5 Easy Fixes to Complex Problems You Won't Believe Worked
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.
An Aquarium Hires the World's Tallest Man to Save a Choking Dolphin
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.
"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.
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.
"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.
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."
Los Angeles Saves a Reservoir With Millions of Plastic Balls
The Ivanhoe Reservoir in Los Angeles provides drinking water for over 600,000 people who would much rather be purchasing it in recycled bottles decorated with self-congratulatory jargon. The nearly 60 million gallons of water is treated with chlorine to keep it clean of any bacteria. Unfortunately, ground water also contains a chemical called bromide, and while the two are essentially harmless on their own, chlorine and bromide mixtures will react with sunlight to produce a boiling cauldron of cancer. This is a problem during the blazing summer months in California.
Chlorine, bromide, and smiling beams of sunshine collide to form bromate, which sounds like something a douchebag nicknames the person he splits rent with, but is actually a dangerous carcinogen that becomes gradually more harmful after prolonged exposure, a condition we assume extends to drinking it. Since the chlorine is vital to keep the reservoir clean and the bromide is naturally occurring, the only option available to keep Ivanhoe from slowly poisoning a sizable chunk of Los Angeles would be to somehow block out the sun during the summer months.
After all the entries in this article, we have no right to call this idea stupid.
Following brainstorming sessions that must have sounded like pitch meetings at the Hall of Doom, officials came up with two solutions -- build either a giant tarp or a huge retractable dome. Either undertaking would be obscenely expensive and take too long to implement (with the additional roadblock of being totally insane), so there seemed to be nothing they could do to prevent the reservoir's impending toxicity until somebody suggested, "What if we just dumped, like, millions of shiny floating balls into the water? That would keep the sun out, right?"
The Absurd Solution:
So, the city of Los Angeles poured millions of jet-black plastic balls into the Ivanhoe Reservoir, covering the entire surface with an inky floating shield.
"Wait, no, those are bags of spiders!"
The balls are coated in carbon, cost about 40 cents apiece, and perfectly block the sun's rays from reacting with the chemicals in the water. The cost-effective solution was actually co-opted from a technique airports use to keep birds from settling in lakes and ponds alongside runways and then flying into the paths of airplanes, a salient danger brought to light by the historical drama Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Hundreds of thousands of the balls were dumped in at a time to completely coat the reservoir, making the whole waterway look like an evil cranberry farm, while the city builds a more permanent shield over the next few years.
"OH MY GOD CAN WE JUMP IN JUST ONCE?"
People Keep Tigers from Sneaking Up on Them by Wearing Backward Masks
For years, the people of the Ganges Delta in India have been trying to coexist with the Bengal tigers that live near the area. This is not an easy task when you're living next door to the largest population of wild tigers in the world, who over the years have come to discover that human beings are ludicrously easy to kill and eat.
People routinely enter the Tiger Zone to fish, gather food, and collect wood. The tigers then ambush the almighty bejeebus out of them, even going so far as to swim out into the water to surprise fishermen on their freaking boats, a tactic typically reserved for sharks, alligators, and sea monsters.
"Just stay still, Patrick. They'll think you're a log."
At one point in the mid-1980s, about 60 villagers in the Ganges were being killed by tigers every year. It was becoming far too dangerous to head into the jungle, but the people had no choice -- if they didn't, their livelihood would dry up. So what could they do?
Realistically, carrying weapons wouldn't help much, because 9 times out of 10 the tiger is going to burst out of a thicket or come blazing out of a treetop like a murderous hailstorm, giving you about half a second to fire a gun before it eats your head. Many of the victims had knives or woodcutting axes already, and those didn't do them any good. So the people tried making human dummies laced with live electrical wires to goad the tigers into attacking, the idea being that the electric shock would train the animals to leave people alone. That seemed to work somewhat, but wasn't making an appreciable dent in tiger-related fatalities.
"Are we being mocked? Because I feel like we're being mocked."
Then, a student at the Science Club of Calcutta pointed out, "Hey, did anyone else notice that tigers only attack when they think you aren't looking? What if we painted eyes on the backs of our heads, has anybody tried that yet?"
No, nobody had.
The Absurd Solution:
People venturing into the jungle began wearing masks on the backs of their heads to trick the tigers, and the effect was pretty incredible -- nobody wearing a mask was attacked by a tiger for the next three years. In fact, the only people killed by tigers in that time period were those who either flat-out refused to wear a mask or had taken their masks off while still in Tigeropolis. It is unclear whether the tigers were more confused by the seemingly two-faced Bengali people or the sudden appearance of Caucasian elf princes in their homeland.
Or possibly both.
Tigers are pretty sharp, however, and as the years have passed the effectiveness of the masks has dropped a bit below 100 percent. Still, it is rare that anyone ventures into the jungle without one, because as the saying goes, "'Tis better to be safe than pinned beneath the crushing jaws of a howling slaybeast."
"Man, these dudes never turn around. And they all look the same. That's too creepy for me, I'm going back to eating fish."