Back in the day, Carole and I loved the Discovery channel show Mythbusters, the show dedicated to testing the veracity and/or plausibility of various urban myths. We found that the show got old as the years went by and the producers spent more and more time milking the humor value and trying to fit as many explosions into the show as possible (to say nothing of the way that they spent the first few minutes after each commercial break recapping what they’d shown immediately prior to the commercial break, which got truly old), but along the way there really were some absolute gems.
My favorite, for what it’s worth, was the time they demonstrated that tightly sealing the pressure release valve on an ordinary hot water heater would eventually result in an explosion that basically put said water heater into orbit:
But that’s not something I care to test or attempt to replicate. Not anytime soon, anyway.
On the other hand, there’s episode 173: “Walk A Straight Line“. The guys tested the idea that a person who couldn’t see or hear (wearing blackout goggles and noise-blocking headphones or earplugs) would be unable to walk a straight line across an open field. I wish video from that episode was available on Youtube or elsewhere, but alas, it doesn’t seem to be.
Long story short: myth confirmed. Neither Adam Savage nor Jamie Hyneman were able to walk a straight line and in fact did really, really badly — looping around and crossing their own paths but thinking they were walking straight.
And that’s something easily tested — or would be, if you had a large enough, level enough field with no barriers, cars, other humans, trees, or anything else in the way. I finally stumbled across the perfect field while on a evening walk through Burlington, Vermont’s “Intervale” the other evening: a very large open area labeled “McKenzie Park” on Google Maps.
Wide open, with eight-inch-tall grass as far as the eye could see:
I said to myself, “This would be an excellent place to walk around blindfolded.”
I am probably the first person in Burlington history to make that assertion.
Today was cool and overcast, but not too cool: a nice day for a walk. We’re working on getting in shape for the Twin Cities Susan G. Komen 3-Day in August and since we’ve both been in major couch potato mode for the last few months, any exercise we can get is none too much. So we made a hike out of the project, starting at the CSWD transfer station on Patchen Road in South Burlington and winding up at the Miller Community Center on Gosse Court in the New North End of Burlington.
Our route took us down Intervale Road and on to McKenzie Park, where we took time out from our exercise for my little blindfolded-walking experiment.
I put in earplugs, put on a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones, put an airplane sleep mask on and pulled an orange Buff headwrap down over that, and found that despite all this I could still hear ambient sounds well enough that it wouldn’t have been a fair test. So I had Carole pull up “Sounds of the Ocean” on my phone and blasted that while I walked. Problem solved. I couldn’t see a damn thing and all I could hear was the surf.
And so I started walking, trusting Carole to keep an eye on where I was going and to warn me if an unanticipated hole or other obstacle lay in my path. I carried my phone in front of me as I walked, the better to record my track on a GPS app.
I walked slowly and methodically and deliberately, my feet swishing through the tall grass and finding the footing secure, confident that I was tracing a true, straight course and that in due time Carole would stop me and say “Wow!” or “You did it!” or “Amazing!”
As it turned out, I’d started off well enough — well enough that Carole had irritably said to herself “Oh, jeez, another area in which he’s superhuman” (her words, not mine), but sure enough, I’d promptly doubled back on my path without realizing it, headed back the way I’d come, then traced a large loop. What caused Carole to stop me in the end was not that I was literally crossing my path, but that I was heading straight for a good-sized puddle that I’d somehow avoided the first time around.
And yet, if you watch the short video clip Carole took, I look so purposeful, don’t I?
I guess the Mythbusters were right. It is pretty much impossible to walk a straight line when you can’t see or hear where you’re going. Even when you’re more or less certain that you’re doing exactly that.