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Once an Altoids tin, now a pinhole camera

Makers of the curiously strong mints announce the winners of a contest to creatively refashion one of the tins. Photos: Curiously creative mint tins

If you happen to find yourself looking to remake your leftover Altoids tins, the company that makes the mints says the creative bar is a whole lot higher than an ashtray or a trinket box.

Earlier this year, Altoids invited customers to enter its Tin Million Uses competition. The idea? Challenge people to come up with the most innovative way to reuse the ubiquitous tins.

Remade Altoid tins

"Over time, we've noticed that Altoids mint aficionados don't stop once the mints are gone," said Chris Peddy, general manager for Altoids. "They reuse their tins for anything from baking cookies to making musical instruments."

After receiving nearly 200 entries, the company decided to award the $1,000 grand prize to Jon Lennon of Ithaca, N.Y., for the theremin--an electronic musical device whose pitch is determined from light--that he built inside a tin of ginger Altoids.

Other top choices were Kenneth McCall's wintergreen tin that switches his music from PC speakers to headphones, Burt van der Klute's Morse code reader and Marcy Merill's pinhole camera.

Phillip Torrone, an associate editor at Make magazine, said he was impressed Altoids had embraced the alternative ways people use their tins.

"Most companies barely care or notice what people do with the things they own," Torrone said, "outside of the way a company wants them to use them."

He also said the tins are perfect for the kinds of do-it-yourself projects his magazine promotes. "I kind of think that's the way it goes with the Altoids tins," he said. "They're iconic and everywhere. So you'll have all sorts of amazing things created from them that no one ever expected."