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Monday, February 20, 2006


October 20, 2004

It is impossible to beat police radar by wrapping your car in aluminum foil. And despite what you’ve heard, hanging a disco ball, keys, or a CD from the rear-view mirror doesn’t work either. Neither does strapping microwave parts to your front bumper.

Not that I would ever try such foolishness, of course, but urban legends and myths do have a persuasive way about them. That’s why MythBusters on the Discovery Channel is a helpful TV tool that can save you time and money, if you’re the type to investigate such silly myths.

Each week, show hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman scientifically test the validity of urban legends. Last week, the two tested theories on how to beat police radar. Trust me, if you’re trying to avoid a ticket, the aforementioned methods aren’t the way to go.

Here’s a rundown of some myths they’ve examined, proved, and debunked on their show and at the Discovery Channel Web site:

  • A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. False. Humans do not clean themselves with their tongues, drink out of the toilet, or carry dead animals in their mouths. (Well, at least not any humans I know.)
  • A farmer beheaded a chicken that wobbled back to the henhouse and lived for 18 months. True. Lloyd Olsen of Colorado owned the world’s only surviving headless chicken, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. He wielded the infamous ax in September 1945. The chicken apparently survived because the blade missed his jugular vein and a clot prevented him from bleeding to death. Most of the brain stem remained. Olsen kept the animal fed and watered by inserting an eyedropper directly into his gullet.
  • A computer keyboard harbors more germs than a toilet seat. True. According to a University of Arizona study, office workstations are much dirtier than bathrooms. A computer keyboard can harbor up to 3,295 microbes per square inch, compared to a toilet seat that contains on average 49 microbes per square inch. Telephones were the worst culprit with 25,127 microbes. (Now my co-workers know the real reason I scrub down my work area like I’m preparing it for surgery.)
  • Elephants are afraid of mice. False. There is no evidence that elephants are afraid of mice, according to animal behavior experts.
  • A sunken boat can be salvaged using Ping-Pong balls as flotation devices. True. The dynamic duo tested the experiment using more than 30,000 Ping-Pong balls.
  • A British man who claimed he caught the flu from former Beatle Paul McCartney tried to sell the germs on eBay. True. In April 2003, the man offered to share his flu bug with the highest bidder by coughing or spitting into a plastic container and sending it in the mail. After two days, the highest bid was only $2.
  • You should starve a fever and feed a cold. False. No matter whether you have a cold or a fever, you should try to maintain a regular intake of fluids and food.
  • Many churches have banned rice throwing at weddings because the rice will expand in the stomachs of birds that eat it, causing them to explode. False. According to agricultural and ornithological experts, there is no risk to birds from rice thrown at weddings. No birds have yet been witnessed exploding after a wedding rice feast, or ever for that matter. However, some churches have banned the throwing of rice at weddings for the sake of humans, not birds. Hard surfaces littered with tiny rice pellets can be slippery and dangerous for guests.
  • You can get the flu from a flu shot. False. The virus strains in an influenza vaccine have been inactivated, so you cannot contract the flu from a flu shot. However, it is still possible to subsequently catch a different strain of flu that was not included in the vaccine. Furthermore, some people, especially those with egg allergies, can have an allergic reaction to the vaccine.

This week’s episode of MythBusters is titled Quicksand and looks at killer situations. The guys test the theory that dropping a hair dryer into a water-filled tub can kill someone. Then, they investigate the case of the exploding tattoo in the MRI machine and try to determine if quicksand is as deadly as Tarzan made it seem.

Catch MythBusters on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. It repeats the next morning at 12 a.m. Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to peel the aluminum foil off my hubcaps.

Originally published 10/20/04 in The Exponent Telegram newspaper.


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