A friend of mine recently sent me one of those internet questionnaires about myself - my favorite foods, what's under my bed, what kind of car I drive, my detailed plan to solve world hunger, why I think Emeril Lagasse is the greatest living American actor, etc. One of the questions, of course, was "If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?" After deciding not to just answer "living," I finally wrote down "Benjamin Franklin." Bear with me on this one - I couldn't think of someone who would more appreciate learning about the way we live in the 21st Century. We're talking about not only one of the framers of the Constitution and sculptors of American Democracy, but also the founder of a number of modern-day institutions - the free library, the zoo, the volunteer fire company, the University of Pennsylvania - and the inventor of many of the everyday implements we take for granted - bifocal glasses, the lightning rod, the odometer, and the Franklin stove. Imagine his amazement at microchips, television, and the Wonderbra™. Now imagine my amazement at the Wonderbra™. Now imagine my disappointment when I found out she was actually built like a 12-year-old boy.
Now imagine me getting back on topic.
My father used to say that the man who could figure out how to fry food in water would make a fortune. Of course this is because when you cook food in water it's called "boiling." However, it turns out that someone has in fact succeeded: Now, for an unlimited time only, available from The Internet Invention Store, I'd like to introduce you to the amazing Turbo Cooker™! Not only does it fry food in a multitude of different liquids, but for those of you with arrested decision-making skills, now "you can cook meat, fry vegetables, and bake a cake, all at once, in the same pan!" Because of all the times I've ever thought, "Wow. My life would be so much better if I didn't have to use two appliances to cook meat and bake cakes." And it makes a handy bong, too.
Other products available from the site include:
• The Bacon Wave™, of which a frequently asked question (apparently) is "Will I be able to tell that the bacon wasn't cooked in a frying pan?" The answer, of course is, "No. And we'd be really bad salesmen if we answered yes to that question. Next!"
• The Talking Pedometer™, which claims to do away with excuses for not walking for fitness, such as "I think walking is giving me blisters" and "I'll wait until I get a talking pedometer from Inventing.com." Which, as we all know, is the number one excuse people give for not exercising. On the other hand, if the Talking Pedometer can guarantee I won't get blisters, sign me up for a dozen.
• The Magic Wallet™. Now, I know what you're thinking: obviously because the wallet is a product of the black arts, it has to be really big. You're wrong as usual, however; if you read the frequently asked questions (because, of course, a magic wallet garners frequent questions), you'll discover that it is "suprisingly [sic] compact. At just 4" x 2.5" x .25" this wallet is very practical and fun." And really, when you're buying a product that combines the occult with a place to store your driver's license, you'd better make sure it's fun.
It's not like the people who write and sell this stuff have any illusions, of course, about what they're doing. "Inventing.com is owned and operated by Impulse Communications, Inc." Because very few people ever plan to buy a Portable Lie Detector™ until they see one for $10 off the retail price of $100. "Wow," they think, "now I will be able to tell for sure if that bastard/bitch is cheating on me with the entire staff of the local library/Taco Bell." And they shell out the $90 (plus shipping and handling) only to discover that there is no Taco Bell in the local library.
The scary thing is that each of these products was actually invented by someone who saw an untapped demand for a product like the Dog Diaper™ and just had the wherewithal to create a design and get it patented. Last year, for example, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued 187,824 patents and registered 102,314 trademarks. Or to look at it a different way, between 1996 and 2002, there have been over 1100 patents containing the word "sausage." A quick search of the Patent Office's database for the word "God" turned up at least one really scary idea: a child's doll with a hologram of Jesus imbedded in its chest. Elaine Hudson Foreman, of Norwood, NC, applied for the patent in 2000 because, apparently, she felt that none of the existing children's Jesus toys "are designed to impart the feeling to a child that Jesus Christ or God is inside of the child. Thus, there exists a need for a doll with an internal image that communicates to the child that God or Jesus Christ is inside of all children." I'm not religion-bashing, by the way, but click on "Images" (requires QuickTime player) and tell me your child wouldn't be scarred for life, good intentions or not. For those of you whose computers can't view it, just imagine the worst possible visualization of a bald ventriloquist's dummy with a Jesus pacemaker.
Don't misunderstand me, though. I really admire any inventor of anything, from a conceptual standpoint, anyway. I've only come up with three ideas in my entire life, none of which is particularly marketable: a) a combination Korean-Italian restaurant called "Puppy Ciao," b) bath products designed to look like fake feces called "sham-poo," and c) a small stand/trash can for resting your foot on while trimming your toenails, designed so that you don't give yourself a foot cramp trying to hold your toes over the garbage or have to clean up the clippings afterwards. Yeah, I know. It would be best if you didn't imagine the things that go through my mind that I don't share with you people.
I think part of the difficulty in designing and inventing a totally new creation must be getting people to manufacture and market an untested product. I'm reminded of The Hudsucker Proxy, in which Tim Robbins' character keeps showing people a picture of a circle - "You know, for kids." His circle winds up being a schematic for a hula-hoop and becoming a national craze. From the inventor of the Pet Rock to the guy who designed the first Cabbage Patch Kid to the originator of those belts that supposedly tighten your abdominal muscles, each of them was probably thrilled, at first, just to sell one. Not, of course, to lessen the thrill, I imagine, of selling millions. That would be cooler.
That said, there are certain ideas that I just don't get. What's up with the FlowBee™? Why would anyone want to cut their hair with a combination vacuum/electric razor? But someone somewhere actually must have thought, "If only there were a device by which I could cut my hair using the same appliance I use to get dirt off the floor." I'm sure I could figure out a way to use a household sponge to brush my teeth, but I'm not gonna.
'Course in some cases, the invention is fine, but the name leaves a lot to be desired. There is, for example, a company that builds a portable generator called the "Putzmeister." No, really. I assume it was written because it "putt-putts." However, unless you're writing a Yiddish porn movie, the term "Putzmeister" should never enter your vocabulary.
A wise man once said, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door." Given, the world was smaller back then, and why there wouldn't already be a path to your door is a question for you to take up with your landlord, but the basic idea still stands. I guess what I'm saying is that if you have an idea for how to make something better, or easier, or just to create something that doesn't already exist, you might as well go for it. If you think you've finally discovered a way to avoid losing socks at the Laundromat, or some sort of non-disgusting spit valve for a trombone, or even something as useless as cold fusion, get it patented. Who knows; maybe one day you'll be a household name, like Irving Telephone, Mike Loveseat, Ron Calculator, or Alistair Internalcombustionengine. What?
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A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
5.6.02 @ 12:26a
Now imagine your disappointment when you found out she was a 12-year-old boy.
5.6.02 @ 12:40a
OK, I'm already tired of the HTML link thing.
5.6.02 @ 1:04a
Blame Jael. If you think Adam's is link-heavy, wait 'til you see mine. Personally, I love it; isn't this what the Internet is supposed to be?
And Adam, I want to open a combination Chinese restaurant/sex theater and call it Peiping Tom's.
5.6.02 @ 7:47a
That's very funny. I wonder how many other combinations like that could work. There's a small chain of Vietnamese restaurants in Boston called Pho Pasteur. I'm thinking that perhaps naming a restaurant after someone who didn't synthesize antibiotics from bread mold might have been a better idea.
5.6.02 @ 10:22a
Okay, so I actually visited the Mall of America this weekend...(which M and I likened to the Vegas strip without the porn handbills) and they have a store there called As Seen on TV! with, you guessed it, all of those products you've seen on TV.
Most of which don't work.
Speaking of combinations, saw a strip club this weekend called Lickety Split.
5.6.02 @ 10:41a
Speaking of interesting new products, check out Colon Blow. That's right, folks, it's not just an SNL joke, anymore.
5.6.02 @ 10:45a
That's so very wrong. But it would be cool if we could get them to finally come out with Happy Fun Ball.
5.6.02 @ 12:12p
don't despair, adam. you may not be able to lunch with one of our nation's forefathers, but you can definitely dine with ron popeil, our very own modern-day ben franklin. and, as an added bonus, you can have your jeans bedazzled at the same time.
5.6.02 @ 12:27p
I just saw the "Lickety Split" comment. There's a fine line between clever and just plain wrong. I'm not sure which side that falls on.
There used to be a Chinese restaurant in Northeast Philadlphia called the "Fuk Wei Inn." I can only assume it was also a brothel.
I also assume that everyone has at least one "million dollar idea" floating around in their heads, whether or not they know it.
5.6.02 @ 2:13p
Sometimes I think of all the crap that gets produced - all the stuff people buy and never use, or that's poorly made/designed, or the stuff that sits in a closet until it gets thrown out. And I wonder what the hell that's doing to our environment.
Then I find out the maker of the Bacon Wave™ is a millionaire and it drives me crazy.
5.6.02 @ 6:39p
What cracks me up are the people who get rich over the stupid little inventions that we use but never think about. Like the man who invented the little plastic windows in envelopes, and whoever did those little thingies on the ends of shoelaces.
5.6.02 @ 6:59p
Yeah, and then once you hear the stories behind the inventions, it makes it all the more insufferable. The guy walking through the woods with stickerburrs on his socks...the musician who cut words out of magazines and laid them on the table to aid with songwriting - who sneezed. You know, stuff we all could do if we'd stop playing on this infernal web site.
5.6.02 @ 7:14p
My brilliant idea that someone else already beat me to was the single-use sunscreen packet.
My other, which I think is beyond the realm of current technology, is electronic soundproofing for the backyard. One day, even those with tiny backyards will be able to live in peace...
5.7.02 @ 7:51a
Is "Intrepid Meida" considered an invention?
Also, I highly recommend people check out the US Patent office website. There are some pretty funny inventions out there. I actually saw that some guy in Kentucky had invented a "Gum Job." Don't ask.
5.7.02 @ 8:45a
Sarah, what is this, Cocktail?
And Adam, what is this so-called "Lickety Split" comment? I was out of the loop yester.
5.7.02 @ 9:34a
And still obviously in too much of a hurry to finish your sentences today.
5.7.02 @ 9:34a
Actually, I'm just trying out a new colloquialism: saying "yester" for short. It'll catch on. Just watch.
5.7.02 @ 9:41a
Heh - that's funny. DSM Register featured local teen slang (which is 2 years behind the rest of the nation)and one young upper said, "I gotta word: Water - it means weak or boring. No one is saying it yet, but they will."
5.7.02 @ 9:52a
Hell, I will. My brother and his friends spent a year once saying "Murderous" when something was really good.
5.7.02 @ 10:16a
I'm still trying to revive "You've got your peanut butter in my chocolate." But sometimes it sounds awfully suggestive.
5.7.02 @ 10:31a
When something is so ridiculous that the word ridiculous just won't do, use the plural form: ridiculi.
5.7.02 @ 10:49a
that is such water, man.
5.7.02 @ 11:04a
You sure it's not "so water"? I remember watching a Wayne's World skit years ago where they tried to get people saying, "Man, that's pail. Like, bucket."
5.7.02 @ 3:06p
Yeah, that's it. "So water, man."
5.8.02 @ 8:18a
I've always wanted to coin a phrase. They should have a patent office where if you can legitimately claim that you were the first person to say, for example, "Dude, like, that's so radical," you can't make money from it, but you'll be added to the list and eventually your name will be in a coffee table book.
5.8.02 @ 8:46a
And next to that patent office should be a town square with a concrete pedestal and a set of manacles to hold people who coin phrases like "Dude, like, that's so radical," so they can be publicly flogged.
5.8.02 @ 10:47a
Yes, but what town would it be in? I hear they allow public floggings in Wheeling, WV.
Keep in mind, it doesn't count if you've written a catch phrase like "Show me the money" or "Is that your final answer?" Only everyday slang like, "I've gotta get up in that, yo." would count.
5.8.02 @ 1:20p
I wouldn't be surprised if they had that in Singapore. Once you outlaw chewing gum, can annoying phrases be far behind?
For the first time yesterday I heard someone else besides me say "bitch ass," but I use it as an adjective ("it's bitch-ass cold out") whereas they were talking noun ("Harper is a bitch ass.")
5.8.02 @ 2:28p
I believe there's a scene in Training Day where Washington calls Hawke a "poop bitch ass" for not smoking weed. We played it a few times and that's pretty much what it sounded like.
5.8.02 @ 3:16p
That's gotta have been "PUNK bitch ass", Adam. Just guessing. Next time you are going to eat breakfast and take a shower, jsut say "skekker and a gow." Or a "gow-bird."
5.9.02 @ 12:03a
I can't even count the number of inventions I have come up with that, when I finally got around to thinking about patenting, someone else did.
Ya know what I need? A syntax-figurer-outer....
5.9.02 @ 2:41p
McSweeney's, amazingly, has a nice piece on Invention.
5.11.02 @ 9:37a
American Democracy? Please.
5.13.02 @ 8:30a
Well, it made sense at the time....
5.17.02 @ 12:27p
By the way, if anyone hasn't discovered McSweeney's yet, you should. It's one of the most consistently funny sites I've every visited. And I'm not even high.
5.17.02 @ 1:14p
They were funny; now they're cloying, pretentious gits.
Their periodical publication, however, is pretty good.
5.21.02 @ 10:47a
McSweeney's will suck out your eyeballs. Seriously, stay away from there.
Also, we coined "Rock." Of that I am sure. I was going to get it on my plate for my new car, but some geologist had it.
5.21.02 @ 11:34a
Oh, I have to disagree. Two lists that I love: Obi-wan, Clue.
5.21.02 @ 11:48a
I like the lawn sign list, and this one particular entry.
Featured Menu Items at the Existentialist's Cafe: Pate made from a duck that hates you.
5.21.02 @ 11:53a
I also especially liked from Lines to be relayed by a Servile Yet Dignified Waiter to an Interesting-looking Woman in a Public Place: "The gentleman would dearly like to buy you a drink; however, he cannot afford it, and in fact he would like you to buy him a drink."
Hmmm...maybe Joe's right. Maybe my eyeballs are being sucked out.
5.21.02 @ 12:16p
I am loving this site right now. LOVING IT!
BABY NAMES FOR AN EXPECTED SISTER SUGGESTED BY NATHANIEL WEBSTER, AGE 6:
* Name suggested earlier for Watson's brother Jimmy, twenty-one-months old.
5.21.02 @ 12:50p
"Hi, I'm Nathaniel and this is my sister, Skeleton." I love it.
My hypothetical children are in serious trouble.
5.21.02 @ 7:28p
Total Annihilation. That is a gem.
5.22.02 @ 12:56p
From a list of things that have never before been uttered, I just remember "Look out, God...behind you!"
8.27.03 @ 1:44p
I'm really not trying to revive this column, but I was sent this link today and it seemed wholly appropriate: http://www.elseware.to/products/rocking_horse.htm.
10.7.03 @ 11:47a
Wow. This seemed appropriate to post here.
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