Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

a Chilly QuestionWhen it comes to handling excess water, are you a “drainer” or a “retainer”? (No, not that kind of water. I’m talking about ice chests, not Depends.)

Every year when summer rolls around, along with it comes much debate about the proper way to store soft drinks, lemonade, fruit juice, and certain other beverages—especially those of the foamy variety—in a cooler during journeys away from home.

Frankly, I never realized there was much to discuss about this matter. I was raised a drainer. Meaning I, and others of my ilk, discharge the water out of our coolers as the ice melts. But I’ve come to discover the retainers also have a valid argument.

This issue was raised to me by Chuck Estes, a civil engineer who lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. His brother Larry, also a civil engineer, lives in Clinton, Miss. On a recent family outing, they got into a discussion about the relative merits of draining versus retaining. Being engineers, they decided to settle it the gentlemanly way.

They dueled with slide rules.

Ha-ha, just kidding. The only use for a slide rule these days is for kindling, swatting unruly children, and propping windows open. Since engineering majors no longer walk around college campuses with a slide rule dangling from their belts, it’s a mystery to me how they distinguish themselves from the other students.

What Chuck and Larry did was consult, a Web site touted as “intelligent work forums for engineering professionals.”

Sure enough, someone already had posed this question. And it kicked off a number of scholarly arguments.

“I’d say drain it,” noted a mechanical engineer whose Web name is mintjulep. “Convective coefficient between water and inside wall is much higher than between air and inside wall.”

“I’ve always kept the water because you are dumping cooling,” replied dcastro, a chemical engineer. “The ice chest is supposed to stop the heat transfer.”

One thing led to another, and before anybody could say, “When in the course of human events”—oops, that’s what historians would say; anyhow, you get my drift—the back-and-forth raged for fifteen full computer screens.

The majority of the arguments were rife with professional jargon. Boring stuff like “R-factor” and “delta T” and something called “28 W/m^2” kept popping up.

The more I read, the more I realized (1) why I studied journalism in college instead of engineering and (2) my own drool was draining in massive amounts.

But then I came upon an excellent opinion offered by a mechanical engineer named mechengdude: “Drink all beer before ice melts,” he advised. “Use a funnel if needed. Have fun.”

I’m going to conduct my own experiment to answer this question once and for all—just as soon as I can hide two brand new Coleman coolers, 20 pounds of ice, and four cases of beer on my expense account.

In journalism school, that was called “creative investigative reporting.” Best I remember, I got an A.

Sam Venable is an author, comedic entertainer, and humor columnist for the
Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel.
His latest book is
The Joke’s on YOU! (All I Did Was Clean Out My Files).”
He may be reached at