CHICAGO » Who gets wetter, someone walking in the rain or running? Is it really possible to hang from a cliff by your fingers until help arrives like they do in the movies? And is Superman the only one who is faster than a speeding bullet?
Those are questions the Discovery Channel’s "MythBusters" has asked for years, and starting Thursday, anybody who’s wondered how long it takes to put on a superhero outfit in a phone booth — don’t forget the cape — can answer them for themselves at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.
"MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition," opened Thursday, marking the first time the show has taken such questions on the road. The Chicago exhibition, which runs through Sept. 3, is the first of a planned national tour that will include stops in several other U.S. cities.
» Place: Museum of Science and Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
» Time: 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. daily through Sept. 3
» Tickets: Adults $25, children 3-11 $18
» Contact: www.msichicago.org or 773-684-1414
» Tour dates: Visit www.mythbusterstheexhibition.com
"This has both the science and also a sense of humor, what we’ve been doing for a decade," Adam Savage, one of the show’s hosts, said last week before the exhibition opened.
Just like on the show, the exhibit is a kind of scientific bait and switch. It starts with something visitors have seen in the movies or on TV or that they can recall from their own experiences, like dishes crashing to the floor when the tablecloth is yanked.
"That’s the hook," said Jamie Hyneman, also a "MythBusters" co-host. "That gets them involved, and before they know what happens they’ve actually learned something or been lured into thinking carefully about what’s going on."
The exhibit consists of about a dozen stations mixed in with props familiar to viewers, like the actual casket Hyneman lay in for a segment on being buried alive. In one station shaped like a ship cargo container, a visitor walks and another runs for 20 feet while water drips from hoses above. Once they’re wet, they go around the corner and, because the water contains traces of fluorescent dye, they can see just how many drops hit them as they stand in front of a black light.
After determining which one of them is wetter, the participants press either the run or walk button. The results will be stored for now and revealed when the show leaves in September. "We may have 100,000 come through, and we can see what the results are over time," said Geoffrey Curley, whose company Discovery Communications and Exhibits Development Group helped create the exhibit with the museum.
Movies and television and just plain storytelling play a big role in the exhibit. There is, for example, a place to build small houses out of progressively heavier blocks — one made of marble, another of wood and another of foam to represent the bricks, sticks and straw used by the three little pigs — to see whether all that effort by the last little pig was worth it.
There is another exhibit for anyone who’s wondered whether a blind Al Pacino really could have navigated a car through the streets of New York in "Scent of a Woman" based on the directions given by a terrified Chris O’Donnell from the passenger seat. With the help of video-arcade style equipment, visitors can see whether they do as well as Pacino or better than Hyneman and Savage did on the show.
The exhibit also includes a live show that asks whether it’s possible to dodge a bullet — or at least a paint ball. Those selected from the audience will be asked to come on stage, put on a protective coat and hold a clear plastic shield in front of them to see whether they can jump out of the way before a paint ball traveling 175 mph hits the shield with a splat.
One thing missing from the exhibit that is a big part of the show is explosions. Hyneman said there was just no way in an enclosed space to safely blow stuff up.
And visitors, particularly teenage boys, will be saddened to find that Hyneman and Savage could not pull off — though not for lack of trying — a flatulence exhibit.
It turns out that there are two key ingredients that together add up to a memorable olfactory experience, which led Hyneman to look for a way to create a "fart vending machine" that for a quarter would combine those ingredients.
"I figured teenage boys would be lined up around the block for that one," he said. "The problem is the stuff is toxic … so we just couldn’t pull it off."
Even without such a contraption, the show’s stars hope the exhibit will bust what they say is the biggest myth of all: Science is just for nerds.