Sunday, May 21, 2006

They blow up bathtubs so you don't have to

Imagine that you're flipping through the channels, late at night or maybe in that stretch of weekend afternoon when nothing's ever on. Maybe it's too early for the good cartoons and too late for "What Not to Wear" reruns, but dammit, you don't want to grade. So even though you usually stop pushing the "channel up" button once you hit Comedy Central, you decide to keep surfing, up into the 70s and (gasp!) the 80s. And there, on channel 81, a bathtub is blowing up. In fact, a bunch of dental hygienist's nightmares in lab coats are throwing tiny vials of alkaline metals into various tubs, and watching the resulting depth charge.

Such was my introduction to "Brainiac," quite possibly the best thing to come out of England since Douglas Adams. It occurred to me today that there might still be people out there who haven't seen this demented science program; while it might not be up in the nosebleed channels where you live, it does reside (in the US) on the gamer channel G4, which is more regularly host to video game cheat code shows and "Star Trek: TNG." If you only watch a handful of channels, like I do, it's entirely possible that it flew right under your radar, and that's a crime.

"Science Abuse" is the "Brainiac" tagline, and it's certainly their philosophy. This motto makes no pretenses of rigorous experimental protocol, and indeed the tests are often hideously flawed -- today, for instance, they tested male versus female color perception by having yellow-suited people throw tennis balls from in front of a yellow wall, and seeing which sex dodged the projectiles better. It doesn't take an external review committee to see that this is a test of third-grade playground acumen, not color perception. But "Brainiac" is for fun, not for peer review -- and it is fun. Their primary modus operandi is blowing things up (often trailers), and sometimes having hot girls rate the explosions. If you like guessing whether pouring potassium chlorate on candy will result in a fizz or a bang, the show delivers; if you've always wondered whether napalm will destroy a black box, they'll let you know. But there are also useful non-explosive segments, such as "Tall v. Small" (is it better to be a giant or a midget when, say, walking down Oxford Street?), "101 Uses for a Wee" (self-explanatory), and "Which Fruit Floats?". Plus you can enjoy watching hapless young Brits trying to ascertain which amusement park ride causes the most stress (the roller coaster), whether staring at breasts for half an hour is equivalent to a workout (yes), which sock material is the slipperiest (wool), and what you should use if you have to make a DIY bungee cord (underwear elastic). Some of their methodology wouldn't pass science fair muster, but it sure is fun to watch.

If by some chance you've missed "Brainiac," don't miss it anymore. This is what happens when you let nerds run free, and it's wonderful.


Anna said...

101 Uses for a Wee is self-explanatory?

5/27/2006 2:12 AM  
jess said...

I mean, sure. It's 101 uses for a wee! Such as, you can drink urine if you have to, or... okay, I can't think of any others, but there have definitely been some interesting ones.

5/29/2006 8:57 PM  

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