Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

November 2002

A Great Idea?

Thunder sticks. Don't you wish you had invented them?

In Novembers past I used to hear from a lot of inventors. Perhaps creative people are excessively exuberant procrastinators who feel that thinking up the gizmo is the hard part. Once conceived, they may think, the less imaginative (like me) can easily tool up and bring their ideas to market by Christmas.

Of course, it doesn't really work like that.

Anyway, the rally monkeys and thunder sticks of the Anaheim Angels reminded me of some of the inventions that used to show up in November.

Here are a few of the great ideas I passed on many Novembers ago. I functioned as the equivalent of a movie producer in this process, fielding pitches from crazy inventors rather than crazy writers did you see Tim Robbins in The Player?

A pretty good one was a bar that a beginning skier could hold onto while making a run. The bar was attached at each end with articulating hinges to a pair of handles. An expert skiing behind the beginner could control the run like a gardener controls a wheelbarrow. I tested a prototype playing the part of the expert using one my kids as the beginner. As a native of Oklahoma who never saw ice out of a glass until my teen years, I wasn't a Billy Kidd, but I easily guided my little ankle biter down the trail off Bolton's old middle chair until we reached the steepish (to me) runout to the bottom. At that point, my little beginner pushed up the bar and skied out from under it and away from me. I didn't catch up with him until the end of the day.

For night skiing, someone came up with a pair of Lucite poles with light bulbs and batteries in the handles (grips). You should have seen the arms on that guy, whoa! It worked pretty well if you kept your speed down to about a crawl.

A really nice guy used to visit me regularly in the early days of Business Digest. He always had a great idea for me. Alas, I never figured out a way to bring any of his ideas to market. A couple of the better ones were "Sno-Art" and "Air-Jet." The first utilized food coloring to draw stuff on snow ... how else do you draw blue and red lines on backyard hockey rinks?

The second used an air dam in the back window of a family sedan that used outside air and the speed of a car to power toys. A Gameboy it wasn't.

Then there was an Iowa guy tired of poling through the cornfields. He mounted chain saws on the tails of some old 205 Harts. The saws were modified with a bunch of plastic paddles. The controls were wired to the grips in the poles. "I'll get back to you," I remember saying. It's a good idea to be polite to inventors with chain saws.

Some of the wierd ideas were moneymakers. There was a patented pants hanger. It depended on cuffs and gravity to recrease men's suit pants while they hung. The best part of the product was its position on Holiday Inn's international fit-up list. Every time a new hotel of the chain went up in Saudi Arabia, for instance, we'd get an order for one hanger per room. Purchase order, irrevocable letter of credit, who could ask for anything more? Who would have thought Saudis had cuffed pants?