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"God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass, and I'm the ant."—Bruce, Bruce Almighty
Someone uses a magnifying glass or similar optical instrument to concentrate sunlight to kill, burn, or melt something. This may take a few different forms.
Children at play may experiment with using setting fires or killing small insects with a magnifying glass. At times this may be used to demonstrate that the child is an Enfant Terrible, or (in works written from the perspective of the insect) that Humans Are Cthulhu. On the other hand, sometimes children who do this are just portrayed as scientifically curious.
In some cases, a larger lens may be used as an Improvised Weapon. Many attempts at this -- both fictional and real -- are inspired by the story that the ancient Greek scientist and engineer Archimedes used this sort of contrivance to destroy a Roman fleet during the 214-212 BCE Siege of Syracuse. Supposedly, he focused the rays of the sun using an array of polished shields, mirrors, or lenses. (Sadly, Myth Busters tested this example of the trope -- three times -- and found it less-than-effective.)
Finally, people stranded in the wilderness may use magnifying glasses in order to set the fire they need to survive.
This trope may seem fairly modern but it's in fact Older Than Feudalism. In Aristophanes' ancient Greek comedy The Clouds, the gods use a set of mirrors or lenses to ignite the Olympic Torch (a smaller device traditionally lights the torch for the running in modern days).
Also this is Truth in Television. It works, but not as quickly as usually depicted.
Anime & Manga
- Used by Nova Shenron in Dragon Ball GT. He summons a giant lens and use it to fire an extremely hot sunbeam.
- In Bodacious Space Pirates, the Odette II is being fired upon by a pirate ship using optical targeting. Marika reconfigures the solar sails to reflect Tau Ceti's sunlight directly onto the pirate ship, blinding their spotter and heating the hull. She stops just short of melting the ship.
- Mobile Suit Gundam has the Solar System, a superweapon wielded by The Federation that is a scaled-up version of the old Archimedes "Death Ray". In this case it's somewhat more plausible, because the array consists of four million mirrors, each the size of a small building, and they're all aimed by computers. Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory introduces the Solar System II, which is much more efficient thanks to better materials and targeting software, meaning it can achieve the same destructive power with only 408,000 mirrors.
- In Toy Story, Sid burns Woody's forehead with a magnifying glass while "interrogating" him. It serves as a Chekhov's Gun, as it gives Woody the idea of using Buzz's helmet to light the rocket that takes them back to Andy.
- This was used in Antz, when a kid's hand holding a giant magnifying glass fries one of the soldier ants sent to arrest Z and Bala.
- Bill Engvall talks about what a great day it was when you discovered you could do this as a kid ("You got to be God!"). Then he goes on to talk about when he was doing this and saw an ant on his arm...
Bill Engvall: Let me tell you something: you burn your arm with a magnifying glass, you're on your own. You can't even tell your mom, because she gives that face like, "Oh...he is that stupid."
- Adam Strange of the DC Universe fought one of these on a gigantic scale as a Monster of the Week in his Strange Adventures appearances. He does so again in Batman the Brave And The Bold but with Batman and Aquaman's help.
- In one old (1960s/1970s) Green Lantern comic, the villain used a giant flying magnifying glass as a weapon to burn his opponents. He used time travel to acquire it.
- In the Tintin book Prisoners of the Sun, that's how the Incas plan to light the fire that will burn the protagonists at the stake.
- When Lobo got The Mask, he went on a galaxy-shaking rampage of random violence, at one point doing this to people of some unfortunate planet.
- In one issue of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Doctor Doom builds a flying ring base whose center is actually a giant magnifying glass. However, he doesn't unleash it at once, instead opening its shutters slowly and making everyone suffer from increased heat. Spidey's able to stop him, though.
- This is the supervillian's plan, coupled with a reagent that reacts to filtered light, in the Batman comic Messiah of the Crimson Sun.
- Using a magnifying glass to kill ants is listed as one of the misdeeds of Bruno the Spoiled Brat in The Witches.
- The large, weaponized variety is used by Tavi in Cursor's Fury, in one of many CMOAs for him. Earlier, he starts a fire this way to disguise the fact that he has no firecrafting himself.
- Piggy's glasses are used to start fires in Lord of the Flies.
- This is a Crowning moment of fail on the author's part. Nearsighted lenses disperse light, not focus it.
- Mentioned in The Dresden Files in Changes, with rays of sunlight hot enough to melt metal.
- Jules Verne was big on this.
- Dr. Clawbonnie used a lens made of ice to start a fire in Captain Hatteras.
- Cyrus Smith McGuyvered a water-filled lens from two watch glasses in The Mysterious Island, as the castaways initially had no other means of starting the fire.
- In Small Gods, the Omnian fleet that attacks Ephebe is set ablaze by the rays from a massive mirror in a tower in the harbor. This is a direct reference to the ancient legend of Archimedes's "heat ray" in the siege of Syracuse.
- Alice, being a specialist in light magic, uses a spell to this effect in The Magicians. It's not very practical however--she was using it not long before sunset, and, after nothing the "lens" was a mile long, it still took her quite a long time just to burn through a door.
- In an episode of the Shazam live-action TV series, Captain Marvel creates a lens out of sand by rubbing the sand very fast, in order to focus the sun on something.
- Most wilderness-survival shows, like Dual Survival or Survivorman, will demonstrate this method of fire-starting at least once.
- Used by Amy in Doctor Who series 5, in The Vampires of Venice, when she uses her make up mirror to kill one of the alien fish vampire things while pre took several thousand levels in Badass Rory distracts it.
- In the Brad Paisley song "Anything Like Me", the narrator imagines what his son will be like in the future, and says what said son will do if he's anything like his father. Among the activities listed is trying to melt a Tonka truck with a magnifying glass.
- A Calvin and Hobbes strip had Stupendous Man use a giant magnifying glass from an observatory telescope in order to fry Calvin's school off the map. Of course, since it was all in Calvin's imagination, his Mom doesn't believe him when he says that the school got fried, and has him do his math homework.
- In Mage: The Ascension, one of the marauders (insane chaos mages) was rumoured to use a magnifying glass from a cereal box as a magic tool for his energy attacks.
- One Dungeons and Dragons supplement of amusing traps included a breastplate with a massive gem in the center that radiated magic. It did nothing while in the dungeon, but upon being struck by sunlight, it immediately focused an intense beam of concentrated light into the chest of the wearer, causing massive amounts of damage.
- The Dungeons and Dragons 3E adventure "The Eye of the Sun" centers around a magical artifact that acts as one of these. It's used by a cult of lizardfolk to burn a village down.
- The Mutants and Masterminds adventure "High Noon", part of the Lame Mage Evil Genius adventures, Dr. Null post-humously launches a doomsday device that deploys a cloud of small nanotechnology crystals that float around and focus beams of indiscriminate destruction from the sun's rays to destroy major cities.
- Invoked in Shadow of the Comet, an Adventure Game in the Call of Cthulhu series, for a Solve the Soup Cans puzzle. Basically, the hero is stuck in a lighthouse, and cultists are bashing at the door. Here, he finds a pair of wings and a candle. Using the magnifying glass in the inventory, he melts the candle to add wax to the wings. Guess what you do with the wings.
- In the text adventure Dragonsworld, Amsel signals an airship by using his magnifying glass to ignite a pile of leaves.
- In Crossfire, "magnifying glass" is a somewhat useful (increases Dexterity when held) Joke Item -- a weapon with minimum damage and ant slaying property. Works even underground.
- In RTS Army Men games, this appears as a super weapon in some games. Due to the fact that all units are either little plastic men or (rarely) bugs, it works fairly well.
- In the Rise of Rome expansion to Age of Empires I, there is a scenario that places you in control of the ancient Romans invading the Greek city of Syracuse. Surrounding the city's seacoast are several towers that shoot beams of light that set your ships on fire, referring to Archimedes and his heat ray.
- In an Adventure Time Ad Bumper, Ice King is trying to burn a giant ant. He then aims the magnifying glass at Finn, yelling, "You want some of this?"
- The Simpsons, "Marge vs. the Monorail": After it all, we hear a voiceover from Marge.
And that was the only folly the people of Springfield ever embarked upon. Except for the Popsicle stick skyscraper. And the 50-foot magnifying glass. [the sun focused through the magnifying glass sets the Popsicle stick skyscraper on fire] And that escalator to nowhere.
- The Tick had an inverted version of this, with evil giant ants that planned to deliver Karmic Deaths to all of humanity via one gigantic magnifying glass.
- In Futurama, Prof. Wernstrom's plan to stop global warming is a giant mirror that reflects excess light away from the Earth. Then a small piece of space debris knocks it askew, and a beam of concentrated light slices through the city.
- In The Perils of Penelope Pitstop episode "Hair-Raising Harness Race", while Penelope is trapped in a shed filled with explosives, the Hooded Claw has the Ant Hill Mob bound with a rope and hanging from a tree limb. A magnifying glass is set so that the sun's rays will burn the rope and send the mob plummeting into a deep chasm.
- In a Robot Chicken sketch a boy has his magnifying glass out to burn ants and laughs. God then hits him with a lightning bolt and laughs.
- One of the ideas of the "Strategic Defense Initiative" program was to combine orbital relay mirrors and directed-energy weapons into a Kill Sat effect similar to Archimedes' legendary mirrors, but much bigger.