The other night I grabbed my customary mend-of-the-day bottle of beer and tried to open it an unconventional way. I put the lid in the corner brace of a metal stepladder and pulled.
It worked, sorta. The lid popped into the air, but right behind it came a torrent of foam. "It is a trade-off, " said Brett Stern when I reported the somewhat soggy results of my experiment to him. "You got a little wet... but you got to drink the beer."
Stern is an expert in unconventional ways to free lids. He has opened bottles using a step ladder, a stapler, an eyelash curler, a belt buckle. These techniques and others are illustrated in a new book, "99 Ways to Open a Beer Bottle Without an Opener," (Crown Trade Paperbacks $7.00).
The book is a frothy look at one of the world's less-than-pressing problems -- getting the lid off beverages that don't have screw top lids. Heavy on photographs, the book set out to prove that if you get a bottle lid between two hard surfaces, you soon will have suds.
Among such lid-liberating surfaces Stern used were the coin return slots in newspaper vending machines, the coin return slots in pay phones and the edges of the night deposit slots at banks.
"They all work," said Stern, a 34-year-old industrial designer in a telephone interview from his New York office. "Some work better than others."
He acknowledged that techniques such as prying the lid off in a computer's hard drive slot or prying the bottle lid off with metal tab of a zipper require a master's touch. "You have to be very gentle," he said. The 99 ways are rated on a difficulty scale of one to three beer bottles. And the zipper and computer maneuvers were three-bottle moves, he said.
Striking a serious note in an otherwise humorous discussion, Stern warned never to drink from the bottle if you break the glass. Dangerous shards of glass easily fall into the beverage.
On a lighter note, he said his taste for beer and his artistic eye motivated him to write the book.
"In my life I have been in situations where I had some beer and didn't have an opener," said Stern. Memories of these opener-deprived experiences coupled with his professional urge "to make things work easily" made him see the world as one big bottle opener.
While other people saw only a metal cabinet, Stern saw the drawer handles as an openers in waiting. While some might see the slot on the top of camera only as a spot to slide on a flash attachment, Stern saw it as an edge that, if you turn the camera upside down, could apply leverage to a lid.
Inspiration for bottle opening ideas came from a variety of sources, he said. A former boss taught him how to use the bottom of disposable lighter to pry off a lid. A friend spotted the speaker grill in a movie theater ticket booth and instinctively knew it would pry a cap loose. The people of the street helped him as well. A fellow in a wheel chair showed Stern how to pop a lid on the chair's frame, a street musician was coaxed into using the bottom lip of his saxophone to free a lid.
One of Stern's favorite discoveries was that some New York City fire hydrants have a spot on top, right below an arrow reading "open," that is a perfect bottle opener. "Is that proof of a greater force in the universe or what?" Stern asked.
The other night, armed with Stern's book, a bottle of beer and several bottles of mineral water, I tried out some his unusual opening methods.
The stepladder proved to be soggy. Wedging the lid in the bicycle gears by the pedals did get the lid off. But it also leaked liquid on the floor. Using the bike spokes to pry off the lid was too hard for me and the spokes.
The easiest was opening a bottle by prying the lid off on the metal latch in the jamb of the car door. Stern's book repeatedly warned against drinking and driving, but mentioned several devices on a car, including a metal seat belt latch, that can remove a lid. I used bottled water lids on my car. Again, when the lid shot off so did some of the bottled water.
The bottom of a skateboard, between the axle and the screw, also worked well.
I was not about to try opening a bottle with my teeth, the 99th, and so called "totally desperate" technique listed the book.
Stern admitted to the biting experiment. "My dentist said I have the perfect teeth for it. . .small teeth," Stern said.
He said the dentist also thought that it was bad idea.