MacGyver Season 1 Episode 17 Science Notes: Ruler

Propane tank flame thrower

Take a propane tank and bicycle tube. Cut the bike tire to make it a hose and connect it to the propane tank. Use a road flare to light the gas—boom. There is your flame thrower.

Oh but wait. It’s just a dream. Bozer’s dream. The flame thrower wasn’t real anyway.

Listen in on a landline phone

Who uses a landline now anyway? Oh well. They want to use a landline then it’s possible to listen in. Actually, this isn’t even that difficult. Check it out.

Here is another version.

You just need a capacitor and maybe an inductor. You could grab these from a radio or something like that.

But wait. I made a mistake. While going over this hack, I said something like this:

“Yeah, this is pretty easy. Just get the capacitor and earpiece (or radio) and then tie it into the wiring box”

Here’s what that looks like.

I just want to point out this small mistake (that you would never notice) just in case you saw it. You don’t actually “tie” the lines—that’s just a term we use in circuits to mean “connect”.

Bomb radius calculation

There’s a bomb in the truck. Where should you park it so that no one gets hurt? Yeah, this is a tough calculation. However, tough has never stopped MacGyver before and it won’t stop him now.

Here is my rough calculation and explaination.

Bombs are complicated. But usually it is the pressure produced by the explosion that will get you. We can come up with some pretty useful models to calculate their impact. First, there is the Hopkinson-Cranz Scaling Law (this is a real thing). With this law, the acceptable distance can be calculated based on the explosive weight.

\mathrm{Range} = (z)(\mathrm{weight})^(1/3)

In this expression z is a factor that depends on the type of distance with 14.8 being the distance factor for a public traffic route. That means that 2 kilograms would need 18.6 meters (60 feet).

Infrared face jammer

OK, it doesn’t actually jam your face. That would be weird. MacGyver wants to prevent the security cameras from recognizing their faces. So he takes some infrared TV removes and pulls out the IR LED lights. Normally these flash on and off so that the sensor on the TV can “see them” but humans can’t.

He mounts these IR LED lights on some sun glasses with a battery to power them. When a security camera sees the face, it just gets blinded by the IR light since many video cameras can also detect IR.

If your phone camera doesn’t have an IR filter (most now do) then you can actually see the light flashing on a TV remote by pointing it at your phone.

Oh, so this could really work. It just depends on the type of video cameras. Some people even put stuff like this on their car license plate so that police cameras can’t see them.

Car jacking

How do you open a locked car door? One way is to jam a wedge into the door. This will pull the door out just a little (by bending it) so that you can get a stick in there. The stick then can be used to push the “lock” button.

In this case, MacGyver uses something for the wedge—maybe a shoe horn or a door stop. Then a monopod is extended to click the lock button.

DIY soldering iron

You might have missed this one. But as MacGyver is building his stuff for the last mission, he needs a soldering iron. He takes the heating element out of a hair dryer and connects it to some stuff. That works.

Fake noses

Need a disguise? How about DIY latex to make a nose? Yes, this seems plausible. Here’s how to do it.

DIY keypad cracker

MacGyver makes a quick circuit board that can crack a keypad by using a brute force method that goes through all the combinations. This is from a different episode, but it’s the same idea.

If you want to play with one yourself, here is an online version of the code.

Oh, here is the code on trinket.io.

DIY police radio

Well, it’s just a radio. MacGyver needs a speaker and a transmitter. Really, a radio transmitter is essentially the same thing as a radio receiver—OK, not really but sort of.

Instead of going over the way MacGyver did it, how about a real actual radio you could build yourself? Here is a spark gap transmitter from simple parts (and awesome).

Here is a more detailed explanation of the spark gap transmitter from one of my WIRED posts.

MacGyver Season 1 Episode 16 Science Notes: Hook

Quicksand

Yes, it’s true. You don’t really sink all the way down in quicksand—that’s because the density of the stuff is greater than the density of water. Essentially, you float.

Here is a nice video on quicksand.

Pool shot.

I. Love. This. So, MacGyver is there trying to score a nice shot in pool (the game, not the pool). He starts thinking about all the physics to get the perfect shot—one with some curve. Here is what goes through his mind.

That’s pretty awesome, right? Let’s go over some of the key equations.

First, why does the ball turn? If you want to turn, you have to have a sideways force. In this case, the sideways force is a frictional force on the ball as it spins and slides on the table.

Once you know the frictional force, you can use this to find the new vector velocity after some short time. This is basically the numerical version of the definition of acceleration. Here’s that equation.

\vec{v}_3= \vec{v}_2+\frac{\vec{F}_f}{m}\Delta t

Oh, vectors. Look at the vector notation. Winning.

Next there is the changing angular speed of the ball. Since the ball is spinning with a frictional force, the ball would slow down. We describe the change in angular motion by using the angular momentum principle. This states:

\vec{\tau} = \frac{\Delta \vec{L}}{\Delta t}

Where L is the angular momentum vector. For a rigid object, the angular momentum is the product of the moment of inertia and the angular velocity (for most cases).

\vec{L}=I\vec{\omega}

Where I is the moment of inertia (or as I like to call it, the rotational mass) for a sphere.

I = \frac{2}{5}MR^2

That’s pretty much all the equations you see.

Of course the amazing part is that humans can make these very complicated shots WITHOUT doing the calculations. I don’t know how that works.

Zip-tie nunchucks.

Two broken pieces of a pool stick and a towel. Boom. Nunchuck. But this is all I can think of.

Image result for napoleon dynamite nunchuck skills

Magnet phone tracker

How do you track a fleeing truck? You stick your smart phone on the bottom using a magnet. Oh, this works so well that Spider-Man used this same trick the following year in Spider-Man: Homecoming when he left his phone in the Vulture’s car.

There is a small problem with those car magnets. They are like refrigerator magnets in that they have weird magnetic domains. Actually, you should try this experiment.

  • Grab a fridge magnet.
  • Flip it around and put it on the fridge.
  • Oh, it doesn’t work!

The magnetic domains in these flat magnets are such that they stick on one side but not the other. That makes it tough to use for a magnetic phone tracker.

A better method would be to run a wire (or zip tie) through the magnet and around the phone. Like this.

Stab pepper spray with a knife

Yes, if you poke a hole in a can of pepper spray it will get pepper spray all over the place.

Circuit board knife

MacGyver uses a broken circuit board to cut through zip ties. Zip ties aren’t that strong anyway—it seems very plausible that you could sharpen a circuit board to cut through one of these things.

Control a car remotely

Is it possible to control a car with a computer? Sadly, this is real.

Moonshine spray

MacGyver sprays 155 proof moonshine and threatens to light it. Yes, 155 proof can catch on fire.

MacGyver Season 1 Episode 15 Science Notes: Magnifying Glass

It’s too late to change now—but I wish I had planned better for my titles for these science notes. I just don’t like the way it looks. Oh well. On to the science.

Jumping out of window with a TV cable

MacGyver yanks a TV cable from the wall and ties it around him. Then boom—he’s out of the second story window to catch a bad guy. As he falls, the cable gets pulled from the wall and sort of prevents him from a full force impact with the ground.

Electrostatic dust print lifter

Electrostatic dust print lifters are indeed real. Here is an example of a real one.

The basic idea is to take a conducting sheet and lay it on top of the area where you want to find a print (finger print or shoe print). When a large electric field is applied, the dust literally gets lifted and stuck to the conducting sheet. Boom. There is your print. Oh, you need about 800 volts to get a high enough electric field (according to one paper that is no longer online for some reason).

For the MacGyver version, he uses some mylar for the sheet. In order to create the large electric field, he can use the charging capacitor for the flash in a disposable camera. That might not get up to 800 volts, but it’s a good start. Yes, it’s also true that you can get fairly high voltages just by rubbing two different materials together—as long as the air is dry. This is exactly what happens when you rub your feet across a carpeted floor and then shock the bejeezus out of someone. Same idea.

One more thing. The official version of the electrostatic dust print lifter is pretty expensive. But someone made one for just 50 dollars using a stun gun. Here is the hackaday.com link, but it looks like the original post has link rotted.

Just to show you some more electrostatic stuff—here are some demos that you could try.

Open an envelope with steam from a radiator

Yup, this works.

Wifi wall detector

OK, it doesn’t detect walls. Instead, the wifi can find empty spaces behind walls. MacGyver takes a wifi router with a partially parabolic dish (using aluminum foil) over the antenna. He then connects the output to a speaker (for a cool effect).

Yes, wifi is essentially a radio wave (it is a radio wave). Radio waves mostly pass through walls—but you have wifi in your house and you know that sometimes you don’t get a great signal. This shows that wifi is at least partially blocked by walls. The wifi can also reflect off stuff.

It is this reflected wifi that MacGyver uses to find the hidden room. When there is nothing on the back side of a wall, you don’t get a good reflected signal and that changes the sound of the connected speaker.

OK, this probably wouldn’t work—but it’s still based on this idea that wifi can interact with walls in different ways. Anyway, MIT has created a tool to use wifi to see through walls. Note, this show came out before that. I’m not saying MIT based that wifi thing on this episodes. I’m just sayin.

Movie film roll for distracting fire

MacGyver takes one of those movie film rolls. Adds some stuff and then lights it on fire. When he rolls it down to the front of the movie theater—boom. Distracting explosion. Yeah, lots of stuff burns. No problem here.

MacGyver Season 1 Episode 14 Science Notes: Fish Scaler

Isn’t it nice that I have written enough of these MacGyver science note posts that I no longer have to give some witty introductory comment? Oh, I guess that was an intro comment. OK—next time it’s just going to jump into the science.

Picture triangulation

MacGyver is trying to track down some dude. He finds a skyline picture that he drew and assumes the guy drew it from his apartment window (somewhere in Atlanta).

Oh wait! I think I can find out where this guy lives based on the drawing. True? Yes, this is true. If the guy drew a scale drawing, then yes—it’s entirely possible to find out where he drew it from. Oh, if he does an abstract drawing then all bets are off. Right?

There is a lot here, so let me go over two important ideas needed to backwards engineer this drawing.

First—angular size. You already know about angular size. The farther away something gets, the smaller it looks. If you like, you can make it so that someones head appears to be as big as your thumb. Yes, the human would have to be much farther away than your thumb (from your eye).

If the thumb covers up someone’s head, then the two objects would have the same angular size. How about a diagram to explain angular size? Suppose some object has a length of L and is a distance r away from an observer. It might look like this.

The blue circle is the observer and the red thing is the object. Yes, I drew it as an arc of a circle. If the object is far enough away, this is very good approximation. That means I can use the arc length equation. Remember that if you go all the way around a circle, then the total length is 2\pi r. That means I get the following:

L = r\theta

Assuming the angle θ is in radians and not degrees. Oh, here is a more detailed explanation of the difference between radians and degrees. But in the end, if you know two of the things (angle, distance, size) you can find the third thing.

If MacGyver sees a building that he is familiar with, he knows the size of that building (or at least he could look it up). But he doesn’t know the distance or the angular size—bummer. If this was an actual photograph, it’s possible he could determine the angular size of the building based on the angular field of view for the camera. However, this is drawing, so the entire width of the picture could be just about anything.

Now for the next idea—triangulation. Suppose you know the angular position of two objects. From those angles, you can draw two lines at those angles. Where those two lines meet—that’s your location.

But you can see the problem, right? The triangulation depends on the angular size of the drawing and so does the distance to the objects. It looks like a dead end. But it’s not. Actually, you have enough information to math-it-out if you try (and boy did I try).

I’ll be honest. I worked on this problem for quite some time. Here is one of my earlier sketches for this calculation.

But yes, it does involve some trig.

Hot wire a car

Everyone wants to steal a car. Honestly, modern cars are fairly difficult to just take. There are four or three (depending on how you count) different classes of cars. Let me list them.

  • Super old cars. These have a key that starts the car. That’s it. You can steal these—BUT YOU SHOULD NOT STEAL CARS.
  • Just plain old cars. These are like super old cars, but they have a steering wheel lock. Sure, you can hot wire these—but you can’t turn the steering wheel.
  • Modern cars. I think it’s cars after 1997. These cars have a chip in the key. No chip, no start. Well, you might be able to start it but the car’s computer won’t pump fuel or something like this.
  • Even more modern. What about those cars with the key fob and you don’t even put the key in the car? You can’t really hot wire those either.

But check it out. This guy has a great video that goes over the different types of cars and how thieves would steal them (but don’t steal cars).

So, in this case MacGyver hot wires a car. It looks like an older model—so it’s at least plausible. What about the steering wheel lock? Maybe he just yanked on the steering wheel really hard and broke the steering wheel lock.

Cleaning bottle bolo

This is pretty straight forward. MacGyver uses a string to tie two bottles of cleaning solution together. He then swings these around and throws them at a baddies legs. The thing is a bolo. It wraps up his legs and he falls like an AT-AT on Hoth (but a lot faster).

Trip wire fan

MacGyver runs a fishing wire in a hallway and then back to the room. The wire then connects to the switch in an electrical fan. When someone steps on the fishing line, it connects the switch inside the fan and turns it on.

This should work.

Bump key

The bump key is a tool used to pick locks. The main goal in lock picking is to move lock pins up out of the lock cylinder so that you can turn the key. Here is a better explanation (I’m not really an expert here).

Light explosion

How do you make a distraction in a parking garage? One way might be to jam a charger for an electric car into a power box for the overhead lights. That’s what MacGyver did.

Would this work? It’s possible. Most car chargers run at 220-240 volts, but most overhead lights are fluorescent lights that expect 120 volts. If you double the voltage, then bad things can happen.

Basically, there is an electrical ballast inside the fluorescent light. This is a transformer that takes the 120 volts and ramps it up much higher (depending on the length of the tube) so that you can make light. If the voltage is too high, the ballast could go boom.

MacGyver Season 3 Episode 14 Science Notes: Father + Bride + Betrayal

Hotel door break in with a coat hanger

MacGyver uses a series of coat hanger wires to build a device that opens a hotel door from the inside. It’s basically a long wire that goes under the door and pulls down on the handle from the inside. Here is a video of what that looks like.

Don’t break into other people’s hotel rooms. That’s illegal. You have been warned.

Oh, but that’s not the best part. MacGyver says this is really about torque. Yes, that’s true. You need to exert a torque on that inside handle to get it to turn.

Wait. The real best part is when Riley says “It means physics is awesome”. Yeah it does.

Thermite toothpaste

So the bad dude that is turning himself in has a special safe. If you try to break in—thermite melts the stuff inside. Yes. Thermite is real and thermite is awesome. In fact, here is an older video where we set off some thermite as a chemistry demo.

We need to do this again.

OK, but could you make thermite into a paste? You might be thinking “oh, if you put the thermite in toothpaste, it won’t get as much oxygen for the reaction.” Good idea—but surprise! Thermite has its own supply of oxygen. You can even get a thermite reaction to work underwater.

Really, the only issue with toothpaste is that you don’t want to get the thermite stuff (particles) too far apart so that they can still interact with nearby particles.

Spray can flame thrower with a bonus

Yes, we pretty much all know that if you get a spray can and shoot it into fire you get a mini flame thrower. Oh, I’ve never done this myself but I know a friend of a friend that did it that one time. I’m sure you’ve never tired this either.

But what about the bonus? If you get any type of fine powder, it also explodes (that’s the powdered sugar part that adds to the flame thrower). Yes, when particles are very small and very spread out—they can explode.

Here is an example from season 1.

Cyanide detection

It turns out that there is a fast method to test for cyanide poisoning (which can happen from certain fires—not just for spies).

Here is an article on how this works— https://phys.org/news/2015-03-cyanide-poisoning-seconds.html.

The basic idea is to get the cyanide the cyanide by mixing the blood with both an acid (muriatic acid and/or vinegar) and a base (like baking soda). Add this to a fluorescent agent like a detergent and then look at it with an ultraviolet light. If it glows—it’s cyanide. At least this is plausible.

Cyanide antidote

For the antidote, MacGyver is basically going to make sulfanegen—an experimental cyanide antidote. Yes, humans do indeed build up a sort of tolerance to cyanide since it’s a natural element in many fruits and stuff. Here is my half-plausible method.

  • You need sulfur. You can get this from match heads. Yes, that’s true.
  • Acid—cleaning supplies.
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Blood. Yes—that might be gross, but you do need that.
  • Heat it up and filter it with a coffee filter.

Now, how do you get it to Riley? You could use an IV—but a nasal spray should work too. This is why they give some kids the flu vaccine with a nasal spray.

Don’t actually try to cure someone with this recipe.

Finding the real bad person with interference

MacGyver uses the interference sound from Riley’s radio when she is attacked to figure out that someone is the bad person. Basically, someone had a device that interfered with the radio.

If you had a mobile phone (we didn’t call them smart phones because they weren’t that smart back then) in 90s or early 2000s, then you know what happens when they get near a speaker.

It’s entirely plausible that a medical alert bracelet could do this. In fact, medical equipment often uses older technology because they don’t like to move to newer stuff until it’s been fully tested.

In fact, there could be some type of extra interference caused by the taser and the medical bracelet. That’s what MacGyver wants to reproduce and detect. All he needs to do is to reproduce the taser signal and create an audio output so that he can “test” different people and find the baddie.

MacGyver Season 1 Episode 13 Science Notes: Large Blade

Tarp restraint

This is sort of like a straight jacket made out of a tarp and a belt. I wonder how long this would last—but it’s still a classic MacGyver hack. This blog would probably be better if I included pictures. Oh well.

Space blanket as chaff

A space blanket is basically a thin mylar sheet. It has a nice property in that it reflects infrared radiation. The idea is that you cover yourself with this and when your body radiates infrared light, it reflects it back to your body.

Can you use this as a countermeasure against a ground to air missile? Maybe. Of course there are two types of missiles. There is the heat seeking missile and the radar missile. For the heat seeking missile, it is guiding by the giant infrared source—the engine of the aircraft. It’s a least plausible that this space blanket could block the infrared light from the helicopter enough to confuse the missile. Possible.

If the missile is radar guided, then you can block the radar that comes out of the missile. This is the idea behind chaff (a real thing). It’s basically thin strips of metal that fall in the air behind an aircraft. The metal spreads out and can make a large radar reflection such that the missile thinks it’s a target.

Would a space blanket work? It’s possible. Really, you want metal—but this might work at least a little bit.

Splint and crutch from helicopter parts

Classic MacGyver stuff here. Nothing else to say.

Clean water from a tree

Can you get clean water from a tree? It seems like this is legitimate.

Dried wood as a desiccator 

This seems like a plausible way to dry out a wet phone. It would take some time though.

Swiss Army Knife as a signal mirror

MacGyver uses the blade on his knife to attempt to reflect sunlight towards a rescue helicopter. I’m pretty sure this would work.

As a side note—I’ve been thinking about the brightness of light reflected from a mirror (for another project). It seems like this is fairly difficult to calculate. Perhaps the best way is to just experimentally measure the brightness of reflected light. I guess I will do that at some point.

Tree sap and a battery to start a fire

If you want to use a battery to start a fire, you need an electrical conductor. This allows electric current to flow from one terminal of the battery to the other. It’s this electrical current that can make things get hot—hot enough to catch on fire.

So, the battery part is good. What about the tree sap? Yes—apparently, it is indeed a conductor. There you go, a fire.

Distance to lightning strikes

This is another reminder. I should write a post about how to estimate the distance to a storm. The short answer is that when lightning strikes it produces both light and sound. The light has a super high speed, but the sound is just fast (not super high fast). This means that the light gets to the observer first. By counting the time between the “flash” and the “boom” you can estimate the distance.

I thought I had already blogged about this—but I can’t find any such post.

Creating a homemade capacitor to store charge

Here is the short version: MacGyver makes a DIY electrical capacitor (a Leyden jar) to get some electrical charge from a lightning storm. He then uses this to power the satellite phone.

The Leyden jar is totally real. Honestly, I was surprised at how well this worked. Check it out.

Photo Google Photos

Also, I have a much longer blog post over at WIRED.

Finally, you can make something like this yourself.

Zipper as an wire

MacGyver uses the zipper to make a complete circuit from the battery to the sat phone. Would this work? It’s tough to say. In order to get an electric current, you need a closed circuit with a conductor the around the whole path.

Parts of a zipper are clearly conductors (the metal parts). However, if there are gaps between the metal, then it wouldn’t work. If you zip the zipper, there should be contact—at the very least, this is plausible.

MacGyver Season 1 Episode 12 Science Notes: Scissors

Stove Bomb

MacGyver needs a distraction to escape from a cabin in the woods (surrounded by bad guys). He puts some chemicals into an iron stove and rolls it out the door.

The stove explodes when someone shoots inside of it—it’s not because of the spark from a bullet (because they don’t really do that). No, the bullet has to puncture the can of stuff in there to mix the chemicals. That’s what causes the explosion.

Also, a quick note—that stump remover is some bad stuff.

Cheese puffs to get past phone lock screen

How do you find someone’s pin code? MacGyver crushes up some cheese puffs and sprinkles them on a phone screen. The oil from someone’s fingers leave some residue that makes the cheese puff crumbs stick to the phone.

Now you know which numbers are used in the pin code—you still have to figure out the order (and this case it was three numbers so there was one used twice). But MacGyver figures that it’s an important number.

MacGyver Season 1 Episode 11 Science Notes: Scissors

Kill computer stuff with a transformer

How do you get a hacker to do what you want (or tell you want you want)? You start destroying all his electronic stuff. In this case MacGyver uses a transformer to zap some computer equipment.

What is a transformer? It’s basically a coil of wire connected to an AC voltage (like your wall outlet). This AC outlet makes an alternating current in the coil that produces an alternating magnetic field.

Now for the second part of the transformer—another coil. Yes. If you have another coil of wire, the changing magnetic field from the first coil will induce and electric voltage in the second coil. By changing the number of turns in the two coils, you can either increase or decrease the original voltage—or perhaps you could say you “transform” the voltage. Get it?

OK, so MacGyver takes this transformer. With it, he creates a high voltage. The voltage is high enough to make a spark—this is indeed possible.

Next question: how does this spark kill a computer? Well, it’s not the spark but rather the electric current. If you get extra electric current going through the computer stuff, you can destroy those super tiny transistors. They weren’t meant to have much current. Without the transistors, you are pretty much a plain electric toaster.

Scissor Extenders 

MacGyver needs to cut through a cable. It just so happens that this cable is choking someone—so he needs to move quickly. Of course he has scissors on his Swiss Army Knife, but he can’t push hard enough to cut the cable.

This is where the scissor extender comes in. MacGyver gets a long stick and adds it onto the end of the scissor handle. With this long handle, the same pushing force can create a much larger torque on the scissors (torque is the product of force and lever arm). This larger torque is enough to cut through the cable. It’s just like those super long handle sheers that you can use to trim tree branches or those bolt cutters that you can use to cut a chain.

OK, there is one small problem here. One stick might not be that helpful. If you have one long handle and one short handle, then you would have to apply the same torque on the short handle. That would be pretty tough.

Hack a car

This isn’t a “Mac Hack” —but I am going to talk about it anyway. There is a program that can hack into cars and take them over. Sadly, this is partially true. Check out this video from WIRED in which some hackers remotely stop a Jeep. Scary.

Could this be used to take over a nuclear submarine? Well, probably not.

Air Raid Siren

This is classic MacGyver. He creates an air raid siren out of PVC pipe and an AC condenser fan. It would probably work.

I was going to build one of these and make a video, but I didn’t. Here, check this one out instead.

RFID range extender

So, the guys want to use an RFID badge to access a security level in an elevator. MacGyver builds a DIY range extender. This is fairly plausible, but I won’t go over all the details. Instead, I will just share this paper.

Faraday cage

The whole building is a Faraday cage. The basic idea is to create a grounded metal enclosure so that electromagnetic waves can’t penetrate. That means, no phone signals and no wifi outside of the building.

Here is an example of a Faraday cage (from a later episode, but who cares—right?).

Spoof GPS

There is a missile flying towards the USA. That’s bad. MacGyver builds a parabolic dish to act as a GPS spoofer. This could basically work. The signal from the dish could be stronger than the one from orbit and trick the missile into going the wrong way.

Of course, there is one small problem. If the missile is 3000 miles away, you couldn’t get direct-line sight of it unless it was super high. Well, I guess these missiles do go pretty high. Still, it would be hard to aim it.

It’s still plausible.

Artificial snow

How do you make fake snow? One way is to shoot water out of a nozzle at high pressure. When the water leaves the nozzle, it expands and cools off. If it cools off enough, it will freeze and make something that is like snow. These things are real.

But can you make snow above the freezing point? Oh yeah.

MacGyver Season 1 Episode 10 Science Notes: Pliers

Boosting car speed.

Mac and Jack are trying to get away in a car chase (using a not very fast car). Of course MacGyver is going to give them a speed boost, but the first step is to remove the car hood. MacGyver makes some small explosives using chemicals and soda cans. Boom. No more hood.

The second step is to remove the air filter and pour some hydrogen peroxide into the intake. What would this do? This would give the gasoline more oxygen (from the hydrogen peroxide) to produce more combustion. Would this give a speed boost? Probably—at least a little bit.

Chemistry demo – elephant toothpaste.

This is real. Everyone does this—at least all the cool kids do it. You should be cool.

Liquid nitrogen in water

OK, liquid nitrogen is pretty awesome. It’s the same nitrogen that you find in the air, but in liquid form. That makes it very very cold (-196 C). When you add it to room temperature water, the liquid nitrogen boils. In this boiling process it produces a bunch of water vapor—stuff that looks like a cloud.

This was for a different episode, but here is my introduction to liquid nitrogen.

Remote listening device

MacGyver wants to hear what is going on inside a house. The obvious solution is to build a remote listening device. Here’s how it works.

A laser is aimed at a window such that the laser reflects off the window and back to a solar cell. Because people are inside the house speaking, this causes tiny vibrations in the window. The window vibrations vary the intensity of the reflected laser light. When this reflected laser light hits the solar cell, it causes variations in the voltage. Plugging this solar cell into an amplified speaker produces sound. Yes. This is real.

It’s pretty awesome—and you can do something like this yourself. All you need is an amplified speaker and a solar cell (don’t worry about the laser). Connect the solar cell to the audio input and you can hear variations in different light sources.

My favorite trick is to aim a TV remote at the solar cell. You can hear the variations in the IR light that produce different signals to change channels.

Here is a video.

Stop a car with paper

Yup, a version of the banana up the tail pipe from Beverly Hills Cop (great movie). See—everyone is a version of MacGyver at some point.

In this case, MacGyver sticks some paper up the tail pipe of a car. When the exhaust can’t escape, you can’t get internal combustion. Car stops.

Yaghi Antenna

Yes, you can build an antenna out of just about anything—including band instruments. It helps if they conduct electricity. I think this would work.

Technically it’s possible to find the location of a signal with just one antenna (well at least the direction). Just turn the antenna until you get the maximum signal. A better option is to use 2 or more antennas—but you have to work with what you have.

Over inflate tire

Yup. Boom.

Elephant toothpaste version 2

Bigger is better, right? It’s sort of funny.

MacGyver Season 3 Episode 13 Science Notes: Wilderness + Training + Survival

There is no funny intro for this post. Oh wait, this is an intro.

Rock and steel to make a spark.

OK, this isn’t actually a MacGyver hack in this episode but I’ve talked about it before. Here is a video.

Other fire stuff

Are there certain plants that ignite more readily than others? Yes. Here is a nice article from Field and Stream that goes over the basics.

What about burning poison oak? Yes, that is bad too.

Wet cotton clothes are bad

Again, not a hack—but cotton is terrible when wet (so is denim jeans). When wet stuff is next to your body, the water evaporates. In this process the liquid water turns into a gas water (water vapor). The phase transition requires energy. Guess where the energy comes from? Yup, it comes from the human. This makes the human colder. Here is my more detailed explanation.

What about wool and other materials? The key to these better fabrics is that they “wick”—they pull the water away from the body. Here is a nice post on that.

Zipper for ice traction

MacGyver takes the tent zippers and uses them on people’s shoes for added traction on ice. It’s sort of like mini-spikes on your shoes. Classic.

How to make drinkable water

MacGyver uses a tree branch to act as a water filter. This seems to be real (from MIT) so you know it’s got to be good.

Here is a nice video showing how this would work.

Making rope (string)

I’ll admit it—I’ve never really understood how this works. If you take some vine or some other material, it has a certain maximum strength in its tension before it breaks. If you take two of these things together, it doubles the strength. If you take these two things and then twist them—the strength is more than double. What? But it does indeed work (I need to do an experiment sometime to really understand this).

Here is an older video in which I attempted to make rope from a TV guide.

Size and weight of 18 million dollars

This is a classic MacGyver estimation problem. How do you find the size and weight of a bunch of money? Why does it even matter? Well, one big thing is to find the density of the money. If the density is less than the density of water, then the crate of money would float and then be swept away in a flash flood.

Yes, you don’t need the weight and size—but just the density. However, if you want to estimate how long the crate was floating you DO need the size. Bigger crates will “hit the bottom” before smaller crates.

If you want to look at more stuff about the density of money, here is an older post in which I find out how far 1 trillion dollars would stack. Would it make it to the moon?

Surveying tools

How do you find the slope of the ground? This is where you need surveying tools. Here’s how it works. Get a scope (from a rifle) and make sure it’s aimed level. There are plenty of ways to level a scope—those little bubble levels work great. Next get a survey stick. Make sure this is also vertical and then measure where the scope points at the stick.

If you know the change in elevation and the distance between the stick and the scope you have the slope.

Float distance calculation

Yeah, this is pretty tough—but that should never stop anyone from trying. How do you estimate the distance a crate will float in a flood? Here are some things to consider (some of these would be tough to estimate).

  • How fast was the water flowing?
  • How deep did the water get?
  • How long did the flood last?

Really, if you know those things you can calculate the speed and time of the floating crate. This would then give you the distance. From that you can find the location on a map.

Drag sled

To move a crate (or an injured MacGyver), it shouldn’t be too hard to make a drag thing—called a travios.

Grab hot coals

Don’t try this at home, but it is indeed possible to grab hot coals. Essentially, you can grab hot stuff if you are really quick. There isn’t enough time to transfer energy to cause a major burn.

It’s just like walking on hot coals. Here is a nice physics post on that.