Geniuses declare: No invention beats the wheel

David Martosko Executive Editor
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If you’ve ever stayed awake at night pondering the age-old question of whether the Internet or the toilet is the most essential human invention, there’s finally an answer: Neither.

American Mensa, the high-IQ society ostensibly comprised of the nation’s smartest people, held a March Madness-style tournament of nifty things during the fall, beginning on Oct. 24 with 64 indispensable inventions and culminating with an announcement this month.

The winner? The wheel. It mowed through the cigarette lighter, cement, knives, paper and the flush toilet before prevailing over engines — steam, internal combustion, and otherwise — in geekdom’s ultimate death-match.

As the no. 1 and no.2-seeded inventions in their bracket, the Internet and the toilet met in the tourney’s elite-eight round. Surprisingly, the crapper beat Al Gore’s brainchild before losing in the Final Four.

In perhaps the event’s biggest stunner, Facebook — the love-fest-inspiring social media powerhouse with more than 800 million users worldwide, was bounced in round 1 by the toothbrush.

“The social media site registered just 16 votes,” the tournament operators said, “in one of the most lopsided matchups in the history of the tournament.” (This is the Mensa Bracket Challenge’s second year.)

Still, Facebook did better than sliced bread which, despite its elevation to proverb-like status in the English language, wasn’t included in the tournament field.

Also exiting in the first round was the jock strap, which American Mensa described as “not nearly as aesthetically appealing as the bikini, but perhaps more important to the continuation of the species.”

“It’s hard to pinpoint when the wheel was invented,” American Mensa said in a profile of the winning invention, “but we know it dates back as far as 3,500 BCE. What isn’t hard to understand is the impact the wheel had on labor, transportation, the spread of ideas, war — just about every facet of civilization.”

During the six-week event, American Mensa members cast nearly 20,000 votes on sixteen inventions from each of four categories: civilizations, electronics, personal and utilities. The competitors were “seeded 1 through 16, based on the strength of their résumés,” the genius society reported without a hint of humor.

The “electronics” bracket — in seeding order — featured computers, engines, cars, air conditioning, the locomotive, TV, refrigerators, airplanes, batteries, cooktop stoves, the cotton gin, elevators, satellites, lasers, video recorders, and — for the sake of popcorn alone — microwave ovens.

In the “utilities” category, voters chose from among the flush toilet, the Internet, contraceptives, bar codes, telephones, paper money, radios , radiography, calendars, cameras, clocks, email, electric washing machines, baseball, credit and debit cards, and the compass.

Honored “personal” items included antibiotics, smartphones, soap, pain relievers, corrective lenses, prosthetics, Facebook, the bra, shoes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, the Sony Walkman, the zipper, the remote control, the bikini, the jock strap, and playing cards.

Rounding out the field of 64 were such “civilization”-enhancing inventions as the wheel, light bulbs, the printing press, microscopes, plastic, gunpowder, paper, cement, the assembly line, windmills, dynamite, knives, sewing machines, telescopes, radar, and lighters.

American Mensa noted its members’ astonishment at seeing so many tournament pairings that seemed to pit related items against each other. In round 3, for instance, soap squared off against the toothbrush, the printing press battled paper and the engine wrestled with the automobile.

The polio vaccine, which was on the outside looking in from the very beginning, was unavailable for comment.

David Martosko is The Daily Caller’s executive editor. Follow him on Twitter.