Streetlamp Dousers

Regarding the article on whether personal emmantions can extinguish streetlamps, I submit for your approval an account told to me by a friend twenty-odd years ago. I don’t mean to suggest this explains the mystery in general, but it does explain a specific case.

When my friend was in college, cheap, self-contained lasers were a relatively new phenomenon and, of course, were all the rage in the physics department. Someone got the bright idea of mounting a high-powered rifle sight on one, allowing it to be aimed precisely from a great distance. The top of the physics building afforded a grand view of the campus and, in particular, a main street passing through it. There was no lack of victims to light with a red spot. They soon discovered that streetlights could be extinguished by hitting the photocell at the top with the laser. Then the real fun began as they waited for pedestrians to come walking along only to have the streetlights extinguish as they passed beneath them.

A question and an observation.

Were photocells on the tops of streetlights common twenty years ago? IF so, where?

This would explain why a very small group of people in one town might think they had magic abilities. But people the world over think they can cause streetlights to go dark.

Photo switches in street lights in 1985? Yes, of course. Here in Anderson, Indiana. You could tell they weren’t on a timer, because some of the lights on a street didn’t go off with the rest. You could buy your own photoswitched mercury vapor light at the home improvement store in that distant past. It’s not rocket surgery. I built a photoelectric light switch from plans in a magazine before I was out of high school, 40 years ago. Even with my crude soldering, it worked just fine. I think I still have it, someplace. :stuck_out_tongue:

But, in the case of mercury vapor streetlights, you have to wear a tinfoil hat. This is in case that, if you put out the lights the vapor can infiltrate your brain.
No shit. Happened to me once. Been fasicinated with the planet Mercury ever since.

And this wouldn’t just apply to one town, either. We did that when I was in college, too, though that was rather more recent. We usually found it more fun to target the people directly, though, rather than the streetlights (most of the streetlights at Villanova followed a different system, and there weren’t as many people out when it was dark enough for lights). It was especially fun to see the reactions of the ROTC students… They all seemed to think that they were being gun-targetted.

But I suspect that physics and engineering students the world over have independently discovered the joys of laser pointers, for as long as they’ve been available.