Plastics security “threats”: polypropylene bottle, cue ball

I try not to pack anything in an airplane carry-on bag that airport security checkpoints would be interested in, but I never seem to know what it will be the next time. Apparently I personally don’t look like much of a threat, but the occasional odd item, sometimes of plastics, in my carry-on bag, raises red flags for the x-ray crew.

            I was held to account at an airport security checkpoint recently for having in my bag a polypropylene prescription bottle, label removed, with “something” in it. These bottles are child-and adult-resistant and the security supervisor gave up trying to open it and handed it to me. I popped the PP bottle open (notwithstanding that it was transparent) and shook out the three computer-memory flash drives (aka thumb drives) that I had in there for their own protection. One look at those and the supervisor waved me through before he was embarrassed further by somebody else coming over to have a look.  Aside from a little lost time, it was a harmless encounter.

            In another encounter, I was stopped at the security checkpoint because the x-ray scan had turned up a billiards cue ball, in my luggage.  I had found three of these antique (or collectible) objects during a foray in my travels, and the security people considered one of them suspect (for inscrutable reasons, possibly the material density, two of them were ignored). The density of one of the balls made it, I guess, a threat. Of what, I don’t know. I guess it could have been thrown. Finally, a security checker asked plaintively, “What is it?” I showed her the chalk marks on it from the cue stick, and she decided that I and my cue ball were not worth any further trouble, and let me go. I told her there were two more in the bag, which I suppose was not too bright of me, but anyway she said, “If x-ray didn’t see it, we don’t want to know about it.”

            What is it with cue balls? Well, they were originally made of ivory, and the cost and scarcity of the ivory was one impetus for the discovery or invention of plastics. I don’t own any ivory versions, but several cue balls in my modest collection have pattern cracking and discoloration that may be clues to their age. The search for a replacement for ivory traces back to John Wesley Hyatt in the 1850s, and is familiar lore in the plastics processing industry. –Merle R. Snyder

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