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7 Everyday Objects With Brilliant and Simple Designs
By Eric Limer,
Popular Mechanics, 18 September 2015.

The best designs are usually the simplest, but just because they're simple doesn't mean they're easy to come up with. Here are seven examples of objects that aren't particularly sophisticated but have a subtle, genius simplicity to their design.

1. A bicycle bell

The glory of the bicycle bell! When you pull down the lever, it spins the gear with the spinning weights, which fling out to the outside. What's missing here is the top dome that forms the actual bell. When it's on, the spinning weights slam into that to make the ringing noise.

2. A lock

The standard lock and key mechanism is one of the more well-known but still clever inventions you see every day.

The key's unique ridges cause pins inside the lock to all line up perfectly with a fault line inside the mechanism. When they all line up (and only when they all line up) the lock turns.

3. A mechanical keyboard key

This is a mechanical switch called a Cherry MX Red. it's only one of many different flavours of mechanical keys (which themselves are only one type of keyboard key), but it's probably the easiest to understand.

As you can see, pressing down on the big red part there (which is attached to the key cap) moves it out of the way so that the metal bit can complete a circuit. That mechanical connection is what tells the computer a key is being held down!

4. Wire strippers

Some wire strippers are simpler devices with hardly any moving parts, but automatic wire strippers like this make the process super easy. As you squeeze down on the pliers, the left side grips onto the wire while the right side cuts in just slightly, through the plastic but not into the metal inside. Squeeze down more and the left side pulls the still-coated wire left, while the right side pulls the severed housing off.

5. Oscillating fan

If you've ever wondered about why oscillating fans have that weird peg instead of just a switch, wonder no more. When you press down on that peg, it moves a gear into position that connects the rod that's used to spin the fan blade to a mechanism that turns the whole fan. When you pull it up, it disconnects. Clever!

6. An automotive thermostat

This is an automotive thermostat that can be used in an engine cooling system. Inside of it, there's a little chamber of wax, and when that wax heats up and melts, it expands the chamber. That chamber is connected to a rod that pokes into the cooling system. When the thermostat expands, the rod opens a valve that lets coolant into the system. And when the system cools and the thermostat contracts, the rod pulls back and the valve closes.

7. A spray bottle

Image credit: Kulbir Sandhu

It's no Super Soaker, but the mechanism of a spray bottle is a brilliant little piece of one-way valvework. When the trigger goes out, the motion moves air into the bottle and pulls water up through the straw that goes down to the bottom of the bottle and into a chamber. When the trigger is squeezed, that action forces the water out of the same chamber, but routes it through a different valve, which sends it out the bottle's nozzle to hit your cat who is being a very bad cat!

Top image: Spray Gun by Kulbir Sandhu.

[Source: Popular Mechanics. Top image added.]