The Scary 'Death Ray' Design Fail Tourists Must Know About Before Going To This Vegas Hotel

"The Vdara Death Ray" is a name that once struck fear into the hearts of Las Vegas sunbathers. America's casino capital can be hot enough without some shiny glass monster of a hotel intensifying the UV rays. That's what happens at the Vdara, thanks to a flaw in its curved design. Imagine a giant magnifying glass aimed at unsuspecting, ant-like tourists beside the hotel pool. A fleet of turquoise umbrellas now shades the affected poolside area; just don't let the light outside them touch you for too long.

The 57-story hotel tower holds almost 1,500 rooms, all suites. Early in its run — before the umbrellas — reports of the death-ray effect surfaced in mainstream media. Bill Pintas, a lawyer with a condo in the Vdara, described it cooking his head to ABC News in 2010, saying, "I'm sitting there in the chair and all of the sudden my hair and the top of my head are burning. I'm rubbing my head and it felt like a chemical burn."

According to Pintas, the hotel's employees informed him of its "death ray" nickname. The official line from the Vdara's owner, MGM Resorts, was that this was a "solar convergence phenomenon." Gordon Absher, a company spokesman, explained to Reuters that the sun's position makes the 10-by-15-foot hot spot a moving target. "The refraction moves across the pool deck over a period [of] 90 minutes," he said. "It's never in the same place from day to day or week to week."

Fear and loathing at the Vdara

The Vdara eschews the novelty acts of other hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, like the Venetian with its gondola rides. Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, the hotel doesn't feature casino gaming or any kitschy theming. The latter, at least, can make Vegas an amazing family vacation spot. Where else are you going to see colossal Hershey's chocolates? Certainly not poolside at the Vdara, where they're likely to melt — along with plastic cups and the hotel's plastic bags, by some accounts.

Wander Wisdom's 2024 review describes the hotel pool as "relaxing" and "lovely." On Tripadvisor, the Vdara holds a respectable 4.5 out of 5 rating. Dig deep enough, though, and you can find reviews confirming the death ray as "intense but manageable" and showing with pictures how the "rumors are true" about it leaving people burned outside the umbrella shade.

In this way, despite its lack of theming (or perhaps because of it), the Vdara and its fabled death ray still come away sounding like another Vegas showbiz attraction. Online impressions of it are the stuff of gonzo journalism, where subjectivity and hyperbole take over, and it burns like the fire of a thousand suns. Maybe the hotel's no-nonsense design just leaves a void to fill in the public imagination. There, the death ray now lives somewhere between the hotel-on-acid in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and the onstage tiger that famously mauled half of the magician duo Siegfried and Roy.

Out of the frying pan, into the fryscraper

Rafael Viñoly Architects also designed 20 Fenchurch Street, the walkie-talkie-shaped London "fryscraper" that made headlines in 2013 for reasons similar to the Vdara. As Today reported, its death ray scorched carpets, singed people's hair, and caused parts of cars and bicycles to melt on the street. It even drew comparisons to the mirror-enabled heat ray that the Greek inventor Archimedes is said to have used on the Romans during the siege of Syracuse. For his part, Viñoly acknowledged to The Guardian that mistakes were made with the design of both buildings. "We pointed out that [the Vdara] would be an issue too," he said, "but who cares if you fry somebody in Las Vegas, right?"

In addition to blanketing its poolside area with umbrellas, the Vdara applied anti-reflective film to its windows to mitigate the death-ray problem. Yet the hotel's gleaming reign over Vegas has been paralleled by record-breaking temperatures in what is, after all, a city in the middle of the desert. July 2023 was the hottest month ever for Vegas, and it tied its record high of 117 degrees Fahrenheit three times in the decade prior. Even if you never stay at the Vdara or use its pool, it might still feel like a death ray is hitting you when you end your road trip in the West here. If nothing else, one of the mistakes to avoid when visiting Las Vegas would be forgetting to pack sunscreen.