MacGyver Season 1 Episode 3 Hacks

Welcome to my continuing series on the science behind MacGyver hacks.  Really, I should start changing the blog title so that it includes the episode name – this one is titled: Awl.

Another note: I was going to wait until the MacGyver Season 1+2 DVD came out so that I could rewatch each episode.  I don’t want to wait, so I am just going from my original notes for this episode.  Let’s get started.

Episode 103 Awl

Body bag with fire extinguisher for jumping out a window

(slightly plausible, physics, forces)

MacGyver and Jack need to escape a burning building.  They grab body bags with fire extinguishers and then jump out of a 3 story building.  On the way down, they inflate the body bags with the extinguisher to make a cushion to land on.  That’s the hack.

Actually, I already wrote a whole blog post on this hack – here it is at But the short answer that this is based on some real stuff.  Increasing the distance over which a human stops decreases the acceleration.  Smaller accelerations are better than higher accelerations.  Oh, filling up the body bag on the way down is the best so that the CO2 won’t have time to escape.

Still, I wouldn’t try this at home.

WiFi Jammer

(very plausible, light, electronics)

MacGyver uses one of Riley’s wireless cameras to make a wifi jammer.  There are two important parts to this hack.  First, he needs to do something to the camera so that it sends out some type of signal to “jam” other wifi.  He uses a cigarette lighter to solder wires.  I’m not sure that this would work – but it’s at least plausible.

The next part is to add a directional antenna to the wifi camera so that the signal can be sent to the house (that needs to be jammed).  MacGyver builds a directional antenna to add over the existing antenna using a soda can.  This is real.

In fact – you can build this yourself, here is how.

Thermal Camera Note

(maybe, light, infrared)

This isn’t really a hack – but there is some science.  The team uses a thermal camera to watch the dude they are spying on enter his pin code.  The keys he pressed stay warm and they use this to figure out his alarm code.  This part is real – in fact, there was a story about people using thermal cameras to steal pin codes.

Now, there are two possible problems in this “hack”.  First is the glass.  Actually, I can’t recall how it happens in the show – but I advised to be sure to look through an open window.  Infrared light doesn’t go through glass.  Even though infrared is still a type of electromagnetic wave (just like visible light), it interacts differently with matter.  It doesn’t go through glass, but it CAN go through some plastic – here is more details.

The other issue is resolution.  Infrared has a longer wavelength than visible light.  This means that it’s more difficult (but not impossible) to see small details from far away.

Bullet Vent Seal

(plausible, biology, medical)

A guy has a bullet wound.  MacGyver uses a drivers license and tape to make a flap.  This flap allows gas to escape – but not other stuff in.  That’s all I have to say about that.

Headrest Smoke Bomb

(plausible, fire)

Mac stuffs some paper into a car’s headrest and lights it on fire.  It makes smoke to act as a smoke screen.  It probably wouldn’t work very well – but it would make some smoke.

Hot antifreeze disinfectant

(slightly plausible, medical)

If you want to do some medical stuff in the back seat – you need a clean environment (or the patient will die from infection).  In this case, MacGyver uses hot radiator fluid to wipe down the area.  Hot stuff usually kills bacteria – but this probably wouldn’t work.

Windshield wiper pump for gross stuff

(plausible, medical, electrical)

MacGyver basically uses the windshield wiper pump to suck stuff out of the guy’s lungs.  I don’t want to talk about this.

Improvised syringe

(plausible, mechanical build)

This is just putting stuff together.

Soda bottle gas mask

(plausible, mechanical build)

Cutting a soda bottle (plastic) so that it fits on your face is pretty straight forward.  Filtering out stuff is harder.  In this case, the filter is just wet newspaper.  This would filter out some stuff – but just smoke and dust and things.

Refrigerant gas attack

(it’s a stretch, chemical)

Mac uses refrigerant as a gas attack – not so sure about this one.  It’s clearly bad to breath in – but it would probably take quite a bit in a small space to knock someone out.

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