Episode 151: Tablecloth Chaos

Air Date: October 27, 2010

A motorcycle can yank the cloth off a fully set banquet table without disturbing the place settings.


For preliminary testing, Adam set up a small table and cloth, with a full wine bottle, a glass, and a vase of flowers. After trying several combinations of cloth material and weight of items on the table, he was able to pull the cloth out and leave the setting intact. Lightweight satin cloths gave the best result, and the trailing edge of the cloth had to be flush with the table to reduce friction against the edge.

Large-scale tests were first set up in a hangar at the Naval Air Station in Alameda. A 24 ft (7.3 m) long table was set up with two dozen place settings. In the first test, Jamie hooked his sport cycle directly to the cloth; accelerating from a standing start, he pulled nearly everything off the table. Further trials — first in the hangar, with 200 ft (61 m) of slack and the cycle at 60 mph (97 km/h); then on the airfield, with 600 ft (183 m) of slack and the cycle at 100 mph (161 km/h) — left more items standing, but still overturned several of the settings. Finally, to replicate the results of the video, Adam applied dry lubricant to the tablecloth and put a sheet of plastic between it and the table. Although Jamie successfully yanked out the cloth from a standing start, he and Adam declared the myth busted due to the need to fake the setup.

Humans only use 10% of their available brain capacity.


After Grant consulted with a neurosurgeon about measuring activity in the various parts of the brain, Kari set up a series of four tests targeting memory, calculation ability, decision making, and visual information processing. Grant took the tests as an electroencephalogram recorded his brain activity; the results indicated a normal level, but could not provide an exact percentage since it only monitored activity on the surface of his brain.

For a more representative image, the Build Team visited UCSF to do a magnetoencephalogram study. Tory took the tests this time, resulting in an overall activity of 35%. In a second test, this one involving a functional MRI scan, Tory registered 15% while at rest, but 30% as he told a story with the intent of activating as many areas of his brain as possible. Based on these totals, the team declared the myth busted.


  1. A. Crowley says:

    I personally think the last little bit of “this is how they did it” in table cloth chaos is unnecessary. While it is the Mythbusters’ way to over-do things to the point of the ridiculous, it would have been much easier (and this is probably how the guys in the video did it)to A)Set the table with everything on it. Take a picture of this. then B)film the motorcycle yanking the tablecloth of of an unset table. C) Film the origonal table with the table set without the tablecloth. D) When putting the video together, simply photoshop back in the table settings over the tablesettings being yanked away. It would have been much simpler to do this rather than lubricate the table and put down clear plastic sheeting. I’m not insulting “if it’s worth doing, its worth overdoing,” i’m just saying it would be easier to do it this way. Please don’t reply to this comment that I am insulting the Mythbusters’ Way, ’cause i’m not, I’m just suggesting a better way to do this.

    • Michael says:

      Your insulting…just kidding! Scared you though ;) I’d say they take about the same time. The lub and plastic way is cheaper though, no need to pay anyone to edit more, and uses about the same amount of time. Well, I’m not sure about the time, I’ve only used photoshop twice, perhaps it’s easier than I believe it to be. If I were doing it I’d opt for the way they did it, one take, no editing, and pretty cool to watch.

    • Marsha Eschak says:

      Although your theory sounds good, the guys didn’t really replicate the exact circumstances. The table may have been the right dimensions but they used mac tac to cover the surface, whereas the original table looked liked polished wood. Would that be enough to make a difference?

    • kv10 says:

      what’s the point in photoshopping stuff? The mythbusters method would work if you were stood in the room.

      Watching Adam mess about on photoshop would hardly be an entertaining end to the show.

    • Melanie says:

      If you look closely at the original video at 0:37 and even more so at 0:47 you can really see the plastic layer that Adam believes was the crux of the trick. So therefore I believe that’s exactly what the BMW commerical did.

      • bob says:

        I have big problem with this “fake” not being entirely fake.
        Calling it busted just seems wrong when they accomplish the feet.
        Why does it matter if there is plastic or glass or anything under the tablecloth?
        You dont want to damage a nice wooden table, personally I had a sheet of plastic between my cloth, and now upgraded to a custom cut thick piece of glass.
        What is the problem with protecting your table?
        Why does that make the myth busted?

    • Mike says:

      Sure, because that’s much easier then setting everything up once (Not to mention you can clearly see the plastic overlay in the video, which reflects light several times).

      It takes about 10 minutes to setup the whole gig (after you get all the materials together).

  2. John says:

    I have a real problem with this “myth” being busted. Did anyone bother to compare the torque/bhp between the Buell and the Bimmer? Nope. Is the rider a professional? Nope. Does the Buell have launch control and other traction control electronics? Nope. Too many variables compromised to rule out the possibility of plausibility. C’mon Mythbusters, try it again and get it right this time. THEN you can get further away from “plausible deniability”.

    • stu says:

      I agree. The motorcycle in the video accelerates much faster than Jamie does. This might have been faked too, I don’t know.
      Personally, I’d like to see the rocket sled pulling the tablecloth. But that’s my answer to everything. Rocket sleds.

  3. Shane says:

    I haven’t seen this episode yet, and yet agree with your findings 100%, from what I have read. I was trained in psychology, and have heard this myth before. I think the problem is with the definition of “brain function”. Obviously, a cortex of the brain works very differently from the more primitive centres, such as the medulla oblongata. I don’t think these are comparable or testable given what we currently know about neuroscience. That’s just my 2 cents. It’s not a criticism of your show, obviously, but more a citicism of the myth itself.
    Keep up the good work, people. I love the show.

  4. Ken says:

    on the Motorcycle Tablecloth pull, yeah its busted, in fact in the viral vid you can see somethign white across the table after the cloth leaves it then when switched to the close up you see the wood top.

    ont eh 10% of the brain? well i always heard it asthe average person using 10% of capacity on average and the testing they did was stimulating the brain more (we’re not all doing that to ourselves constantly). besideds the tests showed like 10% of each area used to combine to the over 30% so it depends on how you cut it.
    another aspect i have heard is that Smarter people actually use less of their brain so theres sometign else to test for, comparing the amount of brain activity between persons with different IQ’s

    • Whacko says:

      While it may be true that 30% of the brain is used for the “mind”. The other 70% is used for things like movement but also bodily functions you can’t directly control. Like your heart beating bowel movement. etc etc.
      If 70% of the brain was useless, evelution would’ve gotten rid of the excess.

  5. Tom K says:

    In the Table Cloth Chaos segment it was pretty obvious that the original video was faked. No way, from a standing stop, could a motorcycle yank out 24 feet of tablecloth without disturbing anything. It would be interesting to analyze the original video and see how long it took the tablecloth to be pulled out from under the last table setting items – two seconds? Then compare that to how much time it took Adam to pull the tablecloth from under the small setting of one wine bottle, a glass and a vase of flowers. A tenth of a second? A quarter?

    I would like to have seen more small-scale tests using the motorcycle. I am skeptical that a motorcycle could even duplicate Adam’s initial efforts of pulling a tablecloth from under a setting – it’s just not smooth enough.

    However, one of the bits of technique that Adam used when pulling the tablecloth is to pull down slightly, rather than trying to pull the cloth perfectly horizontally. By pulling down, the tablecloth glides over the edge of the table smoothly. One of the things they needed to do on the motorcycle pull was to have a guide bar set just below the surface of the table, so that the cloth would be pulled down slightly. It was obvious when viewing the high speed that the end flipped up when the slack went out of the tow line.

    The idea of tying a long line to the tablecloth and getting the motorcycle up to 100mph has merit. 100 mph equals 147 feet per second, and at that speed the tablecloth would clear the entire 24 feet of the table in .16 seconds. If done smoothly with a guide bar, it has a better chance of working.

  6. Tim says:

    I personally think the last little bit of “this is how they did it” in table cloth chaos is unnecessary


    But mythbusters have done stuff like that before, they tested how they would do it. Lego Ball etc etc

    • Himself says:

      Not really unnecessary. That’s how the mythbusters work. They replicate the conditions then they replicate the results. Besides, doing it makes good t.v.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Seriously, pick up any psychology textbook and you’ll find out that humans don’t use only 10% of their brains. What a pointless thing to test, this has practically been known forever.

  8. Cheryl says:

    You are a joke when it comes to the EEG tests. Since when do you use a hood with sponges underneath it? In the 28 years of testing with EEG’s I have never had a hood placed on my head. They glued the electrodes to my head and they never clipped the electrodes on my ears, and did you put something on his chest no. This test is not CORRECT… I should know. Why don’t you do a REAL EEG test that one was a REAL JOKE to the people who have to take those on a regular basis.

    • R star says:

      Lol you are ridiculous. Way to prove you test EEGs for a living and know what you’re talking about.
      I really believe you har har har

  9. Ken says:

    in the Tablecloth myth its very obvious that it was faked. after teh cloth is pulled fromt eh table you can tell the table top is still white but when teh vd cuts to the closeup you see the wood patern

  10. Kim says:

    I just saw this episode and I have a small remark on the brain activity myth.

    It wasn’t busted at all.
    The individual activities for the 3 different brain areas was shown from the fMRI. The 3 areas all had something of 5% activity. Then it proceeds by just adding these percentages? Sorry but this is basic math and simply incorrect.

    The overall activity is still 5%.
    Simple example:

    – 5 red circles in a total population of 100 circles (5%)
    – 5 red squares in a total population of 100 squares (5%)
    – 5 red triangles in a total population of 100 triangles (5%)

    Add all these populations together (like adding the brain areas to get total brain area) and the result is 15 red figures in a total population of 300 WHICH IS STILL 5% and not 15% as said to bust this myth.

    The myth was that only about 10% is used. It is busted because it is found that 15% while inactive and 30% when telling the story is used. But the results are added rather than averaged, so the 10% mark is right on.

    Revisit elementary school please.

    • R star says:

      Wow you’re very smart
      *slow clap*

      This is plain and simple BS. Take a class related to neuroscience and it quickly becomes painfully clear how ridiculous a myth this is.

    • Jordan says:

      That’s not the point. You’re referring to just one of their tests; all of the other tests showed that you use more than 10% of your brain. So, in fact, yes, the myth IS busted. Also, your analysis of that one test is wrong. The 5% figures they show us don’t mean 5% usage of each individual system, they mean 5% of the brain overall, and those three systems are all separate. Therefore, they should be added together to get 15% of brain usage.

  11. Jeg says:

    The amount of brains used is as follows.
    Japanese 72%
    British 74%
    Chinese 71%
    Americans 48%
    French 73%
    This is because most people use pattern recognition and inductive reasoning to make context specific evaluations and can understand the world quite well. Merrrrkins use deductive logic to assess new situations based on simple models they have been taught at home. “Gee it ain’t like this back home”. This is why they screw things up all over the world and have a reputation as being dumb dumbells all over the world. Stay home!!

  12. Jackson unwin says:

    If that were true then we were to use only 10% then we would be dumb I think that is So false because their really smart people in the world. That invent everyday items to make. Life easier

  13. Paul Malley says:

    Re Kim buy that man a beer.

    My point is that the Myth is all about the
    actual quantity of the available brain power that is used to solve a problem.
    To add in therefore the 5%/15% of “at rest”
    activity is not correct, it is not being used to solve the problem, but simply to
    run other parts of the body.
    It would have been interesting to see the brain activity of one of those dudes who can
    multiply six figure numbers together in their heads. Perhaps the percentages would
    have been the same, their brains are simply
    It would also have been interesting so watch the “at rest” brain activity of a Skitsophrenic as the multiple personalities fought over who has control of the eyeballs.

  14. D. Devil's Advocate, Esq. says:

    The whole “10% of their brains” hoohaw was a tossed-off line from Einstein, certainly not a scientific theorem. Y’all are using more than 10% just to read this comment.

  15. Jordan says:

    I think the MythBusters missed a couple of things with the tablecloth pull test. First of all, when they test outdoors, there is a huge amount of wind, which could have been a rather substantial factor in the result. They should have set up a tent or a wall or something like that, something that will block the wind. Second, an issue that’s visible in the high-speed shots is that the tablecloth gets yanked upwards every time it leaves the table, which really throws off all the table settings. If they had something like a bar across the front of the table to arrest the upward pull, they might have gotten a better result.

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