Ball of Twine

by | Dec 12, 2023 | CNF, Issue Thirty-Six

Chaos theory describes the organizational nature of the universe. Benoit Mandelbront, a mathematician, described it as a ball of twine: “A ball of twine appears to be a point when viewed at a great distance, a ball when viewed nearby, and a curve when viewed extremely close.” Despite all seeming to be completely different objects, with a change in perspective they become a system to describe the same object.

Hank is a variable unit of measurement for the length of a strand of fiber. The hank of cotton is 870 yards, but for linen it is 300 yards. A hank of twine is not any specific measurement at all, but is one of the twelve ways to roll a ball of twine.

There are many claims to the throne of “Biggest Ball of Twine.” In Wisconsin, a man spent 45 years creating the heaviest ball of twine, weighing 24,160 pounds. Despite its larger diameter, the largest ball of nylon twine weighed only 12,000 pounds. Every summer in Cawker City, Kansas, the home of the official Guinness World Records’ largest ball of twine, a “Twine-a-thon” takes place, in which the community encourages children to race around the ball, winding more twine as they go.

Mom still asks us to clean, but we are not allowed to throw anything away. It has almost become a game for my sister and I, trying to see how much we can sneak to the dumpster. We have lost to mom a couple of times: the forgotten pair of soccer cleats was rescued from our donation bin, the broken necklace was retrieved from our trash bin, and the rotten grapefruit recovered from our compost pile.

Of the twelve ways to roll a ball of twine, only two have the word “ball” in their title. In fact, the “hard core ball” is entirely incorrectly named. The round, hollow cylinder allows the user to pull the neatly wound string from the core.

In 1916, Marcel Duchamp asked his friend and patron Walter Arsenberg to place an object in the small hole in the center of a ball of twine, and clamped the two ends of the ball with metal and bolts. Duchamp titled the piece With Hidden Noise: “Listen to it. I will never know whether it is a diamond or a coin.”

Last time we cleaned, my sister and I waited until mom was out of town, and we attacked the kitchen. Our experience in this tournament had taught us what would go unnoticed if it disappears: the cabinets cannot be too organized, nor the counters too empty; only the floor is allowed to be fully cleared and swept. As we approached our new record of four hours spent cleaning, and no apparent progress, my sister forfeited the game.

There are over 47,000 titles kept by the Guiness Book of World Records. For $30 and a three month wait, a certificate bearing your name and your new title will be mailed to your home. There is no cash prize for achieving a Guinness World Record title.

The outcome of a chaotic system can be determined with perfect knowledge of the initial conditions and careful observation of the system’s behavior. However, the slightest change in such a system could produce any number of unpredictable transformations.

The round, hard ball of twine is easy to unroll. As it is rolled, however, tension is put on the fibers as they are stretched to form the solid center of the ball. Changed by the method of its winding, the twine will behave differently even after unrolling.

My bedroom is spotless: the bed is always made, the closet (the door intentionally left open to give the impression that someone does, in fact, live here) is color-coded, light to dark. Only my favorite books hold the honor of being placed on the bookshelf.

The world’s biggest ball of twine is not impressed with its existence. It describes, in its autobiographical article “I’m a Gigantic Ball of Twine,” speaking to its psychiatrist about its depression: “I don’t think she is paying attention to me, because she keeps insisting that I take this medication every morning. Maybe she can’t hear me because I’m just this giant filthy ball of twine which can’t speak. I suppose these pills are helping me, but aren’t they just covering up the fact that I’m a very, very large ball of twine, and that issue is at the core of my problems?”

Forgotten memories in the form of broken plastic toys, a single ballet slipper, and torn finger paintings are revealed as I sift through the mounds that are beginning to swallow our home. Normally, these trinkets would be tossed aside as unnecessary reminders of everyday life. However, they are not yet placed in the donation or recycling bins (the trash bin has been confiscated), but are sorted into a new bin. I ask my mom to look through this bin, to keep only the most sentimental of the items. The next time I come to visit, I rediscover those novelties under a new pile of unopened mail and unread newspapers.

The hankenskein is, as the name suggests, an abomination. Your tightly wound ball of twine has unraveled at your feet. No longer the twine it was before it became a ball, and now no longer a ball, the knotted mess is still allowed the title of a “ball of twine.”

Read more CNF | Issue Thirty-Six

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