There’s an assured surrealist appeal in watching a reality television show premier at the same location where it was originally filmed, the 21st century species of the hall of mirrors. Invention USA aired on Friday night at 10PM on the History Channel, and there we all were, seated inside The Barn, co-host Reichart Von Wolfsheild’s workspace, forty or so friends, many of whom I’d seen around Reichart’s Sun Valley compound, affectionately known as The Ranch. These are good people —pierced, tatted, Burners, hackers, makers— whom I’ve gotten to know at events around Los Angeles like BIL, Mindshare LA, and Hike The Geek.
Invention USA follows Reichart, a software engineer and inventor, and his pal Garrett Lisi, a famous physicist known for his E8 equation (a simplified “theory of everything”), as they sort out the potential legitimacy of submitted inventions by more/less well-meaning inventors. Naturally, not every idea is a good idea.
In the first episode we meet a survivalist gentleman who lives in a cave, claiming that after an encounter with a possible bigfoot, was inspired to invent potassium-based incendiary munitions which, when fired from a paint-ball gun, repel that possible bigfoot by setting him on fire. Moments of skeptical side-eyes between the hosts, provided a nice layer of humor to the abject redneckery of the show’s first contestant/victim.
As with much reality television, the obligatory post-commercial recap is tiresome and intellectually insulting. However, Invention USA, serves up straight from the hip science. “We fought hard to get the science right,” announced Reichart between commercial breaks, “The producers were kind enough to support that.”
Admittedly, were it not for the inclusion of my clever friend Reichart, there would not likely be a huge draw for me toward this particular cable channel (also known for the scientifically dubious Ancient Aliens).
I first met Reichart after being invited to The Ranch by a mutual friend, several months previous. Burning Man people are an interesting bunch, astutely bright, often successful, and I wanted to earn their social support by making a good first impression. Around midnight of that first visit, I taught someone how to play The Balance Game, and it caught on like wildfire. The Balance Game consists of standing directly across from someone, with your arms up, and attempting to shove the other person off balance, by pushing only at their open palms, without falling forward or being pushed backward; to lose your footing is to lose the match.
It’s a very Zen sort of game and was taught to me in New York City by a screenwriter who shall go unnamed, who despite his advancing years managed to beat me at The Balance Game seven straight times. The only person to beat me that first night at The Ranch was Reichart himself.
The next presented invention was a blue-tooth device sewn into a glove that required the user to make the “call me” thumb-to-pinky hand gesture in order to use the glove/phone. Reichart and Garrett took inventor Lou Martinez’s gadget down to Hollywood & Highland and had multiple groups of people try it out before they decided that despite appearing a bit silly, was actually a pretty good invention, people really seemed to like it.
Invention USA airs on Friday nights at 10pm on the History Channel. You can also catch webisodes online.