The Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters go ballistic
By M.B. Roberts
Did you know that alligators live in the sewers of New York City? Hundreds of them. Speaking of New York City, did you know that if someone dropped a penny from the top of the Empire State Building, it would penetrate the skull of someone walking on the sidewalk below?
OK, everybody knows that. But did you hear that a tooth filling can pick up radio signals? Or that it can be deadly to use your cell phone while pumping gas? And what about the weightlifting baby on YouTube?
We’ve all heard these stories, better known as urban myths, that we just can’t help sort of believing because the storyteller swears that his cousin Billy was there when it happened. Then, we repeat the one about the guy who got stuck to an airline vacuum toilet during an entire flight and the story makes its way around the Internet because, well, it could be true. How would you really know?
Enter the Mythbusters.
As the hosts of the Discovery Channel’s popular Mythbusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman make it their business to debunk popular myths and legends during scientific experiments — often big, noisy, messy extravaganzas — that they perform during each episode. Make no mistake, this is not your high school science lab. Often, the experiments involve battering rams, huge explosions and the shooting, drowning and exploding of cars, trucks, and enormous hunks of concrete as well as the ever-present crash test dummies.
“It isn’t all about destruction,” says Hyneman. “That’s just one perk of the job!”
Smoking out the truth
Since the series launched in 2003, the Mythbusters (including their Build Team, which currently consists of Kari Byron, Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara) have tackled more than 700 myths, including the above-mentioned airline toilet scenario (Busted!). In the pursuit of science, they have conducted some 2,300 experiments, setting off 711 explosions and destroying 104 vehicles along the way.
According to Hyneman, one of the most popular experiments to date was the cement truck-dynamite test.
“The question was, can you use dynamite to clean out the concrete stuck inside a cement truck,” he says. “It turns out you can, although it is not usually done that way. We showed what happened when you use too much explosive. We got a little carried away. All that was left were a couple of wheels and they weren’t round anymore.”
In addition to scientifically testing dubious rumors, the Mythbusters also frequently put Hollywood to the test, proving or disproving the viability of events from famous movie scenes such as the bus flip in Speed or the explosion created by James Bond’s ballpoint pen bomb. This is familiar territory to the hosts, who both hail from the television and movie visual effects industry.
“The producer, Peter Rees, wanted to hire a special effects guy to host Mythbusters because he knew we could build just about anything,” says Hyneman, who along with his co-host, also displays his talent for taking things apart.
Initially Rees asked Hyneman, who ran his own special effects company, MF Industries, to sign on as solo host. Rees remembered him from a long-ago interview about a robot Hyneman built with Savage for the Robot Wars TV show.
Hyneman suggested that he and his robot-building colleague co-host the show together and submitted an audition tape. Rees was convinced, declaring, “You’re just the geeks we’re looking for.”
Seven years and dozens and dozens of crash test dummies later, this is still a dream job for two guys who consider themselves the ultimate tinkerers.
“I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning and go to work,” says Hyneman. “The best part of this job is being constantly surprised. Finding out that the more powerful the bullet that gets shot in the water, the more quickly it stops. Or that you can make a 250-pound rocket fueled by candle wax. Or that it would be relatively easy to escape from Alcatraz on a raft made of rain coats.”
Of course, along with the mayhem of Mythbusters comes plenty of danger.
“We are often replicating circumstances in which people get killed or maimed,” Hyneman says. “The first time we saw this in action was when we replicated a cannon that somebody built out of a tree. We had a licensed pyrotechnician supervising the test but then we were looking at 75-pound chunks of wood flying over our heads.
“Now,” he says, “we never get near anything like that without our blast chamber.”
Trucks… or Bust!
Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage always draw a mythbuster conclusion. Here’s how a few of the truck-related tests turned out:
*A tire on a big rig can explode with lethal force. (CONFIRMED)
*As seen in the TV series Knight Rider, a moving car can safely transition from a road into a moving big
rig via ramp. (CONFIRMED)
*A truck carrying birds will be lighter if the birds fly around than if the birds sit/stand. (BUSTED)
*Cyclists can draft behind a big rig and achieve crazy speeds. (PLAUSIBLE )
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For outcomes of all previous Mythbusters experiments, visit: