Challenge to Class of '04

Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2004

As this year's graduates head off to college, I can't help but wonder how many are going to be pursuing engineering degrees, specifically, degrees in package design and engineering.

Oh, I'm not thinking about the nearly impossible to open aspirin bottle with its child-proof cap, although that can become quite perplexing, especially while experiencing a headache.

Recently it seems one packaging engineer went through the same trials as we commoners, because many medicine companies now offer bottles of pain killers packaged for adult households.

No, I wonder more about whether any graduating seniors will seek packaging engineering degrees because they've had the same trouble as I have opening what should be life's simpler things like packages of cookies, cans of pop and boxes of crackers, cereal and dog biscuits.

For the life of me, I can't understand why it's so hard for these people to engineer a package for cookies.

What does it need to do? Protect the cookies from mysteriously becoming a pile of crumbs between the bakery and my house; keep those dreaded germs off my cookies while they're en route; and open simply enough that I can re-close the package between servings.

Can that be so hard?

Why is it then that I go to open a pack of cookies, and being as careful as humanly possible, I witness the package explode in my hands, throwing cookies or parts of cookies all over the counter and the kitchen floor?

I've actually caught myself shopping for cookies looking less for my favorite kind of cookie than for a package that looks simple to open safely.

Some cookie packaging engineer, most likely bent on evil, has gone so far as to make the package look innocent: a simple cardboard box with a re-closable tab at one end, glued shut for shipping.

Of course, I fell for that one.

I got it home, smartly used a butter knife to break through the glue so as not to destroy the tab or the slot into which it was to slip for re-closing, only to find an absolutely rip-proof bag inside still preventing me from getting to my cookies.

What material is that anyway!

I'm sure NASA could benefit by putting that stuff on the nose of space shuttles heading for re-entry.

As brittle as they are, my fingernails won't tear open even one corner of the bag, and my scissors always seem to be vastly far away from the site of my cookie opening endeavor.

So I carefully try to separate the sides of the bag at the cemented-together seam at the top.

There, I've got a good grip on both sides. I pull, gently at first, then with increasing pressure. Ah, I've managed to get some separation right in the center, when, "Rrrrrrip."

The bag splits down the side and its contents fill the air, flying away like fragments of a Fourth of July pyrotechnic display.

After munching down a few tablespoonfuls of cookie crumbs that fortunately landed on the kitchen counter, I decide it's time for a can of pop.

You already know the punch line to this one.

The cleverly engineered ring top on the can breaks off as I bend it, according to the instructions, just to the rim of the can and back.

Now, where the heck's the can opener.

Then there's the cracker, cereal or dog biscuit box, with its "easy to open" zip strip or pull tab or tear strip.

As if the dog hasn't already had enough treats, gulping down all the cookie crumbs that landed on my kitchen floor, I decide she should have a dog biscuit as a reward for not rolling over in hysterics as I grumbled about all the blankety-blank packaging engineers of the world.

"For easy opening, and to preserve the freshness of these dog treats, simply lift the end of the tear strip, pull it back and then use the convenient tab to re-close the box," is the message that appears next to the brightly colored arrow pointing to the simple looking zip strip.

Just try it.

If it is at all possible to lift the strip at its recommended starting point, best wishes to all those who dare to keep the strip in one piece through its entire journey to the opposite end of the box.

The zip strip rips in two somewhere around the middle of the box top and now there's no choice but to find those darned scissors, if as touted on the box, I want to have "fewer crumbs on the shelf."

The college I first attended only had one engineering course of study aeronautical engineering.

The nerdy looking students, the ones with the slide rules hanging from their belts (go ask your grandpa), were required to dismantle a surplus fighter jet in the first half of the program and reassemble it in the second half.

In order to graduate, they had to get the jet's engine to fire up to a deafening roar.

How would it be if today's engineering students, those specializing in packaging, would be required to open a pack of cookies uneventfully?

Phil Hermanek is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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