Episode 54: Crimes and Myth-Demeanors 1: Great Hollywood Heists

Air Date: July 12, 2006

One can surreptitiously scale an air duct by using a system of magnets.


Jamie’s magnets (ten 500-pound (225 kg) strength ones) could hold his weight and allowed him to make it to the top of the duct, but they caused far too much noise on the way up to allow for a stealthy entrance.

One can surreptitiously scale an air duct by using a system of suction cups.


Adam’s suction cups were able to hold his weight as well and were much quieter than Jamie’s magnets. However, the mechanics Adam used to control the vacuums often failed, which caused him to slip and fall down the vent, blowing his cover. He did however make it to the top of the vent once he perfected the method of operating the device in sequence to his steps up the vent. However, breaking through the grate of the air duct was much too noisy, thus blowing his cover.

One can successfully dodge a system of laser beam detectors by blowing cosmetic powder across the beams to identify their position.


While visible beams can be seen, they are only detectable when the powder is airborne, which is not very long. Also, blowing too much powder can cause enough of the beam to break and set off the alarm. Furthermore, most laser systems use invisible infrared laser trip beams.

One can successfully dodge a system of laser beam detectors by using night vision goggles.


None of the beams are visible through the goggles, though a combination of the goggles and the powder was able to allow Tory a brief glimpse of the infrared beams, though not enough to make a difference. Also, wearing night vision goggles decreases the wearer’s field of view and may hinder one’s ability to move around the beams.

One can successfully dodge a system of laser beam detectors by pointing another laser at the photodetector.


While the technique is workable enough with visible-beam systems, the fact that infrared beams cannot be readily detected or traced makes locating the relevant photocells too difficult in a real-world situation.

A glass door can be cut open silently by gently cutting the glass and removing it with a suction cup.


The suction cup could not remove the glass.

A glass door can be cut open silently by drilling a hole.


The drilling caused some noise, but not enough to trip a sonic alarm. It did, however, cause the entire glass to break, but because it was tempered and laminated, the glass held together. The broken pieces were then pried out until an arm-sized hole could open up, allowing access to the doorknob on the other side.

One can successfully fool a pressure sensor under a glass case by squeezing in a knife between the glass and sensor and using a piece of gum to hold the sensor in its original position.


The sensor is extremely sensitive. Even the slight lifting of the case needed to insert the knife can set it off, and it took three attempts just to get the knife in. And the gum is just too pliable when chewed to keep the sensor held down once the knife is removed.

One can successfully fool a pressure sensor under a glass case by squeezing in a knife between the glass and sensor and using tape to hold it in place.


If you can get the knife in without setting the sensor off, you can hold the knife in place with the tape to keep the sensor pressed.

A safe can be quickly cracked by using a stethoscope.


Modern safes are designed with this old technique in mind, and the tumblers proved too quiet to be heard even with amplification.

A safe can be quickly cracked by drilling a hole and visually causing the tumblers to fall into place.


With help from a borescope and a length of piano wire, Adam managed to crack the safe, but it would take time that may not be available to a surreptitious safecracker, especially given the fact that the safe for the test was rated to be crackable by a professional safecracker in only 5 minutes.

A suction cup system can be used to scale a (23-story) skyscraper.


The concept worked but Adam did not have the stamina to scale the entire building. Making the climb would require significant physical training.


  1. James says:

    The infrared laser beams of an alarm can be seen by using any cheap web cam. Remove the IR filter lens (Slightly red sheet of glass) and replace with 2 layers of color film that’s been developed and looks nearly black. Your average universal remote control or maybe an open flame (lighter) would work as an IR source.

    • Gakl says:

      you still wont be able to see the laser beams. you can not see light unless it directly hits your eyes. if you point the remote at the camera, sure. but it wont work if you point it anywhere else. laser beams are concentrated light directed in the same direction. this light will not suddenly jump sideways unless something changes the path of the light significantly. no camera or eyewear will do this, no matter what Dayne says.

  2. Jawa says:

    This episode was really interesting because you’d think anything in Hollywood would be totally fake, but there were a few plausibles in this episode.

  3. Bart says:

    James, it’s not the infrared detection that’s the problem, it’s the narrow-beam nature of laser. There is just too little coming from the beam to detect without interrupting it or, perhaps, chain smoking.

  4. GP says:

    They must have never cut glass by hand before, anyone who does it knows you would have to make the circle you cut in the glass bigger than the plunger, otherwise you could never get enough force to break the circle out of it. And you would probably have to push it through, not pull it towards you. (Such a large mistake for them…)

  5. Dayne says:

    you should retry the night vision goggles and infared beem myth. after 2+ years of working with them in the military, i can assure you that it is possible. i have done it. there is reserch on it. try using better NVG’s. maybe ones with an infa red option.

  6. Richard says:

    I believe that the suction cup climb should be revisited. it would be quite easy to attach a cylinder to each of the existing cups to allow downward force to be used to create suction although it would probably easier just to use a measuring tape or some other thing like that to hook a rope on the opening above climb then repeat.

  7. Hungarian Fan says:

    As for safe-cracking, the mechanical rotation dials are not cracked by listening to sounds, but by feel (finger sensitivity). It takes a lot of regular practice, but eventually one with better than average manual skills can open 3-dial combination locks in 30 minutes or 4-dial ones in about 2 hours. There are “brute force” motor powered auto-diallers which try all codes sequentially and unlock 3 and 4 rotor locks in under 24 hours, but some newer locks have clutches built-in to protect against such excessive number of rotations trials.

    Special safes, like those used to keep US Govt secrets are protected against human expert decoder attacks. They have special disconnected mechanism to prevent “feel opening”, you have to turn a middle knob or butterfly washer AFTER you have dialled the entire combination correctly and then you can turn the open handle. If the combination is incorrect the washer cannot be turned and the opening mechanism will not be connected.

    Anyhow mechanical disk combination locks are no longer deemed safe for keeping US govt secrets and have been replaced with digital keycode locks, although those also have weaknesses. European safes often use “two-wing” shaped key based locks, which are very secure, but where do you keep those keys?

    Good high-security safes are protected against drilling attack by added manganese steel plating or a layer of tungsten nugget filled concrete, which destroys most drill bits, except for diamond tip ones. Really nasty bank safes usually have strategically placed glass “relocking” plates, which hold against spring-loaded closing pins. Drill the safe and as soon as the drill tip shatters the glass relock plate, the safe will be closed permanently. Only some expert can open it with controlled explosion or industrial grade axle grinding.

  8. Tom says:

    GP is correct. Of course you can cut a circle out of glass. The circle-cutting tool you see in those Hollywood movies can be bought at many hardware stores!! Embarrassing oversight.

  9. zac says:

    Any freerunner could scale an air duct in moments and force themselves through the vent. An expert could avoid the beams and infrared systems, one could definately kick down a glass door I propose a revisitation to this myth.

    P.S. I dont think this myth was screwed up, I think that it wsnt fully explored.

  10. Alan says:

    Missed the episode. I am interested though in using laser trip beams in a perimeter security system. However, I haven’t been able to find anything suitable on the internet. Can anybody direct me to a product or system? Thanks.

  11. Dan says:

    As for using suction cups to scale a skyscraper, it’s absurd that these guys only say it’s “PLAUSIBLE”.

    It’s already been done several times in the eighties, by Dan Goodwin.

  12. Jay says:

    One can surreptitiously scale an air duct by using a system of magnets.”Busted.”I think this is possible, All u need is to customise a door magnetic look to handles with a button to lock and unlock. It would support your weight and let you sneak up as quiet as you like. I think they should redo this episode.

    • Daniel says:

      The only problem with this is that even if you did come up with such a rig (including a mobile power supply that supplies enough current and 120 volts to fully power the electromagnetic lock), while they might hold your weight, you would need a separate button for each lock to remain stealthy. If you have one button controlling 4 locks (one on each hand and foot), then while you could get maybe two magnets to contact before turning them on (just hands or just legs), the other magnets would make a loud bang when they snap onto the duct, just like the magnetic lock for the fire exit near my dorm room does when it engages onto the armature plate.

  13. well-duh says:

    Yeah Mythbusters really embarrassed themselves with the glass cutting. Those were all COMMON glass cutting techniques done WRONG — not high tech burglary specific. Maybe they should have done an Internet search on topic or better yet visited a glass cutting expert.

    #1 Why did Mythbusters try to suck the small glass circle out with huge suction cup? stupid.

    The movies correctly show that you cut the circle around a smaller suction cup or otherwise attach only to the circle to be removed. The suction handle is only to keep the cut section from falling and not to break the scored section free by suction.

    Movies usually omit the part where you tap or press at small points around the edge of the circle to break it the rest the way through. I suspect you could use a wooden or rubber covered steel mini-mallet to tap the glass free more silently.

    It is however sometimes difficult to break out circle intact. Glass breaks more easily and cleanly along straight lines. Sometimes professionals will attach smaller suction cups yet then score pie slices or chords then break out 3-4 sections of circle.

    #2 Glass drills are not just ordinary drills although experts might get away with improvisation. The key thing is that the drill needs dampening mechanism to prevent shattering the glass. Vibration is bad.

    Watch the UTube video with guy using glass keyhole saw on fish tank. Note that even with actual glass drill you usually use a wooden block to hold the bit in place and give further dampening. There the drill bit appears to have a nylon damper in the center of the key drill.

    • well-duh says:

      Of course if Mythbusters had done the basic stuff right…then they would have gotten to more interesting problems like laminated or thick (1/2″) tempered glass. Seem to remember watching the galss installers using tuned ultrasonics to break the thick glass circles free. Also comment that you had to be careful as wrong frequency would shatter whole pane. Guess experience lets you guess about what frequency to start tuning up or down from based on thickness, type glass and size of whole. Pretty sure you had to attach transducer to circle to be cut free in order minimize problems. Don’t remember what was said about doing laminated glass from one side. Maybe you cut outer layer then melt it free then scrap to free cutting of inner layer.

  14. Paul says:

    Climbing shoes would have made quietly scaling that duct trivial.

  15. Busted?? says:

    Growing up, I used to love watching this show… Now what they try to pass off as science makes me sick…

    It’s been pointed out already, but in this episode in particular, they lacked expertise when it came to every single challenge. Their scientific method would also claim that since neither Adam or Jamie can run 100m in under 10s, any “myths” saying so must be wrong and busted.

    Noisy magnets? Use electromagnets

    Noisy suction cups? Being unco isn’t a scientific variable. I personally saw it as plausible apart from the fact that Adam has no real upper body strength and control over his decent.

    Cosmetic Powder? Once again, proved plausible. The error was with Kari’s technique. Furthermore, with IR goggles, powder would work just as well (scatters light into goggles)

    Night vision goggles? I’m lacking knowledge in this department, but I’m led to believe that NV goggles would intensive the scattered light from the lasers (Similar principles to above).

    Laser Replacement? Too difficult in real world situations? Subjective opinion, which is wrong from the get go.

    Glass cutting and suction cup? I guess these guys were in the special children’s class while growing up because they kept trying to put a square block in a triangle shaped hole…

    Pressure Plate? Although it’s a crude technique, it’s not scientific to rule out the myth because the cast weren’t skilled enough to prove it possible.

    Cracking Safe? Unskilled staff, blah blah, same fallacy once again.

  16. blank says:

    The method of climbing he duct is irrelevant. Any pressure on the duct work will cause he metal to flex and make noise. It won’t wake you from a sound sleep, but anyone nearby is going to notice.

    • Ash says:

      Actually if you done it using just your body – back against one side arms and legs against the other, shuffling up.. it could be easily manageable.

  17. Denmark says:

    I agree that locks are not to be heard but to be felt. Anyways, sounds are produced by vibrations. Does this make any sense?

    • Jose says:

      it does

  18. Roger says:

    Suction cups can’t pull glass toward the cutter – regardless of how big the hole is. And the ‘movies’ is not an accurate source of information on how glass holes are cut. In fact, the only way to correctly score then make a hole in glass is to cut the hole, make cross cuts across the surface, all the while tapping with a ball hammer or other instrument from BOTH SIDES of the glass. It is noisy, and impossible to do from ONE END only. Ergo, one would not be able to do the cut from outside a window.

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