MythBusters takes on The Simpsons

Mythcrackers

A new season of MythBusters means new pop culture-related myths. After previously doing episodes that focused on Star Wars, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Titanic, Adam and Jamie (sans Kari, Grant and Tory)decided to kick off the 2015 episodes by taking on some myths from everyone’s favorite Springfield residents, The Simpsons.

Now, one of the issues that I’ve had with MythBusters in the past is that they sometimes test myths that are not grounded in reality. For example, the entire show that looked at zombies was ridiculous to me since unless everyone knows something that I don’t know, there aren’t any zombies in real life. For a show that is some painstaking about its science and authenticity of replication during their experimentation, these pop culture related shows seem to throw some of that out the window. So when I heard that MythBusters was testing myths from The Simpsons, I just kind of shook my head. Most television and films are only loosely grounded in reality to begin with – what is important for moving the story forward or what looks cool overrides stuff like plausibility – and this is taken to the nth degree with animation. Any illusion of reality is kind of shattered when characters don’t age, there are few long-term consequences for actions and continuity is only as binding as you choose it to be. That’s half the fun of animated programming – they are only limited by what the animators can draw. The fact that Kenny used to die every week on South Park, only to resurrect without explanation or comment in the proceeding episode, was part of the show’s charm. The Simpsons may make some more conscious efforts at grounding their program, but the idea that anything on the show was depicting anything close to reality was kind of ridiculous to me. This issue bothers me so much that I debated whether I was even going to watch this episode; after all, I’m not a regular MythBusters viewer so skipping the show would not be any great sacrifice on my part. In the end, however, curiosity got the better of me. I wondered what they were going to test from The Simpsons; the show may have been on for twenty-plus years, but because it is so episodic I couldn’t immediately think of any myths that needed testing – other than Marge’s seemingly limitless patience. So despite my reservations, I decided to tune in.

Adam and Jamie set their sights on two very different Simpsons myths to examine – whether a cherry bomb dropped in a public restroom toilet would cause a geyser of water to pop out of several toilets (from The Crepes of Wrath) and whether Homer attaching himself to a wrecking ball would have any effect on the damage said demolition instrument would have on his home (from Sideshow Bob Roberts). On the surface, the former seemed like a (semi) legitimate inquiry, while the latter seems like a primary example of the type of myth-busting that I find annoying. The probable outcome of both these myths seemed pretty obvious to me, but in the interest of intellectual curiosity and the need for something to blog about I swallowed my doubts and continued to watch.

The Crepes of Wrath

The Crepes of Wrath

Sideshow Bob Roberts

Sideshow Bob Roberts

SPOILER ALERT – DISCUSSION OF THE OUTCOMES FOLLOWS

To test the impact of a cherry bomb on the plumbing of the Springfield Elementary bathrooms, Adam and Jamie first constructed a model to see what would happen. Since cherry bombs are illegal, they improvised a bit and recreated the explosions by other means, but the results were ultimately the same – no matter where the explosion happened, all three toilets released a geyser of water. The one caveat was that there had to be some blockage in the sewer system to generate the necessary volume of water – not an unreasonable assumption, especially for the boy’s room of an elementary school. This myth seemed to be on track to be proven.

However, once the experiment was done with actual toilets that were to scale, things went a little haywire. The force of the explosion was too much for the toilets to handle – while a minimal amount of water did gush out of the bowl, the toilets themselves were damaged significantly in the process. The pressure from the explosion was just too much for the poor ceramic thrones to handle; they were blown off the floor and most of the energy that should have forced the water out was displaced into the fixtures. If the toilets were made of some special indestructible or reinforced material the experiment might have worked, but given the current constraints, that myth was deemed busted.

MB1_Result1

To test what impact, if any, Homer’s body would have on the destruction wrought by a wrecking ball, the team created to scale models of Homer and the wrecking ball. Because the size of the wrecking ball in the episode of The Simpsons was much larger than your run-of-the-mill wrecking ball, they had to create that from scratch as well. For me, watching them figure out the construction of the instruments that they are using for testing is one of the more interesting portions of the show. I’m always impressed with how dedicated they are to getting it just right and their overall craftsmanship. I’m a stickler for details, but I’m also not very talented, so the fact that they always created a scientifically accurate and generally aesthetically pleasing item surprises me no matter how many times I see them do it.

After all the necessary components were created, Adam and Jamie did the experiment twice – once without Homer attached to the wrecking ball and once with the dummy that they created attached. A concession had to be made to how far they could swing the wrecking ball without tipping the crane over – the arc used in the episode was simply impossible to pull off exactly. The hit without Homer did a lot of damage to the model home; the structure was definitely compromised after the wrecking ball hit it. Adding Homer’s body to the experiment made a great deal of difference; his body was able to absorb enough of the energy that while the home did not escape unscathed from the wrecking ball, the damage done was considerably less than in the first trial run. Homer holding on to the wrecking ball would have made a difference, though of course this experiment didn’t examine what damage the impact would have done to Homer’s body. I’m just going out on a limb here and guessing that putting your body between a 5,000 pound and a home is going to leave a mark. And yes – during this entire segment I had Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” playing in my head. That girl has totally co-opted that word. So surprisingly (to me at least), this myth was deemed plausible.

 

You came in like a wrecking ball.....

You came in like a wrecking ball…..

This was actually a fairly interesting episode of MythBusters for me; I’ve never been much of a science nerd, so I’m not totally surprised that my initial guesses on the outcomes of the myths were both wrong. I just enjoy the problem solving and brainstorming that go into devising how to test the myths more than the actual science. I will say that the absence of Kari, Grant and Tory was very noticeable; I think it helped focus the show more, but it also made the show less fun. They added some much needed personality to the show. Adam and Jamie are pleasant enough, but they don’t have the same energy as their crew had. MythBusters feels more educational than entertainment now, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and may be what they were going for. But if you were a regular viewer of MythBusters, you’ll probably notice the tonal shift of the show going forward. I’ll never be a regular viewer, but if they keep doing pop culture inspired myths I’ll continue to pop in every once in a while.

MythBusters airs Saturday nights at 9 pm (ET) on Discovery.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Hell Has Frozen Over Edition

Now, I don’t know for a fact that Hell has in fact frozen over, but I don’t see why it should be exempt from the deep cool that most of the United States has been plummeted into. This weather is ridiculous – part of western New York may get 80 inches of snow in the next few days. 80 inches! I didn’t even know that was possible! For someone who hates winter on a good year, I’m miserable beyond belief. I need to move.

I’m bouncing back from several weeks of computer issues – malware is no joke, my friends – so unfortunately this week’s pop culture roundup is not as thorough. There’s still plenty of good stuff in here to peruse when you are hibernating from these frigid temperatures. Kick back, grab some hot cocoa and catch up on what’s been going on in the world of pop:

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  • It was only a matter of time: Jordan Belfort (the inspiration for The Wolf of Wall Street) is shopping a reality show.
  • Freed up from his commitments on Community, Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) is going out on tour.
  • Marvel has released the first still for Guardians of the Galaxy:

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  • How many times would The Wet Bandits die if Home Alone was real?

 

  • Forbes released their list of 30 Under 30 for arts and entertainment.
  • MythBusters is getting a spinoff, perhaps as a result of all the posts I’ve written about the show recently.
  • An A to Z guide to Abed’s pop culture references on Community.
  • A Girls parody involving cats? Sounds good to me:

 

  • Steven Seagal and Clay Aiken are both considering running for office (Arizona governor and Congress, respectively).
  • A recent Jeopardy! category forced Alex Trebek to rap:

Seriously – those were the easiest questions ever!

  • Ringo Starr and…the Powerpuff Girls?

 

Trailer Time:

  • This new Sundance Channel series Red Road looks promising:

 

  • The first promos for the late night changing of the guard at NBC have been released. First up, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon:

Too much Leno for me and I’m surprised Conan got any screen time at all.

  • Next up – Late Night with Seth Meyers:

 

  • A new promo for FOX’s The Following:

 

  • A new trailer for the second season of House of Cards:

 

  • A trailer for the Veronica Mars movie:

 

  • This documentary about Tom’s Restaruant in NYC, made famous by Seinfeld, looks interesting:

 

  • New footage from Spiderman 2:

 

  • The Raid 2:

 

  • Falling Downton Abbey:

 

  • Will Smith, Tyrese and the Crown Prince of Dubai all went skydiving. That sounds like the set-up to a joke, but it really happened.

And, as always, we end with the supercuts and mashups:

  • A tribute to dancing in movies (set to The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” for extra awesomeness):

 

  • A supercut of Norm MacDonald being a terrible salesman:

 

  • A supercut of TV commercials of actors and actresses before they were famous:

 

  • A Psy/Lincoln Park mashup:

 

  • Leonardo DiCaprio: The Movie:

 

arrested-development-her-poster

  • And finally – two of my absolute favorite things: The Breaking Bad opening credits done in the style of The Wire:

 

Stay warm, people!

SithBusters – MythBusters take on Star Wars

If I’m writing about it, it must mean that Discovery Channel’s MythBusters did another pop culture themed episode. These people have figured out how to make me tune into their show at least a few times a year with this type of scheduling. This time, Jamie, Adam and the crew tackled some myths from the original Star Wars trilogy. As loyal readers know, I’m not really a Star Wars fan – I didn’t see any of the films until I was in my 30s and was underwhelmed – but I was curious enough to see what myths they would be testing to tune in. Plus I always enjoy when people dress up in costumes; I may not dabble in cosplay personally, but I’m intrigued by people that do.

Given that I have only seen A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi one time each, I was hoping that they myths that they were going to be testing wouldn’t be things that you would have to be a die-hard fan to appreciate. Thankfully, they decided to check out some pretty iconic stuff from the films, so that even a novice like me with a limited working knowledge of the Star Wars universe was very familiar with. Sadly, they did not examine the plausibility of Hans Solo being frozen in Carbonite. That would have been really interesting. Instead, the MythBusters examined Luke and Leia’s swing across a chasm in the Death Star while being chased by Storm Troopers, the ability of the Ewok’s swinging log weapon to destroy an AT-ST and Luke ability to stay warm inside the carcass of a tauntaun while on the planet Hoth.

***Spoilers on the success of the myths are below; if you don’t want to know how it turned out, skip these paragraphs.***

The first myth examines the logistics of the scene, dubbed “the swing to freedom” where Luke and Leia use a grappling hook to swing approximately 30 feet to escape peril. I couldn’t find any footage of this from the film (thanks for nothing, Lucasfilm), so instead enjoy this recreation using LEGO action figures to give you some idea of what they are talking about:

 

Jamie and Adam actually broke this down into three testable hypotheses: Could Luke even make the necessary throw to secure his grappling hook around a piece of the Death Star to allow the swing? Was Luke’s utility belt strong enough to support such a swing? Could a swing of that distance successfully be made with Luke holding on to Leia?

Jamie was able to successfully recreate the throw to secure the grappling hook (a model built to approximate the one used in the movie), but unlike Luke he was unable to do so on his first try. In fact, it took many, many attempts to finally get it right and that was in a low pressure situation. They were skeptical that when being chased that Luke could have been so successful with his first throw, but they deemed that part of the myth plausible. They also found that the utility belt would have worked in a pinch, but it was an extremely painful undertaking as it cut into Jamie’s ribs when they attempted a much smaller swing and when holding a dummy to represent Leia. So while the utility belt’s strength was found to be plausible, they abandoned it for a more traditional harness when attempting the actual 30 foot swing so as to not cause unnecessary damage to poor Jamie.

For the recreation of the swing to freedom, MythBusters superfan and actress Sophia Bush joined in to play Princess Leia, complete with the iconic bun hairdo. Not to be outdone, Jamie donned Luke Skywalker’s outfit, which was kind of hilarious to see.

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They were also joined by a bunch of folks who had created authentic Storm Trooper costumes; they didn’t add a whole lot to the actual execution of the operation other than visual accuracy, but they were cool to see nonetheless. Jamie and Leia were able to make a successful swing across the same width that Luke and Leia did in the movie, though since they altered the conditions a bit by using a harness, the myth was ultimately deemed plausible, if highly unlikely.

While Jamie and Adam were getting their swing on, the rest of the Mythbusters were trying to recreate the log battering ram that the Ewoks used to crush the presumably reinforced and durable AT-ST that was attacking them. Since Endor doesn’t exist in real life (that we know of), there was no way of knowing what kind of logs were used in the movie; the team substituted Eucalyptus as it as the hardest wood available in this galaxy. A complicated rigging structure was built to hold the 10,000 pound logs and to attempt to swing them at a 45 degree angle, similar to what was depicted in the film. The myth that they were testing was not whether little Ewoks were capable of constructing such a weapon (that’s probably highly unlikely, but I guess don’t underestimate an Ewok), but whether the weapon could do the amount of damage that it was alleged to be able to do. As elaborate as the structure was that was built to support the logs, on the first test they were unable to come anywhere near a 45 degree swing as the strain on the support structure almost caused the whole thing to collapse. Even with the limited momentum, however, the logs easily were able to do some serious damage to a van.

A second test was conducted after additional reinforcements were made to the support structure to better handle the swinging logs. This time, the team attempted to destroy an armored truck and the logs made quick work of destroying that as well. It was pretty impressive how potent the weapon was, though I guess unsurprising given physics.  However, the team conceded that it would have been very difficult in normal circumstances to time the swinging of the logs just right to hit a moving AT-ST, so the myth was deemed plausible.

The final myth was the one that I was most curious about – was Hans placing Luke inside the body of a recently killed tauntaun the best decision to protect Luke from the bitter climate of Hoth until Hans could construct a shelter? For this myth, they brought back our old pal “Thermoboy” who was constructed during their Titanic themed episode to test the effects of hypothermia after the shipwreck. He would serve as a stand in for Luke and would allow the team to monitor his “vital” signs to see if the tauntaun provided enough warmth to prevent death from temperatures that ranged from -30 to -60 degrees Celsius (sounds like Albany this weekend).  A replica tauntaun was constructed and faux internal organs were created and warmed to the temperature of polar bear (the best comparison to a tauntaun). “Luke” was also warmed to a core temperature of 95 degrees, the reasoning being that having been left for dead the early effects of hypothermia would have begun before Hans found him. The tauntaun, with Luke implanted in his belly, was then placed in a confined box atop a bed of dry ice within a meat locker that was within the range of the alleged temperature of Hoth. It was approximated that in the conditions set out in the film, it would have taken Hans approximate 2.5 hours to fashion a shelter, so that was the time period that Thermoboy was monitored for.

The results were somewhat surprising; not only would Luke have survived according to the experiment, but his core temperature only dropped a few degrees in the process. He came nowhere near drop dead temperature of 80 degrees. I expected a bigger change in his temperature over the course of the 2.5 hours, but apparently a tauntaun makes a pretty great refuge from the cold in a pinch, assuming you can find one (and have a lightsaber handy to split it open). The replica tauntaun wasn’t all that fancy, but it certainly got the job done. If they sold a kit on how to make one, I bet that would be a best seller. I’m not even a fan and I wouldn’t mind my own tauntaun. It would certainly freak out my cat.

***End of Spoilers***

I certainly enjoyed this episode far more than the recent The Walking Dead themed episode; though I’m not necessarily super invested in the outcome of the myths, they at least approached them from a more realistic standpoint. There were of course concessions that had to be made given the fictional content that they were examining, but overall there was at least some attempt to ground their experiments in reality. Everyone on the team seemed to be having a lot of fun testing out these Star Wars related hypotheses – some of the cast even worked on the newer movies (though we won’t hold that against them; even I know the newer movies are crap). I may not have geeked out like they did over the source material, but I can appreciate good science and I was especially impressed with the complicated experiment that they created to test the tauntaun myth. There were a lot of moving parts in that one and they seemed to think through all possible contingencies. This episode of MythBusters didn’t make me want to watch the Star Wars films again, but it did make me respect that at least some parts of the film weren’t made up completely out of whole cloth. I’m still not a regular viewer of the show, but I’ll continue to check in as long as they keep pumping out the pop culture related episodes.

The SithBusters  episode of MythBusters will air again Saturday January 11th at 10 pm. Check your local listings for additional airings.