Elon Musk’s Super Fun Pyro and Apocalypse Show

Elon Musk managed to sell 20,000 flamethrowers in less than a week. He also joked about creating a zombie apocalypse to generate demand for said flamethrowers. Callum Tyndall asks: what if he wasn’t joking?

You have likely heard that Elon Musk has decided to get into the flamethrower business. As part of funding his still-developing Boring Company, the billionaire initially started selling hats and said that if they sold 50,000 hats they would then start selling flamethrowers.

Having made in the region of $1m from hats, the Boring Company then put up 20,000 flamethrowers for sale for $500 a pop. The flamethrowers sold out in less than a week, meaning Musk sold $10m worth of the absurd, yet somehow legal, devices. 

That’s not what we care about though. What we care about is Musk’s, supposedly joking, tweets. 

“The rumor that I’m secretly creating a zombie apocalypse to generate demand for flamethrowers is completely false.”

“You’d need millions of zombies for a so-called ‘apocalypse’ anyway. Where would I even get a factory big enough to make so many!?”

Of course he’s joking. He followed those tweets up with one about the flamethrower’s safeword being cryptocurrency, and coming with a free blockchain. This is just some wonderfully irreverent marketing. Buuutttt…. What if it wasn’t? Welcome to Elon Musk’s Super Fun Pyro and Apocalypse Show.

Elon Musk’s motivation for a Zombie apocalypse

Tony Stark once went evil and infected the San Francisco water supply with a version of the Extremis techno-virus that allowed citizens to alter their bodies at will to grant health, beauty or even immortality. After giving them a free trial, he then changed the Extremis 3.0 app to charge a daily fee of $99.99. This obviously ended poorly. 

Now, Elon Musk is arguably the closest thing we have to a real life Tony Stark, which, by my calculations, leaves him at least equally likely to go evil and turn his money and genius to ill ends. Especially when taken into account that although Musk has a bit of a man of the people vibe with his attempts to make clean energy affordable and in use by all, he is still a businessman. And a very rich one at that. You don’t get that way without having at least a little desire to plump up the bank account. 

The Boring Company already sold out of all the flamethrowers it was offering. So maybe we don’t need to worry. What need would there be to drive up demand for a product no longer on offer? 

Musk, historically, hasn’t come off as someone who particularly likes having his ideas questioned 

Except it did also just make $10m out of the sale. And, perhaps more importantly, there is a drive from a Californian legislator to ban the sale of the product within the state, based on the fact that although the flamethrower may technically pass existing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulations, it is still, y’know, a flamethrower. 

Musk, historically, hasn’t come off as someone who particularly likes having his ideas questioned and given that the Boring flamethrower was clearly designed to pass under the ATF’s radar, he’s unlikely to appreciate someone now trying to outlaw something he deliberately designed to be legal. 

Imagine the satisfaction of making that same legislator practically beg to get access to a flamethrower.

And what better way to do that than unleash an apocalyptic horde of the undead onto the streets of California?

“When the zombie apocalypse happens, you’ll be glad you bought a flamethrower. Works against hordes of the undead or your money back!”

What may be the ultimate cause of our doom: “guaranteed to liven up any party!”

Image courtesy of The Boring Company

How Musk might engineer a zombie apocalypse

I’m assuming Musk isn’t much of a mysticism kind of guy, so we’re to expect that the zombies will be scientifically created. Specifically, they’ll obviously be coming out of the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada. I’ll leave the precise mechanism of creating shambling hordes of the undead to Mr Musk, but I’m going to go ahead and assume that he’ll perform some kind of Frankensteinian operation utilising only clean energy.

He just doesn’t really seem the type to create a virus that would zombify people.

Plus, I’m sure he can pitch it as some form of recycling: “Look at these bodies just wasting away in the ground! But now, thanks to Tesla’s Clean Energy Revivification procedure, they can be put to work as an ungodly horde handily reducing the overcrowded human population.” Or something like that.

Now the great thing about the location of the Gigafactory is that it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. Part of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, there are a few other large warehouses and industrial buildings around but no real populace. Sure, people might notice that there aren’t many batteries rolling out of the factory of late but then, how long does it even take to make a horde of zombies? Once you’ve got the tech down, I’m sure you can just start some sort of production line. Body, revivify, crate.

And the wonderful thing about zombies is that, although Musk said you’d need millions for an apocalypse, they’re self-replicating. So the actual overhead of creating the horde is massively cut down, Musk himself wouldn’t need to make anywhere near millions as, provided he had a good to perfect bite-to-infection ratio, unleashing the zombies would soon produce more. 2014 estimates had the Gigafactory employing roughly 6,500 people by 2022; let’s assume you can fill the space with at least double that of zombies.

Then, one early morning, masses of Tesla trucks roll into Reno and open their doors. The city has a population in the region of 250,000. In the early stages it’s going to get real bad: people won’t know what’s happening, there’ll be a struggle to establish a coordinated response, and all the while the hordes numbers are just being added to by their initial victims.

Within a few hours there would be a mass evacuation, shortly after that there would likely be quarantine. If even just 10% of the population is caught, and there’s a reasonably good chance it could be far worse, the horde now has the population of a small town. And the factory has already started production on the next batch, all ready to spread the joy further afield. 

According to the 2015 paper You Can Run, You Can Hide: The Epidemiology and Statistical Mechanics of Zombies, by Cornell students Alex Alemi and Matt Bierbaum and professors Christopher R Myers and James P Sethna, “After 28 days, it is not the largest metropolitan areas that suffer the greatest risk, but the regions located between large metropolitan areas.

“For instance, in California it is the region near Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley that is at the greatest risk, as this area will be overrun by zombies whether they originate in the San Francisco area or the Los Angeles / San Diego area. The area with the greatest one month zombie risk is north eastern Pennsylvania, itself being susceptible to outbreaks originating in any of the large metropolitan areas on the east coast.” 

Isolated in his solar-panelled fortress, Elon Musk looks out over the chaos he has wrought and, laughing, increases the price of flamethrowers by another $50. After all, what’s $50 in the face of being torn apart by slavering masses of the recently dead? He is not an unreasonable man.

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