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Retrofitting a killer stove for people who don’t multi-task

November 26, 2007

Our stove came with the house. We have had to replace the washer, dryer, and refrigerator that came with the house, but no such luck with the stove. The Canadian-made Frigidaire is a bulwark of functional anti-obsolescence and indestructibility. It eschews ergonomics and common sense design. It has a few minor kick dents in the bottom drawer. I have an impulse that leads to kicking things that burn me. I think the previous homeowner did, as well.

On Saturday we had company for a mid-day meal, and I had everything prepared in advance so I would not have to multi-task. I am not one who can even boil water and talk at the same time. All I had to do was cook pasta, heat some sauce, and sauté a medley of meat and vegetables I had already sliced; everything else was done.

The scenario called for using three of the stove’s four burners: one for a pot in which to boil water and cook pasta, one for a skillet with the things to be sautéed, and one for a saucepan. The trouble was that this was a deviation from the MPR (My Precious Routine) protocol. I needed the front burners for the sauce and sautéed medley so people could serve themselves easily. That meant cooking the pasta on a rear burner, instead of in its usual place in front.

Everything was proceeding nicely, and I enjoyed conversing with my friend, Janet, and her daughters in the kitchen. My husband, always braced for an emergency whenever I am in the kitchen, and Janet’s husband, who anticipated no emergency since there are no mountains nearby, and his mother, visited in the living room.

I hadn’t yet put the sauce on the front burner to warm it, since it would take only a minute. Janet and I were chatting cheerfully. The front burner was askew, and I casually reached over to adjust it.

I don’t remember what sort of sound I emitted when the empty front burner seared my right thumb, but suddenly my husband was in the kitchen, then in the bathroom rifling through our first aid supplies, then back in the kitchen with band aids and Solarcaine. Per Janet’s instructions, I was standing at the sink holding my thumb under cold water, smiling and smiling so that I wouldn’t say what I was feeling. The girls sprang into action and I told them where to find the pasta, saucepan, and sauce. But first, they had to turn on the rear burner on which sat the pasta pot full of water that had never begun to heat.

The arrangement of stovetop and control panel interfaces on stoves is not standard. The layout of control knobs and burners on our previous stove was exactly opposite to that of our present model. Worse, our stove has thoughtful little icons that attempt to communicate which burner each knob controls, but none of us shares the designer’s visual-spatial concept.

The cold water prevented the burn from penetrating many layers of flesh: my thumb was merely branded. I sprayed about half a can of Solarcaine on it to reduce the pain to a low throb, and my husband applied two band aids. We have this drill down fairly well. Lunch proceeded pleasantly and without further casualties, and my husband and our friends’ wonderful girls did the dishes.

My husband and I both test very high on spatial recognition, and we both have turned on the wrong burner of our stove several times. I wondered why burners and their corresponding knobs were not color-coded, since the concepts “front” and “rear” seem lost on cooking-focused minds, and my generation loathes and rejects icons.

I researched color-coded stovetop interfaces and discovered that the patent exists, and inventors have specifically addressed this problem, but alack, the concept has not been promoted to market reality.

My retrofit was very simple. I placed magnets of different colors over the icons on the control panel, and matching colored magnets by the corresponding burners. So now one can turn on the knob over the purple magnet to heat the burner by the purple magnet, and so on, in four vibrant foolproof colors. Or so we hope. In the meantime, the new system is boosted by another colorfully instructive reminder: the vibrant lime-green antibiotic band aid on my thumb.

  1. November 26, 2007 10:41 am

    I was concerned that this would tip off the patent holders to bring an infringement lawsuit. But then I look up 35 USC section 103 again.

    Your solution probably falls under the protection of “obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art . . . .”

    The only issues are whether we have ordinary skill and what, exactly, is the “art” in question.

  2. November 26, 2007 10:54 am

    Maybe I should patent my idea, unique in its use of magnets. The others use colored knobs and colored dots by the burners.

    My complete defense is that I have no skill or artistic competence in this or any area in which a stove is likely to occur.

    And to give credit where it is due, the Cat is actually the wellspring of the magnet inspiration. I would not have thought of the colored magnets if I didn’t have them for my whiteboard. And I would not have a whiteboard if the Cat had not shredded my cork board.

  3. kamelda permalink
    November 26, 2007 8:12 pm

    You’re so – creatively practical in all these solutions.

    I seared probably a much smaller patch of my skin on Sunday brownish black on the upper register of the oven. I think I emitted a low ‘darn’ and went about methodically burning the flesh of the other hand.

  4. November 26, 2007 8:17 pm

    There’s a lot to be said for symmetry….Really, though, Heidi, I’m only defensively creatively practical. Injury tends to spawn invention.

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