It Looked Good On Paper



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Table of Contents

Introduction: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Failure ix
Past Imperfect 1
The Great Stele of Aksum 3
The Pipes of Rome 7
The Great Wall of China 10
The Tower of Pisa 13
Overwhelming Success 17
The Sword Pistol 20
The True Saga of the Pony Express 22
Thomas Edison’s Insistence on the Use of DC Power 27
Modern Mistakes 33
A Bridge Too Thin 35
Goldie the Goldfish’s Really, Really Big Cousins 40
Overcooking with Atoms 46
Contamination in the Hills: The Santa Susana Field
Under Pressure: The First Space Walk 60
The Biospherians in the Bubble 63
Mars or Bust 67
Myopia in Space 80

The Starr Report 83
When Good Ideas Are Ignored Just Long Enough to
Turn Very, Very Bad 89
Y2K 92
Auto Absurdities 95
Starter Problems 97
Well, It Worked for Trains . . . 100
Here They Go Again . . . the People’s
Car 103
Built Ford Tinderbox Tough 107
The Quirky Little Amphicar 110
Plane Thinking 115
The Spectacular Failure of the Langley Aerodrome 117
The First U.S. Navy Catapult Launch 122
Where the Buffalo Drones: The Brewster F2A 126
Nazi Kamikaze?: The Selbstopfer 133
A Little Hard to Swallow 137
Less Bang for More Bucks: The Expensive Saga of
the F-111 142
A Bone of Contention: The B-1 Bomber 154
Faster Than a Speeding Bullet 165
When the Chopper Gets Chopped: The RAH-66
Comanche 170

Double Jeopardy 181
The Plane Was Invisible Until It Was Killed 185
Exit Stage Left 191
Smell-O-Vision: Mixing Odors with Cinema 193
Nick & Nora: The Musical 196
By Jeeves 202
The Big Flop in the Big Top 206
The End of RSO 210
RPG Envy 215
The XFL 220
Malpractice Assurance 225
High-voltage Medicine 227
Radioactivity Is Good for Your Health 232
“X-ray the Feet; It Sounds Really Neat!” 238
Thalidomide 243
A Mainstream Wonder Drug 247
That Sinking Feeling 253
The Courageous Saga of the First Submarines 255
The Sinking of the Vasa 260
Don’t Blame it on Steam 264
The Sinking of the Titanic 268
The Sinking of HMS Hood 272

We Shall Never Again Surrender! 276
No Plan Ever Survives Contact with the Enemy 281
A Whole New Battlefield 283
A Battle Strategy That Will Take Your Breath Away 288
Tanks a Lot 293
The Line Must Be Drawn Here 299
The End of the Line 305
A Sword for the Masses 307
Too Good for Its Own Good 309
Sneaking in the Front Door 311
A Very Low-tech Firebomb Campaign 317
Nuclear Nonsense 320
The Holy Grail of Firearms 323
A Heavyweight Too Heavy to Fight 328
The Double Agent 334
Sergeant York Misses the Target 338
The Expensive Pipe Dream of Missile Defense 346

“Only thing worse than watching a bad movie is being in one.”
—Elvis Presley


Mixing Odors with Cinema

This Movie Stinks! No, Really . . .

The movie industry has always been known for its willingness
to innovate and for possessing the creativity to come up with
new ideas that seem to stretch the bounds of common sense.
Of course, most of the new ideas crash and burn. But, once in a
while, a new technique changes the whole industry.
The whole idea of moviemaking as an artistic medium is a
good example. It was 1887 when scientist and inventor Eadweard
Muybridge set up a number of cameras in a row and used
them in sequence to photograph a number of models running
past. He was finally able to provide the answer to a question
long and passionately debated by equestrians: can a galloping
horse have all four feet off the ground at the same time? His images
proved it could.

By the late 1890s, Louis Lumière had invented a special camera
that could feed a reel of 35mm film past the lens, snapping
the shutter thousands of times to take individual pictures. Another
invention, the movie projector, could display those images
in rapid sequence on a screen, and thus the movie industry
was born. The flickering black-and-white images are crude and
jerky by today’s standards, but a whole industry, including studios
and a network of theaters to show the products of those
studios, grew up in response to those flickering images. Many
theater managers even hired piano players to add a touch of dramatic
music to the silent epics projected on the screen.
The cinema flourished during the early decades of the
twentieth century, of course, but in 1927 the first of several
cataclysmic changes rocked the industry. The Jazz Singer, starring
Al Jolson, coupled a sound track with a movie, and was
an immediate, and colossal, hit. Suddenly, all movies had to have sound!
In the next decade or two, movies introduced images with
a barrage of stunning color. Epics such as Gone With the Wind
embraced the new medium, as did fantasies like the classic Walt
Disney animation features. When a dark gray tornado picked
up pallid little Judy Garland and deposited her in the domain of
The Wizard of Oz, the stunning contrast of color’s vivid imagery
became clear. Suddenly, all movies had to be in color! (Though,
primarily because of budgetary concerns, black-and-white film
continued to be a common medium into the 1950s.)
Still, those creative minds out in Hollywood were bound to
keep thinking, trying to come up with the next big innovation.
If we can make movies look and sound spectacular, how about
making them smell good? Initial attempts included scratch
cards, bursts of perfume into the theater, and squirts of aroma
at individual seats, but none of these captured the imagination
as sound and color had.

But finally, in 1960, one film made a serious attempt to involve
audience noses in the movie experience. The film, called
Scent of Mystery, included some thirty different smells released
at each seat in synchronization with the projector. This patented device—
surely the inventor was drooling at the prospects of his
imminent profits—was called Smell-O-Vision.
Mike Todd, Jr. produced the movie. He, with his father,
had created the successful big-screen epic Around the World in
Eighty Days. For Scent of Mystery, he employed the acting talents
of Denholm Elliott and Peter Lorre, and even briefly used
his stepmother, Elizabeth Taylor, albeit without putting her
name in the credits. Bursts of scent would accompany the story
as the movie was screened in three specially equipped theatres.
A key plot element—a connection between an assassin and pipe
smoke—actually relied upon the scent to help tell the story.
Unfortunately, Smell-O-Vision, in practice, simply stank.
The odors came out too late or too early, sometimes with overpowering
strength, at other times so faint that viewers were
forced to sniff loudly as they vainly sought the next clue. The
early reviews were terrible, and the movie a complete flop. Mike
Todd, Jr. wouldn’t be able to produce another movie until he
made The Bell Jar more than nineteen years later.
And theater-filling Smell-O-Vision would never stink again.


Written by:

Douglas Niles and Donald Niles, Sr.

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