- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

So you're sitting on the couch. Brew in one hand, pretzels in the other, Dallas-Washington on the tube. Stephen Davis scores a touchdown, and as Jerry Jones' tarp-tight, sandblasted mug fills the screen, you turn to slap skin with your buddies.

Only you don't have any. Because you're a loser.

Not to worry Albert Cohen has you covered. Nearly a decade ago, the 76-year-old retired musician from Troy, N.Y., created a mechanical high-five simulator, a spring-loaded contraption designed for maximum, um, palmage.

And, no, we're not making this up.

Manufactured and sold by Hi-5, the arm (U.S. Patent No.5,356,330) is a thing of grotesque beauty, dismembered from the elbow up and wrapped in a team-colored sleeve (your choice of color, naturally). Give it a solid dap, and it even plays one of six different audio clips, including a Marv Albert-esque "yes."

A man, a plan, a prosthetic arm. Who needs friends, anyway?

"Spectators high-five at games," Cohen said. "The ballplayers do it. We do it at the office. So I thought it would be a great idea to have one of these [arms] at the office, or the home, or even when you go to the health spa and get off the scale. There's just so many opportunities."

The shot clock. The sports bra. The beer cozy. These are but a few of history's greatest sports inventions, Edison-shaming works of staggering ingenuity.

Then there's the, er, other stuff. Like the basketball toilet flush handle (No. D319,297). The soccer helmet (No.6,339,849). And, of course, the ball scarf (No.5,903,924).

Taken together, they are the creative detritus of our sports-crazed age, the fertilizer of the, well, fertile mind. And they are legion.

In the last six years, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted more than 10,000 sports-related patents many of them proof positive that while necessity may be the mother of invention, goofiness is its soused uncle, rambling on about a golf ball with ears (No.D429,182).

"No one sees the invention as you do," Cohen said. "Everyone has a negative approach. Very few people say it's great. My advice? Don't listen to friends."

Herein, our guide to the silliest, strangest, most ridiculous sports inventions of all time:

Better mousetraps?

We begin with improvements and we use the term loosely on existing inventions, evolutionary ideas that redefine the classics. Like, for instance, New Coke.

Take the smooth basketball (No.6,142,897). Intended to increase shot accuracy, it's a noble concept and a misguided one, given that most shooters use a basketball's seams to impart backspin, which in turn makes the ball fly straight.

(Of course, seams also play a role in other hoops-related skills, such as passing and dribbling. But why pile on?)

Likewise, the towel garment (No.5,855,021) seeks to right a major sporting wrong namely, what the patent describes as the "ineffective and outlandish" practice of basketball players draping towels over their heads while sitting on the bench.

Problem is, the cure is worse than the disease, as the torso-engulfing garment alternately resembles (1) an oversized rain poncho, (2) a fairy tale-style riding cape, (3) an extraterrestrial terry cloth Body Snatcher.

Then there are the hybrids, combination-style inventions that beg the question: If X is great and Y is super, then wouldn't a cross between X and Y be supergreat?

Not necessarily.

Sure, football and baseball players wear eye black. And, yes, teams and leagues are always grubbing for extra revenue. But an under-eye glare reducer that doubles as a mini-billboard (No.6,096,194)? Even Dan Snyder might balk.

Similarly, we don't expect the Baltimore Orioles to adopt the combination baseball cap and fielder's glove (No.5,920,913) anytime soon or anytime later, for that matter.

It's also doubtful that the Camden Yards faithful will seek sudsy solace though the drinking cup adaptable into binoculars (No.4,770,519). A Big Gulp with magnifying lenses built into its sides, the device resembles beer goggles. Literally.

And as for the triangle football (No.D443,319), hey, you don't have to be Steve Spurrier let alone Pythagoras to see that something does not compute.

High-tech hooey

Like basketball knowledge in an NCAA tournament pool, a little bit of technology can be a dangerous thing. Not to mention dopey.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military used lasers to guide smart bombs toward their targets. At your local bowling alley, you can do the same provided you have the laser bowling ball guiding apparatus (No.5,683,303).

One drawback: The system does not include a Delta Force forward spotter.

Keeping with the combat theme, stadium groundskeeping crews may benefit from the global positioning system controlled paint spraying system (No.6,074,693), a device that uses the Defense Department's GPS satellites to produce more accurate hash marks.

Other high-tech sports inventions seem to exist for the same reason man walked on the moon, then returned to create "Celebrity Boxing" that is to say, because he could.

Don't feel like bouncing a ball to see if it's flat? Try the inflatable ball with a digital pressure display (No.5,755,634). Planning a game of night hockey? Pick up an illuminated hockey stick (No.5,607,226).

Allergic to pencils? Never fear: The golf wristwatch with scorekeeping capabilities (No.6,125,081) is here.

Absent-minded links lovers also can rest easy, thanks to the golf ball with remotely activated sound generator (No.6,011,466). And with the alarm system for forgotten golf club (No.6,040,772), misplaced equipment is only a high-pitched beep away.

And you thought car alarms were annoying.

Ready-to-wear?

Clothes make the man. And with the uniform seat cover (No.D454,748), they also make the chair.

Essentially a team jersey yanked over a chair back, the seat cover can turn any Barcalounger into Ike Austin. Give or take about 4.2 points per game.

A great gift for cantankerous local baseball columnists, the shirt with fill-in athletic schedule (No.6,185,746) makes it easy to track the Orioles' ever-expanding loss total. Better still, it's far more sanitary than, say, getting a series of "Memento"-like body tattoos.

Especially if you're trying to fit Josh Towers' ERA on your left biceps.

Shoes are almost a category unto themselves. There are inflatable kicks (No.5,987,779), high tops that convert to low tops (No.5,848,484), shoes with built-in miniature basketball hoops (No.6,101,747). One model (No.5,530,626) emits a beep with every step; another (No.5,732,486) lights up like a turn signal.

The shoe with a timing device (No.5,343,445) even promises to measure hang time. Of course, after checking the results, one may want to don the sports headgear with a widow's veil (No.5,933,869).

For the hands, oversized basketball gloves (No.5,970,521) and basketball finger sleeves (No.5,577,272) offer an unprecedented level of unnecessary protection. On the diamond, the water-cooled baseball cap (No.6,125,474) may or may not represent an advance over the traditional, sweat-cooled model.

The sports utility belt (No.6,176,403) is more bats man than Batman, capable of holding a glove, a ball and a bat. Regrettably, the device is missing a beer can slot, making it utterly useless for company softball.

You could do that but why?

Some sports inventions speak to needs that simply don't exist. The dressing locker for home use (No.4,974,524), for example, looks just like the real thing, lending a sweaty, smelly ambiance to any room in the house.

Concerned about your basketball's health and well-being? Buy a detachable basketball hanger (No.6,257,406), a netted bag that will spare your precious Spalding the crushing indignity of touching the floor.

The basketball goal sounding apparatus (No.6,299,555), which makes a noise upon every made basket, isn't such a bad idea. But given that basketball scoring already is easy to determine either the ball goes through the hoop, or not it isn't a very good one either.

Along the same lines, the visor for a baseball cap (No.6,237,156) suffers from a single design flaw: Namely, baseball caps already have visors. They're called brims.

Also on the glare-fighting front, the assembly for attaching sunglasses to a cap (No.6,244,706) is nothing short of a breakthrough assuming you're an earless, nose-less ballplayer (which, come to think of it, also would be something of a breakthrough).

And though we've already mentioned the soccer helmet (No.6,339,849), one point bears repeating.

Soccer isn't played with helmets.

Beyond bobbleheads

For full-fledged absurdity, there's no topping sports novelties starting with the basketball player antenna-topper (No.D413,330), the perfect ornament for the basketball car (No.D399,789).

The three-way hat (5,091,994) has a trio of brims and logos, making it the perfect headgear for the bandwagon fan. Just rotate to whichever team Phil Jackson happens to be coaching at the moment.

In the wake of the Arizona Diamondbacks' World Series triumph, a baseball bat with a rattlesnake rattle end (No.D394,686) was probably inevitable. As was a rattlesnake skin baseball bat (No.D397,740), which stands as the best and the only way to put good, um, scale on the ball.

(Shockingly, the two have yet to be combined, which reminds us: know any good patent lawyers?)

With the novelty toilet pull chain and tank valve actuator (No.5,836,021), a flush chain attached to a mini-baseball bat, you'll always know which sport is No.1. Even if you're preoccupied with No.2.

When you're finished, use a team spirit air freshener (No.5,876,687) to leave your bathroom smelling Wizards fresh. Or Redskins clean. Or whatever.

Speaking of the Redskins, a rabid fan can eat at FedEx Field 365 days a year or at least eat out of the stadium, courtesy of the stadium simulating bowl (No.5,829,626).

And if that same burgundy-and-gold diehard, er, dies? The football shaped crematory urn (No.5,896,632) makes a lovely farewell thought.

And finally

Last but not least, we present an invention so wacky, so bizarre that even the freakish Hi-5 arm can only look upon it and despair.

A device for soliciting athlete autographs, the trolling system for baseball and player endorsements (No.6,123,282) is essentially a tricked-out fishing rod but instead of casting bait, it lowers a ball. And a pen.

"A problem rises in that the fans seeking written endorsements of the players are separated by elevation and fencing from the players as they enter or exit the playing field," reads the patent. "The present invention provides an apparatus to solve the elevational problem and obtain ballplayer endorsements."

High-fives all around.


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