Some time ago my son caught an episode of Mythbusters, the popular Discovery Channel show in which Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage test various myths. It may have been the one involving a water heater that shot hundreds of feet into the air. And I believe the words my son uttered were, “Awesome!” and “Soooo awesome!”
He has since leafed through a science experiment companion book to the show. And lately he’s been all about building minicatapults, shields and other contraptions. So I was pretty psyched to hear a new, hands-on Mythbusters exhibit was coming to the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago for several months.
Admission to the Mythbusters exhibit is timed. When you know when you want to visit, buy your tickets online in advance. Not so convenient for those of us who like to travel in an ad hoc fashion, but a definite plus because, as we found out, the crowds were not overwhelming and we did not have to wait long to try the experiments. On the Saturday before Easter we drove to the city (2.5 hours from our home), picked up a cousin and then headed to MSI. First score: instead of having to shell out $20 for the parking garage we landed a $1 an hour parking spot in the public parking lot just south of the museum near the lakeshore. MSI is on the south side of Chicago in Hyde Park, not far from the University of Chicago and just off Lake Michigan (so bring a picnic basket). There’s a Metra a few blocks away but the elevated train stop is a bit farther away. We would have taken the Metra, but had to juggle a few different pickups and drop offs and ended up driving.
We breezed right in at our designated time (12:45 p.m.). The first room greeted us with a table full of blueprints from the experiments the team has tried over the years. Lots of props from the show were on display: an arrow machine gun, the duct-tape canoe, the water heater rocket. My son was familiar with the show, but because we don’t have cable (yeah, we’re old fashion like that), he hasn’t seen a ton of episodes and neither has his cousin. After admiring the arrow machine gun the boys moved quickly beyond this room and to the station where they could build a model house. Side note: there were plenty of adults and teens who obviously were fans of the show and seemed to get a kick out of seeing many of the props and even clothes that some of the show’s stars have worn over the years. The boys? Not so much.
It was the hands-on stuff they loved. Building a model house of various materials (styrofoam, brick) and then sliding it into a machine were a huge gust of wind tested its strength. Running or walking through the “rain” and then checking themselves under black lights to see who got more wet. Hanging from several different ledges to see how long they could hold on. Trying to launch a model airplane from a spinning conveyor belt. The boys got a big kick out of the does-toast-land-butter-side-up-or-down exhibit. They shot the mock buttered bread out of a toaster, knocked it off the side of the table with a device that looked like a handwheel, dropped it at various lengths. They must have spent at least 30 minutes at that station. They didn’t really get into the superhero station in which people bring a bunch of superhero clothes into a phone booth and then see how quickly they get dressed. But by the looks of it, several 30- and 40-somethings were living out their superhero fantasies.
Oh, and there was the farting chair.
What else? We all had a blast testing our reaction time. One person at a time stands against a wall in a designated spot, a light flashes and then you jump away as quickly as possible. You can sit on the swing hung by two phone books, throw cards at a bull’s eye and whip a tablecloth from under dishes and a vase as quickly as you can to see how many plates and cups remain. You can attempt to drive a car “blind” while another person gives you direction.
We attended a short, live show during which two young enthusiastic mythbusters reviewed the scientific method and then recreated, with the help of audience members, the dodging the bullet experiment. With paintballs.
The beauty of timed entry means the rooms were never too crowded and the boys got to try everything at least once, they had to wait a few minutes for a few items. The displays are all in English and Spanish, which bilingual folks will find helpful. TVs around the exhibit run clips from the show. I wish there was a bit more information about the science behind the experiments. When the boys asked this liberal-arts-studies major why it was their toast favored landing butter side up, all I could do was shrug and say we’d have to try some more experiments at home and do some more reading on the topic.
At any rate, the boys gave the exhibit a thumbs up. My advice to folks who are thinking of going is to watch a few clips ahead of time so you’re all a bit more familiar with the various myths they’ve busted or confirmed over the years.
Pricing was a bit steep. We paid $25 for adult admission (including admission to the museum and the special Mythbusters exhibit) and $18 per child (again, for both regular museum admission and Mythbusters). But all told we spent an hour and a half going through Mythbusters (they tried EVERYTHING), plus another 2.5 hours visiting the rest of the museum.
Mythbusters is at MSI until Sept. 3, 2012.