Off Beat: Soda geyser all in a day’s work for professional reporter




As a reporter, you never know what you might find in the mail.

Often it’s strange books that have nothing to do with the Pacific Northwest, like “Man v. Liver” and “The Curmudgeon Woman.”

Sometimes, though, things get even weirder. And when National Geographic sends you a “Geyser Tube,” you have a journalistic responsibility to investigate.

That’s what we told our editor, anyway, before making the demonstration video that goes with this story.

The tube, which provides a trigger to drop Mentos candy into a 2-liter soda bottle, was included in a press kit about the National Geographic Channel show “None of the Above.”

When you pull the trigger, carbon dioxide bubbles cluster around the Mentos at the bottom of the bottle, building up and shooting soda 25 feet into the air.

It works, by the way.

In the annals of bizarre PR material, the “Geyser Tube” is far from alone. It seems everybody here has received at least one strange item in the mail.

Lou Brancaccio, editor in chief, said one of his favorites is the small golden hot dog he keeps on his desk.

“It’s not every day you get a golden dog in the mail, but several months ago, there it was,” Brancaccio said. “And I’m not talkin’ about the Chihuahua kind. I’m talkin’ about the eatin’ kind. Wienerschnitzel sent it to me promoting its dogs. I throw most of this stuff away, but for some unexplained, marginally strange reason, I kept this one close to me.”

Stover Harger, neighborhood news coordinator, received “a ‘Borat’ swimsuit that was sent to me by the movie studio.”

Marissa Harshman also gets some odd things.

“One thing I get that’s odd — odd for a health reporter, at least — is stationery,” Harshman said, holding up a flowery-looking sheets of paper, a journal and Post-Its. “Then, of course, there are the diet books.”

She’s also gotten dandelion tea, gluten-free beer, exercise balls and something called “Zarbee’s Children’s Sleep,” she said.

Craig Brown, metro editor, has received strange herbal concoctions, as well as “over-the-counter medication and cases of beer and wine (regretfully, those last items were sent back),” he said. “Also a foam rubber stress ball in the shape of a heart.”

And Mark Bowder, assistant metro editor, remembers a “Curious George” lunch box full of juice boxes and snacks. He just can’t remember who sent it, or why.

“That’s kind of the problem with this approach,” Bowder said. “The idea is so clever that the cleverness of the promotion is remembered, not the product being promoted.”

The “Geyser Tube” at least had the scientific curiosity factor going for it.

We decided to take the overkill approach in the video, so I donned a protective suit and goggles for the full mad-scientist effect.

It’s probably a good thing, actually — I was almost hit by Diet Coke fallout.

Still, there’s nothing quite like blowing up a soda bottle in the parking lot on company time.

I’m hoping we get more things like it in the mail so we can do this again.

— Sue Vorenberg

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.