FLYING OUT OF A CUCKOO'S NEST
Episode: "A Prisoner of Conscience" Season 1, episode 21
Sticky Situation: MacGyver is locked in a mental ward, with only a lamp and a bunch of patients.
MacGyverism: In a flash of brilliance, Mac smashes the lamp's light bulb and pulls out the tungsten filament. He then uses the metal strip to pick the lock and make his escape.
Plausibility Meter: **** High. MacGyver moves too fast, though. While out tech-savvy hero picks the lock in about ten seconds, it took the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, more than 50 minutes to pull off the same stunt.
Also, for the trick to work, you need an incandescent bulb, which produces visible light by heating metal filaments with electricity. Modern compact fluorescent bulbs don't have filaments. Instead, they use electricity to excite a gas to produce ultraviolet light that's invisible to the eye. In fact, the UV is only turned into visible light thanks to a special coating on the bulb.
Best for: Dexterous mental patients.
BUILDING AN AIRPLANE OUT OF BAMBOO
Episode: "Legend of the Holy Rose" Season 5, Episode 1
Sticky Situation: MacGyver gets trapped on a construction site in Colombia while trying to rescue an injured American hostage. They both need out-pronto!
MacGyverism: In just four hours, Mac constructs an airplane out of bamboo, some trash bags, a wheelbarrow, duct tape, and the engine of a cement-mixer. Inexplicably sporting a Rambo-style headband throughout the adventure, Mac pilots his makeshift airplane away from the bad guys, soaring off a cliff to freedom with his injured friend in tow.
Plausibility Meter: *** Moderate. Mythbusters tried this one, too, and it took them three days to build their makeshift plane. (Even then, it crashed after takeoff.) That said, Mac has history on his side. Bamboo aircraft exist, and they don't require much in the way of modern technology. Way back in 1907, Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont unveiled a 300-pound ultralight airplane made of bamboo. He christened it Demoiselle, French for "Damselfly".
Best for: Mechanics with a lot of time and bamboo on their hands.
TEARING DOWN THE WALLS OF SCIENCE
Episode: "Pilot" Season 1, Episode 1
Sticky Situation: While trying to rescue two scientists from a metallurgy lab, MacGyver finds himself blocked by a wall. He needs to blow through it in a hurry, because a missile is going to strike in five minutes! Luckily, he's got lots of laboratory-grade metal on hand.
MacGyverism: Mac creates a bomb by putting sodium metal inside a gel-cap and then immersing it in a bottle of water. When the gel-cap melts, the highly volatile sodium reacts with the water, blowing a hole right through the wall.
Plausibility Meter: * Low. You may remember from high school chemistry class that sodium in an alkali metal. That means it will react violently with water to release hydrogen and heat. The chemistry is accurate, but in MacGyver's case, the explosion would have been way too small to break through any sort of real wall.
Best for: Escaping from a paper bag.
JUMPING OUT OF A PLANE (IN A CAR)
Episode: "The Heist" Season 1, Episode 5
Sticky Situation: A diamond-mogul villain has captured Mac and his most recent love interest in the cargo hold of an airplane. The villain cackles, "Take it up to 30,000 feet. The lack of oxygen will kill 'em!"
MacGyverism: Conveniently, the cargo hold also contains a sports car and a comically oversized parachute. Mac attaches the parachute to the roadster (with its top down, of course), and then drives the car out of the airplane. The parachute releases just when oxygen levels are high enough to breathe. While gently floating to the ground, Mac makes out with his girlfriend and the credits roll.
Plausibility Meter: ***** Surprisingly high. First of all, the bad guy knows his science. At 30,000 feet, humans aren't getting enough oxygen and can suffer from hypoxia, a medical condition that can have fatal results. Climbers trying to reach the top of Mt. Everest (summit: 29,029 feet) often succumb to hypoxia, and that's after they've had days to acclimatize.
As for the parachute with the car, let's run the numbers. A sports car plus two passengers will add up to about 1.4 tons, and a large cargo parachute can easily handle two tons if dropped from that height. MacGyver and his lady friend can even put on a few pounds and still make the thing work.
Best for: Lovers.
________________________________The MacGyver Fact-Check was written by Chris Higgins and appeared in the Scatterbrained section of the September-October 2008 issue of mental_floss magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.
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