MacGyver Season 1 Episode 5 Hacks

You know what would be great for these posts?  Images or gifs of the different hacks from the show.  Maybe someday I can add those.  For now, It’s just science and stuff.

Episode 105: Toothpick

Redirect a heat-seeking missile

(physics, infrared radiation, barely plausible)

I don’t like to use the “barely plausible” tag – but let’s be honest.  It’s going to be pretty difficult to redirect a heat seeking missile.  I guess it’s not impossible though.

A heat-seeking missile has an infrared receiver to look for “hot” objects.  Usually, this hot object is the jet engine exhaust for an aircraft.  So, for this hack, MacGyver wants to get the “attention” of this missile using a flood light.  Yes, these things get hot – but not jet engine hot.

Normally, a plain light would radiate energy in all directions.  Imagine this light as an expanding sphere with a particular radius.  Since the light must be even over the surface of this expanding sphere, the intensity of light decreases with distance.  The area of a sphere is proportional to the square of the radius – so this is where we get the “inverse square law” for light.

Of course the inverse square law means that a bright (and hot) flood light won’t do much if it is far away.  One way to fix this is to use a parabolic dish to refocus the infrared light – a spot light.  Yes, you can do this with a plain metal dish for infrared.

So, in the end MacGyver has an infrared source he can focus on the heat-seeking missile and perhaps get its attention.

Electric Razor Taser

(electric, plausible)

MacGyver makes a type of taser (not really a taser) out of an electric shaver.  The basic idea behind a taser is to shock a person with an electric current.  There are two types of current – there is direct current (DC) like the stuff that comes out of a battery.  This current just goes “one way” in a circuit.  Shocking people with DC current is a little bit more complicated.

The other current is alternating current (AC) in which the current constantly switches directions with some frequency.  In the US, AC current is at a frequency of 60 Hz.  Why does this matter?  It matters because if it’s a plug-in type razor then you already have AC current and it’s easier to shock someone with AC.

So, to make a plug-in razor taser you just need to take the main power lines coming into the razor and connect them to something on the front.  When a human victim touches both of these wires, the human becomes part of the circuit and gets shocked.

Don’t try that at home.

Toothpick gun jam

(mechanical, seems real)

If you don’t clean your gun, it probably won’t work.  A toothpick in the move-y part will probably mess it up.  Not a gun guy.  Oh, I don’t think this would make the gun misfire – just jam.  But you can see where the name of this episode comes from.

Smoke grenades in a jacket

(physical, seems real)

So, MacGyver puts two smoke grenades in a jacket . Really, there’s not much to say here.

Metal Belt Buckle Attack

(physical, real)

In a classic MacGyver move – he uses his belt buckle as a weapon.

Fork Lock

(physical, real)

MacGyver uses a fork to lock a door.  This is a sliding door – but I was thinking of something like this:

Torpedo attack

(explosive, probably real)

MacGyver uses a train torpedo to attack a dude.  Not much to say here.


(chemical, based on real thing, plausible)

MacGyver uses a pipe to hold the stuff – magnesium shavings and iron oxide shavings.  Boom – thermite.  Thermite is a chemical reaction that gets SUPER hot.  It’s actually pretty awesome but not easy to make.  You need to get the metal into a very fine powder.  But if you do that, here’s what happens.

Stopping a train

(electric, physics, partially plausible)

How do you stop a train?  One way is to mess with the DC motors.  Yes, most trains are diesel-electric.  They have diesel engines that power electric motors.  If it’s a DC electric motor, you can switch the polarity of the wires and the motor will rotate the opposite way.

This might not stop the train right away – but it’s a start.  Here is a demo you can try at home.  Oh wait – I can’t find the video.  Well, here’s what you do.  Get a battery powered toy car with a motor (a cheap one).  Switch the direction of the batteries and the car will drive backwards.

I found the video.  Here it is.

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