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Episode 91: Shooting Fish in a Barrel, Hot Chili Cures, Elephants are Afraid of Mice

  • Shooting fish in a barrel: confirmed. You may miss them with the bullet, but the shockwave will kill them.
  • Hot chili cures: they tested water, beer, tequila, petroleum jelly, and wasabi to see if any were better than milk, all were busted
  • Elephants afraid of mice: plausible. they don't freak out, but they appear to be cautious

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Myth: Is it easy to shoot fish in a barrel?

See also: Bulletproof Water

The MythBusters researchers were unable to determine the origin of the idiom -- not even the writers American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms could provide them a reference. Fish used to be salted and stored in a barrel, so they don't know if the idiom was based on shooting fish swimming around in a barrel, or fish stored and packed to the brim in a barrel.

Single Frankenfish Test

Adam and Jamie picked up some frozen fish from the Sun Fat Seafood Co in San Francisco's Mission District. Jamie had prior experience 'animating' a trout to talk, so it was his task to reanimate the dead. He did so by placing an electric motor inside the fish. The motor turned an off-centered crank down the tail, similarly to how he rigged the animatronic dolphin in Supersized Shark. He also stuck in some plastic tubing to give the dead fish buoyancy.

Jamie shot at the reanimated fish in the barrel using his 9mm. The bunghole popped out but there were no bullet holes in the fish.

With their first, albeit simple, attempt to shoot a fish in barrel, they decided to upgrade their barrels for more detailed study. They added two windows to the barrels so that a camera could view inside and they also painted the inside white. Remembering the problems they had shooting tanks of water inside their lab when they tested Bulletproof Water, they decided to setup shop at an outdoor shooting range.

This time Jamie was able to score a direct hit in the fish's head. Adam also hit the fish with his first bullet. They were probably aided by the better lighting and white barrel interior.

Small Fish Test

They replaced the single 'frankenfish' with a 'dead fish Christmas tree' made up of thirty small, bait-sized plastic fish. They also upgraded to a shotgun to see how many they could get with one shot. Three of the thirty were hit with Jamie's buckshot.

Explosion theory testing

Jamie wondered if the explosion from the shotgun would be more deadly than the actual buckshot, ala fishing with dynamite. They talked to Bart Sheperd of Steinhart Auarium, who confirmed that the bullet shockwave could indeed be fatal -- he would expected trauma in the gills and eyes. They were able to determine that 215 dB/8.15 psi would be fatal to fish in the barrel.

They first attempted to measure the psi using a psi meter from Kobold, but the .5 psi reading it returned made them suspect that it was not fast enough to measure the shockwave. They switched to their tried-and-true shockwatches, which come in 50G, 75G, and 100G ratings. Although the shockwatches measure in G force instead of psi, they estimated that even a 50G force would be fatal for a fish.

Jamie's shot into the tank tripped all three shockwatches, including the 100G. Based on this they concluded that shooting fish in a barrel is easy: you don't even have to hit them.

Minigun ridiculousness

In order to bring some ridiculousness to the test, they went out to the desert where Jamie revealed an Escalade outfitted with a M134 minigun roof hatch. It's the biggest gun they've ever had on the show and they put it to use eviscerating a (previously dead) 3' sea bass in barrel. Only about a quarter of the barrel was left and even less of the fish.

confirmed: the shockwave alone is enough to kill the fish.

Hot Chili Cures

The build team tested various remedies for hot chili peppers.

Dave Dewitt, Pope of Peppers, advised Grant on the effects of capsaicin, the 'hot' ingredient of chili peppers. Dewitt noted that it is possible to die from chili pepper injestion: most likely suffocation, if it were to happen. According to their chili experts, rich dairy products are the best as the fat neutralizes the pain -- anything too watery doesn't work well.

Given that diary products are a known cure, whole fat milk was used as the control for the testing. Kari mixed the chili pepper blends while Grant and Tory were subjected to the tasting.

Grant: "This is an interesting situation for me because it will be the spiciest thing I have ever eaten and the most of any spice ever, so um, I hope my head doesn't explode."

Hot peppers:

Whole milk control

The test protocol was to swirl half a teaspoon of the chili paste for ten seconds, spit, wait thirty seconds, and then drink the cure. Each cure was rated on a 1-10 scale, with milk set to be a 5.

Grant and Tory both tried the whole milk cure with a jalapeno blend to set their scale. The blend caused Grant plenty of pain, but Tory hardly flinched. For later tests Tory was upgraded to hotter habanero paste.


They tested several cures, with a day between each test to give them time to heal.

  • Water: Grant 3, Tory 3.5. Grant: once the water goes away, it stops working.
  • Beer: Grant 3, Tory 4
  • Spirits (tequila): Grant 3, Tory 4, though tequila initially makes it hotter (Tory: -20) until the numbness kicks in. Kari: "look at them, do they look they're alright?" (Grant was using a stick as a guitar)
  • Gel Toothpaste: Grant 0, Tory 0. Gel on the apex of your tongue is supposed to cool your whole mouth, but it only made things worse. Tory: "that's like when you have a cut and you pour tabasco sauce on it." Grant: "toothpaste stays in the bathroom, not on the dinner table."
  • Petroleum Jelly: Grant 1, Tory 2. Tory: "That didn't work at all, it's just nasty."
  • Wasabi paste: Grant -100. Tory 3. Grant: "My prediction for this cure: pain, and lots of it." Grant hated it, but Tory enjoyed it even if it was less effective.

all busted: none of the cures beat milk

Elephants are Afraid of Mice

Myth: Elephants have musaphobia (fear of mice)

Adam and Jamie went all the way to the Aquila Game Reserve in South Africa to find elephants to test with.

The set a mouse trap for the elephant -- a mouse hidden inside a piece of elephant dung. As the elephant approached, they pulled the piece of dung back to reveal the mouse. The elephant backed away as soon as the mouse appeared surprising the MythBusters. Just to make sure it wasn't the piece of dung that the elephant was reacting to, they did several more tests. The elephants didn't react at all when it was just the piece of dung moving and once again stepped away when there was a mouse underneath.

Adam: "I'm more astonished that I'm finishing the day calling something plausible that I knew wasn't plausible when I woke up this morning"

plausible: the elephants didn't freak out, but they were cautious around the mouse.