A Puzzle Within a Shrink-wrapped Enigma

I dropped in to my local Costco today after lunch to pick up a couple of new DVDs. (No, Virginia, we don't get free review samples for all the titles that come out.) The aisles were crowded with cartons containing new televisions, all of them plasmas, LCDs, and DLPs. I saw the same thing last week when I was in Fry's—a California chain well known for just about everything electronic and a few things that are not. The branch in my area gives the same amount of space to a giant, 10-foot ant suspended from the ceiling (not a real one—just in case you were wondering if I've been watching too much science fiction lately) as it does to the latest in big-screen TVs. With the boxes piled high and deep at retailers everywhere, it's obvious they're all humming 'Tis the Season to be TV Buying and Jingle Bills (but no interest until 2007).

But I digress. My trip to Costco prompted this harangue about DVD packaging. You know, the Shmoo-like (am I dating myself) puzzle-boxes that new DVDs have become, particularly when you buy them at Costco, which still insists on selling DVDs in those outer cardboard long boxes. If you shop there, you know the drill you'll face when you get home: Remove shrink-wrap from around cardboard long box; remove DVD from long box; slide DVD case out from inside the cardboard slipcover that holds the DVD (the one printed with exactly the same artwork and text that appears on the plastic DVD keep case—whose idea was that, anyway?); remove shrink-wrap from the DVD case; remove the sticky sealing tape that's plastered on one or more edges of the case. Extra credit if you can get it off in one piece. Pry open those infernal lock tabs, a comparatively new nuisance designed to keep the case from opening easily, just when you think you've reached GO. Open case. Remove DVD. Place DVD in player. Push Play. Watch the promos on the disc for other new DVDs that will be packaged the same way.

Are you're still in the mood for the movie? If you are, after you're done, decapitate those locking tabs with side cutting pliers and trim any sharp edges that are left. The next time you open the case, it should be easier. Unless the movie was a stinker. Then you'll never have to open it again. In that case, consider the above practice for opening better films like Final Destination V).

I can at least offer a quick and (theoretically) painless way to get through this exercise. You'll need a sharp utility knife, with a retractable blade to keep you from stabbing yourself. Lawsuit Prevention Disclaimer: If you try this at home, you're on your own. Remember, we are professionals. A utility knife and its equally useful but also hazardous cousin, the box cutter, is a dangerous tool and should be kept away from small children, pets, grumpy relatives over for a holiday dinner, and possibly yourself. You have been warned. If you draw blood or slice off a finger, please avoid passing on your genes to the next generation.

First tear off the outer layer of shrink-wrap, then carefully destroy the long box while extracting, unharmed, the inner DVD case. Next, slip that redundant inner cardboard sleeve from the case and discard it (not all DVDs will have this pointless sleeve, but it's becoming increasingly common). You now have the DVD in its plastic case, swathed in another layer of plastic shrink wrap and most likely taped shut along the edges as well—with that tape from hell that never comes off in one piece. It will, however, come off quickly in two neat pieces if you remove it as follows: Insert the utility knife in the seam between the two halves of the shell and draw it across the tape, slicing through it lengthwise. You shouldn't have to apply much pressure; nevertheless, keep all body parts that you wish to keep away from the path of the knife blade, or from any direction the knife is likely to carom if it should slip. You will have also sliced through the inner shrink-wrap while doing this, so the wrap should now come off easily. You’re on the home stretch. Open the case and peel off the now sliced edge-sealing tape from the inside. Once you get the hang of it, it should come off easily, each section in one piece. Just watch that knife.

Did I say that already?