Friday, October 1, 2010

The Klutz Book of Inventions

By John Cassidy and Brendan Boyle
Klutz, 2010
$19.99, ages 4-8, 200 pages

No one celebrates the goof in us like Klutz, and in this hilarious salute to innovation, Klutz authors once again dare us to appear ridiculous.

This time, they ask us to invent something at home that's so outrageous that it could very well flop because that's how really great stuff happens.

Like Reusable Toilet Paper on page 140 or Outboard-Powered Floaties five pages later.

Well, OK, those probably need a little more work.

In this fast-paced followup to the best-selling encyclopedias of immaturity, Klutz co-founder Cassidy and IDEO Toy Lab's Boyle come up with 162 absurdly funny inventions that could develop into really good ones! (Really!)

Then at the end of the book they challenge us to send them one nutty idea of our own.

First things first, we must think like a Klutz inventor and to do that, we'll need a pep talk from the authors on the importance of taking crazy chances and being called a nitwit behind people's backs.

"…We're huge supporters of big flops and grand failures. Not so much because we enjoy a creative face-plant, but out of the belief that it's an absolutely necessary step," they write in an intro. "Potholes, dog doo and unguarded edges are always on any path worth taking and if you're not stepping into, onto, or over any of them -- the sad truth is, you're not going anywhere."

Next, let's take a look at one of their contraptions and ask ourselves a question.

Say we've got more trash than we know what to do with and we don't want to pay to get rid of it. What could we do?

If we're clever kooks like these guys, we invent Disappearing Trash Bags. Here's how they work: Each plastic bag is specially printed with the words, "Property of U.S. Mint," and can be set out at night, though any day of the week works.

Once on the porch, the trash is guaranteed to disappear and just think of the great ad slogan, "Make every day trash day!"

When coming up with a ridiculous way to solve a problem, it's important not to get hung up on the indignity of the invention, according to the authors.

Take the "concept commode," for instance. In this nifty contraption, four seats are hinged onto a toilet bowl, with each seat labeled with the user's name like a notebook organizer.

This way everyone in the family has his own private seat and no one else touches it with his toosh. Good-bye, cooties!  (Editors caution if your family is larger than four, you might want to equip your bathroom with a step ladder.)

Given that many inventions in this book look like found object constructions, style wouldn't seem to be of utmost importance to a Klutz inventor. Or is it?

Consider the Bug Zapper Earrings, now available in an attractive turquoise mesh.

In this clever high-voltage accessory, tiny screened cages dangle from either ear to catch pests on those lovely summer nights when we want to go sleeveless.

Each battery-powered earring is conveniently equipped with a bottom tray, so we can clear out the singed remains of mosquitoes.

A common theme in each of these inventions? Practicality. Well, sort of.

Consider the ax with a hidden compartment in the handle. It holds Band-Aids in case of an "ax-cident." Or the pants with big Velcro strips where pockets used to be. Attach matching bits of Velcro to an I-pod or breath mints, and stick away!

As a parent, one of my favorite gadgets is the Sibling Blinder, invented for family car trips that always seem longer than they are.

Large sheets of (what appear to be) foam board are cut to fit over the shoulders of siblings sitting on either side of the backseat. Each sheet is then held in place with a jogging band that threads through the board then around the child's forehead.

Pure genius! Neither child can see the other, even if they lean forward, as the blinder beautifully tips with them.

Other gizmos, such as the Pizza Spinner, are handy in preventing squabbles among adults.

Let's say you're in your office's kitchen, splitting a pizza with your co-workers when suddenly there's only one piece left. Who gets it? Well, stick a game spinner in the center of the box and give it a twirl to see who gets the last bite.

Every reader is certain to have a favorite invention depending on their own strange hangups.

As a penny-pincher, I liked the Helium Bubble Wrap invention, which protects your stuff, and cuts shipping and postage costs by making your packages lighter than airmail. (The only drawback, you have to tie a tether to mail or it flies away.)

While many of the ideas in this book are nutty (like the Catch-and-Release Fly Swatter), a few strangely enough sound kind of nifty as well, like "Ocean Ears," head phones that have Conk shells where ear cushions normally go.

Or what about the lawn-mowing tricycle? Push-style lawnmower blades are screwed between the rear two wheels of your toddler's tricycle to teach them about the importance of a tidy lawn.

"Your kid will love the extra challenge and hey! He's out there pedaling around anyway," explain those crazy authors.

Final thoughts: If you think you're clever but no one else seems to think so, if you're a doofus and want affirmation that it's OK to be that way, or if you just have a crazy sense of humor, then this is the book for you.

But just a word to kids.

If Mom and Dad want a peek (and trust me, they will -- especially if you tell Dad about the "Never-Miss Putter"), you might want to edit out a couple of pages first. Specifically, the two pages that tell about the perfect bedroom shade.

(When pulled down from your doorway, this ingenious shade reveals a picture of your room all cleaned up -- when it's really far from tidy.)

And by the way, kids, every book is spiral bound, so any page can be ripped out without a trace. Just remember though, pick out the dangly paper bits around the rings before you share!


  1. OK, so I follow the blog and now am commenting. Of course, I probably would have commented on this one anyway. It sounds like an awesome book!

  2. This sounds like a really, really fun book to read. Not sure about the reusable toilet paper one, but some of the other inventions sound interesting. Thanks for sharing your review of this book.