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:


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.


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.


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


1. Brew Haha

2. Fiery Frog

3. Phantom Rocket

4. Firecracker Fountain