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Published: Thursday, 9/16/2004

Fortune cookies' past may hold biggest surprise

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Valerie Lorson of Dover, Ohio, reads her fortune in the University of Toledo's Horton International House cafeteria. Valerie Lorson of Dover, Ohio, reads her fortune in the University of Toledo's Horton International House cafeteria.
HIRES / BLADE Enlarge

Let's begin with the controversy: Fortune cookies were invented in the United States, and it wasn't until the 1990s that they were made in China.

Stephanie Coomes, a University of Toledo sophomore from North Canton, Ohio, didn't know this.

"What? That's such a scam!" she said, looking at the telltale two-inch-long slip of paper she'd recently pulled from a cookie. "They say 'Learn Chinese' and they're not even Chinese!"

Students at UT, along with aficionados of the crispy, clairvoyant dessert everywhere, celebrated Fortune Cookie Day on Monday. There were baskets of the things in the Horton International House cafeteria, as well as signs presenting the history of the snacks.

One story is that David Jung, who founded the Hong Kong Noodle Co., began making cookies with slips of paper inside around 1920 in Los Angeles. There are numerous people and California restaurants, though, who would like to claim they made the first fortune cookies.

Fortune cookie Fortune cookie
HIRES / BLADE Enlarge

Some think the modern cookies could have been inspired by 14th-century events in which Chinese soldiers allegedly slipped messages into "moon cakes" to help coordinate the overthrow of their Mongolian invaders.

Things have evolved quite a bit since then. The cookies come in different flavors and some companies let you write your own fortunes for special occasions or promotions. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in San Francisco still makes its cookies by hand - 10,000 a day - but it allows customized messages, even including dirty jokes.

"They're not that bad," said Kevin Chan, who works there. "A little sexy. Very popular."

Steven Friedman, a UT freshman from Waynesburg, Ohio, has his own method for spicing up his typical fortune. He explained that a friend once advised him: "To make them funny, you add a little catchphrase to the end of them." The phrase? "In bed."

So when he received the enlightened message, "You will pass a difficult test that will make you happier," he thought a moment, laughed, and was pleased.

Ms. Coomes found hers more perplexing, especially given her gender: "The joyfulness of a man prolongeth his ways."

More promising to her were

the six lucky numbers provided on the magical slip of paper.

"The next time I go to the store, I'm going to play these in the lottery," she said.

This strategy has been successful. In 1998, a man from Wakeman, Ohio, used the lucky numbers in a fortune cookie to win $6 million in the Super Lotto. And this summer, three Virginians won $175,000 each after playing the numbers they found in their fortune cookies.

Rob Armstrong, a UT freshman from Brook Park, Ohio, sat down with four fortune cookies on his tray and concerns about more immediate, practical things - like the mechanics of eating them safely.

"I wish it wasn't shaped like this. It makes it so hard to eat," he said as he cracked the angular cookie into smaller pieces.

After the treat was safely in his stomach, though, he was free to do some deep thinking, including about what fortune he would write if he had the chance. His answer: "Don't take advice from cookies."

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103.



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