10 Inventors Who Came to Regret Their Creations

by Kenny Hemphill

Just because someone's invented something, it doesn't mean that they're happy with the end result.

1. J. Robert Oppenheimer/ Albert Einstein — The atomic bomb.

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It's J. Robert Oppenheimer who, as director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II, is credited with the creation of the atomic bomb. But Albert Einstein's work made it possible.

Despite past associations with left wing organizations, Oppenheimer welcomed the opportunity to play a part in the war effort. Later, however, he had mixed feelings about the bomb. "I have no remorse about the making of the bomb… As for how we used it, I understand why it happened and appreciate with what nobility those men with whom I'd worked made their decision. But I do not have the feeling that it was done right. The ultimatum to Japan [the Potsdam Proclamation demanding Japan's surrender] was full of pious platitudes. ...our government should have acted with more foresight and clarity in telling the world and Japan what the bomb meant," he said.

Einstein was less equivocal. Years later he regretted having signed a letter to President Roosevelt urging him to support the research of physicists into nuclear chain reactions and their use as a weapon, because he believed the Germans were already working on it. "Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb," he said, "I would have never lifted a finger."

2. Mikhail Kalashnikov — AK-47.

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Kalashnikov designed the rifle that bore his name for the Russian army at the end of the Second World War after witnessing terrible casualties in battle and being injured himself. Designed to be a simple automatic rifle that could be made cheaply using the mass production methods available at the time, Kalashnikov, who died in 2014, lived long enough to see his creation be responsible for more deaths than any other assault rifle.

"I keep coming back to the same questions. If my rifle claimed people’s lives, can it be that I…, an Orthodox believer, am to blame for their deaths, even if they are my enemies?" he wrote in a letter to the head of the Russian Orthodox church in 2010.

3. Tim Berners Lee — the double slash.

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Given what Sir Tim did for all of us when he developed HTML and created the World Wide Web, he's got a fair amount of credit in the bank. If he did have any major regrets about the web, we wouldn't find it too difficult to forgive him, but his mea culpa relates to only two characters, the '//' at the beginning of every web address. "Really, if you think about it, it doesn't need the //. I could have designed it not to have the //," he said, according to Business Insider.

4. Ethan Zuckerman — the pop-up advert.

If you've ever found yourself yelling at your computer screen in frustration as yet another pop-up ad leaps into view, obscuring the content behind it, Zuckerman is the person to blame.

Now head of the Center for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Zuckerman wrote an essay for The Atlantic last year entitled "The Internet’s Original Sin," in which he took full responsibility for the pesky blighters. Working as an employee of web host Tripod at the time, Zuckerman explained that the company, which provided free web pages for consumers, had spent five years looking for a way to generate revenue.

"At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad."

Explaining that the intention had been to allow adverts to appear when users visited a page without necessarily associating the advert with the content of the page, Zuckerman explained, "We came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good."

5. Dong Nguyen — Flappy Bird.

Flappy Bird was a sensation a year ago. What looked like a crude and simple game proved to be hugely addictive thanks to it hitting that sweetspot between infuriatingly difficulty and being just playable enough to make you think that next time you'll do better. Downloads soared and controversy raged until, after 50 million downloads and advertising revenue that was hitting around $45,000 a day, Nguyen had had enough and announced that he was going to withdraw it from app stores. "I cannot take this anymore," he tweeted. Apparently, the publicity generated by the game had attracted the attention of the world's press and Nguyen was bombarded with calls, tweets, and emails.

The removal of the game from app stores did little to quell the publicity. Nguyen received death threats, while phones with the game already installed sold on eBay for small fortunes, and app stores were flooded with copycat titles.

6. Bob Propst — the office cubicle.

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While working as a consultant for Herman Miller in the 1960s, Bob Propst introduced America to the open plan office and with it, the office cubicle. It was, he told the New York Times in 1997, designed to "give knowledge workers a more flexible, fluid environment than the rat-maze boxes of offices."

Companies saw his invention as a way to save money,  doing away with individual offices and replacing them with open plans and cubicles. Propst came to lament his invention. "The cubiclizing of people in modern corporations is monolithic insanity," he said.

7. Vincent Connare — Comic Sans.

Sunny Ripert, Flickr // CC BY SA-2.0

"If you love it, you don't know much about typography." An anonymous critic of the font Comic Sans didn't say that, for those are the words of its designer, Vincent Connare, talking to the Wall Street Journal. Connare followed up that comment, however, with this: "If you hate it, you really don't know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby."

Connare's view, and one shared by lots of others, is that the problem with Comic Sans is not with the font itself, but its overuse and misuse. Designed for a Microsoft application aimed at children to be used as a replacement in speech bubbles for Times New Roman, Connare never imagined it would become so widely used and derided.

8. Tom Karen — Raleigh Chopper.

Paul Townsend, Flickr // CC BY ND-2.0

Before the BMX arrived on the scene in the late 1970s, if you wanted a bike that wasn't of the drop-handlebarred racing variety, Raleigh's Chopper (pictured up top) was one of the few options. Loved by millions for its comfortable saddle, laid-back seating position, and those huge Harley Davidson-esque handlebars, it was one of Raleigh's best-selling bikes in the 1970s.

However, its designer, Tom Karen, wasn't enthusiastic when a comeback for the Chopper was mooted last year. He told The Telegraph: "The Chopper wasn’t a very good bike. It was terribly heavy so you wouldn’t want to ride it very far. There was some guy who rode it from Land's End to John O’Groats for a good cause and by the end he was cursing it."

9. Kamran Loghman — Pepper spray.

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Kamran Loghman worked for the FBI in the 1980s and helped turn pepper spray into weapons grade material. He also wrote the guide for police departments on how it should be used. The spray has been used numerous times by police in the US, but following an incident at the University of California in 2011 when police sprayed the bright orange chemical on what the New York Times described as "docile protestors," Loghman spoke out. "I have never seen such an inappropriate and improper use of chemical agents," he told the Times.

10. John Sylvan — Coffee capsules.

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When John Sylvan invented coffee pouches and machines which could turn them into steaming cups of joe, he had no idea of the monster he had created. Sylvan's invention gave rise to systems like Nespresso and Tassimo and made it easier than ever for millions of us grab a regular caffeine fix. "I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it," he said a few years ago. "It's like a cigarette for coffee, a singleserve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance."

This story originally appeared on our UK site.

9 Royally Interesting Facts About King Cake

iStock
iStock

It’s Carnival season, and that means bakeries throughout New Orleans are whipping up those colorful creations known as King Cakes. And while today it’s primarily associated with Big Easy revelry, the King Cake has a long and checkered history that reaches back through the centuries. Here are a few facts about its origins, its history in America, and how exactly that plastic baby got in there.

1. The King Cake is believed to have Pagan origins.

The king cake is widely associated with the Christian festival of the Epiphany, which celebrates the three kings’ visit to the Christ child on January 6. Some historians, however, believe the cake dates back to Roman times, and specifically to the winter festival of Saturnalia. Bakers would put a fava bean—which back then was used for voting, and had spiritual significance—inside the cake, and whoever discovered it would be considered king for a day. Drinking and mayhem abounded. In the Middle Ages, Christian followers in France took up the ritual, replacing the fava bean with a porcelain replica engraved with a face.

2. The King Cake stirred up controversy during the French Revolution.

To bring the pastry into the Christian tradition, bakers got rid of the bean and replaced it with a crowned king’s head to symbolize the three kings who visited baby Jesus. Church officials approved of the change, though the issue became quite thorny in late 18th century France, when a disembodied king’s head was seen as provocation. In 1794, the mayor of Paris called on the “criminal patissiers” to end their “filthy orgies.” After they failed to comply, the mayor simply renamed the cake the “Gateau de Sans-Culottes,” after the lower-class sans-culottes revolutionaries.

3. The King Cake determined the early kings and queens of Mardi Gras.


A Mardi Gras King in 1952.

Two of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes (NOLA-talk for "crew," or a group that hosts major Mardi Gras events, like parades or balls) brought about the current cake tradition. The Rex Organization gave the festival its colors (purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power) in 1872, but two years earlier, the Twelfth Night Revelers krewe brought out a King Cake with a gold bean hidden inside and served it up to the ladies in attendance. The finder was crowned queen of the ball. Other krewes adopted the practice as well, crowning the kings and queens by using a gold or silver bean. The practice soon expanded into households throughout New Orleans, where today the discovery of a coin, bean or baby trinket identifies the buyer of the next King Cake.

4. The King Cake's baby trinkets weren't originally intended to have religious significance.

Although today many view the baby trinkets found inside king cakes to symbolize the Christ child, that wasn’t what Donald Entringer—the owner of the renowned McKenzie’s Bakery in New Orleans, which started the tradition—had in mind. Entringer was instead looking for something a little bit different to put in his king cakes, which had become wildly popular in the city by the mid-1900s. One story has it that Entringer found the original figurines in a French Quarter shop. Another, courtesy of New Orleans food historian Poppy Tooker (via NPR’s The Salt), states that a traveling salesman with a surplus of figurines stopped by the bakery and suggested the idea. "He had a big overrun on them, and so he said to Entringer, 'How about using these in a king cake,'" said Tooker.

5. Bakeries are afraid of getting sued.

What to many is an offbeat tradition is, to others, a choking hazard. It’s unclear how many consumers have sued bakeries over the plastic babies and other trinkets baked inside king cakes, but apparently it’s enough that numerous bakeries have stopped including them altogether, or at least offer it on the side. Still, some bakeries remain unfazed—like Gambino’s, whose cinnamon-infused king cake comes with the warning, "1 plastic baby baked inside."

6. The French version of the King Cake comes with a paper crown.


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In France, where the flaky, less colorful (but still quite tasty) galette de rois predates its American counterpart by a few centuries, bakers often include a paper crown with their cake, just to make the “king for a day” feel extra special. The trinkets they put inside are also more varied and intricate, and include everything from cars to coins to religious figurines. Some bakeries even have their own lines of collectible trinkets.

7. There's also the Rosca de Reyes, the Bolo Rei, and the Dreikönigskuchen.


"Roscón de Reyes" by Tamorlan - Self Made (Foto Propia).

Versions of the King Cake can be found throughout Europe and Latin America. The Spanish Rosca de Reyes and the Portugese Bolo Rei are usually topped with dried fruit and nuts, while the Swiss Dreikönigskuchen has balls of sweet dough surrounding the central cake. The Greek version, known as Vasilopita, resembles a coffee cake and is often served for breakfast.

8. The King Cake is no longer just a New Orleans tradition.

From New York to California, bakeries are serving up King Cakes in the New Orleans fashion, as well as the traditional French style. On Long Island, Mara’s Homemade makes their tri-colored cakes year round, while in Los Angeles you can find a galette de rois (topped with a nifty crown, no less) at Maison Richard. There are also lots of bakeries that deliver throughout the country, many offering customizable fillings from cream cheese to chocolate to fruits and nuts.

9. The New Orleans Pelicans have a King Cake baby mascot—and it is terrifying.

Every winter you can find this monstrosity at games, local supermarkets, and in your worst nightmares.

5 Wild Facts About Mall Madness

Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The mall, home of fashion brands, bookstores, and anchor locations like Sears, was a must-visit location for Americans in the 1980s and 1990s—and especially for teenagers. Teens also played Mall Madness, a board game from Milton Bradley introduced in 1988 that tried to capture the excitement of soft pretzels and high-interest credit card shopping in one convenient tabletop game. Navigating a two-story shopping mall, the player who successfully spends all of their disposable income to acquire six items from the shopping list and return to the parking lot wins.

If you’re nostalgic for this simulated spending spree, you're in luck: Hasbro will be bringing Mall Madness back in fall 2020. Until then, check out some facts about the game’s origins.

1. Mall Madness was the subject of a little controversy.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Milton Bradley put a focus on the tween demographic. Their Dream Phone tasked young players with finding the boy of their dreams; Mall Madness, which began as an analog game but quickly added an electronic voice component, served to portray tweens as frenzied shoppers. As a result, the game drew some criticism upon release for its objective—to spend as much money as possible—and for ostensibly portraying the tweens playing as “bargain-crazy, credit-happy fashion plates,” according to Adweek. Milton Bradley public relations manager Mark Morris argued that the game taught players “how to judiciously spend their money.”

2. The original Mall Madness may not be the same one you remember.

The electronic version of Mall Madness remains the most well-known version of the game, but Milton Bradley introduced a miniature version in 1988 that was portable and took the form of an audio cassette. With the game board folded in the case, it looks like a music tape. Opened, the tri-fold board resembles the original without the three-dimensional plastic mall pieces. It was one of six games the company promoted in the cassette packaging that year.

3. Mall Madness was not the only shopping game on the market.

At the same time Mall Madness was gaining in popularity, consumers could choose from two other shopping-themed board games: Let’s Go Shopping from the Pressman Toy Corporation and Meet Me At the Mall from Tyco. Let’s Go Shopping tasks girls with completing a fashion outfit, while Meet Me At the Mall rewards the player who amasses the most items before the mall closes.

4. There was a Hannah Montana version of Mall Madness.

In the midst of Hannah Montana madness in 2008, Hasbro—which acquired Milton Bradley—released a Miley Cyrus-themed version of the game. Players control fictional Disney Channel singing sensation Hannah Montana as she shops for items. There was also A Littlest Pet Shop version of the game, with the tokens reimagined as animals.

5. Mall Madness is a collector’s item.

Because, for the moment, Hasbro no longer produces Mall Madness, a jolt of nostalgia will cost you a few dollars. The game, which originally sold for $30, can fetch $70 or more on eBay and other secondhand sites.

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