2005 Annual Design Review Consumer Products Best of Category

Posted inID Mag

Wiscracker Crab Shell Cracker/Splitter Some folks who eat fresh crabs—ideally by the waterside with pitchers of Miller Lite—enjoy shelling the crustaceans the hard way, using a pick, mallet, or conventional crab cracker with two handles paired around a metal hinge. For everybody else, the Wisecracker is salvation for fingers, tempers, and appetites.

The Wisecracker’s stainless-steel “slimshim” splitter penetrates the crab’s shell in its relaxed position. Then you rotate it sideways, and with a squeeze of the handle, the splitter spreads apart in a “reverse scissor” motion to pop the shell open from the inside to expose the meat. “This is so incredibly specific,” Weeks said. “Someone sat down and did a lot of engineering.”

Breaking legs is a snap too. It can be hard to fit a big crab leg into the narrow vise of conventional crab crackers, and they often slip as you move down the leg, producing a messy paste of meat laced with bits of shell. But the Wisecracker’s shim pries apart the leg shell progressively, in the same way that it splits the large shell, and without mangling the meat. Better yet, the Wisecracker is a three-in-one tool: For tough, large-caliber legs, the handles open wide and their grooves clamp confidently on the shell like an osprey’s beak, giving you leverage to snap it open while protecting your fingers with the closed loop of the soft rubber handle. The pointed end of the open handle serves as a meat pick, because you want to get every shred of flesh.

“This is for people who are foodies, who have fetishes,” Boym said. Weeks gave the Wisecracker extra praise for zoological allusions. “It looks like a crab claw, almost.”

Wiscracker Crab Shell Cracker/Splitter

Design Chef’n Corporation in-house design (Seattle): David Holcomb, CEO; Jason O. Germany, industrial designer; Josh Stewart, senior industrial designer; John Prints, CAD modeler Client Chef’n Corporation Materials Glass-reinforced nylon; Santoprene TPE; 18/10 stainless steel Software Macromedia FreeHand 10; SolidWorks 2004

Q+A with Jason O. Germany Chef’n Corporation

Why, of all things, a crab cracker? David Holcomb, inventor and CEO of Chef’n, came to us with this new idea for a mechanical way of dealing with crab—specifically, Dungeness crab. As the story goes, he was at a crab feast with family and friends in the San Juan Islands. They were dining on these delicious crustaceans using wooden mallets, destroying much of their great meal, when his kids challenged him to come up with a better way to get at the crab.

Did you start by thinking about how to fix the flaws of the common two-handled cracker? It started with the flaws of attacking the crab leg at the dinner table with a mallet. From that experience, the product idea started from scratch. David loves to bring us these ideas. He gets us fired up, hands us a concept—and sometimes a scary prototype—to iron out the design.

What sorts of materials did you try or reject? Initially, there was more of a stainless-steel structure in the working frame, but after several prototypes, we realized the design could be made from plastic. Many of the material criteria were determined by the load caused when the product was used in its second function of cracking crab with compression (the old way). This proved to be the determining factor and steered us toward glass-filled plastics. Ultimately, we settled on a glass fiber/nylon mixture to give strength while maintaining a compact form.

Was this product more or less difficult to design than other products in your catalog? Because we are designing around food, it’s always challenging. Each type of food seems to have unique issues that are surprisingly frustrating at times. This particular design had some roadblocks, but the overall concept of cracking crab from the inside out remained the same. We wanted to emphasize the new aspect, as well as incorporate the compression cracker and the pick into one design. The remainder of the development found us addressing the user’s needs and providing a sound structure to take the abuse.

It’s zoomorphic. Is that a coincidence? The early directions tilted us toward aggressive shapes, something along the lines of a medieval torture device, perhaps in response to the traditional difficulty of cracking shellfish. As the process went on, we tried to consolidate a lot of the form into an approachable look and feel. But always in the back of our minds was the creature we were trying to defeat, and that translated into an aesthetic. Zoomorphic? Yeah, zoomorphic.

How many crabs were consumed in the prototyping of this device? Dozens, not to mention about two dozen crawfish we flew in from Baton Rouge. Do you know a good way of getting rid of the smell?

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