‘Mythbusters’ team says it’s testing Archimedes the right way for President Obama


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It’s not the same old Archimedes myth. Or at least, it won’t be tested in the same way.

Complaints erupted after we reported that ‘Mythbusters’ would take on the Archimedes legend -- in which the ancient Greek mathematician supposedly destroyed a Roman fleet with mirrors and the sun’s rays -- at the behest of President Obama. Commenters contended that the popular Discovery Channel science show was repeating itself.

But Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman said the episode -- set to air Dec. 8 -- isn’t a retread.


‘Yes, we have actually tackled it twice before,’ Savage explained in a phone interview Tuesday. ‘But we’ve never actually tackled it in the exact way that Archimedes was said to have actually done it, with 500 soldiers with polished shields. We’ve always done some kind of analog of soldiers.’

Those two earlier, scaled-down testings resulted in the myth being busted, or disproven. When the White House suggested doing an experiment that could actually get a group of kids involved, the program decided to revive the Archimedes legend one more time, using 500 schoolchildren as surrogates for the soldiers.

‘We know that you can set something on fire with the sun, that’s not the question here,’ Hyneman said. ‘The difficulty is getting individuals holding mirrors to do it.’ The problem is that the distances and number of people involved offer too many variables to get the fire ignited with the sun’s rays.

‘Mythbusters’ has revisited other experiments too, including ones involving ‘chicken guns’ and bulletproof materials. ‘It’s almost like peer review,’ Savage said. ‘At least two or three times per season we’ll go back and revisit something we’ve already done. ... We’re totally willing to jump right back into a story if we don’t feel we’ve tested thoroughly enough.’

Then again, there are still plenty of untested myths to try. Such as the tale of another weapon supposedly developed by Archimedes: a giant mechanical claw that plucked Roman ships out of the sea.

‘I think it won’t be too long before we’re testing that one,’ Savage said.

-- Scott Collins