So I Met a 5-Year-Old Yesterday and had an Origami ‘Fold-Off’ with Her

My roommate plays in his church’s orchestra and last night he invited me to the annual Christmas music event. The night consisted of dinner at 6, followed by a 2-hour holiday concert.

I don’t go to his church, and he was busy preparing for the show, so when I arrived, I looked around the large room for an open table to sit at. I found a nice family of four to share dinner with. The parents had two little girls, a 3-year-old and 5-year-old. We concluded dinner around 6:30 or so and had plenty of time before the show started. The girls were getting antsy, so I thought I’d entertain them with some origami.

I’ve been folding for about 14 years now, and while I’ve folded all kinds of different models, I only have a few memorized at any given time. I started by folding the 3-year-old a flapping crane, a classic model. I used one of the placeholders on the table, made of cardstock. Unlike the traditional crane model, this version flaps its wings when you hold it at a certain spot and pull the tail.

Her eyes lit up and she flew the crane around for about 10 minutes (and then started making the crane walk on its head).

I didn’t want to leave the other girl, Jasmine, out, so I folded her my signature model: the lily. She watched me intently for about 5 minutes, but when I gave it to her, she wasn’t impressed. She looked at it for a moment, then grabbed a program and decided she’d show me how origami is done.

Origami fold off

The three models I made for the girls, from left to right: a lily, a flapping crane, and a bunny. It’s hard to tell, but the crane’s head is smashed backward from all that walking around upside-down.

Fold-Off!!!

She took the rectangular piece of paper and first folded it diagonal, then tore off the extra so that she had a “perfect” square (the tear wasn’t exactly straight, but she earned an approving nod from me nonetheless: she had the right idea).

Then she folded the square diagonally both ways so that she had a triangle, then started tearing chunks out of the edges. Her dad informed me that she learned how to make snowflakes at school this week. She did the best she could making a snowflake in spite of not having scissors.

(She was actually engaging in kirigami, which is the art of cutting paper).

She gave it to me, then went to work on the next model. She tore the remainder of the program to make a rectangle with the proper proportions, then made an airplane.

Origami fold-off

Jasmine folded me an airplane and snowflake.

I countered by making her a bunny. Once again, she wasn’t impressed. She found a new program and decided to make another model using the entire sheet! My models were all tiny: she was going big by using the largest sheet of paper on the table.

The kindergartener folded another paper airplane, same design as the first one. But then she did something peculiar. Once she was finished, the model nearly symmetrical, she decided to tear a third of the right wing off. Why? I have no idea. But it wasn’t an accident. She intentionally finished the model properly, looked at it, and concluded that it wasn’t finished. So she tore a bit of the right wing off.

Origami airplane

Jasmine’s asymmetrical airplane.

The program was about to start at this point, so we concluded our fold-off. She gave the big plane to her little sister who promptly threw it at me. It did fly a bit in spite of the torn wing.

Her family left before the program concluded, so I never got to say goodbye. I’ll probably never see her again. I can honestly say in my 14 years of folding, I’ve never met somebody who was willing to go toe to toe with me, fold to fold with me, matching each of my models with one of her own. Even though I’ve been folding 3 times longer than she’s walked this earth, I think she won this fold-off.

In honor of her win and my defeat, I’ve decided that I’m going to fold cranes differently from now on. Introducing the Jasmine Variant.

Origami crane, Jasmine Variant

The Jasmine Variant of the traditional crane.

The Jasmine Variant is pretty simple. Start by folding a traditional crane (instructions here, or video tutorial here). When finished, tear about a third of the right wing off. Don’t just fold the tip under, and don’t just inside reverse fold it either. Tear it off. Technically pure origami doesn’t involve tearing, but you know what? Who cares. As long as the tear is for aesthetic reasons and not functional reasons, I’m fine with a little tearing here and there (the bunny I folded, on the other hand, I’m disappointed in, as it involves a tear to form the ears).

I kind of like the asymmetrical look after folding the same model for so many years.

Fold on,
~Dennis

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