'Mythbusters' Have Fun in the Name of Science Can yodeling cause an avalanche? Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of the show Mythbusters put legends like this to the test. They talk about their adventures, and how their differing styles of inquiry actually complement each other.
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'Mythbusters' Have Fun in the Name of Science

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'Mythbusters' Have Fun in the Name of Science

'Mythbusters' Have Fun in the Name of Science

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Andrea Seabrook.

SEABROOK: A lederhosen-clad vocalist on a mountainside belting out a call that sends ice and snow crashing down the slope.

Could that really happen?

Well, the "Mythbusters" tried it.




Something tells me some animal might want to come out of the woods and mate with us.


SAVAGE: Because I'm not sure that we're startling an animal like...



SEABROOK: We say they tried. That's Adam Savage with his yodeling instructor on a snow-covered peak in Colorado. He and Jamie Hyneman are the "Mythbusters." They have a show on the Discovery Channel. They put urban legends like this one to the test in the name of science.

We talked to Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman about some of their sound-related adventures.

SAVAGE: We actually built some scale avalanches and played around with them and saw their response to sound, and then actually this culminated in hiring a professional yodeler. I didn't even know such a thing existed but they do. She was fantastic. She came out to Telluride where we were able to find a snowfield. We went out with the avalanche rescue crew and she taught me how to yodel, and the two of us yodeled through a megaphone at the mountains.


Yeah, I have to point out that this is Jamie, Adam did the yodeling, I didn't.


SEABROOK: Okay, Adam. Let's hear it.

SAVAGE: I'm going to step back from the mike...


SAVAGE: ...so I won't break any equipment.

SEABROOK: All right.



SAVAGE: How's that?

SEABROOK: That was very good. I am impressed. So how did the avalanche myth go?

HYNEMAN: Of course, it involved eventually high quantities of high explosives...


HYNEMAN: ...and a - and that's a...

SEABROOK: As it's always seems to.

HYNEMAN: Yeah, you know, whenever we see the opportunity, we don't miss the chance. And Adam got to ride around on a helicopter with hundreds of pounds of explosives, and then in some cases fully lit and, you know, burning away waiting for him to toss it out the window.

SAVAGE: It's pretty astonishing. The guys that start avalanches with explosives is the last industry in the explosives field that live ignites charges. Everybody else, you know, sets them and puts a wire out and goes far away and pushes the plunger. But in avalanches, you don't have the time to do that. The safety concerns are such you just want to start them and get them out of the way so that no one gets caught in them. So we're in this helicopter tossing out five-pound packs of cast boosters.


SAVAGE: They hold the door of the helicopter open. We're at 15,000 feet above the mountains of Telluride, tossing these boosters out and watching them blow up. It's pretty stunning.

SEABROOK: Let's move on to one of the perennial sound myths. I think everybody has heard of shattering glass by singing at it - the old opera singer singing at a wine glass to shatter it.

HYNEMAN: This is, I consider this as one of "Mythbusters" proudest moments because when we researched this, there's tons of anecdotal evidence that people have done it. Caruso said he had done it. There's the famous commercial with Ella Fitzgerald singing that supposedly broke the wine glass.

And yet when our researchers really delved into it, they could not find a single first-hand account or any film or video of somebody actually doing it. There are still people on the Discovery Web site actually that claimed they saw it but no one has given us an attribution of a specific show that it happened on.

And we started researching opera singers. Eventually, we came across this amazing heavy metal singer-teacher named Jaime Vendera, who has an incredible voice. He can sing at over 120 decibels. We brought him in and he was actually able on our show, on high-speed camera to shatter a crystal wine glass with only his voice and no other amplification. And I think that's the first time anyone ever achieved that on film.




SAVAGE: We did it, man. Dude, that is a first on television.

The high-speed shot is magnificent. You see the glass moving in this kind of oscillating up-and-down pattern. It's shocking how much the glass was actually moving, almost an eighth of an inch.


SAVAGE: And then when it shatters, it shatters catastrophically all around the whole glass. I will however say there is a conspiracy theory that floats around the Discovery Web site boards that somehow we cheated.



SAVAGE: We didn't.

HYNEMAN: We didn't.


HYNEMAN: But I mean you can see it. There is no need for us to fake something like this. On high-speed, the glass looks like its made out of rubber or something, so it's obvious that at a certain point that's going to flex so much that it can't hold it together and it explodes.

SEABROOK: Tell me about how you work as foils(ph) for one another. As somebody who watches "Mythbusters," I see sort of Jaime the guy in the beret with the, you know, he's serious and he looks a little like a walrus; and then there's Adam who was like the class clown sort of Bugs Bunny in the room.

SAVAGE: This is Adam and that is actually pretty accurate. I mean, in real life, Jaime moves pretty slowly through a problem. He'll talk it through from beginning to end four or five times to me, and endless number of times I get really bored listening to him to go on. He gets really upset at the path of destruction I leave in the shop as I'm trying to build something.

It does drive us nuts on a day-to-day basis but we also recognize that it is one of the strongest points about our ability to solve a problem together.

HYNEMAN: Yeah, by looking at things through these two really different points of view is a powerful tool for problem solving. Yeah, it makes for some fun on the TV but it's actually something that we heavily rely on to make things happen.

SEABROOK: So do you guys like each other then? Do you hanging out at the cafe at the end of the day? Or do you just get away from each other as fast as possible?

SAVAGE: We're definitely not hanging out together at the cafe. But we get enough of each other on a 50-hour week basis.


HYNEMAN: You know, the only place that something remotely like friendship that is optional would come into play is that from time to time we would communicate outside of work over the years.

SAVAGE: Before "Mythbusters," we would only get together about once a year. He would call me up and he'd say, you know, he's down at the shop about to strap some new device onto his feet. And I'd go down at he'd have motorized roller skates and rolling around the shop.

HYNEMAN: In fact, the show itself came up in that same exact environment. You know, I had gotten this call from a producer in Australia where the show was edited and was created, and he had interviewed me some years ago when we were competing in "Robot Wars," and I had this destructive robot that was just killing everything. And we - I became notorious so years later when he had the idea to do the show, they called me up and, you know, I'm like the straight guy and I thought about it and I want to see who do I know that actually is very good at doing this work and is bit more of a ham than I am. I immediately thought of Adam and called him up and said hey, Adam, you want to do a TV show with me?


SAVAGE: You know, I will also point out that not being real friends or really liking each other in a specific friendly sort of way also is important to our partnership, because there's nothing we're afraid to say to the other for fear of hurting their feelings. We're willing to get right into it when push comes to shove, and that actually is quite liberating from a standpoint of just getting the job done.

SEABROOK: Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman, the "Mythbusters," thank you very much for coming in to talking.

SAVAGE: Thanks very much. It was our pleasure.

HYNEMAN: Thanks for having us.

SEABROOK: The avalanche episode of "Mythbusters" airs on June 20th on the Discovery Channel. You can see the "Mythbusters" shatter that wine glass at npr.org.


NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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