Obama Challenges 'MythBusters' Adam And Jamie Can you beat a lie detector test? How much destruction would a bull cause in a china shop? If anyone can answer these questions, it's MythBusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. And President Obama has a personal request -- to test the myth of Archimedes' solar death ray.

Obama Challenges 'MythBusters' Adam And Jamie

Obama Challenges 'MythBusters' Adam And Jamie

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/131853963/131853953" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MythBusters Adam Savage (left) and Jamie Hyneman stand with their test boat, ready to take on President Obama's challenge: to test the myth of Archimedes' solar death ray. Discovery Channel hide caption

toggle caption
Discovery Channel

Can you beat a lie detector test? How much destruction would a bull cause in a china shop? How long can you survive after being buried alive?

If anyone can answer these questions, it's MythBusters Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman and their team. Each week on their Discovery Channel show, the MythBusters put urban legends, rumors and special effects to the test, either proving them or putting them to rest.

President Obama has a personal request -- to once again test the myth of Archimedes' solar death ray. As legend has it, using only mirrors and the power of the sun, Greek scientist Archimedes is said to have set fire to Roman ships during the siege of Syracuse.

President Obama told Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage that he is a "big fan" of Mythbusters, and so are his daughters, Sasha and Malia. Chuck Kennedy hide caption

toggle caption
Chuck Kennedy

President Obama told Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage that he is a "big fan" of Mythbusters, and so are his daughters, Sasha and Malia.

Chuck Kennedy

The Mythbusters have busted the myth before, but could hardly refuse Obama's challenge. This time, instead of using stationary mirror tiles focused at wood, they took a different tack. "The big question was: could you have shields from soldiers polished to a mirror finish, and get them to set something on fire," Hyneman explains to NPR's Neal Conan. "That's a whole different thing."

Five hundred students from the school where Hyneman's wife teaches science stood in for soldiers, and they conducted the experiment on "the perfect shoreline" in Alameda, Calif., says Savage. They won't say whether the legend held up or not -- but you can find out for yourself on Wednesday night, when the episode airs on the Discovery Channel.

"One of my favorite things that we do on the show," says Savage, "is go back and re-test things once we've got new data or new resources." The scientific process is "messy and it's confusing," and new data can lead to new conclusions. "In essence," Savage says, illuminating that "messy" process "is the most scientific thing that we do."

Both Hyneman and Savage have backgrounds in special effects, and neither has formal science training. But for their work on Mythbusters, they've both been named honorary lifetime members of the California Science Teachers Association.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Over almost eight years now, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman have tested rumors, urban myths and tall tales. You've probably seen the "MythBusters" probe the mysteries of Christmas lights to see if they can actually set a tree ablaze, fire guns at each other to see if bullets really fuse together when they collide and combine Diet Coke and Mentos to see if that can really make your stomach explode - a very cool job that's involved the detonation of tons of explosives over the years.

And for this week's episode, they got an invitation to the White House.

(Soundbite of TV show, "MythBusters")

President BARACK OBAMA: Now, I do know that science requires a lot of trial and error. Part of what "MythBusters" is about is testing out various hypotheses, and I think that we've got a big one that hasn't been thoroughly tested.

Mr. ADAM SAVAGE (Host, "MythBusters"): Which one is that?

Pres. OBAMA: Well, it is Archimedes' solar ray.

Mr. JAMIE HYNEMAN (Host, "MythBusters"): Well, that is a classic.

Pres. OBAMA: It is a classic, and so I'm hoping that we can take one more crack at it.


CONAN: Using only mirrors and the sun, the Greek scientist Archimedes supposedly set fire to Roman ships during the siege of Syracuse. The MythBusters will join us in just a moment.

So what is your favorite episode? Which myth do you need busted? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, Helen Mirren joins us to talk about the new film "The Tempest," in which she stars.

Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman are with us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you with us on the program today.

Mr. SAVAGE: Nice to be on.


CONAN: And while you were at the White House, did you find out whether, in fact, you can still in places see the scorch marks from the fire the British set in 1812?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SAVAGE: Given that the entire interior was replaced sometime in the '40s, I don't think so.

CONAN: OK, so that would be busted then?

Mr. SAVAGE: I think so.

CONAN: OK, without too much experiment. It must have been quite a thrill to be invited to the White House.

Mr. SAVAGE: It is, absolutely. You know, on a day-to-day basis, our job is fairly blue-collar. We get beaten up and bruised, and our crew is pretty small. So, you know, getting invited to get kids interested in science with the president is pretty heady stuff.

CONAN: But you had done the Archimedes story, I guess, a couple of times before.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Yes, we have. But the difference with those was that they all involved stationary mirrors. We used one-foot-square mirror tiles like you can buy in a hardware store and precisely focused those at wood. And, I mean, yes you can set things on fire with mirrors. We know this, and that's not what we were testing. In general, it's: Would you be able to do that to an actual ship?

And what you know, that's where the episode with Obama in it came into play because we the big question was: Could you have shields from soldiers polished to a mirror finish and get them to set something on fire? And that's a whole different thing.

Mr. SAVAGE: And that was the one thing that we hadn't done in the I guess two or three other times we've actually tested this story is we've never gotten the resources together to wrangle 500 soldiers on the shore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SAVAGE: And in this case, it worked out perfectly serendipitously because not only was the perfect shoreline right across the bay in Alameda, but it was right next door to the school where Jamie's wife has been teaching science for the last 20 years. And we used 500 of their students, middle and high school students, as our soldiers.

CONAN: So you're hoplites were there provided by school.

Mr. SAVAGE: Exactly.

CONAN: Besides, if you're getting an order from the president of the United States to try something out, you can't sit there in the White House library and say: Mr. President, we've tried it. It's busted. It doesn't work.

Mr. SAVAGE: You know, actually one of my favorite things that we do on the show is go back and retest things once we've got new data or new resources.

I can't think of another television show that would tell you, admit to you, that hey, last season, we wasted an hour or your time stirring something up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SAVAGE: But in essence, that is the most scientific thing that we do is we demonstrate that the process is messy, and it's confusing, and often new data requires new testing to come to a different conclusion.

CONAN: You say science, your guys' background is in special effects, right, in movies?

Mr. SAVAGE: It is. It is. Neither of us is formally trained in the sciences at all. Jamie has a degree in Russian studies, and I have a high school diploma.

CONAN: But you're well-experienced in blowing things up.

Mr. SAVAGE: Blowing things up and making them look like they've been blown up, exactly.

CONAN: And that is in addition to the scientific part, which is sort of fascinating, but blowing stuff up is really a lot of fun.

Mr. SAVAGE: You know, it's funny, I get the same question now as I did when I was a special effects technician is: Does it bother you to work so hard at building something, only to see it blow up?

And the fact is no, because you've made it to blow up. So if it blows up correctly, you're thrilled. You've done your job.

CONAN: In a misspent youth, I had problems in fact using too much explosive so that in blowing stuff up, it would vanish. And, you know, and you really don't want it to vanish. You know, you want it to look great after it's been blown up.

Mr. SAVAGE: That is actually one of the challenges in special effects is not using too much incendiary because, obviously, you want the building to scale. If it disappears, you've messed up the whole shot.

CONAN: You've messed up the whole shot. So we're talking with the "MythBusters," Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. If you have a myth that you'd like to see busted, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Christine's(ph) on the line, calling from Cincinnati.

CHRISTINE (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to first let you guys know that my nine-year-old wanted to be a "MythBuster" for career day here at his school, which was really, really cool.

One thing, though, I wanted to know: Are you guys doing anything coordinated with schools to really promote the line of scientific inquiry that you do on your show? Because I think a lot of kids, like, you know, my son loves your show, and a lot more kids I think would be interested in science if they taught it the way you guys do it on TV.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Well, we would if we could. But frankly, they keep us pretty busy doing the show. So...

Mr. SAVAGE: Normal television shows shoot about six months a year, eight months a year. We shoot 47 weeks a year...

CONAN: Really?

Mr. SAVAGE: ...about 200 shooting days a year.

CONAN: So that vacation thing is a myth.

Mr. SAVAGE: It's a total myth. We take time to, like, you know, lock ourselves in a cryonic chamber and replenish our brains briefly before jumping right back into it.

Mr. HYNEMAN: We are, however, very enthusiastic about the fact that it seems to have that effect on kids. It was something that we certainly didn't expect when we first started doing the show.

And we have to say, we don't really focus on that. We you know, if we wanted to have that effect on kids, we probably would have failed. As it is, we kind of go into it just having fun, doing what we naturally would do given the resources that we have. And I think that honesty seems to be what actually makes it work.

I'm afraid that, you know, if we went into it trying to teach kids, it wouldn't work quite as well as it does.

Mr. SAVAGE: We have, however, recently been made honorary lifetime members of the California Science Teachers Association, something we feel uniquely unqualified for but very grateful for.

CONAN: Christine, thanks very much for the call, and we wish your son all the best in his career path.

CHRISTINE: Thanks, and keep up the good work, guys.

Mr. SAVAGE: Thank you.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Thank you.

CONAN: And you guys must have some of the more interesting story meetings in TV.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SAVAGE: Yeah, there's a lot of arguing back and forth about what we think the point of the story is. And we've spent entire days just phrasing a question, like: What is the a great example is actually one of the earliest ones we did, running in the rain. The myth is that you get...

CONAN: Oh, running between the raindrops.

Mr. SAVAGE: Right, is that you get wetter running than walking. And when you start to actually unpack that as something to test, there are all these questions because: How fast are you running? How long are you running? How far are you running? How heavy is the rain? Which way is the wind blowing?

Obviously, if you run or walk for a certain period of time, you're going to get the same amount of totally soaked. So clearly, you're stopping somewhere on the graph in order to test. Where are you stopping?

I think there was a full three-hour argument between the whole, you know, us and our producer about, you know, which way to go with it, how to start testing it.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Yeah, it's one of the things we learned early on, as Adam said, that, you know, it's often the case that the question is more important than the answer. If you get the question right, if you really define it, then the answers are just sitting there waiting for you. And it's something a little different than people usually think.

Mr. SAVAGE: We also figure, in our research department, that if there is actually a secret government program that is monitoring the airwaves for words that are associated with terrorism, we're probably creating at least 30 percent of their noise-to-signal ratio.

CONAN: Speaking about producers and meetings, at our morning meeting today, our producer wanted to know really how many balloons does it take to lift a child in a chair.

Mr. SAVAGE: I think about 15,000, something about 15,000. That's actually, that was how much it took to lift Paul Newman outside the Letterman studio.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Yeah, it depends on the size of the balloons and the size of the child. It takes a...

CONAN: Darn you scientists. We just wanted, you know, 42. What's wrong with 42? That's a very good answer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Paul(ph), Paul with us from Bishop, California.

PAUL (Caller): Hi, Jamie, Adam, thank you so much for taking my call and for making science cool.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Of course.

PAUL: I actually couldn't pick a favorite episode, but one myth that I haven't seen you tackle yet, my father always said that if I didn't crack the window in our 1978 Chevy Volare on a super-hot day that the windows would blow out. And it seems like a myth that would be right up your alley. I was wondering if you could tackle that in an upcoming show.

Mr. SAVAGE: That the windows would blow out because of the heat. You know, given that we have tried, in a lot of ways in a lot of different stories, to break car windows, we've tried kicking them out when we did the first underwater car episode, we tried breaking them with little pieces of the ceramic from a spark plug, which takes a very, very strong throw, I can't see that happening. But it's definitely it definitely seems like something we should test.

PAUL: So I'm going to call my father out on that, then, and say that that's BS, dad.

Mr. SAVAGE: Well, I don't know. Honestly, I don't know. Maybe it's a problem specific to the Plymouth Volare.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PAUL: Well, thanks again, guys, and best of luck in the future.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Paul.

Mr. SAVAGE: Thank you.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Thanks.

CONAN: Here's an email, this from Charles(ph): I would like to ask the "MythBusters" when are they going to be doing the September 11th conspiracy myth. I know they were talking about doing it at some point. Then I never heard more about it.

Mr. SAVAGE: Well, there's no conspiracy behind that. It's a tough one. We've talked about it a lot. One of the problems with a story that big is that it's very difficult to get materials to scale architecturally.

One of the stories we had the most trouble with in the past was "Break Step Bridge," that soldiers marching in time over a structure can cause a fatal harmonic and cause a structure to fail catastrophically.

And when you're talking about, you know, the 9/11, you know, what happened on 9/11, the construction of the World Trade Center is so intrinsic to what happened that you'd have to actually almost build a really huge section of it full-scale in order to answer that question. And that is just beyond the scope of both our time and our budget.

CONAN: Discovery wouldn't go for that. You know, they're so cheap.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much, and stay with us. We're talking with the "MythBusters." More with Adam and Jamie in a moment. What's your favorite episode? Which myth do you want to see busted? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Our guests are Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, co-hosts of "MythBusters" on the Discovery Channel. Over the years, they've been buried alive, shot fish in a barrel and blown up everything from port-a-potties to two-liter bottles, all in the name of science and, of course, good TV.

This week, President Obama sends them on a fact-finding mission to confirm or bust the legend of Archimedes' solar death ray. You're going to have to wait till Wednesday night to see how that one turns out.

So what's your favorite episode of "MythBusters," and which myth do you want busted? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And this, we have an email from Solan(ph) in Placerville, California: The myth I want to see explored is from "The Magnificent Seven." Can a thrown weapon beat an old, Western-style drawn revolver?

Mr. SAVAGE: This is actually that is a great, great suggestion. There is a story we've been wanting to do forever called "Knife versus Gun."

CONAN: Ah-ha.

Mr. SAVAGE: In fact, law enforcement officers are taught during training that if someone is within - I believe the circumference is - the distance is 22 feet. If someone is within 22 feet, it has been proven that a person with a knife and some training can get to a person with a gun before they can draw, take off the safety and fire that weapon within a 22-foot distance.

CONAN: If memory serves, it was James Coburn in "The Magnificent Seven," who...

Mr. SAVAGE: Yes, and it's a great scene. It's a great myth, because it's totally unexpected. We are not in the business of teaching people how to hurt cops with knives, which is why we haven't done it yet.

CONAN: I wonder, though, you guys, obviously, from the special effects business, a lot of your stuff seems to be: Gee, they did this in the movies. Could it ever possibly happen that way?

Mr. SAVAGE: Yeah, no. And the movies are incredibly fertile ground for misconceptions about physics, you know. As long as people like Michael Bay are still making movies, there's going to be stuff for us to prove is totally impossible.

CONAN: One of my favorite episodes is, in fact, the push a car over a cliff - does it explode at the bottom the way it always does on TV?

Mr. HYNEMAN: Yeah, that one also surprised us because, you know, it's so common in the movies to see that happen, and yet as we often find on "MythBusters," things like gasoline are not exactly easy to set on fire, unless the conditions are exactly right.

Mr. SAVAGE: Well, and the automakers have carefully placed every part of the car in a position where it's hard to make them blow up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Darn them. Let's go to Gary, Gary with us from Athens in Ohio.

GARY (Caller): Hi, guys. Adam, Jamie. I love the show.

Mr. SAVAGE: Thank you.

GARY: I think I've watched just about every episode. My question is: You guys do a lot of investigation on, like, drunk driving, sleep deprivation while driving. I wondered if you guys were going to get around to texting while driving, or maybe women putting on makeup while driving. I'll take your answer off the air.

CONAN: Okay, Gary, thank you.

Mr. SAVAGE: Texting while driving has been on the list for a long time. It's - because we've done so many, you know, altered-perceptions-and-abilities-while-driving episodes, we want to pair it with something else, and it has - several times, we've gotten quite close to filming it, and then other circumstances have come up, and we've had to shoot another story.

There's a lot of different things that determine whether or not we're going to tackle something. But it's been on the list for a long time, and we will eventually test it. I haven't thought about women putting on makeup, but yeah, we could totally add that one in there, as well.

CONAN: Do the eyes of used car dealers across the Bay Area light up when they see you guys coming? How many cars do you wreck a season?

Mr. HYNEMAN: Well, we seem to always find cars that are, as it were, in process of being recycled. We just speed up that process a little bit.

Mr. SAVAGE: We are probably about 10 percent of Craig's List's used car traffic, though, in the Bay Area.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Yeah. Occasionally, you know, a myth is specific with a certain model of car, you know, like a Corvette or whatever. And so we end up spending some cash on those. But and then we get a lot of grief from, you know, Corvette enthusiasts for doing so.

Mr. SAVAGE: We did the ejection seat, the James Bond after-market ejection seat.

CONAN: Ejection - sure, yeah.

Mr. SAVAGE: And we needed a boxy car that had really straight sides. And we found this old, beautiful, Toyota Corona, and we cut it up. And this Toyota Corona users' group just excoriated us for doing that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HYNEMAN: Well, I think the most surprising one was to do with a car being split in half by a snow plow. And that involved an AMC Eagle that we used. And who knew? But there is an AMC Eagle Fan Club out there that collects these and was extremely upset.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Patrick(ph) is on the line from Charlotte.

PATRICK (Caller): Hi, guys. Thanks for taking my call. I'd just like to say that I'm a physics and chemistry teacher in a high school, and I use your clips almost every day. In fact, my students really love the one where you had the water heater, and you failed all of the different - at all the different safety features, and then it shot off like a rocket. I had to play that one four or five times for them to fully get it. But it does tailor almost exactly with the objectives I'm teaching.

And I'd like to say that...

CONAN: And clearly, Patrick, you're not teaching a copyright course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PATRICK: No. Actually, we have access to Discovery Education, which is a wonderful thing through the Discovery Channel program, and I'm showing individual clips from "MythBusters." So you guys have helped me out so much.

CONAN: Well, that's great.

Mr. SAVAGE: Thank you. I have to say, in the pantheon of however many explosives, 2,500 separate explosions we've done over eight years, hot water heaters stand out as my favorite thing to watch blow up.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Yeah, I do hope, however, that you're not teaching these students how to do that, but rather there's some interesting physical property that's occurring while that's happening.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PATRICK: No, it helped me explain pressure perfectly, in a way that they liked it. So thanks, guys.

Mr. SAVAGE: Thanks (unintelligible).

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Patrick. And I do have to ask, I guess: Is there a "Jackass" factor here that people try this stuff at home, which you tell them not to do?

Mr. SAVAGE: You know, over the years, we've it's something we actually live in terror of that someone's going to hurt themselves. We take great pains to do things safely. We're always replicating dangerous circumstances really near our cameras so we can film them. So we really do take that seriously.

There has been a couple of times over the years when people have hurt themselves saying they were doing something they saw on "MythBusters," and upon investigation, it turned out to be something that we had never done on the show. So as yet, nobody has hurt themselves replicating something we've done.

Mr. HYNEMAN: We have, however, found numerous cases where lives have actually been saved by people replicating what we've done, specifically the underwater car episodes.

There - I think we've had four, maybe five, reports coming in from all around the world where people have been underwater in a car that went off the road, and remembered seeing that episode and escaped safely.

Mr. SAVAGE: Well, we just had one. This new episode of underwater car aired just before Thanksgiving, on Wednesday. And on that Sunday night, a pair of officers in Ottawa were in a car that skidded on the ice and went into the water, and the one that wrote to me Monday morning said having seen the episode on Wednesday night, he knew to go for the back window. He got his window-breaker, and he and his partner got to shore and said they owe their lives to "MythBusters."

CONAN: Let's go to Chris(ph), Chris with us from Sacramento.

CHRIS: Adam and Jamie, thank you for bringing science to the masses.

Mr. SAVAGE: You're welcome.

Mr. HYNEMAN: You're welcome.

CHRIS: My question for you guys is I've always loved "Star-Trek" and seeing or "Star Wars" and seeing those battle scenes up in space. And as we all know, space is a vacuum. And we see those ships blow up.

And so the question I have is: Given the air inside the ships or whatever atmosphere the aliens breath -it could be just pure oxygen -would that be enough when the ship blows up to give it the miraculous explosions that we see?

CONAN: We also hear the explosions, which that's a short answer. But what about seeing the explosions?

Mr. SAVAGE: I love this idea. This is - somebody tweeted this to me just the other day. Again, you know, you should go up to the International Space Station and blow some debris up and record it and see it. And I think that's a great idea. And anytime NASA wants to send up to the ISS, we're ready to go with explosives.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Of course, we can't even get through TSA with such things, much less into outer space. So I don't know how we're going to work that out.

CHRIS: Well, wouldn't it work with a vacuum chamber like you did in your moon episode?

Mr. SAVAGE: Yes, it would be although that machine was a multi-million-dollar machine at the NASA Research Facility. I'm not sure they'd let us blow something up in there.

CHRIS: Oh, well, thank you guys again. I appreciate it. And again, love your show, and thanks for taking my call.

Mr. SAVAGE: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks, Chris. Here's an email from Rich in Decorah in Iowa: In cartoons, characters plug up a gun and splinter the barrel by sticking their finger in it. Have you ever tried it? Will it work?

Mr. HYNEMAN: Actually, we have tried this. And we, you know, cast a rubber hand that replicated human flesh and tried to plug the barrel. And we even took it to the point of actually welding the end of the barrel shut, and we couldn't make that barrel explode.

Mr. SAVAGE: Actually, the other team, though, revisited that, and it turns out that it's very specific to the type of barrel, that if you're using a Damascus steel barrel, they can actually split like a banana peel.

There's tons of pictures of people having done this, leaving their laser bore sight in their rifle before test-firing it, and it splits apart. And the other team, I believe, if I'm not incorrect, actually was able to finally replicate those results.

CONAN: The other team. You should explain.

Mr. SAVAGE: Yeah, sorry. I mean Grant, Kari and Tory.

Mr. HYNEMAN: The other half of "MythBusters."

CONAN: Let's go next to this is Dennis, Dennis with us from Mooresville, North Carolina.

DENNIS (Caller): Hey, thanks, guys, great show - I mean both your show, Neal, and their show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, thanks, appreciate that. We're going to blow them up at the end of this segment.

DENNIS: I wanted to ask them a question about an episode that I must admit I didn't see but my golfing buddies did. And they said there was a "MythBusters" episode - we at golf course always say, well, the trees 85 percent air, just hit the ball through it. Now, I understand that they shot golf balls at trees and I would like to know what the result was.

Mr. SAVAGE: That was - yeah, Kari, Grant and Tory did that one. And it's been a long time since I saw the rough cut, but I believe they found that there was some interference but not as much as they thought there was. It all depends, of course, on where you aim through the tree and the type of tree.

DENNIS: Well, yeah, I would think of the type of tree would make a really big difference because I've never seen a golf ball go through a cedar tree.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DENNIS: In fact, I've seen them go into a cedar tree and never come out. So - but I - all the golfers were talking about that one day at the golf course. And of course, "MythBusters" came up. So we appreciate what you guys do. My wife is a science teacher.

Mr. SAVAGE: That's fantastic.

DENNIS: And just to give you an idea of the practicality of physics, she takes her science class to an amusement park and then makes them tell all about the forces of physics that take place on these amusement park rides. So...

Mr. HYNEMAN: Oh, that's great.

DENNIS: They love it, obviously. So anyway, thanks, guys.

CONAN: Dennis, thanks for the call.

Mr. SAVAGE: Thank you.


CONAN: Here's an email, this from Jessie(ph) in Minnesota: Here in Minnesota, my husband and I argue about this. I think that if an icicle falls from a rooftop, if it's big enough, it could go right through your skull. My husband thinks I'm crazy. Have you busted this myth? What size icicle should I be avoiding? They are everywhere.

Mr. SAVAGE: Well, actually, we did test this. And in fact, we tested it in the shop with a, I believe, a leg of lamb at the base of our stairs.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SAVAGE: And we created an icicle that was around two inches at its base and about maybe 18 inches long and dropped it. And it penetrated the leg of lamb quite nicely.

Mr. HYNEMAN: As for whether it would penetrate a skull is not something we have tested or could speak to. But it could handily pierce your chest and your heart.

CONAN: We are talking with the "MythBusters," Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. Their show this Wednesday features a guest star from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with an assignment for them to go test Archimedes' solar death ray, which they do. But you're going to have to tune in to find out how it works on the Discovery Channel.

Right now, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.

Email from Kyle: I'd like to find out if the "MythBusters" have looked into the pseudoscience of hail cannons. These devices are sold to farmers with a very high price tag, claiming they can disrupt storm cells from producing hail. The cannons act as a shockwave blaster, blasting disruptive energy into a storm. Hail cannons have been used for hundreds of years, but there have been almost no studies done on these devices.

Mr. SAVAGE: Yeah. Hail cannons is a - the first time I heard about hail cannons was about four years ago, and it lights up my BS detector like a Christmas tree. It sounds like total bunkem(ph) to me. There are some real, real problems with testing such a device as, you know, if you're going to test whether or not it's breaking hailstones up in the clouds, you need to understand what's happening in those clouds at the moment you're actually doing it.

So, you know, while there's tons of anecdotal evidence that hail cannons work, there is no empirical scientific study that I know of that has tested their efficacy against controls because it's so difficult to know when hail is going to form, where it's going to form and whether or not you've actually arrested its formation. Hail is very fickle stuff. And, you know, trying to trace and chase down a cloud is a very difficult experiment. We looked seriously into trying it on the show and concluded that it's just too unfeasible, unfortunately.

CONAN: I wonder, do you - I assume a lot of people write you and say, you know, Ive seen the pocket fisherman on TV, does it really catch fish and, you know, the ShamWow. Do you do those kinds of investigations?

Mr. SAVAGE: You know, when it comes to a product testing like that, if the - rather than test the efficacy of a product, we might test the efficacy of a scientific principle that that product purports to have.

CONAN: I see. And, well - you obviously don't have an interest in which way they come out, so anyway.

Mr. SAVAGE: Exactly.

CONAN: This is an email from Mike(ph) in San Bernardino: I read that Adam is interested in doing the evolution myth on the show or, more specifically, in busting the myth that evolution is wrong. Could he elaborate?

Mr. SAVAGE: You know, it's funny. I - back when I said that, it's like this key thing that's never left my Wikipedia page, and I get lots of people correcting me about it. The thing that I would like to disapprove is that the - is the belief that the world is 6,000 years old. That's the much more pervasive and dangerous and disturbing fact that too many ascribe to as a belief, when it is factually impossible.

As for evolution, I think that a lot more people believe in evolution. And, you know, showing it on the show televisually is something that we've always wanted to do. There's no - there's - it's just it's very difficult. It's a long and slow process.

CONAN: The time-lapse photography to show the evolution of the bird beak as it...

Mr. SAVAGE: Exactly, exactly. You know, and the - and when you actually even start to look into things that are held up as evidences - as evidence of fast evolution, like the coal moths in England that supposedly change their color from, you know, the coal dust.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SAVAGE: Those turn out to be - there are exceptions in there that make them non-ideal. And you end up working with fruit flies, which are really difficult from a television standpoint.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's go to Susan(ph). Susan with us from Bristol in Wisconsin.

SUSAN (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, Susan.

SUSAN: Yes, I am. I am. Thank you very much for taking my call. Love the show. I just - both your shows.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SUSAN: I just wanted to say my uncle built an Archimedes-type of contraption back in the '70s.

Mr. SAVAGE: Really?

SUSAN: Would you like to hear how he did it?

Mr. SAVAGE: I totally want to know. What did he do?

SUSAN: Okay. It was - he made about a 10 to 12-foot in diameter, cylindrical - not cylindrical - circular structure that was concave. And he put it on a pivot. And he lined it. He cut mirrors all to match in the inside because he wanted to, like, use some solar power for something. And so once he got it all put together, he aimed it at a Teflon pan with an egg in it about 20 feet away, and it made a three-inch hole all the way through the Teflon pan in about three seconds.

CONAN: Wait a minute. We've got another caller on the line. It's Barack from Washington. He wants to know how - if it really did work, Susan.

SUSAN: No, it really did work. They give you - Adam, we were just going to try to fry an egg.

CONAN: Just...

SUSAN: Teflon pan about 20 feet away. And it burned a three-inch hole all the way through the pan in about three seconds.

Mr. SAVAGE: That's fantastic.

CONAN: Well, we'll have to wait to see on Wednesday night if their contraption with 500 soldiers bearing polished mirrors will in fact sink the Roman fleet. But, Susan, thank you for that contribution. We appreciate it.

SUSAN: You're welcome. Say hi to the pres.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, thanks for very much for your time today. Appreciate it. Good luck with "Mythbusters."

Mr. SAVAGE: Our pleasure. Thanks.

Mr. HYNEMAN: Thanks.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.