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Category: Education

Stop being confused and confounded by currency figures in old movies and books! This new “inflation adjustment” movie-and-book currency calculator will solve all of your narrative befuddlement.


In many movies and books, a financial amount is discussed at some point. For example, a character may remark that a heist “could be worth 100,000 florins” or “the estate had fallen on hard times, and now generated only 576 denarii annually.”

The issue:

Is the amount discussed above a lot of money? Or is it a paltry sum? Who knows!

This can be both narratively confusing: e.g. in a situation where an outlaw spends a week scheming to pull off a stagecoach robbery and then gets a $500 share in the ill-gotten goods. Are we, the readers, supposed to think that the outlaw has done well for himself, or is that amount equivalent to a week of work sweeping floors in the saloon?


Movies should have the option to pop up an inflation-adjusted and currency-adjusted figure (Figure 1) for any amounts of money mentioned by the characters.


Fig. 1: If a bunch of characters in the Old West are murdering each other over a treasure, it would be nice for the viewer to understand the value of the treasure: is it actually worth something, or are the characters murdering each other over something valueless? Narratively, it could work either way, but it would be useful to know what the intended interpretation is!

Similarly, e-books could easily have an option to display the current modern inflation-and-currency-adjusted value (Figure 2) of any mentioned quantities.



Fig. 2: Books that are set hundreds of years in the past often discuss currencies that no longer exist. This can be difficult for a modern reader: is a “ryō” a lot of money? What is a “ducat,” anyway? Here, the obsolete foreign currencies are converted to a modern equivalent.


This would also provide an excuse for book and movie publishers to periodically update their works. “Oh, you have the 2014 copy of Price & Prejudice? We’ve updated it with the new 2020 inflation figures—you should really re-order 100 new copies for the school library. Isn’t it important that students have access to quality educational materials?”

PROS: Helps the reader properly interpret a narrative with more complete information.

CONS: Actually performing the adjustment may be difficult. For example, if a high-quality Viking canoe is valued at “ten steel hammers and ten yards of cloth,” should we naively translate that to the modern cost of such things—e.g. approximately $140 in 2020 dollars?

Take off your top hat and monocle, and gain empathy for people who earn less than you, using this not-actually-available browser plugin!


The same amount of money can represent vastly different things to different people.

For a minimum-wage earner (in 2019), $10,000 represents roughly 65% of a year’s total salary.

But for the very top level of executives at one of the top 350 U.S. firms, that number represents less than a day’s salary.

The issue:

Thus, it can be very difficult for people to understand how much a product actually costs from someone else’s perspective.

For example, someone who doesn’t have a ton of money might say: “Who would be so crazy as to pay $14 for a box of cereal? Or $9 for an organic head of lettuce?”

  • To the minimum-wage earner, the box of cereal represents ~2 hours of work.
  • But to a cardiac surgeon earning $400,000 a year, the same box of cereal represents 5 minutes of earnings.
  • The cereal box would have to cost $378 to make the same dent in the cardiologist’s overall income!

On the opposite side, someone who earns a lot of money might have thought: “Who would be deterred by a $400 speeding ticket? That’s barely even a slap on the wrist.”

  • However, for the minimum-wage employee, a $400 ticket represents over SIXTY hours of earnings!
  • The ticket would need to be for almost $11,000 for the cardiologist to feel the same wallet pain. (A few countries levy fines in a scaled-by-income fashion to avoid this scenario: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day-fine )


A browser plugin can take the following pieces of information:

  • Your actual salary, as a baseline.
  • A “target” salary that you are trying to understand

Then, prices on all web sites are scaled naively: so a person earning $50,000 who wants to “remember” how it felt to earn $5,000 a year working part-time would configure the plugin to simply multiply all prices by 10x.

Likewise, if you wanted to better understand the lifestyle of a rich oligarch, you could enter “$100,000,000” for your annual income. For someone with that sort of annual income, a $500,000 exotic sports car is the same fraction of total income as a $250 purchase is to someone earning $50,000 a year.



Fig. 1: Setting up the plugin requires configuring exactly two options: your actual salary (in red above) and the target “simulated” salary (in blue above).


3-Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.32.47 AM

Fig. 2: Here, the plugin is configured to multiply prices by approximately 6: this simulates the difference between a $120,000 earner and a $20,000 earner. This box of chocolates was actually listed for $19.34, but with the scaled up prices, it displays as “$118.54-ish”: that’s what it “feels like” to the $20,000 earner as compared to the $120,000 earner.

PROS: Allows a person to get a more intuitive feel of what a particular income level feels like. May increase human empathy, who knows!

CONS: Since this plugin edits dollar values on EVERY single web page, it may lead to you to filing wildly incorrect tax returns if you forget to disable it when filing your taxes online.

P.S. This was made as an actual Chrome plugin, so those are real screenshots, but it isn’t actually distributed anywhere.


Fig. S1: This supplementary figure shows the configuration screen for this plugin, with a basic description of its intended purpose.




Fig. S2: This supplementary figure shows the original UI mockup.



If you’re starting a new gang, read this important set of guidelines before you select your gang colors!


Some gangs are known for wearing specific colors.

The issue:

It occasionally happens that a non-gang-affiliated passerby’s clothing happens to match local gang colors by chance, which can lead to various unfortunate encounters.


Although it is unlikely that any existing gang will change its colors, if creating a new gang, a new “gang color style guide” is proposed:

  • Instead of adopting a single solid color (e.g. red, blue, green), a gang instead selects the distinctive patterning of a local type of snake, as illustrated in Figure 1.

This has at least two benefits:

  1. Due to the complex snake patterning, it is unlikely that a non-gang-affiliated individual would coincidentally happen to be wearing valid gang colors.
  2. These snake patterns would serve a useful educational purpose for the community at large. For example, people who were continually exposed to The Coral Snake Gang‘s colors would soon become experts in identifying the coloration of the venomous coral snake. This knowledge could save lives and be a useful fact for pub trivia.

Fig. 1: These proposed gang colors are the patterns of two commonly-confused snakes. (Left: the non-venomous milk snake. Right: the venomous coral snake.)


This would be a useful way of reinforcing the knowledge conveyed in the rhyme in Figure 2. Now, every time a person sees a member of “The Milk Snake Gang,” they will also reinforce their familiarity with the coloration of the milk snake.


Fig. 2: These rhymes from Wikipedia allegedly help remember which snakes are venomous: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coral_snake . Since it seems prudent to not be bitten by a snake in either the venomous or the non-venomous situation, a more generally applicable rhyme (suggested to me by a fellow bad/worst idea aficionado) would be “If it’s a snake / do not partake.”

PROS: Teaches valuable snake facts, improves public safety.

CONS: May be difficult to find clothing in the required colors/patterns.


Teachers: stop sending out antiquated elementary school report cards! Instead of assigning a row of letter grades to each student, assign a huge matrix of letters instead!


Elementary school letter grades theoretically indicate the achievement of a certain degree of competency in a subject (e.g. a fourth-grader receiving an “A” in math would have learned all of the math that a fourth-grader is expected to know).

The issue:

There are a couple of immediate problems with the way report cards present this information:

  1. There is pressure to assign a full range of grades across students; even in a theoretical world where all students in a class achieved all the expected proficiencies, there would be pressure on the teacher to further differentiate the students into “extremely proficient” (A), “basically the same but maybe missed a couple questions” (B), and “I guess mis-read a couple more questions” (C). But this is unfair to the students, who are all at more or less equivalent competency.
  2. By having the “A” and “F” be absolute maximum / minimum values, it’s unclear what competency a student actually has: a kindergartener would almost certainly get an “F” in a calculus class, but it would be easy for a reasonably competent calculus student to get that same “F” grade despite having a decent understanding of the material.

Finally, the current report card system presents knowledge as a “treadmill”: school just gets more and more difficult, until some students give up. This is not a reasonable way to depict the acquisition of knowledge, and gives an unintentional sense of futility to the whole educational endeavor.


Instead of just showing how the student is faring in the current grade, the proposed new style of report card is “progression based” (Figure 1): it shows how the student is doing overall, on a spectrum ranging from kindergarten all the way through Nobel-Prize-worthy research.


Fig. 1: Here, we see a hypothetical nearly-straight-“A” report card for a third-grader. But instead of just showing “A, A, B, A, B,” this report card puts the overall amount of knowledge achieved into perspective: this third-grader would be unlikely to be able to successfully present a Ph.D. defense or obtain a Nobel Prize, so clearly there is still more knowledge that could (theoretically) be acquired.

This has at least two benefits:

  1.  It allows a student to have the satisfaction of “locking in” some progress: rather than school being an endless treadmill of increasing difficulty, it becomes obvious that skills are accumulating. This might be motivational to a student who would otherwise give up upon getting a “D” in calculus.
  2. It prevents a straight-“A” student from losing motivation by incorrectly concluding that they have learned everything in the world, just because they’ve mastered the 3rd-grade curriculum.

Implementation Detail:

Actually implementing this sort of report card has at least one difficulty: how do you assess from a 4th-grade math test whether or not a student has learned college-level math?

One possible solution would be to add a few unreasonably-difficult questions to each test: for example, in the 4th-grader’s math test, a few calculus questions could be mixed in. If the student successfully answers these, they would get an “A” in the “Intro College Math” section of their report card, but if they don’t know the answer—as expected—this will not reduce their Grade 4 letter grade.


There are probably other “gamification” techniques that could be used in grade reporting to motivate students more effectively, but this would be a good start.

PROS: Since humans apparently love to see progression occur / numbers go up (as evidenced by the popularity of many mobile games and of the entire RPG genre), this “progression system based” report card would definitely be a hit.

CONS: Extremely overbearing parents would probably berate their 2nd-graders for not getting the masters-degree-level science questions right, thus making the tiger-parent experience even more stressful.

Stay informed about current events and local news with this incredible printing tip that resurrects the printed newspaper, with a twist: the paper is replaced by your own skin. Fortunately for you, no printing press is involved.

The issue:

Using your phone to read the news has three major downsides:

  1. You have to hold your phone. You could easily drop it!
  2. It uses battery life, which might be in short supply depending on how often you can charge your phone.
  3. A barrage of linked “clickbait” articles (with interesting photos) attempt to lure you away from reading any serious journalism.


Here, we propose to re-introduce newspaper kiosks, but with a twist: instead of providing a newspaper, the kiosk simply prints the day’s news onto your arm, as mocked up in Figure 1.

Then, you can easily read it at your leisure, without being distracted by phone messages, annoying ads, and low-battery indicators.



Fig. 1: Just put your arm on the surface above, and the printing apparatus will write the day’s news on it in less than 15 seconds. Convenient! Since the system is entirely automated, enough money is saved on wages to afford a full-time 1930s-era newsboy to stand next to it and shout “Extra, Extra!”

The result of this printing apparatus is shown in Figure 2.



Fig. 2: News of the day, as written on one (or both) arms.


The mockup looks quite successful so far, but there is a caveat that will restrict its market size, shown in figure 3.


Fig. 3: Variations in skin tone pose a challenge to the printing mechanism. Most inks can only darken the material they print on, which works for skin tones A and B, but results in unreadable text on dark skin tone C. A similar phenomenon is also observed in face-detection algorithms.

Fortunately, there is practical enhancement that will improve the experience for everyone (Figure 4).


Fig. 4: Luminous ink (non-radioactive) is the solution: not only does this work well for both light and dark skin, but it also lets you read the news in the dark, as shown above. In fact, there’s no way to turn it off, so you can’t even avoid reading the news when it is dark out. Not that you’d want to anyway, of course!


Perhaps this would be a way to resurrect print journalism.

PROS: Provides great way to stay up-to-date on current events without being distracted by ads and clickbait articles. This will lead to an informed electorate and strong democracy.

CONS: Of limited utility in ares where short-sleeved shirts are not worn. Ideal test market would be a tropical location with a casual dress code.

Re-experience the process of learning to read AND prevent spies from stealing your secrets!


Once you know how to read, it’s impossible to see text the same way as you did before—you will inescapably recognize the symbols as letters the instant that you see them.

The issue:

This “automatic” parsing of written language makes it easy to forget how much effort was required to initially learn how to read. This inhibits people’s ability to empathize with children and second-language learners as they acquire literacy.


In order to let you remember what it was like to not be able to read, this hypothetical browser plug-in will simply change all web fonts to an illiteracy-simulating “dingbats” font (Figure 1).


Fig. 1: With the “Wingdings” font replacing the standard web page font, every Internet site becomes totally incomprehensible, letting you re-experience the lack of ability to read. In order to obtain proficiency with this new alphabet, a user would need to learn 26 lower-case letters, 26 upper-case letters, ~10 punctuation marks, and 10 digits, for a grand total of ~70–80 symbols.

Note that the new “letters” actually do directly correspond to the letters of the English alphabet, so you could hypothetically re-experience the alphabet-learning experience by using this plugin.


Fig. 2: Here is what a block of English text might look like to someone who is totally unfamiliar with Latin letters.


Fig. 3: The importance of heraldry and easily-understood symbols is more evident when you cannot read!


Fig. 4: This approximates what a medieval peasant would have experienced reading a manuscript about the Hundred Year’s War. Note how much more important the images seem when you can’t read the text.

Secret bonus feature:

If you set your browser to a “dingbats” font and actually learn how to read it, then you’ll be able to thwart spies who try to read your screen over your shoulder. The CIA should mandate that all of its laptops be set to this custom font mode.


If you want to remember what it was like before you could read, you should set your browser font to Wingdings or another “dingbats” font.

PROS: Increases ability to empathize with people learning to read. Makes it difficult for spies to read your secrets.

CONS: Your browser might get stuck in this mode, and then you’d have to learn a totally new (yet almost completely useless) alphabet.

P.S. You can also experience this phenomenon by just going to a Wikipedia page in a language you can’t read. Try one of these: https://or.wikipedia.org/, https://am.wikipedia.org/ , or https://si.wikipedia.org/ (unless you somehow read all three, which is exceptionally unlikely).

Stop impulsively using your cell phone, thanks to this one amazing deterrent that is also GUARANTEED to make you way smarter and well-educated! Guarantee void.


People are often glued to their cell phones at all times, thanks primarily to the ease of finding an amusing distraction on the Internet.

The issue:

There have been various proposals to mitigate the scourge of “phone addiction,” for example, setting your phone screen to black-and-white / grayscale in order to reduce its appeal (https://www.google.com/search?q=set+phone+to+black+and+white).

However, no proposal currently tackles the problem by making the phone-unlock process a mentally-taxing exercise.


In order to unlock your phone, you have to solve some sort of vaguely challenging puzzle, or perhaps learn a new fact about the world.

For example, to unlock your phone:

  • You must win or tie a game of Tic-Tac-Toe (Figure 1). Your AI opponent could just make moves randomly, so that it isn’t always a tie.
  • You must win a game of Go against the phone. This could take substantially longer than the Tic-Tac-Toe example; perhaps decades or more.



Fig. 1: Perhaps you would need to win some sort of strategy game in order to unlock your phone. Other candidates include chess, checkers, and other popular board games. Since the computer will almost always be better than a player at these games, it could start with a handicap (e.g. no queen in chess).

An alternative approach would be to attempt to educate the phone user in some way (Figures 2 and 3).



Fig. 2: High school or college students who are studying for standardized tests could replace their unlock screen with a practice test question. This phone’s owner will undoubtedly become very familiar with the format of the “analogies” section used in some standardized tests.




Fig. 3: You’d definitely read a lot more classic literature if you HAD to in order to unlock your phone. Even War and Peace (shown here) would fly by in no time!

Alternative proposal that would help you maintain social connections:

Instead of requiring you to solve a puzzle, the phone could require you to send a message to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or call someone on their birthday. This synergizes well with the amazing not-yet-real app Friend Neglectr.

PROS: Combats phone addition AND enriches your life at the same time.

CONS: People would probably try to unlock their phones while driving, and having to read an entire chapter from “War and Peace” on a 5-inch screen would probably greatly increase the risk of a catastrophic car accident.

How to write a best-selling self-help book in 0.1 seconds or less!


There’s a huge market for telling people what they want to hear, whether or not it’s true. Additionally, there is a $10,000,000,000+ annual market in self-improvement books in the United States alone.

It would be profitable to get even a small slice of this enormous market!

The Issue:

Writing and promoting a self-help book is probably a lot of work.

But what if we could just tell people what they want to hear, putting the bare minimum of effort into the book?

Then, the book would practically sell itself! (After all, if you tell somewhat what they already want to hear, they will usually just nod sagely and agree, even if your point is very poorly thought-out.)


Thanks to the Internet and the power of computers, we can do the following:

  • Algorithmically generate a huge variety of “self-actualization” books that cover every possible topic (Figure 1). These would consist of a customized introduction, and then a bunch of generic platitudes and random out-of-copyright “allegorical fables” and excerpts of supposedly-relevant (but actually random) books found on Project Gutenberg.
  • These books can be print-on-demand, so if one of our algorithmically-generated books doesn’t sell, we are only out the amount of time it took to write the custom introduction.

Probably most people won’t read past the intro anyway, so it’s win/win!


Fig. 1: Some markets aren’t really catered to, but we can write books to tell people that they are great and shouldn’t change, no matter what!



Here are some additional examples:

Market this to people convicted of various theft-related crimes:

  • “Burglars: the Unsung Heroes of the Modern Economy.” Possible subtitle, to make it seem more academic: “The Engine of Capitalism in a Post-Scarcity World.”

Market this to the commercial fishing industry:

  • “Overfishing: Problem, or Solution to Earth’s Fish Menace?”

Market this to individuals whose only joy in life is to make things miserable for others:

  • “Toxic is just a synonym for Gets Things Done: How So-called “Toxic” People Saved Civilization.”

We could even randomly generate an entire book in 0.1 seconds as a result of an extremely specific search query (see Figure 2); this way, ANY topic could be turned into a self-help book with public-domain cover art.



Fig. 2: If we don’t bother to write a custom introduction, we could randomly generate both the text AND a suitable cover image for any search query. Now you’ll always be able to find a book on the topic you’re looking for!




As an added bonus, these books can cross-reference each other, which may improve their Internet search engine results.

PROS: You’ll always be able to find a book on any topic now! Fantastic!

CONS: None! Helps promote literacy and self-improvement, while also being profitable.




Your slide presentation / PowerPoint presentation can be improved ENORMOUSLY with this one incredible presentation tip. Get the promotion that you deserve!


Slide presentations are now a main ingredient in almost all lectures and presentations (Figure 1).



Fig. 1: A simple presentation setup: laptop plus projector/screen.

The issue:

Computers have made slide presentations extremely easy to make (example in Figure 2), but haven’t helped with one issue: presentations often go on FAR TOO LONG.

For example, none of these ideas for promoting short presentations are available in standard presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides).

  • Not a feature: A timer showing the elapsed time on a specific slide. This timer would change color once the user spent over-the-allocated amount of time on the slide.
  • Not a feature: A “progress bar” showing the position of the current slide in the entire slide deck.
  • Not a feature: A per-slide time estimation: if a 15-slide presentation has a 30-minute scheduled time, it should be trivial to display “You have an average of 2 minutes per slide.” This could be updated as the presentation went on; if the user takes 20 minutes to go through the first 5 slides, the remaining slides could display “10 minute remaining for 10 slides; you only have one minute for each of these slides!”
  • Not a feature: Allowing the software itself to automatically advance the slide when the user has dwelled on a slide for too long.



Fig. 2: A standard presentation: slides are shown along the top. The timer bar along the bottom (showing the total time consumed vs. the specific slides remaining) is a hypothetical feature that does not currently exist.


This proposal is for a flexible method of encouraging presenters to remain on schedule: the slide advance fire.

In this method, the slide deck is metaphorically on fire: all the slides in the slide deck are slowly consumed by a fire effect that moves through the entire slide deck (see Figure 3 for illustration), rendering the slides un-usable after a certain amount of time has elapsed.

The presenter can stay on a blackened-and-charred slide as long as they want (so they can continue to discuss a slide, or field questions from the audience, even after it has burned away), but the contents of the slide will no longer be visible.

This will also discourage presenters from cramming a slide full of text and then slowly reading the slide to their (presumably literate) audience.


Fig. 3: Top: the second slide from the left is in the process of being consumed by the “slide advance fire.” The timer indicates that two minutes (2:00) have elapsed in the entire presentation.  Bottom: the second slide has been entirely consumed by fire, and only a glowing ember remains on the right edge. Hopefully the presenter has moved on to the next slide. Active slides also contain a timer in the bottom right (the small circle / stopwatch / pie chart), showing the remaining time until that slide burns up completely.

Implementation details:

  • The slide deck begins as normal.
  • Once a slide has appeared for more than five seconds, a timer starts and the slide “ignites”: the slide is now “on fire” and has a fixed amount of time before it burns away. (The reason for the five second delay is to prevent the slide from starting to burn due to an accidental “next slide” mis-click that is immediately corrected.)
  • After the allocated time has elapsed, a fire effect appears on the screen, and the slide begins to quickly burn away. Over the next ten seconds, the fire completely consumes the slide, leaving behind only a charcoal-black rectangle.
  • The user can still switch between slides normally, but burnt-out slides remain charred.
  • In order to prevent the user from just restarting the slide deck to circumvent this restriction, a minimum of four hours must elapse before the slide deck can be viewed again.

Optional idea #1:

  • Each slide could have a timer on it that is visible to the audience (as described in Figure 3—the circular timers in the bottom-right of the active slide), which would give the audience more of an appreciation for the punctuality of the presenter (assuming they managed to advance the slide before the slide burned away completely).

Optional idea #2:

  • One common presentation mistake is to just read a slide verbatim to the audience. The presentation computer could have speech recognition software on it, and if it detected that the presenter was reading a substantial fraction of a slide aloud, it could sound a warning siren and automatically advance to the next slide.


This new presentation feature should immediately be implemented in Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Apple Keynote, in addition to any other presentation programs that may exist in the future.

PROS: Prevents lectures, presentations, and meetings from going over time. Allows a lazy presenter to set the burn delay very low, allowing them to make confusing and terrible slides and rely on the “slide advance fire” to save them from any hard questions.

CONS: Would make it difficult to take questions from the audience (“Could you describe the X-axis on…. oh, it burned away.”). Would make it difficult to do a practice talk and immediately revise a slide deck while audience feedback was still fresh.
















Perform untested and non-ethics-board approved human testing, with this one weird tip! A terrifying mobile for babies, with a twist!


The Indiana Jones movies (especially #1 and #3) have taught that it’s a serious liability for an adventurer to acquire a phobia against any animal that may be seen in the course of adventuring (e.g., snakes, rats).


In order to avoid these problems, we can easily desensitize a future adventure to dangerous animals at a young age, via constant exposure to a likeness of that animal in “stuffed animal that dangles from a mobile” form.

(The official term for this is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposure_therapy )

Compare the two mobiles in figures 1 and 2.


Fig. 1: This classic mobile has minimal educational value and confers NO resistance to snakeophobia or fear of spiders, which is known as “spiderophobia.”



Fig. 2: The enhanced “horror-mobile” can be customized to help a child grow numb to the most terrifying aspects of existence. It’s unclear whether this would actually be 100% helpful: a healthy degree of scorpion-o-phobia is probably a useful trait for a person to have.


You could be the first to try this totally unproven and un-tested parenting tip!

PROS: May help when the child (who has now become a grizzled adventurer) encounters a pit of snakes in an ancient Egyptian tomb.

CONS: Might have unintended negative effects, like the “aggressively criticize children when they stutter” study (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster_Study). Additionally, the chance of actually encountering a snake pit in the course of a typical lifetime is < 50%.