One of the ways to mail sheets of acid, in the days before more advanced chemical inventions, was to hide it between two sheets of carbon paper, keeping x-ray machines from seeing the perforations (which was how The Man could tell the difference between The Rainbow Family and The Philatelic Family).

With the advent of NCR paper, however, the use of carbon paper is now outdated, making the above method as suspicious as mailing home potpourri gifts from Amsterdam.

This is a true story from when I worked as a NASA intern about 4 years ago.

The package showed up in the mail stop at the front of the wind tunnel building after lunchtime. It was about a foot square and five inches deep, wrapped in nondescript brown paper. There seemed to be an excessive amount of tape on this parcel. There was no return address, and the only thing written on the package's outside was a scrawled "To the Wind Tunnels at NASA / Ames".

Posted right next to the mail stop area was a poster listing characteristics of "suspicious parcels", meaning, packages that had the potential to be bombs or dead rats or bags of poo. This package met the majority of the "suspicious" criteria, so I half-jokingly mentioned it to my boss, Pete. Pete looked at the package and with a concerned expression said, "You know Anne, you're right! I think we'd better call security." Interesting. I was sure security would probably appreciate something to do besides give bicyclists stop-sign warnings, and lo and behold, they came right over.

Curious heads poked out of offices up and down the hall.

"What's going on?"

"Pete's intern might have found a bomb!"

"Whoah, cool! I mean, wow, that's terrible!"

And so on it went.

The security folks prodded at the package a bit and within five minutes or so decided that it would be prudent to bring in the Bomb Squad. Luckily, Ames is a military base so we had our own on-site bomb squad! Everyone in the building had to evacuate and stand some required-by-law distance away. Fortunately it wasn't so far that I couldn't see what was going on. Headlines began to dance in my head: "Heroic Intern Saves Wind Tunnel from Certain Destruction!"

The Bomb Squad arrived in dark, thickly padded suits and helmets. They jumped out of an impressive looking black jeep and rushed into the wind tunnel building with a big suitcase-like box that I presumed was filled with bomb-defusing implements. Most of the next twenty minutes were pretty uneventful; just me and the other wind tunnel employees standing around in the parking lot listening for anything potentially interesting, like an explosion.

What we eventually heard was not an explosion but laughter and a cry of, "It's OK everyone! It's just a protractor!"

A protractor? Yes, it turned out that some old guy who had worked at NASA many years ago had since retired to Arizona and discovered among his possessions a rather expensive protractor he'd "accidentally" taken home from work some time ago. He felt guilty and decided to send it back, but didn't know exactly who to send it to so he simply addressed the package to the "wind tunnel" itself. All this was detailed in a letter inside the package.

The bomb squad disappeared back into the bad-ass shadows from whence they came, and once again all was quiet.

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