Conclave smoke: a mystery recipe

Guys, during the papal conclave in the Sistine Chapel, alternating puffs of black and white smoke emerge after the voting, "coming from a copper flue jutting from the chapel roof." But nobody outside the Chapel seems to know how those colors are created, and the New York Times is on it. Guesses range from damp straw to potassium chlorate. Papal Purple Nurple, or any other known strain of sweet-ass bud, is unfortunately not on the list. [NYT]


  1. At last, white smoke will emerge from the Vatican chimney, signifying that they have blown a head gasket.

  2. As an aside, are narcotics criminalised in the Vatican?  Y’know, being its own country and all.

  3. the whole thing is so weird and archaic. yes yes, tradition and all that, but come on — even santa uses twitter these days.

  4. I’m pretty sure that they used to use the old Pope, but Benedict fucked that up.

      1. *sniff sniff*  What’s that smell?  Sort of like a torch made out of old blankets and pepperoni?

  5. 1978 while attended elementary Roman Catholic school the Pope of that year died suddenly, Conclave was called at the Vatican. At our school an elaborate robed cleric visited and explained all about WHY conclave is called, and its importance. He mentioned the colour smoke meanings. No Pope. some color.  Yes Pope. different color. I forget the colours, I suppose google would, but meh.  D&D was a popular back then and he seemed like a dungeon character. Lawful Good Cleric, charisma 15. WareRobe 18+1-4d

  6. It isn’t smoke, it’s steam from the sauna.  They make it black by adding a little bit of water from Silvio Berlusconi’s hot tub, harvested soon after a bunga bunga party (the blackness comes from hair dye and the tears of Lucifer, who weeps for the humanity).  White means party’s over boys, time to go home.

  7. In times past, it was usually wet straw that was used to create the black smoke. The “black” is carbon particles. Any other smoke tends to be white already so there was no need to color it.

    In 1958 there was some confusion because the smoke was gray… twice. This was remedied by using smoke bombs to confirm that there was, in fact, no pope yet. The same year, the Vatican also installed a small ringer that was triggered from inside the chamber of the cardinals and connected to vatican radio which could then confirm or deny the results as an official source.

    In 1963 they used smoke flares from the italian army. In 1978, the first time, they “experimented” with magnesium, I believe, but ended up reverting to the smoke flares from the italian army once again the second time in 1978.

    This is from memory, however. I do not recall what was used when benedict was elected but my guess would be the smoke flares again.

    1. Maybe they’ll liven things up with a few sparklers, or a Roman candle propped up in the chimney.

  8. There are two stoves, a modern one where the colored chemicals are produced and an antique one where the ballots are burned. 

    There is a cartridge that contains 5 doses of the chemicals, released over the course of seven minutes, activated electronically within the modern stove.

    The black smoke is made of: Potassium Perchlorate, Anthracene, Sulfur

    The white smoke is made of: Potassium Chlorate, Lactose, Colophony (Greek pitch or rosin)

    Source: (Briefing by Fr. Federico Lombardi, 03/13/2013, 1 p.m. CET, Starting at approximately 13:30)

Comments are closed.