This site is not affiliated with the Discovery Channel or MythBusters. Please visit the Official MythBusters site for official content.

Episode 16: Ancient Death Ray, Skunks, What is Bulletproof?

  • Archimedes constructed a solar death ray that he used to ignite Roman ships: busted. Update: the MythBusters have revisited the Archimedes Death Ray in season three (still busted)
  • Removing skunk odor with...:
    • Tomato juice: plausible
    • Beer (MGD): busted
    • Douche: busted
    • Hydrogen peroxide + baking soda + liquid dish soap: confirmed
    • Commercial skunk remover: confirmed (not as good as custom mix above)
  • Stopping bullets with a...:
    • book: busted
    • deck of cards: busted
    • Zippo: busted
    • 1/4" polycarbonate: busted
    • bullet-resistant polycarbonate: confirmed

Woohoo! MythBusters is back after a few false starts. In addition to busting a couple more myths, this episode also added to the Jamie mythos, including: * Jamie has a flamethrower in his office * Jamie has traveled around the world on his sailboat (offhand comment by Adam as he was wearing a fake bushy mustache to depict Jamie after his long voyage)

Of course, at this point, they may just be blurting stuff out to setup the eventual Jamie mythbusting episode.

Archimedes Death Ray

Update: the MythBusters have revisited the Archimedes Death Ray in season three (still busted)

The Death Ray myth was advertised as the oldest myth they've ever busted, going back all the way to the 3rd century BC and Archimedes. I didn't really know that much about Archimedes beyond his buoyancy principle, but, as I found out, he was a great mathematician and inventor of the catapult, lever, and compound pulley (block and tackle). One of his attributed inventions, though, is considered a little more dubious.

As the myth has it, during the Second Punic Wars, Archimedes built his 'burning mirrors,' which was an arrangement of mirrors that was capable of focusing a ray of sunshine on approaching ships and setting them aflame.

After testing bronze and various other reflective materials, Adam settled on making a 400 sq ft mirror using 300 individual mirrors arranged in a circular configuration, with all of the mirrors focused on the same point at a 60 ft distance. Apparently, mirrors can put out 30kW/sq ft, which means that their mirror could theoretically put out about 600 degrees of heat.

Adam had some of the new crew build half a trireme, which they had an interesting time balancing in the water. With their giant mirror raised, they were able to bring up the temperature to 200 degrees. The crew raised some additional sheets of reflective material, but was only able to get the temperature up to 280 degrees. Jamie was even able to stand directly in the beam, as the mirrors simply weren't focused enough.

The mirror met a fateful end dropped onto the pavement, and the boat met a similar fate as they were unable to burn it to ash using flaming arrows and Molotov cocktails. busted

Skunks decontamination

Fun fact: skunk spray is made up of 'thiols', which is responsible for some of the bad smell of decomposing flesh and feces.

In the tradition of the stinky pigs, Jamie and Adam volunteered to get skunked in order to test various stink remedies. The only problem was it's a lot harder to get skunked than you might think. Critter control brought by three different skunks, but Jamie and Adam were unable to get any of the three to spray them while they jumped and battered their cages. As Adam said, they must have encountered "Buddha reincarnated as a skunk." More likely, the skunks, having already been captured either used up their spray or couldn't possibly be more frightened. They even tried synthetic skunk spray, but discovered that it loses its pungency fairly quickly.

They finally got some skunk spray by releasing the third skunk in the women's bathroom, though after trying a couple of the remedies, they had to revert to the synthetic spray for some of the testing. Scottie Chapman served as both smell tester as well as female Adam, delivering this segment's colorful dialogue.

Results of the various cleansers: * Tomato juice: smelled like a "bloody mary," but no skunk. plausible * Beer (MGD): used to cleanup bathroom where skunk sprayed. "Smells like the men's room at a dive bar." busted * Douche: Adam took a swig to verify that it's composed vinegar and water. "Not so fresh." busted * Hydrogen peroxide + baking soda + liquid dish soap: it worked. Apparently the mixture releases oxygen compounds that bond with thiols and neutralize their smell. confirmed * Commercial skunk remover: worked, but not as well as the hydrogen peroxide mixture. ok

What is bulletproof?

Adam and Jamie took shots at various items that at one time or another have been claimed to have bullet-stopping power. The .22 rifle was weaker than the .357 magnum, so if the item didn't stop it they didn't bother moving up to the .357.

  • Book (.22 rifle): bullet made it through 400 pages.
  • Book (.357): Adam missed with multiple shots, but Jaime's shot went straight through
  • Deck of cards (.22): bullet went straight through
  • Zippo (.22): bullet went straight through

After dispensing of the less-plausible bullet-stopping material, they then looked at polycarbonate sheets. They frequently use 1/4" polycarbonate to form their blast screens, and Adam delighted in showing a clip of Jamie saying that the polycarbonate "will stop a bullet."

1/4" polycarbonate isn't bullet-proof, but to show demonstrate that polycarbonate can be, they tested both the 1/4" polycarbonate that they use and a thicker, bullet-resistant-rated sheet.

  • 1/4" polycarbonate (.22): bullet went right through
  • Bullet resistant (.22): stopped bullet
  • Bullet resistant (.357): stopped bullet. Energy from blast was spread outward from point of impact.
  • Bullet resistant (.44): stopped bullet. Even wider energy dispersion into the polycarbonate.
  • Bullet resistant (Springfield .30 aught six (.30-06) (bullet)): went straight through


Thiols (which we have in our sample buffer in lab, as they help denature proteins) aren't the worst part of the smell of dead things. For that, you want something like putrescene:

This stuff is horrible. Thiols just smell sulfury. Putrescene reaches out and jams its fingers down the back of your throat.

Hmm, they did mention that thiols are added to natural gas so that you can detect leaks. I'm not sure that I would want either around, though I am kinda use to skunk smell from driving around Palo Alto and Los Altos, which have plenty of dead skunks on the road.

I wonder if there's any putrescene in stinky tofu :)

Actually, the stinky tofu did smell rather like putrescene, though the putrescene was worse (note my not vomiting at the table...).

Re: Bullet proof. There are a few instances where people have reported that a silk scarf stopped a bullet-reason: silk is much stronger than steel. The silk needs to be loose enough to catch the bullet and travel with the bullet into a simulated flesh target.
Re: archimedes death ray. I have a hunch the mirrors would have been mounted inside a parabolic shape like a large sat dish. You definitely should not stand at the focal point!!!!

I'm curious about the bullet-proof zippo thing. Don't they make zippos out of different materials? (ie: Copper, brass, etc.) and would this have an effect on it's bullet-proofyness?

Also, What ranges were the zippos tested at? I imagine a rifle at point blank range might have a different effect than a rifle at a few hundred feet.

Just thought I'd ask before I go about making my bullet-proof zippo vest.

Concerning the Solar Death Ray, check out

25 years ago, my brother who managed a plastics fab shop, shot at a half inch (thick) piece of polycarbonate with his 357 mag, and the bullet bounced off, and back at him!

Freaked him out!

A few points.

1. People have succesfully duplicated archimede's death ray. It is plausible.

2. It true that a deck of cards or a zippo are not likely to stop a bullet of even a small caliber, but they may deflect a bullet if it is not coming square at the target.

A .22 cal Long Rifle fired from a rifle is not as weak as you may think. Plus you are dealing with a bullet with a small cross-sectional diameter. This is the reason behind armour piercing sub-caliber fin stabilized discarding sabot rounds that are fired from a tanks main gun. These rounds, known as a Kinetic Energy Penetrators, can easily punch through armor whereas a larger diameter round cannot.

For the bulletproof Zippo, in the second war, the zippo lighter had to be produce with steel and dipped into painted because of the war. Today's zippo are almost all made of brass. Maybe it would affect the result.

Dragline spider silk, the strongest natural silk, is about half as strong as steel and is on par with things like Nylon. However, because it is very extensible, it is ounce for ounce about 5 times tougher than steel or kevlar. Toughness is a measure of energy absorption. This is key for things like bulletproof vests. Of course it is also less dense than steel, so an ounce of it would be larger than an ounce of steel. There are anecdotal accounts of bullets being stopped by (silkworm) silk scarves. Unfortunately, the bullet AND the scarf usually penetrated the body and killed the victim.

This is Regan, I am the guy in the Skunked episode. That was great fun! Adam, Jamie & the crew are so great to work with! My customers have really enjoyed the show and find the information valuable! I still hear from new people every month who are veiwing the episode for the first time and enjoy it greatly.
Thanks Again!

thanks for the "Skunked" info, LOL our pit/lab mix loves to corner every critter in the forest under our house in the middle of the night. this time its a skunk, Bleck!
Its snowing outside and we have ALL the windows & doors open trying to air it out.
smells soooo strong, like a match factory burning down.
someone added lemon juice to your "Mix" of peroxide, soda & soap.
not sure if it will make a diff?
Im gonna toss a bucket of this mix under the house tonight so Wife & I can maybe get some sleep. wish me luck...thx again : )

The bulletproof myth is a hard one to bust. A lot of the tales come from the world wars whire fire may have been across several hundered feet of no mans land ir simply long range. This alone would lower the power of a round, there is also chances of the bullet having passed through or bounced off other objects further lowering its speed making it easaly stopped by a cigarette box/bible/shaving mirror etc.
A modern high power gun at short range is no comparison to the conditions under which most of these incidents have been reported. (though admittedly the conditions in war time are near imposible to create)

As someone who has live trapped a few skunks - and not been sprayed, I can tell you the reason why I think the skunks wouldn't spray you, when they were caged. Skunks don't want to spray themselves - so they wouldn't release in an enclosed space.

Woah. I'm seeing a few issues with the gun related mythbusts. Like that rifle bullets are not allowed to stabilize when they are tested in things like water. I know a guy that's had bullets penetrate 9' feet of water but it was due to construction and caliber. TC or SWC vs roundnose for example. Rifle bullets need a bit of distance before they stabilize. They will even actually yaw in wood when shot at close range but not at longer ranges. You can shoot through a tree at a distance but close up, if you cut through the hole you'll see the bullet yaws because its not stable. Plus, polycarbonite is not bullet resistant alone unless it is THICK it is bullet resistant if its backed by ACRYLIC. The acrylic side can be shot through. This needs to be addressed by showing how "shoot through" polycarbonate is bullet restistant because it is supported by acrylic or in the case of the "Rated" type, its just plain thicker than hell which is realy impractical for anything but things like banks and check cashing places. The bullet resistant polycarbonate is not thicker than 1/2". The real trick is supposed to be the glue that sticks the acrylic and polycarbonate which I think is proprietary.