The Craziest Myths the MythBusters Have Tackled, According to the MythBusters


Today, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage announced that the next season of MythBusters will be its last. In 2012, mental_floss interviewed the pair—along with co-hosts Kari Byron, Grant Imahara, and Tory Bellici, who departed the show in 2014—about the craziest myths they'd tackled after nearly a decade of busting. Here's what they said. 

Jamie Hyneman

CRAZIEST BOOM: Cement Truck Explosion, Season 3

Everybody seems to remember the cement truck as a favorite episode. We used 800 pounds of ANFO, which is a fertilizer/diesel fuel mix. The cement truck was there, and then it wasn’t there. It was just gone, and that was cool.

BIGGEST SPECTACLE: Rocket Car, Season 1

We have yet to top what we did with the very first rocket car. Attaching rockets to a car, getting into a helicopter, and watching it take off and disappear—it doesn’t get any better than that.

CRAZIEST MYTH FROM THE 2012 SEASON: Riding A Motorcycle on Water

In terms of something that is like, “Can you actually do that?” one of my favorites this season is trying to ride a motorcycle across water. Having to push a motorcycle that’s almost out-of-control fast to its very limits, and knowing that you’re going to hit the water—who knows what’s going to happen at that speed? It’s thrilling, but your life is right there in front of you. We take all the safety precautions that we possibly can, but you play with fire, you can get burned. There was a problem with insurance on this story. They didn’t want to let me do the test because of the potential of crashing on the far side of the water if I came out, so I figured out an ingenious way of solving that problem so that I could do the test.

Adam Savage

Discovery Channel

MOST DANGEROUS MYTH: Escaping a Sinking Car, Season 8

A couple years after we did the first underwater car myth, we went and did it again—because most cars turn turtle when they hit the water, and it makes it much more confusing for the person who’s in the car. The whole time we were leading up to it, Jamie and I were kind of spooked. It’s not often we do something that’s so dangerous. We thought through everything that could go wrong, and really addressed it. As I was sitting in the car on the barge in the middle of a quarry lake—Jamie was on the shore, about to give the signal to drag my car off the barge and pull it upside down—I thought, what the hell do we think we’re doing? There’s no permutation in which this is not totally insane. At this point I no longer think about it being crazy, but … it’s funny. You feel a little spooked about something, so you address what you’re spooked about, but you never quite get rid of that feeling that you probably shouldn’t be doing this. When we finally did the stunt, it worked beautifully, but we did need every safety procedure we had added. And my mom is still, to this day, not allowed to watch that episode.

CRAZY-FUN MYTH: Spy Car 2, Season 9

Jamie and I were testing myths about having spikes on your tire rims that tear up other cars. We built several different kinds—some from The Green Hornet, from Bond, and from Grease. You work out what you’re going to do—you put spikes on the car, you make sure safety procedures are in place—and then you realize that this story requires Jamie and me to drive cars in the same direction at 40mph and start smacking them into each other. It’s one of the most fun things we’ve ever done, because when else do you get a chance to do something like that?


We wanted to do a myth about boarding airplanes, but we couldn’t find someone who would lend us a 747 to use for a day—so we built one. We rented enough seats and overhead bins for a full plane, we built a framework and a structure to hold them all in orientation, and the entire construction of that framework took—well, we only had two days to do it. We find ourselves in those parameters all the time, but that’s the kind of challenge we really like.


There is a story that I don’t want to do—it’s just too freaking dangerous. It revolves around a truck full of liquid oxygen that has an accident and spills liquid oxygen all over the road. In order to make something burn, you need fuel and oxygen. A roadbed is a really nice bit of fuel because it’s all petroleum-based, but it doesn’t burn very well because it’s very dense and all those molecules are tied up in the gummy asphalt. But liquid oxygen makes things like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, it can take things like oily rags and turn them into—not even exaggerating—high explosives. Liquid oxygen is some of the scariest stuff on earth. And when we started investigating LOX, which is what they call it, we discovered from very preliminary small-scale testing in the shop that is both super, super dangerous and completely unpredictable. Sometimes we would get results that vastly exceeded what our research said we should get, and other times we would get nothing at all. And it was like, we’re going to set up a roadbed full of thousands of pounds of liquid oxygen? What happens if nothing happens? Who wants to go over there? Plus then we’ve spent, like, $30,000 just to get absolutely nothing happening—that’s totally unacceptable. And what if what happens vastly exceeds what we thought would happen? How far away should we have been? If you have what turns out to be thousands of pounds of high explosives, is a quarter of a mile enough? You could certainly do it in small scale, but I think we’ll just leave it as a good story.

Grant Imahara

Discovery Channel

GROSSEST MYTH: Making a Earwax Candle, Season 7

We were doing a myth from Shrek, where Shrek makes an earwax candle. A local ear/nose/throat doctor got us enough earwax—this is from hundreds of patients—to make a candle. It came in a little specimen jar, just a rainbow of colors. I didn’t know that earwax came in so many colors! We decided that we would make a candle out of these bits of earwax by heating them up and melting them down. And that’s when things went horribly wrong. We found out later on that the reason that the doctor had removed all the earwax from people’s ears was because it was infected. And the smell that emanates from infected human earwax being heated caused instant dry heaves. I just could not deal, so I had to walk away from it. Everybody else formed it into a candle and then we tried to light it, but it didn’t really work. That one was busted, and it was probably the grossest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

MOST INTENSE BUILD: Bifurcated Boat, Season 5

We had a myth in which a speedboat hit a pylon sticking out of the water and was supposedly almost cut in half. In the insurance claim, the guy said that he’d only been going 25mph. So we decided to test this one out—but we couldn’t do it on water because of all the environmental restrictions. If it works, and the boat sinks, there’s a whole salvage issue. So we ended up towing the boat on land, and we then had to anchor this giant pylon in the middle of the runway at Alameda. And to make matters worse, it started raining. So we’re out there arc welding in torrential rain, occasionally getting shocked by the welding equipment. It was successful in that we got the boat to hit the pylon, but we did not get a full bifurcation. It was probably one of the worst days I’ve ever had building something on location.

CRAZIEST MYTH FROM THE 2012 SEASON: Hotel Room Parachute

We attempt to build a parachute made only out of materials you can find in a hotel room. Kari, Tory and I each came up with and built our own design, but it was too dangerous for us to try out our own parachutes. We discussed doing it out over water, but in the end, we thought it was best to put Buster up to the task. Then we did small-scale tests with a bunch of materials that you could find in the rooms—sheets, duvet covers, shower curtains—and found the best material. Then we calculated, based on that data, what size parachute we had to make. And then we made a mega parachute.

Kari Byron

Discovery Channel

CRAZY-GROSS MYTH: Son of a Gun, Season 3

Son of a Gun was a myth that during the Civil War, a musket ball went through a guy’s testicles and into a gal’s womb and impregnated her. It was when we were more unregulated, and probably didn’t have as many children watching, so to test it, we had to come up with a large sample of … genetic legacy, if you will. This was before we could collect it from doctors, so everybody in the shop donated some of theirs and brought it in. [Laughs] When we were interviewed for this job, one of the things they asked us was would we be willing to donate bodily fluids. I’ve personally given vomit, blood, urine, flatulence. I’ve not had to donate any fecal matter—but I have given my dogs’, if that counts. Yeah. It’s a pretty weird job.

CRAZIEST EXPLOSION: Creamer Cannon, Season 7

We’ve done a lot of big explosions, but for me, the craziest explosion was Creamer Cannon. It’s from a YouTube video where guys put coffee creamer over a lighter, and it makes this big poof of flame. We super-sized it: Giant air cannons and 500 pounds of coffee creamer with flares on top. And poof!—it made this big cloud, and we didn’t think it was going to light, but then all of a sudden the flare lights it and it turns into this growling monster of sugary coffee creamer on fire in the sky. It looked like Apocalypse Now. I swear it growled. And then the wind changed, and it started coming at us. We’re used to working with things like C4 and propane, explosives that are known to be excitable, but we were a little too close to the range of the coffee creamer. I had so much fear in my heart, I just started running. It was like, napalm of sugar balls falling from the sky. The cleanup was disgusting.


For our Halloween special, we tested the smell of fear. To do that, we had to scare the crap out of each other. We picked out some different creepy crawlies that would be covering us as we were lying in a locked glass coffin until we were shaking and produced fear sweat, which is supposed to smell different than exercise sweat. At one point I had a scorpion on my face. It was terrifying.

Tory Belleci

Discovery Channel

MOST LOGISTICALLY CHALLENGING (according to Kari and Grant, too!): Luxury Car Drop

The craziest myth we’ve ever done was when we dropped a car from a helicopter and had another car racing across the desert to see if the car on the ground was faster than the car falling from the sky. It was from a luxury car commercial. And the logistics—there was this 30,000 foot safety zone that we couldn’t be in, because this car was dropping from 3000 feet in the air. Being able to coordinate having the helicopter dropping a car, and having a remote control car racing to meet it, was one of the craziest things we’ve ever pulled off.

CRAZIEST BUILD: Compact Compact, Season 3

The myth was that two semi trucks got in a head-on collision and were so mangled that they had to be pulled apart by workers at a junkyard, who discovered a compact car with a family in it between the trucks. We had three days to do it, and to pull that off was an engineering feat. Obviously nobody could drive trucks, and we couldn’t pull the trucks on tow cables like we would normally, because the two trucks were coming in opposite directions. So we had to put a pulley system in the center of the runway, and put the compact car on top of that, and the cables went off in 90 degree angles from the pulley—so imagine a T-shape, and on either end of the T was a semi-truck, and driving perpendicular were the two tow vehicles that were actually pulling the trucks together using cables. That was pretty insane. And to see two semi trucks in a head-on collision that close, it was just—all this energy, all this power, and as soon as they hit, they just exploded and all that energy tore the trucks apart. It was incredible—like The Matrix Reloaded, you know that scene? Except they did it with CG, and we did it in real life.


The story is that a surfer from California moves to the Midwest, and he misses surfing, so he straps a rocket to a surfboard and surfs across a lake. We did all these tests with Buster on the surfboard. One rocket didn’t last long enough, so we got multiple rockets to space out the ignition so we could get a longer thrust. I built a bank of 200 model rockets that went off every 3 seconds, so that we could get a consistent ride. And at the last minute, the insurers said I could ride it. People were like “What if it explodes, or catches on fire and you die?” But I was more worried that I wasn’t going to be able to hang on. It was one of the coolest things I've ever done on the show.

This story originally appeared in 2012.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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