How straight can you shoot an arrow?

The flight of an arrow is often used as a metaphor for going straight. Xeni Jardin says that Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame has a new show called Mythbusters, Jr. where he teams up with young people to see how straight an arrow flies. He recruits an expert archer Byron Ferguson who can shoot an apple thrown in the air. Pretty amazing.

Then Ferguson tries to shoot an arrow through 12 rings each 3 inches in diameter lined up in a row and that proves too difficult. But that may not be his fault because the laws of physics will determine the trajectory of the arrow and if the arrangement of rings don’t match up, he can never succeed. I don’t know to what extent that was taken into account in setting up the rings. But that he managed to get through several rings is pretty impressive.


  1. larpar says

    I think the premise is off the mark. Straight as an arrow refers to the arrow itself and not the flight pattern.
    It has long been known that flight pattern curves and the arrow wobbles during flight. Both of these were pointed out during the show. Premise BUSTED. : )

  2. cartomancer says

    The challenge is, of course, based on the famous Trial of the Bow in Homer’s Odyssey (book 21). It is the sort of superhuman feat of arms that a mythic hero should be able to pull off, and part of the dramatic effect is that such a thing should be impossible for normal men. In fact Odysseus performed this trick twice -- once in order to win the hand of his wife Penelope in the first place, the second time to reveal himself to Penelope’s suitors (who were trying and failing the task, in the attempt to decide which of them would marry her, since Odysseus hadn’t been seen for twenty years). He immediately proceeded to murder the lot of them, with a little help.

    The precise configuration of the axe heads is ambiguous however. The Greek describing them just says “the holes at the end of the handles”, which could mean all sorts of things. Some have suggested the axe heads were taken off their shafts and the holes were the bit the shaft went through. Others have thought the holes were rings for hanging the axes up on hooks. Some have thought the axes in question were epsilon-blade axes, which have a hole through the face anyway. No ancient Greek painting or carving depicting the trial exists, so the chances are they were as unsure what exactly it looked like as we are.

  3. jrkrideau says

    The precise configuration of the axe heads is ambiguous however.
    Well, maybe someone will find a bit of pottery same day. It may help.
    Axe heads can vary immensely without the difference being particularly obvious to the uneducated eye also though battle axe probably follows a basic model and minor variations may not be important.
    My family had something like 10 or so different axes each with a different configuration, each one serving a specialized purpose.

    My bet would be that the holes were for hanging up the axes. Add a bit of rawhide or leather cord and away you go but what do I know?

  4. file thirteen says

    @larpar #1

    I always thought “straight as an arrow” referred to the arrow unerringly seeking out its target, and that’s what the dictionary suggests. Referring to the arrow itself might be more literally accurate, but to me it’s not as evocative.

  5. John Morales says

    He recruits an expert archer Byron Ferguson who can shoot an apple thrown in the air. Pretty amazing.

    Betcha I could, too. Dunno how many tries it might take, but I’d do it eventually, then show that particular throw.

    (Old technique, quite popular on YouTube)

  6. Mano Singham says

    It is interesting that the hole through the apple is very small, suggesting that the arrow’s feathers get squeezed as thy go through it.

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