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Is the world ready for a tie pin that can be eaten in case of sudden hunger? Or a railroad train that avoids collisions by climbing on top of the opposing train? Or a man's hat that will automatically tip itself in greeting when the wearer nods slightly?
All these (and more) are actual patented inventions, unearthed for your amusement, enlightenment, and possible bewilderment. Who, for instance, would opt for a Hydraulic Alarm Clock, which drips icy water down the sleeper's neck? Or the Humane Rodent Exterminator, a well-intentioned device that attaches a bell to the rat's neck, "thereby frightening the other rats and causing them to flee"?
Each of the nearly 60 inventions appears with the inventor's explanation and the actual drawings submitted to the Patent Office. Some are of dubious efficacy−for instance, the battery-and-copper plate designed to extract poisons from the human body. Others are simply hilarious, such as the rocking chair fitted with a bellows in order to blow air onto the rocker. All offer fascinating glimpses of the modern obsession with utility, accenting the zany turns on a shortcut to convenience.