Times Staff Writer

Amazing Inventions Department: Years from now, when historians are asked to name the greatest invention of the 20th century, they will probably choose the compact-disc player because it allowed people to program John Lennon albums to skip all the Yoko Ono songs.

As for the runner-up slot, there's plenty of competition. For example, Hammacher Schlemmer--the catalog company that brought us the first microwave oven, the first pop-up toaster and the heated electric birdbath--has just named 15 finalists in its annual invention contest. They include:

* The ironing mitt, which is an iron that slips over your hand like a glove. It was designed by Brent Farley of Baltimore, whose previous inventions include the inflatable shower curtain and "sled pants," a wearable snow sled.

* The overboard detector kit, a life vest that can be tracked by satellite. Created by Dan Schlager of Mill Valley, Calif., it might also prove useful for locating lost pets, wayward teenagers and cheating presidents.

* The musical mat, a glorified beach towel that contains a built-in pillow and stereo speakers. It was invented by John Carter of Indiana.

Naturally, we have some invention ideas of our own, including Disposables, the product that's so convenient you don't even have to use it; you just bring it home from the store and throw it away. Another idea is designer body bags, which would be a hit with coroners in Beverly Hills, West Palm Beach, Fla., and other enclaves of the super rich.

Our friend Ann Harrison thinks someone should invent a product called Baby Dentures, miniature false teeth that put an end to those embarrassing toothless baby photos (pint-sized Poli-Grip sold separately). And humorist Kenny Noble Cortes wants to equip the Popemobile with a high-tech Holographic Dashboard Statue.

Although these are all fine examples of American ingenuity, we think our readers can do better, so we're going to hold an Off-Kilter invention contest. Here are the rules: We don't care about working prototypes and patents pending. We just want original ideas, in 75 words or less, for products that will improve life as we know it. Get your entries to us by Sept. 11 via fax, (213) 237-4712, e-mail (see address at end of column), or post to: Roy Rivenburg's Off-Kilter, Life & Style, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Include your name, address and phone number.

Prizes include a new Monopoly game (presumably with all 10 tokens) courtesy of Hasbro, an "Only Sissies Do the Injection" T-shirt (if the guy who makes them ever sends us one) and any other cool items that come our way before mid-September. As usual, our lawyers make us tell you that all entries become the property of the Los Angeles Times, which means they can be used for editorial, promotional and advertising purposes--or for mopping up spilled drinks.

Future Nightmares Department: Here's an image we're trying to erase from our mind: Wireless Flash News Service reports that Alan Dershowitz, the soulless media windbag who helped defend O.J. Simpson, is an "active nudist" who enjoys sunbathing in the buff.

Best Supermarket Tabloid Headline: "Biker Gang Ripped to Shreds by Drunken Raccoons!" (Weekly World News)

* Roy Rivenburg can be reached by e-mail at

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