Episode 16: Ancient Death Ray, Skunk Cleaning, What Is Bulletproof?

Air Date: September 29, 2004

Archimedes constructed a death ray by reflecting sunlight onto, and thus igniting, Roman vessels.


In order to have any effect, the mirror would have to be impractically large, and even then, the temperature of wood only raised a few degrees. On the Discovery website, however, a challenge was thrown out to the viewers to come up with an experiment to prove it plausible, and so far, a few of the entries seem to have done so. When all the tests were completed the myth was conclusively busted.

(This myth was re-busted in Archimedes’ Death Ray and again in President’s Challenge.)

The smell of Skunk musk can be removed with tomato juice.


The strong odor of tomato juice masks the skunk smell until the human nose becomes desensitized to the smell of tomatoes, at which point the skunk musk is again noticeable.

The smell of Skunk musk can be removed with commercial cleaners.


The commercial cleaners tested had limited success at eliminating the aroma of skunk musk.

The smell of Skunk musk can be removed with a custom mixture.


A mixture of soap, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda proved to work best for actually eliminating the aroma of skunk musk. The precise formula may be found in the Skunk article.

The smell of Skunk musk can be removed with beer.


Beer did not work.

The smell of Skunk musk can be removed with a douche.


A douche had also no effect at all.

Bullets be stopped by a book.


A hardcover book of at least 400 pages can potentially stop a .22 rifle shot, but anything stronger would shoot completely through.

Bullets be stopped by a deck of playing cards.


The deck failed to stop any bullets.

Bullets be stopped by a Zippo lighter.


The lighter failed to stop any bullets.

Bullets be stopped by a quarter-inch polycarbonate shield like that used by the MythBusters.


The shield failed to stop any bullets.

Bullets be stopped by an inch-thick polycarbonate panel rated bullet resistant.


They tested using a four-sided box made of bullet resistant polycarbonate laminate. The panels stopped .22, .357, and .44 magnum bullets but a Springfield .30-06 penetrated both front and rear portions of the box.


  1. Ninja says:

    I believe that the use of coke can deter the odor of skunk. This may not be true? I guess that’s why it’s a myth. haha

  2. Jawa says:

    Did they really need to test the deck of cards?

  3. Jamie says:

    My questions is that, My stepson works for a fish plant, he comes home everynight stinking like fish to the point of gaging and throwing up smell type, I remember the skunk episode and wonder if this would work for fish?

    • Lupi says:

      I bet the baking soda formula would work. I have heard that combinations like this can get the smell out of anything!

  4. Jim Knowles says:

    We have all heard stories of lives saved by Zippos, etc. I expect that the truth is these bullets first passed through something, or someone else, and had only enough momentum to dent the lighter. A ballistics expert might also answer if it is possible for a bullet to travel far enough to loose most of its momentum?

  5. Brian Manley says:

    will your mixture of soap,hydrogen peroxide backing soda remove the smell of old diesel fuel from your hands/(body).

  6. louis says:

    jawa, do they really need to test a lot of stuff they do on the show, seriously its just for fun

  7. Brad Hoehne says:

    Two observations regarding the bullet myths tested in this episode:”

    -I would suspect the origin of the “Bullets stopped by books/lighters/etc,.” myth is the fact that, while a bullet cannot be completely stopped by these things, they can be _deflected_, thus potentially saving the life of the victim by directing the bullet elsewhere.

    – A bullet which has already been significantly slowed by distance, encounter with some intermediate medium (leaves on a bush, for instance) or a manufacturing defect, might be able to be stopped, as was the .22.

  8. geoles says:

    Years ago our daughters coat got skunk odor from our 2 dogs. I ran it though the washer & dryer, but smell was still there. For some reason, I grabbed the Spray & Wash and sprayed it on the coat then just rinsed the area in the sink with water. Lo & behold smell was gone. I have not had an occasion to try this since, Thank God, but I am sure it is a good remedy.

  9. Jay says:

    Our dog was sprayed by le skunk. The vet said H peroxide, baking soda and dish soap. It actually did work, but it took a couple of washes. We mixed 100% pure apple cider/juice with baking soda to work around his face, nose and eyes. The apple juice actually worked very well. Its naturally acidic, so we figured it would have some cleaning effect. It is a slow process but we where able to sleep in the same room with the dogs. His eyes where irritated from the spray, we used ambient temp olive oil and a saline eye wash from a animal first aid kit. A good alternative to the dish soap is the use of apple juice along with the peroxide and baking soda. Also we used white towels to wipe down the dog, so we could bleach them. The towels came out fine with no smell. On our clothes we ran them through the washer with normal detergent,but added 1 cup of baking soda and color safe bleach. Came out fine. We kept a solution of the B. soda, peroxide and apple juice by the sink for hand washing.
    It was funny at first and its getting funnier as the day goes by!!!
    Love the show.

  10. Craig says:

    The Mythbusters tested modern zippo lighters. During WWII and Vietnam, brass (that the cases of zippos are made from)was a strategic material. Zippo Mfg had to use steel for the cases of lighters during this period. A much stronger material than brass.

  11. Lance Brydges says:

    Hi guys
    Myths are usually the result of human over exaggeration or under exaggeration. In the case of a badge, lighter or deck of cards stopping a bullet, the survivor thought it much more phenomenal to just say his “lighter” stopped the bullet. Whereas he would probably not go into detail to explain that his shooter shot him at an extreme angle sufficient enough to deflect the bullet. Even something as soft as water can deflect a bullet at a certain angle. As kids we used to hone our skills shooting at the round cutouts of electrically boxes. They were roughly the size and thickness of a quarter. Many times, if the token was placed on an angle on the tree, all we’d find was the dented token but no hole in the tree.
    Keep Busting!
    Namarie an si

  12. Jubilee says:

    greetings Mythbusters! i would like to ask if you can do a re-re-visit to the Archimedes death ray because i recently read a biography about Archimedes. it didn’t say that Archimedes death ray was flat but in fact slightly curved so that it’ll be more centered. could you please reconsider? if you don’t want to do it then you can roast a chicken with mirrors then. i saw Thai people do it on tv.

  13. gorillazfan says:

    I’ve tried time and time again to shoot a deck of cards with a air-soft pistol and it can only go through one card no matter how many are behind it. I’ve shot two cards touching eachother and the second card only gets a dent.

  14. Big Mike says:

    I just caught a skunk in a live cage and it spayed. The smell was so horible. I can taste it now. I spayed the area with baking soda, bleach and some pine cleaner. It seemed to kill the smell from that spot but it’s still in the air and all over my house. Does anybody have anything else.

  15. Big Mike Shaffer says:

    By the way if you shot a skunk and think it won’t spray, YOU WILL BE WRONG! It will spray no matter where you shot it.

  16. Drosten says:

    At 40 feet a .45 caliber handgun firing a hollow-point round was stopped by 2/10 in. of lexan–but the polycarbonate was backed solidly by a one in. panel of impact resistant plastic: (UHMW-PE–raw,not processed into the rifle plates one hears about made from the stuff). Still, the polycarbonate was NOT penetrated–though it made a nice dent in the plastic backing.
    ON ANOTHER NOTE–I don’t believe 1/4 in. polycarbonate could not stop ANY bullets–specifically, soft lead rounds from a .22 pistol. Maybe with a big enough piece, held in place and with no backing, such a round would penetrate, but even then I would be skeptical. Did they even use .22 handgun rounds? Or just those from a rifle? Making a universal claim that a substance will not stop ANY bullets is a claim ripe for refutation from any direction, unless you add all sorts of qualifications, like,”we meant All and ONLY the specific combination of rounds, guns, and distances used on the show, AND exactly physically equivalent situations. The flat-out statement given was hyperbole. Our intern logician quit.”

    One more note: Polycarbonate sheets from your local plastics store, or even Lowe’s and similar home improvement sites, have polycarbonate available that will stop bullets, if you use a thick enough “laminate” tape or glue. Tape might help by the first bullet slug creating an air space between the layers, so subsequent shots tumble as the past through it and are even more easily defeated.

    I took FOUR 6 by 8 inch pieces of quarter inch-thick polycarbonate, taped them together with Gorilla tape, and shot that 1 inch thick piece FOUR times with a .357 magnum (jacketed but lead pointed rounds, aka JSP), with the holes all within a 3 in. diameter circle, and with two rounds an inch apart. Not one of those rounds made it past the 3/4 in. panel. The last panel was, with the exception of very slight surface marks from the dents, completely untouched and undeformed, and able to be used in another application. All shots were made with the muzzle 3 to 4 feet away from the target.

    Any mispellings, I’m terribly sorry. syntax, errors. too.

  17. Drosten says:

    Lazarus! Archimedes?

    I don’t think Archimedes Death Ray was realized, at least not in the way it is described by ancient historians, or the hypotheses of numerous individuals appearing on Mythbusters.
    In theory, though, one can burn almost anything if one can manage to focus enough of the sun’s rays on a small area. I offer the following excerpt:

    This is from http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2144
    A Potential Breakthrough
    In Harnessing the Sun’s Energy
    by David Biello

    “In the high desert of southern Spain, not far from Granada, the Mediterranean sun bounces off large arrays of precisely curved mirrors that cover an area as large as 70 soccer fields. These parabolic troughs follow the arc of the sun as it moves across the sky, concentrating the sun’s rays onto pipes filled with a synthetic oil that can be heated to 750 degrees Fahrenheit. That super-heated oil is used to boil water to power steam turbines, or to pump excess heat into vats of salts, turning them a molten, lava-like consistency.”

    What do you think would happen to those metal pipes if there were no liquid passing through them?

    I wonder how much one could scale down the above described array and still be able to ignite wood, or, perhaps scaling down even further, simply ignite the enemy ships’ sails? Maybe the “Death Ray” would be enough of a weapon if it was just powerful enough to blind the ships crew…but that’s much less than what we’re told, at least by historians–only reliable to a point.

  18. caleb says:


  19. Chris says:

    Death rays.. Weve made one, it works.. We used 144×4 inch mirrors, in the heat of a fairly standard UK summer day we set fire to a model boat about 30ft away.. When Mythbusters start to engineer things better i will start to trust their results.. Still, its good entertainment, just don’t confuse it with fact or science..

  20. Hargin says:

    I second Chris.
    Building a working deathray using a mirror array is easy.

  21. Chuck says:

    Building the death ray is not feat at all for today’s technicians. Focusing it on a moving target might be a bit more difficult, as I am sure Archimedes found it to be. Had it worked every army in the world would have had it long ago.

    • SeattleInvestor says:

      He may have been expecting the attack through a well know choke point such as a harbor entry between reefs/rocks.

  22. William Ashley says:

    What about a mirror used to direct sunlight through a lense (like a magnified glass.

    EG. reposition mirror so sun goes through the lense toward the ship. Hold on location for extended time.

    It works for starting fires. You would need the mirror to redirect the sunlight as the sun is up and you need it to _/ go like that.

    • SeattleInvestor says:

      An array of mirrors properly positioned is a lens if you know the math. That’s why the story is specific to a well known mathematician…

  23. William Ashley says:

    “The oldest lens artifact is the Nimrud lens, which is over three thousand years old, dating back to ancient Assyria”

    Seems possible using a lense and mirror it could be done.

  24. andy bartosh says:

    What is the formula for skunk deoderizer used in eposode 16.

  25. sara says:

    looking for the home made formula to rid skunk smell. it says to find it in the skunk article, however, I can’t find it!!!

  26. Erynn says:

    Archimedes’ mirror has been shown on other, similar, programs to be entirely plausible – if you don’t use one mirror. an array of mirrors that can be adjusted is both more practical and more plausible given the technology at the time. Mythbuster’s attempts were both laughably ridiculous.

  27. maxson stegink says:

    1) maybe build the depth gauge a bit larger, and
    2) has it ever occurred to you that all three skunks were with humans too long, and got used to them? maybe you could re-visit the myth with untamed skunks? please???
    i am a huge fan.

  28. Terri Barnhart says:

    What is the formula for skunk order removal. I can’t find it either. I need it asap!!!

  29. Chris says:

    I think the bullets being stopped by books needs to be tested not only at different distances, but with wet books as well.

  30. Phillip says:

    Another clairity needs to be made on the bullet issue. Much of the lore on cards, coins and belt buckles stopping bullets is from the black powder era. Modern smokeless powder cartridges have magnitudes more momentum. The muzzle velocity of a black powder rifle is below 2000 or 2500 fps tops. Whereas a medium powered smokeless rifle is about 2700 fps. My 300 Weatherby Magnum reaches 3600 fps. So a soft lead ball from black powder derringer with a small powder charge could be stopped by a deck of cards. Or a fifty caliber bullet having already traveled 500 yards, near it’s maxium range, hitting a couple of coins or a thick book could be stopped as well. Cole Younger was wounded by gun fire 27 times and lived. It was all black powder rounds. 27 hits from a .223 or my 25.06 would leave something nearly unrecognizable as a body.

  31. victor says:

    After watching the deathray revisited I see a flaw. Soak any wood for years and see how hard it is to ignite. What I’m getting at is the boat was almost completely under water before it was revived. So when MIT focused the ray on the boat, they were focusing the ray on a part of the boat that was a day/s before under water. To be fair the same test would have to be done to a boat that wasn’t almost completely under water the day before. At least a boat that is floating on its own will have a dry hull. A dry hull on the inside of the boat I believe would have created a different outcome. A dry hull on the inside of the boat maybe would have reduced the moisture content significantly thus helping to induce a fire.

    • SeattleInvestor says:

      I thought the target was the sails during the war. Dry flax burns well…

  32. Rhonda9080 says:

    Lighter stopping bullet – not a “myth”. We have the lighter that saved my grandfather’s life in WWII. The lighter was in his front pocket and is bent up. Of course, it didn’t help when the halftrack he was in was subsequently blown up minutes later. He was the only survivor.

  33. blueboy says:

    i’m sorry guys you blew it on the bullet proof thingie. so many variables and all’s you could do was shoot items from point blank range. if your going to be real mythbusters do your homework first, i know grandstanding is a perfered quality for television and you all do that wonderfully but if your going to bust a “myth” get the facts that are available and go by them. i think trying to hit a zippo lighter and 200 yard with a nippo or german made rifle or hand gun would shed more light on the myth.

    • SeattleInvestor says:

      I posted a similar reply due to cigarette and snuff cases stopping older small black powder rounds. A bullet at the end of its 600 meter flight will have less energy than one at point blank.

  34. Alex says:

    I used 32oz Hydrogen Peroxide, 1/4 cup Baking Soda (NOT Baking Power!), 1 table spoon dawn dish soap. Mix the soap and peroxide together, then dump in the baking power all just before washing the dog.

    This cleaned the rank skunk off my Mastiff after only 2 washes within 10 minutes or work.

  35. Space Panda says:

    For the ancient death ray, what if you had curved mirrors reflecting light into lenses directing the light towards the boat in a more focused beam than when it was used in the test

  36. RC says:

    REGARDING a book being able to stop a bullet: You only used a 400 page book? Could you try something a tad thicker? For instance, many of our medical school books are 1500 pages (a few even break 2300).

    I would be extremely interested to see if a thicker book makes a difference. Or better yet, how thick would the book need to be in order to stop a 45 caliber bullet (or a bullet that most gunmen would use at a university).

    Tweet me: @RCPatchett

    • SeattleInvestor says:

      Actually in this case hollow points may be your friend. It’s spreading out will penetrate fewer pages, by design.

  37. SeattleInvestor says:

    re: Zippo Lighter

    Many of the cases of a lighter, cigarette case, etc, stopping bullets is from the area of weaker black powder pocket pistols, and typically a glancing blow.

    A modern round at closer range will shot through as demonstrated.

  38. SeattleInvestor says:

    re: bullet resistance polycarbonite

    It depends on the rating. “Resistant” does not mean “proof”. It’s expected that 1″ of poly will stop many hand gun rounds, but not a rifle round. Most “bullet proof” items fail to stop a 30-06 with many times the energy. Rifle level protection is many times thicker and heavier.

  39. Katie says:

    My dog just got sprayed in the face by a skunk last night. First we tried tomato juice which obviously didn’t work. Today we tried rubbing the peroxide-baking soda-soap mixture on him but it seemed to smell worse than it did previously! Why is this? We are confused

  40. Diego says:

    I would want to work for a general srouegn or a family practitioner. My dream in to be a traveling health care provider in other countries. Working with either specialist would be amazing! Also either of these skills would be beneficial to what I will be doing overseas. A family practitioner for the wide variety of people that would need medical help. A general srouegn would have a little knowledge in all of the different areas and would be more affective for my work experience.I would not want to work for a gynecologist, I delivered a baby when I was in the Philippines last year, and it was to crazy. I don’t believe that is something I would want to do every day for work. If it’s every once and awhile I’m ok with that, just not a department I would like to work in all of the time.

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