As we enjoy the last few weeks of absolutely everything being served on the rocks, take a moment to admire the cubes inside that sweaty glass. Long ago ice used to be a novelty, shipped across the country-or world-in massive chunks carved from frozen lakes and rivers.
We've come a long way from 19th century pond water: Robots inside our homes spit out cubes on demand, and silicone trays can produce an array of ridiculous shapes, ranging from robots to fake teeth. You know what though? More than a hundred years and countless designs later, most ice cube trays still suck.
Since fridges first entered homes in the early 20th century, freezing ice in our kitchen has not been the problem. The issues with ice are, well, everything else that surrounds that action. Ideally, an ice tray should be easy to fill, easy to empty, and, between the time we put the water in and take the cubes back out, they shouldn't have taken on the flavor of the egg roll experiment at the back of the freezer.
Most trays ignore the splashy march from the sink to freezer completely. With water pooling on the edges of the tray plus the back and forth sloshing of 12 over-filled slots, the design is clearly not made for tottering humans.
And then once the tray is in, the open container becomes a host for freezer funk. The H2O will welcome smelly molecules from nearby food, which, if you're not careful, can add an eau de shrimp to an after-work cocktail. Oh, and topless trays are prone to the stale taste of freezer burn, which you don't want paired with anything, ever.
Finally, you get to the transfer from container to tumbler. Perhaps because this action is the only thing standing between us and our drink, the last step is arguably the hardest-and also the center of most of the tray's design changes over time.
A 1937 advertisement in Life magazine exclaims the virtues of "a sensation! A revelation!" a…. baking tin (essentially) with a removable rubber grid. Later, midcentury models used a lever to move a more stable grid that would dislodge the cubes. (We hated this thing.) Modern varieties, though, have stripped out all the moving parts, requiring users to wrestle with the tray itself. Over time these trays crack. But there's immediate damage, too. The twisting motion tends to shatter some cubes and send others airborne. Sure, silicone trays allow you to nudge cubes out or bend back the tray itself, but if there's a pesky layer of ice layer on top, you still need to do some additional cracking. Plus, they're pains in the ass to use.