Amazing Inventions That Exist Only To Mess With Your Mind

The world is full of brilliant inventors and world-changing innovations. But for every invention that alters the way humans live, work, and play, there is another one that seems pretty head-scratchingly pointless. These mind-boggling innovations apparently exist only because of their potential for totally freaking us out.


Until now, you may have found it comforting to know that the nearest black hole is 3,000 light-years away. That is, until you look at this video. It's unclear why the scientist in the video above hasn't been sucked into the portal of doom she appears to be holding in her hands. Maybe it happened after the camera stopped rolling.

Vantablack is the world's darkest material. At first, its creators claimed it was capable of absorbing 99.96 percent of ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light. They now claim no instrument exists that is capable of measuring exactly how much light gets sucked into the latest version of the Vantablack vortex of horror. The next version is expected to absorb all light in the universe along with hope and human souls.

Vantablack isn't really a paint. It's a special coating that is made from extremely tiny carbon nanotubes — each one is about 3,500 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, and there are about a billion of them on each square centimeter of that portable black hole you see in the video. Any light unfortunate enough to enter gets trapped between the nanotubes, where it can't be seen, thus instantly freaking out any human being who encounters it. Paint on a pair of creepy eyes, and you've got the world's most terrifying peekaboo.

The Dino Sphere

There is nothing quite cool as a glowing sphere, except maybe for walking around holding a glowing sphere so everyone can see how cool it is. And the coolness factor of your glowing sphere triples if you can tell people that it's full of bioluminescent dinoflagellates.

For just under $60 you can have a Dino Sphere, which is powered not by a cord or batteries but by the tiny sea creatures that live inside it. Called dinoflagellates, these marine plankton glow using the same process employed by fireflies and some species of jellyfish. To make the sphere work, you just pour in the dinoflagellates, expose them to "moderate lighting" for 8 to 14 hours a day, and feed them weekly. The Dino Sphere will glow for one to three months, after which you have to buy more dinoflagellates — for another 50 bucks. Umm ... this is about the most expensive battery you can buy, plus you have to feed it and regularly expose it to sunlight. Still cool.

The uphill water fountain

Remember that guy who invented the Dyson vacuum cleaner? He also spent a year inventing an uphill water fountain, which is significantly cooler than a vacuum cleaner, if a lot less practical. The uphill water fountain is made from four glass ramps that appear to move water in the wrong direction.

Dyson's uphill water fountain doesn't really make water flow uphill — it's an illusion in which compressed air forces bubbles under the glass ramp to rise toward the top of the ramp and trick the eye into believing the water is moving in that direction, too.

What was his motivation for inventing such a thing? He saw it in an M.C. Escher painting. Next up: staircases that defy gravity and human heads that look like Fruit by the Foot.


Just because you escaped from the gaping chasm of death that is Vantablack doesn't mean you're safe. This little quivering blob of living metal looks like it's about to eat you, your family, and your house, and then go on a destructive rampage worthy of a Japanese mega-monster film. Just like Tang, which also mainly exists to mess with your mind, ferrofluids were invented by NASA. Okay, Tang wasn't actually invented by NASA, but why question a perfectly good urban legend? Ferrofluids really were. Scientists were looking for a way to control fluids in space, so they created the ferrofluid, a liquid medium containing tiny suspended particles of a magnetic solid.

Now, besides arming itself with metallic spikes whenever it encounters a magnetic field, ferrofluids didn't originally do much, though it's scarily remarkable how much they resemble a smaller but equally terrifying version of the Terminator T-1000. They may not end up as the main ingredient in a new line of Terminator Rottweilers, but they've recently become useful in a number of biomedical and mechanical applications, among others. Still holding out hope for those Terminator Rottweilers, though.

The Gomboc

The Gomboc is pretty mind-bogglingly cool to play with, but dollars for entertainment value is probably a little overrated — unless you're a mathematician. If you're a mathematician, you might consider maxing out a credit card to obtain one, because the Gomboc is actually the result of 10 years of research and experimentation and has the impressive distinction of also being the object that proves a mathematical theory.

According to Wired magazine, the theory is that a mono-monostatic object is possible. What is a mono-monostatic object? It is a body with a single stable resting position and a single unstable point of balance. In case you're still scratching your head at that explanation, it's an object that rights itself no matter how you put it down. So when you place the Gomboc down on any side other than its stable resting position, it does a little dance of indignation and then rights itself.

That's pretty cool, for sure, but is it 1,000 euros cool? Most people will probably say no. Sorry, mathematicians.

Robot walking tiles

Have you ever wished for an infinite walking surface? Besides, you know, the surface of the Earth? These robot walking tiles use ultrasonic sensors to guess the direction of your next step, and then they reorient themselves so they're in exactly the place you want to go. Which compared to a floor is, like, exactly the same, since they can't move the walls when you get to the edge of the room.

The blocks are made from a touch-sensitive conductive fabric called Kuralon EC, which can detect a slight change in pressure on the soles of the user's feet. That information is sent to a computer, which alters the position of the tiles so they're in the correct place when the walker actually takes a step. Larger versions of the robot tiles could one day surround tall buildings, thus preventing people from accidentally walking off them. Just kidding. Robot tiles this slow actually have no practical application whatsoever.

Hydrophobic sand

No, this is not sand that foams at the mouth and bites people. It's sand that cannot get wet, which would be crazily annoying if you were building a sand castle. The stuff looks pretty dang bizarre when submerged — instead of dispersing into the water like normal sand, it looks kind of like soft-serve ice cream. Or, as Nerd IQ put it, like "Science's Magical Red Turds."

Hydrophobic sand is just regular sand that's been covered with a substance called "trimethylsilanol vapor." It's the coating that resists water, not the sand itself. Sand that has been treated with trimethylsilanol vapor can't get wet, no matter how many buckets of water you pour on it, and doesn't have much practical use beyond amusing children and upsetting people who are trying to build sand castles. There are some ambitious possibilities, like using it to battle water shortages in desert regions, but those efforts don't seem to have gotten very far. However, rumor has it that you can also buy it from your local pet shop as a handy way to collect your cat's pee for veterinary samples. Really.

Robotic cell phones

Because the world absolutely needed another way to keep people staring at their phones, how about this one: Callo and Cally, robot cell phones. But wait, that's not all. These robots walk, dance, and make faces, which is useful because ... we're still not sure.

Here's how it works: When you move your robot cell phone, your friend's robot cell phone (because we'll all have one soon, right?) will move in an identical way. If you make a face, your robot will copy your expression, and then send that information to your friend's phone, which evidently gives your friend all the information he needs to know about your emotional state. Now, why you need a robot to do this when video calling is actually a thing now really isn't very clear. But whatever. Everyone loves a dancing robot.

Which one of these two robot cell phones is right for you? Callo is "more emotionally complex" than Cally, which is frankly a really rude thing to say to Cally. But if you want a robot that can communicate "amused annoyance" instead of just standard happiness, sadness, and anger, you're going to want the Callo robot. Or maybe just call your friend on Skype.

WikiCells edible containers

Have you ever looked at a candy bar wrapper longingly and thought to yourself, "I sure wish I could eat that?" No one else has, either. But that didn't stop scientists from inventing the WikiCells edible container, which is an edible skin made from tiny particles of food like fruit, nuts, or chocolate plus some less-identifiable things like chitosan or alginate. Chitosan ominously "comes from the body" (via Business Insider) while alginate is derived from algae.

These ingredients are used to make a waterproof electrostatic gel, which protects whatever product it happens to be wrapped around. And there is also a second layer, which is made from edible isomalt, a sweetener.

Now imagine for a moment picking up something at the grocery store that has been packaged in a WikiCell edible container. Now imagine all the toddlers who were there before you, all the people who put packages of raw chicken in their shopping carts and then picked up your WikiCell before deciding not to buy it, all the people who just wanted to see what it tasted like ... eww. This edible packaging really needs to be packaged beneath a couple of layers of plastic.

The rattleback

You can amaze your friends and family with a rattleback, but that's about all you can do with one. This strange little device has actually been around for more than 1,000 years. It was invented by someone in the ancient Celtic world who was either extremely bored or wanted his friends to think he was way cooler than he was.

The rattleback is an object shaped sort of like a canoe. When you spin it — provided you spin it in the right direction — it doesn't really behave like anything other than a strange-looking top. But when you spin it in the opposite direction, it has a little temper-tantrum. The ends wobble, then it stops spinning before, remarkably, spinning back in its preferred direction. According to, it wasn't until about 30 years ago that anyone really understood why the rattleback behaves the way it does. The physics had to be explained mathematically, using concepts like principal axes of inertia, distribution of mass, frictional force, and torque, which means that thousands of years after its invention pretty much everyone who isn't a mathematician isn't any closer to understanding why the rattleback does what it does. Thankfully, most of us don't really care, so there's not really a great sense of loss.


This particular invention stands out on this list because of its permanently unrealized potential. Starlite is (or rather was) a super heat-resistant plastic invented by, yes, a hairdresser. When Maurice Ward introduced the world to Starlite, he was met with the kind of scorn normally reserved for people who invent ghost detectors and time machines — that is, no one believed him. But test after test proved that the stuff was for real. It stayed cool to the touch after being subjected to the 2,500-degree Celsius heat of a blowtorch. If an egg coated with it was exposed to a similar heat, not only would the shell remain intact but the egg inside would still be completely raw at the end of the test. And it could withstand a nuclear blast the size of 75 Hiroshimas.

So why aren't we all living in fire-proof homes made from Starlite, and why don't we have Starlite-coated fireman uniforms, laser-resistant tanks, and nuclear bomb shelters made out of the stuff? Because Ward was paranoid. He wanted the big players he pitched Starlight to (organizations like British Aerospace, NASA, and Boeing) to sign things they weren't willing to sign. In other words, he guarded the formula like Mr. Krabs and his Krabby Patty recipe. And because he could never get anyone to agree to his terms, the Starlite secret formula went with him to his grave. Which means that today, Starlite's only real remaining purpose is just to mess with people's minds.