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The Mythbusters Answer Your Questions 580

Almost exactly a month ago we asked you for questions to put to the Mythbusters, hosts of the Discovery show that explores urban myth and legend. The response was huge, with dozens of worthwhile questions posted to the story. Today, we have answers back from Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage. They've obviously taken some time to answer your questions, and discuss everything from their shot at the moon to Creative Commons. Read on for their answers, and many thanks to both gentlemen for their thoughtful and interesting responses.
Idea behind MythBusters? by hal2814
Did you guys come up with the idea for the show or was it presented to you? How did the two of you end up as the shows hosts? How did the 'Build Team' get involved?

ADAM SAVAGE -- MythBusters was created by Peter Rees. Peter produced the show "Beyond 2000" out of Australia, and had interviewed Jamie and I about a robot we had in the original "Robot Wars" (before Battlebots - remember?) back in the mid-90s. Apparently a good producer never throws away a telephone number, because in the spring of 2002, he called up Jamie and asked him if he had an interest in hosting this show he was trying to cast for (MythBusters). Jamie called me, we sent in a demo reel, and apparently they loved it. "These were just the geeks we were looking for" was what we heard back.

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- It was the idea of our producer, Peter Rees. He had interviewed me some years ago during "Robot Wars" when I had a notorious robot 'Blendo' which was instantly killing all the other robots. I was therefore somewhat notorious, so Peter spent a little time with me and when he had the idea to do the show he contacted me. I thought I could do the show but not carry it by myself, as I am not all that animated. I called Adam, who was an ex employee of mine and who was the liveliest FX guy I knew. We did a demo tape and the rest is history. The build team came as a result of the fact that the demand for the show is high, but as we do everything ourselves and don't just show up and talk, there is not enough time in a season for us to do all the shows they need - they wanted more builders. All three of the build team are people that Adam and I know well, and have worked with us in the past.

From the Front vs. From Behind? by unipus
Hey guys, great show! Just wondering, what's are the best and worst aspects of moving from behind the scenes to in front of the lens?

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- It's nice to be able to put your skills out there and be appreciated - if a tree falls down in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, did it make a sound? And then also the show allows us to do things we would never have the opportunity to experience otherwise, so it has been a wonderful education about the world at large. But personally I find the camera obtrusive and it gets in the way of my normal process. When I am at my best it is a situation where the rest of the world goes away and I am completely absorbed in designing something. Time stops. Nothing else Exists but the task in front of me. Now try to do that in front of a camera with a bunch of people around, having to repeat things so the camera can get it from different angles, and then stop and talk about it, and often have to truncate what you say so that you make a nice concise and clear statement about it..... and remember, I am a guy that does not normally talk much. Very disconcerting!

ADAM SAVAGE -- For me the best thing is that people are inspired by what we're doing. That was a result we never saw coming. There are times when I'm with my kids and people come up and don't know what to say, but really, we should all have such problems that folks are constantly wanting to tell you that they like your work. The hardest part is waiting for the camera. Jamie and I have to do things on the show super fast, and we do, but man, if we weren't shooting a show, it would go so much faster I swear. The rule is: if it doesn't happen on camera, it didn't happen. Sometimes when we're in the crunch, that can be very stifling. But again, we should all have such problems right?

Favorites? by MikesOnFire
What is your favorite Busted Myth and your favorite Confirmed one?

ADAM SAVAGE -- I've always been partial to the Penny Drop myth, i.e. will a penny dropped from the Empire State Building kill you when it hits the ground? To me, that was one of the most elegant and simple applications of science to a question that we've done. Until last week. We just worked on a myth called "bullets fired up" -- i.e., will a bullet fired directly vertically kill you when it comes back down. We did tons of research on it, and in the end, added significantly to the body of knowledge that's out there on the subject. I won't give away the ending, but we nailed this one.

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- There are no favorites! The myths are so varied in what they involve that it is comparing apples and oranges. Compare putting rockets on a full sized automobile that has been radio controlled and driven from a helicopter, to training goldfish. They are all interesting and fun - maybe some are more dangerous or exciting than others (like the rocket car), but then goldfish memory or failing a drug test by eating a poppyseed bagel is more relevant to real life.

Blown Away? by bobertfishbone
Have you ever been completely blown away by what you've found? Has there been an experiment where you two just sit back and say "Huh...who woulda thought?" Most of the myths are pretty easy to debunk, but I'm just curious as to whether or not there was actually one that you guys did that totally shocked you in being true.

ADAM SAVAGE -- We're constantly surprised by the results of what we're doing. Every day. There are countless times when we have what we think is a solid idea of what the outcome of one of our experiments will be, and the result is totally the opposite. That's probably one of the best parts of the job: being confounded by one result and coming up with a way to understand it, and to make it understandable within the confines of the show. The most surprising result? That would have to be "Liferaft Skydive." I wouldn't have bet in a million years that a raft would remain stable all the way down (from 3,000 feet!) and to see that raft, with Buster the crash-test dummy inside, float safely to the ground like a leaf. Amazing.

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- A total shock? I don't really think so -- I'm kind of philosophic about it. We are always learning new things as we shoot the show. For example, I did not know earlier that a hand gun bullet that is going relatively slowly will travel further through water than a bullet from a high powered rifle, because the rifle bullet is going so fast it just explodes from the impact and is stopped in a couple of feet. But that is just one factoid out of a thousand that we have run across in the course of doing our job. Pigs still generally don't fly.

Houston, we have a myth? by richdun
Assuming an unlimited budget, what myth would you most like to test? How about using 1960s technology to try and land on the moon?

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- You read our minds! On a side note; I once asked Adam if he was given a rocket ship and told he would be able to travel anywhere in the universe, but he would never be able to return, would he do it? Well, both of us would (but not together).

ADAM SAVAGE -- That's exactly what we want to do! Remember Salvage 1? The TV show with Andy Griffith about the guys who go to the moon with a ship they built in their garage? Jamie and I have done the research, and figured that the only way to end the debate about the "myth" of the Apollo moon landing is to go there, and bring back something that was left there during one of the Apollo moon landings.

Myths that didn't make it? by skywalker107
What Myths have you tested that have never made it on the show? What about them made you and the producers decide they didn't qualify to go on the air?

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- There are certain things that are not appropriate -- for example, myths with a highly sexual content. This is one side effect of the fact that the show seems to be popular with all ages and demographics, and that Discovery is a family oriented network.

Myths you cannot do? by jessejay356
Have there been any myths that were either too expensive or dangerous that you just couldn't get done?

ADAM SAVAGE -- We're relatively undaunted. We've found ways to do myths we thought impossible to do only months before. Besides going to the moon that is.

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- We usually figure out a way around that. This is where our particular skills come into play; a lot of what we do on the show can be done by the average Joe, but for the most part the average Joe would not be able to do it as fast, safe or inexpensively.

Bittorrent? by boatboy
Your show is available on bittorrent networks to download and watch when/where it's more convenient. Some users, however, could download the show without paying for it via cable service. How do you personally feel about this? (Cheated\Angry\Flattered\What's A Bittorrent?)

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- There will likely always be a certain amount of this kind of opportunism, and I suppose it will be self regulating to some degree. If there is too much, then quality programming will be reduced, and there will be nothing to steal. Other similar ways of avoiding commercials are also having this effect, and companies like mine are going to go out of business because the advertising revenues are being cut. Somebody has to pay for good programming, and if you cut out all the ads, and cut out the cable revenues, then you will end up with nothing but the kind of programming that is on public access stations, which is fine if that is what you happen to like, but limiting and a bit of a waste for a medium that is as powerful as TV.

ADAM SAVAGE -- Personally, I cannot condone the downloading of copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder. That being said, I look forward to a future where such a thing will be possible, and encouraged, and conducted in such a way that properly takes care of the needs of the artists, the distributors, AND the end users. We're not there yet, but Creative Commons is a step in the right direction to be sure.

working at M5? by kin_korn_karn
How do you recruit talent for M5? What qualifies someone to work there?

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- I pull people from the local talent pool on an as needed basis. Often by referrals from co workers or from ILM which is the only other significant shop in the Bay Area for our kind of work. I look for experience with a range of mediums, but otherwise I'm big on basic intelligence and work ethic. Putting together a crew is kind of like making soup: it's the combination of things that makes it work.

Injuries? by jacksonai
What is the worst injury anyone sustained while trying to bust a myth?

ADAM SAVAGE -- Besides a couple of stitch-worthy cuts that I've sustained, I'd say the greatest injury has been to my dignity when receiving a rectal thermometer during the "Goldfinger Revisit" myth.

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- So far we have only had minor cuts and scrapes. The worst of these was a broken finger sustained, ironically, by one of the crew when handling safety equipment; specifically the bullet resistant Lexguard panels we use which are quite heavy. We are becoming increasingly aggressive about maintaining safety on the show as over time -- as we are often replicating circumstances in which someone got hurt or killed, let's just say we have reason to be cautious.

Repeatable Experiments? by Aggrazel
I'm a father of a 7 year old who absolutely loves your show. We have it on our tivo and I'm constantly pausing the show to ask him what he thinks will happen in your experiments. You start every show with "Don't try this at home" but sometimes there are experiments that you do which you could probably try (safely) at home. Have you ever considered having a show where you say, "DO Try this at home?" Its fun to see my child get such a love of science in such a fun way.

ADAM SAVAGE -- That's a great idea! There's a book coming out next year called "MythBusters: Don't Try This at Home," that's actually about myths we did, and we offer ways that YOU can illustrate and test some of the concepts at home, safely.

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- The fact that young people are becoming interested in science as a result of the show is by far the biggest bonus for us, and one that took us by surprise as we had no intent that the show do this. However one of the reasons it has worked is that very fact that we are not really trying to be educational. We blow stuff up, we screw around. Adam puts things up his nose. Sometimes we do stuff just because we are curious. We are interesting to young people perhaps because we are a little bit out of control. Putting this into a context that you can do at home is a little difficult, and I would suggest that this be the realm of the parent, who in doing so will also learn and be all the more involved with the child, all in all a good thing. As long as the parent doesn't blow up or otherwise harm the child, which would, of course, be counterproductive.

Source Material? by DigitalSorceress
I've been a fan since your first season, and in that time, you've covered quite a few of the big, classic myths and legends. Are you ever concerned that you'll "use up" all the best source material, sort of running out of steam as it were? Or is the internet such a fertile ground for kooks and bad jokes that you figure you can go on indefinitely?

ADAM SAVAGE -- Every time I think we may be reaching the end of large scale, popular myths -- every time I can't imagine how we'll mine any more things to test out of the popular consciousness -- every time I think that we'll end up doing esoteric, historical myths at the end of the series' run (not that that's a bad thing), we come across something amazing, that nobody can believe we hadn't thought of before.

Fact vs Fun? by elrick_the_brave
When I watch your show, it's obvious that there is a lot of fun going on. Who wouldn't like blowing up, breaking down, stinking up, falling down, and all-around destroying everything? For those of us not of TV-land.. how long does it take for you guys to produce an average episode.. how much of it is fun vs time spent working on getting it right? What is the most tedious part of busting myths?

ADAM SAVAGE -- Normally, it takes us about a week to film a single myth. That's an average. We've done them in as little as a day, and taken as much as 3 weeks or more to complete the big ones (can anyone say "JetPack?"). It's not a contiguous week though. We'll work on one myth in the morning, a second after lunch, a third the next morning, and shoot blueprints for 4 or 5 myths in the afternoon. Since much of what we do requires elaborate research, not to mention extensive permits, safety forms, and insurance clearance, at any one time we might be working on 4 myths or more.

As for the fun/tedious quotient: it IS a lot of fun, no doubt, but it can also be very exacting work. One of the most frustrating things about doing the show happens to be the thing that's most fun about it: what we do rarely conforms to our expectations. We thought testing formulas for skunk removal would be simple. Get sprayed, clean it off. Turned out that just finding a skunk with full juice sacks during mating season was nearly impossible. Who would have thought that? And that's generally the rule: NOTHING is ever as simple as we think it's going to be. Really though, that's the most satisfying part too. When we beat our heads against the wall for a while, trying several different tacks towards a question, and then we achieve an elegant experiment and a bonafide result, those are the good days. And they far outnumber the bad days.

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- It takes about 3 weeks on average to do a show. While we do have fun from time to time, the bulk of my experience is worrying about keeping to the schedule, worrying about getting results, trying to keep people from getting hurt, cleaning up messes. We are in general cut up, bruised, achy from lifting, and stressed out. That being said I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, and Adam in particular is excited because he has an unlimited quantity of stories to tell at dinner parties.

Computer myths? by Short Circuit
Have you ever considered taking on some computer myths? Like whether or not it was ever possible for a virus to destroy old monitors?

ADAM SAVAGE -- The biggest problem with these for us is that they're not that visual. That being said, we've wanted for years to test different techniques for eliminating spam. Set up 2 brand new computers, hook them up to the internet, surf a little, and see what kind of spam they get. Then test to see what the actual real-world results of spam fighting techniques are (should you really click on those links that say they'll stop if you do?).

Fan science? by SilentChris
How often do fans question your results? Have you had any diehard science/physics freaks tell you you're wrong? Are there more "myth revisits" planned because of this feedback? How does it feel to have your decisions nitpicked?

ADAM SAVAGE -- Fans question our work all the time. Constantly. Fully 10% of the email I get is people telling me we got it wrong. I appreciate all the comments/criticism, etc., and much of the time, the criticism leads to a revisit, or a rethinking of our methodology. We don't claim to be infallible, and we're always totally willing to revisit our results. I like to think that places us in good company. The only criticisms I dislike are the ones that dispense with common courtesy. Sometimes I'll get just a sentence telling me that I'm an idiot, with no greeting and no signature. Jamie and I both read every email we get, we just don't have time to respond to them all.

JAMIE HYNEMAN -- We get grief from fans all the time. As far as I'm concerned, 'myths' are just an excuse for us to play around with things, and we have no corner on truth or science or anything like that. I am aware that good science doesn't work on a shoot schedule, no matter what. What I do like is the fact that the show is thought-provoking -- and if someone disagrees about a result, then great! It means people are thinking.

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