“How to Eat an Ice Cream Cone”
By L. Rust Hills
THE NEW YORKER, August 24, 1968
Grasp the cone with the right hand firmly but gently between thumb and at least one but not more than three fingers, two-thirds of the way up the cone. Then dart swiftly away to an open area, away from the jostling crowd at the stand. Now take up the classic ice-cream-cone-eating stance: feet from one to two feet apart, body bent forward from the waist at a twenty-five degree angle, right elbow well up, right forearm horizontal, at the same level as your collar-bone and about
twelve inches from it.
But don’t start eating yet! Check first to see just what emergency repairs may be necessary … Checking the cone for possible trouble can be done in just a second or two, if one knows where to look and does it systematically. A trouble spot some people overlook is the bottom tip of the cone. This may have been broken off. Or the flap of the cone material at the bottom, usually wrapped over itself in that funny spiral construction, may be folded in a way that is imperfect and leaves an opening. No need to say that through this opening – in a matter of perhaps thirty, or at most, ninety seconds – will begin to pour hundreds of thousands of sticky molecules of melted ice cream … It is a grim moment. No one wants to eat a cone under that kind of pressure, but neither does anyone want to end up with the bottom of the cone stuck to a messy napkin. There’s one other alternative … increase the waist-bend angle from twenty-five degrees to thirty-five degrees, and then eat the cone, allowing [the ice cream] to drop out of the bottom onto the ground in front of you! ….
So far, we have been concentrating on cone problems, but of course there is the ice cream to worry about, too … Frequently the ice cream will be mounted on the cone in a way that is perilously lopsided. This requires immediate corrective action to move it back into balance – a slight pressure downward with the teeth and lips to seat the ice cream more firmly in and on the cone, but not so hard, of course, as to break the cone … Sometimes, trickles of ice cream will already (already!) be running down the cone towards one’s fingers, and one must quickly raise the cone, tilting one’s face skyward, and lick with an upward motion that pushes the trickles away from the fingers, and (as much as possible) into one’s mouth … If it isn’t possible to decide between any … of the … basic emergency problems … allow yourself to make an arbitrary adjudication; assign a “heads” value to one and a “tails” value to the other, then flip a coin to decide which is to be tended to first. Don’t, for heaven’s sake, actually flip a coin … Just decide in your mind which came up, heads or tails, and then try to remember as fast as you can which of the problems you had assigned to the winning side of the coin.
In trying to make wise and correct decisions about the ice-cream cone in your hand, you should always keep the objectives in mind. The main objective, of course, is to get the cone under control.
Secondarily, one will want to eat the cone calmly and with pleasure. Real pleasure lies, not simply in eating the cone, but in eating it right …proceed with it in an orderly fashion. First, revolve the cone through the full three hundred and sixty degrees,
snapping at the loose gobs of ice cream; turn the cone by moving the thumb away from you and the forefinger toward you, so the cone moves counter-clockwise. Then, with the cone still “wound,” which will require the wrist to be bent at the full right angle toward
you, apply pressure with the mouth and tongue to accomplish over-all realignment, straightening and settling the whole mess. Then, unwinding the cone back through the full three hundred and sixty degrees, remove any trickles of ice cream … eating the
ice cream off the top. At each bite, you must press down cautiously, so that the ice cream settles farther and farther into the cone.
Be very careful not to break the cone. Of course, you never take so much ice cream into your mouth at once that it hurts your teeth; for the same reason, you never let unmelted ice cream into the back of your mouth. If all these proceedings are followed correctly,
you should shortly arrive at the ideal – the way an ice-cream cone is always pictured … You have taken an … irregular, chaotic form, and from it you have sculpted an ordered, ideal shape …
At last you can begin to take little nibbles of the cone itself, being very careful not to crack it. Revolve the cone so that its rim remains smooth and level as you eat both ice cream and cone in the same ratio. Because of the geometrical nature of things, a constantly reduced inverted cone remains a perfect inverted cone no matter how small it grows, just as a constantly reduced dome held within a cone retains its shape. Because you are constantly reshaping the dome of ice cream with your tongue and nibbling at the cone, it follows in logic – and in actual practice, if you are skillful and careful – that the cone will continue to look exactly the same, except for its size, as you eat it down, so that at the very end you will hold between your thumb and forefinger a tiny, idealized replica of an ice-cream cone, a thing perhaps one inch high … then you can hold the miniature cone up for everyone to see, and pop it gently into your mouth.