The Alternate Scientist

Building A Suicide Cord

"A WHAT?" exclaimed Mike.

"A suicide cord," I replied calmly.

"And exactly what is a suicide cord?" he asked incredulously.

"If you let me go ahead and build it, as I was about to do before you stuck your big hairy nose in, you can find out."

Mike picked up the mirror I keep on the workbench and studied himself in it. After a few moments he said, "My nose isn't hairy."

"I apologize," I apologized. "Your nose isn't hairy. Now, first of all I am going to take an old two conductor A.C. cord from my junk box..."

"Where did you get it?" he demanded.

"I don't know. I cut the cords from everything I throw away and save them." I laid the cord on the workbench. "Now I get two alligator clips with insulating sleeves." I matched my actions to my words, pulling open a storage cabinet and taking the clips to the workbench to lay them beside line cord. I split the zip cord for about five inches and slipped an insulating sleeve over each conductor. Then I stripped and tinned about a quarter inch of each. Finally I soldered on the alligator clips and slid the sleeves over them.

I held it up. "There it is. The perfect thing for making temporary A.C. power connections."

"But why is it called a suicide cord?" he asked.

Holding out the alligator clips, I gave him my stock answer, "Take one of these in each hand while I plug it in and I'll show you."

"OK, OK, I get the idea!" he said backing away.

"There is another style of suicide cord too." I placed a second A.C. line cord on the bench and opened the old Bowers Peanut Crunch can that my father had used to hold A.C. plugs as far back as I can remember. Taking a two conductor plug from the can I quickly installed it on the free end of the new cord and held it up for Mike's inspection.

He stared at it dubiously. "That might be good for a quick game of Russian roulette. But I can't imagine any other use for it."

"Back in the 60's," I said, " when I started repairing electronic equipment, it wasn't unusual to have line cords captive to a case. What I mean is that when you slid out the chassis, the line cord automatically disconnected and stayed with the case. If the chassis had a convenience outlet you just ran this style suicide cord from that to an outlet on the bench. You could power the chassis without having to laboriously free the original line cord or having to hunt up, what was in many cases, a special cheater cord."

"It still looks dangerous!" commented Mike.

"Of course it's dangerous," I replied somewhat testily. "Anytime you are dealing with exposed A.C. line voltage, or anything over about fifty volts, it is very dangerous and justifies extreme caution."

"For that matter all tools are dangerous to one degree or another." I added. "Safety should be second nature as well as first on your mind."

For once Mike looked serious as he nodded.

Tom Hunter (N3CRK), 25 NOV 2000