As a high school student I found some studies important, especially in the area of engineering. To develop these skills I joined a good friend in critical research: we developed and flew paper airplanes.
Ok, so flying paper airplanes wasn’t part of the official curriculum. That didn’t stop our diligence – we were not satisfied by folding and flying darts, we flew gliders too. And when we ran out of styles to fly, we invented new ones. All in the name of research, of course.
My buddy had a small advantage on the inventing side. Because of his interest in paper folding, he’d checked out a book on Origami and learned some basic techniques. This led to a joint invention – I worked up a glider design to a certain point and got stuck – he looked at a structure and said “hey, those are crane bases”, and turned them into landing gear. (Hey, cranes have landing gear!)
This “crane base” thing intrigued me, I wanted to know more. He clued me in on Origami, the ancient Japanese art of paper folding. Although paper cranes are the traditional figure, many forms are possible. He showed me the book and taught me how to do a crane, and a more complex figure – a crab.
Over the years I acquired my own origami books, and tried folding lots of different things: birds, fish, dogs, cats, bugs, flowers, boxes, dinosaurs, you name it. I learned that creating all these different things had different levels of difficulty; anything from simple forms you can teach your 6-year-old to OMG how is that possible.
For young men, there’s a rite of passage you must surmount as you grow older – you must attempt something of great difficulty. There’s a range of tests you can attempt; one is advanced paper folding. Those who try this and fail have been known to pull their hair out in the attempt.
And all this time you thought baldness was hereditary.
Unlike a few savants who have an intuitive sense of creating shapes from various folds, average folks follow folding diagrams. Although origami’s been around for hundreds of years, the diagramming notation is fairly new, it was developed in the 50’s and 60’s. It includes concepts like valley folds, mountain folds, previous fold lines, fold/unfold steps, reverse folds, crimp folds, simple squash folds, and sink folds (as in, when you see it called for you get a sinking feeling.)
Having escaped that midlife rite of passage with my hair mostly intact, I’m able to use this notation to complete intermediate level figures and some advanced figures. The fact I’m not fully bald is due to being willing to punt when I can’t figure something out, and not even attempt the truly insane figures. I also have mastery of the advanced squash fold: place the model in your palm, close fingers tightly creating a wad, and hurl it across the room. Loud verbal accompaniment with this technique is optional.
Here is an example of a couple diagram pages: a fairly straightforward shark on the left, and a cicada (OMG!) on the right. The number next to each diagram show how many steps you’re into the model. For the cicada there are about 6 pages worth before and a couple more afterward. Click on either to enlarge.
Both of these pages are from a book by Robert Lang. When you look at the OMG model, it will not surprise you to learn he was trained as a physicist and worked for a while at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Yeah. A rocket scientist.
Not to worry, there are plenty of models for those of us at the 6-year-old level.
Ok, enough telling, it’s time for some showing. In addition to the intro crab, here are some figures I’ve done:
Origami has been an off and on hobby over the last 40 plus years, more off than on lately. It’s not a hobby for everyone, you need to have an eye for detail and precision, and a fair amount of patience. With a name like Ply (work at something steadily) and a background in software (exacting detail work), I guess it’s a natural fit for me.
But even if I’m not actively folding, it’s still a handy skill to have. Many’s the time on my travels I’ve had some time to kill and a spare piece of paper laying around, and I’ll fold up a crab or a swan and leave it for a maid or a waitress as a little thank you. Or I’ll fold something up while I’m in a group and pass it around just to see how folks react to all the folds and layers. (How many ply is that thing anyway?)
There is a downside. Some 20 years ago, after giving a crab to a girl I was interested in and admitting this was not uncommon, she said I must be notorious; I travel the world and wherever I go I end up giving women crabs.