Adam Savage, along with partner-in-science (and snark) Jamie Hyneman, has tested over 800 myths, used 12 tons of explosives and destroyed over 100 cars on the hit TV show Mythbusters. Not only is his job incredibly cool--it's often incredibly dangerous.
"Most of [the experiments] that seem scary to you were also scary to us," Savage told host Ophira Eisenberg from the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. "There's many times I've sat at the top of a long ramp, and thought, 'Well, I've pretty much done everything I can to make this as safe as possible, but it might be the last thing I ever do.'"
Adam tests the mettle of a pair of contestants, to see if they can guess which of the show's myths were busted, and which were confirmed. Learn the truth of whether urinating on the third rail can cause electrocution, whether pennies dropped off the Empire State Building can kill, and at precisely what pitch the human voice can break a crystal wine glass.
Plus, Savage joined us later in the show to take on Community's Danny Pudi in an Ask Me Another Challenge that quizzed the pair on classic action movie one-liners, and brought out everyone's best Ahhnold impressions.
On the myth too dangerous to test
There is a really elaborate [myth] about a truckful of liquid oxygen that spills on the road, and the liquid oxygen combined with the asphalt to turn the entire road into a bomb. We've researched liquid oxygen to discover that it is the scariest substance on earth, and — this is no hyperbole — can turn an oily rag into a high explosive if you hit it hard enough with a hammer. But it does not do that predictably. So, we could spend $100,000 on a tankful of liquid oxygen and spill it on a road bed that we have to have built in a desert — and then what if nothing happens? Which is often the most dangerous possible thing, because nobody wants to go over there where nothing's happened...yet.
We've stopped doing the drinking myths because it's too hard on our bodies. It sounds like a great idea to get drunk, at work, but then think through being at dinner with your family that night, and you're already hungover. It doesn't matter that you know why you did it, it still feels like you made a really dumb life decision.
Please, tell us more about getting drunk on TV
Of the drunk episodes, I really prefer the ones where police are involved. Whenever I have more than two beers, all I do is tell cop stories--to cops! My desire for difficult people to like me comes out, and kept telling them story after story trying to get them to laugh.
This segment originally ran on March 13, 2014.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
You're listening to ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR and WNYC. We are here at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. And I'm Ophira Eisenberg. And with me is our one man house band, Mr. Jonathan Coulton.
EISENBERG: Let's give it up for our favorite myth buster, Adam Savage.
EISENBERG: Now so many of the experiments that you are doing, the myths that you were challenging, look very scary, I would say dangerous, to me on television. But I don't know ,which ones were scary to you?
ADAM SAVAGE: No, there - most of them that seem scary to you were also scary to us.
EISENBERG: Good to know.
SAVAGE: There's many times I've sat at the top of a long ramp and thought, well, I've pretty much done everything I can to make this as safe as possible but this might be the last thing I ever do. That's not so bad.
EISENBERG: Are there any myths out there that you're like, we want to do this but it's just too dangerous, like we just cannot figure out how to...
SAVAGE: There is a really elaborate one about a truck full of liquid oxygen that spills on the road and the liquid oxygen combines with the asphalt - the petroleum product - to turn the entire road into a bomb. And we have - yeah.
JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: That does sound dangerous.
EISENBERG: And awesome.
SAVAGE: So we've researched - we've researched liquid oxygen to discover that it is the scariest substance on earth. That it literally and - this is no exaggeration or hyperbole - can turn an oily rag into a high explosive if you hit it hard enough with a hammer for instance. But it doesn't - but it does not do that predictably. So we could spend $100,000 on a tank full of liquid oxygen and spill it on the roadbed that we'd have to have built in a desert because we can't use a real one. And what if nothing happens? Which is also the most dangerous possible thing - 'cause nobody wants to go over there where nothing's happened yet.
COULTON: Right. You just have the intern go over and start hitting it with a hammer.
SAVAGE: Exactly. No I'm cool. I'll just wait over here.
EISENBERG: I thought one of the most fascinating myths you did - it was all about if working out sobers you up when you're really drunk. But what was amazing is that for that one you - I've never seen this before on television - someone just sitting there and going I'm going to get trashed. And we watch you get trashed.
EISENBERG: It was - I mean groundbreaking.
SAVAGE: We don't do that anymore. We've stopped doing the drinking myths because it's too hard on our bodies. It sounds like a great idea to get drunk at work, but then think through being at dinner with your family that night and you're already hung over.
SAVAGE: It doesn't matter that you know why you did it still feels like you made a really dumb life decision.
EISENBERG: Is it painful to watch that footage? 'Cause most of us don't get to watch the footage of us getting drunk.
SAVAGE: I actually - of the drunk episodes, I really prefer the ones where police are involved 'cause wherever I have more than like two beers all I do is tell cop stories to cops.
EISENBERG: You're like, you're the perfect audience for this one.
SAVAGE: My desire for difficult people to like me comes out and I just - I'm just telling cops story after, story after story, trying to get them to laugh.
EISENBERG: Alright, so we are going to throw you in the puzzle hot-seat a little later in the show.
EISENBERG: But right now we're going to ask you to help us out with the game about MythBusters. Would you be into that?
EISENBERG: Alright Adam Savage.
EISENBERG: Let's welcome our next two contestants, Sara Oremland and Sean Finerty.
EISENBERG: Sara, Sean, I would like to know what is the most dangerous stunt you have ever done in your life or a risk that you've taken? Sean?
SEAN FINERTY: So I was on the rowing team in college. And I was the coxswain, which is like the little guy who yells at all the big guys. And we had some dead time between practice one time and there was a seesaw there. And we had the bright idea, we were like, oh, let's put Sean on one end of the seesaw and then a bunch of us are going to jump on it. And then so we kept trying and like it went fine the first time, we're like, oh, we can go higher, like let's do more people, like find a bigger guy. And nothing broke. But I could've gotten a lot of trouble. Coach Gean, if you're listening, we apologize.
EISENBERG: OK. Yeah that sounds scary. There was a balance and imbalance involved. Sara?
SARA OREMLAND: I would have to say breaking into the Belize Zoo, at night.
EISENBERG: Sure, yeah I know I've done that.
FINERTY: Yours is way cooler.
EISENBERG: Why? Let's start with that question.
OREMLAND: Well, you can actually sleep at the Belize Zoo. They have cabins there. And unfortunately my boyfriend and I arrived at night. And also unfortunately the Belize Zoo is literally in the middle of nowhere. And the bus dropped us off and the bus driver literally laughed at us when he dropped us off and said, the zoo is closed. And my boyfriend said, should we go try to find a pay phone. And I said, no I think we should come over the fence.
OREMLAND: So this car pulls up and says, are you trying to sleep at the zoo? And we said, yes. And they said, we've been waiting for you. Get in our car. And we said, OK.
EISENBERG: That is a bizarre and sweet story. (Laughter) So Adam, over the years, you have tested nearly 800 myths, and along the way, you've used 12 tons of explosives and destroyed over a hundred cars.
EISENBERG: That's pretty impressive.
SAVAGE: I'm proud of that.
COULTON: And so in this game, with Adam's help, we are going to take a little trip into the past - see if these contestants can figure out which myths were confirmed and which were busted. For example, we mention the myth that goldfish have a memory span of only three seconds. Adam, did you find that to be true or false?
SAVAGE: Actually, we found that that is something that people with goldfish and tiny bowls tell themselves to make themselves feel better. When in fact, Jamie as a teenager trained a goldfish to ring a bell when it was hungry.
SAVAGE: They - they do definitely have a memory longer than three seconds.
COULTON: So the truth is they are fully aware of their horrible existence.
SAVAGE: Absolutely. Yup.
EISENBERG: OK, Sean and Sara, we're going to alternate between the two of you. So we'll give you a myth that the MythBusters have tested - just tell us did they confirm it or did they bust it. You can get electrocuted by urinating on the third rail of a train track. What do you think, Sean?
FINERTY: That was busted, I think.
SAVAGE: That's correct.
EISENBERG: Girls don't have this issue or thoughts.
SAVAGE: No, no. Girls and boys would have the same issue which is that your pee is laminar for the first couple of inches but then it goes turbulent and no electricity will travel through those droplets.
COULTON: Tell me about it. Tell me about it.
SAVAGE: Actually, now that I think about it, a girl would be more likely to be electrocuted because she's...
EISENBERG: Closer to the ground.
EISENBERG: Well, looks like we're going to have to try that one again.
COULTON: ) All right, Sara, this one's for you. Using one's cell phone while pumping gasoline can cause an explosion.
COULTON: Adam, what do you say?
SAVAGE: That was actually busted.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) People are shocked and appalled.
SAVAGE: It basically turns out that the cell phone generates no electrical spark whatsoever when you're opening it or using it - but that people on their cell phones will tend to get in and out of the seat while pumping gas. And getting in and out of a cloth car can generate up to 20,000 volts of static electricity. And that is plenty to ignite gasoline fumes around your tank.
COULTON: So when you pump gas, just don't get out of the car.
EISENBERG: Don't move.
SAVAGE: So it's - no, amazingly it actually turns out that this happened more to young people who get out of the car with - unlike us old people who get out of the car holding onto stuff and just grounding ourselves against the body of the car - young people hop out full of electricity.
EISENBERG: Alright, Sean. You can break a wine glass by singing at the right pitch.
SAVAGE: Correct. You're absolutely correct.
EISENBERG: And what is that? What is the - is it a...
SAVAGE: Actually, it turns out...
EISENBERG: ... Note or a range?
SAVAGE: ...To be - if you take a nice crystal wine glass and you tap it in goes (Imitating sound) - that is the note at which you can shatter it. And heavy metal singing teacher Jamie Vendera told us about the technique - he used a speaker with a special modification on it to do it. But for us on camera, we got him to do with only his voice. And we have confirmed that that's the first time it was ever caught on film or video - was done on MythBusters on this stage right in front of you.
COULTON: All right, Sara. A penny dropped off a skyscraper can kill you if it lands on your head.
OREMLAND: I'm starting to really bad because I feel I've seen these on the plane but like not watching them.
SAVAGE: Do you know every time I'm walking back from the bathroom and I see people watching MythBusters, I always want to go, hey sir, do you have any questions?
OREMLAND: I'm going to say busted.
SAVAGE: Correct. And it was busted.
SAVAGE: The penny will never have enough of a velocity to actually cause you any damage. We made a penny go two and a half thousand miles per hour and we couldn't break bone with it. More than that, the Empire State Building's observation deck is 130 feet back from the street - so you'd have to be able to chuck a penny pretty far in order to get it to the street to begin with. By the way, all the floors below that are littered with change.
EISENBERG: Trying. Just trying.
COULTON: Somebody's going to get rich someday.
EISENBERG: Alright, this is your last set of questions. Sean, a person can stay underwater for an extended period of time by breathing the air from a car tire.
SAVAGE: I'm sorry. That was busted. I know. It seems like a reasonable thing, and every time I watch the footage I think I should try again. But I gave it like threefold tries underwater. And I could not get good solid breaths out of the car tire.
EISENBERG: It was - that was in the a James Bond.
SAVAGE: That was in a James Bond, and Jason Bourne also did it in the "Bourne Identity." Totally not possible.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Those tires are good for nothing.
COULTON: Sara. You can make a sea-worthy boat entirely out of duct tape.
OREMLAND: Sounds amazing.
SAVAGE: We have in fact made four sea-worthy boats in the course of doing MythBusters - a sailboat, a 22 foot outrigger canoe, and two rafts that actually survived class five rapids.
EISENBERG: How much tape are using per vessel?
SAVAGE: I was like 20 to 150 rolls of tape.
EISENBERG: Oh, yeah? OK. (Laughter) Oh well, that's very cool. Well, you know what's also great? We have a tie.
EISENBERG: Nice job, Sean and Sara.
SAVAGE: OK. Tiebreaker question - which of these things did we discovered that a can of cola can do - A. clean a toilet, B. remove bloodstains, or C. degrease an engine.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
OREMLAND: How about
OREMLAND: Clean a toilet.
SAVAGE: Nope. I'm sorry. The answer - shall I give...
EISENBERG: Oh, wait. Wait.
FINERTY: Was it remove bloodstains?
SAVAGE: Yes. It is remove bloodstains.
EISENBERG: Sean, we're going to see you at the end of the show. And thank you so much to Adam Savage.
SAVAGE: Thank you. Thanks guys.
EISENBERG: Here's a myth that you have to appear in person on our stage to be on our show. Busted. If you have a landline, you can call in and we can make your trivia dream happen. Just send an e-mail to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.