tristam29 June 6, 2007 11:39 AM

DMM and Butterflies are both excellent. I think if you’re going for terror, they both hit the target well, but Butterflies has to win for several reasons.

First, DMM is targeting TSA employees and thus won’t produce quite so much terror. People who work as TSA employees are trained and presumably accept some risk when taking a job where they are theoretically catching suicidal terrorists. A family of 5 going home for Thanksgiving, but dying in a mass grave covered in butterflies for CNN produces a lot more sympathy / terror.

Second, DMM requires a lot more coordination than Butterflies. It didn’t take “hundreds of terrorists with $100 tickets” to pull off 9/11. Also, I think getting 100 people to do anything in a coordinated fashion is similar to herding cats. With the Butterflies concept, it could be as simple as one motivated person with a plan. This alone would make Butterflies the winner in my opinion because it’s a lot more terrifying to think that one person could do something that dramatic.

Third, DMM attacks a different part of the system and is thus, not as demoralizing to our efforts as a whole. For example, if it were pulled off, the story could easily be that this was done only because they couldn’t keep blowing up planes and / or crashing them into things. However, if Butterflies was pulled off, then you have pretty stark evidence that all the security measures put in place to keep people from blowing up planes has failed.

Lastly and probably least importantly, as a movie plot threat Butterflies works better since it focuses on a single person with a sort of Pelican Brief animal to bolster the crusade after the incident. DMM would be more of a Fight Club movie, which could work, but might come off as too complicated to be realistically threatening due to the organization involved. Also, explosions are more dramatic than people dying in hospitals hours later, so they make for better movies.

X the Unknown June 6, 2007 12:41 PM

Now that liquids are seriously curtailed, we’re relatively safe from the simple non-explosive gas-attack that anybody could mix up in the toilet-room sink:

Ammonia + Bleach, counting on the heavily-recirculated air in the cabin to do the dirty work.

I’m not certain it would actually kill everybody (anybody), but it would definitely cause major panic.

phred14 June 6, 2007 2:10 PM

DMM – I have to agree that this is most frightening and plausible, even with the “implementation defect” noted below.

When the briefcase with the dribbling ampule is placed on the belt, it’s stationary with respect to the belt. Therefore it immediately gets only one spot wet. How far the wetness propagates with time depends on the belt structure and feed mechanism.

If it’s a solid belt, it’ll go underneath and excess fluid may well drip off, leaving only a moist spot. If it’s a belt made of slats, the fluid will drop through to the surface underneath, and then get picked up by the undersides of the other slats. When they reach then end and go under, depending on how wet, some may come around to the top, but maybe not.

All in all I suspect that this is really a localized problem, and would be readily isolated to one machine. Then it would be more of a hazard to the cleanup technicians. Perhaps of more concern would be the first few bags that touch the wet (while it’s still wet) spot, and the things that they touch.

My boss wouldn't want to know it's me June 6, 2007 2:33 PM

I vote for the sodium plot, although I, too, favour throwing it quickly down the toilet rather than a glass of water. Use the toilet, shut the lid, slip it open and drop the sodium in while flushing, and wait.

FurryBear June 6, 2007 2:35 PM

I vote for the Dimethylmercury. It has to be one of the most elegant and most sociopathic things I’ve ever heard of. The other two have some flaws in them making them less desirable.

Art June 6, 2007 4:02 PM

I vote for the butterflies because a plane was brought down per the spec, it was funny, and well written. DMM would get my vote for actually generating fear if only a plane would have bought the farm.

Danthelawyer June 6, 2007 4:15 PM

I vote for Butterflies, too. You could always shrink-wrap the sodium belt buckle until you need to pee on it or drop it into the lav.

Squibnocket June 6, 2007 5:17 PM

Writes Haapi: “Second Choice: ‘DMM’ — Plausible and it gave me a shiver, as I’ve always thought that the huge crowds at checkpoints were equal targets…”

He states this as if airport terminals have never been targeted by bombers or attackers before. It has happened many time over the decades. Why do we have such short memories?

Steven Griffin June 6, 2007 5:52 PM

I vote for the DMM attack. I side with prior posters in that it, “Gave me shivers!”

Fog Dude June 6, 2007 6:54 PM

I’ll go with DMM. It’s simple and effective. I assume TSA would follow up by installing sniffers to detect the stuff if it spilled out. Spills would close the terminal for the day. It’s a nice DOS attack on the air transportation system.

RickW June 6, 2007 8:14 PM

I vote for the Butterflies because of the better writing and it would make a better movie.

However, the DMM attack is scarier.

Nick June 6, 2007 8:36 PM


Seems plausible and I like the delay increasing the number of people affected.

Ben June 6, 2007 9:08 PM

I “like” the DMM idea as the most plausible threat likely to garner a genuine reaction from the TSA… although Butterflies does give me an entertaining image of a future where not only do we have to take off our shoes and belts, but we have to be thoroughly spritzed down with water before we are allowed through the checkpoint.

Gray Ghost June 7, 2007 12:07 AM

I vote for Butterflies. It would make the better movie as there are more opportunities for beautiful attackers and explosions.

There are several ways to get the Sodium on board since it does not have to be smuggled in one big chunk. Putting it inside battery look alikes, nitrogen purging, and sealing the faux-battery would be easy. Four D Cells in each of a few flashlights or a couple of lantern batteries and you have a very nice quantity of sodium. Good time to be a flashlight salesman.

Marc Mutz June 7, 2007 1:20 AM

Vote goes to Butterflies. It’s not only told best, but it’s also the most believable. I’m not sure how Na turns out on X-ray, and how you would protect it against the wetness of your own hands, but it’s more realistic than the second place, DMM. The DMM author, though finding a scary plot, fails to explain why a security checkpoint would allow a broken capsule through X-ray without questioning the attacker. Granted, by that time it will be already too late, but planting this attack in an airport instead of a shopping mall (smear the door handles), looks artificial.

Therefore, it’s Butterflies for me.

Anonymous June 7, 2007 3:22 AM

The “butterflies and beverages” scenario is brilliant. Not only must water be banned, so must all potable liquids be, as they’re mostly water. This means no one is allowed to drink anything on a plane. Of course, as has been already said, someone could still blow up the plane by urinating on a piece of sodium, so use of the bathrooms must also be banned. I wonder if you could blow up the sodium by sweating over it?

Kaukomieli June 7, 2007 4:05 AM

I vote for the butterflies – I can already envision the wreck filmed with a bronze filter and the bright butterflies dancing around to some peaceful music.

On the other hand:
@greg: I agree with you, the best way to cause terror and get stuff banned is just to get caught while planning. It helps if you already bought some of the ingredients, since this will get the items (like bottles…) banned instantly and without the hassle of a successfull investigation afterwards.
The terrorists would not even have to have a plan on how to get their attack done, the TSA will make one up for them (see bottles and liquids again…).

Since this would most likely be a hollywood movie the failed attack is a must, because it would lead to a “happy end” where this plane is saved, lovers rejoice etc. etc. ad nauseam.

Anonymous June 7, 2007 6:08 AM

1st: Butterflies and beverages – for the marvellous story
2nd: Dimethylmercury – quick, to the point, and comedy value

Rr June 7, 2007 8:28 AM

Seems that DMM might not work as expected. Once you break the ampule it starts vaporizing and kill everyone around. From the wiki:

“The high vapor pressure of the liquid means that any spillage will result in dangerous levels of exposure to the fumes for those nearby.”

Guess it will do for a movie plot – they’re not known for their accuracy in physics – or chemistry for that matter 😉 It gets my vote.

Lance June 7, 2007 12:29 PM

The Oxy-hydrogen Bomb idea is definitely thought out but is awfully complicated (you could even say it’s overcomplicated).

Butterflies & Beverages deserves an honorable mention only because it was so well written.

I’ve got to hand it to DMM though as the concept is elegantly beautiful (and fatal) yet sickeningly ironic, simple to execute, troublesome to detect/prevent, and that it could affect more than one aircraft simultaneously. It could also be carried out by multiple individuals at multiple airports to generate even more confusion. Well done!

xyz June 7, 2007 3:16 PM

I vote for Butterflies and beverages. The dimethylmercury plot involves too much coordination and the oxy-hydrogen method is too complicated.

just a man June 8, 2007 3:54 AM


the London Liquids plot wasn’t really >>plausible

Actually it was VERY plausible.

Well there are quite a few of us who do know about this stuff. Not just you. Personaly I don’t think you know what you are talking about.

As someone who made fireworks for a job, and has made high performance hobby rockets with ammonium perchlorate (aka cast them). Quite a few guys do in the Amature Rocket crowed. It really wasn’t plausiable.

The crap chemicals you get at anything but an industrial suppler just won’t cut it. either too dilute or too much other crap. But then you don’t need anything special to buy good stuff from the indrustal supplers in my country. Red fumming Nitric acid, H2O2, concentrated H2SO4 etc. Just over the counter in under 40Kg amounts, cash or account. Over 40Kg needs a proper chemical transport and storage permits.

Its not simple mixing these or getting things to work. Interent recipies leave out a lot of details. Even diluting H2SO4 can go pretty pear shaped. You often need to heat/distill things that a pretty heat sensitive and you really need somthing more than a few pots and pans.

It really wasn’t realistic at all. 2l of gasoline in a coke bottle and a ligher or matches would have worked better…. Its not like they frisk you that thoughly…

Fortunately most of the press reports >haven’t correctly figured out the widely >available and cheap compounds that could be >used to create a powerful explosive (about >as strong as TNT) suitable for such an >attack. Actually I haven’t seen any press >reports whatsoever correctly identifying the >substances required to create this explosive, >and I’m not going to provide the names of >the substances either.

What a lot of BS. The idea that if you censor the information the wrong people won’t get the information is TOTAL BS.

Anyone that wants to find out what they need to know can. Its in books. Its in the libary, its on the internet for those smart enought to pick through the crap. YOU CAN’T HIDE KNOWLEDGE OR INFORMATION! and even if you could, you shouldn’t as it won’t make us safer and the cost is huge. Information/knowlege is NOT “dangerous”. books don’t contain “dangerous ideas”.

Proliferation should have taught folks that by now. Most folks with a MSc/PhD in physics should be capable of calulating and designing a A-bomb. Getting the bomb grade matrial is the hard part, and thats just a matter of money. Yet only 2 a-bombs have ever been used agasit humans………

Oh, its not very hard to get real explosive either. aka much faster than TNT and more sutable for metal cutting type jobs. I had a permit once. Hell it was only in the 80’s that buying dynamite without a permit was changed here. We use to use it on the farm.

Steven Griffin June 8, 2007 8:11 AM

I vote for the DMM attack. I side with prior posters in that it, “Gave me shivers!”

Don Kiely June 8, 2007 9:39 PM

Butterflies and beverages. Very creative, and makes for a compelling story! DMM a close second.

Chad Okere June 9, 2007 8:20 AM

Yeah, the DMM plot was creepy. I imagine it wouldn’t kill just the screeners, but also all of the passengers too. It might have the same ‘practicality’ level as the other bombs, but it seems like the ‘liquids plot’ was also pretty unlikely as well.

Miesmuschel June 12, 2007 5:54 AM

DMM gets my vote. Probably the most likely to work, and the delayed effect of the poisoning means that it could likely be carried out at a couple of different airports before anybody finds out what happened.

AJC June 12, 2007 7:25 AM

DMM, with the Butterflies as second preference. The latter was a tale well told, the former creepy enough on its own that it didn’t need to be.

Paul June 12, 2007 8:01 PM

I know DMM was original, and it certainly is plausible, but i really don’t think that it would make the TSA ban anything, especially their own checkpoints. They’d just introduce even more draconian measures that no checkpoint would be able to comply with.

With respect to butterflies & beverages, i think that the TSA would be far more likely to ban soft metals than to ban water (see the comments above on urine and the makeup of human bodies), and although in its current form it’s unlikely to drop the plane out of the sky, it has plenty of potential for working into a better threat. And the points it gets for being an entertaining read mean it gets my vote.

It also seems we have a clear non-winner of the three: OHB.

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