tape measure
Mehmet Hilmi Barcin/istockphoto

The Surprising Purpose Behind Everyday Things

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tape measure
Mehmet Hilmi Barcin/istockphoto

Use What You've Got

As consumers, we interact with so many products on a regular basis that it's easy to overlook all of their features, even when they serve a specific purpose. In fact, many common items boast useful add-ons that can easily be mistaken for inconsequential elements of design, especially when they don't come with instructions. We've compiled all those cleverly built-in functions you've probably been neglecting in your clothes, appliances, and more, plus how and why each came about.


Related: Well-Made Products You'll Never Have to Buy Again

Soda Cans
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Soda Cans

Surprising Use: Straw holder


The metal pull tab used to pop open a soda can also be flipped around over the opening and used to hold a straw in place, so you can sip from the can without the inconvenience of raising it to your lips, the cold affecting your teeth, or the straw tipping out. Called a stay-on-tab, this design only became standard after its patenting in 1975 — replacing the detachable pop-tab – though it's hard to confirm how this particular feature of its design came about. 


Related: 17 Fun and Little-Known Facts About Coca-Cola

Chinese take out
bhofack2/istockphoto

Takeout Boxes

Surprising Use: Portable plates


The trapezoidal to-go boxes most associated with Chinese takeout restaurants are actually designed to hold food both in storage and while you're eating it. When unsealed and unfolded, they serve perfectly well as single-use plates, sparing the trouble of using your own dishes to consume the meal as well as prepare it. Technically called "oyster pails," they were patented around the turn of the century to transport freshly-shucked oysters, but evolved into a leakproof container for prepared foods after World War II.


Related: The One Thing Restaurants Wish You Would Do Before Ordering Delivery

Small Jeans Pocket
Suradech14/istockphoto

Small Jeans Pocket

Surprising Use: Storing pocket watches


The average pair of jeans has several purposeful features most modern wearers may take for granted. For one, the metal rivets around the pockets serve to secure the pants' common stress points, making for more durable workwear since they were patented by Levi Strauss & Co. in 1873.


This same design also included the tiny pocket embedded above the larger front pocket, which was originally meant to hold a pocket watch. Since these have long fallen out of fashion, Levi's and other jeans keep the watch pocket around as a lingering tribute to their original design, though they've also been associated with holding other items including tickets, coins, and matchbooks. 


Related: The History of American Jeans: From Railroad to Runway

Indentation on Tic Tac Cap
Indentation on Tic Tac Cap by Polyparadig (None)

Indentation on Tic Tac Cap

Surprising Use: Serving mints


Tic Tac-branded mints are easily recognized by their transparent rectangular containers, featuring a flip-action, hinged lid. While the company has been denied a patent for this container, it still became internet-famous for the indentation inside of its lid, which serves as the perfect space to dispense a single mint.


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Fabric Swatches
aopsan/istockphoto

Fabric Swatches

Surprising Use: Testing cleaners


Many newly purchased articles of clothing come with a plastic baggie containing an extra button and swatch of fabric. While this textile sample can be used to patch tears, it also functions as a way to test the effects of various cleaners or wash cycles before applying them to the whole garment.


Related: Are You Making These Laundry Mistakes?


Screwdriver Handle
popovaphoto/istockphoto

Screwdriver Handles

Surprising Use: Combining with a wrench for more leverage


It's common for screwdrivers to have flat-sided handles to improve grip. Many designs go beyond this with a hexagonal shape that fits neatly inside a wrench or ring spanner, which can then be used to improve torque and leverage when turning to screw or unscrew something.  


Related: DIY in the USA: Tools That Are Still Made in America

Bic Pen
alvesflavio/istockphoto

Pen Cap Holes

Surprising UseSaving lives


Because seemingly everyone likes chewing on something while they think or write, which is how roughly 100 Americans die each year from choking on pen caps. This number would probably be much higher, had the pen company BIC not added a larger hole to their caps, so even if one does get lodged in your wind pipe, enough air will still flow through to the lungs.


Related: 30 Dangerous Products That Were Popular When You Were a Kid

Airplane Window
SasinParaksa/istockphoto

Holes in Airplane Windows

Surprising Use: Managing pressure and condensation


If you've ever looked closely at an airplane window, you've surely noticed a small, singular opening near the bottom. Called a breather hole, this is built into the middle of the windows' three panes to equalize the difference in air pressure that builds up between a plane's sealed cabin and the high-altitude atmosphere outside. In addition, it serves to release moisture from between the panes to avoid fog or frost forming on the windows and obstructing passengers' sky-high views.


Related: 30 Air Travel Perks We Miss

Lines on Box Cutters
Richard Villalonundefined/istockphoto

Lines on Box Cutters

Surprising Use: Refreshing the blade


You may have noticed a series of diagonal lines on the metal blade of your boxcutter. If so, this is a snap-off blade. When cutting cardboard dulls the sharp edge, you can snap off the top segment along the next line to reveal another sharp edge like new, making use of the small hole or "blade snapper" at the base of the knife. This nifty design was first introduced by the Japanese Olfa Corporation in 1956, drawing on inspiration from broken glass and segmented chocolate bars.

tire notches
simpson33/istockphoto
bobby pin
triocean/istockphoto

Bobby Pin Grooves

Surprising Use: Holding hair in place


Why do bobby pins have grooves on one side? To better help hold your hair in place. The straight side is meant to face up while the grooves face down against the scalp, so it grips the hair in place while the other side presses it down. Though wearing them otherwise largely defeats their purpose, this knowledge seems to have faded since bobby pins were invented in the 1920s, during the height of the bobbed hairstyle.

Measuring Tape
new look casting/istockphoto

Hole in Measuring Tape

Surprising Use: Holding the measuring tape in place


Just about every reel of measuring tape has an empty slot in the metallic end hook. Called a nail grab, this is designed to affix to the head of a nail or screw, so the measuring tape can be held in place without an extra pair of hands.


shirt hanging on loop
JannHuizenga/istockphoto

Loops on Shirt Backs

Surprising Use: Hanging up


Men's dress shirts commonly feature a fabric loop on their back, which one might easily guess is to hang it up on a hook when not being worn. What's more surprising is what the loops used to signify when first coming into fashion. After reportedly originating among sailors in the Navy, the looped dress shirts became popular among Ivy League collegiates in the 1960s, for whom removing the loop meant they were going steady in a relationship.

coins
tweetyclaw/istockphoto

Coin Ridges

Surprising Use: Stopping counterfeiters


Though of little relevance or value nowadays, many coins are still produced with ridges along their edges as a deterrent to counterfeiting. In the early days of the American republic, criminals could shave the edges off of gold and silver coins to sell at a profit, so the US Mint responded by adding ridges, or "reeding," that made it obvious whenever one of its standard-issue coins had been tampered with. 


Related: Why Pennies Still Exist and Other Money Trivia

tying sneakers
bfk92/istockphoto

Extra Eyelets on Sneakers

Surprising Use: Heel lock


Many sneakers and athletic shoes have an extra eyelet for the laces offset beside the normal top loop. These enable the wearer to try a variety of additional lacing techniques that secure the shoe more firmly around one's foot—namely, the heel lock. This method loops and threads the laces through the extra eyelets to prevent slippage or untying, a valuable feature for more strenuous activities like running and rock climbing. 


Related: 21 Things You Didn't Know About New Balance Sneakers

padlock
NIKILAY GLUHOV/istockphoto

Holes in Padlocks

Surprising Use: Oiling and Draining Water


Standard padlocks are built with one to two tiny holes in the bottom surrounding the keyhole. Since padlocks are often used outdoors, the main purpose of the holes is to let water drain out of the lock's inner workings before it can rust or freeze in place. In addition, whenever a lock does become stuck, the holes can be used to apply WD-40 or other oils to lubricate the lock into opening again.

Escalator Brushes
baona/istockphoto

Escalator Brushes

Surprising Use: Preventing Clothes From Getting Stuck


Escalators have brushes along their sides for the same reason they have yellow borders on their steps — to deter riders from standing too close to the edges. Through subconscious suggestion, this is designed to lower the risk of malfunction or bodily harm if any clothes or other items come close enough to get stuck in the gap, or "skirt," between the escalator's exposed steps and inner gears.

windshield
Anton Minin/istockphoto

Little Dots on Windshield Glass

Surprising Use: Frit


If you've ever looked closely at the upper corners of a car windshield or along the edge of bus windows, you've probably noticed the textured black dots baked into the glass edges. Called frit, this ceramic paint serves the main purpose of protecting the window's sealant from ultraviolet rays, as well as concealing and creating a rougher surface for the adhesive to stick to.

Kitchen Shears

Hole in Kitchen Shears

Surprising Use: Herb stripper


Many, if not most pairs of kitchen shears are built with a serrated opening centered where the handles and blades meet. If you haven't been taking advantage already, this is meant for use as an herb stripper, so you can destem difficult herbs like thyme, rosemary, and chives in one motion rather than pick all the leaves off by hand. 


Related: 24 Kitchen Accessories You Didn't Know You Needed

Backpack Lash Tabs
Amazon

Backpack Lash Tabs

Surprising Use: Carrying extra items


Many backpacks from standard brands like Herschel and Jansport come with a diamond-shaped patch sewn into the exterior, known as the lash tab. This feature was originally designed to carry an ice axe when mountaineering, using leather to reduce the risk of freezing. Of course, for the average user today, it can still provide a convenient way to hold other items like a water bottle or headphones for immediate access.


Related: Vintage School Supplies That Take Us Back to Childhood

toothpick
Jonathan Austin Daniels/istockphoto

Notched Toothpick Tops

Surprising Use: Toothpick holder 


Yes, even a humble toothpick can have more to it than meets the eye. When you find one that's only pointed on one end with a flat top and grooves on the other, the grooved end can be snapped off to provide a sanitary table stand for the toothpick when not in use. This design is traditional to Japan.

Rearview Mirror
MajaMitrovic/istockphoto

Tab on Rearview Mirror

Surprising Use: Reducing reflectivity


Many drivers may have never noticed, let alone made use of, the tiny tab located beneath their car's rearview mirror. This is actually responsible for switching the mirror from daytime to nighttime driving modes, using a prismatic glass configuration to dim the reflection and limit the glare of headlights behind you. These manual tilt mirrors were invented for cars in the 1930s and became standard by the 1970s. 


Related: 37 Classic Car Design Features You Don’t See Anymore

Yogurt Lids
Francesco Scatena/istockphoto

Yogurt Lids

Surprising Use: Single-Use Spoon


Most single-serving yogurt, applesauce, or gelatin containers are packaged with a tinfoil covering, most of which can be effectively used as a disposable spoon. After peeling away the lid, a few simple folds will suffice whenever you're lacking a more formal utensil for your midday snack. It's difficult to determine how intentional of a design feature this is, or how it got started, but at least one yogurt manufacturer has printed the folding instructions directly on the lid itself.