When we asked for nominations for our Mundane Madness competition, we expected to be inundated with wondrous workaday inventions—and we were. Readers suggested all sorts of unsung objects, from zip ties to lighters, that make their lives a little easier. Many were discrete and fairly forgettable, the kind of stuff you keep in your junk drawer until you need it.
But as the competition rounds progressed, those types of inventions lost ground to the sort of things that make the modern world possible, but are still somehow overlooked.
Here’s how we narrowed the field:
The final contenders are paper and the sewer. Few would argue that they’re not critically important. Atlas Obscura readers love books, and the sewer has stoked people’s imagination, too, as a forbidden place, home to a slew of urban legends.
If these inventions are overlooked, it’s partly due to their scale and ubiquity, which makes their impact nearly impossible to measure. A tree ground to pulp and pressed into paper can carry ideas across continents and millennia. The sewer system, by removing refuse from homes, made cities possible and has saved countless lives. Both are simultaneously common and miraculous. Sometimes it seems like we don’t realize this until something goes wrong.
So which will it be? Cast your vote below, and use the #mundanemadness hashtag to make your case on Twitter. We’ll declare the winner on Monday, April 2.