The Truth about Curling Ribbons

I’ve been proud of my ribbon curling skills ever since I was a child, when my mom first showed me how to wrap presents. Since then I’ve curled so many ribbons that I would have claimed that I’m a curling virtuoso. Today I found out how wrong I was to think so.

Believe it or not, when you curl a ribbon by pulling it between your thumb and the blade of a pair of scissors, it will curl more tightly the slower you go. I always thought it curled more tightly as you pull faster.

I was proven wrong by physicist Buddhapriya Chakrabarti of Harvard. It turns out that I must have been pinching the ribbon more when I pulled it quickly, otherwise, according to Chakrabarti’s experiments, it should have curled less. (Read more about the experiments on the American Institute of Physics web site Inside Science News Service.)

Just to confirm things I spent a few minutes curling ribbons today and found that Chakrabarti is absolutely right. In my own defense, however, I found that pinching tightly and pulling slowly is a bit tricky, sort of like patting your head while rubbing your tummy.

I probably won’t change my ribbon curling technique for most packages because I’ve gotten so used to the quick zip of the ribbon before it snaps into a curl. But for those special people on special occasions (perhaps even for a certain someone this coming Valentine’s Day), I’m going to pinch the ribbon extra hard and pull it extra slow for that perfect, tight little curl.

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