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Case Cracked

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"How are nuts shelled commercially?" asks Scientific American reader Bill Lush. "Every time I struggle with a Brazil nut or a pecan I wonder. It must be tough, since we're dealing with a natural product that varies in size and shape. And don't tell me it's done by hand--I would be soooo disappointed."

Lush's note expresses a frustration many people share during Thanksgiving and the December holidays--the stressful attempt to crack a nut just enough to open it without crushing the prize inside. Production plants can process 30 to 60 tons of nuts a day, smashing fewer than one tenth of 1 percent.

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