"MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition" | Exhibit review
Can an opera singer really break a glass with his or her voice? Is it possible to sneeze with your eyes open?
In an effort to answer life’s burning questions, special-effects gurus Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage have been igniting toilets and launching chickens since 2003. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it isn’t another incarnation of Johnny Knoxville-style high jinks. This is science. No, really.
Better known as the duo behind the Discovery Channel’s Emmy-nominated reality television show MythBusters, which aims to confirm or disprove “science’s popular myths” via elaborate and often ridiculous experiments, the pair has performed 793 televised tests so far, resulting in 441 myths busted, 184 confirmed, and 168 plausible (aka too dangerous or too altered to be conclusive).
Now fans of the show can get in on the wacky experimentation through the world premiere of a new exhibit at the Museum of Science of Industry. “MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibit” takes visitors on an interactive ride through the irreverent world of the myth-dispelling crew via a behind-the-scenes look at the show’s props and planning as well as a hefty dose of self-guided, hands-on experimentation.
After exploring the entryway’s retrospective of the show’s more memorable moments—the casket that housed Hyneman in the 2003 episode “Buried Alive” and the remnants of the crew’s replication of the Hindenburg disaster are there—visitors are further thrust into the world of the MythBusters in The Blueprint Room. Modeled after the show’s “operations room,” where tests are planned and props are built, The Blueprint Room showcases more than 700 artifacts from the crew’s history of experimentation, including token test dummy Buster and a shark replica seen a few times throughout the series.
Though chock-full of reading material (in both English and Spanish) and interesting artifacts, The Blueprint Room offers very little hands-on activity. Its explanations are at times incomplete and unclear about what myth—if any—was busted during the episode. The quirky commentary from cast members on adjacent television screens also becomes very difficult to hear the closer you get to The Workshop, the bulk of the exhibit housing the super-cool interactive components. But by this point you’ll likely have one super-distracted kid, dying to breeze past the rest of the reading, and directly into the rain tunnel. Yes, a rain tunnel.
The “Running in the Rain” station allows kids to test whether or not, when caught without an umbrella, running out of the wet stuff will result in a less-drenched ensemble. There are two lanes in the tube—one for walking, and one for running. After breezing through the sprinkles with a partner, even more fun is revealed: The “rain” has been infused with an organic, clothing-safe dye that, when under black lights, reveals just how drenched you are via glowing splatters that can be compared with your partner in a full-length mirror. (Your teeth will also glow, providing a hilarious first for a lot of kids.)
As the walker, my frock exhibited fewer glowing spots than that of my running counterpart. However, at the end of the station, when we were asked to record our results, we found that the majority of participants thus far had experienced the opposite result. In short: Is the experiment really scientific? No. The monitor at the end of the station will tell you that. But it is super fun? Absolutely! I witnessed one kid who ran through the thing no less than five times.
The same bind applies to most of the other stations, such as the “Big Bad Wolf” area where—you guessed it—kids can build tiny houses to test whether a gust of wind will knock it down. Pulling the cloth out from under a full spread of plastic dishes at the “Tablecloth Chaos” station? A riot! The intrinsic lesson on Newton’s First Law of Motion? Completely lost.
Eight other areas plus a live stage show will have kids erupting in giggles and maybe even breaking a sweat. They’ll also learn a lot—about the television show MythBusters. Moving from station to station, the sketchiness of the science becomes ever-increasingly obvious. More clear is the show’s gray-and-yellow, construction-style branding and the corresponding merchandise in the gift shop. MSI reps tell me a few facilitators will be on hand to help clarify the science behind some of the stunts. Though such one-on-one time was not a part of my experience, it might improve the educational value for those lucky enough to get some face time.
So can a playing card really be thrown fast enough to be used as a weapon? I’m still unsure. But I do know that hurling playing cards at a foam target is quite possibly the most fun and simultaneously frustrating thing you will ever try. There’s no doubt kids will have a blast, which is great considering that’s often half the challenge at an institute of learning. There’s also no doubt the TV buzz will get brand-new visitors in the door, and hopefully into other exhibits where the lessons in science are a bit more conclusive.
“MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition” runs through September 3 at the Museum of Science and Industry. Tickets are $25, $24 for seniors and $18 for kids 3–11 and include general admission to the museum. Visit msichicago.org for more information and to purchase advance tickets (recommended).