Sunday, 1 July 2012

Of Newspapers, Towers, Bricks and Clothes

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbour asked me, over the fence, if I’d be kind enough to save my newspapers for a while, instead of recycle-binning them.   “It’s for a school project,” she almost explained.  “They have to build a tower, then lay an egg on top.  Ta lots, must fly.”

Naturally I agreed, and even managed to comply, dedicating a twelve-bottle wine box (empty) to the purpose.  This afternoon C came to collect the proceeds, and gave me a little more detail.  The kids have to build the tallest free-standing tower they can out of newspaper and sellotape, and balance an egg on top for at least ten seconds.  “Though I’m working on that,” she added.  “Ten’s quite a lot of seconds when you think about it.”

Me being me, I spent a certain amount of the rest of the afternoon considering how I’d go about this task.  There were no particular design constraints, so it came down to a trade-off between height and stability: should I go for a Centre Point or Shard model?  Shard, probably, a pyramid is inherently more stable than a monolith.  But the egg-balancing platform is correspondingly smaller … Am I allowed to fashion a kind of newspaper eggcup and tape it to the top?  Assume yes, in fact assume I’m allowed to do anything that isn’t explicitly forbidden.  That used to be a handy guiding principle for life, though I’m not so sure nowadays …  Oh, and how many newspapers have I got?  And, and …  The questions kept flooding in; any scientist will tell you that that’s what happens.

Of course, I lost interest.  Hell, I don’t even go to that school.  But it reminded me of those team-building exercises we used to have to go through on team-building courses.  There was one, funnily enough, involving tower-building from improbable materials – toilet roll tubes may have been involved.  More memorable was the one where a group of six strangers were required to create an organisation which would assemble meaningless objects out of a restricted supply of stickle bricks.  That was fun, the best bit being finding a role for the Divisional Director which would both preserve his self-regard and be within his capabilities.  I think he ended up being at the back end of the production line, but allowed to deliver the finished product to the customer.

The one that sticks in my mind, though not my memory, wasn’t really an exercise, more of a scene-setter.  A mixed group of about eight of us, seated at random round a table, were invited by the teenage mid-Atlantic convenor to turn to our neighbour, introduce ourselves, and exchange an item of clothing.  I wish I could remember how that worked out.


  1. The Divisional Director wasn't Fred the Shred was he?
    I have a book by J E Gordon who, at the time of writing in 1978, was professor emeritus of technology at Reading University, entitled "Structures, or why things don't fall down".
    I'll lend it to you if it helps but not sure it covers structures built from newspapers. There's probably something on this at

  2. Crikey. I rarely have an item of clothing that can be removed without severely compromising my modesty. I'd have to have relied on someone sharing my shoe size.

  3. I'm glad I never had to do that sort of thing - nobody's having any of my clothes!
    I've sent my daughter a link to this post. I think she'd enjoy getting her schoolchildren to build a newspaper tower. The egg - maybe not.

  4. I wish I could remember the details. It definitely happened - I remember handing my tie over. (I'm not officially senile for another 11 days.)
    I suspect the definition of 'clothes' was fairly loose, to include things like watches and handkerchiefs; and we had to give them back after the first session.