12 Wacky and Sometimes Dangerous Patents for the Holiday Season

When you're getting ready to deck your halls this year, consider these holiday and winter gadgets that were patented through the years.

1. Patent No. USD477546, "Cactus Christmas Tree"

Conifers are so last season. That explains this patent for a cactus Christmas tree, filed by Kay Lynn Como in 2002. John P. Kellar also patented a similar cactus tree in 2006.

2. Patent No. USD487878, "Snowman Shaped Christmas Tree"


If even a cactus is too traditional, try this snowman Christmas tree, patented by Robert Ostermann in 2003.

3. Patent No. 5279871, "Action Christmas Tree Ornament"

This "action ornament," patented by Marc H. Segan in 1994, is a miniature operating ski slope and ski lift. Like Penguin Race for your tree!

4. Patent No. USD374968, "Tea Bag with Christmas Tree Shape"

Karen Tillquist, who filed this patent, clearly believes that around the holidays, even your tea should be festive. (Ditto your pasta.)

5. Patent USD571251, "Modified Christmas Tree"

This tree, patented by Carlos Rosas in 2008, is perfect for those who are only marginally motivated to decorate for the holidays: Just anchor it to the wall!

6. Patent No. 1324342, "Bicycle Sleigh"

This vehicle, patented by Tom Dohoszuk in 1919, is "simulative of a bicycle and similarly operated whereby a rider may advance over the surface of ice or snow at a relatively high speed ... [and provides] means whereby the tractional effect may be increased or diminished at will, permitting the vehicle to glide upon a downwardly inclined surface or the traction wheel may be used as a brake when desired." Sounds fun—and dangerous!

7. Patent No. USD317397, "Reindeer door knob cover"

This festive/kinda scary door knob cover is for the holiday homemaker who has everything. It was patented by Mary C. Guberman in 1991.

8. Patent No. USD528268, "Holiday Hat"

This hat, patented in 2006 by Janet Story Cope, would go perfectly with your ugly Christmas sweater!

9. Patent No. US1431440, "Snow Motor Vehicle"

This vehicle looks like it came straight from a superhero movie, but it was designed to tackle a very specific, non-superhero problem: Navigating on snowy roads. "In northern latitudes, where the snow fall is heavy for several months of the year, transportation by horse power and by wheeled motor vehicles is always difficult and often impossible," writes F.R. Birch in the patent for this vehicle, granted in 1922. "A successful snow motor vehicle must travel over deep, fresh snow falls, compacted snow or ice, ice crusts overlying soft snow, and slush, and must also accommodate itself to surface irregularities. ... So far as I am aware, I am the first to produce a really practical motor sled incorporating all of the features which are found to be essential in practice."

10. Patent No. US3561783, "Ski Bike"

Next to this ski bike, patented by Sunset Ave. (and invented by Richard H. Ellett) in 1971, that snow bike up above doesn't seem so dangerous. It's designed to be highly portable, rugged and durable, and "is capable of achieving high coasting speeds with with easy maneuverability in all snow conditions."

11. Patent No. USD372207, "Santa Figure in A Tub"

Santa obviously gets very dirty shimmying down all those chimneys—which is what we're going to believe is the inspiration for this figure, patented in 1996 by Seymour Cohen (who also brought us Patent No. USD385588, "Santa in a barrel blowing bubbles" and a whole slew of other Santa-themed inventions).

12. Patent No. US2607333, "Snowball Gun"

This device, patented by James W.O. Dell in 1952, will give its users an edge in their neighborhood snowball fight by forming and firing off pellets of snow. You won't shoot your own eye out, but the potential of taking out someone else's seems pretty high.

For 12-12-12, we’ll be posting twenty-four '12 lists' throughout the day. Check back 12 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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NASA Has a Plan to Stop the Next Asteroid That Threatens Life on Earth
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An asteroid colliding catastrophically with Earth within your lifetime is unlikely, but not out of the question. According to NASA, objects large enough to threaten civilization hit the planet once every few million years or so. Fortunately, NASA has a plan for dealing with the next big one when it does arrive, Forbes reports.

According to the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan [PDF] released by the White House on June 21, there are a few ways to handle an asteroid. The first is using a gravity tractor to pull it from its collision course. It may sound like something out of science fiction, but a gravity tractor would simply be a large spacecraft flying beside the asteroid and using its gravitational pull to nudge it one way or the other.

Another option would be to fly the spacecraft straight into the asteroid: The impact would hopefully be enough to alter the object's speed and trajectory. And if the asteroid is too massive to be stopped by a spacecraft, the final option is to go nuclear. A vehicle carrying a nuclear device would be launched at the space rock with the goal of either sending it in a different direction or breaking it up into smaller pieces.

Around 2021, NASA will test its plan to deflect an asteroid using a spacecraft, but even the most foolproof defense strategy will be worthless if we don’t see the asteroid coming. For that reason, the U.S. government will also be working on improving Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, the technology NASA uses to track asteroids. About 1500 NEOs are already detected each year, and thankfully, most of them go completely unnoticed by the public.

[h/t Forbes]

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Do 'Close Door' Buttons in Elevators Actually Do Anything?
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When you’re running late for work, one small comfort is finding an empty elevator waiting for you at your office building. You scurry inside, and since no one else is waiting to enter, you jab the 'close door' button. The doors comply, the elevator starts moving, and you breathe a sigh of relief.

This is a familiar scenario for many, but it’s also a big fat lie. That’s because most of the door-close buttons in U.S. elevators don’t actually work. In fact, they’re programmed that way.

But before you get ready to send off a strongly worded email to your office building’s elevator manufacturer, you may want to hear why this is the case. When the Americans With Disabilities Act was first passed in 1990, certain requirements for elevators were outlined, such as the installation of raised buttons, braille signs, and audible signals.

The act ensured that someone with a disability would have enough time to get inside, stipulating that elevator doors must remain fully open for at least three seconds and thereby preventing the button from cutting that time short. Some elevator manufacturers took it one step further by deactivating the button entirely.

Since the life span of an elevator is about 25 years and the Disabilities Act has been around for 28 years, it’s safe to assume that most of the elevators in operation today do not have a functioning 'close door' button, The New York Times reports. Only firefighters are able to close elevator doors manually through the use of a key.

It's important to note that there are exceptions to this rule, though. As the New York Daily News noted, New York City elevators are required by law to have working 'close door' buttons, even though some operate on a long delay (so long, in fact, that it calls the button's usefulness into question).

However, you’re in luck if you’re taking a lift (which, of course, is British for “elevator”). 'Close door' buttons are fully functional in most elevators in the UK, according to The Telegraph. A spokesman for the Lift and Escalator Industry Association told the newspaper that not all elevators have the button, but when they’re present, they do work. Again, the time it takes for the doors to shut after pressing the button varies from lift to lift.

While U.S. elevator manufacturers have a seemingly good reason for disabling the 'close door' button, some may question the point of propagating the myth and installing a button that serves no purpose in the first place. In response, some would argue that placebo buttons serve an important psychological function in society.

"Perceived control is very important," Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer told The New York Times. "It diminishes stress and promotes well-being."

That’s right: By believing that you’re in control of your fate—or at least how quickly you can make it up to the sixth floor—you’re better off. It doesn’t end with elevators, either. Buttons placed at city crosswalks are often disabled, and the thermostats in many office buildings are rigged so that the temperature can’t be altered (even if the numbers appear to change).

Some might swear up and down that elevator 'close door' buttons work, but this, too, could be your brain deceiving you. As author David McRaney wrote in an essay: “If you happen to find yourself pressing a nonfunctional close-door button, and later the doors close, you’ll probably never notice because a little spurt of happiness will cascade through your brain once you see what you believe is a response to your action. Your behavior was just reinforced. You will keep pressing the button in the future.”

According to The New Yorker, these buttons are designed to alleviate some of the subconscious anxiety that comes from stepping inside a tiny box that's hoisted up some 20 or 40 or 80 floors by a cable: “Elevator design is rooted in deception—to disguise not only the bare fact of the box hanging by ropes but also the tethering of tenants to a system over which they have no command."

So now you know: Next time you’re running late to work, take comfort in the fact that those few extra seconds you would’ve saved by pressing a functioning 'close door' button aren’t worth all that much in the long run.

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