Deviously Ingenious Solutions to 5 Tricky Problems

A bus stop to nowhere, the dog who sold a home, and more ideas just crazy enough that they worked.

woman on bench
Daniel Hertzberg for Reader’s Digest

A Bus Stop to Nowhere

People with Alzheimer’s disease have a dangerous tendency to wander—often, they’re looking for something or someone familiar, or they’re reliving an old routine. At the Benrath Senior Center in Düsseldorf, Germany, the Alzheimer’s patients wandered away from the facility so often that manager Richard Neureither turned to the local police to retrieve the residents. One day in 2008, Franz-Josef Goebel, chairman of a local seniors’ association, approached Neureither with an unusual idea to keep the seniors safe. “He suggested we build a fake bus stop outside the center to ‘catch’ people who’d snuck out,” says Neureither. “At first, I thought it was ridiculous.” But it worked. Not long after Neureither had the bench and bus stop sign installed, an Alzheimer’s resident believed she needed to get home to her parents. Instead of arguing with her, the Benrath staff suggested the woman sit at the bus stop. After a few minutes, a nurse went out to wait with her. Eventually, the woman forgot why she was there, and the nurse took her back into the center for a cup of tea. “After a while, their urgency disappears,” Neureither says. “Another thought comes along, and they forget where they wanted to go.”

dog in kitchen
Daniel Hertzberg for Reader’s Digest

The Photo Trick That Sells a Home

Who needs to pay a real estate agent when you own a photogenic 90-pound shelter dog? When John and Sara Kanive decided in March 2013 to rent out their two-bedroom Chicago apartment, the photos of their pad showed off more than its wood-burning fireplace and modern kitchen. In each image, their Great Dane–German shepherd mix, Otis, “photobombed” the room—peeking out from behind the kitchen counter or from around a corner in the living room, barely visible behind a bed or peering from behind the slats of a dining room chair. “For the first picture, of the living room, he was just lying on the floor,” John told “Then I got the idea to put him in all the pictures.” The trick worked: The Kanives rented their place in less than 24 hours. “Everybody who replied to the ad had something to say about Otis,” John told “Mostly ‘P.S., I love your dog.’ ”

man and parrot
Daniel Hertzberg for Reader’s Digest

A Parrot That Keeps the Peace

When Jim Eggers gets angry, his body shakes. His vision blurs. His hearing becomes muffled. “It’s like I’m the Incredible Hulk,” says Eggers, “turning from a man into a beast.” Eggers, 47, suffers from bipolar disorder. In fits of rage, he has punched a dent in a car’s hood, poured hot coffee on a neighbor, and yelled at strangers. In 2005, he served a year of probation for threatening to kill the archbishop of St. Louis. Several weeks later, Eggers, an animal lover, bought an African gray parrot he named Sadie. Not surprisingly, the bird soon began imitating words she heard Eggers say, such as hello and good girl. One day, Eggers came home angry. Trying to convince himself to relax, “I started saying to myself, ‘Calm down, Jim. You’ll be OK,’ ” he says. Sadie repeated the phrases. After a few months, the bird began anticipating when Eggers needed reassurance, saying the phrases when she sensed he was angry. Now Eggers carries Sadie with him wherever he goes—to church, to the gym, on the city bus—in a bright purple backpack with a built-in cage. Says Eggers, “I still go off on people sometimes, but she makes sure it never escalates into a big problem.”

Cardboard Cops to Reduce Real Crime

Thanks to a creative approach to crime deterrence, rates of theft, speeding, and other traffic violations have fallen in cities from Boston to Prague. Short on funds for full-time officers, police departments in those cities and others strategically placed cardboard cutouts of cops in high-crime areas. Bicycle theft at a Cambridge, Massachusetts, subway station fell 67 percent in the months after police attached a cutout to a fence near the bike rack. And cardboard cops have reduced speeding in Sibiu, Romania, so successfully that the police department added cardboard police cars in other high-traffic areas. “Drivers immediately slow down when they see the cutouts,” says police spokesman Radu Ionsecu. Cardboard cutouts have helped calm traffic in Bangalore, India, too. Says police commissioner M. A. Saleem, “Cutout cops can be on the job seven days a week.”

A Safety Net for the Drought-Stricken

In the foggy, desolate hillsides outside Lima, Peru, water for drinking and irrigation is a luxury. The area’s 1.5 centimeters of annual rainfall barely helps, and buying water isn’t an option for residents of this poverty-stricken region. Surprisingly, a piece of mesh hung vertically between two poles is an idea that holds water, literally. Invented by the Meteorological Service of Canada, the so-called fog fences capture water droplets in fog, and they trickle into a collection trough and drain into buckets or tanks. During the nine foggiest months of the year, the community of Bellavista (pop. 200) can harvest 75 gallons of water every night using five large fog fences. “These fog nets have improved our quality of life,” says resident Noe Neira Tocto. “We can grow vegetables for our families.” Fog fences are also helping irrigate arid regions in other parts of South America and in Africa. Recently, researchers from the Netherlands and China developed an absorbent fabric that may help fog fences collect even more water.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest