Thursday, June 3, 2010


In one of their pirate specials, the Mythbusters investigated the question - do splinters cause more deaths than cannon balls? They pronounced this a myth. Since this conflicts with period accounts, they must have gotten something wrong, but what?

I found the answer in a display on the HMS Victory - Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar. They combined period accounts and modern experiments and came up with a different answer.

It turns out that splinters don't just happen. There is an art form to making them and the Mythbusters did exactly the wrong thing. They used as much force as they could to penetrate their mock-up hull but, the more force you put into your cannonball, the fewer splinters you get. What you want is to just barely pierce the hull. That makes the biggest splinters.

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