Rubber Bands - Behold The Power Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Rubber Bands - Behold The Power

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A pile of rubber bands.

Rubber bands are generally accepted as the second most useful thing to your average hitchhiker, right behind the towel. Used by the ancient Mayans to bind axes together, and with the formula from natural tree rubber perfected by the Victorians, the band was officially patented by British inventor Stephen Perry in 1845. Also known by many as elastic bands, their production has evolved considerably over the years - most of them are now made from a type of oil-based synthetic rubber - although the basic idea remains the same. But nobody was able to predict just how many weird, wonderful and often completely silly uses mankind would have for this surprisingly mundane invention today.


There are many different types of rubber band, and each has its own preferred use. For example, a thick rubber band would be good for something requiring a lot of tension, like creating heat or to use as a miniature catapult, whereas a smaller, thinner band is easy to conceal (eg holding up hair), good for twisting in order to provide power and generally makes a better musical instrument.

They can be stored on your wrist, in your hair, around your ankle, or even in your teeth. There are many ways to utilize the almighty power that is the rubber band. Here are just a few common uses:

  1. Holding things together, such as straws, pencils, multiple towels, envelopes, etc.

  2. Self defence. Ever been snapped by a stout rubber band? Hurts like hell. No mugger will come near you.

  3. Offence. Some people just deserve a good snap.

  4. As a stylish bracelet. There are many ways this can be achieved, such as twisting bands of different colours and shapes together, or even creating a looped chain of them. Similar effects can be achieved by knotting several bands together to make a thick, patterned string.

  5. As a handy musical instrument, should any hitchhiker find themselves in urgent need of money and/or quick entertainment. Simply slide the band over two of your fingers and change the pitch by moving them apart. Using multiple bands of differing thickness and size, you could create chords and even play your own little stationery concerto, without ever having to buy a guitar. (Note: It would probably be wise to apply for a busking license before trying this out for cash).

  6. As a catapult. Whether it's stretched between your fingers or just a Y-shaped twig, the humble elastic band can prove useful for surprising people at a distance with painful projectiles.

  7. Warming up/cooling down (this one's a little odd). Stretching out a rubber band creates heat from the tension, as anyone who does it against their skin should notice. However, when you let the band spring back into shape, it actually absorbs heat and cools the air around it. This could be used to cool drinks or, if you happened to be carrying several thousand elastic bands on your person, cook food. Mainly, though, it's just a little party trick.

  8. As a way of powering small, light model aeroplanes. If one end of the band is firmly attached to the fuselage at the back of the plane, and the other to the propeller at the front, then twisting the propeller also twists the band. This creates a lot of stored energy and tension, much like a wind-up child's toy. Let go and launch the model and the band will start to unwind, turning the propeller and flying the plane until the band is unwound and all the energy is used up. This technique can be adapted to power anything from model boats to toy cars.

  9. Using the trick from no. 8, you can quickly make yourself a small dynamo using a rubber band (or several), and some basic circuit parts like little motors and wire. Just connect the twisted band to the shaft of the motor, which is in turn connected to something that needs power (for example, a lightbulb) and let it unwind. The band acts as a power source - turning the motor which generates a voltage, creating electrical energy to provide light, heat or just about anything else which uses electricity.

  10. To make a fun springy sphere thing which goes 'boink'.

  11. As a hair band. These can be both functional and colourful if you know what you're doing (see no. 4), but can also be practically invisible, particularly with thin bands which match your hair colour.

  12. If you happened to be desperately hungry, outside of the law or just plain mean, beige rubber bands dropped on the grass look very much like worms to passing birds, who gobble them up and promptly choke. This rather cruel hunting method was the reason why the British Post Office (who can use up to two million bands every day) opted to change the colour of the bands holding envelopes together, from brown to a distinctive red, just to make it obvious that they're definitely not edible.

  13. A popular hobby which has taken off in recent years is making huge, solid rubber balls out of the bands. These can weigh rather a lot, but are a handy - and seemingly perpetual - source of bands to carry with you. In order to make one of these huge things, simply take 4 or 5 rubber bands in the palm of your hand, and squash them into a ball. Wrap a a few smaller bands around this mishmash until it stays in shape. This forms the 'core' of your ball, and all you have to do now is wrap as many more rubber bands around it as you can1. The world record for this currently stands at over 175,000 bands rolled into a ball weighing 4,600 pounds (2,086.5kg).

  14. Looping several hundred rubber bands together to form one large elastic ring has been the subject of a school playground game, called French Skipping2, since the 1960s. It's played across the world, but the simple rules remain the same. Two people stand inside the ring facing each other and walk backwards until the elastic is tight and stiffly stretched out at about ankle height. A third person then stands in the middle of this and tries to do a series of increasingly complex moves involving jumping between and around the two sides of the elastic loop without tripping up. To make things harder, you can lift one or both ends higher up the ankles of the two people stretching it, twist it, tie it in knots, move your legs or even get a fourth person to shake it to try and get the player to make a mistake. When you succeed in doing this, you rotate the players so that everyone gets a go.

  15. Wrapped around pencils as a cheap alternative to shop-bought rubber pencil grips for weak hands. This provides extra traction and a wider surface to make gripping things easier, and can also be used on jars, bottles and anything else with a screw top.

It seems that the supposedly insignificant, ordinary piece of office stationery that is the elastic band has an infinite number of uses, fifteen of which you've hopefully just read. And so it falls to you, the general public, to use your imagination and boredom and help unleash the amazing power of the, err, elastic band onto the world.

1Many people use a large hollow object like a tennis ball as the core, in order to make things easier and lighter. This is however considered to be cheating.2Also sometimes known as Elastics, German Jumps, Jump-Rope, Skip-Tape, Gummitwist (if you speak German) or Chinese Jumps.

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