I think Moonie put it best when she said, “Mrowr?”
In case you’ve ever wondered if it’s possible to strap old plastic clothes hangers together with zip ties to make an icosahedron, I bring glad tidings: It is. I’ve done the experiment. We have the technology. I expect to be hearing from the Royal Swedish Academy any day now…
Seriously, though, the lesson here is not to get too obsessive about building stuff from trash. Which I am embarrassingly prone to do. Partly this is due to practical necessity, since I maladaptively overexpress the hoarding gene and tend to be surrounded by junk I can’t manage to throw away. For awhile I rationalized it in trendy eco-conscious terms: I wasn’t just cobbling junk together from junk, I was saving the planet! I actually went through a brief period during which I was deliberately throwing nothing away. I meticulously extracted all the staples and clear plastic windows from my junk mail and sorted them for recycling. I was saving dryer lint for making homemade paper. Admittedly, some good stuff come out of this “Howard Hughes” period, but after a few months even I had to admit: It was madness.
While I was down in it, however, some of my unscrupulous friends would occasionally try to exploit my condition. Example:
ROOMMATE: Do you want these three garbage bags full of old plastic clothes hangers?
ME: (Tempted but wary) I dunno. What would I possibly do with a bunch of old plastic clothes hangers?
ROOMMATE: (Snickering) I thought you might, you know, use them in some kind of art project.
ME: I don’t…I…what…
ROOMMATE: You know, like a giant lawn sculpture or something.
ME: Maybe. But. I couldn’t…NO! GET OUT OF MY MIND!
I was strong. That time. My roommate had to get rid of his own damn clothes hangers.
But in the end, he got to me. The question lingered in the back of my mind, a challenge: What would I possibly do with a bunch of old plastic clothes hangers? I’d wake up in the middle of the night with storms of hangers spinning around me, and lie awake, considering the basic hanger form. Where were the “hooks?” I mean, other than the obvious one. You know, “hooks,” the natural features of a piece of junk that can be exploited in unconventional ways to make cool stuff?
Trouble is, your basic plastic clothes hanger is a complete piece of crap. It’s good, arguably, for only one thing. It doesn’t even have the primary redeeming feature of a wire hanger, which is that you can unwind it and use the wire for something entirely non-clothes related, like breaking into a car or jamming into a power outlet to heat your cup-a-soup after you get sent to prison for breaking into cars. As long as you’re not using them to, you know, hang clothes, wire hangers are clearly better. No matter what Joan Crawford says.
But deadlines can make a person do strange things. When I first started writing my Make: Projects series, I frequently felt “under the gun” to come up with stuff for folks to make that was new, different, and interesting, and yet not too demanding in terms of tools, materials, or time. It was during one of these crunches that the thought of making something from old plastic clothes hangers came spinning back to me, together with a new idea that seemed, under the circumstances, like a sign from above: You could strap three hangers together with zip ties to form a rigid triangular structure. Then you could strap the triangles together to make various polyhedra. You could make tetra. You could make octa. You could make icosa. You could make hedrons so poly-sided I didn’t even know what to call them.
Were it not for the looming deadline, I might’ve stopped, then, to consider one important point: Once I’d built such a thing, it would, annoyingly, exist. It’s cool looking, sure, but after you’ve given it about 5 minutes for the novelty to wear off, all a hangerhedron does is occupy volume. And a decidedly inconvenient volume, at that.
I’m sure my Mom was proud, anyway. And maybe DARPA would be interested. But geez, I like to think I hold myself to a higher standard than that.
If you’ve got personal /FAILs you would like to share with us, especially of the “What Was I Thinking?” variety, please feel free to e-mail me directly at [email protected]. I promise to be as nice as possible.