Lava lamps, or lavalamps, were invented in the 1960s when The Flower Children were experimenting and becoming quite good with artificial mind-altering substances and needed something other than each other to look at while uttering in euphorical trances such thought-provoking, deeply philosophical revelations such as:
- 'Wow, man!'
- 'Oh cool!'
- 'Check this out, man.'
- 'Heeeey... Diiid yooou seee thaaat, maaan?'
- 'Far out, man.'
Though there are other cheaper imitations, a good lava lamp is composed of a metal base which houses a standard socket for a low-wattage1 regular home-variety lightbulb and if you're lucky, the bulb itself, a tallish glass 'globe' with a rounded bottom and a somewhat pointy top2, and a cap which slides over the pointy top end.
The globe contains about an inch to three inches of paraffin or some other waxy substance at the bottom, then is filled with water or oil to a level either just under or just above where the cap will cover the empty space3. The wax, water or both contain colouring and these colour combinations themselves can be mind-boggling and mind-numbing. Consider:
- Bits of fluorescent purple wax floating about in hot pink fluid.
- Bits of bright blue wax floating about in fluorescent green fluid.
- Bits of sun yellow wax floating about in turquoise fluid.
When the lamp is cool, these elements are naturally separate, with the paraffin a solid mass at the bottom.
The fun begins when the base is plugged in to an ordinary outlet and the switch, if it has one, is flipped on. The bulb produces just enough heat to soften the paraffin, but not quite enough to melt it. Not all the paraffin is softened at once, mind you, because the paraffin, when heated, becomes lighter than the liquid it is floating in and floats slowly to the top in smallish, ever-changing wiggly bubble-like masses.
As it rises to the top, far away from the bulb, it cools, and descends slowly back to the bottom to be reheated and the cycle begins again. Because there is always some paraffin at the bottom being heated, and always some various sized bubbles floating up while others are floating down, there is constant motion. This is said to have a strangely enchanting, soothing, almost mesmerizing effect on humans and cats.
As was stated before there are other, sometimes cheaper, varieties. Some are formed together in one piece, which means when the bulb burns out, the lamp either becomes a paperweight or trash.