Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2002 19:31:46 -0600
Subject: Re: Crumpling Paper: A childhood 'experiment'

Dear Dr. Nagel,

My name is John Brunkhart, and I am the Science News editor at America
Online. As part of my daily research duties, I came across an article in the
New York Times in which you were quoted which dealt with some of the
surprising properties of crumpled paper.  While there is no scientific value
in the following anecdote, the article did remind me of a brief shool-age
fixation of 25 years past.

For whatever reason, for a week in the sixth or seventh grade, a number of my
friends and I got into a competiton to see who could fold a sheet of common
notebook paper into the smallest volume.  We tried many ways of folding the
paper crisply, in many different patterns, and even crumpling.  Ultimately,
the winner was my friend Joe, who proved persistence, and not force, was the

He began with a common crumpled sheet of paper, and then began pressing it
with the thumb and forefinger of each hand, alternating hands, slowly
compressing the sheet in the the shape of a cube.  After a brief time, it
seemed the little cube of paper was small, but not getting any smaller.  Joe,
however, kept at it, continuing to apply force to the paper almost as a
meditative exercise (no doubt to endure the more tedious classes.)  It soon
became clear that the cube was slowly, but surely getting smaller, even
though Joe was applying no greater force at the end than at the beginning.

By the end of a week of constant pressing, the cube of paper was truly tiny,
perhaps a quarter-of-an-inch to a side.  We didn't believe it.  Of course, we
tried pressing our own sheets of paper together in the same manner with
greater force, but we did not have Joe's patience to do it for as long, and
never achieved the tiny, dense little cube that he did.  For a time, I
wondered how small Joe could have reduced his cube, if he kept at it in
ensuing weeks and months.  Even at ever-diminishing returns, it almost seemed
as if he could keep compressing it forever.

I had almost forgotten Joe's 'mystery cube' until I stumbled across the New
York Times story, which helped shed at least a little scientific
enlightenment upon the brain of a former liberal arts major.

John Brunkhart