The True Story Behind the Famous Atomic Fireball Candy!

Black Rock City tickets are beginning to ship! If you’re in the US or Canada (and maybe elsewhere) you can expect a certain cinnamon-y confection to arrive with your ticket and Survival Guide. What do YOU do with your Atomic Fireball? Do you eat it immediately? Stash it away with your Burning Man keepsakes and swag? Tell us ALL about it in the comments. And read on for the unsurprisingly quirky story behind why we ship Fireballs with BRC tickets.

Oh, the secrets and stories that lurk in our collective cabinets of curiosity! Many have wondered about the significance of the Fireball — those tiny, fiery red candies that arrive every year with your ticket to Black Rock City.

One could argue that without the Fireball, the Burner-verse would surely unravel. On the surface it’s an insignificant, but particularly delicious, morsel of candy. But did you know that sending an Atomic Fireball with every Black Rock City ticket order was once essential to ensuring your tickets were delivered with care?

To savor this sticky, cinnamon-flavored morsel of Black Rock City lore, we spoke with Nimbus, Burning Man Project’s former Head of Ticketing.

Nimbus writes:

This is actually one of my favorite pieces of Black Rock City ticket lore. For 20 years, participants have been delighted to find a spicy-hot Fireball candy with their ticket order in the mail. It’s sweet how much people love that little whimsical treat.

As with many cultural institutions, this one started out for practical reasons. As the event was growing so were our operations, and some unexpected challenges were introduced. Among them, ticket deliveries were being mishandled by the postal service. To improve this, the ticketing team changed all deliveries outside of Will Call to USPS Signature Confirmation. 

After consulting with our local Postmaster, we were advised two things to improve the odds of our packages being handled correctly: 1) manually highlight the label with a green highlighter to call out that it was signature confirmation and, 2) include something small, more than half an inch thick, to make the package uneven so that it would have to be hand-sorted and couldn’t be machine-sorted. 

Thus the Atomic Fireball candy was introduced. It was the perfect size to indicate a package contained more than just tickets. Being the candy equivalent of a fiery explosion, they were a natural choice for gifting with Black Rock City tickets. Many years later we were told we no longer needed to include it to ensure reliable handling. But by that point, the community was attached to finding the cinnamon jawbreakers in its packages. In fact, they are so attached that every year we see complaints online of people whose packages don’t have the candy! 

One year our ticket fulfillment partner ran out of Fireballs and didn’t mention it to us. They went to the store and bought some other sweets to include, thinking it was just a piece of candy and didn’t matter which type. Boy were they wrong. Suddenly there were internet conspiracies about what it meant. Why were people receiving Lemonheads instead of Fireballs? What was going on?

When we confronted the vendor about the switch, their response was: “Wow, we almost used Dum Dums (a type of lollipop). Glad we didn’t do that!” You can imagine what people would have read into it.

For as much as we love the Fireballs, they also introduce some complications. They can tear some types of packaging. We can’t include them in some international deliveries because they trigger a whole other customs process related to shipping food. 

Fireball stickers from 2020 “The Multiverse Candy – Playa Flavor,” design by Nimbus (Photo by Melissa Waters)

We used to hear from people that they didn’t want to use Will Call because they didn’t get the experience of receiving a Fireball with their tickets. So for about a decade now we’ve also been giving out Fireballs at the BRC Box Office for all our Will Call orders. They always make people happy after long and often harrowing journeys to Black Rock City.

Each year we go through about 30,000 Fireball candies. One year the guy who was in charge of the order fulfillment operation wound up having to store them all in his small office. Thing was, he hated the smell of cinnamon! I can only imagine how awful that was for him. 

Fortunately, everyone in the Black Rock City Box Office likes the fragrance, because our entire 60 square foot Box Office building always smells strongly of Fireballs. And at Burning Man Project Headquarters, we always have a candy bowl filled with Fireballs, which visitors love.

Cover image of three stages of a fireball, 2006 (Photo by Ales aka Dust To Ashes)

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger (aka kbot) is a story slinger and Communications Strategist at Burning Man Project. Through words, voice and digital tools, she tries her utmost to share the wonders and marvels of global Burning Man culture with anyone who will sit still for a minute to read and listen.

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