Solving A Problem In Reverse

How to make the best of both worlds—East and West.


It has been a while since I selected a just because of the humorous side it presents. Today, I will remedy that and talk about a patent that would appear to solve exactly the opposite problem that most people have. It is related to the use of chopsticks. While I am fairly dexterous at using them these days, there was a time when the food would be cold before I had managed to eat my fill.

To quote a patent I found (US 4809435 – Eating Utensil, published March 7, 1989) “It is a custom in the United States and elsewhere to eat Oriental foods, such as Chinese and Japanese foods, with utensils native to that part of the world, known as chopsticks. Chopsticks are generally a matching pair of rods several inches long. Unlike Western-style utensils, such as the spoon and fork, chopsticks must be manipulated carefully by the user with one hand to grasp and carry food to the user’s mouth. To accomplish this task, the user must be able to both hold the chopsticks firmly between the fingers of one hand and manipulate the chopsticks between a grasping position, where the distal ends of the chopsticks are brought together to grasp food, and an open position, where the distal ends are moved apart to release food. Thus, chopsticks work in tweezer-like fashion to grasp and hold food.”

The patent goes on to discuss the difficulties associated with their usage and the problem for those who “do not wish to risk the embar[r]assment of dropping or otherwise mishandling the food they are eating.” Of course, those who cannot handle chopsticks can always opt “for the less-embarrassing and less enjoyable alternative of using Western-style utensils when eating Oriental cuisine.”

So what is the solution offered? Well, it is a fork with two sticks rather than the more customary one handle, and this somehow increases the eating pleasure.


It is not clear to me that this solves any problem. It has added the non-familiarity of having the deal with two sticks, which would change the way in which the fork can be used, and has done nothing to deal with the problem that someone may feel awkward or uncomfortable asking for a fork. I am still attempting to think how this would increase my enjoyment of Oriental foods.

Oh well, I am sure Gerald L. Printz is proud of his invention, and if you see one of these being used, or you want to create your own, you will not have to pay royalties because the patent expired in 1997 due to his failure to pay the maintenance fees. Chop-fork on!

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