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Friday, August 22, 2003
The best things since sliced bread

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

The largest blackout in United States history pulled the plug on millions last week, trapping people in subways and elevators, cutting power to TVs and computers and closing airports and restaurants.

SPORTS INVENTIONS
Check out Jim Caple's list of greatest sports inventions.

With the modern world brought to a sudden halt, it gave everyone a chance to consider the inventions they absolutely could not live without. The car? The telephone? The computer? They all make modern life possible, no doubt about it. But when it comes to making modern life worthwhile, well, they take a back seat to the other 10 most important inventions:

1. Air conditioning
Forget the computer. You wouldn't be able to stand using it in your office during the summer without air conditioning. We're so dependent on air conditioning now that without it we'd have to give Texas back to Mexico.

2. Deodorant
No, it's not the sort of invention that immediately springs to mind. But give it some time and its importance will sidle up to you, like a French exchange student plopping next to you on a cramped bus during summer water rationing.

Eric Gagne
What would Eric Gagne do without his glasses?
3. Eye-glasses
As someone with 20-400 vision, I can personally vouch for this one.

4. Elevators
Pluses: Their invention allowed us to save valuable space by building ever higher buildings. They can efficiently carry a dozen people hundreds of feet and dozens of stories in a matter of seconds. They provide the plotline for a dramatic rescue scene in about every suspense movie ever made. Minus: Muzak.

5. Diet soda
Whenever I see the obesity in modern America, whenever I take a middle seat between two passengers who look like they ate the first class section, whenever I see someone biggie-size a Big Gulp even though he already resembles Mo Vaughn's long-lost identical brother, I try to imagine how bad it would be without sugar free soda.

6. The remote control
The TV is absolutely useless without it. In all honesty, I don't know if I could even figure out how to turn mine on or change the channel if I didn't have this.

7. Anesthesia
It comes in handy.

Anesthesia
Surgery without anesthesia? No one wants that.
8. Ramen
The one food item that makes a college education possible.

9. The pencil
Remember how everyone felt like they needed a palm pilot a couple years ago and then they realized that it was still easier -- and cheaper -- just to write down the phone number or appointment in a notebook? People keep trying to come up with a new twist but the pencil remains the world's finest instrument for recording information. It's so efficient that there is no documented case of anyone using an entire pencil all the way down to the eraser.

10. Sliced bread
We take it for granted but I don't think we can really understand how dramatic a leap forward this must have been at the time. I mean, sliced bread has been around for, like, a century or so, and it's still the invention against which all others are judged. I know my life would be more difficult without it. I have a hard enough time slicing a single bagel in half, I know I would have no chance when I got down to the heel of the loaf.

Now, if only someone, somewhere, somehow could build a better mousetrap.

And in the interest of fair play, here are the 10 worst inventions of all time. TicketMaster. Pagers. Toll roads. Toupees. The Thigh-Master. Vegemite. Palm pilots. Nuclear weapons. Alarm clocks. And the worst invention of all -- those bathroom hot air hand dryers that never, ever dry your hands.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.