MacGyver Season 1 Episode 1 Hacks

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Hello and welcome. I should have started this a long time ago, but it’s never too late. In this series, I am going to go through each episode of MacGyver (the reboot) and describe all of the science in the “Mac Hacks”.

Oh, I guess I should mention that I am the Technical Consultant for the MacGyver show — but maybe you already knew that.

I will also give a score for each hack. Here is the grading scale.

  • Real. This is a real hack that would probably work.
  • Very plausible. This is based on real science, but might not work — it might require some luck to get it to work.
  • Plausible. Also based on real science, but it probably wouldn’t work as shown.
  • Iffy. Yeah, this probably wouldn’t work in real life and it might not even be based on real science.

Of course I will start with Season 1 Episode 1: The Rising. Note: I didn’t really work on this episode.

1) Finding Fingerprints.

(Very plausible, forensics, biology)

MacGyver uses tailpipe soot to sprinkle on a glass to find fingerprints. He then uses tape to capture the print. I don’t really have much to say about this hack

2) Electromagnet.

(Iffy, physics, electromagnet, radio waves)

Getting the battery from a stud finder and stripping a wire and coiling around iron to make an electromagnet . He then uses this to interfere with a radio.

Now for an explanation. Ok, electromagnets are real. An electric current does indeed make a magnetic field. You can make a stronger magnetic field by forming a wire into multiple loops. One quick note — you can’t use bare copper wire. The wire has to have insulation around it — like rubber or enamel (a thin coating in magnet wire — used for motors). If you add a ferromagnetic core (like iron) inside the loop, the magnetic domains in the core will line up with the magnetic field due to the loop and create a stronger magnetic field.

What about jamming a radio? Radios send signals (and receive) using electromagnetic waves. These are oscillations in both electric and magnetic fields (way more complicated than just one sentence — but that’s good for now). So, can a magnetic field interfere with EM waves? Not really. What you COULD do is make an oscillating magnetic field. This would in turn create an oscillating electric field and its own EM wave. If the frequency of this EM wave is the same as the radio — boom — you have interference.

There are ways of making an oscillating magnetic field — but I will leave this for now.

3) Tricking a hand scanner.

(iffy, forensics, biology)

Put dust on a hand scanner and then blow off the excess. The remaining dust sticks to residual oils. Mac then covers over with his shirt.

This hack is fine for a show, but if these hand scanners were that easy to fool — wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

4) Paperclip picking handcuffs.

(plausible, physical hack)

I assume you can pick a lock with a paperclip. Nothing more to say about this.

5) Smoke bomb.

(plausible, explosive, chemistry)

Mixing tinfoil, muriatic acid and ammonia to make smoke — yes, this makes lots of smoke. Putting it in a closed bottle would be a bad idea though — it would probably create a small explosion when the pressure inside the bottle got too high.

6) DIY Bola.

(plausible, physical hack)

Mac builds a bola from a soda can filled with asphalt, and cut in half. The two halves are closed up and tied together. Nothing super special about this — but I am a big fan of these types of hacks where he actually builds some physical thingy. It feels like the fundamental essence of MacGyverisms.

7) Disable aircraft landing gear.

(plausible, physical hack)

MacGyver uses his swiss army knife (SAK) to disable the retracting landing gear of a plane. This seems very plausible.

8) Hot wiring a circuit.

(plausible, circuit)

Mac does some type of hot wiring — not sure what’s going on here.

9) Disable a bomb.

(very plausible, circuit)

I mean — MacGyver was a bomb guy in the army. I’m sure he could figure out some way to disable this bomb.

Originally published at on August 1, 2018.

Written by

Physics faculty, science blogger of all things geek. Technical Consultant for CBS MacGyver and MythBusters. Former WIRED blogger.

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