Cooking Crystal with Nicole

Given that I once exploded a mug of hot chocolate (the instant mix kind) when left to my own devices, I don’t know what gave me the right to experiment with chemistry. I’m not complaining about the lack of supervision, per se—I just think more people should be concerned about it.

During the summer, while my peers baked themselves into a nice golden brown on Caribbean beaches or jammed their fingers into the door to the corporate world, I spent my last months of freedom eating when I wasn’t hungry and preparing to move for the seventh time, which mostly entailed digging through old memorabilia and conveniently not packing for college.

From under my bed, I dug up a long-forgotten “Space Age Crystals” kit.

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It wasn’t new; I’d used it once in middle school and had never touched it since. Back then, a friend—I wasn’t too discerning in this area at the time—kept talking about how she wanted to grow crystals, so I’d asked for a kit for my birthday in order to grow some together. (Incidentally, after years of drifting apart, I happened across her blog and found it to be yet another copycat of this one. Why does this keep happening?)

I remembered us trying to produce a ruby geode but failing miserably. We’d skimmed the instructions, enlisted my mom to measure out ingredients and work the stove, and picked out sizable rocks (on which the crystals would grow) in my backyard. The rocks sat in the dark red solution for days, to no avail, until my mom presumably poured our work down the drain.

Obviously, I couldn’t just throw the box out now. I had to grow these crystals. I had to put off more productive and meaningful endeavors. I had to prove to absolutely no one that I could follow instructions meant for ages 12+. I had to make this right.

“Hey Mom, want to help me grow crystals?”

“No.”

So I began. I discarded the scientific guidebook, which explained the science behind the methods, and opened the instructions. I didn’t have time for knowledge; I was proving a point.

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I assembled my materials.

“Hey Mom, do we have a pot I can use?”

“No.”

It’s okay, though—I eventually guilted her into finding me a burnt pot. At this point it was around 12AM, and I walked out into the pitch-black night to gather rocks. I found some by blindly kicking around the pavement outside a neighbor’s house.

With only 59 and 79 mL cups as measuring units for instructions that were all in grams (in hindsight, this is possibly where things went wrong), I poured the “emerald” gypsum into the predetermined amount of water, covered the pot with a lid, and turned on the stove. I switched off the heat once the water began to boil.

My mom, curious, checked on my progress as I prepared the plastic vessels. The liquid simmered a menacing green. “That looks poisonous,” she said.

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t offering.” I poured some solution—there was a lot of leftover solution, which remained in the pot—onto the rocks, capping the vessels and placing more rocks as weight. Condensation immediately appeared on the lids.

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45 minutes later, my mom kindly let me know that I’d failed again. I stuck a spoon in, scraping the bottom and the surface of the rocks for the beginnings of crystal formation. There were none—it was smooth. “Failure,” she said, presumably about the crystals. “Can I throw it away?”

I had her leave it all alone for days. We ate around the instructions, which were still strewn across the dining table. She prepared meals next to the pot of poison and everything.

Eventually, I got around to accepting that the crystals would never grow and dumped out the vessels. But when I got to the pot, which held the leftover solution that I hadn’t even bothered covering, something sparkled. With bated breath, I slowly drained the liquid.

And, inexplicably, there it was. After half a decade, I had my redemption.

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Hey, redemption comes in many forms, some of them disgusting.

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