Things you don't think about

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
While rambling around the web looking for something else entirely, I stumbled upon the article  The Unsung Heroes of Biscuit Embossing at the website Edible Geography. The article starts with this:
Interestingly, when the Oreo was first introduced by Nabisco in 1912, it used a much more organic wreath for its emboss, later augmented with two pairs of turtledoves in a 1924 redesign. The contemporary Oreo stamp was introduced in 1952, and it has remained unchanged, and, in the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger, “the stuff of legend,” ever since.

Writing in 1986, to mark the cookie’s seventy-fifth birthday, Goldberger declared that the Oreo “stands as the archetype of its kind, a reminder that cookies are designed as consciously as buildings, and sometimes better.” Comparing the Oreo to its less successful competitor, the Hydrox, Goldberger notes:

Still, it is the Oreo that has become the icon. And after all, it is the more American-looking of the two — its even pattern, however dowdy, has an industrial, stamped-out quality. It might be said to combine homelike decoration with an American love of machine imagery, and in that combination lies a triumph of design.
It first discusses the evolution of the emboss on Oreo cookies, who may have designed it and what it may symbolize. From there it branches into a discussion of the history of embosses on biscuits and the practical reasons for some of the features of an emboss, and eventually the technology and machinery created to mass produce biscuits.

I had never given any thought to the patterns backed into an Oreo cookie. They were just there.

Although it sounds silly in context, the sentence fragment "cookies are designed as consciously as buildings" makes an interesting point. You can say the same thing about virtually any manufactured item. A coin from you pocket, the cup you drink your coffee from, the tile on your floor -- each is a thing you give no thought to, yet the details of them are considerable. As an example, here's the Wikipedia page about the common nail.

If you narrow your focus enough, and concentrate on just a mundane slice of the big picture, it is always amazing how thought through the details are, and how many experts there must be out there. Experts at little and sometimes obscure chunks of knowledge. Things we don't think about.  From time to time, the little things are worth looking at, worth turning over in your hand and carefully considering it, just to remind yourself of that fact.