5 Genius Ideas That Were Born on a Cocktail Napkin


2 minute Read

Inspiration can strike at the most inopportune moments. Can you even count the number of times you’ve been sitting at the bar and had a brilliant idea for a business, and then wrote that idea down on a napkin? Or, let’s take it down a notch. How many times have you outlined a new workout routine after shooting shots of tequila?

Unfortunately, bar plans rarely work out in the end for the average person. But after a few drinks, the right cocktail napkin in the hands of the right person can lead to something glorious. Here are the five best ideas conceived of on the back of a napkin:

Shark Week

The concept of a whole week devoted to sharks may seem like an idea cooked up between bong passes (Gizmodo went so far as to call it “the brainchild of a stoned Discovery Channel employee”), but it was actually thought up over another substance. The idea for Shark Week “was definitely scribbled down on the back of a cocktail napkin,” Shark Week’s executive producer Brooke Runnette told The Atlantic.

Discovery Channel executives were at a bar, and one of them said that a week devoted to sharks would be awesome. “Somebody in that nexus scribbled it down on a napkin,” Runnette said. “You know how that is. An idea in a bar comes from many fathers.”

Discovery executive Clark Bunting, for his part, says that Shark Week was thought up “in a discussion about programming strategies.” Right.

Oprah’s media empire

Few celebrities match the first-name power of Oprah. But that power wouldn’t be there if she wasn’t first convinced to send her show into syndication. Oprah gives credit to acclaimed film critic Robert Ebert for that one. She was debating whether or not to go into syndication with ABC while out to eat with Ebert. According to Ebert, he “took a napkin and a ballpoint pen and made some simple calculations.” Fast forward to today, and Oprah’s media empire is worth $2.9 billion.

The former NASCAR point system

Figuring out how to pick a winner from a bunch of cars turning left isn’t easy. It took a saloon, a few drinks, and a cocktail napkin to figure out a point system that would work. NASCAR executives, desperate for a way to make a legitimate system, met at the Boot Hill Saloon in Daytona Beach. For four hours, three execs worked through possible scoring systems on the backs of cocktail napkins. That scoring system has since been replaced, but the original helped NASCAR become famous and earn a spot in pop culture with movies like “Talladega Knights” and “Cars.”

The font on all of our credit cards

The oh-so-familiar block numbers you read off your credit card every time you order takeout were designed on a cocktail napkin at the bar of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, The New York Times writes. David Shepard, who died in 2007, was the man behind one of the first machines that could read credit cards. Legend leaves out whether Shepard drew on a cocktail napkin dewy from a favorite cocktail, but it’s not hard to imagine that was the case. A drink or two is known to boost creativity, after all.

“A Few Good Men”

Aaron Sorkin wrote his famous movie on the back of cocktail napkins while he was bartending at the Palace Theater in New York City. The Palace Theater was showing “La Cage aux Folles,” and Sorkin would spend the whole first act using up the napkins at the bar. At the end of the show, Sorkin told CBS, he would come home with pockets stuffed full of cocktail napkins.

No word if he ever paid back the Palace Theater for the cost of all those napkins.

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