San Diego’s Balboa Park is home to not only its zoo but many of its museum. For families with kids, the Fleet Science Center is a regular go to. Science Centers in general are an activity that are great for both locals and tourists alike. Like most of these centers, Fleet encourages visitors to come back with its temporary exhibitions. This is our review of Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition that is running through September 3, 2018 before moving to the next city. For a full guide to the Fleet Science Center go here.
Mythbusters: The Explosion Exhibition is a traveling exhibition, based on the TV show that has been around for many years. The exhibit is located in the upstairs section that previously housed the Lego exhibit and other temporary exhibits over the years. Admission to the exhibit is $5 above the regular admission price to the science center which is $20 adults, $17 children age 3 to 12. So on its face value, this is not really a cheap. However, savvy visitors can save significantly.
For families with children, the best option is probably an annual membership. This works well not for just locals, but also for many tourists, because of the member exchange program. The Fleet Center is San Diego’s entry into the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC). A family membership for 2 adults and up to 6 children under 18 is $109. The beauty of this membership is it also gets you into ATSC member museums all over the country and even the world. The full list is here but you can bet there is a museum near you that you can join. In addition, membership gets you 8 vouchers for the IMAX films and discounts to the special exhibits. For example, the Mythbusters exhibit is only $3 for members.
As our children have started to enter their tween and teenage years we have upgraded to the Balboa Explorer Park Pass. At $229 a year for 2 adults and 4 children this is twice as much as the Fleet annual pass. However, it gets you into 16 Balboa Park museums. Visitors to San Diego can look into getting a 7-day Balboa Park Explorer Park Pass for $57 adults, $30 children age 3 to 12. This pass allows for unlimited admission to all museums for 7-days. This is a much better deal than a one-day pass which is $46 adults/$27 children and only allows access to 5 museums.
Another option is to get a Go San Diego Card. This allows visitors access to up to 40 attractions for either 1,2,3,5 or 7 days. Note Costco often offers a 4-day pass that costs about the same as the 3-day pass. This is not a cheap option and we would only recommend it for 3 days or more where it is $209 adults/$189 children age 3 to 12. A 7-day pass is a very good value at $299/$269. The 3-day or more passes include admission to the very big attractions like SeaWorld and Legoland. If you do get a Go San Diego Card it is very possible to do the San Diego Zoo, a 5-minute walk from Reuben H Fleet, and other Balboa Park museums in a single day. This, of course, would be a very full-day.
Note, if you are only staying for a day or two, Go City Card gives you the option to buy 2 or more attractions and gives you a discount of 20%.
We strongly suggest one of the above options. Note, with most of the options you still need to pay extra for the special exhibits ($5 in the case of Mythbusters).
The Mythbusters TV Show
Mythbusters is a family favorite television show for us. This show is both entertaining and educational. The show has been around since 2003, and going to the exhibit made us realize we are not even close to seeing all the episodes (close to 300 as of this writing). The show was originally on Discovery Channel but moved to the Science Channel in 2017.
The purpose of the show is to test popular urban myths and legends and see if they could be possible. If a myth is possible it is deemed plausible. Myths that are not deemed possible are considered busted. The best possible result is that a myth is officially confirmed as real.
To confirm or bust myths requires a lot of testing using scientific methods. This may sound boring, but the beauty of the show is it is very action oriented. There are often lots of explosions and crazy contraptions involved. It is the type of show that gets people excited about science.
One example of an experiment is an episode where they tested if it was possible to use dynamite to make waves large enough to surf. The Mythbusters placed various amounts of dynamite in a flooded quarry and used a dummy they named Robo-Grant. After various levels of dynamite, up to 200 pounds, they determined the myth was busted. Robo-Grant and other show props are on display at the Mythbusters Exhibit.
The Mythbusters Exhibit
Fans of the TV show will definitely love this exhibit. However, even non-fans will find a great deal to enjoy here. We went with two 11-year old boys and our skeptical 13 year-old daughter, who we had to drag in. Even she really liked it, which is probably the best recommendation I can provide. I will say this exhibit is targeted more towards older children. Our 4-year old nephew played in Kid City while we did the exhibit.
The one thing that will appeal to the kindergarten and younger set is the super hero costume set at the start of the exhibit. You pick out a superhero costume and enter a phone booth where a timer starts. The goal is to see how fast you can change into the outfit. Our group bypassed this as being “too much for little kids.”
The first part of the exhibit consists of artifacts from the show. This is the portion that will appeal more to show fans. Mythbusters involves exploding a lot of items and many of these items were on display. There are also the blueprints that are an important part of the show (the beauty of the show concept is it shows the scientific and engineering design process).
While the entire exhibit is filled with items from the show, the main part is about hands-on activities. Everyone had their own favorite, but I will go in order of the general consensus:
- Tablecloth Chaos: This exhibit is designed to test the myth that if you pull a tablecloth away, the dishes will stay in place. Guess what? It works. There are two tables and you place a real tablecloth and plastic dishes and pull. The secret is to pull down and out really fast. This is something I have always wanted to try and I finally got the opportunity!
- Airplane on a Conveyer Belt: The goal of this activity was to test whether a plane can take off on a conveyer belt that is moving in the opposite direction. This involved turning dials to control the speed a model car, a conveyer belt and a model plane. Everyone likes model cars and planes so this was a big hit.
- Running in the Rain: This activity involved getting wet! The experiment is whether you get wetter walking in rain or running in rain. The tunnel had two sides, one for walking and one for running. After you go through there were UV lights so you could see how wet you got. For most of these, I am not going to spoil it by saying whether the myth was confirmed or busted. But in this case I can say I am honestly not sure of the answer.
- Dodge a Bullet: How fast do you have to be to dodge a bullet? You stand in front of a sensor and wait for a light to flash. When you see the light you are supposed to jump out of the way as fast as possible. The sensor measures how fast you move. We tried this one again and again and found the best we could do was about half a second.
- Big Bad Wolf: I don’t think this one was a myth per se, but instead a demo about sound architect building practices. Using blocks you build a model house or other structure, place it in a wind tunnel, turn on the wind and see if it remains standing. Once again, this encouraged multiple experimentation.
- Cliff Hanger: Ever see those movies where the hero is hanging on for dear life from the edge of the building? This activity had a wide and narrow ledge you could try hanging from. We lasted for under 10 seconds (on the easier one) and personally I almost tore my arm out of its shoulder socket again. Not an old man activity!
- Blind Driving: This was an arcade video game like machine that tested whether you can drive using senses other than sight. Not really a myth, but something that engineers are working on to get blind drivers behind the wheel.
- Exploding Farts: Are farts explosive. I think this was mainly done as a joke. It consisted of a chair that you were supposed to sit in and let loose. Sort of gross.
- Killer Card Toss: Not sure this is a myth, but basically this is a lesson into how to throw a card so it will stick into a dart board. This involved practice to get the right wrist flicking motion down.
- Phone Book Swing: This shows how two phonebooks can hold thousands of pounds. You sit in a swing that is held up by nothing but phonebooks. Basically the friction created by many pages of paper together makes it possible. The example that drove this point home for me was imagine a slippery banana peel on a slick floor versus rusty barbells on some rough sand paper. Which is easier to move? The phonebooks are closer to the rusty barbells.
- Butter Side Up: This tests the myth that a piece of toast will tend to fall with butter side down. Well that is the way I have heard it, but here you try and get the toast to fall butter side up. This involved testing various contraptions to drop toast from various heights. The kids liked this more than me, but I don’t think they got the point. This was probably my least favorite activity because: 1) I think the myth is ridiculous and 2) it was fake toast with one side labeled butter. However, I understand that this demonstrates the need to do multiple types of testing to prove, or disprove, a specific hypothesis.
Like most of the special exhibits at Reuben H Fleet Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition was very well done and worth the $5 extra. Overall, the exhibit can be done in about an hour or two. There is also a live show, but we entered as it was ending. At the end, you are given the opportunity to write your own myth that you would like the Mythbusters to test. We will be watching to see if we make the show!