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See Inside June 2011

Dining and Dancing

A few easy fixes for long-standing culinary and terpsichorean problems



Illustration by Matt Collins

Inventions exist today that would have boggled the mind just a generation ago. I play Scrabble daily with people all over the country on a smartphone that I carry in my pocket. This device is remarkably versatile and powerful. Why, just yesterday it edited a note I was writing so that a particularly objectionable word choice was corrected to the much more acceptable “duchess,” despite the fact that the two words had only the second and third letters in common.

Even with magical gizmos becoming ubiquitous, a few really useful inventions have yet to be realized. Forget flying cars and the carnage they would wreak. I’m talking about stuff we really need. For example, the sequentially ripening banana bunch.

When you buy a bunch of bananas, why must they all ripen to perfection on the same day? One should be ready on Monday, the next one on Tuesday, and so on. This idea is not beyond the bounds of scientific ingenuity. Agricultural scientists could breed bananas with varying peel thicknesses so that each banana would ripen at a different rate. Pharmaceutical scientists faced with a similar challenge came up with time-release cold medications, proving that it can be done!

Another solution would have the benefit of employing the millions of discarded vinyl record turntables, victims of the development of devices such as the one in my pocket, that lie unused in shag-carpeted rec rooms around America. Banana bunches could be set on the turntables and exposed to a nozzle issuing a small, constant stream of the gas ethylene, which promotes ripening. A robotic arm would change the turntable speed from 33 revolutions per minute to 45 rpm (plus the 78 and even 16 rpm speeds if the turntable is sufficiently ancient) at regular intervals to ensure different gas exposure times for different bananas. Each banana in the bunch should thus ripen at a unique rate. Simple and effective.

Fine-tuning bananas’ ripening might also decrease peel friction, thus increasing their pratfall potential. Which brings to mind an idea about shoes. How often have you seen women enter a dance club dressed to the nines, wearing shoes that probably cost twice as much as the price of the rest of the items in their wardrobe combined? A few hours later the same women exit the club carrying their expensive shoes like tiny, aerated handbags. These poor young ladies have been forced into fashion extremis because the physical challenges involved in club dancing make the feet swell to enormous proportions. The solution: expandable shoes.

One aspect of foot swelling is easily accommodated by elastic bands on the sides of the shoe uppers—such elastics already grace laceless loafers favored by business travelers forced to strip to their socks at every airport security portal. But the true challenge for the dance shoe, much like that of the spiritual being seeking enlightenment, is the expansion of the sole.

The answer can be found in dining-room tables throughout this great land. A table for four becomes a table for six or eight via the insertion of leaves between the two separable halves of the table in its smallest configuration. Talented footwear engineers could design shoes that are similarly pulled apart at the base to allow for the insertion of sole leaves. A few leaf insertions, and the dancers’ feet can swell and look swell, too.

Back to agronomy. It is high past time we had an easy-open coconut. Prying apart a coconut today requires an entire Sears Craftsman tool set, as noted previously in this space, in my February 2010 column called “Greenhouse Bananas”—hey, I like bananas and coconuts. Genetic engineers can surely thin the hide of the coconut so that consumers could crack it like an egg. Of course, the coconut shell-lacking could not survive the long fall from a conventional tree. So the hand-operated coconut would necessitate the concurrent development of the ultrashort palm tree. Because a breakthrough can be valuable even if it doesn’t make a huge impact. 

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