Friday, December 3, 2010

Constructing a Custom Fortune Cookie

originally published 2002-09-17 13:26:37

People often ask me: "Craig, how do you build a custom fortune cookie?" Granted, there are places out there which, for a few hundred dollars, will make you a batch of 300 or so fortune cookies with your choice of fortunes loaded in them. But that's a lot of money if you only need one.

So I set about doing it myself. It's something of a challenge to do it well, and it's not something one can typically do overnight. Engineer that I am, the tasks break down to:
  1. Making the fortune

  2. Putting the fortune inside of a cookie

  3. The cellophane wrapper

Here are the details:

  • Making the fortune is easy: fire up Photoshop and put the words of your choice on an area 2'7/8" by 2/3" -- these measurements are available from the US National Bureau of Standards, where they've kept a prototype fortune cookie sealed under glass at 72F in a helium atmosphere since 1946. For authenticity, it's nice to put a yin-yang or some chinese characters down in the center as a watermark. For extra credit, do a double-sided print with some witty "lucky" numbers (I used my cellphone number grouped in double digits, ie: 51 24 26 etc) on the other side. Every fortune I've ever seen uses an Arial font, but there's no reason not to be creative. The one thing I haven't figured out is where to find that neat slick paper they use, but your standard white bond works just fine.

  • Putting the fortune inside of the cookie -- and dealing with the wrapper -- are both like that old SNL gag about the Change Bank of New York: "How do we do it? Volume!" The trick is to go out to lunch at least once a week to a chinese restaurant. When the cookies arrive, grab yours and instead of opening it, stick it in your pocket or your purse and take it back to the office. After not too long you build up a pile of cookies to work with.

    I guess a purist would say "hey, just make a fortune cookie! There are lots of recipes on the web!" And there's something to be said for that. But I simply went through all of my stolen-from-lunch cookies and found a candidate cookie that had a 'gap' wide enough that I could slide my own fortune into it. It was pretty much impossible to slide the custom fortune in from the side -- you sorta had to grab the ends of the fortune and slide the long edge into the cookie's center gap.

  • The cellophane wrapper was the trickiest part, and the part most dependent on <cue vox="Kevin Nealon"> "volume!" </cue>. Basically it involved attempting to pull apart a number of the wrappers along the "longitudinal" seam, ie, if you imagine the cookie wrapper has seams like this: |-|, you attempt to gently and oh-so-carefully pull open the "-" seam that runs from sealed end to sealed end. I've found that about 1 in 4 will pull open smoothly and without tearing. Extract the cookie, replace with the "loaded" cookie, and then seal with (and this took a bit of research) a thin line of superglue -- if you can find something that works better, I'd like to hear about it: I tried a number of different glues and nothing worked as well. In any event, the cellophane doesn't have to seal airtight, anyway.

And that's about it. For that extra-special touch, wrap the custom cookie in tissue paper and place it in a beautiful piece of antique Westmoreland milk-glass, and then have it delivered on That Special Someone's birthday. Then just sit back and await the restraining order.

Having done this once in the past for, ummm, "serious" reasons, it occurs to me that there are a lot of comic possibilities here -- given that I eat chinese weekly with my work friends, I've been wondering about palming a custom cookie onto the little check tray . . . oooh, evil person that I am, I have many, many ideas . . .

How about you?

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