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Scheherazade in Blue Jeans
freelance alchemist
Project: Pringles 
8th-Oct-2009 03:09 pm
Elayna - Oct08
Hi! This is a guest post by Elayna.

First of all, thank you so much for all of your comments about the accident. I'm kind of achey, but much better than expected. Having staples in my head is weird!

So I'm back in school, and I have an awesome physics project. Even better - I asked my teacher if I could get help figuring this out, and he said yes. Which is great because half of my Facebook friends are smart adults! And Mom pointed out that she has lots of engineer friends, so we'll ask here too.

I have to mail five regular-sized Pringles, in the lightest package possible, to my physics teacher. Without breaking any of the chips.

The chips cannot be stacked. Any flavor is acceptable, but they can't be ridged or mini-Pringles. I cannot coat them with anything to make them stronger.

If they break coming out of the package (I'll be unpacking them in class), that counts as breaking in transit.

My idea is carving a piece of styrofoam (Mom recommends craft foam or florist foam instead) to make individual Pringle cradles. Top and bottom, like how electronics get packed, and sealing the top and bottom together with packing tape. But since I have permission to get help and advice, it seems silly to not to!

So! Engineers! What would you do?

Thank you so much!

-- Elayna

(PS from shadesong: If you are vehemently opposed to helping kids with homework, just scroll on by. But they were specifically told they could seek help. :) )
(Deleted comment)
8th-Oct-2009 07:28 pm (UTC) - Re: Define coating,
Problem is, water would dampen them and they could tear when she unpacks them.
8th-Oct-2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
Not an engineer, but a post office guru...get insurance on package. That way, if it breaks... it's the post office's fault!
(that's a joke, haha!)

Glad you are feeling better, Elayna!

And good luck with the project...I'm going to be checking back to see what ideas appear. I'm curious now...
8th-Oct-2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
Oh I love blaming the post office!!!!! Very clever!
8th-Oct-2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
I think putting them each in baggies filled with styrofoam peanuts and then making some sort of lightweight rigid thing around them would distribute shock better. Look at what UPS does. Packages in packages, and as much shock absorption/distribution as possible. Having foam things carved in the shape of the Pringle would be too much surface area contact, too easy for a bump to break it.

I'm not an engineer, but I do send things through the mail a lot.
8th-Oct-2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
she could always carve the foam out and put her pringles in there then shake them viciously back and forth to check impact...
8th-Oct-2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
Do they have to be edible upon unwrapping them? If not...maybe encase them in a clear resin of some kind? Like bugs get encased in amber!
8th-Oct-2009 07:33 pm (UTC)
No coating them with anything allowed, alas!
8th-Oct-2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
Hm. Can you not stack them at all, or cannot stack them all together?

If you can stack them some, but not entirely... I'd go with your Pringle cradle idea, just slightly oversized Pringle-shaped cradles in a long tube form... which would stack together. (So you'd have... the bottom from florist foam, then a hollow for a chip, then a longer span of foam, then a hollow for a chip... repeated.)

Then I'd take THAT whole tube and suspend it tightly inside pantyhose... which would be attached to the sides of a large-ish box... giving it the space to bounce around without touching anything.

Alternatively, you could do the same thing with the cradles, if you cannot stack them... though you'd need a really big box.

(The pantyhose thing works to keep eggs from breaking when mailed/dropped/etc. If you like the idea at all, I can give more details of what I mean... text is a hard form in which to explain it.)
8th-Oct-2009 07:37 pm (UTC)
The project form says: "Chips cannot be stacked. They must be placed side-by-side, edge-on-edge. Any rotation of the package that makes the chips assume a stacked configuration will be disqualified."

What you describe *might* be okay?
8th-Oct-2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
Pringles will break if they rattle around, custom holders will prevent that.

Don't tape the foam up too tight though - too much pressure and and imperfectly carved holder will cause breakage.

Make the holders as thin as you can then tape them to the bottom of the shipping box.

BTW -- when do your staples come out? They'd be awesome as part of a Halloween costume.
8th-Oct-2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
A week from tomorrow. :)
8th-Oct-2009 07:35 pm (UTC)
I'm not an engineer, but I had projects like this in art school. Fun stuff, helps work your creative problem solving muscles.

I might actually suggest you steer clear of florist foam--it's light, true, but it tends to compress far too easily when any pressure is applied. Try poking your finger at it and see. I think it would crush the chips.

You might try another kind of foam that will keep them as still as possible within the outer package--for instance, memory foam (I've got a few scraps if you need it) is dense but soft.

I'm not sure about the material of the outer package, but going with something that distributes force evenly--round shapes, for instance--might help.

I'll be curious to hear about your solution!
8th-Oct-2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
Memory foam sounds great!
8th-Oct-2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
I saw this on a really old tv show once, when some characters had to drop and egg in a box out of a window without breaking the egg.

Cut a length of pantyhose, place the Pringle inside it, and secure each end of the pantyhose to the inside walls of a box, stretched tight.

Of course, it only worked with an egg on a tv show 20 years ago, so who knows if it's actually a good idea or not.

Is there a due date? Can you do a test mailing, and send a Pringle to yourself?
8th-Oct-2009 07:39 pm (UTC)
Due date is October 24. Definitely test-mailing to myself, if only so I can practice unpacking them safely!
8th-Oct-2009 07:38 pm (UTC)

I'm glad that you're OK!
(And, alas, I'm a biologist rather than an engineer ^_^ )
8th-Oct-2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
It's possible to safely ship fully iced cakes using popcorn as a packing medium. I suggest a layer of popcorn, a layer of pringles and another layer of popcorn in a small (VHS-Cart-sized) priority mail box. everything tumbles out when the zip-strip is pulled.

Nothing preventing you from testing this (or any solution) out first by mailing it to yourself...

If you're set on building cradles, try spray-in-insulation foam available at Home Despot. Saran around the pringles, foam top and bottom.

Edited at 2009-10-08 07:43 pm (UTC)
8th-Oct-2009 07:46 pm (UTC)
Seconding the spray in insulation idea; I'd wrap it in bubble wrap after that.
8th-Oct-2009 07:46 pm (UTC)
Step one: Make a boal of jell-o.

Step two: sink pringles into jell-o before it sets.

Then mail the jell-o, in tupperware.
(Deleted comment)
8th-Oct-2009 07:47 pm (UTC)
Amy says "A lightweight, shock-absorbent substance inside a rigid shell. If you had unlimited funds, you'd use aerogel, but it's more expensive per ounce than gold. Of course, it's also exceedingly light."
8th-Oct-2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Also, stale pringles will not shatter as readily as crisp pringles. Leave the can open for a day or two in a damp environment before you pack 'em. :)
(Deleted comment)
8th-Oct-2009 07:53 pm (UTC)
Maybe I'm just *that* slacker kid...but I'd just put them in a shoebox surrounded by peanuts. Maybe wrapped in press-n-seal or inside baggies just to make finding them easier.

Course my only equivalent experience was egg-racers and I sucked at that one.
8th-Oct-2009 08:04 pm (UTC)
I'm going with the popcorn contingent.
8th-Oct-2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
I asked my dad and my sister, who do actually know about engineering, though possibly not the right kind. Haven't heard from them yet.

I did the egg drop experiment in my high school physics class, and florist's foam was great for that. Should also work well for pringles. Just be sure to test the pringle compartment(s) thoroughly to make sure they properly accommodate the chips.
8th-Oct-2009 08:23 pm (UTC)
Are you allowed to re-define "Pringles"?

I mean, Pringles are pressed potato starch. Could you make a Pringle mold at school, grind the pringles to powder, mail them ground, and re-form them at the other end?
8th-Oct-2009 08:23 pm (UTC) - mmmm...
cut packing tubes to size and sandwich the chip in packing peanuts and the tape the ends close.

Or just give in and eats the chips.
8th-Oct-2009 08:32 pm (UTC) - Re: mmmm...
Issues: Pringles are remarkably fragile

Pringles are shaped as a three-dimensional curve along two axes, which means that
Carving an accurate storage box for them is tricky.

However: Pringles are also very well standardized.

I think the Pringle Cradle idea is the best possible; I think that packing peanuts would actually break the Pringles.

I might suggest that, instead of sealing the top and bottom with packing tape, that you slide the whole thing into a cardboard box for shipping. I worry that, in ripping the packing tape off, you might drop the whole package and spill it open.
8th-Oct-2009 08:31 pm (UTC)
the kicker is lightest package possible. I was originally going to suggest put each pringle in a water tight ziploc bag and then submerse the bag in water to freeze it then ship, but that would make the package heavy. Instead, I would say put each pringle in a ziploc bag and fill the bag with very small pellets then put each bag in a box with those packing air bladders that way there is give as the package is bounced around in transit. There doesn't appear to be a restriction on the size of the box so you could use a larger box with plenty of air bladders. Just an idea....no idea if it would actually work.

Heck, try out any idea before you actually send through the mail. Package the pringles and then play soccer with the box for a bit, then open the box and see if the pringles are still in tact. A kid play soccer with the box is going to be rougher than it going through the mail.
8th-Oct-2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
Further: what is the exact wording of the assignment? My instinct is always to see if there's a way to game the system.

I mean, as long as the "cheating" is as clever as doing it the expected way would be. ACTUAL cheating is just stupid.
8th-Oct-2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
Get two large pieces of saran wrap. Put the chips on the first sheet, leaving a tiny bit of room between each. Put the second layer of wrap over and stick the wrap together. Leave a tiny bit of slack, so that the saran follows the various curves of the chips.

Get yourself some disposable gloves and a can of spray-foam insulation. Get one mailing box that has about 1.5" of so of clearance in each dimension. Grease the inside of the box - I suggest Vaseline or similar. Spray the foam evenly into the bottom of the box, only about 1/3 or so as deep as you'll need it, place the saran package over it. Make sure the saran goes from one side of the box to the other. Now, put another layer of spray on top - about the same depth as the first. Close the box. Once the foam cures, you should have a nice container exactly fit to your chips, filling the entire box.

I'd suggest a test run, but this should allow you to open the box without the foam sticking to it, pull the foam apart easily as two pieces (a top and a bottom half), and have the chips still be edible due to their saran wrapping.

Just an idea off the top of my head. :)
8th-Oct-2009 09:01 pm (UTC)
This. It's exactly what I was going to recommend.
8th-Oct-2009 08:48 pm (UTC)
I would say don't over-engineer it, especially since weight is a concern. Sacrifice some chips and see what they can really stand up to, that's the fun part. Besides, it only needs to spend a day or two in the mail and you can shorten that time by dropping it off at the post-office closest to the address to which you are sending it, I would imagine.

Keeping shocks and shape-changes of the shipping box from getting to the chip-pod is easy -- just suspend the chip-pod in a frame using something elastic (rubber bands, clothing elastic, shock-cord, what-have-you.) You might even be able to ditch the frame and use the box itself to anchor the elastic. Put enough anchor points and enough tension on the elastic to keep the inner pod from hitting the walls when, say, thrown out a second-story window.

The chip-pod is trickier. The foams your mother suggested would be more fine-grained and easier to carve than the usual expanded-polystyrene.

I would also suggest looking into, er...the other kind of foam, like in seat cushions. The low-density stuff, especially when cut thin, might grip the chip across its whole surface and distribute any impact evenly. Of course you'd have to put that inside some kind of shell so that you could attach the elastic suspenders without putting tension on the chips. You can also sew right through it with thread to form little sealed pouches that keep the chips edge-to-edge without letting them collide.

Alternately, you might look into that expanding spray-foam insulation -- you used to be able to get it at home improvement stores. Though I have to admit, even sacrificing a few chips to make a mold, that might be more annoying than just carving a cradle.

Have fun experimenting!
8th-Oct-2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
have you tried putting one pringle in a ziploc baggie with air puffed in and tossing it around to see if it breaks under abuse? (the pringle not the baggie) If not individual pringles could then be put in hard sided container filled with foam peanuts or real popcorn (everything then being edible) with many bright neon-FRAGILE signs marked on it or a large hardsided document tube with peanuts separating baggies?

just old housewifey ideas . . . .
8th-Oct-2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
I would do a few steps.

Anything you use as a "Cradle" can be impacted and thus harm the chips.

Step 1: acquire a t-shirt box (the kind you wrap up shirts in for Christmas). Reinforce the box at the corners with packing tape.

Step 2: Buy a padded envelope the box will fit inside of.

Step 3: Insulate the compression of the box from the compression of the chips. This can be a) a knee high or other stocking with each chip tied inside (side by side) with a knot between, stretched across the inside of the box, b) a separate containment unit that can move a little freely inside the box (such as your cut foam form with chips safely inside, but shorter and slightly less wide than the box so compression is unlikely to affect the form) or c) any other method which would isolate that happens to the exterior--the box--from the interior contents.

I also did the egg drop in school, and I discovered prayer worked amazingly well, so I recommend that, too.
8th-Oct-2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
so I just cheated. Maybe?

I grabbed an altoid case. and a pringle, because I have them in the house (Kickin' Buffalo Chicken).

I put the pringle in the case and shook it REALLY hard. Opened it up and it was fine. then I hit it against the desk edge. Still fine. Then I threw it about 5 feet, into the wall, and scared the cat. But the Pringle was fine. I picked it up and squeezed it, and it wasn't until I squeezed it hard enough to dent the box that the Pringle finally gave up the tasty, tasty ghost.

This wasn't particularly inspired, I just had an altoid case on the desk after I got the pringles out for scientific purposes.

So what I would do would be to put each pringle in an altoid box, side by side as stipulated, and then I would put a thin piece of plywood along the top and bottom, to prevent denting. Duct tape it to be certain, and send as such.

I would also label it with:

my teacher is making me mail him pringles.
please help my physics grade by being gentle.

There was actually a study out there that when people explain WHY the package is fragile on the outside, USPS employees are much more careful of the treatment of the package. So you can use it as a psych experiment, too ;-)
10th-Oct-2009 01:11 am (UTC)
Oh, that's neat!

She could combine putting each one in its own Altoids tin with the suspended pantyhose idea - use knots to separate them / keep them from sliding around too much, then attach that to the cardboard box.

My question about this is what defines 'lightest possible package'? Are multiple people doing the same thing, the one with the lightest package that survives gets the most points, and there's per ounce / half-ounce / whatever penalty for the rest of the survivors?
8th-Oct-2009 10:34 pm (UTC)

Bubble wrap shall save you. Get the fine bubble wrap so it is very pliable. Wrap each chip individually. just once around and with a piece of tape.

Now you have 2 options. You can put some chips in baggies. This will make them easier to retrieve later. Or leave them loose.

Then get a box, a BIG box. Put a layer of foam peanuts on the bottom. Get another smaller box. Put it inside and make sure it is firmly in place with peanuts surrounding it.

Inside that box put another layer of peanuts. Insert chips. If you are using baggies space them out with peanuts between them. If they are loose, scatter them around the inner box with peanuts around them. Close the inner box. Fill outer box with peanuts. Seal and ship.

This will isolate the inner box from all harm. the bubble wrap and additional peanuts inside the inner box will keep the chips from breaking on each other.

This is a method I have used to ship vibration sensitive equipment. :-)
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