The spice rack, Part 1 of ?

A few years ago, I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. I was trying to market myself as a consultant at the time, and I was working far fewer hours than I’d hoped for a longer period of time than I’d planned. One of the things that filled my vacant hours during that period was learning how to cook.

Before this time, I couldn’t cook without precisely following a recipe. Even then, my inability to multi-task across multiple steps that needed to be followed in parallel caused more than a few ruined meals.

But one of the things that I found most enjoyable and liberating about learning to cook was discovering one day my ability to research the ingredients and methods comprising an entire culinary palette and freely play within those guardrails without having to worry about monstrous failures. Now I could improvise. I could start prepping and cooking a meal without a firm idea of what I was making, free from the anxiety that had always marred my cooking experiences. This was the tipping point, when cooking became fluid and fun.

One time, while I was looking at the spices on the refrigerator, I wished I could just think of a cuisine, or even an individual dish, and have my spice containers light up to show me what spices I could safely play with, like riffing on a pre-keyed chord.

The idea would normally have died there, as I have no experience (or earnest willingness to learn) how to build and program an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to light up my spice containers, but in the past couple weeks, a few of my friends who bought a Glowforge during its pre-order campaign finally got their shipments. This has had me thinking a lot about things you can make out of stacked layers of laser-cut materials. So when the idea came back a few days ago, I imagined this:

It’s a rack for magnetic spice containers that allows you to slide a programmed card of spice combinations behind a matrix of peepholes that each refer to the spice they’re under.

It seems like a limited idea, but maybe not too limited. There are obvious dimensional constraints to this particular iteration of the idea. But while I found this less compelling than the lighted spice containers I’d previously imagined, it seemed like it might be a fun and easy way to workshop the idea.

I decided to build my first prototype out of cardboard. I wouldn’t have to be careful about measurements, and it allowed me an opportunity to learn quickly about my deficiencies in spatial reasoning. (The second layer needed holes for the spice containers, too.)

After about an hour and a half, I had this:

I headed off one design flaw out of the gate by narrowing the peep holes on the top layer. But if I’d been more spatially aware, I’d have recognized that I placed them on the wrong side of the label. Placement further from the cuisine labels and closer to the edge of the rack requires a longer card and limits the number of labels that can be programmed to the distance from the edge of the rack rather than the distance to the nearest peep hole.

The vertical slot for labeling the cuisine was also a miss. I ended up covering the extra hole and simply aligning the cuisine label with the edge of the top layer.

In future iterations, I will eliminate the holes for the spice containers and save myself the trouble of carving out the recipe card. Without needing channels carved around the spice containers, I can try out more ideas just moving a flat piece of cardboard or paper behind the peep holes.

Also, I’ll need to put some thought into the actual dimensions required for this to be useful. If it needs to be too big, this idea might be a non-starter.

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