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If you can imagine it...

When I was about five years old, I learned to swim underwater before I could swim above water. The only problem was I couldn’t swim for long because I couldn’t breathe. I had to keep resurfacing for air, but I couldn’t swim up there with my head out of the water. So I alternated between swimming but not breathing underwater, and flailing helplessly while gulping air at the surface. This was neither an efficient nor an attractive way of swimming.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, so I invented the snorkel. I figured I could swim underwater for hours if I kept a straw in my mouth. The straw would have to be bent upwards, so the other end would be above water.

I never actually tried it; it was purely a theoretical invention, just like all my other inventions.

I also invented stick-on nipples for mannequins. It used to be that mannequins never had erect nipples. Maybe people thought that would be vulgar or something. But then suddenly – I think it was in the 80s, but maybe the 70s – mannequins got sexier, and all the stores rushed to buy the hot new erect-nippled mannequins. It occurred to me it would be a lot cheaper and easier just to transform the old mannequins into new mannequins by inventing stick-on nipples. I never did anything about it, and before you knew it, the transformation period was over, and that window of entrepreneurial opportunity closed.

What else did I invent? The ring watch. Instead of taking up a whole wrist, a watch could be set into a ring. Of course, I invented this concept when I had much younger eyes. Nowadays I’d need to carry around a magnifying glass to read a watch ring. The weirdest thing was that the day after I came up with the idea of the watch ring, I saw someone wearing one. Not only that, but it was the ONLY time – before or since – that I ever saw a ring watch.

As you can see, I wasn’t the first to invent some of my inventions. But I was the first to come up with the idea of Car Shrinker. It’s a magic liquid that is dispensed drop by drop from a bottle. You drive wherever you’re going, apply a few drops, then put your little car in your pocket. No more searching for parking spots, no more parking tickets. When you’re finished whatever you’re doing, you use drops from a second bottle to re-expand your car.

Some people actually go beyond the conceptual stages of invention, and create prototypes. My grandfather, for instance, invented Christmas in a Frame. When he died we found the prototypes and copies of correspondence between him and the Patent Office. (It all came to naught, I’m afraid. But at least he tried.)

And I used to have a friend, many years ago, who invented the Odorless Cat Litter Box. Since I had five cats at the time (Mr. Jones, Catastrophe, Mean Joe, Screamer and Beethoven) I got to test all his prototypes as they evolved. With each new iteration he added hooding or screens or extra levels or baking soda or neutralizers. He spent a lot of money refining his invention, building prototypes, and trying to get it patented, but the Odorless Cat Litter Box was, sadly, not really odorless.

So. What have you invented?

16 comments to If you can imagine it…

  • I don’t think I’ve invented anything, but my husband used to. He thought for years about motorized roller skates, eg — I tried explaining to him that the skates and the body would accelerate and decelerate so differently that there would be spills all the time, but would he listen to me? He also wanted to build a circular or octagonal glass house with all the works in a pillar in the middle. That one struck me as doable.

  • I invented the wireless doorbell. At that time, I was working for a hardware/software company with a manufacturing branch. I tried to talk my boss into developing them, but he did not think they would sell. Six months later, wireless doorbells began appearing in mail order catalogs.

    My octagonal house would have a wood stove and chimney in the center, supplemented with radiant floor heating/cooling supplied by a wind-powered geothermal system.

  • Gillian

    I have a ring watch, rarely used. The problem is with washing my hands.

  • Rachel

    My co-worker and I were working long hours and were a little giddy sometimes. The company was manufacturing golf club heads and we thought that a see-through acrylic model would be cool. We would put gizmos in it that would flash and sparkle maybe even one of those girlys whose blouse disappeared. We would have a metal face-plate so it wouldn’t just be a novelty.
    No money, etc. Never came to anything, though I see bowling balls with this concept.

  • grace

    Steve ‘invented’ an automatic cat feeder which was driven by the weights on our grandmother clock. He carefully calculated how far the weight moved every hour to calibrate the dispensing of the correct amount of cat food. Unfortunately the prototype was constructed of cardboard and we had a couple of smart paper-destroying kitties.

  • skdadl, that’s hilarious. I only spent about 5 minutes of my life on roller blades, and the only thing that could have made it worse would have been a motor!

    Abby, if you’d gotten as far as patenting the wireless doorbell, you’d be just as rich and famous as some guy we’ve never heard of!

    Gillian, omg, you actually have a ring watch? Wow. That’s wild. I never even thought of the hand-washing problems…maybe I’ll invent the waterproof ring watch next.

    Rachel, I think you’re onto something! (What are those girlies whose blouses disappear?)

    Grace, I’m curious to know how the kitty interference turned out – did they bypass the rationing system and get all their food at once? Or did it backfire on them, and deprive them of food altogether?

  • grace

    What self-respecting cat would work up the energy to chew the dispenser apart unless the plan was well thought out? They hit the kibble jack pot.

  • XUP

    I think I talked about this is a blog post once. I invented the Barbie hair-dressing head when I was about 6. And I invented the SIMS computer game long before I even knew about computers. Mine was more of a 3-dimensional thing. I also invented the camera-sunglasses. And on a more practical level, I invented rug shampoo. I could be wrong, but I believe carpets were around long before rug shampoo was invented. So if your carpets got messed up you had to hire a company to come and clean them. Well, to save my parents all that money I mixed up a concoction of cleaning products and grease cutters and used it to spot clean our carpets and rugs whenever they’d get stained. It worked great. Then actual rug shampoo started appearing in shops and I was out of business.

  • You are adorable inventing the snorkel.

    I do have an invention idea too, but now I would like to write about it on my own blog. Would you mind if I steal your idea for a blog post and link back to yours…or do you have a patent on this post?

  • Deb

    I have an idea for a tv remote control…it has a button on the tv that you press every time you lose the remote and the remote beeps till you find it.

  • I invented the EZP, (eee-zee-pee) a collapsible funnel with a neoprene hose leading from it that enables women to urinate in the woods standing up. Alas, someone in Bangkok patented it before me.

  • I’m always thinking up inventions of sorts. Some have actually been patented but most have never made it that far. I have been pretty good about figuring out whether they have any true real-world value/use, and pass on a lot of them as either not unique/worthwhile.

    When I come up with something really good I tell Scootz about it. He say’s the same thing every time – don’t tell me these things, find someone with oodles and oodles of money to buy it and share the money with me. Because inevitably within a year or two we’re going to see the end result of your idea (usually not as well thought out or it’s overpriced and built like crap) and then he’ll say, “Don’t you wish you’d carried out that idea?”.

    In 1998 I came up with “Convivium” – it was a prototype of an online community that was based on squares of land. Someone else commented about the Sims – mine was similar to an early version of Sim City. The closest thing I’ve seen to it yet is Farmville (or Crackville as some like to call it). It was more a cross between that and Second Life A lawyer friend of mine documented our initial discussions with some potential investors. We didn’t carry it out any further because I got busy with projects for the folks I was working for at the time.

    Most of my invention ideas come about for a few reasons.
    1. I consider features/needs a lot when I see various tech gizmos/products on the market. I think a lot of them entirely miss the boat when it comes to making a product that isn’t going to be quickly surpassed up by something else. This to me is very wasteful and pushes us to over consume.

    2. On the other side of the coin, I hate buying “all-in-one” products that do one thing “ok” and are practically useless at all the other things they say they can do So I often come up with simplified versions of current products so that they are designed to be of higher quality/repairable/upgradable, in such a way that the person buys them modularly and ends up with things that last a lifetime. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fly well with most potential investor types. They want to see expiration dates.

    3. I try to find value in doing it the “invented” way vs the conventional way, or in comparison to the way some other device. If the materials cost more than the benefit coming out I skip it.

    Unfortunately because of our consumptive/media-controlled ways seeing an invention/product get to market is beyond ridiculous. Most successful companies coming up with half-baked ideas have more marketing $$ than research, development, testing and QC $$ combined. What they put out is crap and it’s all designed to be consumed, wasted, and re-purchased again.

    From a reusability standpoint – think about the old world of LEGO. No matter what set you bought the pieces and modules could be used with the others. The same for Capsello (sp?) and Mechano.

    Too many companies repeatedly try and reinvent the wheel which in most cases build in planned obsolescence. I own about a dozen power supplies (car and home) for cell phones. It’s only recently that cellphone manufacturers have started to design products based on common standards (e.g. mini-USB connections for power).

    This has inspired me to watch the Dragons Den again.


  • Grace – as I suspected!

    XUP – I remember you telling me about the camera glasses a couple years ago. It was a brilliant idea. Even more brilliant than carpet cleaner. (I meant to tell you – someone finally took your idea to the next level. I saw them in a catalog of unusual gifts. I would have bought them for you, but they were big bucks.)

    Finola – go for it! I look forward to reading about your invention.

    Deb, my phone has that. Press the button, and the handset beeps.

    Shannon, yes, your EZPee idea was brilliant. I actually blogged about those a few years ago, after trying one at Bluesfest. It was called a Pee-Mate. I thought they should have called it the Shenis.

    Techwood, you are probably the most likely person in my life to actually take a good idea to fruition. It’s too bad your area of expertise is tech stuff though, because really, built-in obsolescence has always been the name of that game. Can you direct your inventive brain elsewhere? Toys, for example?

  • I think we ALL should be filthy rich. Such amazing invention talent in this group! I invented exfoliating body scrub…I think I was too lazy as a kid to take the time to use a washcloth AND soap. Much easier to add rough scrubbies into the soap and voila! I think I pictured little rough pieces of wool inside the bottle. (?) I also invented hair straighteners that dried your hair at the same time…and fruit roll ups too.

  • At the age of 8 or so around 1962 (don’t do the math!!), I invented turn signals for motorcycles after learning the manual signals. He had a bike and we’d drive around the back yard (very deep, 250 feet or so) or neighborhood with me steering. If he’d paid attention to my idea, we could be millionaires! LOL

  • Oh, the perils of submitting without proofreading! My DAD is the “he” who had a motorcycle.