Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cracking the Case: A Mystery Revealed!

Here's a refresher on this week's mystery:

If you haven’t guessed already (or you didn’t know before), here’s a hint: there’s many different versions of this tool, one of which is mostly decorative and associate with the current holiday season.
Yes! It is a nutcracker. We actually had a few people guess correctly on facebook! Thank you all for your guesses.

 There are three basic methods that nutcrackers usually use to open up the nutshell. These are: percussion (otherwise known as hitting it...), with use of a lever, or with use of a screw. Our mystery example obviously uses the last of these methods.

Nutcrackers have been around for a long long time. Even the earliest civilizations ate nuts and  probably used the "percussion" method, striking them between rocks to free nut from its shell. Even now many people use this method, but with perhaps more sophisticated tools. One more modern example of this is the use of a small mallet with a bowl that looks like the one below The raised portion in the middle has a divot where the nut is placed while it is struck to break it.:

According to The Nutcracker Museum, as long ago the third century, people have been using lever-type nutcrackers to make cracking these nuts easier on themselves. The earliest were as simple as two pieces of wood attached with a hinge. There are many different versions of the lever type nutcrackers, including this common version, resembling a pair of pliers. 

Screw-type nutcrackers were not invented until the 17th century. To use them, you put the nut into the hollow middle, and screw the screw apparatus down onto it. The reason you might want one of these kinds of nutcrackers is that the nutshell is theoretically less likely to crack and fly everywhere. In other words, they are meant to be tidier than the lever type.

And of course we can’t forget this kind, which might be what most people think when they hear the word "nutcracker.":

These were created in Germany in the early 19th century. Initially, they were made mostly to look like soldiers or kings, though now there are many different figures manufactured every year. Here's one made in the likeness in one of our favorite historical figures, Abe Lincoln!

 This style is very unlikely to be able to crack nuts anymore, however. They are almost exclusively decorative, and this article explains why they have become that way. We mainly think of these kinds of wooden nutcrackers as being the ornate and fancy ones, but it seems like every type of nutcracker has been subject to some fanciful designs, such as these ones:

Which one is your favorite? I think mine might be the crocodile. 

I hope you enjoyed these as much as I did, and all of us at the museum hope you have a happy and safe holiday season!

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