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Bungling Inventor
"Music, landscape gardening, architecture — there was no start to his talents."
Hogfather on Bungling Inventor "Bloody Stupid Johnson"

An obvious subversion of Gadgeteer Genius, the Bungling Inventor is a scientist (often a Mad Scientist) whose inventions never seem to work properly. In fact, they're prone to truly spectacular cases of Phlebotinum Breakdown. The inventions might do something entirely different than what they were supposed to (like explode, or play "Yankee Doodle Dandy"), or they might seem to do their primary function but have some subtle flaw, or they might work a little too well (like a security robot that throws everyone out of a house, including the people it was designed to protect).

Perhaps the strangest thing about the Bungling Inventor is that he is so bad at inventing that he occasionally accomplishes by accident what the world's most competent inventor could not do on purpose: he may be trying to fix a television and inadvertently create a device which brings fictional characters to life. Strangely, it never occurs to anyone that he's anything other than a failure: the fact that he's created a working time machine does not make up for the fact that he has totally failed to make a machine that produces toast.

Some characters who are usually Gadgeteer Genius, Mr. Fixit or The Professor dip occasionally into this trope.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Black Jack: The eponymous Jack created an artificial life form while and possibly because he was drunk.
  • Detective Conan: Professor Agasa is introduced to us as he blows a hole in his house and his neighbor goes to help him out. Over the course of the series, he does manage to make many useful devices, but is also shown to bungle lots of inventions.
  • D.Gray-Man: Komui Lee, whose defective inventions are the show's Running Gag.
  • Dr. Slump: Senbei Norimaki is a classic example. Arale, the Robot Girl he invented, was designed with flawed eyesight and literally Earth-shattering super-strength, and she's such an extreme Cloud Cuckoolander that the one time a literal bug ended up causing her to malfunction, she started acting perfectly normal (by human standards). Other inventions of his are also prone to flaws in design, or simply falling into the wrong hands.
  • Kokoro: Kocha, who, in a quest to cure a fatal genetic disorder, has created flying plants, temporarily cured insanity, aged up a co-worker, and turned herself pink. No one knows exactly how her mind works, not even her creator, or the connection between these would become clear.
  • To Love-Ru: A female example is Lala, this on top of her Magical Girlfriend and Innocent Fanservice Girl qualities. Lala's inventions were originally made for pranks, and have a tendency to either backfire or succeed in the wrong way. For example, her Warp-kun device can teleport the user(s) - but not their clothes.
  • Clemont in Pokémon builds inventions that tend to malfunction and/or explode.

    Comic Books 
  • Superboy and Superman: Professor Phineas Potter — Lana Lang's uncle.
  • Léonard le Génie will every so often invent something that either fails spectacularly to do what it was intended to do, or is just plain useless.
  • Gaston Lagaffe is an amateur inventor whose designs frequently malfunction. Especially when chemical experimentation is involved.
  • Tintin. When the protagonists first meet Professor Calculus he fits this trope; for instance his shark submarine breaks in half when he sits in it. He gets better though.
  • Cubitus: Sémaphore (Professor Dingy) from the Franco-Belgian comic (which was adapted into an anime as Wowser), who epitomizes this trope to the extreme. Most of the stories revolve around one of his inventions going wrong.

    Fan Fic 

    Film 
  • Back to the Future: the 1955 Emmett "Doc" Brown, until he invents the time machine.
    Doc: It works. It works! [grabs Marty] I finally invent something that works!
    Marty: You bet your ass it works.
  • Beauty and the Beast: Subversion of sorts: Belle's father Maurice appears to be one of these, as implied by the fact that all of their neighbors think he's crazy. Yet the only invention shown in the movie, while being more than a little peculiar in design and execution, does in fact work.
  • Flick in in Disney's A Bug's Life. He invents an object that can throw grains... and it ends up destroying the food meant for the grasshoppers, setting the plot of the movie into motion. When he's being tried for it, they discuss what to do with him, but they can't decide because he's made mistakes elsewhere too.
  • Primer: Abe and Aaron. They were trying to make an anti gravity machine, and made a time traveling device instead.

    Literature 
  • Discworld: Bergholt Stuttley Johnson, from Terry Pratchett's novels. Johnson earned his nickname "Bloody Stupid" by constructing such things as misproportioned landscaping projects (like a trout pond 150 feet long and only an inch wide), monuments (like the inch-high "Colossus" of Ankh) and household items (like a cruet set where the pepper-pot was eventually used as a grain silo). His most spectacular failures are so badly-designed that they damage the fabric of time and space (like the Sorting Engine from Going Postal, and the houses at Empirical Crescent in Thud!). He did a good, if slightly insane, line in pipe organs. And a rather good bathroom once. Linking said bathroom to the nearest pipe organ, however, was not such a good idea... And there's a tap you don't want to touch while taking a shower. The one marked "Old Faithful."
    Archchancellor Ridcully: Ye gods, I've never felt so clean.
    • Leonard da Quirm has a similar record, albeit due to understandable faults, such as lack of proper materials. He's had a few humdingers, but they've mostly been weapons, or one-shot devices.
      • One of the main causes of his one-shot devices is his tendency to start making one thing, and have it turn into something completely different by the time he's finished because he got distracted. He's easily distracted.
  • In Good Omens, which Terry Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, Newton Pulsifer is so incompetent at electronics that when he tries to put together a circuit especially designed for people like him - it's not supposed to do anything - it picks up Radio Moscow.
  • The Dragonlance saga has an entire race of bungling inventors: the gnomes. In fact, being able to make something that works the way it was intended is the surest sign of insanity in gnomes. Some of their failed inventions are fairly spectacular, such as a failed water dowser that finds gems or a failed batch of pesticide that is actually invisibility spray.
    • This was referenced in Neverwinter Nights (despite being part of a different campaign setting) with a gnomic suit of armour that was supposed to repel metal and instead ended up repelling magic.
    • The tinker gnomes' ineptitude is so bad that it actually contributes to the setting's Fantasy Gun Control. In short, almost nobody from any other race wants to study or learn about science, since the tinker gnomes' bungling has caused every other race to assume science is inherently worthless compared to magic. The gnomes themselves can make guns, quite easily in fact, but tend to overcomplicate them and make them useless like they do everything else.
  • Professor Branestawm: Branestawm from the novels by Norman Hunter. Some of the professor's problems stem from his inventions working too well and his failure to include features such as an off switch. For example, in "The Screaming Clocks", he invents a clock that doesn't need winding up, but the omission of an important component ("I forgot to put a little wiggly thing in") means the clock doesn't stop at twelve but continues striking thirteen, fourteen and so forth until it can't keep up with itself. Many of the other troubles that the professor experiences are the result of his inventions rebelling, showing anthropomorphic personalities. For instance, the phrase "No Branestawm invention was going to stand for that" occurs several times in the series. Branestawm inventions frequently object to anyone using them in ways that they were not designed for.
    • He did manage to design a successful underground car park. Then it flooded, which he was the first to point out wasn't his fault.
  • Forgotten Realms: The Harpells, introduced in R.A. Salvatore's novels, are a bunch of bungling inventor wizards, who apply the same sort of attitude to their magic. In an unusual variant, though highly eccentric and prone to bizarre ideas, they often make them work. One Harpell breeds a "puddlejumper" steed by crossing a horse with a frog. The family routinely stores livestock in specialized cages with mass shrinking spells. In one novel, a Harpell even avoids death at the tentacles of a brain-eating illithid by using a specially created polymorph spell that temporarily switches the positioning of his brain and his lower intestines — so it attempts to pluck out his brain, and instead gets... yeah.

    Live Action TV 
  • Professor Pepperwinkle from The Adventures of Superman is a prime example. Pretty much anytime he invented something, criminals would take advantage of his naivete to use his creations for evil.
  • Art Fortune from Big Bad Beetleborgs, he's not only good at artwork he's also good at designing weapons and transport and has resident phasm Flabber to help with making them a reality- mainly because of Flabber's magic.
  • Doc from Fraggle Rock.
  • Kids Incorporated: Riley the Soda Jerk in the first half-dozen seasons, who was often berated for his failed inventions. Even if that Robot Buddy he'd created was a bit of a jerk, let us not forget that Riley had licked the problem of artificial sentience. Worse yet, on at least one occasion Connie, one of the group members, actually managed to pull off at least one invention that actually worked!
  • The Muppet Show: Doctor Bunsen Honeydew.
  • The 'Invention Exchange' sequences at the beginning of most early episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 often parodied this. Part of the premise of the series was that Dr Forrester (and originally, Dr Erhardt as well, who was replaced by TV's Frank after the first season) were incompetent mad scientists who were jealous of Joel Robinson's inventions, and so shot him into space (apparently they weren't that incompetent) to subject him to 'experiments', and would 'reward' him by exchanging ideas for new creations. Most of the inventions were dementedly creative (this being a shtick which Joel Hodgson had already been using in his comedy act before the series), but the Mads' inventions usually failed in violent and improbable ways.
    • However, inevitably, a few of them were actually good ideas.
  • The Red Green Show: Red Green — duct tape, anyone?
  • Stargate SG-1: Jay Felger. His last spectacular failures were an energy gun that instead caused a blackout throughout the SGC and a computer virus that temporarily brought down the entire Stargate network, thanks to some meddling by Ba'al. Neither one was his fault, though. The energy gun most likely failed because O'Neill touched the weapon's active tip against Felger's very strong urging. And Felger's virus would have worked fine if Ba'al hadn't been a computer genius.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look has a medieval inventor who creates things that aren't exactly useless so much as totally misplaced. Such as a trackball mouse, a windscreen wiper, and of course, the Sky digibox. Unfortunately he hasn't quite managed to come up with the things that would make these devices useful.
    Inventor: [Brandishing a scroll with 'Anti Virus Software' on it — in binary] It was all so clear to me this morning when I scribbled it down, but now I just think I've gone a bit mad.
    • There's also Cheesoid's creator.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Genius The Transgression, any of the eponymous Geniuses will appear to be one of these, since their Wonders fail (at best they'll stop working, at worst they'll go insane or something) whenever a normal person comes in contact with them or circumstances in general conspire to screw things up. The reality is? Less definite.
  • In Paranoia, the scientists assigned to Research and Design constantly build stuff even more malfunction-prone than typical shoddy Alpha equipment. And this stuff shows up all the time; one of the classic ways to distract the PCs with multiple simultaneous duties is ordering them to field-test a few experimental devices in the course of carrying out their primary mission of the moment.
    • The instructions are out of your security clearance level. Asking for them is treason.

    Video Games 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Tails is quite a capable Gadgeteer Genius. However...
  • World of Warcraft: Gnomish Engineers as a whole work like this. Pretty much anything engineers can make with Gnomish in the name can have spectacular malfunctions. The Shrink Ray for example can either shrink its target as intended, or backfire on the entire party or make the entire party grow. Goblin inventions on the other hand are surprisingly reliable, but then again they also focus on blowing stuff up rather than gadgets. An Engineer who bought a camera to a picnic nearly started a riot among the party-goers with the flash, who thought they were under attack.
    • Goblin engineers actually do a fair bit of bungling, it's just that they adapt better to different results than expected. If a gnome creation belches a stream of fire, they'll try to fix it. If a goblin creation belches a stream of fire, they'll patent and sell it as a portable deicer.
  • In EarthBound, the Orange Kid is an acclaimed and self-proclaimed Gadgeteer Genius, but all he does in the game is giving a useless machine to the party (which only spouts off some more Orange Kid promotion and explodes afterward) and researching on unboiling an egg. His neighbour, Apple Kid, who is called a loser among other things, gives the player many useful things if properly funded, many of them necessary for beating the game.
  • Professor Quadwrangle of Quantum Conundrum
  • Kyle from Atelier Annie. Whenever his inventions don't work, it always ends up really annoying people.
  • Harvest Moon had a family line of these. The original being the original Ann (who appeared in the first two Game Boy game, the first game in the series, and Magical Melody). Next is her grandson, Rick (in Harvest Moon 64).
  • According to Clank in Ratchet & Clank: Tools Of Destruction, Ratchet has a long history of lethally stupid inventions that includes such items a a bathroom toys made of antimatter and a sled powered by nuclear explosions. Ratchet, however, insists that the electroshock underwear was not a terrible idea. ("Stunderwear! Huge seller on Umbris.")

    Webcomics 
  • Ethan from Ctrl+Alt+Del has been known to accidentally invent a few things, like transforming his Xbox into a sentient robot, and creating a time machine powered by a stick of butter and paper clips.note  He also invented a chair that would prevent him from getting up or falling asleep during a week-long festival of gaming, but accidentally engaged it a week early.
  • Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures
    • Jyrras has created two artificial lifeforms, by accident.
    • Apart from this, though, Jyrras is actually a very competent scientist and inventor. In fact, his numerous patents have made him the richest member of the main cast.
  • Some sparks in Girl Genius seem to fit this pattern. Most prominently, most of Master Payne's Circus of Adventure consists of these. The explanation is that this is why they're all in a circus together- it's a kind of protective coloration for people who are Sparky enough to draw the attention of bigger, more powerful sparks, but not nearly Sparky enough to survive it.
    • Agatha was one herself, before her locket was removed.
  • The professor from A Modest Destiny fits this trope to a T. He even built his own house. Thrice. In his own words, Don't kick, pound, break, cuddle, lick, or threaten his inventions with pointy sticks. It's the only way to be safe.
  • Most likely a parody in the webcomic RPG World, where Machine Guy builds a time machine, saying "It was supposed to be a toaster, but I got carried away." Interestingly enough, the machine is still able to make toast as well.
  • Occurs infrequently in Schlock Mercenary with local Mad Scientist Kevyn Andreyasn - less due to incompetence than having faulty materials. Ultimately, he's able to get the company fabber to build what he wants it to, but as an added bonus resulting from earlier experiments everything will also be able to make toast.
  • Riff from Sluggy Freelance. He's actually got quite a few inventions that work (or at least work well enough), but just as many of them have a huge flaw or backfire completely. Happens so often that saying "Let me check my notes" after an invention goes wrong became Riff's Catch Phrase.
  • Umlaut House: Saundra. thought she made a high-speed toaster. Her future self corrected her. Also carelessness when repairing her gaydar can result in an explosion that has 0,03% (actually, since it's a webcomic, 100%) chance of blasting you into an alternate dimention.
  • Zap!: The Stickles. Any invention that actually works the way it was supposed to goes to the Stickle Hall of Fame, where it is put on display and never used again.

    Western Animation 
  • Ludwig Von Drake started out as an Absent-Minded Professor on Walt Disney Presents, but eventually became a Bungling Inventor in his later appearances, such as on Bonkers, Mickey Mouse Works, and House of Mouse.
  • DuckTales: Gyro Gearloose (created by Carl Barks in his comics), whose unreliable inventions included a variation of the aforementioned robot. Though he is actually a good inventor, and most problems come from his absent-mindedness. And of course, half the time his inventions do work as they're supposed to, but he's such a Wide-Eyed Idealist that he never thinks of the possibility of his inventions being used for nefarious purposes (the teleporting spray/ray gun combo and the "key ray gun" capable of opening every lock on Earth come to mind).
    • As a rule, in the comics, he lends his latest invention to Donald at a moment's notice, who then proceeds to misuse it in the worst way possible, either due to his laziness, temper, or combination of both. Even Gyro lampshades it in one of the comics, musing to himself just why he keeps doing it.
  • The Alvin Show: Clyde Crashcup is a Bungling Inventor who kept trying (and failing) to "invent" things that had already been invented.
  • Frylock from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Among the failures were a robotic babysitter that terrorized Meatwad, an experimental toilet that destroyed Carl's body from the neck down when he used it, and a cloning machine that produced unstable copies of the original that would explode/spew blood/gain sentience. Like the examples above, those that aren't outright failures usually end up causing problems because he doesn't seem to get that his immature/irresponsible roommates can't be trusted with them.
  • Fireman Sam: The main character. Sam's a great firefighter but his leadership and invention skills are as bad as Elvis Criddlington's cooking. Sam's inventions often get in the way of the things. One wonders why Sam was even chosen to lead the Pontypandy fire service in the first place. I guess Sam is the "zero" next door instead of the "hero".
  • Numbuh 2 from Codename: Kids Next Door.
  • The Venture Bros.: Dr. Venture occasionally falls into this category. Among his failed inventions was a security robot which, as described above, didn't differentiate between friend and foe, and a security force field which refuses to deactivate, trapping the protected inside until the power runs out. (The source of said power being a nuclear isotope with a half-life of hundreds of years.)

    Unlike most examples of this trope, Dr. Venture's experiments don't usually fail out of incompetence, but rather because Doc is so lazy and greedy that he often rushes to show off his new inventions without thoroughly testing them. In one episode, he's about ready to send a half-finished teleporter to Congress before it malfunctions and transports his body to three separate locations at once. It gets better, though.

    Another case in point of not testing: The force field mentioned before? It can be dissolved with club soda. Granted, it'd take forever for people to normally figure that out, but that's a pretty pathetic weakness with club soda being such a common product.
  • The Simpsons: During a Treehouse of Horror episode, the Simpsons used the above example of a failed toaster repair almost verbatim with Homer Simpson... he even starts his "repair" job by opening the toaster up by holding an electric drill against it, and hitting it on the end with a big rock.
    • Homer becomes an inventor in "Wizard of Evergreen Terrace". His first inventions are generally terrible, unless that is anyone out there feels the need for an everything's-OK-alarm, a make-up shotgun, or an armchair toilet.
    • Recurring Mad Scientist character Professor Frink also deals with this trope, although Depending on the Writer his inventions will either work properly or go completely nuts. The auto-dialling machine Homer used for his electronic panhandling scheme worked quite well. The automatic tap shoes he invented for Lisa and the radio-controlled airplane that was carrying his baby son...not so much.
  • Futurama's Prof. Farnsworth has had his share of bungled inventions, including a machine that made glow-in-the-dark noses while also producing an enormous amount of unusable toxic waste. Also, he nearly destroyed the fabric of space-time by creating and then artificially aging a team of genetically engineered basketball players.
  • Stu Pickles in Rugrats and All Grown Up!, a tireless inventor of kiddie toys that never quite worked the way they should have. Apparently, though, he was non-bungling enough to be the family's co-breadwinner off of this.
  • Olaf the Lofty, court inventor in The Saga of Noggin the Nog, whose inventions have mixed results; some work, some partly work and some do the opposite of what he wanted.
  • Timmy's dad in The Fairly Oddparents - whose already dangerously unstable creations would occasionally get made worse by Timmy wishing for "improvements".
  • Seanbaby says Bizzaro from Super Friends can build impressive Death Rays, irradiates the world's gold supply and could single-handedly defeat those infernal heroes. But since any attempts to tell people what any of his machines would actually do would just end up confusing them, everyone ignores them as hunks of junk.
  • Grizzle from Adventures in Care-a-Lot. His inventions rarely work the way he wants them to (including the 'robot kicking him out of his own lair' variation), and even if they do, they are easily thwarted by the Care Bears. Grumpy occasionally falls into this, too, but his inventions work often enough to put him in Gadgeteer Genius territory.
  • In the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, Donatello would fall into this category whenever the writers deemed it amusing. When it was important for the plot, he would inevitably pull together exactly the tech the team needed, but if he ever called the family together to unveil his latest invention, it always ended with something going haywire.
  • In Transformers, Wheeljack, the resident Mad Scientist manages to be this, constantly creating devices that manage to explode or malfunction. However, it is also somewhat subverted by the fact that when he succeeds, he manages to create truly amazing machines, such as the Dinobots.
  • Wallace & Gromit: Wallace. Most of Wallace's inventions actually do what they're supposed to. Usually too well. His Recyc-O-Matic, for example, was very good at recycling things...then he gave it arms so it could feed things into its own gizmos, and it proceeded to run amok in town recycling everything in its path...yeah, definitely qualifies.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Dr. Doofenshmirtz. Sure, most of his "-inators" actually do what he wants them to do, but his bungling nature frequently causes them to go haywire, break down, or self-destruct. (Or, in the case of one, he uses it as a planter but forgot to unplug it first.)
  • One episode of the Legend of Zelda cartoon featured a character named Doof, who was introduced as the castle handyman. He was also a Bungling Inventor in his spare time, and thus became part of the plot.
  • Lewis in Meet the Robinsons is one of these. He gets better, and goes on to become the brilliant inventor Cornelius Robinson, whose inventions practically create an Utopian world.
  • Typically, in Rescue Rangers, Gadget's inventions work out okay, but when they do fail it's usually quite spectacularly and often attributable to her absent-mindedness and Cloud Cuckoo Lander tendencies.
  • Klunk from Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: Several of the gadgeteers and devisers fall into this trope at the Whateley Academy. Mega-death may be the best example. His inventions have a tendency to misbehave violently at any inopportune moment. It doesn't help that Mega-Death has Diedrick's syndrome, which means that every so often, he starts ranting like Doctor Doom on a bad day. In a subversion, he's a very nice guy when he takes his medication. Even more of a subversion, he takes his medication regularly!
    • Delta Spike, however, has no excuse. Her inventions blow up often, and she's infamous amongst the gadgeteers. Even using her IMAGE on an invention can produce problems. In fact, the person who tried to use her image in a 'make myself powerful and pretty' device ended up an insane Body Horror, as Karmic Transformation.
    • In both Mega-death's and Delta Spike's cases, it's been hinted that there are outside forces interfering with their work, so at least some of the accidents may not be their faults.
  • Worm has Leet, a tinker who can build practically anything, but if he ever tries to make the same invention more than once it backfires horribly. He's considered something a joke in the cape community as a consequence.


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