Bitter Grounds - espresso fueled ramblings

Friday, November 24, 2017

The unmitigated terror of lawn darts – we have a patent for that!

Are you old enough to remember being terrified of being skewered by a lawn dart? You know, those metal pointed, weighted darts that look like miniature javelins with fins? In any other dimension, they’d be treated as a weapon, not a game for children. I’m periodically stuck on the subway with nothing to do but let my brain wander through a tangled landscape of ideas and half written articles and during a rather epic delay underground recently, I began thinking about lawn darts and wondered why I no longer saw them.  

Photo of an old Hasbro Javelin Darts set

We had a neighbour, years ago, who owned a set, decades ago, and I hated them… the darts, not the neighbours. Their kids where a bit cavalier about launching them into the air and woe to anyone who got in their way. The metal tipped missiles created havoc when they went astray.  I looked for the original lawn dart patent from sometime in the 1950s, but had no luck. I managed to dig up an old Hasbro patent application from 1970 that reworked the design a bit.  Scan from 1970 Hasbro Lawn Dart Patent

Read more: The unmitigated terror of lawn darts – we have a patent for that!

A nerd, a bunch of earth magnets & time to kill

What can you do with about a dozen earth magnets pulled from dead hard drives? Why, make magnet sculptures of killer robots of course:

Photo of earth magnets made into a killer robot

Yea, I don't do well when I'm bored. 

My guilty secret - Big Clive destroys Mr Bun

"By the power of beer, let's make it happen" 
big clive

I cruise around the internet looking for interesting tech sites and once in awhile I find someone who is informative and entertaining. Big Clive over on the Youtube channel BigCliveDotCom ticks those boxes. I've been watching him rip apart all sorts of electical components etc for awhile. He tests all sorts of stuff and then literally tears the item down and explores how they are wired. It's always interesting.

Over Easter he exceeded all my expectations - blowing up a Kinder Surprise bunny. Wander over and subscribe to Big Clive after watching Mr Bun meet his chocolate maker:

 

You knew I'd get around to litter boxes eventually

You just knew I was going to get around to litter boxes eventually, didn’t you? It was inevitable I’d start poking around patent archives to see what was out there. Colour me surprised – there are a LOT of patents for various cat litterbox designs. Everything from fully collapsible to pretty little houses for the fussy cat owner. It’s impressive how much brain power has gone into the basic concept of a litterbox.

After filtering through them, I settled on the earliest patent I could find. I present the 1939 Kramer self-flushing animal toilet, patent #US2204416A, filed 1939-04-13 granted 1940-06-11

Image from patent for the Kramer self flushing animal toilet

Read more: You knew I'd get around to litter boxes eventually

Inventions: Your Halloween Fright, and it’s not the jack-o’-lantern helmet that’s scary

This one is interesting … and scary: “a new and useful Improvement in Jack-o'-Lantern Helmets”. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a jack-o’-lantern helmet, but we’ll assume it was a thing back in 1903 when this patent was granted. When I stumbled across this I first thought of a bike helmet. After looking over the patent, my second thought was “oh … oh dear. That’s a hell of a design flaw”.

Our inventor, one John Du Ket, of Toledo, Ohio, invented an easy to ship and assemble head mask for any occasion, "including campaign parades, masquerade balls and carnivals". He was granted a patent Aug 25, 1903 (patent no, 737,371). After reading the patent, it becomes painfully aware why governments have health and safety regulations… and recalls.

If you give it a quick glance, it’s pretty cool. The key is the use of flexible cardboard that could be printed with whatever image the customer wanted. Say for instance a person wanted 100 Frankenstein heads for a parade, or 50 copies of the current presidential candidate’s head for a rally. No problem. They could be mass produced and shipped with little hassle. Du Ket’s design allowed the masks to lay out flat, ready for the person on the receiving end to assemble the kit, kind of like a Halloween Flatpack without the screw driver hassles. No assembly was required at the seller’s end, which would cut production time and costs.

 Patent image from Jack o' lantern mask

In some ways, this is ingenious. He took a basic idea and added a modern marketing twist to it – fast to produce, easy to ship, offload assembly to the customer. What, you are asking, is so terrifying about this design? Let me show you:

Read more: Inventions: Your Halloween Fright, and it’s not the jack-o’-lantern helmet that’s scary

Ponder the TV dinner cranberry sauce – yes, there is a patent for that.

Image from vintage Swanson's TV frozen dinner ad showing cranberriesEver lay in bed wondering about something and become obsessed with it? Over the past weekend, for reasons that admittedly mystify me, I became obsessed with the little cranberry slots in frozen tv dinners. You know that scoop of jellied red stuff that comes with frozen turkey dinners? It’s supposed to be cranberry sauce. What I began to wonder is, why doesn’t it turn into a pile of liquid goo when it’s heated in the oven? Why doesn’t it melt?  Guess what? There's a patent for that, plus some mad cooking chemistry.

“Cranberry sauce is now so widely recognized as an almost indispensable accompaniment of any turkey dinner, that it is sorely missed when omitted from frozen turkey TV dinners.”
1964 Patent filing Ocean Spray

Ocean Spray was right, turkey dinners aren’t complete without cranberries. It’s big, big business. I can’t even envision Thanksgiving without a big dose of cranberry sauce. Adding a little tray of it to a tv dinner would be a strong selling point. Scoff at such an invention as cranberry sauce that maintains it’s form after being frozen & then heated, but it boils down to marketing dollars.

Of course, my first stop was a quick search of patents and there it was – the magic behind solidified cranberry sauce, courtesy of Ocean Spray, the cranberry behemoth in the US. They filed a patent for that tiny bit of red stuff in 1964 titled METHOD OF MAKING FROZEN DINNER CRANBERRY COMPONENT, United States Patent 73,360,385 granted 1969.

“A method for maintaining cranberry sauce in a gelled state upon thawing of a frozen TV dinner, comprising adding an acid tolerant, quick acting freeze surviving vegetable gelling agent such as hot hydrated starch to cooked cranberries, adding a sugar syrup, cooking the mix to form a sauce, placing an individual serving of the cooked sauce in the TV dinner package and subjecting the contents to a freezing environment to freeze said sauce.”
Patent filing Sept. 9, 1964, Ser. No. 395,323

Read more: Ponder the TV dinner cranberry sauce – yes, there is a patent for that.

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“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.”

 ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

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