The truth is out there

Shower panic

The “octodog”

Parents: Fear the weiner. As I’ve recently learned, choking is the #4 leading cause of death in children under the age of five, and of those foods that lead to choking, hot dogs are at the top of the list. Why? Because a hot dog is, in some subtle cognitive way, a food that just sort of inherently lends itself to uncontrollable gobbling, and thus the ingestion of unchewed, choke-sized chunks. The mortal danger of hot dogs has already prompted at least one piece of proposed legislation — Bill #HR 2773, the “Food Choking Prevention Act of 2003,” which would have required hot dog makers to put warning signs on the packaging. It has also prompted doctors to recommend that when parents serve hot dogs to young children, they cut them not only into small pieces, but slice them “radially” — like lumberjacks hewing great logs — to make the pieces even smaller. A sensible idea, to be sure, but for one issue: Isn’t it kind of hard to slice a hot dog radially?

Ah, but that’s where the “Octodog” comes in! This device, which came out a few years ago (I think), is an unusually cunning piece of hot-dog-preparation technology. The concept is pretty simple: You slide the Octodog down the length of the weiner, and it neatly slices it up to about 3/4 of the way through, leaving only the top part attached. It thus produces a weiner that sprawls across the plate like an octopus, pleasing the young tykes aesthetically while also reducing the choking hazard.

It’s a brilliant bit of engineering. The only problem is — holy moses does it look creepy, to saying nothing of queasily sexual, to be jamming a weiner inside the loving embrace of a cephalopod. Go check out the animated demo on the Octodogs site — “So How Does It Work?” When the weiner is finally extracted at the end of the process, the Octodog’s eyes go kinda blank; it’s the first kitchen implement that is actively designed to have a postcoital expression.

I cannot possibly imagine how many years on the psychiatrist’s bench are going to come out of children watching their smiling mothers and fathers repeatedly violating the hapless Octodog at lunchtime.

(Thanks to John T. Unger for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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