Up until this year, Martin Mopton was, by his own admission, “the world’s worst inventor.” His (insert sarcasm here) brilliant ideas included a talking toilet, sunglasses with mirrors on the insides of the lenses, broccoli-flavored cauliflower, and something called “Scented Window.”

Over the years, Mopton estimates that he has lost everything to his inventions: money, sleep, and two wives.

But society may have finally caught up with him—or, more specifically, with his Extend-a-Hand.

Originally conceived in 1980, the Extend-a-Hand is a realistic human hand on a one-foot pole. “I worked in biomedical research at the time, and we had a meeting with the heads of two different firms. One was four-foot-eleven and one was seven-foot-four. Shaking hands was equally awkward for each of them. I went home that night, made two Extend-a-Hand prototypes, and brought them to the meeting the next day. Both bosses were thrilled.”

Inventor Martin Mopson in his basement

The two men backed a new company, Within Reach, and Mopton produced more than a hundred thousand Extend-a-Hands. Exactly two hundred sold. “The rest are in my basement,” he said. “In fact, they’re all that’s in my basement. Just boxes and boxes of hand and poles.”


Then Mopton was in his den, watching the news. “As a man of science, I have been following the coronavirus closely,” he said. “One doctor came on and said that people need to follow simple protocols: wash hands, don’t shake hands unnecessarily. And here I am with all these hands in a warehouse. A lightbulb went on over my head.”

The lightbulb, as it turned out, was an earlier invention of his, a remotely controlled lamp that switched on whenever the occupant of the chair below it was holding a book or a magazine. “It had page detection,” Mopton said. “But it never worked that well. It would turn on it you had a slip of paper in your pocket.”

Mopton went out to the garage and got his tools, after which he returned to the den and fiddled with the wiring in the base of the LightReading device until he had fixed it. “I didn’t really fix it,” he said. “I smashed it with the butt-end of a screwdriver. That cut my hand a bit. Well, more than a bit. I really opened up a deep gash. I had to go to the emergency room, but before I went, I ran downstairs and grabbed an Extend-a-Hand to see if I was right that it might fit the bill.”


Mopton brought the Extend-a-Hand along to the hospital. “People just flipped over it. They saw the application immediately: if you’re worried about shaking hands in a coronavirus world, just take out your Extend-a-Hand. I even thought of a slogan: ‘Use It To Shake, For Good Health’s Sake.’ I really think this invention’s going to make a difference. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Make a difference.”

“His hand was really cut bad,” said Elaine Gabbert, the doctor who stitched up Mopton. 

“Dr. Gabbert was great,” said Mopton. “I showed her the Extend-a-Hand. She didn’t say anything about it. But in all fairness, she was distracted by the blood.”


Dr. Gabbert wrote Mopton a prescription for painkillers and sent him home. “I don’t love painkillers,” Mopton said. “They sometimes block you up, you know? I went home fully aware that I’d be spending hours sitting on the toilet trying to make something happen. That’s where I am now, in fact.”

“Hello,” the toilet said. “Hello.”

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