By The Metric Maven
Just before Christmas, the USMA listserver and reddit both had posts and discussions about a giant Guinness World Record sized paper snowflake. It had been created Christina Hanson, from Kanahwa Iowa, a town very near my hometown. To create it, she had used metric measurement. I learned of this just before embarking on a trip to visit relatives in Iowa, and I would be only about 22 Km from there.
Christa Hanson and her husband Mark kindly allowed me and my father to visit with them, and posit questions about her metric creation. The first question I asked Christa was why had she chosen metric? She brought out an 8.5″ x 11″ size small binder with the pattern of the record breaking snowflake plan in pencil. She had to scale this up to be larger than 4 meters. The final size is 4.42 meters This was a requirement of the Guinness people. She showed me a small transparent purple ruler. Christa would have to scale the complex pattern and realized immediately that fractions would be just a horror. The snowflake has an intricate train around the outside, tulips inside, corn, tractors, churches, eagles, and one image that defied my identification. I was told not to be embarrassed, it is a soybean–but I was. In my teens I had “walked the beans” (pulled weeds out along soybean rows) for money. It was still a bit embarrassing. Christa concluded the only easy way to scale up these intricate dimensions, was using metric measurement.
I asked a question that was almost rhetorical “Did you use centimeters or millimeters?” She puzzled for a moment, and then produced some of her dimensioned plans for different images for the snowflake. They appeared to be in centimeters. She asked if there was a different way—setting up a perfect segue. I had a pair of millimeter, metric-only tape measures with me (4m and 5m). I produced them and pulled out the tape on each for display. Her eyes became wide as she looked at them. Christa exclaimed “I looked everywhere for these, I could not find one anywhere.” I told her I was not surprised. I have told the story of my own difficulties finding metric tools in the US in my blog The Invisible Metric Embargo. Should she decide to make a larger snowflake in the future, I will do my best to provide her with an appropriate tape measure in mm.
Christa then confessed that she started taking math classes in college, and after hearing “you are going to be taking the next class?—right?” enough times, earned a degree in mathematics.
She brought out her (yet unframed) Guinness World Record, and on it was the snowflake size in meters, and in parenthesis next to it, the value in feet and inches. In order to win the award she needed to create the paper snowflake in front of witnesses. A time lapse video of Christa creating her snowflake is here. The Iowan has a nice article about Christa’s interest in torn and cut paper. She needed to obtain large paper for the creation, and was able to obtain web “end rolls” from a local printing company that your humble Metric Maven once haunted.
Christa’s husband Mark showed us the juggling patterns he used to set his Guinness World Record and his framed certificate. He pointed out he had run an offset printing press and found my blog The Metric Printing Mystery interesting. To my surprise Christa also had once run an offset press. The conversation diverted away from the metric paper snowflake and toward absurd printing industry “non-standards,” like basis size and basis weight (which may be different depending on the paper). Pica poles and fraction based aspects of the trade which make it needlessly complicated were discussed over coffee. It was the type of socializing which only occurs in small towns, and made me a bit nostalgic for the heritage of the state where Dr. Van Allen and Bill Bryson (aka The Thunderbolt Kid) first inhaled the verdant air, where monarch caterpillars munched milkweed, and then metamorphosed into monarch butterflies, and lighting bugs decorated the summer night. I had a great time.
If you liked this essay and wish to support the work of The Metric Maven, please visit his Patreon Page and contribute. Also purchase his books about the metric system:
The first book is titled: Our Crumbling Invisible Infrastructure. It is a succinct set of essays that explain why the absence of the metric system in the US is detrimental to our personal heath and our economy. These essays are separately available for free on my website, but the book has them all in one place in print. The book may be purchased from Amazon here.
The second book is titled The Dimensions of the Cosmos. It takes the metric prefixes from yotta to Yocto and uses each metric prefix to describe a metric world. The book has a considerable number of color images to compliment the prose. It has been receiving good reviews. I think would be a great reference for US science teachers. It has a considerable number of scientific factoids and anecdotes that I believe would be of considerable educational use. It is available from Amazon here.
The third book is not of direct importance to metric education. It is called Death By A Thousand Cuts, A Secret History of the Metric System in The United States. This monograph explains how we have been unable to legally deal with weights and measures in the United States from George Washington, to our current day. This book is also available on Amazon here.