You may have a palate that can distinguish between a fine French wine and a bottle that's only adequate. Or an eye that can pick a great Renoir over a lesser Renoir.
Now here's another test for you. Judging a fireworks display. It may have escaped you all of these Fourths of July, but there is a fine art to lighting the sky with colors and filling the night with pops and booms and blasts.
To the uninformed spectator, "One fireworks display may look like any other," says the American Pyrotechnics association, "but this is definitely not the case.
The association, to which most of America's fireworks manufacturers, iporters and distributors belong, has drawn up a "connoisseur's Guide to Fireworks Displays." Yet one more field in which to practice your one-upmanship.
Blue, for example, is a particularly difficult color to produce, says the association, despite the fact that it is a fairly essential color in a celebration of the nation's birthday. A deep, beautiful blue, therefore, "is a true work of art."
"Fireworks are really a choreographed symphony for the eye," says author George plimpton, who has held the unlikely title of New York City fireworks commissioner under the past three mayors. His for the rockets' red glare will take him to Monte Carlo next month to witness an internation competition. The American entry, New York Pyrotechnics Products Co. Inc. of Bellport, N.Y., is putting on tonight's display on the Mall for the first time.
As part of his job, incidentally, Plimpton helped put on a fireworks extravangaza in Central Park last year that continues to explode all over the country in the opening scenes of Woody Allen's "Manhattan." His interest in fireworks, he says, comes in part from his love of the Fourth and the fact that he was trained "to blow things up" as an Army demolition expert.
In Monte Carlo, the competitors will each put on a 20-minute show that will be judged on color, timing and the roundness and fullness of the sound of the bombs, according to Felix Grucci Sr., who heads New york Pyrotechniics Products.
According to Pliimpton, fireworks have distinguishiing national characteristics.
Japanese shells burst "in absolutely perfect chrysanthemums, searing the eye" and disappearing rapidly, he says. Chinese shells are famous "for hanging in the air as if suspended from parachutes." British shells whistle and hum and "dart around the sky like birds going crazy." American shells have many explosions of color in random pattern with a more lingering color effect.
And the Italians, he says -- nothing that the Gruccis are Italian -- "are fond of the great big noise.
In the past, fireworks displays on the Mall were lit by hand. The Grucci family will shoot them off electrically which, according to Plimpton, makes for a more spectaculr show. "You can put six or seven or eight fireworks in the air at the same time," he says.
In addition, today's $20,000 show is to be fired off to the sounds of such traditional Independence Day tunes as "Stars and Stripes Forever," America the Beautiful" and "Anchors Aweigh," says Grucci, who expects to put on a nonstop 25-minute aerial display. Most of the shells will be those made by the Grucci firm itself.
Grucci, Plimpton and John Conkling, executive secretary of the American Pyrotechnic Association, offer these guidelines for becoming a fireworks connoisseur:
Sit at least 500 feet from any display site to get the full effect of an earial show. On the Mall, it's doubtful you could get anywhere near that close, but there are several smaller shows around the Beltway.
In addition to blue, appreciate a good white. Look for deep, intense colors.
Count the number of "breaks" or explosions in a multiple-break shell -- "the Cadillac of shells," says Conking. Such a shell may first burst red, then burst against and again, ending with a thunder-like explosion. American shell makers are noted for making shells that break up to seven or more times.
Expect a variety of shells in a good display, including the Japanese chrysanthemum, multiple-break shells and, where possible, some on-the-ground set pieces such as the American flag in blazing red, white and blue. The ground pieces are time-consuming to make, says Conkling, and require a degree of artistic ability to create, such as for a good portrait of George Washington.
If the fireworks show is to be fired by hand, appreciate the shooter who can keep something going either in the air or on the ground with very little waiting. It's the sign of a shooter who knows his bussiness.
Look for a high volume of noise in the "salute," for the aerial display's noisemaker. According to Conkling, some old Italian fireworks makers insist "you have to feel it in your belly." CAPTION: Picture, Fireworks: a combination of salutes and comets, American style, top right, and a chrysanthemum in the Oriental style.