Back in the days before the Earth’s crust had solidified, when Usenet was a thing, grew an art form called the MiSTing. The practice developed in the news groups dedicated to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and was our modest imitation of the show: take some original posting and intersperse it with comments, along the line of the of the riffs that Joel or Mike and the robots (collectively, The Brains) would. The first MiSTing I’m aware of was called “Hopping Mad At MST3K”, a person’s rant about how those rotten kids these days won’t even watch an old movie without talking through it and this was obviously MST3K’s fault.
Rants would be one of the mainstays of MiSTings, back when the newsgroups were active and I was in touch with the MiSTing culture. Fan fictions were another mainstay; I firmly believe that MiSTing would not have had a culture if not for Stephen Ratliff’s notorious “Marissa Picard” Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction. Surprisingly uncommon back in the glory days of Usenet MiSTings were examples of this group: the slightly pompous expository lump. This one is from the magazine Modern Mechanix, originally printed in 1937, and I only know of it because the Modern Mechanix blog summons old articles, some interesting, some funny, some both, to its pages.
The Thanksgiving season has always been a kind of unofficial Mystery Science Theater 3000 holiday: it’s the anniversary of when the show first debuted, and many of their movies were dubbed turkeys, and Turkey Day MST3K marathons were shown first on Comedy Central and then the Sci-Fi Channel, and today get done in organized online gatherings that I won’t participate in because our ISP doesn’t offer enough bandwidth to watch videos online. But the text form is pretty easy to enjoy at your leisure and I hope you do.
(This one is a slightly unusual form of the classic MiSTing; there’s no host sketches involved. The original material was too short to justify sketches. But a full-length MiSTing might be unreadable in WordPress form. We’ll see. Consider this an experiment.
[ Into the Theater. ALL file in. ]
TOM: What to invent for? Why not just the giddy fun of it?
> WHAT TO INVENT
CROW: I dunno, stuff? Don’t pick on me, man.
> The author will be glad to answer questions
TOM: Why is there France?
MIKE: And why is there Spain?
CROW: And why am I here and why is there rain?
> relating to these and to other types of inventions.
> However, no letter will be answered unless a properly
> stamped and self-addressed envelope is enclosed. Do not
> send any models.
MIKE: You have been warned!
> By Raymond Francis Yates
TOM: Esq, J.D., LL.D., M.Sc, M.Eng, ASC, LLC.
> HOW is your ingenuity today?
CROW: And if not, WHY not?
> It is to be hoped
> that it is alert and productive,
MIKE: If it knows what’s good for it.
> because this month we
> present a number of rather engaging problems.
TOM: Like, when you lose sleep, where does it go?
> They are
> the everyday sort that one meets from time to time; but
CROW: A simple kind of problem, something found around the house every day.
> the right solutions to them would prove to be money
TOM: First problem, a useful counterfeiting engine.
> After all, a new mouse trap clever enough to win
> the approval of five million customers
CROW: Sounds kinda needy, actually.
TOM: Low self-esteem.
> would make as much
> for its inventor as would a new Diesel engine or a new
> television receiver.
MIKE: Among mice looking to buy Diesel engines, traps, or television receivers.
> Complication never was a criterion
> for the production of wealth in inventing --- and never
> will be.
TOM: But if your invention isn’t complicated everybody’s going to point at you and laugh.
> The successful inventor is often a mere
> opportunist. He has to be.
MIKE: He lives in the wild, untamed world of patent attorneys.
> He watches the public, tries
> to find out in what it is interested and what it is doing
> at the moment.
TOM: Man, inventors are creeps.
> At the present time the public has ``gone
CROW: Yeah, everybody with their … uh … the heck?
> There never was a time when hobbies of various
> kinds were more popular than they are today.
MIKE: Well, except that one week back in April, but that was a crazy time.
> Among the
> current hobbies that are enjoying a new and robust
> stimulation, photography stands out prominently.
TOM: I’m not sure I’m allowed more stimulated photographs after Mike caught me.
> can the inventor do for these people who have turned to
> the camera for relaxation?
CROW: Point out they have cell phones?
> Many things; but chief among
> them is a recording camera for the more careful and
> exacting men and women who have embraced this most
> absorbing work.
MIKE: For all those people whose cameras run out of cord.
> CAN YOU INVENT THESE THINGS?
TOM: IF NOT, DON’T WORRY, THERE’S SOME OTHER THINGS TO INVENT TOO!
> Millions Being Made with New Inventions; America
> Needs New Gadgets.
MIKE: Also doohickeys, gewgaws, thingamajigs, and extruded lumps of drop-forged metal.
TOM: Can you give me something in a piece of bent wood?
> The careful worker likes to keep a record of his
> exposures in his effort to master the art
CROW: Well, isn’t that what the Police Blotter’s for?
> and would buy
> any good camera that automatically recorded the time of
> exposure, the time of the day
TOM: The time of the moon.
CROW: The time our lives.
MIKE: The time of the apes.
CROW: The time of tea.
CROW: I dunno, it was a Google autocomplete.
MIKE: I don’t believe you.
> and the stop that was used
> when each picture was taken. All of this could be done
> on the edge of the film and it would make a most useful
TOM: Ah, I’d just throw that information in the junk drawer and never look at it again anyway.
> Naturally, such a mechanism could be applied
> only to the more expensive cameras.
CROW: Lest any ideas of good photography get in the heads of the poor.
> No other field of human activity is as broad as
> the field of invention, hence it becomes possible to
> speak of the need of recording cameras and shoe polish in
> the same breath.
TOM: And cabbages and kings.
> But what is wrong with shoe polish?
MIKE: Well, that we all wear sneakers anymore?
> The first objection to ordinary polish is that it does
> not stay put;
TOM: It … sneaks up and attacks you at the wrists?
> it is far too perishable once it has been
> placed on shoes.
CROW: It screams in agony every moment of its living death!
> A walk through dew-covered grass will
> ruin the best shine.
TOM: Spoiling the accounting department’s whole morning frolic.
> No doubt there is a chemical, or a substance,
MIKE: Maybe a tonic or an ointment?
CROW: Perhaps something in an unguent or an excretion?
> which someday will be added to shoe polish to make it
> really waterproof. The man who discovers this
> combination will become wealthy within a year's time.
TOM: I’ve got it! Itty-bitty toe umbrellas!
> The typewriter eraser is a combination of
> fine-ground sand and rubber.
TOM: Plus a typewriter! A typewriter eraser is nothing without a typewriter.
> When such an eraser is used
MIKE: Yes it is. A typewriter eraser without a typewriter is still an eraser.
TOM: I think we both know if you want to argue this point we’re going to end up hating each other bitterly.
> on a typewriter a quantity of this sand falls down into
MIKE: Yeah, I pass.
> the mechanism where it causes undue wear. Sand is fatal
> to machinery of any kind.
CROW: Excepting the sandcastle-o-matic, I mean.
TOM: Plus you’ll still be wrong.
> This problem may be solved in
> two ways;
MIKE: Three, if you count not making mistakes.
> either by the production of a more efficient
> eraser, without sand,
TOM: Maybe use raw mud instead.
> or some sort of a guard on
CROW: Authorized to use deadly force!
MIKE: How is raw mud different from just dirt?
> to prevent the sand from sifting down into
TOM: Um … yeah, I withdraw the invention.
> the works. Either answer should be worth $50,000.
CROW: Is that, like, $50,000 for your whole life, or like $50,000 a year?
TOM: $50,000 a typewriter.
> The home mechanic, or the carpenter who has
> either made or repaired screens for windows,
MIKE: Or the window screen hobbyist.
> knows how
> difficult it is to stretch the screening so that it will
> be taut and perfectly flat after the moulding has been
> put in place.
TOM: Why, thousands die every year in the struggle against window screens.
> Surely some sort of a tool could be
> invented to assure this result.
CROW: It could be a widget or it might even be a mount of some fashion.
> It should be able to
> grasp the screening and to keep it pulled tight until it
> is tacked into place. At least 50 manufacturers stand
> ready to obtain the rights to such a product.
TOM: I’ve asked them extensively! They fear my coming round to ask again!
> Speaking of
> screens reminds one of the difficulty of raising and
> lowering awnings on screened windows.
MIKE: Just trust me on this one, folks.
> The screen has to
> be unhooked and pushed out of the way---a very
> inconvenient and bothersome procedure.
TOM: Of … unhooking and pushing?
CROW: I’ve never awned, myself, but this …
MIKE: [ Shrugging ] Look, it’s just really complicated, okay?
> Is it not
> possible to overcome this objection either by a new
> method of raising and lowering screens or by the use of a
> simple mechanism that may be manipulated from inside the
MIKE: Or is there hope for sanity in this world gone mad?
> The solution to this problem would produce an
> ample reward.
TOM: But the real reward is knowing you’ve made the life of window awning raiser-and-lowererers substantially better.
> ``Why I could have invented that,'' says the
> would-be inventor when he sees some new and clever little
> improvement that is known to be making plenty of money
> for its creator.
MIKE: What does he say after seeing some dopey little improvement that somebody’s taking a bath on?
CROW: Why could I have invented that?
> Yes, indeed, many inventors, like many
> amateur speculators in the stock market, find it very
> easy to make money with their hind sight.
TOM: That’s it! Kiester glasses!
> The thing to
> do is to beat the other fellow to the design.
CROW: And steal Elisha Grey’s patent.
> And here
> is a good chance to win out. Everyone knows that ash
> trays tip over and that the housewife is called upon to
> clean up many such resulting messes.
TOM: If only someone could invent the ashless tray?
> It would seem
> fairly easy to make an ash tray which would automatically
> cover itself when tipped beyond a certain critical angle.
MIKE: Hey wait … I just invented it! That’s great!
> Such a tray could be dropped on the floor without danger
> of dumping its contents.
TOM: Until we perfect the lid-evading ash!
> What was said for the non-tipable or unspillable
> ash tray also might be said for coasters used for
CROW: So get your improved cigarette coasters now.
> The number of bridge table accidents, wherein
> glasses are tipped during dealing, is legend.
TOM: As recounted in song and wollen tapestry.
> We need
> coasters that will make such accidents impossible.
MIKE: Try our new “dry” drinks.
> In line with our previous comment in connection
> with hobbies it should be borne in mind that archery is
> now receiving a great deal of attention,
TOM: … buh?
MIKE: That would’ve been, like, my 46th guess.
> and that a newly
> designed, cheap and powerful metal bow would be a winner,
> especially for the younger folk.
CROW: People might be interested in new, cheap, powerful tools for their hobby? Why am I just hearing of this now?
> Naturally such a bow
> would have to be as light as the wooden ones.
TOM: Building an antigravity machine small enough to fit on an arrow will be a considerable challenge.
> bows are available but could be improved greatly.)
CROW: What isn’t that true of?
> little Willie, all dressed up in his Sunday best, gets
> his hands on an ice cream cone he rapidly degenerates
> into a most unpromising spectacle.
MIKE: So … shoot him with an arrow?
> If mother could buy a
> dripless cone for him she would make the inventor of that
> cone a very happy man---
CROW: If a woman invents it, call the whole thing off.
> and little Willie would remain a
> respectable person while satisfying his appetite for ice
TOM: I’ve got it! I could invent a new name for Willie!
MIKE: Willie, Willie … Tillie? Dillie? Quillie?
CROW: I think we’re getting worse somehow.
> The manufacturers of electrically operated ice
> boxes are looking for a simple mechanism to permit such
> boxes to defrost themselves within a minute's time.
CROW: I have one that does it in 75 seconds?
MIKE: No! You have failed electrically operated ice box manufacturers worldwide! Hang your head in shame!
> A great many uses could be found for a
> self-closing cork to be applied to pop and other bottles.
TOM: Like … closing?
> Such a device should permit fluid to flow only when the
> bottle is inverted. A gadget of this kind would be very
> handy. It could be sold separately in the chain stores.
MIKE: It must be carefully guarded lest the secret fall into German hands!
> Millions of people in this country keep canary
TOM: Some of them have to be stool pigeons.
> The ordinary cage presents many hazzards and
> birds often hang themselves or otherwise meet with death
> in some of the ``ornamental'' boxes.
CROW: Suicidal canaries? Who gets them, the cast of Funky Winkerbean?
> What is needed is a
> safety cage---one that will make it impossible for
> accidents of any kind to happen.
TOM: Or you could just leave the canaries alone.
> Pocket nail clippers have never been really
> popular for the simple reason that one must use a file
> afterwards because a very rough edge is left.
CROW: Which kills thousands every year.
TOM: In tragic nose-picking accidents.
> Men and
> women would use such clippers in greater number if smooth
> cuts were produced.
MIKE: Because if there’s one thing men are looking for, it’s improved nail-trimming smoothness technology.
> Now that the bathing season is here again
CROW: o/` Bathing season is here again! The skies above are clear again! o/`
> we are
> reminded that the ladies still want a leakproof cap which
> will not be so tight as to stop, or interfere with the
> circulation of blood,
TOM: Your hair is your body’s largest consumer of blood!
> but will, at the same time prevent
> any water from seeping through. This invention, without
> exaggeration, would be worth at least $500,000.
MIKE: Aw, forget it, man, I won’t do it for less than five hundred thousand, two hundred seventy-five dollars.
> Now that pianos are becoming popular again,
> manufacturers could use a moth-proof substitute for the
> felt on the hammers, etc.
MIKE: You know, like a wallaby-proof substitute for the keys.
TOM: Or a dinosaur-proof substitute for the legs.
> The inventor of a really sanitary pillow
MIKE: I’m not talking your ordinary sanitary pillow. I’m talking about something that’s so sanitary it makes even the idea of dirtiness seem clean.
> permitting a large volume of air to circulate through it
> and, at the same time, soft and comfortable, would be a
> fortunate person.
CROW: A person who naps in a superior manner.
> Rubber as a material is ruled out.
TOM: People get all weird about it.
> Such pillows, unlike the pillows of today, should be
MIKE: A washable pillow? Why not dream about flying cars and computers that fit in your phone while you’re at it?
TOM: Yeah, let’s blow this popsicle stand.
CROW: The man who invented a self-blowing popsicle stand …
MIKE: Let’s let that thought end right there, shall we?
[ OUR HEROES file out. ]
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Thank you for reading all this. “What To Invent” was written by Raymond Francis Yates, who would go on to write a book listing a couple thousand needed inventions, some of which would still make life reasonably better, so if you can think of one, please do. Many more of the things have already been thought of since the late 30s, so don’t go hurrying on your typewriter improvements just now, please. The article is either Yates’s or else Modern Mechanix’s property and is used here just to be amusing. Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its characters and schtick aren’t mine either, but the actual writing of the making fun of this was done by Joseph Nebus, who hopes you liked it. Enjoy your own inventive nature, please.
> But what is wrong with shoe polish?