Reduced Drinking with a Victorian Design

In day-to-day life, I drink a lot of water and a lot of tea. If there’s a drink in front of me, I go through it fairly quickly. Unfortunately, this mechanism also applies to alcoholic drinks. At happy hours and out at bars with friends, I can go through quite a number of drinks before I realize it.

  • I often don’t think about pacing an individual drink, going through a pint as if it’s a pint of water.
  • I often don’t count how many drinks I’ve gone through.
  • It’s way too easy for me to conclude, “sure, I’ll have another,” especially with an open tab or a friend buying a round.

These add up to a lifestyle of hangovers and long-term health risks that I’d prefer not to have. I felt I needed a little nudge, maybe a little prop to help keep me honest about how much and how fast I’ve been drinking.

One mechanism that’s worked well for me in the past has been drink tickets, and the artificial scarcity they impose. When I get two tickets to last an evening, I end up thinking a lot more about spacing them out. I figured I could leverage this scarcity mechanism to be more mindful of the situation.

Shifting narrative gears slightly, there’s something from my past life as a Boy Scout that’s stuck with me. Our scout troop had a mechanism for both granting and stripping permission to use sharp tools like pocket knives, saws, and axes. This came in the form of a Toten’ Chip card. After learning all the skills and requirements, you’d get a little wallet card that said you had permission to use those tools. If a leader caught you doing something haphazard — throwing a pocket knife or axe at a fence, cutting a living tree, or even holding things wrong while whittling — they’d ask for the card and rip off a corner. After four mistakes, they kept the card and you’d have to retake safety training.

I wondered if I could apply a similar mechanism. Use a business card, tear off a corner for a drink, and when the corners are gone, it’s time to stop. Of course business cards have four corners, so can count up to four drinks — but that seems a little excessive. Most organizations, including the CDC, define moderate drinking as absolutely no more than 2 (for men). That means it’s probably a smart idea to initially tear off two corners as a handicap before an evening even begins. And that decision can be made by a non-tipsy Brian. If I’m spending the day at a friend’s house, relaxing on a sunny patio in the afternoon and playing board games in the evening, maybe I’m good for four drinks on that special occasion. If I’m doing a quick happy hour after work before venturing back home, perhaps one or two is best.

I thought I’d prototype this idea. At work, I don’t venture out to talk to customers more than once a year, so don’t have many business cards — and would feel bad about wasting the few I have. My personal puzzling “business card” isn’t well suited to this. It’s on 32pt stock and has rounded corners. You’re just as likely to tear the card in half as tear off a corner. I ended up getting a small box of blank recycled brown paper business cards. And because I couldn’t just leave it simple, I used some rubber stamps to personalize them.

They worked reasonably well, and doubled as scrap paper for notes, so I thought I’d go a little wild and take the idea to the next level. I’ve always liked the over-the-top graphic design of Victorian era “Dr. Snake-Oil Salesman” packaging, pamphlets, and handbills. I thought I could maybe capture some of that weird charm for this harebrained idea. For years I’ve been leafing through The Handy Book of Artistic Printing, a sort of specimen book of typography and layout of the era, trying to come up with interesting design ideas. This card fit the bill.

The book holds two inspirational examples that I borrowed from for this design, in both style and color.

I then prototyped a small batch of cards.

I then tweaked the design to fit the size and bleed requirements of my favorite print-on-demand service I went with the cheapest, thinnest recycled business cards they offer. For future reference, a few of the hairline details didn’t reproduce well. Specifically: the tire spokes in the corners, and the thin golden hairlines within the chevron arrows. If I print another batch, I’ll have to do some fixup there. But overall, the design is functional despite not being perfect.

I frequently find that after a friend sees one, asks about it, and gets an explanation, they want a small stack of their own. So now I always try to have several in my wallet now, for both myself and to hand out.

And, you know, I seem to have fewer hangovers.

Posted in: Dear Diary Projects

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Brian Enigma

Brian Enigma is a Portlander, manipulator of atoms & bits, minor-league blogger, and all-around great guy. He typically writes about the interesting “maker” projects he's working on, but sometimes veers off into puzzles, software, games, local news, and current events.

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