Special 7: Hollywood on Trial

Air Date: May 5, 2005

Bullets will spark when ricocheting off other objects.

partly confirmed

After several tries and mistakes, they manage to make it work. With a photo of Adam and Jamie as target, Kari shot a bullet at it, while Grant shoots the paint balls and Tory watches them spark. Extremely improbable, but it can be done.

The aluminum paint used on actor Jack Haley while portraying the Tin Man in the 1939 movie version of The Wizard of Oz caused an adverse reaction that hospitalized him.


Kari survived her aluminum paint session just like Jamie survived his gold paint session when testing the Goldfinger myth. The myth is true, but not as told. Actor Buddy Ebsen (better known later from The Beverly Hillbillies) was originally cast in the role of the Tin Man. Ebsen suffered a near-fatal allergic reaction and was hospitalized for two weeks after inhaling aluminum powder from an experimental aluminum makeup. After the aluminum makeup incident, Ebsen was replaced by actor Jack Haley and the makeup was replaced by an aluminum paint. Haley went on to complete his role as the Tin Man without suffering any serious health issues.

It is possible for a medium-to-large build man to bust through a wooden doorframe on his own power.


Using only his shoulder, Jamie was able to break through three of the four locks installed on the doorframe the Build Team constructed that met the American Building Code standards. The only reason the fourth lock did not break was because the Build Team used stronger screws to anchor it into the frame than what came with the actual lock. Adam attempted to break the fourth lock but slipped on a mat in front of the door and fell on his back instead. Still, considering that Jamie got so far by simply shoulder-ramming, a determined individual could easily break through.

It is possible to be thrown through a glass window and walk away without a scratch just like in Hollywood movies.

partly busted

While it is possible to fly through an 1/8th inch glass pane with little or no injuries, ¼ inch glass is thick enough to inflict significant lacerations on a body, should one be thrown through it. In Hollywood, a breakaway faux-glass substance called sugar glass is used in stunts requiring an actor to be thrown through a window. Sugar glass does not fracture into sharp fragments like real glass does and does not injure stunt performers.

It is possible to ignite a pool of gasoline using only a cigarette.

partly plausible

A cigarette has the potential to light a pool of gasoline but just doesn’t have enough sustained heat. Gas ignites between 500 °F and 540 °F, the cigarette at its hottest was between 450 °F and 500 °F but only when it was actually being smoked. An ignition is very improbable.


  1. PinkSuzette says:

    Do bullets also really go “Pa-choing-choing-choinnnnggggg” when ricochetting?

    • Dean says:

      I’ve heard that sound before and a bullet (or even a firearm, for that matter) was not needed to create it.
      This is an effect of acoustics and is really an echo being reflected back at you in such a way, so as to enhance certain sonic frequencies.
      However, to answer your question, yes, a bullet fired from a gun can sometimes create that sound.

  2. kev d says:

    re: do bullets go pa-choing. I thought that the noise was more of a peeeowwwwn but i may be wrong but i think this is one that should be tackled.

  3. Tyson says:

    Bullets make a zzzing noise even when they don’t hit anything, just from flying through the air. If a bullet hits a rock or something it will make a ricocheting noise that trails off in a random direction and almost always makes everyone flinch.

  4. Mark Newton says:

    It is impossible to light gasoline with a cigarette. Its a good party trick and people will freak out when you sit down with a glass of gas and a lit cigarette, but it just doesn’t light.

    an anti climactic hisss is produced

  5. rick cramer says:

    gasoline itself doesnt have a low flashpoint, but the Vapor/fumes from gasoline Can and Will ignite from an open heat source such as a cigarette, hence the no smoking signs at gas stations.

    • Patrick says:

      My thoughts exactly.

    • Tim says:

      You are mistaken as this episode explained. Gasoline vapor or gas itself will not ignite with a cigarette, unless you’ve got all the right conditions. You’ve got a greater chance of being struck by lightning then for all the right conditions it would take to light gas with a cigarette to fall in to place. The reason for the signs at gas stations is for general safety and common sense, because many people are morons.The stories you’ve heard of people blowing themselves or there cars up while smoking was not do to the act of smoking itself but rather it was caused by the lighting of the cigarette.

    • JMB says:

      FALSE, after reading that it does, we tested, answer 10 out of 10 tries No ignition.

      Myth busters says its doubtful at best.

      • Cory Johnson says:

        Tim is right. The reason for the no smoking signs has nothing to do with cigarettes, but everything to do with lighters. The spark from a lighter reaches temperatures that greatly exceed that needed to ignite gasoline.

        It’s difficult to make a sign that says, “You can smoke, but you can’t light”. Stupid character limit on signs :).

  6. Lance Kamau says:

    When I was a young child I once ran through a sliding glass door at a tavern with out a scratch or bump on me

  7. Christopher Treptow says:

    To test if someone can be thrown through glass with out getting hurt, your dummy should have been waring clothes. Maby the clothes would provide some protection agenst the sharp glass.

  8. Christopher Treptow says:

    To test if someone can be thrown through glass with out getting hurt, your dummy should have been waring clothes. Maby the clothes would provide some protection.

  9. Lewis Cross says:

    No rick cramer, the gasoline vapour will only be lit by a naked flame – the only reason for the no smoking sign is to stop people from lighting their cigarettes and hence providing the naked flame.

    • Billy says:

      Ok Lewis before we say that naked flame is the only thing that can ignite gas how does your car run. You think that you built in lighters in your cylinder? No you have a SPARK plug that does nothing more than cause an eletric spark which causes combustion. Rick is indeed correct if a cigarette lands in a pool than more than likley the cigarrete will go out because when the cigarrete is completly submerged you take away the air which is one of the three ingridients required to create fire. Do not fool yourself gasoline is very dangerous. It is possible to smoke a cigarrete at the pump even light it but you stick the cigarrete in the fumes or the lighter in the fumes all you need is the right amount of oxygen and you have fire. Remember you can not start a fire without fuel, heat and air. (Basic high school level chemistry:)

      • John C says:

        The cylinder has a lot of compression so that affects the flashpoint.

      • gmoney says:

        Okay for you all obviously own a computer. Now lookup a physics website that talks about fire. You will see that the only thing that can light gasoline vapor is open flame. A lit cigarette is not open flame, it’s a ember. You are correct though about the gas stations. They don’t want people lighting cigarettes( open flame).

  10. Lewis Cross says:

    And a PS to the above – gasoline is actually quite hard to light without matches! An angle grinder and a stream of hot metal sparks wont, a glowing (no flame) coal or wood ember straight out of the fire wont, a red hot metal bar wont – but a ‘roll your own’ cigarette will reasonably easily!! This is because the paper flares (ie naked flame) where the tobacco is not packed uniformly tightly as in ‘taylor mades’

  11. Steve Blevins says:

    Gasoline CAN indeed be lit with a store bought lit cigarette. I was in Auto/diesel shop in college and we had a truck up on a lift and there was a pool of gas down around the lift cylinder in front. Well our instructor threw his lit cigarette on the floor into it and “POOF” it lit right up. Took 2 fire extinguishers to put it out.

  12. Steve Blevins says:

    To Lewis Cross, gas fumes WILL ignite from the sparks of an angle grinder. Do you have any actual shop experience? Think about it for a second. a single spark ignites gas (and fumes) in lawnmowers and cars.

    • Macleod says:

      A single spark ignites *compressed* gas (and fumes). The fuel-air ratio and the pressure both have to be present, along with a heat source. Open-air combustion of gasoline take a VERY HIGH input of energy (discharge) to ignite.

  13. Todd M. Paxman says:

    The “sparking bullet” problem is a real problem in fire-prone areas, with dry brush. But it is only a problem with steel-cased bullets. I believe they only used lead bullets for the test. If they had used steel-cased bullets, they would have seen sparks for sure. So steel-cased bullets are banned during fire season in outdoor ranges here in Ventura County, CA, for this very reason.

  14. Smooey says:

    Does the calibre of the bullet determine the pitch at which the ricochetting bullet makes the choing-choing-ping-choingggg noise?? If a 22 calibre bullet ricochetted at say, 2.5kHz, would a 9mm bullet ricochet at 1.5 – 2kHz?

  15. shooter says:

    The sound of a ricochetting bullet is due to some amount of end over end spinning, so the pitch is from the rate of spin. I would imagine that a long heavy bullet would spin slower than a short fat lightweight one after identical impacts.
    Doppler effect also plays a huge role.

  16. Isher says:

    @ Steve Blevins:

    Some types of diesel fuel ignite at a lower temperature than regular gasoline. That’s why there’s so much variation in people’s anecdotal references.

  17. Terry Jason says:

    As a shooter I have heard lots of warnings about shooting firearms at water. That the bullet can ricochet back to the shooter. I have a hard time imagining that scenario. Although I can see it bouncing off the water back up into the air. Can you do some tests with different bullets and different angles of attack? Thanks!


  18. Darryl says:

    My wife went through a plate glass window head first and only got a little scratch on her cheek and one on her hand, not even enough for a band-aid. So it is possible to go through a plate glass window and have almost no injuries.

  19. Warren Woodhurst says:

    Dramatically unsatisfactory testing of the plate glass window myth. Dummy had no clothes and had to slide through the glass head first with no protection. All round shoddy work; not up to the usual calibre of this show.

  20. Matt says:

    Yes please do a test to determine whether or not bullets can ricochet back at the shooter from water.

    Thank you!

  21. Rachel Gibson says:

    I, too, was disappointed with the testing of the plate glass myth. The dummy definitely should have been clothed. Plus, I’m pretty sure most people going through plate glass would not be going in at that awkward angle. This myth definitely deserves a re-visit under real-world conditions.

  22. RB8720 says:

    So when does an actor in hollywood get thrown through a plate glass window naked ? Ofcourse your gonna get scratches with absolute zero protection. All of the movies I have seen, the actors are wearing cloths most of the time fairly thick coats. I would be willing to bet if you put cloths and a denim jacket on the test dummy you wouldn’t have nearly as many cuts.

  23. K.C. Fire Investigator says:

    The truth is (nail in the coffin please) a cigarette WILL NOT ignite gasoline, nor the vapours. Do the literature review. I have a lecturer who demonstrated by smoking a cigarette above a pool of gasoline, puting a lit cigarette into a bottle of gasoline. Babrauskas, DeHaan, Holleyhead and Jewel have all been unable to recreate the Hollywood cigarette and gasoline fire.

    • Julie Cochrane says:

      In demolitions, you want something you intend to ignite to fail to go boom only a tiny fraction of the time out of thousands.

      In safety, you want to avoid doing things that you could do a hundred thousand times and only get a catastrophic explosion once.

      A lit cigarette isn’t a reliable way to light gasoline, but it is also not a safe way not to.

      • Julie Cochrane says:

        Also, writer tip: writers of thrilling, action-adventure kind of entertainment frequently intentionally mess up the scenes where someone blows stuff up, or starts a plague, or disposes a body.

        As a writer, you want something dramatically plausible, hopefully that will indicate to people who already know that you do know what works. At the same time, you want it “wrong” enough some pimply-faced loser in his Mama’s basement can’t carry out just like you showed it and kill people.

        Ideally, it’s plausible for entertainment purposes, but if you try it at home it just fizzles. People trying to learn how to blow things up and cause disaster and mayhem from watching the movies generally are sane, sweet, competent humanitarians with only the gentlest and most benevolent intentions.

        We intentionally write procedures that don’t work. Duh. Anyone who really needs to know it professionally (like for mining or road construction) isn’t learning it from the movies.

  24. felixnoir says:

    Doors aren’t that strong. I can’t open a door with my shoulder, but I can by striking near the lock with a palm-hand blow. A friend of mine kicked open a door with a steel reinforcement plate over the lock (the frame split and splintered). Well, not so much a friend, as he then stole everything in my room.

  25. slippills says:

    How about a car cigarette lighter can that possibley ignite gasoline like in supernatural season2 episode5??

  26. ksaucy says:

    Tin man/Aluminum paint myth:

    Try it out on someone with a metal allergy to see if it’s plausible. It would make a huge difference. I’m allergic to all metals except titanium, white gold and sterling silver. I bet if I was covered in it, I would have a huge reaction!

  27. Steve Hopper says:

    can roll-your-own cigarette paper hurt gas motors? I’ve heard they do.

  28. dick hinz says:

    can smoke go thru a locked heavy duty storm door? I stayed at a resort and only smoked on the balcony, with the door closed and it had a good seal. I was accused of smoking in my room. I was told the smoke came thru the glass.

    • SWard says:

      The smell probably came off your clothing and other belonings, and followed you into the room.

  29. rod knutson says:

    I knew a kid in high school who would love to shock newbies by tossing his lit cigarette butts into the pans of gas we used to clean our engines. Hollywood props need to use a spark devise to ignite their “cigarette ignition” scenes.Why they (hollywood) perpetuate this myth is for drama and relies on an ignorant public perception to carry it off.

  30. oskar says:

    I was wondering about the whole being thrown out of a tall building or high rise window, being very thick glass how hard would you have to throw someone out of one.

  31. Ian says:

    I heard a story from my father once about an incident with my Great Grandfather that concerned Gasoline and a lit cigarette. While working in a pit, he dropped a cherry or the cigarette in the pit he was working in with a pool of gas. He got out unscathed, but the fact that it happened can be quite scary. Of course at the time, Gasoline had Lead in it. I’m not entirely positive if the contents are also a factor to the plausibility of setting a pool of gas off with a lit cigarette. Especially since today Ethanol is included in gasoline versus Lead or straight. That could also key in as a factor to sensitivity of the fuel when exposed to certain heat conditions. Plus, in factor, their is the possibility that the cigarette being dropped loses its heat combustion since air is pushing against it to cool it before it touches the ground. That part I’m unsure of even though I am a smoker.

  32. Jerris says:

    No, a cigarette won’t light gas. I was smoking yesterday while pumping gas. Just slipped my mind, because I know nothing happens. I also helped my buddy who ran out of gas. My smoking hand was covered in gas (we had to use a water bottle as a nozzle). Nada. Can’t happen. Won’t happen.

  33. Denise Shelton says:

    The Tin Man thing is really weak. I don’t know any film buff who doesn’t know it was Buddy Ebsen who had the allergic reaction and had to be replaced by Jack Haley. They were reaching there. This was never a widely held myth.

  34. james says:

    Sorry, but I have to correct one thing on this site to help with your validity. Glass can cause incisions not lacerations. Lacerations are roughly torn tissue and are generally caused by blunt trauma; whereas incised wounds are caused by sharp/pointy things.

  35. Gary Coffelt says:

    I’ve seen in the movie “Legion” Michael shoots straight into pouring gasoline from a gas pump and it lights the gasoline making a makeshift flamethrower. Is this possible? There was no ricochet for a spark. I’m not sure what gun he was using. It looked like some kind of handgun. Thank you. I love yall’s show.

  36. Rick marsden says:

    I have read other reports which suggest the middle of the lit portion reaches temperatures of around 1,200 degrees F. Although of course the petrol still didn’t ignite due to the small amount of heat

  37. Rick marsden says:

    Lit portion of the cigarette of course, sorry

  38. Charles Darwin says:

    Well, google this: A man has died after he was burned in a gas station fire in Prince George’s County on Sunday. This happened Memorial Day Weekend 2015.

  39. Dave Wright says:

    Working as a trainee tyre fitter after leaving school I was unfortunate enough to be set alight accidentally after one colleague sprayed petrol on to my overalls and another worker put his cigarette towards my leg. I went up like a bonfire. This was 1992 so perhaps something in the leaded/unleaded thing. Perhaps drawing on a cigarette increases the heat? Don’t know the science but I still have the scars.

  40. ictinike says:

    @ Charles Darwin:

    per the article
    “A Prince George’s County fire official says the man lit a cigarette while pumping gas, igniting gasoline fumes and himself.”

    THE MAN LIT A CIGARETTE thus using a lighter and open flame.

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