The MythBusters The MythBusters

MythBusters Episode 242: Volunteer Special

Premier Date: February 6, 2016

Adam and Jamie paid homage to the show’s previous volunteers (numbering over 3,500) while tackling two myths that again required volunteer help.

An axe is a more effective weapon against a horde of zombies than a gun. (A revisit of Zombie Special.)


Adam explained that fans had complained about his method of counting kills in the original test; he had simply touched the blade of his foam axe to the zombies’ heads without striking with the force needed to be lethal. To calibrate his foam axe for this re-test, he attached an accelerometer to a real axe and struck a model head (fabricated from ballistic gelatin with an embedded skull) with increasing force until the skull fractured. This occurred with a swing arc of 120 degrees and a blade speed of 7.8 m/s. The foam axe was fitted with weights to match the mass of the real axe and with the acceleromter and additional electronics to indicate whether each swing was forceful enough to be lethal.

Adam and Jamie set up their battleground as before, with a circle 30 feet (9.1 m) in diameter and with 190 volunteers dressed as zombies coming in from all directions. The defender could not engage the zombies until they had entered the circle. Using the axe, Adam registered 8 kills before being overrun as opposed to 14 in the original test. Jamie scored 7 kills with a semiautomatic paintball pistol, the same result he had previously achieved using a pump-action shotgun. They then investigated a scenario in which all of the zombies were attacking from a single direction – initially through a small gap in a fence, but with a larger gap being breached after a set period of time. Adam killed 67 zombies in this test, while Jamie (using multiple paintball weapons that occasionally jammed or misfired) killed 57 zombies, confirming this myth once again.

In addition, they decided to investigate the effectiveness of a chainsaw against the zombies. Adam created a safe chainsaw for the test with a switch on the blade to measure contact time (with 0.75 seconds regarded as the minimum needed for a kill). With the zombies again coming through the fence, he was able to kill all 190 of them.

In a grocery store, the best way to move customers through a series of checkout counters is to have one long line and route each customer to the next available checkout.


Adam and Jamie set up a mock-store in an empty hangar, with fully stocked shelves and 5 checkout counters manned by experienced cashiers. Upon entering the store, each of 90 volunteers selected a specified number of items and recorded the time when they queued and the time when they reached a checkout counter. For additional realism, a percentage of shoppers were instructed to slow things down by asking for a price check or by paying with a personal check. After checking out, the volunteers would indicate their overall satisfaction with the experience.

In the initial test, the volunteer shoppers were free to choose their own checkout counter and queue behind it. The average wait time using this method was 5:39 and the average satisfaction rating was 3.48 out of 5. In the second test, shoppers were guided through a single serpentine line and then directed to the next available checkout counter. The average wait time using this method was higher at 6:56 but the spread between minimum and maximum times was tighter. The average satisfaction increased to 3.80 with the single-line method due to it being regarded as fairer. Adam and Jamie judged the myth as busted based on average time, but also called the single-line method better based on customer satisfaction.