When I was in primary school, at the end of every school year, a large gathering was held in the gymnasium to celebrate the graduation of the Grade 6 students. The preparation was mostly done by the Grade 5 kids with the help of teachers, and on the day of the farewell party, the whole school would come together in the cold gymnasium (it was the beginning of spring and the weather was still chilly).
Once the room was ready, the Grade 6 students made a grand entry, walking through a passage of paper flowers made by the Grade 5 students, then sat on the stage facing everybody else. It was one of the very few school gatherings where people actually paid attention to what was happening in the room. There was a charged atmosphere as students in each grade stood up to perform the special presentation they had prepared for the occasion.
After all the performances, the Grade 6 students sang a song for all of us in return, and it was time for the last event of the day: a celebratory breaking of a party ball.
There was a huge shiny ball hanging from the ceiling with a long string attached to it. The string came all the way down to the floor, and two students from Grade 6 walked up under the party ball to pull the string.
This party ball was made up of two parts, which were connected by a duck tape. The string was attached to this duck tape, and in theory, by pulling the string, this duck tape would detach from the ball, allowing the ball to break apart and the confetti inside to shower on the students.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Congratulations!”
Everybody cheered and the two students pulled the string hard.
But nothing happened except that the string fell from above.
The cheer in the room quickly turned into a sigh of disappointment, and our gymnastic teacher ran upstairs – with the fallen string in his hand – to access the metal structure right below the ceiling.
It usually took more than half an hour to reattach the string to the ball, and sometimes, the same problem occurred on the second try. By the time the ball finally opened and the confetti showered on everybody, people were tired and bored. I always thought how unfortunate it was that this same problem had to happen every single year. Wasn’t there something that we could do differently?
When I was in Grade 6, my class hosted a small farewell party among us, and my friends and I prepared a small party ball to break at the end.
After connecting the two parts of the ball with a duck tape, I told everyone that I would be in charge of the string attachment. Having witnessed an unsuccessful party ball breaking for the past 5 years, I knew exactly what to do in order to avoid the tragedy.
Instead of attaching one end of the string to the duck tape, I made a loop with the string and passed it through the duck tape. Thus, instead of one end of the string hanging from the ball, both ends hung. Finally, to improve the presentation, I combined these two ends into one. In this way, there was no way the string could come off the duck tape without breaking the ball.
At the end of the fun party time, two of my classmates volunteered to pull the string of our own party ball.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Congratulations!”
The moment the string was pulled, the duck tape came off, the party ball opened, and all the confetti showered on us. I grinned.
“Wow, how amazing is it that this party ball broke in just one try!”
Our teacher stood in front of the open party ball for a while, looking totally impressed. And I smiled behind him, proud of the power of the small observation I had made about the mechanics of a party ball breaking.