Science: Nut News

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For a hungry small boy to crack one walnut, or even a dozen, is no problem. But cracking walnuts in hundreds of thousands is what the California Walnut Growers' Association does, and it wanted a cracker which did not break up the meats.

For the supplicant walnut men, the University of California's College of Agriculture invented a machine in which the walnuts ride on whizzing belts past a buzzsaw. The buzz-saw nicks a groove in the shells of the nuts. Then, as the nuts pass a tiny aperture, an explosive charge of acetylene and oxygen is shot into each nut. The nut then drops into an ignition chamber where a gas flame ignites the charge. Pop! goes the walnut. Most of the shells drop into one hopper, the meats into another.

Amid the gentle, staccato popping of many walnuts in their test machine, the designers were able to boast last week that their device delivers no less than 60% of the output in fat whole and half meats. Previous gadgets were good if they produced 20% unbroken meats. The inventors are taking out a patent on their machine, think explosive nutcrackers can be built in quantity for $200 each.