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

Episode 44: Paper Crossbow

  • Lethal newspaper crossbow: plausible
  • Vodka smoke remover: plausible
  • Vodka bee killer: busted

Lethal newspaper crossbow

Myth: At a Federal Supermax Prison in Marion, Illinois, an inmate built a crossbow out of newspaper, a plastic food tray for the tip, and elastic from underpants. The inmate was able to shoot an kill an inmate from across the hall (15 feet).

Components research

Adam visited San Quentin State Prison and its museum. Among the prize weapons on display in the museum were a gun made plumbing parts (.32 caliber, semi automatic with flashguard) and a newspaper spear that used a styrofoam cup for the tip.

Jamie went underwear shopping to collect various samples of elastic that might be used in prison underwear.

Jamie: "Do you think we can call this standard prison issue?"

They did some experimentation with the glue to try and find a plausible homebrew glue to use in the myth. They tested casein glue (milk, vinegar, baking soda), a flour + water glue, a flour + water + sugar glue, and a gelatin + glycerine glue, then compared them against commercial wood glue. * casein glue (came out pasty): 21 lbs of force before separating * flour, water: 25 lbs * flour, water, sugar: 25 lbs * gelatin and glycerine (book-binding glue): 36 lbs * wood glue (control): 60lbs

Speargun experiment

They received a video from Pelican Bay Prison (Northern California).of an inmate constructing a crossbow-like weapon, then firing it through a prison door. The weapon consisted of: * elastic * barrel made from tightly wound paper * plastic spoon sharpened into a dart

Jamie and Adam used the video to construct a weapon that wasn't quite as good as the one in the video. They were no closer to testing the myth as Jamie observed, "This is more of a speargun," and, in order to fulfill the myth, they would have to construct an actual crossbow.

Playing with real crossbows (performance testing)

Jamie and Adam went to Archery Only in Newark to test the accuracy, velocity, and penetration of commercial crossbows. Jamie fired some bolts through a chronograph to get velocity measurements. They combined this weight measurements, to estimate the kinetic energy of crossbows at 61 ft/lbs.

They then tested various arrowheads to find the most lethal design. They fired at a ballistics gel target and measured the depth of penetration. * Standard: 6" * 4-bladed razor tip used for hunting: 6 1/2" * Cut-on-contact broadhead: 8" (also the simplest to make)

For the accuracy test they shot at a target from 15'. Jamie was able to make one large hole using three bolts, showing that a crossbow is very accurate from 15'.

Paper crossbow build off

Ingredients of the challenge: * Newspaper * Underwear * Prison issue dinner trays * Homemade glue * 2 days construction time using any tools in the shop

Jamie uses a cone-shape stuffed with paper to construct the main crossbow elements. Adam's design consisted of many tightly rolled support struts. Adam: "I call this... the Red Baron" Adam was ahead of Jamie in the build process so he was able to use the plastic tray to make a firing mechanism. Jamie ended up adding support struts to his design, making it look a lot more like Adam's.

Their evaluation of each other's design put Adam in the lead: * Adam: "Dude, if the full draw of the bow makes it collapse, is candy going to pour out?"
* Jamie: "Wow, that's pretty good"

The firing test

The test setup consisted of a ballstics gel bust of Grant placed 15' feet away from a mock prison door.

The commercial crossbow they tested had a velocity of about 250 ft/s with 61 ft/lbs of force. It was also able to penetrate 3" into the left nostril of the ballistics gel bust. According to a chart they found:

  • < 25 ft/lbs: small game (rabbits)
  • 25-41: deer, antelope
  • 42-65: elk, black bear
  • 66+ bears, buffalo

In order to be lethal, they decied that the medium game force, 24-41 ft/lbs, would be enough.

First up was Jamie's Flying Y design. The first shot was one of the best at 60 ft/s, but it missed the mark and skipped off the top of the bust's head. The fastest shot was clocked at 68 ft/s and they estimated the kinetic energy of the bolt at 4.1 ft/lbs. Jamie's bow had accuracy issues in addition to it's lack of oomph and none of the shots they showed stuck in the target. It didn't seem like they got too many shots off with Jamie's crossbow -- the paper in the main 'Y' started to crinkle and the shots were getting worse and worse.

Adam's Red Baron "Dreamcatcher" design did a bit better. His first shot went 85 ft/s and penetrated 1" into the neck of the ballistics gel bust. He was able to get a shot off at 91 ft/s, but, much like Jamie's crossbow, the first shots it took were better than later efforts. Adam wasn't too worried about the fact that the paper crossbows started to break down quickly: "As soon as you shoot it, they're gonna know you have it."

They measured the kinetic energy of Adam's crossbow at 7.5 ft/lbs, still only good enough for small game, but they figured that 7.5 ft/lbs right in the jugular would be good enough to kill no matter what the chart said.

Adam actually won a build off for once!

They were unable to turn up no actual cases of serious injuries caused by crossbows, but Adam's jugular shot would have caused some damage.


Vodka Myths II

Previously: Vodka myths 1

Vodka Smoke Remover

Myth: Vodka can remove smoke smell from clothing

Kari created automated smoking machine, a tube with holes to hold lit cigarettes, stuck inside of an 'airtight' box.

They smoke-infested two jackets inside the box and took them to the laundromat. One of the jackets was spritzed with a spray made of 1 part vodka to 3 parts water. Grant was once again the official smeller. His verdict: the vodka-spritzed jacket smelled better.


Vodka Bee Killer

Myth: Vodka can be used to kill bees

Tory built a clear 'bee box' to fill with bees and vodka. With two boxes full of bees, they sprayed one five times with water and the other five times with vodka.

Grant used a hairdryer to dry off the water bees. The water bees looked dead, but as they dried off they started moving again. All but two of the water bees survived. All of the vodka bees survived



Given that they spritzed them with vodka (rather than, say, drowning them in it) I'm not surprised that vodka was even less effective than water. The alcohol in the vodka is going to evaporate off much faster than straight water would. I'd bet by the time he got around to drying them, the vodka bees were already dryer than the water bees.

In my very first job I killed fruit flies with rubbing alcohol before dissecting them. Even immersed in rubbing alcohol it took them a good minute to die.

man ur website is such a rip off. has discovery channelle came at u 4 their royalties. i might just have to drop them an email about this, seeing how you are using copyrighted footage off their show :)

Does it have to be a tray from a prison?

I just saw a show on National Geographic about the Pelican Bay max security prison. An inmate made a paper spear and fired it using the elastic from his underwear. A demonstration showed that it could stick into a metal bin. That could cause alot of damage to a person.

Awesome site! Thanks for the help

congratulations silent dogood not only have you managed to use the pseudonym of famous American to insult a perfectly good website, but your also being a total ass about it with no real reason.