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Episode 21: Ping pong balls and balloons

  • Using ping pong balls to raise a ship: plausible
  • 4-year-old being carried away by balloons: busted (on the account of the number of ballons)

I'm way behind in my MythBusters transcribing. There's definitely been a good crop of episodes recently (this one was pretty average).

This episode felt a bit like a variation on "Myths Revisited." MythBusting #1, using ping pong balls to raise a ship, seemed like the reverse of their "Mythtanic" mythbusting, where they sank a tugboat in order to see if it could drag someone down. MythBusting #2, lifting a kid with balloons, was pretty much identical to weather balloons + lawn chair episode.

Ping pong balls to raise a ship

This myth is based on an old Donald Duck comic about raising a ship with ping pong balls. Once again, Jamie's experience in a salvage company will come in handy. The mythbusting was done by Adam and Jamie, with the help of Christine (this seems to be the tradition division of labor now).

They broke the effort down into several experiments and tests. * Experiment #1: How much weight does a ping pong ball raise in water? A: raised 1 lb of buckshot using 15 ping pong balls. * Experiment 2: What is the packing efficiency of ping pong balls? A: ~51%. This isn't very high, so they may have to worry about being able to fit enough ping pong balls in the ship to lift it. * Experiment 3: What happens to ping pong balls at 35 ft. below? A: At 60psi (~90ft down) ping pong ball pops, so it shouldn't be an issue.

Adam and Jamie went to the docks to go visit the old Mythtanic, which would be an ideal rig given that it's already setup to sink. The Mythtanic's rebirth is thwarted by its weight, however, as it's 28,000 lbs would take 400,000 ping pong balls to raise.

They managed to locate a fiberglass sailboat instead (3500lbs), which would only take about 50-60,000 ping pong balls to raise ($25K worth of ping pong balls). The sailboat, the Jalapeno, had been neglected and infested by sea lions (at least 30-40). It would now carry on the Mythtanic tradition as Mythtanic II.

With the boat problem solved, they then had to worry about how to get ping pong balls down to the rig underwater. Jamie came up with a simple dispensing rig (funnel, tube, and water) to send ping pong balls down to the rig below water. There was a bit of tension between Adam and Jamie as Adam wanted to do more testing beyond the 15 ft. test they performed, and Jamie was content to state that "Adam needs a cookie" and "Stop whining, go have a cookie."

The actual sinking/raising was done at Monterrey Bay Marina next to the pier. If I had followed the bulletin boards better, I probably could have been there.

Adam: "I think I need a cookie"

They started pumping 50,000 ping pong balls into the rig. The dispensing rig started to clog, but some hose trimming took care of it. The Mythtanic II started to reach neutral bouyancy at about 50% capacity, but then a window burst, spilling several hundred of the balls. After some quick repairs, they were filling it once more.

At 27,000 ping pong balls, the Mythtanic slowly rose to the surface, way undercutting the estimated number of balls. They failed to take into account the bouyancy of the wood and fiberglass. In the end, they didn't even have to fill up that much of the interior.

Plausible (not practical though)

Related links: * Ping-Pong Rescue gallery * photo of the MythTanic 2 being raised * photo of Adam pouring in the ping pong balls

Carried away by balloons

For the basis of this myth, they showed a Mr. Bean sketch that takes place at a fair. Mr. Bean ties some balloons to a baby's carriage, and, poor Mr. Bean (and poor baby), the carriage lifts off the ground and flies away.

The planned task would be to raise Mattie, 44 lbs, using balloons. The "B-Team" consisting of the build team (Scottie/Kari/Tory) handled the task.

  • Experiment 1: How much weight do 10 party balloons raise? A: 100 grams: 46 balloons for 1lb. This means that they would need ~2000 balloons to raise mattie.
  • Experiment 2: How long will it take to inflate 2500 balloons? A: 2'20" to inflate 25 balloons, 2500 balloons, at least 4 hours.

They did the mythbusting in an abandoned aircraft hanger. At 1900 balloons, which was already becoming a gigantic plume of balloon columns, they got a sandbag Mattie stand-in to test with, and found that it was only lifting 20 lbs, which was way below their calculations (the build team doesn't seem very math-oriented). With bandaged fingers, they forged on, and at 3000 balloons they were only 7 lbs. short of take-off.

At 3500 balloons, they strapped Mattie into a harness, and she was able to do a guided circuit of the inside of the hanger.

With the experiment complete, the build team took to the destruction of the balloons. Kari used Wolverine claws hack and slash (I want her claws), but Scottie won style and efficiency awards for blowing up the balloons by blowing flames into them.

Busted given that 3500 balloons is a LOT of balloons.

Related links: * Neil Martinez's and delineated's photos of the MythBusters lifting Paul Newman with balloons on the Letterman show: photo 1, photo 2


I don't know about raising a ship with ping pong balls, but my dad told me a story from his days serving on a patrol bomber in WWII. (VPB116) He said that the Japanese would take a ship, load it with antiaircraft guns then fill every extra space with ping pong balls to add extra flotation. These ships were used to try and lure the patrol bombers close enough to shoot down. Even if they took massive hits from the aircraft, they still provided a platform for the antiaircraft guns. The patrol bombers were always on the lookout for picket ships, so this ruse was plausible, especially as the allied forces closed in on their homeland.

The ping pong ball idea is not only plausible, it is actually possible.

It was used in 1964 to raise a ship in Kuwait:
The "Donald Duck as prior art" case