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Toiling with toilet paper in MIT's Infinite Corridor

Posted by Brock Parker  April 5, 2011 05:01 PM

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MIT Toilet Paper Folding 2011-3.JPG

Using more than two miles of toilet tissue and one infinite corridor at MIT, a group from St. Mark's School claim to have wiped out the world record for folding paper Sunday.

The group of 15 students and teacher James Tanton from the boarding school in Southborough claim to have folded 13,000 feet of toilet paper in half 13 times (with each fold in the same direction), which would break the record of 12 times set in 2002.

"It was hard, backbreaking work," said Tanton, a mathematics teacher/toilet paper-folder extraordinaire. "It's like Mount Everest. Of course we had to try." (To see a video of their feat, go here.)

Tanton has been leading students from St. Mark's on attempts to break the record for five years. But after several failed attempts, Tanton asked the MIT origami club, OrigaMIT, to help him and his students get access to MIT's Infinite Corridor.

Inside the 825-foot hallway that connects many of MIT's main buildings, Tanton said he and his students could fold without fear of interference from the wind.

Jason Ku, president of OrigaMIT, helped the group get permission to use the Infinite Corridor and, at times, he checked in on the group Sunday to see how they were doing.

After four hours of sometimes tedious toiling with the single-ply bathroom tissue that Tanton bought online at ToiletPaperWorld.com, he said he and the students from St. Mark's finally folded the paper a 13th time.

That, Tanton said, breaks the previous record set by a high school student, Britney Gallivan, in 2002. Tanton said that while the Guinness Book of Work Records doesn't keep track of paper folding records, he believes he and the students from St. Mark's are now entitled to a Wikipedia webpage documenting their achievement.

But there could be a wrinkle in Tanton's record-setting claim.

Ku said he agrees that the group from St. Mark's clearly matched the record of 12 consecutive folds set by Gallivan.

"However, their '13th fold' was debatable in that it could not stand on its own without considerable support," Ku said in an email Tuesday. "I am told that they will be trying this project again in the future with about twice as much paper, which I believe should result in success."

Tanton said he was unable to preserve the final folded product because with more than 8,000 layers the toilet paper became too wobbly. But the group videotaped their efforts and the end result.

Next year, Tanton said they will try again with 24,000 feet of toilet paper and will try to save the final, folded product and transport it back to their school to put it on display.

Then, he said, they will ask the Guinnes Book of World Records to come and see it.

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