ON THE CASE - Limor Fried of Cambridge, Mass. listening to an MP3 player she fashioned out of an Altoids tin. Such personal electronics have been called iTins. Curiously High-Tech Hacks for a Classic Tin By DANIEL TERDIMAN Published: February 3, 2005 WHEN Limor Fried, who recently earned a master's degree at M.I.T., decided to build an MP3 player not long ago, she went looking for the right case for her new device. After discussing possibilities with her roommate, she realized that the perfect choice was something a lot of people have found useful at one time or another: an Altoids tin. For decades, Altoids - the "Curiously Strong" mints - have come in a simple tin box, just like dozens of other mints. Yet, Altoids tins have a singular place in modern culture, a place that lends itself to infinite utility. "People put a lot of interesting stuff in Altoids tins," Ms. Fried said. "Usually it's one of two options, either drugs or condoms." Actually, said Chris Peddy, marketing director at Callard & Bowser-Suchard, which makes Altoids, the tins are far more useful than that, and have been for a long time. "Altoids have always been what we call a curiously strong lifestyle accessory," Mr. Peddy said. In fact, Mr. Peddy said, the history of Altoids goes back 100 years, to England, and the tin itself was long seen as a "gentlemanly accessory." Further, he said, Ms. Fried's MP3 player is the latest in a long line of electronic devices that make use of the tins. He called such projects iTins. "Altoids tins were originally used for shortwave radios," he said. "So, way before the iPod, people were finding creative ways to use the tin." Ms. Limor said an Altoids tin was perfect for ensuring that her MP3 player worked properly. "Ham radio operators have been using tin boxes for a long time," she said. "They block electromagnetic interference, and it's protected from spurious RF waves." Jacob Ward, the managing editor of ReadyMade magazine, recently challenged his readers to come up with colorful, imaginative and offbeat uses for the tins (www.readymademag.com/feature_12_macgyver.php). Among the submissions were miniature shrines and minty cheese graters. "We all use them," Mr. Ward said of Altoids tins. "They're a ubiquitous accessory of the club-going, dating set. Anybody who likes their breath fresh or who likes cool industrial design has an Altoids tin." One notable contest entry, he said, was a functional iPod battery pack. "You could plug in your iPod cord with a $3 thing of Altoids," Mr. Ward said. "You get minty breath and then you save yourself a $100 battery replacement fee that Apple charges you." Chris DiClerico, the designer of the iPod battery pack and a New York information architect, said that beyond the cultural appeal of the Altoids tin, it is simply a highly useful box. "I don't think there's anyone else who makes such a functional box," Mr. DiClerico said. "It's metal, it's not flimsy and it closes tight every time." He added that it is easy to work with. "It's real easy to cut and it's real easy to bend." Although he originally designed his battery pack using the standard Altoids container for peppermints, Mr. DiClerico said that he had subsequently gone on to build another version - with a shorter battery life - into the smaller Altoids chewing gum tin. Mr. DiClerico is so taken with the notion of modifying Altoids tins that he plans to start a Web site devoted to the subject. Coincidentally, altoids.com plans to unveil something similar in March. In any case, Mr. Ward saved his highest praise for the winning entry in his contest, a set of iPod speakers made from two tins. "The guy had used playing cards as a backing to create a tiny bit of bass," Mr. Ward said. "They weren't exactly the kind of speakers you could have a dance party with. But if you wanted to make out, they were perfect." The builder of the speakers, Ken Kirkpatrick, a 24-year-old designer from Walnut Creek, Calif., said he was excited to take part in the ReadyMade competition, in part because of how many things there are to do with an Altoids tin. "It's as universal as a paper clip, and there's definitely some iconization there," Mr. Kirkpatrick said. But even better, from Mr. Kirkpatrick's perspective, was the fact that the ReadyMade challenge gave him a chance to relive some memories. He collected Altoids tins for years, he said, and created a version of the speakers when he was 14. Altoids tins are "actually kind of like a part of my childhood," he said. "Every kid's got something, whether they're a smoker or whether they chew gum. For me, it was Altoids."