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Off-Kilter

September 23, 1998|ROY RIVENBURG | Times Staff Writer

Weird Inventions Contest: We should have invented a contest-judging machine before soliciting reader invention ideas, because we wound up being buried by entries.

Mad scientists wrote from as far away as Illinois, Florida, Washington and Oregon--and some of their ideas were actually sensible. Naturally, we threw those out because if life on this planet seriously improves, we'd have nothing to write about. With that in mind, the prize-winning inventions are:

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* The remote-controlled TV remote control, designed by 14-year-old Jef Harmatz. For people who are too lazy to fetch the TV remote from the coffee table, now there's a remote to operate that remote. Next up: a remote for the remote for the remote.

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* A reverse microwave oven. Two people submitted this idea--Linh Duong and Jerry Bianco. Basically, the device works by bombarding food or liquid with reverse microwaves (Bianco dubbed them "macrowaves") to instantly freeze or cool the contents. "Need ice in a hurry? Macrowave it!"

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* Prescription car windshields. Inventor Gary Dodge says his idea would eliminate the need to wear glasses while driving and reduce auto theft because crooks wouldn't be able to see out the windshield unless they had the same prescription. Maybe so, but we'd hate to be a passenger in one of these cars. Another problem would be the frequent need to change windshields, unless someone opens a chain of Windshieldcrafters one-hour optometry shops.

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* Baby toupees. Inventor Suzanne Corbett, 13, says her miniature wigs would boost baby self-esteem and halt embarrassing gender confusion for bald infants. Baby toupees come in a variety of styles and colors, including Baby Elvis (complete with sideburns) for boys and Baby B-52's beehive for girls.

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* The annoying conversation handler, designed by Gerald Adler. When activated, the owner's prerecorded voice offers a variety of noncommittal responses, such as "uh-huh," "indeed" and "you don't say," thus allowing the owner to continue reading or watching TV without interruption.

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* Magnetic car bumpers. Crashes would be a thing of the past if everyone's bumpers were made from giant magnets of the same polarity, says creator Khizer Umarji. The magnets would repel each other before impact.

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* A telephone that plays your favorite music when you're put on hold, instead of music selected by the other party. Inventor: Richard L. Braun.

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* The static-cling yarmulke, submitted by Julien Bassan.

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* The sport-utility-vehicle view blocker. This device installs on the roof of conventional cars, says inventor Greg Gilmore. When it detects Chevy Suburbans or similar vehicles approaching from behind, it pops up to obscure their view.

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* The bug-zapper hat, designed by Chaim Dauermann. Powered by 9-volt batteries, this stylish chapeau eliminates the need for smelly insect repellent when you're outdoors at night. Can also be worn over static-cling yarmulkes.

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* Another headgear idea came from Bill Williams, who devised "a baseball hat that's impossible to wear backward, thus eliminating one of mankind's most annoying fashion trends."

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* Our grand prize goes to Bob Mills for a toothpaste tube with a cap at both ends, so it doesn't matter if you squeeze it in the middle.

We haven't divvied up the prizes yet, but we want to thank the companies that donated them: Hasbro sent assorted Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit games, plus several "Go Directly to Jail" baseball caps; Smithsonian Folkways records donated a frog CD; and Ole Sparky Inc. (makers of a home-model fake electric chair) sent five "Only Sissies Do the Injection" T-shirts.

Best Supermarket Tabloid Headline: In keeping with today's theme, "Vet Invents Contact Lens for Fish!" (Weekly World News)

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* Roy Rivenburg's e-mail address is roy.rivenburg@latimes.com.

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