What's the Dumbest Idea You've Ever Had?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

That’s the question raised by a group of Atlantic readers in this discussion group. I’ve compiled the most entertaining bits, starting with:

When I was a kid, we did all kinds of dumb things in and around farms. “Hey, let’s drop big rocks in this manure canal ... oops, I didn’t know it would splash that much.”

Another reader had several dumb ideas:

  • When I was 12, I thought the best hiding place ever in a game of Ghost in the Graveyard would be on top of my neighbor’s shed—which it was, until I realized I couldn’t climb back down and had to give away my hiding spot yelling for help.
  • I once tried to eat an entire XXL pizza (extra thin crust) by myself to win a free t-shirt. I failed spectacularly.
  • Cutting school on my 18th birthday to go to a nude beach seemed like a good idea at the time. But if anyone wants to know, the kind of naked people you expect to see on a nude beach in no way resemble the ones that are actually there.
  • I dated a guy in an emo/pop punk band. That needs no further elaboration.

From another reader with dating regrets:

For one month, I tried to juggle three girlfriends. They all dumped me and all became friends.

This dumping went much worse:

When I was 23 I was dating this girl for two years. I was head over heels for her. I thought she was THE ONE.  

Then one day, out of the blue, she tells me it’s over. Unbeknownst to me, she was in love with a guy who had left her for three years in the Navy. As soon as he got home, she dropped me like a hot potato.

So two weeks later I’m at the bar with the guys, and I get so drunk. At 2 am, I’m driving one guy home when he says let’s go by her house. So being a dumbass, I say let’s go. As we’re going by her house, my buddy says “Look, is that her on the porch making out?” So I’m looking and BOOM!—I stop … did something hit us? She comes running down into the street and up to me. I say I’m very drunk, I’m sorry. She says “G D, I told you don’t drink and drive!” And then she cold-cocks me, laying me out on the street in front of her house.

On the perils of being a third:

My dumbest idea was agreeing to be the unicorn (single bisexual woman) in a poly relationship with a married couple. It turned me into their de facto child care provider, and I ended up giving them a lot more money than I should have. And we didn’t even get to have sex that often!

Another reader could’ve burned the place down:

I once tried to make a hot air balloon with a paper bag and a cigarette lighter behind the counter in the very small retail shop where I worked as a teen, with customers in the store. When the bag caught fire I tried to stuff it in the trash can to put it out. A couple stomps later it was out, amid lots of smoke and ashes.

A more perilous scene:

Back in my 20s, I was driving on the DC Beltway one summer day when I heard a buzz and realized there was a bumblebee in my car. I opened the window and started swatting it away, frantically, but it wouldn’t fly out of the window. A moment later, I realized I was on the shoulder of the road. I’d crossed two lanes of traffic, without looking, and ended up on the shoulder all because I was so busy with this bee. It then occurred to me that endangering myself and other drivers was a far, far stupider and worse thing to have done than if I’d sat there and let the darn thing sting me.

This bad idea actually turned out pretty good:

I went to the Cayman Islands with friends and snuck into Cuba among the Canadian tourists for an afternoon. No one even checked ID. It could have turned into some sort of international incident, I guess, but it was a lovely afternoon.

Another reader adds, “This isn’t quite the same thing, but it reminds me of the kids that went hiking in Iran, which did result in an international incident.” This veteran was next door:

During my first trip to Iraq, I was on a team that handed out flyers and stuff and had a loudspeaker on our truck. Kids loved us for some reason. I joked that we were like an ice cream truck, so we got some ice cream truck-like music sent to us and rolled around *some town in Iraq* playing it.

That was more amusing than dumb, though. Dumb was driving around wearing a paper hat instead of my helmet with only two other soldiers and one armed Iraqi interpreter in our two-truck convoy consisting of our humvee and a Nissan pickup. And then hanging out at the local pool hall, watching Michael Jackson videos and drinking Zam-Zam Cola. We were very lucky nothing terrible ever happened, since we were not prepared to react. But the people—well, the locals; not so the leadership—liked us.

But this incident abroad turned out pretty terrible:

I got drunk and drove around Mexico when I was 22. When an officer pulled me over for speeding, I told him he had to have sped to catch me, so we should both be in jail. I got a nice beating and spent two days in the ward.

Do you have any notably bad ideas you wanna share? Drop us an email. Some of the worst ideas in life are highdeas, as this reader can attest to:

I thought a great idea would be to create a laser wash for old people. Like, instead of their shower. It would have a seat and they just sit in it, and their head sticks out the top, and they are washed off by pressurized water like an automatic car wash. I didn’t try to implement it, because it is stupid and I was high.

Another reader replied:

Oh oh oh!! Last time I got high I came up with my own Fair Trade Organic Biologically Appropriate Cat Food named *Meow Chow*. It was simply going to be a live mouse in a box. Obviously I haven’t implemented it because it’s seven shades of stupid.

Some highdeas, however, are pretty brilliant:

Here’s how u end the Twilight saga in one scene...Bella and Edward smoke a blunt together. Edward gets the munchies. No more Bella. The End.