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5 Sports Innovations That Didn't Quite Take

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A lumber-based storm is gathering over Major League Baseball, and it's all about how the bats are made. Popular maple bats have the advantage of being denser than bats made of the other wood of choice, ash, and players feel this quality helps them hit for more power. On the other hand, the maple bats tend to have fat barrels for striking the ball and thin handles and are prone to shattering. When one breaks, pieces of its barrel turn into flying knives ready to impale anyone in their path. Players and coaches are starting to worry about ending up with a sharpened hunk of maple hanging out of their bodies, so the wonder-bats may not stick around much longer. In their honor, though, lets look at a few more sports equipment innovations that didn't quite take.

1. FoxTrax
Better known as the "glow puck," "techno puck," and "thing that was going to make every American love hockey," FoxTrax was an innovation Fox debuted for its coverage of the 1996 NHL All-Star Game. Market research showed that the average novice hockey viewer had trouble finding and following the puck on the ice. Fox execs, ever innovative, decided the solution was making a puck that glowed blue so fans always knew exactly where it was.

Creating the glowing FoxTrax puck was no easy technological feat. The puck itself had to be perfectly identical to a regular NHL puck, but it also had to house a circuit board, battery, and infrared transmitters. When the puck was slapped or dropped for the first time, it would begin transmitting infrared pulses to 20 pulse detectors and ten cameras located around the arena. These signals were then sent to a huge truck outside where the blue glow was added to the TV signal. In short, getting the puck to glow to glow on your TV set was quite a production.

Unfortunately, no one really appreciated the fruits of these labors. Hockey purists were understandably miffed that their viewing experience had been changed and that it now looked like their favorite players were batting around a small blue pillow. The blue glow didn't show up very well against the white ice, and the red shooting-star tail that was added whenever the puck's speed when over 70 mph was generally irritating to fans. Casual fans liked that the puck helped them follow the game, but it didn't generate huge interest in the sport. Worse still, players claimed the FoxTrax pucks didn't have the same feel as their low-tech counterparts and thus affected game play.

FoxTrax continued to make occasional appearances, but public opinion to it never warmed. It made its final appearance in Game One of the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals before retiring to the land of failed gizmos.

2. The Alert Orange Baseball
FoxTrax had a few forefathers, though. Take, for instance, Charlie Finley's alert orange baseball. Finley, the cantankerous and eccentric owner of the Athletics, was always looking for a new way to improve the game and the viewing experience. He felt that the white baseball was too tough for players to pick up in the air and difficult for fans to see from the stands. His solution was painting the ball the color of a road cone to make it easier on the eyes. If batters could see the ball better, they'd hit better. Scoring would go up, games would be more exciting, and fans would flock to stadiums in record numbers. Finley set out to convince his fellow owners that his innovation was perfect.

The other owners weren't buying it, though. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn declined Finley's offer to use the ball, so an indignant Finley set about proving the orange ball's value. He used the ball in an exhibition against the Indians in 1973 to test his theory. Turns out he was half right: fans could see the ball much better as it moved around the field of play. Batters, though, couldn't pick up the rotation on the bright ball, and pitchers complained that the orange covering was too slippery to grip. The ball never made it into a real game.

finley-rabbit.jpg3. The Ball Rabbit
Finley's ball-related innovations weren't limited to the color of the sphere itself, though. He also had a revolutionary idea about how to get the ball into play. In a standard game, the home plate umpire wears a pouch full of balls around his waist, and as balls are lost to scuffing or hit out of play, a bat boy brings a fresh set out balls out to the umpire. It's a simple, efficient system. Finley saw room for improvement, though. He installed an underground device near home plate that the umpire would tap with his foot upon running out of balls. At that point, a mechanical rabbit would emerge from a subterranean lair bearing a basket of fresh balls. Details on how long this necessary innovation lasted are sketchy, but unless I really haven't been paying attention during baseball games, I feel pretty confident saying it never quite took off. [Image courtesy of The Sporting News.]

whitesox-shorts.jpg4. The White Sox Shorts Plan
If any owner could rival Finley's eccentricities, it was Bill Veeck of the White Sox, a tireless and crafty promoter. In 1976, he had a strange idea of his own: outfitting the Sox in shorts instead of pants. The revealing uniforms made their debut on August 8, 1976 against the Royals. The Sox strode out of their dugout wearing short for the first game of a doubleheader, and after only a few innings came to a rather obvious realization. While it's certainly not always comfortable to wear pants in the August heat of Chicago, baseball is a game that necessitates covered legs. Sliding into a base or making a play against an opposing baserunner in metal spikes is considerably less fun with exposed shins.

To add insult to injury, the Royals players mercilessly taunted the Sox, including John Mayberry's quip that the Sox were "the sweetest team we've seen yet." The Sox won the game but switched back to pants for the second half of the doubleheader. The shorts made one more appearance that season before disappearing into the lore of terrible uniform choices. [Image courtesy of MopUpDuty.com.]

5. The NBA's Synthetic Ball
Few equipment changes in recent years have caused as much of an uproar as the NBA's switch from leather to synthetic balls in 2006. Unlike the original leather ball, the new rock had a microfiber composite exterior and a paneling system that changed the number of ribs on the nba-synthetic.jpgball. The NBA's brass thought the new ball was more consistent than its leather equivalents, and cows everywhere rejoiced at the development.

The people who actually had to use the ball, however, hated it. Players started whining about the switch almost immediately. The synthetic surface was easier to grip at the beginning of games, but since it didn't absorb sweat it soon became slippery. The ball's cover was designed to aid grip by generating more friction on the player's hand, but several stars like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash claimed that the surface was actually cutting their fingertips. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban requested a study into the way the ball bounced, and physicists at the University of Texas-Arlington discovered that the composite ball didn't behave the way its leather predecessor did. Shaquille O'Neal added his own droll spin on the issue when he quipped that comparing the new and old balls was "like touching an exotic dancer, and then going and touching a plastic blow-up doll."

As players continued to gripe, the NBA did something almost totally out of character: it admitted it made a mistake. On December 12, 2006, the league announced that all games would return to the old leather ball on January 1, 2007.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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Scott Jarvie
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Design
Optical Illusion Rug Creates a Bottomless Void in Your Floor
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Scott Jarvie

Artist Scott Jarvie doesn’t believe home goods need to be warm and inviting to earn a spot in the house. That’s certainly the case with his mind-bending void rug: When viewed from a certain perspective, the interior design piece inspires feelings of dread rather than comfort.

According to designboom, Jarvie achieved the rug’s bottomless black hole illusion using clever, two-dimensional design elements. To people standing directly over it, the item resembles a shaded crescent moon cupping a flat black circle. But adjust your position, and the simple rug morphs into a stomach-turning void in the middle of your living room floor.

If the circular rug isn’t trippy enough, Jarvie also made a rectangular runner that can turn an entire hallway into an empty pit. Neither rug is something you’d want to forget you own on a midnight trip to the bathroom.

Void rug optical illusion.

Jarvie’s art isn’t limited to floor rugs that trick the eye. The Scotland-based artist’s creative furniture and home decor includes laundry balls, a cling wrap dispenser, and a chair made from 10,000 plastic drinking straws.

Void rug optical illusion.

Void rug optical illusion.

[h/t designboom]

All images courtesy of Scott Jarvie.

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Amazon
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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
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Amazon

As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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NEXGADGET Detachable Multi-Port USB Charging Station, 24W 4-Port USB Charging Dock (Gold) for $29.99 (list price $69.99)

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Fred UNZIPPED Hand-Blown Glass Bowl for $17.12 (list price $20.00)

MIRA 34 oz Double Wall All Stainless Steel French Press For Coffee or Tea | Insulated Coffee Pot & Maker Keeps Brewed Coffee or Tea Warm for Hours (34 oz French Press with Bonus Long Spoon) for $19.99 (list price $44.99)

Utopia Kitchen Premium Class Stainless-Steel 12 Knife Set with Acrylic Stand for $35.69 (list price $299.99)

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SimpleTaste Egg Cooker Egg Steamer Electric Egg Poacher Egg Boiler 7 Egg Capacity for $17.99 (list price $28.99)

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Crock-Pot 6 Qt 8-in-1 Multi-Use Express Crock Programmable Slow Cooker, Pressure Cooker, Sauté, and Steamer, Stainless Steel (SCCPPC600-V1) for $67.99 (list price $79.99)

Sistema Klip It Collection Cracker Food Storage Container, Large, 60 Ounce/ 7.5 Cup for $8.70 (list price $12.49)

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Kitchen Utensils - 8 Piece Cooking Utensils - Nonstick Utensil Set - Silicone and Stainless Steel Kit - For Pots and Pans - Serving Tongs, Spoon, Spatula Tools, Pasta Server, Ladle, Strainer, Whisk for $24.95 (list price $59.99)

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Portable Garment Steamers for Clothes, Aicok 200ml High Capacity Handheld Travel Clothes Steamer, 900W Fast-Heat Powerful Fabric Steamer Perfect for Home and Travel, with Brush & Travel Pouch, Black for $25.99 (list price $89.99)

Whitmor Supreme Wide Stacking Shelf, Chrome for $15.35 (list price $32.02)

Mellanni Bed Sheet Set - Brushed Microfiber 1800 Bedding - Wrinkle, Fade, Stain Resistant - Hypoallergenic - 4 Piece (Queen, White) for $19.70 (list price $59.99)

LIHAO 12 Piece Set Rustproof Stainless Steel Shower Curtain Rings Hooks for Bathroom Shower Rod for $5.97 (list price $16.99)

Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle, Guave Coconut Fusion for $17.56 (list price $22.86)

ThermoPro TP55 Digital Hygrometer Indoor Thermometer Humidity Gauge with Jumbo Touchscreen and Backlight Temperature Humidity Monitor for $13.99 (list price $29.99)

TasteLife 105 GSM Deep Pocket Bed Sheet Set Brushed Hypoallergenic Microfiber 1800 Bedding Sheets Wrinkle, Fade, Stain Resistant - 4 Piece(White,Queen) for $14.90 (list price $119.90)

Dirt Devil Scorpion Quick Flip Corded Bagless Handheld Vacuum SD20005RED for $24.99 (list price $29.99)

Body Pillowcase, 100% Cotton, 300 Thread Count, 21x60 Pillow Cover by American Pillowcase, Fits 20 x 54, White for $14.99 (list price $23.96)

StorageManiac 3-tier Folding Water-Resistant Compact Steel Clothes Drying Rack - 22.44x14.57x41.34 - Inches for $29.99 (list price $69.99)

ComfiLife Coccyx Orthopedic Memory Foam Office Chair and Car Seat Cushion for Back Pain and Sciatica Relief (Gray) for $29.95 (list price $59.95)

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Smart Home Bedding Super Plush Pillow Dust Mite Resistant Down Alternative (Queen/Standard, 2 Pack) for $24.99 (list price $99.99)

LINENSPA Zippered Encasement Waterproof, Dust Mite Proof, Bed Bug Proof Breathable Mattress Protector - Queen Size for $24.99 (list price $104.99)

HEALTH AND BEAUTY

Gillette Fusion Manual Men’s Razor Blade Refills, 12 Count, Mens Razors / Blades for $34.25 (list price $47.99)

Art Naturals Organic Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo and Conditioner Set (2 x 16 Oz) - Sulfate Free - Volumizing & Moisturizing, Gentle on Curly & Color Treated Hair,For Men & Women Infused with Keratin for $26.13 (list price $26.13)

Dead Sea Mud Mask for Face & Body - 100% Natural Spa Quality - Best Pore Reducer & Minimizer to Help Treat Acne , Blackheads & Oily Skin – Tightens Skin for a Visibly Healthier Complexion – 8.8 OZ for $12.95 (list price $36.95)

DUDE Face Wipes, Energizing & Refreshing Scent, Infused with Pro Vitamin B-5 (3 Packs, 30 Wipes per Pack) for $14.37 (list price $17.97)

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Bed Head Curls in Check 1875 Watt Diffuser Hair Dryer for $29.99 (list price $34.99)

Qivange Makeup Brushes, Synthetic Foundation Eyeshadow Fan Brushes Set+Sponge Puff(12pcs,Silver) for $8.99 (list price $42.99)

Majestic Pure Argan Oil Shampoo, Offers Vitamin Enriched Gentle Hair Restoration Formula for Daily Use, Sulfate Free, Moroccan Oil & Potent Natural Ingredients, for Men and Women 16 fl. oz for $13.95 (list price $19.95)

ArtNaturals Signature Blend Essential Oils Set - (8 x 10ml) - 100% Pure of The Highest Quality - Therapeutic Grade - Recommended Aromatherapy Gift Set for $18.95 (list price $36.95)

Gillette Venus Comfortglide Women's Razor Blade Refills, White Tea, 6 Count, Womens Razors / Blades for $20.47 (list price $22.49)

CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion 12 oz with Hyaluronic Acid and Ceramides for Normal to Dry Skin for $10.49 (list price $13.99)

Zyllion ZMA13BK Shiatsu Pillow Massager with Heat for Car, Home, or Office (Black) for $39.95 (list price $79.95)

Equinox International Dental Hygiene Kit - Includes Tarter Scraper/Scaling Instrument, Dental Pick, Dental Sickle, and Mouth Mirror - Professional Surgical Grade Dentist Approved Tools for $8.97 (list price $29.99)

OFFICE, SCHOOL, AND CRAFTS

rOtring Tikky Graphic Fineliner Pens, 0.7mm & 0.5mm & 0.3mm, Black Ink, 3 Count for $11.13 (list price $12.56)

X-ACTO XLR Electric Pencil Sharpener, Gold for $13.94 (list price $16.23)

Oxford Twin Pocket Folders, Letter Size, Gray, 25 per Box (57505) for $11.89 (list price $15.59)

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Avery Economy View Binder with 1-Inch Round Ring, White, Pack Of 4 (19200) for $12.53 (list price $15.99)

OUTDOORS, GARDEN, AND SPORTS

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WORX TURBINE 12 Amp Corded Leaf Blower with 110 MPH and 600 CFM Output and Variable Speed Control – WG520 for $54.24 (list price $59.99)

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Quik Chair Heavy Duty Folding Camp Chair - Grey for $12.91 (list price $29.99)

BlizeTec Survival Knife: Best 5-in-1 Tactical Pocket Folding Knife with LED Light, Seatbelt Cutter, Glass Breaker & Magnesium Fire Starter for $38.98 (list price $89.99)

Intex Pillow Rest Raised Airbed with Built-in Pillow and Electric Pump, Twin, Bed Height 16.5" for $20.54 (list price $39.99)

LED Camping Lantern, Tent Light With USB cable - Survival Kit for Emergency, Hurricane, Outage for $14.99 (list price $25.99)

TOOLS

Etekcity Lasergrip 1080 Non-contact Digital Laser Infrared Thermometer Temperature Gun -58℉~1022℉ (-50℃~550℃), Yellow and Black for $18.88 (list price $20.99)

URPOWER Motion Sensor Light, 10 LED Bulbs Battery Operated Wireless Motion Nightlight Portable Magnetic Security Closet Light Stick Up Motion Sensor Night Lights for Closets Hallway Stairway(3) for $22.99 (list price $32.99)

TEKTON 5941 Digital Tire Gauge, 100 PSI for $10.79 (list price $11.99)

VERY STRONG Magnetic Wristband & Extended Pick-Up Tool - 10 STRONG Magnets Wrapped Around Wrist - Holds Screws, Bolts, Drill Bits and More - Perfect Gift or Present for Handyman, Fathers or Women. for $9.91 (list price $12.39)

2 PCS IPOW Car Safety Antiskid Hammer Seatbelt Cutter Emergency Class/Window Punch Breaker Auto Rescue Disaster Escape Life-Saving Hammer Tool,Big for $8.39 (list price $13.89)

LE Headlamp LED, 4 Modes Headlight, Battery Powered Helmet Light for Camping, Running, Hiking and Reading, 3 AAA Batteries Included for $7.99 (list price $18.95)

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BLENDX 7mm to 19mm Ratchet Universal Sockets Metric Wrench Power Drill Adapter Set - Professional Repair Tools for $9.49 (list price $15.99)

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