MacGyver Season 4 Episode 5 Science Notes: Soccer + Desi + Merchant + Titan

It’s not a science comment, but I have to say this: a show is only as good as the villain. In this episode we see James Callis playing The Merchant. Bam. That was pretty good. I like it. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know who was playing the role of The Merchant before the episode. Of course, you might know James Callis from his excellent role as Dr. Gaius Baltar the show Battlestar Galactica.

Now for some science.

Sports Statistics

MacGyver is looking for a way to figure out who is losing soccer games on purpose. You can see the clip right here.

The key to any sports analytics is data. The more data you have, the easier it is to see trends and patterns. Of course, you are still dealing with humans—so they don’t always do exactly what you expect. But really, this is true for most forms of real world data.

If sports stats is your thing, you absolutely need to check out FiveThirtyEight.

Directional microphone

How do you hear people that are far away? What about a directional microphone? MacGyver quickly builds one from a trashcan lid—this is plausible.

Sound is a wave (in the air) and waves reflect when they encounter a boundary (like a trashcan). If the trashcan lid is parabolic, these sound waves from a distant source will reflect in a way that they all meet at the same point. Like this.

Image result for rhett allain parabolic mirror

Actually, this is a diagram of a parabolic mirror (from a blog post about mirrors) —but the idea works for sound also. You would just replace the red dot above with a microphone.

These things are real. They use something similar in NFL games so that you can hear the collisions between football players on TV. Oh, there’s also this great sculpture on the campus of NC State University. It’s basically two parabolic dishes made of concrete some distance away. You get a person to sit in front of each of the dishes and they can hear each other talk. It’s really cool.

Anyway, this is one of those hacks that I want to try out for real. Maybe soon.

Here’s the one that MacGyver made.

He probably should have had the microphone facing the other way (pointing into the trashcan lid)—but maybe he was in a hurry. He WAS in a hurry.

Card counting

Nice. I could explain the basic idea behind card counting, but this video is better.

Magnet and a Roulette Wheel

How do you opposite cheat at the roulette wheel? What is “opposite cheat”? That’s when you do something to the motion of the wheel to make it so you lose. I guess this is still cheating though.

In this case, MacGyver uses a magnet to effect the outcome of the wheel. He grabs a magnet from a purse latch (fortunately, these are pretty common) and holds it over the wheel. Although magnets only attract ferromagnetic materials (iron and most steel and some other stuff), you can get a magnet to interact with any material that is an electrical conductor.

If you have a CHANGING magnetic field, this will create an electric field—this is just the way electric and magnetic fields work. Then, an electric field in an electric conductor creates an electric current. Here, you can see what happens when a magnet is moved into a coil of wire.

Finally, an electric current creates another magnetic field. So, this changing magnetic field makes another magnetic field to interact with the magnet. I know that seems crazy, but it’s true. All of it. Oh, we call these induced electric currents—eddy currents.

For MacGyver, this small magnet creates an eddy current in the wheel such that there is a tiny interaction to slow it down—and cause Desi to lose.

Seeing through skin with infrared

Yup. Again, this one is real. Apparently human skin is partially transparent to near infrared light. This is the wavelength of light just longer than red light (that’s why it’s near infrared). It’s the same stuff that’s used on IR remotes (compared to far infrared that’s used in thermal cameras).

So, if you shine an infrared light on the skin and look at it with an infrared detector, you can see through the skin. At least that’s the idea. Your puny human eyes can’t detect near infrared light, but most digital cameras CAN detect this. In fact, most cameras include an infrared filter so that you WON’T see the infrared light (many cheaper cameras don’t even have this).

If you have a camera without the IR filter, you can even see if your TV remote is working.

Here is a real life version of this to see through skin.

Radio Jammer

You can build a cell phone (or radio jammer)—it’s not too hard. However, it’s also questionably legal. I’ll just tell you the basic idea.

Suppose you wanted to make a sound jammer. You could do this by playing a REALLY loud sound. Then no one could hear anyone else talking. That’s essentially how the jammer works—but it’s with electromagnetic radiation instead of sound.

DIY Glider

Don’t try this—it’s a bad idea. MacGyver grabs some type of light weight sign and uses it as a glider to get down on the field. Oh, sure—it might make you crash, but it’s at least plausible.

It’s not flying—it’s falling with style. But seriously, pretty much anything could work here. This would really work especially if there was any type of updraft.

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