Vegas Hotel Pool 'Death Ray' Burns Tourists

Hotel Design Channels Sun Into a Powerful Beam, Scorching Swimmers

By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ

Sept. 28, 2010—

Forget sunscreen. At one Las Vegas pool, you might want to consider full-body armor to protect you from the sun's powerful rays.

Guests at the new Vdara hotel have been complaining that because of an architectural flaw on the glass skyscraper, the sun's rays are being magnified and reflected onto an area of the pool, causing severe burns. There have been reports that even plastic has melted from the heat.

Bill Pintas almost lost some hair from his experience with the hot spot.

After a recent swim in the pool just after noon, he went back to his lounge chair.

"I'm sitting there in the chair and all of the sudden my hair and the top of my head are burning," Pintas told ABC News. "I'm rubbing my head and it felt like a chemical burn. I couldn't imagine what it could be."

Pintas shifted around and suddenly the back of his legs were burning. He ran to a nearby umbrella but even that didn't provide cover, let alone a shadow.

"It was as bright as outside," said Pintas, a Chicago lawyer who owns a condo at the Vdara.

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"I used to live in Miami and I've sat in the sun in Las Vegas 100 times. I know what a hot sun feels like and this was not it," he added. "My first inclination was thinking: Jesus we've destroyed the ozone layer because I am burning."


Bill Pintas' melted plastic newspaper bag.

Then Pintas learned he wasn't the first person to experience the magnified sunlight. At the bar, he explained the intense heat to some employees.

"They're kind of giggling and say: 'Yeah, we know. We call it the death ray,'" Pintas recalled.

They told him it even melts plastic cups. A plastic Vdara bag holding Pintas' newspaper was also burned through by the sun. The black letters bearing the name Vdara had entirely melted away.

Las Vegas Hotel Pool Offers Too Much Sun

Pintas isn't the only one to experience the so-called death ray at the City Center hotel.

A reporter from the Las Vegas Review-Journal made two trips to the pool and saw the 10-foot by 15-foot hot zone. As the Earth rotates, the hot spot shifts across the pool area. During the summer, it was noticeable for about 90 minutes before and after noon, the reporter discovered from pool employee interviews. The ray can increase temperatures 20 degrees in the zone.

Pintas said that polyethylene newspaper bags melt at between 120 and 130 degrees. A plastic cup melts at around 160 degrees.

Gordon Absher, a spokesman for MGM Mirage, which owns the Vdara, said the company is well aware of the problem and is addressing it.

"Because of the curved, concave shape of that hotel, they sometimes get isolated pockets of high temperatures," Absher said.

Apparently there is a more scientific name for the "death ray," a name that the hotel's management prefers: "solar convergence phenomenon."

The idea of a blinding light being magnified by a glass hotel in the middle of the desert shouldn't surprise anyone. And, in fact, MGM Mirage thought of this when designing the Vdara building. It hired a consultant who decided to place a thin film over the window which reduces the sun's effects by 70 percent.

"But even with that, when folks are out on the pool deck, on some days people will feel this reflection and the heat associated with it," said Absher, who noted this was the hotel's first summer of operation.

Vdara Tries to Fix Pool Problem

Fixing the problem isn't going to be easy. As the Earth spins, the sun moves across the horizon. But as the seasons change, the angle of the Earth to the sun changes too, meaning shadows ??? and in this case the hot spot ??? move in a different way. Putting in one row of thick umbrellas won't solve the problem because each day they would have to be a few feet back or a few feet forward from their prior day's position.

"This is quite literally an astronomical challenge," Absher said. "We are dealing with a moving target."

Right now, the hotel is looking at getting some larger, thicker umbrellas, maybe some large plants and a few other more high-tech options, Absher said. Since the summer heat is on its way out, the hotel has a few months to find a solution.

Until then, add some extra sunscreen and beware of the strong light.