Sparkle, not bang, for your fireworks buck

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER and BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 2011 - 2:33 PM

Made-for-Minnesota fireworks produce lots of snap and crackle, but not much pop. Read more about what we found after buying July 4th offerings at Twin Cities stores.

Minnesotans who want to light up the night, typically make a pilgrimage across the St. Croix River to load up on fireworks in Wisconsin. There, you can get just about anything short of a hand grenade. Our state laws ban any device that explodes or leaves the ground, a prohibition that includes firecrackers, bottle rockets, missiles and Roman candles.

For those complaining that Minnesota is anti-fun, note that the three other states that share a border with Wisconsin -- Iowa, Illinois and Michigan -- don't allow that stuff, either.

To see how much -- or little -- bang we can get for our buck, the Star Tribune bought a variety of Minnesota-legal fireworks in Twin Cities stores and put them to the test. They turned out to be variations on the same theme: things that sit on the ground shooting off sparks that turn bright colors while producing a modicum of noise and an abundance of smoke. (Don't discount the smoke; at least it helps keep the mosquitoes away.)

We bought several large spark-producers and a few variety packs that included much smaller devices. Here are our top picks:

BEST IN SHOW

Brew Haha: With a light show that lasted one minute and 45 seconds, this replica of an oversized beer mug (we paid $19.99 for it) produced the longest show. It cycled from white sparks to color sparks to loud pops, and then repeated the pattern. It also shot its sparks about 6 feet into the air, the highest of those tested.

Fiery Frog: About the size of a grapefruit, this frog replica ($10.99) shot sparks from the top of its head. That was fairly routine; the highlight was that the frog's mouth lit up, too.

Either of these would have made a nice grand finale to a back-yard fireworks celebration.

RUNNERS UP

Firecracker Fountain: A canister about 7 inches tall and 3 inches in diameter ($5.99), it produced sparks that shot at least 3 feet into the air. They started white, then turned a variety of bright colors.

Phantom Rocket: This device ($3.99 for a four-pack) looks like a bottle rocket, which is what we thought it might be until we got a closer look. The nose cone comes off to reveal a fuse, and the stick can be stuck into the ground as a base. It was a short show, but an impressive one with a bright red flame.

Mach III: This small cylinder (included in a $9.99 variety pack) -- slightly larger than a size D battery -- gave us one of the best displays relative to size. It combined noise with multicolored sparks.

Lighting Flash: About the size of a nickel, this small device (also part of the variety pack) produced a burst of intense white flashes that resembled the light from a welding torch.

FINALE

Because of the law-mandated similarity of the devices, kids are likely to be amused by the sparkling fireworks longer than most adults. After watching a half-dozen or so tests, one bored judge noted, "Minnesota really needs to change its laws."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643; Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

FOUR WITH SPARKLE

1. Brew Haha

2. Fiery Frog

3. Phantom Rocket

4. Firecracker Fountain

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