Occasionally, people come across a potentially disastrous problem that just doesn't seem to have a solution. In those desperate situations where science and rational thought have been completely exhausted (or in some cases boldly ignored), ridiculous ideas are the only ones left to try. Still, we're wondering just how many of the successful solutions below were first offered out of pure sarcasm.
#5. An Aquarium Hires the World's Tallest Man to Save a Choking Dolphin
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You know how puppies will spend the first few months of life just chewing up random objects around the house? Well, it turns out dolphins are the same way. That's why two dolphins at an aquarium in China were chowing down on the plastic lining that surrounded their pool when large chunks of the material became lodged in their stomachs (because, like all higher mammals, dolphins will occasionally do things that don't make one bit of sense). The pieces were too big for the animals to digest, so they just sat piled in their guts like giant lumps of melted G.I. Joes, preventing the dolphins from eating anything else.
This was an even bigger problem than you'd think -- highly trained professionals could literally find no feasible way to get the plastic out of the ailing animals. Dolphins can expand and contract their stomachs, and they were clenching them pretty well shut in their distress, preventing veterinarians from inserting any medical instruments. The only course of action seemed to be to start looking up dolphin breeders on Craigslist to find a new pair of charming attractions and calling up a tuna cannery to schedule disposal of their two soon-to-be-dead sea mammals.
"Dude, make it do a back flip. Your cat will clean it up."
But at this point somebody apparently threw up his hand and eagerly suggested, "What if we just get a really tall guy to reach down the dolphins' throats and pull the plastic out? I saw it in a cartoon one time."
The Absurd Solution:
So, in a last-ditch effort to save the two dolphins from starving to death, the aquarium called up Bao Xishun, a former Guinness World Record holder for world's tallest man, to come reach his absurdly long arms down the animals' throats to see if he could yank the plastic out.
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"I've trained my whole life for this moment."
And he freaking did it. Bao's three-and-a-half-foot gorilla limbs were able to crawl into the dolphins' stomachs and dislodge the plastic lumps. That had to have felt like vindication to whoever surely got laughed out of the room for suggesting it.
We can send people into space, but this, this is the apogee of veterinary technology.
#4. A Village Without Sunlight Builds a Giant Mirror
The small village of Viganella is a quaint, quiet settlement of 127 people nestled into the mountains of Italy. We tend to immediately assume that population centers of less size than an American Idol audition are hives of unbridled strangeness, so it should come as no surprise that Viganella faces a uniquely bizarre problem -- for 84 consecutive days every winter, the sun doesn't shine on any part of the village.
And everyone blames Chad.
The town sits in a valley in the Italian Alps, and every year from November to the beginning of February the sun is completely blocked out by the mile-high peaks of the surrounding mountains, a fact that cannot possibly have escaped the village's original settlers. Even if they'd bedded down during the summer, we are curious as to why, after that first winter of impenetrable nightmare blackness, no one in their number suggested that they relocate.
At any rate, the community had simply resigned themselves to suffering through pitch-dark winters for the past 800 years. Because honestly, if you're stuck in the looming shadow of a craggy mountaintop and refuse to pack up and move, you've pretty much exhausted every available option. It's not like you can drill a giant skylight through the mountain, or install a huge mirror to reflect the sunlight down into the valley.
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"There we go, that should do it."
The Absurd Solution:
In 2006, the people of Viganella installed a 26-foot mirror on a slope above the village to reflect sunlight down into the valley. As you may have noticed, this is remarkably similar to something Mr. Burns did to ransom Springfield in an animated work of fiction.
"We'll light up the town in a second. There's an ant hill I need to deal with."
The mirror is controlled remotely by a computer that regularly tracks the sun's movements throughout the day, reorienting the panels accordingly to provide a constant stream of light into the town's center. The result is eight hours of joyous sunshine for a valley that hasn't felt the sun's rays in winter since mountains were invented. The project cost over 67,000 pounds ($100,000 U.S.), which is admittedly way cheaper than moving the entire village up the hill.
Illustration by Wile E. Coyote.
#3. The International Space Station Is Saved by a Toothbrush
Let's say you live in space. Your space house is powered by a couple of gigantic solar-paneled generators that control all the technology that is keeping you alive. So, probably the worst thing that could happen is for any part of that system to shut down, which is the exact situation the crew aboard the International Space Station found themselves dealing with in the summer of 2012. One of the station's four power distributors broke down, and they needed to repair it before they all became stranded in an orbiting metal coffin.
"If I can change a tire, I can reinforce a solar array."
Armed with the best and most expensive technology available, the astronauts headed outside to replace the busted distributor. However, some metal shavings had built up around the bolts of the old unit, making it impossible to remove using any of the tools NASA had sent with them on their rocket-bound voyage of discovery.
Without a proper tool to remove the shavings, the crew was stuck with a busted power unit and an impending shutdown of all their systems. "If only there was a tiny handheld brush somewhere on board!" one astronaut presumably shouted, while shaking his or her fist at the unfeeling moon in impotent rage.
"You mean like a toothbrush?" another astronaut likely responded.
Here we see NASA recreating the event.
"No, fool! Something lightweight with small bristles that one of us could easily carry out here into the silent infinity of space to clear out these cursed metal shavings!"
"So ... a toothbrush."
At which point a prolonged silence would have followed, ultimately broken by a torrent of uncontrollable swearing.
The Absurd Solution:
The astronauts cleared away the metal shavings using a toothbrush taped to a metal grip. Once the bolts were clear, they were able to replace the broken unit and restore full power to the station.
Behold the sword of victory.
In subsequent press releases, NASA hastened to point out that the toothbrush in question was an extra one the crew had brought with them. However, we have to believe that, had the situation demanded it, one of the astronauts would have sacrificed his or her own toothbrush in lieu of being choked to death by space.
"We used my shampoo to fix the oil pressure problem; now it's your turn. Hand it over."