Third Annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest Semi-Finalists

A month ago I announced the Third Annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest:

For this contest, the goal is to create fear. Not just any fear, but a fear that you can alleviate through the sale of your new product idea. There are lots of risks out there, some of them serious, some of them so unlikely that we shouldn’t worry about them, and some of them completely made up. And there are lots of products out there that provide security against those risks.

Your job is to invent one. First, find a risk or create one. It can be a terrorism risk, a criminal risk, a natural-disaster risk, a common household risk—whatever. The weirder the better. Then, create a product that everyone simply has to buy to protect him- or herself from that risk. And finally, write a catalog ad for that product.


Entries are limited to 150 words … because fear doesn’t require a whole lot of explaining. Tell us why we should be afraid, and why we should buy your product.

Submissions are in. The blog entry has 327 comments. I’ve read them all, and here are the semi-finalists:

It’s not in the running, but reader “False Data” deserves special mention for his Safe-T-Nav, a GPS system that detects high crime zones. It would be a semi-finalist, but it already exists.

Cast your vote; I’ll announce the winner on the 15th.

Posted on May 7, 2008 at 2:33 PM101 Comments


Reader X May 7, 2008 2:57 PM

Anti-laser safety glasses are real. Physicists, engineers, and others who work directly with high-powered lasers wear them in the lab.

Ir[Irony]ony May 7, 2008 3:16 PM

I think the joke’s on you. These are great ideas, except for the trunk SOS device. They just need a little development.

Just this morning the news ran a story about mouthwash that turns your teeth brown. And wasn’t it last year that the Chinese toothpaste imports were found to contain too much of a chemical used in antifreeze?

And “The FAA is very concerned about these irresponsible acts because even a small laser pointer can temporarily impair a pilot’s vision”

And if you’ve ever worked as a waiter or waitress, you know how you get back at rude patrons.

I’d spend a few bucks on each of them!

Just like Aaron Masey posted, except no tongue in cheek, “why become a statistic when the solution is only $2.95!”

Petréa Mitchell May 7, 2008 3:20 PM

I vote for the first one, on the plausibility of its hook, the lack of remotely similar products, and the implausibility of actually coming up with a reliable implementation. It seems like a better movie plot if it’s something the audience can’t actually defend themselves against.

Mang May 7, 2008 3:35 PM


Anti-laser pointer glasses are already available from most companies that sell high powered lasers.

Google: laser pointer safety goggles

Joe May 7, 2008 3:50 PM

Aww man, and I wanted to make a “wireless safety monitor” that would claim to monitor the bitrate of data flowing through the wireless links around you and warn when they reach “dangerous” levels, after that ridiculous scare in Britain’s Panorama (or was it Paranoia?) program, but I’m too late.

But I like the DNA tester. That’s my vote.

Grego May 7, 2008 3:54 PM

The DNA adulterometer is the best answer for America–I’d buy them for my whole family. We must defend our families and our homeland from the perils of terrorist service staff (both foreign and domestic)!

Angus May 7, 2008 3:56 PM

I vote for the SOS device for carjacking. It’s a perfect play on an unlikely and irrational fear, and the idea of flashing morse code is hilariously useless nowadays.

John F May 7, 2008 3:59 PM


Why does it seem like part of the prize should be money to fund the startup?

Reader X May 7, 2008 4:02 PM

Regarding the DNA adulterometer, it might come in handy in this situation (

Lowell Gilbert May 7, 2008 4:03 PM

I’ve got to go with Alertness Alert. Some of the others are better products, but using the Jefferson quote to argue that “your fears keep you safe” is the cleverest take on creating fear.

Seth May 7, 2008 4:26 PM

Laser safety glasses are available if you know the color of the laser you’re using. The red lenses they sell for safe use of green lasers aren’t very protective against red lasers. If you simultaneously protect yourself against red, green, blue, and yellow lasers you aren’t going to have any vision left.

annie May 7, 2008 4:43 PM

I vote for the toothpaste strips. Easy, simple, and price range enough to sell a lot to millions. I’d probably buy it too…

Nicola May 7, 2008 5:13 PM

I cast my vote for the sos device for people locked in car trunks. It seems to me a sufficiently unlikely risk, but at the same time the scariest and most plausible…

Bye from Italy.

John Hardin May 7, 2008 5:39 PM

Seth: That is, of course, perfect for the Laser Pointer Safety Eyeglasses – “Protects against all laser pointer frequencies!”

Gaith May 7, 2008 6:12 PM

damn, i missed it. i dreamed of something the other day. was a pretty scary dream that would certainly had made it to the top

Skorj May 7, 2008 6:35 PM

Hah! A friend of mine really was locked in the trunk during a car-jacking, so I’ll have to go with the toxic toothpaste detector – after all, I can remember Tampered Tylenol. (My friend was able to flash the tail lights without a special-purpose tool, though in the end the cajackers just abandoned the car after a joyride.)

Pat Cahalan May 7, 2008 6:40 PM

I didn’t enter this year. I confess, I was feeling decidedly uncreative.

I like all of the finalists, but I found this to be just hilarious:

It’s not in the running, but reader “False Data” deserves special
mention for his Safe-T-Nav, a GPS system that detects high crime
zones. It would be a semi-finalist, but it already exists.

There is some special sort of meta-irony here. Some ineffable absurdity that just seems so incredibly apropos for the contest.

I think he should get some sort of bonus booby prize.

peri May 7, 2008 6:47 PM

It was not an easy choice since all are really top quality entries. My vote goes to “Anti-laser-pointer eyeglasses” because not only are terrorists with laser pointers five miles away waiting for me to look out a window, the “Laser-Eraser eyewear” entails a dim stumbling life wearing the equivalent of welding goggles!

Giulio May 7, 2008 7:09 PM

I will vote for the “SOS device for people locked in car trunks” as it plays on claustrophobia, something that works really well (see airplane hijacking or “buried alive” fear). Actually a “buried alive” version of the product would sell like the proverbial hotcakes.

Ale May 7, 2008 7:32 PM

My vote goes to “SOS device for people locked in car trunks”. It is a response to a vanishingly improbable event that is morally outrageous, intentionally created by a person “that could be anybody, anywhere”. All the signs for a best seller.

Maximanious May 7, 2008 7:34 PM

Cast me in for “Anti-laser-pointer eyeglasses” please. They sound useful for hangovers too!

Andrew May 7, 2008 9:26 PM

Definitely the toothpaste testing. The threat feels very plausible, with the recent tainted Chinese toothpaste and such.

LJ May 7, 2008 10:05 PM

I’m casting my vote for the toothpaste testing strips. Simple, and it generates plenty of fear surrounding an activity people of all ages do every day.

Scott May 7, 2008 10:17 PM

I vote for the Alertness Alert. With all the daily challenges competing for our attention, it is inevitable that we will all become too stressed to assess the nervousness of people around us effectively. It would be a good complement to Felix’s Terror Watch Rx to fight the fear of fear itself.

I’d buy a couple of each… but are they safe, and do they conform with FCC regulations… ah, who cares?

Paul May 7, 2008 10:23 PM

My vote: Alertness Alert

I loved the presentation: playing on patriotic feelings with a wonderful echo of remote RFID readers.

Jens Alfke May 7, 2008 11:36 PM

Nothing new about car-trunk paranoia. The US government was talking about requiring safety latches as long ago as 1999, as this very important looking article at SecurityWorld says:

And according to this article (also from 1999, apparently; was there a big scare that year?) GM offers a $50 kit to install on its cars:

The radio-the-police and flashing lights in the new proposal are interesting, but I strongly suspect that most people actually trapped in a car trunk would prefer to just get the hell out ASAP rather than stay inside and call for help…

MZL May 8, 2008 1:25 AM

Even though the SOS device is such a cool idea based on irrational fear, my vote goes to the Toothpaste tester. The reason is that it has the true potential to be a mass-market product. Why wouldn’t you keep your family safe, when it is only an additional $2.95 per toothpaste purchase!

Byron Thomas May 8, 2008 2:45 AM

“Alertness alert” captures the ethos of the whole contest for me. Sheer genius!

LRayZor May 8, 2008 2:57 AM

My vote is for the “Alertness Alert”, just for the overall sales pitch.

CJ May 8, 2008 5:05 AM

I vote for the SOS trunk device. It has just the right blend of possibility and ridiculousness.

foon May 8, 2008 6:41 AM

I vote for “Alertness Alert”. Anything that has citizens pointing devices at each other has to be good for keeping the panic level up. And you can make even more money by selling the countermeasure – the Calmbeat (TM) vest.

SteveG May 8, 2008 7:15 AM

I vote for Jack Hero – the anti carjack device. Mainly because it’s scaremongering about an event that’s so incredibly rare and unlikely to happen.

dmc May 8, 2008 9:55 AM

DNA Adulterometer. Definitely!

I wonder how many of the original entries are being scanned by gadget companies for production next year 🙂

GregW May 8, 2008 9:59 AM

I think the “DNA adulteratometer” nicely takes something mostly harmless that could be turned into an irrational fear.

And it can be ubiquitously sold- couldn’t everyone see this maybe happening to them, sooner or later?

The toothpaste idea is just a bit too limited in scope; a serious problem would be fixed by the toothpaste-selling companies within a few months and the need goes away.

Also, I think the “DNA adulteratometer” also has the nice ironic side-effect of, once popularized, starting to make a whole class of people (in this case, wait-staff rather than Muslims) look like villans when 99% of them are not going to bother you.

My backup vote would be for the laser pointer idea, since it is, like most movie plots, just one of a zillion threats that you could protect against, but it is really worth protecting against?

John Moore May 8, 2008 10:08 AM

My 2004 Ford Taurus has two pull handles inside the trunk to allow any one locked in there escape. That’s one SOS device already installed.

Adrian May 8, 2008 10:58 AM

The Trunk SOS device is funny, but they aren’t creating a new fear. Apparently there has already been enough fear of being locked in a truck that all cars are required to have a glow-in-the-dark release latch inside the trunk.

fad May 8, 2008 11:17 AM

There are a couple of new posts on the contest now (one by me…).

Pls could you read them too ???


sidelobe May 8, 2008 11:37 AM

The DNA adulteratometer gets my vote.

I was just reading about research into alertness, where cameras pointed at drivers are able to predict accidents because of inattention or drowsiness. Other research using functional MRI is looking to help understand what distracts us. I think these disqualify the Alertness Alert.

Alfred May 8, 2008 12:04 PM

From the second link about the Honda crime GPS:
Am I the only one who was bothered by the implications of this quote?

“Japan is a comparatively homogenous country, and criminals look more or less like the rest of the population, give or take a few scars, tattoos, or missing fingers.”

The thought wasn’t finished, it sort of wanders off in a completely different direction, but it seems to suggest that in the U.S. you can tell where the high-crime areas are by the number of minorities who live there.

Chuck May 8, 2008 1:07 PM

I go with the Alertness alert. Humans need something like that Herd instinct ripple reaction you see with antelope when a lion walks by. Or schools of fish when a shark swims close.

LifelessDead May 8, 2008 1:43 PM

Add one to the “SOS device for people locked in car trunks” tally!

scott May 8, 2008 1:51 PM

My vote goes to the alertness alert…

How else are you going to decide which of your neighbors to finger today?

Picador May 8, 2008 2:03 PM

The Alertness Alert was the best written, and the toothpaste test strips were quite clever as well, but given the terms of the contest I think the laser-pointer-blocking glasses are the most likely to click with people’s actual paranoia. The writer should have done a better job of hyping up dangerous scenarios (“Your kids are strapped into their seats in the SUV, and you’re tooling down I-95… but what’s that in the hand of that swarthy young man standing on the overpass? Ayeee!”). But I have to give him my vote regardless.

dbd May 8, 2008 2:14 PM

I vote for the Toothpaste test strips – but with a further bit of functionality for the “Pro” version – explosive detection so they can be used by TSA staff at every airport to ensure that only safe toothpaste is carried on planes.

marek May 8, 2008 3:36 PM

If existence in real life is grounds for disqualification, the toothpaste tester has to go too. At Heathrow Airport last summer, my toothpaste tube was carefully removed by an agent wearing cotton gloves, who squeezed a small amount out of the tube to test it for I know not what. Gratifyingly, the fluoride levels were within the tolerance limits and I was permitted to board. So although toothpaste testers may not be available retail, they are definitely in stock at security wholesalers.

partdavid May 8, 2008 3:49 PM

I love the car-trunk SOS device’s combination of paranoia, plausibility and marketability. Five thumbs up, or however you rate this thing.

Sean Riley May 8, 2008 5:26 PM

Even if it does exist, the massive over-reaction of the state government down here in NSW, Australia means I have to vote for the laser sunnies.

Tim Stevens May 8, 2008 6:09 PM

Toothpaste test strips wins!

DNA adulteratometer is disqualified at 215 words. SOS device is second, “MAN IN TRNK” is clever, but the “Revised for limit” post detracted. Anti-laser-pointer eyeglasses was a bit confusing “Laser-Eraser eyewear range provides”. “Alertness alert” heartbeat monitor did not seem as well written.

Anonymous May 9, 2008 12:39 AM

I vote for alertness alert, but I don’t think any of these seem real good.

The DNA thing is so intensely unoriginal and uncreative, you can’t let that win….

There are better solutions to the locked in trunk problem, so zero persuasiveness there. A contaminated consumer good? A spot test for a toxic substance? Very original. I bet it would make a lot of money, though.

Laser-eraser is good, but nobody would a dime on it, so not too persuasive.

The contest kinda sucked this year.

TimP May 9, 2008 3:22 AM

Anti-laser-pointer eyeglasses FTW!!!!
Though, that may be just because I’m Australian, so the ad fits with me a bit more, and my Mum recently had a problem with a laser pointer while driving a car. Some idiot was spinning a laser pointer around so it looked like police lights and people would get out of his way so he could drive through. Moron.

Blues Doctor May 9, 2008 3:46 AM

The Alertness Alert gets my vote. Potential paranoia with every human encounter, lack of useful guidelines to understand the data provided by the device, everybody participating in watch-your-neighbour security theatre. No need to sit in the audience! Orwell understand fear and corruption, but Huxley showed us how it’s actually now happening — with our own active participation.

Isaac May 9, 2008 7:43 AM

I vote for the SOS device. I could seriously imagine a member of Congress proposing a bill to require these on all cars.

SMAWG May 9, 2008 8:15 AM

The alertness alert is good but its too subjective. Just cos you know someone’s heartrate doesn’t mean they’re alert. I like the DNA Adulterometer, and I’d like to use it at work sometimes!

PeterF May 9, 2008 11:27 AM

If choices are limited to these five, it has to be the ‘Alertness alert’. The wonderful paradox in the pay-off line: “You can rest easy… because no one else is!” reminds me of the impossible drawings of the famous Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher.

If this competetion would have been about the most humourous posting I certainly would have voted for the squid shield by Bernie Zenis (

Bono May 9, 2008 1:37 PM

I was a little disappointed in the finalists. They were all from early April, leaving me wondering if you made up your mind at the beginning of the list and didn’t give the rest a chance…

Also, 2 of the 5 finalists break the 150 word count rule.

And I was hoping there would be more of a nod to the outrageous and creative entries.

I would vote for the “Alertness Alert”, but it breaks the rules. Oh well. I guess that’s okay in your book, so cast my vote for the “Alertness Alert” – mucho paranoia!

Bono May 9, 2008 1:40 PM


That being said (my previous post), I still want to thank you for the fun and I look forward to the next contest! 🙂


Dave May 10, 2008 12:31 AM

Toothpaste test strips – I think it is unlikely to ever be a reliable device, and it sounds good enough to buy.

SteveH May 11, 2008 3:47 PM

Toothpaste test strips – just the right blend of believability, irony, and low pricing.

geekyone May 12, 2008 6:52 PM

I gotta vote for “Alertness alert”.

It just has that 1984 feel to it. Everyone watching everyone and instead of ThoughtCrime, HeartbeatCrime.

Aaron Massey May 13, 2008 7:39 AM


As one of the finalists who would benefit from eliminating those entries who were over 150 words, I just want to say that most browsers don’t have a way to check the number of words in text boxes. I used an external tool to check mine. Regardless, I think the point is that they needed to be short so Bruce could read them all in a reasonable amount of time. I know that rules are rules and all, but I would rather win because my idea was the best fear-inspiring entrepreneurial concept than because other people got disqualified.

Also, I thought the other entries were pretty darn good. The votes seem to be well distributed, which I think backs that up. Obviously, I would vote for mine, but the reality is that this is just a fun game and it’s not worth getting worked up over.

Albatross May 13, 2008 8:23 AM

Thanks, Aaron, for your most gracious comments. A true sportsman. I just wanted to point out that MY entry was within the length guidelines! Since the base was not specified, I simply used base 13…


P.S. I didn’t bother counting my words because it never occurred to me the entry would be a finalist, much less win.

P.P.S. Vote for my entry, and Pedro will make your wildest dreams come true.

Sunchan May 13, 2008 9:44 AM

With all the fast food that is eaten every year, the DNA adulterometer would sure set peoples minds at ease.

Kevin D. S. May 14, 2008 2:22 PM

If the goal is: “to create fear” then…. my choice is Toothpaste test strips

BFWB May 14, 2008 4:58 PM

I like the DNA adulteratometer. I could use one around the office. But does it work on pizza? But there all good, what this contest needs is IRV!

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.