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During a scene in Star Trek: Discovery season 3 episode 6 "Scavengers", Burnham mentions self-sealing stem bolts. This item has had a few mentions in earlier Star Trek series, beginning with DS9. It seemed to me that prior mentions typically occurred in scenes having a lighter sometimes comedic tone. This leads me to ask: is it a writer's in-joke, or perhaps a signal to not to take what is happening on screen too seriously?

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    If you’d ever had to manually seal a hundred regular stem bolts, Ensign, you’d know that self-sealing stem bolts are no joke. Now, let’s get that Heisenberg Compensator repaired. – Paul D. Waite Dec 15 '20 at 9:53
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    It had no mentions prior to DS9, actually. It was first used when Jake and Nog are in the middle of a Chain of Deals (TVTropes) – Machavity Dec 15 '20 at 13:39
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    iirc they also cropped up in lower decks as a similar throwaway gag so, this past year or so at least, they seem to have become one – Tristan Dec 15 '20 at 14:03
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    This kind of joke is common in many military and similar organizations. When I was in Boy Scouts I was once given a task to find some similar nonexistent item at a jamboree. – Barmar Dec 15 '20 at 15:22
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    They're a real thing. During the hardening process, the buttress of the flange is preferentially heated to a lower temperature, thus increasing its relative ductility so that the appropriate torque on the head produces plastic deformation around the sealing interface. So it doesn't really seal itself, but the action of tightening it seals it. – Andrew Morton Dec 15 '20 at 19:33
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From https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Self-sealing_stem_bolt which is sourced from DS9 companion book.

Story-wise, stem bolts were quintessential MacGuffins, with a name that was pure technobabble. Peter Allan Fields, who "invented" them, admitted that he didn't have "the foggiest idea" what they were used for. According to Ira Steven Behr, the writing staff used them long after Fields' departure from the series as a tribute to the former producer. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 52)

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    Not exactly the level of technobabble you usually get from Star Trek writers though. A stem bolt is an actual bicycle part and I assume other objects that have parts called stems may be attached via bolts. Here's a SE question on that subject with a picture - bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/67173/replacing-stem-bolts – Eric Nolan Dec 15 '20 at 16:19
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    DS9 was less technobabble dependent than Voyager obviously. I don't recall the specific episode but one of my favorite scenes is Sisko asks Worf to accomplish something and Worf starts explaining what exotic particle generator would work. Sisko informs Worf that was an order to go do it - not a request for a technobabble speech - Dismissed! – lucasbachmann Dec 15 '20 at 18:20
  • I saw that MacGuffin reference on the wiki, but I don't think it quite addresses my question. I understand the point of it being a tribute, but it seemed to only pop up during lighter or more comedic moods. Compare with "plasma coils" which also gets referenced a lot, just as much a technobabble MacGuffin, but without any apparent correlation to mood. – Anthony X Dec 15 '20 at 23:16

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