People Share Their Harebrained Schemes…That Ended Up Working
Some people say, “It’s not stupid if it works!” But how many of your dumb ideas have ever panned out positively? We’re not talking just stupid; we’re talking brainless, off-brand MacGyver levels of dumb ideas. Though if they do end up working, it could be argued that there is a level of genius required to concoct such senseless strategies. Call them Thomas Edison-esque problem solvers, or progenitors of sheer dumb luck, these stories shed light on dumb ideas gone right.
1. Distraction Dance
So, it was my mom’s birthday: we’re barbecuing, and we got her to stay inside and prep food so we can decorate the front with balloons and streamers. Well, we got the whole thing done in secret as we hoped, but then we realized there was no way we could get all the left-over decoration material and balloon pump inside without her noticing.
Now, there are two ways into our house: the back door that leads into the garage and then into the kitchen where mom was, and the front door which is visible from the kitchen sink. So, I told my brother I would go in from the back door and distract her while he brought the stuff in through the front, and down the hall past the kitchen. Once I got in the kitchen it had occurred to me that I had no plan of attack, so I just said, “Hey mom look at this dance I made!” and started like swaying and bopping up and down and doing jazz hands.
Mind you, I’m like 17 years old in this scenario. So, she’s just watching me when my brother comes in and is sneaking through the hall behind her with all the stuff. I keep telling her, “Wait it’s about to get good!” and she kept watching in confusion. The second he was in the clear, I stopped and said, “Ok that’s it.” and that was that. We succeeded.
2. Potato Quality
Not me, but there was that guy that decided it was a good business venture to start selling a service where he mailed anonymous messages to people’s friends written on potatoes. Stupidest idea ever—but he ended up selling thousands of potatoes, getting on Shark Tank, Good Morning America, CNBC, and Ellen. He even wrote a book about it.
3. Bounce Physics
When I was seven years old, I was playing in my back garden with those incredibly bouncy little balls you got, just bouncing them high off the house and letting them bounce randomly before trying to catch them. One time I went for this huge throw off the wall, and it bounced crazily off various surfaces so fast I completely lost track of it.
So, my seven-year-old logic was to stand back in the same place and throw another ball the same way. I watched it bounce this way and that about 10 times before finally hitting a plant and coming to a rest in a flower bed. I went over to pull back the foliage and sure enough, there were both balls literally lying next to each other in the mud. At the time I was like, “Yep, makes sense…”
Over the years since then, I’ve often thought about it and how the heck it worked!
4. Helmet Head
Wearing a motorcycle helmet while snow blowing. I did it because I missed riding. It kept my face warm and when snow would fly back at me the visor would protect me.
5. Tire Pressure
Our power was out due to a storm. I had a camp stove to use for boiling water to make a coffee pour-thru, but I couldn’t use my electric grinder for the coffee beans. I tried fashioning a mortar and pestle, but it was taking too long. So, I put the coffee beans in a couple of zip-lock bags, placed the bag right behind a car tire, then ran over it back and forth a couple of times to crush the beans. Worked like a charm.
6. Party Supplies
A friend and I once snuck 15 people into a Warped Tour concert by giving them some bracelets from a party supply store and clipboards full of paper. I walked up to the side gate and said we were with Rock the Vote. The security guard waved us right in.
7. Out on a Limb
A storm broke a limb on a tree hanging over my house in my back yard, but it was still hanging on by a few splinters. I didn’t want it to fall, and it wasn’t in a place where I could use my ladder to get to it. So, I found some rope, tied a brick to it, threw the brick and rope over the limb, made a crude rope swing, and swung and pulled at the branch until it finished breaking.
It wasn’t until I was using the chainsaw to cut it up that I realized how many times during my stupid idea I could have easily hurt or even killed myself.
8. Brain Freeze
I jumped in a puddle with a frozen sheet of ice on top of it—just to get out of doing a test I didn’t study for in elementary school. Soaked and freezing, I told my teacher that I slipped and fell. She called my mother to pick me up, and I got another day to study. It was below zero and I could’ve gotten hypothermia or something, but I guess it worked!
9. Jesus is the Answer
Put Jesus in as a Wi-Fi password in church. It worked.
10. Make-Believe Marriage
In college I was taking a class that required me to purchase an online textbook and workbook that was registered under your name, basically ensuring that each student would have to buy a new online copy each semester instead of buying used textbooks. I had a friend who took this class a semester before me so we came up with an idea that we thought would never work.
I messaged customer service and explained that I had recently gotten married, so my last name had changed and that I’d also legally changed my first name so that I’d need them to change it in their system. It totally worked, and the rep even congratulated me on my marriage.
11. Cleaning House
The real estate agent told me I had to have the carpets professionally cleaned or I’d lose my $800 bond. I did some research and found out I could become an accredited carpet cleaner as there are no official licensing boards in my state. So, I did what any sane person would do. I paid the $85, did the online course and got my certificate. Registered a business name, ABN etc., all for free.
I cleaned the carpets. They claimed I didn’t and required a professional cleaner’s invoice as proof. I handed the property management a copy of my accreditation and an invoice for services. With the return of the bond, and some smart shopping, I was able to purchase my own equipment to continue the job, I then claimed those costs back on tax.
I became a professional carpet cleaner and launched a cleaning business that is still going six months later. I do professional house-keeping and cleaning for vacating a property at the end of leases to ensure you get the maximum bond back. I help people who are being unfairly treated by their property management and advise them on what steps to take in regards to cleaning, repairs, etc.
12. Full Circle
This idea could’ve easily gotten me fired if it went wrong. I was working as an art director at an animation studio, making videos for clients. One client was especially pesky about the use of yellow in the background. They wanted it to be the yellow of their logo, which was this horrible neon-pee yellow. We advised against it, but after numerous calls, we had to cave and gave a version with that color.
They hated it, and asked for a change. What followed were 12 versions with numerous calls in between, and time spent tweaking the color over and over. Eventually, I got tired of it and just sent the original version again, I didn’t even bother to rename the file. The client said, “This looks exactly the way I wanted, thank you!”
How that ever worked out I still have no idea.
13. Free Rides
I used to know a guy who, every week, would order his Saturday night curry for delivery while sitting in the pub, and then walk across the road to the curry house and get the food and himself delivered home. This went on for about 10-12 weeks. One week, we were sitting having a pint and the owner of the curry house walked in, took his order, and had him picked up from the pub.
He said it was easier for everyone concerned.
14. Creative Problem Solver
I forgot to bring a resume to a job interview, but I had an index card in my bag. I cut the index card in half and wrote my name, my contact info, and “creative problem solver” in my best handwriting, and gave a copy of my “business card” to both the interviewers. I got the job.
15. A Real Pain
I didn’t want to go to a church event, so I faked being sick with a sore throat. I decided to try and ride it out as long as possible and see how far I could go. About three days later, my mom tells me to get up because we’re going to the clinic. We go to the clinic, and tell them what’s going on. They do the swab test and it came back positive for strep throat.
My mom and I were both dumbfounded, so she asked for another swab and to have a culture done. The other swab and the culture ended up positive.
16. Power Lift
A Bobcat tire blew during a job. I had another tire, but no jack. I positioned the Bobcat behind a dump truck. The Bobcat then tries to lift the back end of the dump truck, but the dump truck was really heavy, and the Bobcat lifted itself instead. I changed the tire and went back to work. It was a dicey situation, to say the least, but it was far superior to any other idea being suggested at the time.
I even remember me saying, “This is a bad idea.” and it was my idea.
17. Wasp Killer
There was a swarm of hornets that had made a nest under the front of our porch with only one specific narrow entry in or out. The spray wouldn’t work, and it was right under our front door, so I had no way to keep exterminating them. Then I thought to myself, “Why not whirring blades of metal?” We DID have an old metal fan, and I could maybe blow them away from the entrance so they had no way to get in.
The unanticipated effect was that it worked, though after a few hours had created a Civil War battlefield of dead or dying hornets piling up like a zombie tower in World War Z. Every few moments you’d hear a “thunk” as another hornet fell into the trap. It was so satisfying.
18. Playing the Empathy Card
This is far from the dumbest idea, but I once got an extra day to work on a video project in high school by coming to class with a video that was just a quarter second of blackness. I eagerly volunteered to go first, then acted confused and scared when the file “didn’t work.” The teacher took pity on me, and told me to just bring it the following day, and I got to finish it that evening and still got full credit as if I did it on time.
19. The Cocky Bird Gets the Worm
I was really, REALLY desperate to leave a past employer after 15 years. I had been applying and interviewing and striking out. Finally, I got an interview at a place where, at the time, I felt, “Meh, I am not really sure this is right for me, but anything is better than where I am at.” Instead of prepping for the interview, rehearsing answers, etc. I pulled an “office space.”
I was cocky, brash, unconcerned, and made it seem like I was happy where I was at and didn’t really care if I got the job or not. They called me back the next week, and I waited a week to return their call. Same deal with the second interview. When they offered me the job, I hemmed and hawed, said I needed to think about it really hard, and that it was a “big move” for me, etc.
I came back and demanded well over $15,000 above what they were offering in salary. They accepted.
20. A Big Yank
Got a really long drill bit stuck in a piece of thick wood. I tried everything I could think of to yank it out. My solution that ended up working for me was attaching the drill bit to a chain, put the chain on my truck, and have a piece of wood kind of stuck between two branches of a tree. I drove off slowly and it popped right out.
If you’re wondering how I hooked up the bit to the chain, the drill bit was a long spade drill bit. The end sticking out of the block was long enough that I could bend into a little hook. Attached the chain to the hook, bent the hook in a little further, and “ta-da”. It was now another link in the chain.
21. Key Fishing
My parents used to run a bed and breakfast, and we used to keep a section of the house locked. We only had light security, and it was just supposed to stop guests accidentally going into our living space. We used to keep the key on top of a door frame—it turns out the frame was hollow and there was a hole on the top. I put the key up there, it fell into the hole but didn’t sound like it dropped all the way to the floor.
14-year-old me didn’t realize taking the door frame off isn’t a major job, so I was a bit worried my parents would kill me. I found myself a wire coat hanger, straightened it out and attached a magnet to the end to go “key fishing.” It was more out of desperation than anything else, but it somehow worked.
22. Mystery Box
In university, I was late on an assignment that was supposed to be in my T.A.’s drop box by noon that day. I didn’t manage to get there until almost 3 PM, so I was sure he had already emptied it. Now, the drop boxes were literal boxes in cubbies with a slot on the front and a lock on them that prevented them from being pulled out.
The rack holding them was just a basic metal frame with about 5 rows of boxes. My T.A.’s box was somewhere in the middle of the shelf. So, I figured, “I’m late anyway, why not take a chance?” and slipped my assignment into the box below my T.A.’s box. I got my assignment handed back a few weeks later than everyone else.
It had a note from another T.A. scribbled on it that said, “Looks like this fell into my box by mistake.” I got full marks on the assignment.
23. Bits and Bytes
I did an undergrad in some weird mashup of electrical/computer engineering, math, physics, and computer science. I had to do a project or thesis at the end. I couldn’t write for crap, so I opted for the project. Except, I couldn’t actually do anything well. So, I invented the 9-bit “byte.” It took me all of five minutes to think up.
Normal (read: ALL) computers are based on binary, bytes are eight binary bits, and blah blah. Well, I had the courage to ask why they couldn’t just be nine bits. It’s really more complicated than that, but you’ll see I didn’t care for complications if you read on. Instead of learning crap like 00001001 (binary) = nine decimal, why not just say 100000000 (the one is 9 spaces over) = 9 decimal?
Then “humans could read it”. This is perverting everything about binary and architectures based on it, but whatever. Who cares if saying 28 (decimal) = 11100 in binary or 000000010010000000 in my scheme and was incredibly wasteful? And I went on to build a CPU that could process them that was ridiculously stupid, wrote my small paper about it.
Prof commended me for thinking outside the box and gave me a great mark but told me to never tell anyone else about this stupid idea. So of course, now I’m telling everything here.
24. Radical Rates
I am a poor student living in Germany. Students are required by law to have health insurance. The university will expel you if you don’t have health insurance. The lowest rate I could get was about €189 ($208) a month. I usually don’t even spend that much on food! There was just no way that I could pay such a high rate. I wrote my insurer countless letters and emails explaining how there was no way that I could pay €189.
They refused to lower my insurance rate, explaining how they are just following “the law.” They even informed my university that I had failed to pay health insurance. The university then threatened me to remove me. In my desperation, I wrote the German Ministry of Health. I explained myself and asked them to talk to my insurer.
A week later I received a letter from my insurer informing me that they had cut my rate to a mere €89 a month and that this reduction was applicable to all months prior. My rate is about to go up again but this time I should be able to manage this time.
25. Math Gone Missing
When I was in high school, I was sick and out for about two weeks, and the day I came back we had a test in my math class for a chapter I almost completely missed. My math teacher warned us that it was the hardest math test of the year due to how complex and fast the chapter was. I walk into class dreading this test and I could not even try and make up an answer on the short answer page, I could only answer the multiple-choice questions because there were options given.
My teacher allowed us to rip our test sheets from the staples due to the formulas being provided. I was too embarrassed to hand in a full sheet of something I didn’t even attempt, so I simply took the sheet with the short answers, put it in my pocket and only handed in the sheet with the multiple-choice questions/formulas.
I put it on the pile on her desk while she was helping another student so she wouldn’t realize. I was dreading the day she was handing these tests back for weeks, and the day finally arrived. She came up to me at the table I was sitting at with my friends and said she needed to have a private conversation with me regarding the test.
I was freaking out and thought I was going to get in trouble for cheating. I went to go talk to her and she said, “I lost your test.” I played dumb and she agreed to give me a mark based on the averages of all my other math tests. Basically, based on what I handed in—which, mind you, was the only part I actually completed.
I should have received an 11% and I ended up getting something in the high 70s.
26. The Spoils of War
About 11-12 years ago, my youngest brother got stung about 12-15 times by yellow jackets that had a nest in a hole on the side of our house, so my other brothers and I decided to do something about it. We all geared up putting on jeans, winter coats, Stormtrooper helmets, etc. One of us sprayed the hole with Raid, then I put a weed whacker right in front of the hole, and sure enough, those pests flew straight into it.
Our other brother stood behind getting the ones who escaped with a tennis racket and spraying them with Raid again to finish them off. Our youngest brother watched at a distance and cheered us on the whole time. He completely forgot about being stung after that, and we spent the rest of the day playing in the woods behind our house.
I believe my mom ordered pizza too. It turned into a pretty good day.
27. A Young MacGyver
Breaking into my own house through the kitchen window, using a piece of wire and a wooden table after I was locked out. I arrived home with my mom and my little cousin and we realized we forgot the keys at my grandma’s house, way the heck across the city. Mom calls my dad to bring his keys. He was working at the time and he’d take an hour to arrive, so we’d have to wait outside.
I went full “Heck no” mode and kept looking for other ways in. Turned out that one of the tiny back windows was open, but there was a safety pin that kept it from opening all the way up and the only way to remove it was unscrewing it. So, I grabbed a wooden clothespin that was lying there, broke it, and removed the wire that kept it together because it was just the right size to unscrew the window pin.
I did it, pulled a table underneath the window so I could climb inside, and just like that I managed to successfully break into a house at age 13.
28. Booze Smugglers
I was really poor when my future wife and I exited college. We went on a cruise with friends and didn’t have a lot of money to spend. The cruise wouldn’t allow you to bring alcohol onboard and we weren’t willing to pay for drinks due to budget. We purchased a liter-sized sealed bottle of water and some cheap rum, drilled a hole in the bottom to drain the water and funnel in the rum, then super-glued the bottom again.
The water was caught by ship security scanner but the guards said, “It’s just water” and let us through. We had cheap mixed drinks for the duration. We look back on those days fondly. We would never think of doing that today, but it was funny back when we were young.
29. Two Wrongs Make a Right
Back in the flip phone days, I had dropped mine and the screen stopped working. I could make and receive calls, but the screen was just completely blank. I put up with it for a couple of weeks because I couldn’t afford a new phone, but one day I had the thought, “Well, if dropping the phone made the connection loose, maybe the same thing can fix it,” and threw my phone at the ground.
I picked it back up and the screen was working.
30. Digging Your Own Grave
Years ago, the foundation of my house would let water in right at the seam of the wall and hatchway. I decided to dig down so I could seal it from the outside. I got a few feet down before I couldn’t reach with a shovel. So, what did this genius do? I went in headfirst and kept digging. But then my arms were getting tired and I decided I should quit.
I’m now doing a handstand in a narrow pit and have no way to back out of it. I live far enough from neighbors that yelling would do nothing. After a few minutes of coming to terms with the fact that this is how I die at 28 years old… I decide I will try to “walk” up the foundation wall with my hands one last time… and it worked.
It could have ended quite badly. In the end, it worked and I was able to seal the issue from the outside.
31. Lucky Egg
When I was in junior high school, I did this project where I had to drop an egg off the back of some bleachers onto the sidewalk and not crack the egg. There was a sidewalk down there with grass next to it. You had to hit the sidewalk, and if you missed it you had to drop it again. You had three shots, and if you missed every time you got a D. You got an F if you missed and your egg broke.
I got a Pringles can and a few packages of Jell-O. I made the Jell-O using half the water it asked for because I figured it’d be thicker. I also cut a hole in the middle of the can because the teacher had to see me put the egg in there. When I dropped my Pringles can it landed exactly how I expected it, however, I did not expect the next part.
The little door I made to put the egg in burst open, the egg shot out the side and went skidding across the grass unharmed. Multiple students protested that my egg landed on the grass so I had to drop it again. The three that tried before me had failed, but the teacher said, “He got lucky, but he passed. He hit the sidewalk first.”
32. Burrito Method
In my senior year of high school, we had to spend our final quarter doing mandatory volunteer work to graduate. I was placed at a “Head Start” facility in my city, and while some of the kids I worked with were great, there was one, Brandon, who was an absolute nightmare. He was 20 months old and had endless energy, no empathy, no speech beyond a few words, and no ability to recognize pain in other children.
At nap time, someone always had to be sitting next to his cot, as he would otherwise just get up and run around, sometimes hitting the other sleeping kids, if he could get away with it. He would be a spiteful little brat and repeatedly stick his feet out from under his blanket after you pushed it back in like it was a game.
One day I got so frustrated trying to get this brat to sleep that I basically just laid him down flat, arms and legs together, and closely tucked his blanket in under him from top to bottom like a burrito. To my overwhelming joy, he made no attempt to escape and was asleep within two minutes. I repeated this tactic over the next few days with the same results.
It worked. Brandon would sleep. One of the actual teachers/workers there saw me doing this to him one day and asked me what I was doing. I explained the process, but she was skeptical until I showed her just how quickly Brandon would chill out. I swear, her face lit up like I had just given her the most life-changing advice ever, “Oh my God, you’re right, he actually falls asleep!”
33. Good Dog
I was seven years old and had a loose tooth that I couldn’t pull out. I tied a string from my tooth to the door and swung. It didn’t work. So, I tied a string to the tooth and tied the other end to my dog’s collar. Threw a tennis ball. Bye-bye tooth.
34. A Good Gamble
I stuck my neck out for an ex-con on house arrest at my job. He interviewed well, but his availability was horrible, between the ankle bracelet, meeting with his parole officer, treatment program, etc. My general manager said “no” and I said, “I’m doing it anyway.” The first night he worked there, I found myself in a bind.
He was the ONLY person scheduled in the kitchen from 8 to 10 pm, and I had no one who knew the kitchen beside myself because our store had a wicked virus going around and we were short-staffed. I told him, “Look, dude, we’re pretty screwed back here, and I’m going to try to keep my cool but I can’t promise anything… And because I’m the only manager on duty, I might have to run to the front/drive-thru.”
Well, this guy MASTERED production in about an hour. He was faster than my general manager on the grills and fryers, and his attitude was so good. I waited on nothing and he even tried to help me make sandwiches and send them out. He also managed to clean up the entire kitchen. He eventually moved to maintenance and fixed all the crap the previous guy ignored in a day.
Then he moved to service for more hours when the hour restrictions came off and was great with the customers. My general manager got over the ankle bracelet, record, and tattoos, and actually hired him for his house flipping business. All because I said, “We need employees, and you can’t be picky when he’s the only guy I’ve interviewed in a month…”
Some people wondered why I consider this a dumb decision. Our background check wasn’t exhaustive in detail to us. It said “red, yellow, green” and we usually tossed all the red ones in favor of green or yellow. I had no clue going into the interview, or the hire, WHAT his offenses were. He chose to disclose to me why his availability sucked.
I did not ask. I don’t know the legality of asking. But he didn’t disclose his record to me, and I had to go with my gut. In fast food you get a lot of teenagers as customers and employees. You get a lot of sketchy people, record or not. You have to consider the safety of the children as well as the quality of the worker you are introducing to the workplace.
An ex-con is a wild card when you don’t know EXACTLY what they were in for. And again, I’m not sure the legality of me asking. After I got to know him on a personal level, he shared his record. Substance abuse led to a bunch of felonies, and he was released early on house arrest for good behavior. But again, I knew none of this as I hired.
He was a great hire. He is a great man. He was the “kid’s defender” when people chose to berate my teenager cashiers. He was a great influence on the kids, a real “do as I say and not as I did” kind of guy who was painfully honest about what he lost. But he also could have been a real angry man who enjoyed fighting people and stealing.
35. Hot Idea
I had a video card die on me. I thought that maybe the solder had melted away from it overheating, so I had the idea to stick it in the oven briefly to melt the solder into place. Looked it up online and it is apparently a normal thing to do. It worked like a charm!
36. A Bumpy Fix
Something broke on the front wheel of my car while I was on a cross-country trip, and it made a terrible noise and smoke. It was the middle of the night and the shops in the town we pulled into were all closed. I jacked it up to see what was wrong, took off the wheel, and then the jack tipped over and the car dropped onto the exposed brake disk.
I did it again and the same thing happened. I jacked it up again, still couldn’t figure out what was wrong, put the wheel back on, and whatever it was had been fixed by the jolts. I drove that car for years with no further problems.
37. Insider Trading
In college, my buddy and I took an investing class. For one of the projects, we had a month to “invest” fake dollars into the stock market and see which team would have the most money after a month. It was spring semester so we put all of our fake money into Heinz, thinking there would be a spike in ketchup and mustard sales as the weather got warmer.
The next day was actually the day that Berkshire Hathaway purchased the entire Heinz company. As a result, the professor accused us of insider trading. We had no idea what we were doing. To clarify, we didn’t actually get in trouble for “insider trading” but the professor came over to us before the next class and was like, “What happened here?”
We explained it, and she thought it was funny but said we would definitely be investigated for insider trading if this was real money.
38. Facing Fears
I am very anti-social and don’t get along with people. I don’t go out, and dread to talk to anyone. School trauma, I guess. So, I moved into a house with nine strangers as flat-mates to force myself to interact with people. So far, I am enjoying living there. I am no longer afraid of talking to them, and I met many nice other people that even like me.
One dude let me draw on his face after he came over without a costume to a Halloween party and was so happy. He even recognized me a week later, shouted my name and hugged me. Others complimented the job I did helping him. They really care about what I did and do. They are nice and I like them.
39. Quick Thinking
During college, I was at a friend’s house on the other side of town. It was very late and the buses had stopped, so my only way home was to call a cab. This was before Uber. I was also really hungry, and because I only had about $10, my choice was either get some takeout and walk for an hour to get home at night, or call a cab and go hungry.
Then…eureka! I went into the Chinese takeout place and asked for delivery to my home address and asked for a ride home. They protested at first, but I explained that my hitching a ride was no extra cost for them. They agreed and I got a free ride home, and Chinese takeout!
40. Freshman Fraud
In my freshman year of college, my grades were really not great. My parents were really strict about getting good grades. When my dad asked to see my grades, I panicked and did the inspect command on the computer where you can change typefaces on the screen to read different words and letters. I changed all of my crappy grades to good grades.
My dad was so happy that I did “good” in my first year of school. He asked me to print my results. I did, and it turns out he had to send them to our car insurance company for a “good student discount.” Ultimately, I committed insurance fraud by accident. But I got a discount.
41. Bubble Boost
Back in high school, I stopped by one of my teacher’s rooms after class to ask him some questions about our homework. When I walked in, I noticed he was grading some of our tests. Of note, all of his tests were made up of multiple-choice, true/false, or matching, and all of the answers were bubbled in. What I noticed was that instead of using an answer key to grade, he was just placing a stencil over the paper with the correct bubble punched out. The stencil wasn’t transparent, so all it showed was whether we bubbled in the right answer or not.
Flash forward to our next test, and I’m stuck on a T/F question. Knowing how he graded, I figured I’d bubble in both T and F, and if he caught it, it would be easy enough to claim it was an accident. Well, he didn’t catch it, and I used that trick the rest of the year for a little extra boost on all of his tests.
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