Friday, April 15, 2011

Folding paper: How hard can it be?

There's not much to it: Folding paper. So what's the big deal with folding a piece of paper in half umpteen times? It's a very big deal, apparently. Don't believe me? Try it.

[Fifteen students from St. Mark's School in Southborough, Mass., fold 13,000 ft. of toilet paper in half 13 times.]

A group of fifteen high school students from St. Mark's School in Southborough, Mass., claimed to have set a new record when they folded a 13,000 ft. roll of single-ply toilet paper in half 13 times - beating the former 12-fold record. Led by teacher James Tanton, the students worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology origami club, OrigaMIT, to help gain access to MIT's Infinite Corridor (an 825-foot-long hallway connecting several campus buildings) where they accomplished their feat.

In the video though, it's hard to tell how well the team actually accomplished the 13th fold. As I watch the video, I can't help thinking, "How hard can it be?" To find out, I folded a piece of printer paper. It didn't go so well...

[8.5" x 11" printer paper folded 6 times]

As you can see from the photos above, I was only able to fold it in half 6 times. So then I tried again with a piece of tissue paper:

[Tissue paper folded 9 times]

This time, I was able to get to nine folds, though you can see by the seventh fold, I had to hold the paper down to maintain the fold.

After that little experiment, it's much easier for me to understand why 13 folds is such a big deal.

Though paper is quite slim - the average slice of printer paper is but 0.1 mm thick - its thickness adds up quickly when folded. Each time a piece of paper is folded in half, its height doubles. By the time paper has been folded 12 times (the previous record), it is 16 inches tall. Double that height by folding it once more (a thirteenth time) and it will be two and a half feet tall.

Imagine being able to fold a piece of paper in half 42 times (just over three times as many folds as the St. Mark's kids managed). It would be tall enough to reach the Moon.

[The St. Mark's group struggling with their 13th fold.]

James Tanton, the students' teacher, said they will try for 13 folds again next year using 24,000 ft. of toilet paper in the hopes of creating a fold that can stand on its own.

All I can think now is that if I had 24,000 ft. of toilet paper, I would never have to go shopping for it again.


  1. The 12 fold record was not broken. It plainly says it was for the largest single piece of paper That was and has been the challnage. Tapeing paper together is not the same. Gputting two stacked pieces of paper together and taping the edges is not folding. They used six pieces of her size of paper.

    They did some of the that paper folding record work too.

  3. ok im just looking for something to help me fold a piece of paper in 15ths sooo this really do not help ( grrr i hate homework XP )

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