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Inspiration, Perspiration, Whatever Works

Local inventors mix hard work and bright ideas to create tomorrow's thingamajigs

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This country has long been known for ingenuity -- our ability to imagine, to dream, and to put those dreams into action. It's the intrepid, pioneering spirit that enabled us to put a man on the moon, to build architectural marvels like the Empire State Building, and to accomplish remarkable medical and technological breakthroughs from heart transplants to the Internet. By God, it's what brought us the spork! Now, "ingenuity" and "banking town" aren't two things you'd normally expect to see in the same sentence, but we've found some area folks, ranging from genius to, well, curious, in whom a creative and resourceful spirit is alive and well. These Charlotteans either have patents pending or patents recently approved on their own unique inventions. Who knows, one day when you're tightening the toilet seat, eating a fruit cup, brushing your teeth, or using the earth's gravitational field to get in shape, you might look back on this article and remember that you heard about these world-changing inventions first, right here in these pages.

Candy Magnifying Glass

Ever since he was a kid, Ethan Summers made his own toys. Naturally creative and artistic, he eventually became a freelance illustrator for Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers, designing game covers and the like. He also continued to design toys, mostly as a hobby. But then he and his wife started seeing some of his toy designs for sale on store shelves.

"I thought, hmm, maybe I should get into this for a living," Summers says. So he did. Working out of his home studio, Summers, in what has to be one of the coolest jobs around, designs numerous toys and "candy novelty items," including his newest invention, the edible "candy magnifier."

"I was just messing around with a magnifying glass one day and happened to have a lollipop and realized they're kind of shaped the same, and I got to wondering if you could actually use candy syrup to magnify and refract light the same way a magnifying glass does. It turns out you can."

Summers' "Lookn-Lick" magnifying lollipop has a plastic handle and a green magnifying "lens" that is edible and does indeed magnify images. The plastic handle is also filled with little pieces of candy.

Summers recently returned from California where, it turns out, another company has released its own versions of a candy magnifier.

"As soon as my patent issues, they will be in violation," says Summers. "But they're good folks and we're getting all of it squared away. If my patent is approved, I'll just get royalties from them. This industry is very cannibalistic and people will knock you off in a second. I'm actually a little hesitant about putting the candy magnifier out there except for the fact that word's already gotten out."

Summers' other candy novelty inventions include "Sucker Punch," a boxing glove sucker on the end of an extendable handle, and "Secret Spy Notes," a little spy suitcase which contains bubble gum, four top-secret envelopes, and a pen with edible ink. "You can write on the gum, put it in the top secret envelopes, pass it along to your friends, and they can eat the top secret message." This writer's personal favorite is the "Toot Fruit," a little green monster with a strained expression on its face that's filled with chewable pieces of candy. Squeeze the monster's accordion-like lower body and farting sounds erupt from its head. Edison, eat your heart out.

Toilet Tool

As happens to so many of us, inspiration struck David Kish while he was sitting on the john. Moreover, his light bulb moment was actually about the toilet (which, by the way, was invented by a man named J.F Brondel in 1738, and not some guy named Crapper as popular myth has it). Kish, at 69, had seen his fair share of toilets, and knew that they often fell prey to normal wear and tear.

"I've owned several homes, and one thing you notice while raising a family is that toilet seats get loose and flush levers didn't work much of the time," Kish says.

Frustrated by this ongoing plumbing problem, Kish decided to do something about it. After tinkering around for awhile, he devised a tool that had a screwdriver on one end and a wrench on the other -- perfectly designed to tighten a toilet's flush lever and seat. Kind of like an all-purpose Boy Scout knife. Except for the toilet. And even better, the single piece, combination tool is made of strong composite materials so it can be stored in the toilet's water tank without rusting.

"If the seat or flush lever is loose, you just pick up the lid, get the tool, tighten everything up, and put it back in the toilet."

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