Smashing, Crashing, And Blowing Things Up: The Delightful 'Mythbusters' Returns Tonight brings back Mythbusters, the Discovery Channel show that salutes curiosity and explosives.
NPR logo Smashing, Crashing, And Blowing Things Up: The Delightful 'Mythbusters' Returns

Smashing, Crashing, And Blowing Things Up: The Delightful 'Mythbusters' Returns

The Mythbusters team — Grant Imahara, Jamie Hyneman, Kari Byron, Adam Savage, and Tori Belleci — returns tonight to kick of its seventh season. Discovery hide caption

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Mythbusters returns tonight with new episodes, and if you enjoy explosions, giant messes, dummies made out of ballistics gel, or people laughing hysterically at the amazing things that science can do, it probably can't come soon enough for you.

The show is a fascinating phenomenon: its mainstream buzz tends to be relatively low. It doesn't get that much critical fawning, and you can go a long time without hearing much about it. But it's on the Discovery Channel constantly, and on sites like Digg, videos of Adam Savage (who co-hosts the show with Jamie Hyneman) giving talks about science and about the show will fly up the popularity lists among the other Internet giants like Megan Fox and cat videos.

The basic gist is that they get hold of a myth or a theory or an urban legend -- alcohol warms you up, cannonballs killed more people with splinters than with actual impact, that kind of thing -- and they find ways to test it. Not perfectly, not exactly enough for publication, but enough that you can get a pretty good idea of whether the basics work or not.

Let's take, for instance, a show they once did about booze.

Drinking, after the jump.

Just as an example, the show about being warmed up by alcohol was fascinating. Most people have heard that alcohol warms you up, but many have also heard that in fact, it makes you colder. By drinking brandy and measuring their core body temperatures (with swallow-able thermometer capsules!) and the temperatures of their extremities, the team demonstrated that what happens, essentially, makes perfect scientific sense: alcohol makes you feel warmer, because it loosens up the blood flow that constricts when you get cold.

But the reason your blood flow constricts when you get cold is to preserve your core body temperature, which is important for the purposes of not dying. So the alcohol essentially fights your body's defense mechanism, which feels good but is actually a very bad idea if you're on the verge of hypothermia. That qualifies as legitimately Learning Something Interesting.

I freely admit: It's a show I dearly love and have watched a lot. Not just because I admire the natural curiosity about everything that drives it (though I do), and not just because I learn a lot of interesting things (though I do), but because it is arguably the happiest thing on television.

These people -- not only Savage and Hyneman, but their "build team" of Grant Imahara, Kari Byron, and Tory Belleci -- have an enormous amount of fun playing. They blow things up, shoot at things, drop things, smell things, watch things ... they transparently love what they do. There is more cackling, joyful whooping, and general happy hysteria than you'll get from a double showcase winner on The Price Is Right.

On tonight's season premiere, the build team works on finding out whether it's possible to actually knock someone's socks off, while Savage and Hyneman tackle the idea that a bullet shot from a gun and a bullet dropped at the same time from the same height will hit the ground at the same time (because gravity is gravity either way). The socks myth is mostly about the experiments themselves -- smashing things into a dummy to see if you can knock him out of his socks. But the exploration of the gun myth is less spectacular, and is mostly about problem-solving: how do you measure the time it takes a fired bullet to fall to the ground?

There's nothing especially unusual about the premiere: Nonfiction shows don't tend to have cliffhangers to resolve. (I will say that for fans of the fantastic super-explosion in which the team basically made a cement truck disappear, there's a brief callback to that. And I am always happy to see the cement-truck explosion again.)

It simply reflects the one great idea that underlies the entire show, which is that knowing something you didn't know five minutes ago feels great, even if it's just, "What's going to happen if we do this?"

Also: explosions. Lots and lots of explosions.