Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Search Challenge (1014/15): Fountains... with something other than water?

Something other than water?   

This past week I saw a small fountain of molten chocolate at a hotel reception. You know, the kind you hold your skewered piece of fruit beneath, and then, as you try to eat it, the chocolate drips everywhere.  If you're not careful, it will end up on your clothes and you'll be wearing an outer shell of solidified cocoa essence.   

But I also found out that fountains need not be just devices for shooting water (or chocolate) into the air.  I've seen fountains of caramel (a VERY sticky mess), and even champagne.

This week's Challenge is fairly simple, but can be as open-ended as you want.  

1.  Can you find a (man-made) fountain that uses a toxic metal as its "water"?  How made it? Where is it?  And why on earth would someone make such a crazy thing?  (I was rather surprised when I found this one; I suspect you will be as well.)  
2. (extra credit) What would a strategy be for finding other fountains that use other "non-water" substances as their flowing / squirting / splashing element?  How would you find other things in this "non-water" category?  

Let us know what you find, and HOW you found it! 

Search on!  


  1. Good Morning, Dr. Russell and everyone. Big thanks for the T :)

    Challenge is very interesting, lots of new knowledge, fun and also something to think, never thought about this and is something we see everyday.

    I have to say that until now, no idea about q2. Tried some queries and didn't work, even to answer q1. For the first one, I was lucky.


    [List of fountains], [List of types of fountains], [Unknown facts fountains], [different types of fountains]

    Category: Fountains, Wikipedia. Perfume Fountain

    "Louis XV's perfume fountain"

    13 Weird Moments In The History Of Water Fountains While searching found this article: First drinking fountain...New York installed its first drinking fountain just a few months after London..."bubblers"...And other information.

    [Mercury Fountain] [alexander calder]

    Top 10 Fantastic Fountains Mentions Barcelona, Spain fountain.

    Mercury Fountain, WikipediaFuente de Mercurio in Spanish has more information.

    “Mercury Fountain” by Alexander Calder Source A.

    4 wings by Alexander Calder

    Mercury Fountain Video


    1. Can you find a (man-made) fountain that uses a toxic metal as its "water"? How made it? Where is it? And why on earth would someone make such a crazy thing? (I was rather surprised when I found this one; I suspect you will be as well.)

    A: Mercury Fountain made by Alexander Calder. He mentions in source A:" Sert explained to me that it was the intention of the Spanish government to make a feature in its exposition of the mercury
    mines of Almaden situated in the southwest of Spain, and decidedly an objective of the Rebel attacks at that time."..."The fountain proved quite a success, but a great deal was due, of course, to the curious quality of the mercury, whose density induced people to throw coins upon its surface, and often three hundred francs were taken in a day in this manner, for the benefit of the Spanish children." Also says how he made it.

    Today is in Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona

  2. This one came easily to me! I googled 'toxic metal fountain' and was led to the Atlas Obscura site, which told me the fountain was in the Fundacio Joan Miro in Barcelona. In Wikipedia I learned that the sculpture was made by Alexander Calder. To find more information I searched for 'Alexander Calder Mercury Fountain.' This led me to an article in Smithsonian magazine that explained the fountain's history. Here's an excerpt:
    The mercury fountain was created by American artist Alexander Calder in 1937 for the Spanish pavilion at the Paris World's Fair ( Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne). Spain wanted to highlight the town of Almadén, home to the world's oldest and largest mercury mine and displayed the fountain prominently in the pavilion near Pablo Picasso's Guernica.'

  3. Query [toxic metal liquid] Result mercury.
    Query] mercury fountain]
    Barcelona Museum Spain

  4. the Calder is impressive.
    "The Caliphs of Islamic Spain contemplated their reflections in still pools of mercury and marveled at the funhouse distortions of quicksilver fountains. It’s said that one Caliph slept on a mercury bed. "
    Calder in L.A.
    a bit to the northwest of the 'plex - having trouble confirming what may be a hybrid source, even though I saw part of it on Google Maps…
    plasma fountain near the Splash in SantaSomewhere - some quicksilver about
    fwiw; crying Hg
    a mercury fest


  6. as far as I know, these "fountains" have never been turned on, but would fall in the non-water, toxic metal category…
    IMPAVIDE - "Undauntedly"

    might make mercury seem tame

  7. 1. If I remember well, the only metal that is liquid at room temperature is mercury. It's toxic too. So [ mercury fountain ] → images and snippet of Wikipedia article on Calder's mercury fountain. Its description on Juan Miró Foundation's website doesn't say when the work was acquired. I can't remember having seen it when I was there in the 1990s.

    2. "Non-water" is liquid, fluid. Also, I believe that there must be images or videos of whichever unusual fluid fountain there is. Several possible paths I took:
    a. [ liquid AROUND fountain ], hoping to find "liquid silver" but actually → nothing. Other proximity search attempts include Bing [ liquid NEAR:2 fountain ] → nothing relevant on the first 4 pages. COCA search [ liquid [nn*] fountain ] → only "liquid chocolate fountain". The simpler [ [nn*] fountain ] → many results, including soda, champagne, syrup, oil, juice, ice-cream (all food-related), as well as "cesium fountain" (wow!).
    b. Google Images [ fluid fountain ] → superfluids, ferrofluids (like this), and studies on fluid dynamics, as well as the freaky Human Fountain. The same kind of results on YouTube for both [ liquid fountain ] and [ fluid fountain ].
    c. Shutterstock [ liquid fountain ] (exclude water) (this search) → several, including paint (3D graphics, but nothing as exciting as this).
    d. YouTube [ soda fountain ] → Duke Ellington's Soda Fountain Rag and it's a pleasure to digress.

    3. Another non-water fountain I can think of is Duchamp's fountain. ;) I think I digressed again, or should I say in olde English "I digross".

    4. I believe there's more paths I'm not thinking of.

    1. Hello Luis, how did you do with your resume? Hope you have great news. Also, very interesting queries and results. What nn stands for? For example here [ [nn*] fountain ] ?

      I tried [liquid around(3) fountain] some interesting results. Also, ["* fountain" intext:flowing | intext:squirting | intext:splashing] no so good

      Remmij, did you read these:

      YouTuber creates a magnetic Mjolnir not even Thor can pick up
      Cats Can Interpret Their Owner's Emotions, New Study Reveals
      Cats, selfish?

    2. Nicely done. Note that the only proximity operator in Google is the AROUND() operator -- you'd put in the "radius" between the parens; example: [ liquid AROUND(4) mercury ]

      I love the ferrofluids and the cesium fountain. Those are great finds!

    3. Thanks, Ramón and Dan.

      COCA (The Corpus of Contemporary American English) is the largest text corpus I know of (apart from Google N-Grams, which, by the way, is searched by COCA itself). I use it a lot. Contrary to Google N-Grams, you can use COCA for very specific searches, since it has its own search syntax (query syntax, as it's called there). You can learn, or just take a quick view at, COCA's syntax if you choose "Query syntax" from the drop down menu on the lower right frame of COCA's main page (this drop down menu shows by default its top line, "Help / information / contact").

      In COCA's syntax, a simple search like [ liquid [nn*] fountain ] means, as you would expect, "a three-word string composed by the exact word liquid followed by [nn*] followed by the exact word fountain". What is [nn*] in this context, though? It's a "part of speech tag". Parts of speech are nouns, adjectives, etc. From COCA's help here: "You can use parts of speech as part of your query. For example, [j*] eyes […] would find a two word string, composed of a form of eyes immediately preceded by an adjective." There are several systems to tag parts of speech in a sentence or in a corpus, automatically or semi-automatically. The one used by COCA is CLAWS, Its current standard tag set is CLAWS7 (here). There, you can learn that NN stands for "common noun, neutral for number (e.g. sheep, cod, headquarters)". [nn*] stands for any of the tags starting with NN (basically, any noun). So, in COCA, [ liquid [nn*] fountain ] means "liquid, followed by any noun, followed by fountain".

  8. Another search strategy: ask friends. A friend reminded me about dry ice fountains, which were once very popular in bars serving "exotic" drinks. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were at least two such bars in Lisbon, Portugal, named Bora Bora and Tangaroa. Their drinks all tasted basically the same, like some artificial pineapple flavored soda. Here's a dry ice fountain (not in a bar).

    Not answers:
    this is water
    this is also water, although with sound
    this is also water, although with light; and also sound in some way; and also in Barcelona like Calder's sculpture
    these may be fountains but they don't last

    A lot of nice information on fountains on chapter VII of this 1842 book, but I couldn't find any non-water ones.

  9. [Toxic fountain made]
    Atlasobscura is #1 on search list.


  10. your GIJN15 co-panelist's team at The Intercept at work (Margot Williams, Research Editor for Investigations) - a fountain of information
    the drone papers

  11. Okay, the most common fountain that does not have water as the medium would be ... a fountain pen. Sorry, I simply could not resist.

    1. Okay... that's a good answer that I hadn't thought of!