Sean Beckwith: Blowing stuff up |

Sean Beckwith: Blowing stuff up

Sean Beckwith

Fireworks shows are overrated, unless you’re the one setting them off. The city of Aspen, when possible, turns to fireworks like a sitcom turns to catch phrases. It’s the third week in March, what should we do? Giggity, giggity, giggity. Hey, it’s Winterskol, any thoughts? What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis? We have a Bud Light concert series show tonight. I’m having a hard time figuring out how to finish it. That’s what she said.

However, when a fire ban takes effect, which happens quite often during the summer months, there are no fireworks. It’s one of the few downsides of 70- to 80-degree sunny days and very little precipitation.

I grew up in the Midwest where bottle rockets, Roman candles and mortars are as much a part of summer as baseball and swimming pools. It’s semi-depressing not having to avoid second-degree burns or losing fingers. I’ve never come close to pulling a Jason Pierre-Paul, but the allure of pulling apart firecrackers and then twisting their wicks together to make one big firecracker still lingers. There’s something primal about lighting your own fuse.

So in lieu of the canceled show last night, here are my rankings of favorite bright, loud and dangerous midsummer toys.

Artillery shells

These are the Cohibas, the Cuban cigars of fun. Fireworks are mostly outlawed in Omaha, Nebraska — my hometown — but if you have an elevated vantage point on the Fourth of July you can catch a seemingly never-ending display of green, red, white, blue, purple, sparkling, crackling midair explosions.

Lighting off artillery shells is as close as I’ll get to rigging movie-set pyrotechnics. One piece of advice though: Don’t rip the taped wick and place the shell in the launcher upside down. I did this once. It went off and the green embers lit the driveway like a momentary disco floor.

Bottle rockets

I know there isn’t a lot to a bottle rocket. They’re not visually pleasing. They don’t do much more than fly and pop, but in the hands of wildly irresponsible teens (or me as an adult) they’re the best.

Once you get the timing down, you can throw them into flight with decent precision. It’s almost like a game of HORSE. Second story, third window in. Boom. Nailed it. And if you get the ones that whistle, even better.

Roman candles

As someone who has taken a Roman candle to the back of the neck, all I can say is they are awesome. Not so much the burn but more so the hand-held clip of bright then fizzling bursts.

Pro tip: The best remedy for a burn to the back of the neck is to try to shoot tequila and eat Burger King. I can’t definitively say those methods healed the burn but both made me temporarily forget the injury.


The best way to startle, surprise or outright start a fist fight is to throw strands of firecrackers a close but safe distance from friends. It’s not so much the firepower of the crackers but the machine gun-like sounds they emit. Also, as mentioned before, they’re easy to disassemble and reassemble into one large cracker.


These are low on my list because I once bought a fountain called the Beehive. I saved it for months waiting for the right moment to release the swarm. Well, the swarm never came. It was a dud, or more commonly known as the bane of the pyro. Even the coolest fountains still kind of suck. Nothing shoots far enough in the air and different colors of sparks are as fun as watching a lava lamp. Give me something more dangerous that shoots projectiles.

Snakes and sparklers

The only reason these made the list is to lament how awful they are. “Look, I’m writing my name.” What?! You can move you sparkler fast enough to spell out letters for less than a second. Color me impressed.

Snakes are even worse. I can’t even think of a carnival ride lame enough to compare them to. A merry-go-round might be the closest, but it still has a tinge of nostalgia. Nobody has ever said, “I can’t wait to light this snake and watch it expand.”

Hell, even pop pops are better. Throw a couple of those at your sisters’ feet and watch them scramble.

In no way am I advocating anyone participate in bottle rocket or Roman candle wars, making small bombs out of firecrackers, lighting firecrackers near friends or using sparklers and snakes. All I’m saying is the Fourth of July without fireworks is like Kool-Aid, no sugar; cereal, no milk; ham, no burger; “Next Friday,” no Day-Day. I would say stay safe out there, but alas, I cannot. Happy Fourth.

Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at

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