SAN DIEGO: Ted VanCleave should have been in tears. His brilliant invention - inflatable greeting cards - had just been shot down in flames by the US Patent Office. Instead he came out laughing so much he turned round and went straight back in. “This was in 1995. Researching my idea, I was fascinated by other patents I found. Some brilliant! Like, there was this bed you inflate with helium. As soon as you get off, it floats to the ceiling and turns your apartment bedroom into a day room. I realized I wasn’t the only whacko out there.”

The inventor-artist started researching patent office records for other ideas that have since sunk into oblivion. Soon he had enough to fill a book, “Totally Absurd Inventions: America’s Goofiest Patents’ VanCleave’s favourites include the Toilet Landing Lights. Instead of groping (and, for men, aiming) in the dark, or blinding yourself with the bathroom light, waterproof, indirect lighting shaped to fit under the toilet rim “guides you in, and adds a beautiful mystical glow to the throne.” VanCleave says, One man even invented the bald spot comb-over technique. ”The guy actually patented this! It’s a technique of growing your hair long on three sides, then combing each side up and over your bald spot with hair spray at each stage.”

Modesty was the mother of invention for Hospital Happiness: This was designed for every person who feels exposed in the hospital when the nurse makes them strip and put on one of those open-at-the-back hospital gowns. The design is for a rear-hung modesty flap that hangs from your waist. “It’s a dicky,” says VanCleave. “At least it keeps you warm, and it helps you feel a little more secure.”

Of course, getting a patent is not only expensive (in California, legal and other fees of around $2,500), but it usually ends there. “Marketing the product is the hard part,” VanCleave says. ”Of all the patents I included in my book, only three ever made it to market.” One was the “Bumper Dumper,” a toilet seat you attach to your car’s rear bumper when you are out in the boonies and do not fancy being tickled by the grass.

Another was “Gourd Head.” Inventor Richard Tweddell III apparently wanted a way to make his kids like vegetables such as zucchini, squash, pumpkin, and eggplant. So he created clear plastic moulds in the shape of faces, hearts and diamonds to clamp around the growing plant. Result: Pumpkins and squashes, amazingly, grow into the shape of the face. Just unhinge the plastic and eat. But most inventions have not made it past the patent office. VanCleave mourns the loss to the civilized world of such should-have-been contenders as:

The Dog Watch keeps dog time seven times faster than human time, so you can truly appreciate how long you keep Woofer waiting for walkies; The Flying Fish is a huge but deflated balloon floats above your baited hook: you feel a bite, you press the button on your fishing rod, and the balloon instantly inflates and shoots skyward, hooking your fish and hauling it aloft, and you reel it in out of the air; The Dieter’s Alarm Fork - you take a bite, a light on the fork turns embarrassingly red; you must wait for it to turn green before you can stab another forkful.

“This one’s a sure-fire,” he says, “it’s a canvas Barbecue Bag. So you can take your grotty old barbecue grill to a picnic without getting your hands all greasy.” In tests, subjects tried to put the still-sizzling barbecue back in the bag after they had eaten their sausages and wanted to go home. Barbecue Bag burst into flames. “Canvas might not be the way to go,” he concedes. —Dawn/The Observer News Service.

Opinion

Editorial

X post facto
Updated 19 Apr, 2024

X post facto

Our decision-makers should realise the harm they are causing.
Insufficient inquiry
19 Apr, 2024

Insufficient inquiry

UNLESS the state is honest about the mistakes its functionaries have made, we will be doomed to repeat our follies....
Melting glaciers
19 Apr, 2024

Melting glaciers

AFTER several rain-related deaths in KP in recent days, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority has sprung into...
IMF’s projections
Updated 18 Apr, 2024

IMF’s projections

The problems are well-known and the country is aware of what is needed to stabilise the economy; the challenge is follow-through and implementation.
Hepatitis crisis
18 Apr, 2024

Hepatitis crisis

THE sheer scale of the crisis is staggering. A new WHO report flags Pakistan as the country with the highest number...
Never-ending suffering
18 Apr, 2024

Never-ending suffering

OVER the weekend, the world witnessed an intense spectacle when Iran launched its drone-and-missile barrage against...