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Episode 54: Crimes and Myth-Demeanors 1

The MythBusters and build team tested a variety of Hollywood Heist myths laid out as security assault course for them to try and get through. It should be noted that what they were testing was the Hollywood presentation of these challenges, so the security systems had some unrealistic weaknesses.

  • Duct climbing (suction cups or magnets): busted. There is no way to get up without being detected easily.
  • Lasers (making them visible with powder, using nightvision goggles, adding your own beam): visible alarm systems as shown in movies aren't used for security system (busted) and infrared systems are 'virtually impossible' to get past (busted).
  • Cutting a small circular hole in a piece of glass and removing it: busted. They couldn't cleanly and quietly remove the piece of glass, though they were able to shatter the entire piece of tempered glass, remove some shards with pliers, and get past it that way (plausible).
  • Retrieving an object from underneath a pressure-sensor rigged display case: they weren't able to defeat the sensor using a knife and gum as in the Entrapment movie (busted), but they did defeat it using a knife and duct tape (plausible).
  • Safe cracking: Adam couldn't crack it using an amplified stethoscope (busted), but he was able to break into a safe in 45 minutes using a drill and borescope. I didn't hear them officially state plausible or confirmed for this part, though, given that the safe is officially rated at 5 minutes for a professional safecracker, its should be confirmed that a 5-minute safe could be broken into in 5-minutes or less even if they were unable to do the same.

See "Video 4" in my Encinal High Benefit summary for more background information on the magnets and suction cup parts of this myth.

The build team, with Grant designated "Mission Controller," were responsible for building the Crimes and Myth-Demeanors assault course ("armed with the latest Hollywood security devices"). Adam, Jamie, Tory, and Kari were designated the "Heist Heroes" that had to break into the course:

  1. Jamie and Adam have to enter the course by scaling an air duct
  2. Kari and Tory have to navigate a room guarded by lasers
  3. Jamie and Adam have to get through a glass door protected by a sound detector
  4. Kari and Tory have to steal a gold bust of Buster sitting on a pressure switch
  5. Adam has to crack the safe

Grant built a security cage as a mission control area to monitor the course. From the security cage, he could view feeds from cameras on course and there were also a bell and klaxon he could set off.

Assault Course Myth 1: Scaling an air duct

Adam and Jamie faced off with competing designs to see who could enter the course via air duct best. This assault was loosely 'based' on Dean Cain's break-in attempt in the movie Firetrap -- that classic of a movie was probably the best they could get the rights to show.

Air duct design 1: Using magnets to scale an air duct

Jamie showed Adam a magnet that can lift 500-1000lbs and then proceeded to convince Adam to hold down the mounting bracket as he inserted one of these ultra-powerful magnets -- Adam seemed a tad bit scared.

Jamie: "You outta have a license to handle these things"

Jamie was able to stand on top of one of his mounting brackets when he attached it to strong steel, but when he tested it out on thinner metal that was more similar to the air duct material, he found that the air duct was going to be too thin. The steel used for air ducts has too low of a saturation point, i.e. the amount of magnetic attraction it could generate is too low.

Jamie: "As far as climbing a duct, this ain't gonna do it. Because this metal is about the same we would have in a duct."

Jamie upgraded his brackets to hold five magnets instead of one and from each bracket he suspended a foot stirrup.

Air duct design 2: You can scale a wall with air suction cups

Adam went a different climbing route from Jamie, building a classic suction-cup-style climbing machine. Adam attached some vacuum-suction cups he ordered to a door and was able to hold onto the door with them. He then tried to hold himself up underneath a forklift but ended up pulling the suction cup right down into his head.

Adam wired up his suction cups to a vacuum pump that he mounted in a backpack. Switches on the right-hand suction cup allowed him to engage and disengage his right suction cups and similarly for the left-hand suction cup. After getting the kinks out, Adam was able to attach himself to the door.

Air duct challenge: Adam's suction cups vs. Jamie's magnet

Adam and Jamie put their designs head-to-head in the first part of the security course and were graded both on time and volume/covertness.

Adam: "I think Jamie's is going to be like KUNG! KUNG! KUNG! And I believe in a security manual the proper response is to that sound coming from your duct is to riddle the duct with bullets."

KLANG! Adam's analysis of Jamie's design was pretty accurate. Jamie made it up the duct, but sent loud klangs every time he moved the magnets.

Jamie: "Surreptitious, I don't think so"

Adam's design was a little bit quieter, until his cups detached and he slipped down the duct a bit.

Adam: "The movie myth is totally busted. The idea that you would trust your life to a single point of failure, even with some redundant systems -- this is a rough way to go. Better to walk in the front door dressed as a guard."

Adam: "totally busted, but soooo much fun"

Suction cups and magnets in air ducts: mythbusted

Assault Course Myth 2: Laser beam security systems

They couldn't come up with any actual security systems that use visible laser beams, so they used two different laser-beam designs for the security assault course. Grant built a custom laser system using laser pointers so that they would have a visible laser beam that they could try and bypass, and they also installed some actual laser-security systems that use infrared beams that are invisible to the human eye, no matter how much smoke and dust you use.

This sequence used Catherine Zeta Jones' break-in scene in Entrapment.

"Catherine Zeta Jones Blow the Powder into the Laser Beam So We Can See Where They Are Technique"

In Entrapment, Catherine Zeta Jones blows cosmetic powder onto the lasers so that they becomes visible. Kari tried out the same technique in the laser security room, which resulted in an interesting find: the powder did let her see the beams from the laser pointers, but if she blew too much powder, it was enough to actually break the beams and set off the security system.

Infrared beams are visible to the human eye, so the cosmetic powder by itself wasn't enough to bypass the infrared security system.

Cosmetic powder: busted

Night-vision camera

In Entrapment, Catherine Zeta Jones has a partner with night-vision goggles to help out. Tory got some night-vision goggles to see what they showed, and it ended up being nothing like the film. While Tory could see the sources of the laser beams, he couldn't see the actual laser pointer beams or the infrared beams, and the awkward goggles made it even harder to navigate the course.

Night-vision goggles: busted

Night-vision camera plus cosmetic powder

With Tory wearing the night-vision goggles and Kari blowing the cosmetic powder, Tory was able to catch momentary glimpses of the infrared beams, but, as before, if Kari blew too much powder, the beam would break and set off the security system.

Night-vision goggles plus cosmetic powder: busted

Adding your own beam (laser pointer beam)

Catherine Zeta Jones final trick in Entrapment is to shine her own laser beam on a sensor to get past the laser beams. The build team tried the same. It took two tries, but Tory and Kari were able to bypass one of the lasers by shining their own beam onto the sensor. However, this technique would only really work on a visible laser beam.

Adding your own beam: busted

Assault Course 3: Bypassing a glass door

There is the classic burglary scene in movies in which the burglar cuts a circular hole in glass and is able to pop-out the piece of circular glass, reach through, and open the window/door.

Adam and Jamie were given an hour to figure out a way to get through the door.

Just as in the movies, Jamie and Adam scored a circular groove into a piece of glass. They then tried a variety of techniques to pop-out this circular piece of glass to make a hole:

  • They first tried one of the suction cups to pull the piece of glass, but it wasn't able to make the glass budged.
  • They then tried alternating flame and ice to use the thermal differentials to break out the piece of glass -- all they ended up doing was shattering everything but the circular piece of glass they cut.
  • Adam then tried cutting a smaller circle inside of the larger hole and tapping it out, but that made so much noise that Grant's sonar detector would have been set off.
  • The last technique they tried was using a drill with a large circular attachment to cut a hole, which worked, but was perhaps the loudest of any of the attempts.

With their hour of practice over, Adam and Jamie were then led to Grant's door to try and break through:

  • Attempt 1: Suction cup. Just as before, Adam couldn't pull out the circular piece of glass.
  • Attempt 2: Glass tapping. As expected, it was so loud that it set off Grant's alarm.
  • Attempt 3: They tried a technique they didn't practice before: drilling a small hole through the center of the piece of glass they wanted to remove. Instead of just making a tiny hole, it ended up shattering the entire glass door. Adam: "It hasn't set off the alarm yet." The glass was tempered and laminated so it actually remained standing, and, as Adam noted, Grant's alarm hadn't been set off yet. With the glass shattered, Jamie was able to use pliers to pull out small pieces of the glass to make a hole large ehough for him to reach his hand through and open the door.

Cutting a hole in a piece of glass and gently removing the glass: mythbusted

Cracking the entire sheet of glass with a drill and gently removing shards to open the door: plausible

Assault Course 4: Stealing the golden idol of Buster atop a pressure sensor

In Entrapment, Catherine Zeta Jones is able to neutralize a pressure sensor using a piece of gum.

Kari and Tory were tasked with the challenge of stealing the golden Buster bust, protected by Grant's pressure sensor. The bust was sitting beneath a see-through case, and they case itself held down a pressure sensor. Kari and Tory slipped a knife between the case and the stand where the pressure sensor was to try and keep it from triggering. After two failed attempts that set off the alarm, they were able to get the case off without setting off the alarm.

With the knife still being held down on the sensor, Kari chewed a piece of gum to test out the Entrapment technique. The gum was nowhere near strong enough to hold the knife down on the sensor. They tried duct tape instead, and it was able to keep the sensor from going off.

Defeating a pressure sensor with a knife and gum: busted

Defeating a pressure sensor with a knife and duct tape: plausible

Assault Course 5: The Safe

Adam and Jamie tackled the final part of the security assault course, cracking a safe.

Stethoscope safe cracker

Adam used a stethoscope with an amplifier to try and break into the safe. After 20 minutes, Adam wasn't able to even hear a single pin drop.

Prying, drilling, and a borescope

Adam pried off the combination lock, drilled some holes to access the tumblers, stuck a borescope into the hole, and then turned the lock with a long piece of wire. Watching the tumblers with the borescope, Adam was able to break into the safe in about 45 minutes. As it turns out, the safe they used had a security rating of 5-minutes for a professional safe cracker.

The Final Challenge: Escaping to the roof

Adam was taked with the challenge of climbing up a 23-story building using his suctions cups so that he could escape with his booty to the roof for a helicopter exit.

Las Vegas stuntman Dan Goodwin has scaled multiple buildings including the Sears Tower on May 26, 1981, using steel hooks and suction cups and no safety rig.

Adam had some challenges at the start. The vacuum pump wasn't working well and after only three steps he fell off the building. Adam and Jamie took the gear inside to debug things, and then Adam made a second attempt. He got about 8 stories up before exhaustion led to a mistake that caused him to detach from the building -- good thing there was a security rig. Adam simply wasn't in good enough shape to pull it off.

Using magnets to scale a building: plausible, but impracticle -- if you can even find a steel building to climb.

suction cups: plausible but impracticle


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Just watched this episode today and the air duct experiment failed to include one critical component that is also missing from movies as well. They failed to put air flow from and air handling unit into the duct. That alone would make very difficult to crawl inside a duct and not only that - there are dampers and other devices used for air balancing that make it even less likely for someone to crawl inside a duct. Finally if anyone does get inside a working air duct, someone will notice immediately from the unbalanced air flow. That is, excess air supply in rooms before the individual in the duct and reduced air supply in rooms after the crawler. Finally, many modern HVAC systems include differential pressure monitoring and a person crwaling inside a duct would disrupt this and would cause the monitoring system to alarm or readjust the air handlers and someone would notice from that alone.

That myth was busted right from the start but watching the guys try to prove or bust this was fun anyways. :-D

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