Not to be copied without author’s permission





(A play in 9 scenes)




By Carl Djerassi









Dedicated to Richard Zare (Stanford University)


Gérard Liger-Belair (University of Reims)


Unsurpassed masters of Beer and Champagne Bubbleology




In order of appearance

Prosecutor, could be entirely as off-stage voice.


Jerzy Krzyz, a Polish chemist—late thirties or early forties--who immigrated to America as a non-tenured professor in the chemistry department of a second rate university during which time he changed his name legally to Jean de la Croix.


Leo Bramble (middle aged), chairman of the chemistry department.


Stefania Nowak, (first generation Polish American) secretary to the chair of the chemistry department, commonly called Steffy. She is in her middle thirties.


Scene 1. A courtroom, entirely black, except for spot light on defendant who is standing. Prosecuting attorney’s voice may be entirely OS.


PROSECUTOR Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. In spite of its apparent complexity… at least so claimed by the defense… the state’s case can be summarized succinctly.


CROIX (formerly Jerzy Krzyz) (Loud) Hah!


PROSECUTOR Your honor. May I request that the defendant be instructed to refrain from any commentary until the prosecution concludes its summary.


CROIX (formerly Jerzy Krzyz) My Hah was not a commentary.


PROSECUTOR So what may I ask was it?


CROIX (formerly Jerzy Krzyz) An opinion.


PROSECUTOR I see. In that case, may I rephrase my request to the court to prohibit interruptions of any kind? (Dismissive shrug by Defendant). And now to continue. Two men die within 21 minutes of each other’s demise. Both are non smokers. Cholesterol levels below 180… according to their last physical exams. No particular health problems. One 47 years old, the other 54. What are the statistical chances of two apparently healthy, middle aged men dying from embolisms in the same room within just a few minutes of each other? If you take the entire USA, one in ten million or one in one million? Who knows? Or even just taking this state with only 6 million inhabitants? One in 100,000? Again, I don’t know and I won’t bother consulting a statistician, because we are not dealing with the entire country or even this state. We are dealing with two men, both professors in the same institution… and both having sipped champagne some two hours before their death. And not just any champagne. Not Dom Perignon or Veuve Cliquot… after all this is a University and not a banker’s club. Not even non-vintage Piper Sonoma from California, because people are not known to drop dead drinking such champagnes for the simple reason that they would have been off the market long ago. No… they were drinking champagne from two unlabeled bottles. So what are the statistical chances of it not being an accident? I would say, one out of one… or at the most extreme, one out of two. (Beat). Of course the toxicologist analyzed the remnants from those bottles and the pathologist performed detailed autopsies of the two bodies. The results? Nothing! Nothing… except that the cause of death was sudden embolism. So back to the toxicologist. Why didn’t he find anything in the bottles? I mean, no poison or anything even resembling a poison? And why is Dr. Kroy here—


CROIX (formerly Jerzy Krzyz) (interrupts): Croix, your honor! I will not have my name murdered.


PROSECUTOR (Dismissive) Kroy, Croix… whatever. Why is the doctor accused of double murder? Because Dr. Kroy—


CROIX (formerly Jerzy Krzyz) Croix! (Correct French pronunciation).


PROSECUTOR Because Dr. Croix (Poor French pronunciation) .is an expert on bubbles… first beer bubbles, but then focusing on champagne. Bubble formation, bubble shape, speed and expansion… I could go on with terms like turbothermodynamics, but I won’t—


CROIX (formerly Jerzy Krzyz) Don’t forget turbokinetics!


PROSECUTOR Your honor! May I request once more—


CROIX (formerly Jerzy Krzyz) But this was no interruption! (Grins). I was just trying to be helpful.


PROSECUTOR I shall ask for help when I need it! (Beat). As I already stated, the bottles of unlabeled champagne that killed Prof. Aspinall and Prof. Sehlig were not empty… they were both nearly half full. But unfortunately, the remaining liquid was not analyzed until three days after their death and since the bottles sat there uncorked, their contents were totally flat… so flat that it could not be called anymore champagne but only an innocuous liquid containing less than 12% of alcohol, C2 H 5OH to the chemist.


CROIX (formerly Jerzy Krzyz) Bravo! (Beat, while raising hands in calming fashion) Sorry, it was just meant in admiration of your chemical sophistication.


PROSECUTOR In other words, nothing remaining in that bottle could have killed two apparently healthy men within two hours of having consumed some of its sparkling contents. But something did kill them… something that was in that bottle when it was freshly opened, but that had disappeared… poof into the air… two days later. I need not explain to you, ladies and gentlemen, what had disappeared in that interval, other than to remind you that Dr. Kroy was known to have called some champagne bubbles “killer flowers.” I suggest that they be renamed “murder flowers.” And now to Dr. Kroy’s motive…


CROIX (formerly Jerzy Krzyz) Stop it! I am Jean de la Croix… Jean (French pronunciation), not Jean (American pronunciation ), because I am not a woman. And de la Croix… not Kroy. Croix… meaning cross in French. Like being nailed to a cross or bearing one… both of which I have experienced in this pitifully non-collegial third rate department… and survived! At least so far. But I will not be crossed or double-crossed… and especially not by someone who keeps calling me Kroy as if the last two letters of my simple five-letter name… which you have now converted it into a four-letter abomination… were spelled as “oi.”




CROIX (formerly Jerzy Krzyz) Yes O I… as in Oi weh!



Scene 2 Office of the Chemistry Department chairman, Leo Bramble, who is sitting at his desk. Rather cluttered surface with computer, papers, books, etc indicating sloppy disorganization. There is also a beaker (obviously from the laboratory) with some wilted flowers. Jerzy Krzyz aka Jean de la Croix rushes into the office without knocking holding a ginger ale bottle in one hand and some large photographs in the other.


LEO What the hell?


JERZY I’ve got to see you.


LEO Have you never heard of knocking on a closed door?


JERZY Listen—


LEO You listen first. It’s a question of manners. Good manners. I’m sure people knock on doors in Poland.


JERZY Sorry, but this is fantastic.


LEO What is fantastic?


JERZY I’ll show you in a moment, but first let me start with this ginger ale.


            Puts ginger ale bottle on the desk.


Do you have a glass?


LEO No glass here. I’m so damn busy, I don’t even have time to drink.


Jerzy looks around, sees the beaker with some wilted flowers. He grabs them, throws them in the wastepaper basket and rushes out, saying over his shoulder,


JERZY I’ll be back in a moment.


LEO throws up his hands or shakes his head and then goes back to his work. A moment later, Jerzy rushes in with the clean beaker and puts it on the desk.


JERZY Here… we need a clean container. It’s absolutely crucial to what I want to show you. (Opens ginger ale bottle and pours it into the beaker, whereupon a moderate amount of bubbles are noted. Take a sip… it’s ordinary ginger ale with ordinary bubbles.


LEO I don’t want any. And will you now please leave.


JERZY Not yet. (Takes a salt shaker out of his pocket, unscrews it and dumps a fair amount of salt into the ginger ale whereupon there is vigorous, almost volcanic bubbling, with liquid running over the top of the beaker on the desk and some of the papers).


LEO (Jumps up) Are you nuts? Look at the mess you’re making! (Opens desk drawer and pulls out some Kleenex with which he starts to wipe off the excess liquid, throwing the wet tissues with some of the wet pages into the waste paper basket). Get out!


JERZY Sorry, I shouldn’t have filled the beaker that much. (Reaches over to grab some more tissues to help remove the remaining liquid). I just wanted to make a point about how seeding promotes bubble formation.


 (Throws some photos on the desk which should be projected on the background.)


What do you see here? (Pointing to first picture)



LEO (After inspecting them for a moment) Flowers?


JERZY Yes… flowers. But what kind?


LEO Damn it, Jerry—


JERZY Jean! Not Jerry! Please remember that I changed my name to Jean de la Croix. No more Jerzy Krzyz, not even Jerry Krzyz.


LEO Jean… Jerry…! I am the chair of the chemistry department… not the botany department. I am up to here (points to his nose) with departmental crap. Just look at this (points at papers on the desk). And you break in unannounced, flood my desk, and then expect me to look at pictures of your flowers. Jerry… I mean Jean… get out!


JERZY Wait! These aren’t ordinary flowers.


LEO Out!


JERZY They’re flowers that nobody has ever seen.


LEO Out, I said.


JERZY Flowers I have taken with a special high speed camera. Chemical flowers… not ordinary ones—


LEO What do you mean by chemical flowers?


JERZY Of bubbles in a glass of champagne. In the photo you see the bursting of the central bubble which attracts some neighbors to produce these chemical flowers during less than 10 microseconds! And now look at this close-up where



I’ve caught the moment  when a hole is created out of the rupture of a bubble!


LEO (Almost desperate) I see the hole. But Jerry (points to his desk) I simply must—


JERZY Just one more.  What you see here



is how this tiny millimetric hole collapses and ejects a tiny liquid jet above the surface. Leo! Nobody has ever seen this and nobody will ever forget this when they next drink champagne. By the way, I call them “killer flowers”… but more about that later.


LEO Killer flowers? Look, I’ll admit it looks interesting, but I must—


JERZY Please, one more minute. Let me start from the beginning. Any carbonated beverage—for instance champagne—is only slightly supersaturated with carbon dioxide dissolved gas molecules. Bubbles—what we see and taste—don’t just come out of nowhere. The carbon dioxide molecules must first bunch together and push their way through the liquid before they appear as bubbles. But you need nucleation to promote bubble formation and I just showed that to you by pouring salt into ginger ale.


LEO You are wasting my time. Are you telling me, you pour salt into champagne to get it to bubble?


JERZY No, I’m only telling you that in champagne, it’s mostly microcellulose fibers on the walls of the glass.


LEO What fibers?


JERZY Fibers held together on the wall by electrostatic forces caused by wiping a champagne glass with a dish towel.


LEO (Guffaws) You mean only dirty glasses work?


JERZY It depends on what you call “dirty.” I‘m talking about microscopic dirt.


LEO And pouring champagne into a really clean glass will produce no bubbles?


JERZY Right… unless you scratch the smooth surface producing ragged spots. Bubbles will then start forming immediately. Now one of the unsolved problems in bubble formation in a carbonated beverage is the rate of bubbling. It is related to the much bigger and hotter issue of complexity in chemical processes. I have been focusing on fiber-initiated bubbling and (raises voice in excitement) I have now shown this mathematically


(quickly writes the following equation, which is projected on the rear wall and then speaks very rapidly so as to be virtually incomprehensible)



where f is the frequency of bubble formation from just one such fiber, T the time required by the tiny gas pocket to grow—


LEO Stop!


JERZY Not yet. I need to explain what zo and zf  are--


LEO No you don’t—you’ve already totally lost me. I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.


JERZY I thought so.


LEO Smart aleck. (Beat).


JERZY Is that all you have to say? Bubbles aren’t just bubbles. Studying them has repercussions in math! (Beat). For instance: how do you pack bubbles into a limited space? You figure that out and you’re immediately into fractal nature. (Beat) Or in particle physics… all the way to quantum foam.


LEO Listen, either this is nonsense or I am just dense.


JERZY Probably the latter. Take the physics of a dripping faucet.


LEO For God’s sake! Just stick to the mechanics of it: turn it firmly, and it won’t drip.


JERZY I am not talking about how to stop faucets from dripping. I’m talking about how to explain it… drip by drip. That’s not trivial.


LEO Says who?


JERZY Lots of curious people, for instance chemical engineers, who want to know when and how a stream of water through a faucet changes to dripping bubbles or vice versa.


LEO Enough about bubbles. I’ve got a department to run. If you want to talk about it, make an appointment with Steffy.


JERZY Can we then also talk about my tenure status? It’s related. That’s why I came.


LEO We can talk about it, but I don’t know whether we can do anything about it.