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String Telephone

June 9, 2014

We moved to our apartment in New York almost exactly 9 years ago. I know that in part because I remember the date we moved in – June 4th, 2005 – but also because that first weekend we lived here, when we decided to try to buy some furniture for our nearly empty living room, we had to cross the Puerto Rican parade to get to Crate & Barrel on the east side of 5th Avenue. It was one of the most characteristic New York moments of my existence, and it made me feel like a real New Yorker.

About two days after moving in I figured out with my friend Michael Thaddeus (who has guest blogged hugely successfuly before) that his apartment was within direct sight of mine. We could wave to each other from our windows across both 116th and Claremont! For a suburban girl like me this was a hoot. We decided to build a string telephone at some point.

Well, we finally got around to doing it yesterday.

I live on the 9th floor, and Thads lives on the 5th floor of his apartment, so there was no chance we could throw anything up to the window on the outside. Instead Thads came over with two balls of string and two cans. For each window we lowered the string to the street with the help of someone on the street who could guide the person in the window. I actually only saw the first half of this procedure because I was tasked with holding the string after the first window and waiting for the second string to be lowered. Then the idea was we’d tie the two strings together.

So here I am, outside my building, holding a string in my hand that goes all the way up to a 9th floor building across the street. I’m also wearing my cowboy hat because it’s sunny outside, but for some reason the combination made everyone walking by stop and ask me what the hell I’m doing.

You see, there aren’t many things that can make New Yorkers talk to each other on the street, but I’ve found that holding on to very very long strings whilst wearing a ridiculous hat does the trick.

My favorite was when this middle aged Greek guy comes up to me and asks me what I’m doing, but he’s clearly hoping it’s mischievous, so I asked him to guess, and he says “You’re pulling someone’s tooth!!”.

After a while my neighbors noticed the string outside their window and got involved. And I noticed the security guard on the corner paying close attention, especially when we had both strings on the street and we were trying to tie them together, which took a while because they barely reached.

There was even a cop car silently observing that part of the experiment, but it disappeared as soon as we got it connected and Johan pulled the string taut so it was above the tree line.

After poking the strings into the cans, we tried our our string telephone. It was incredibly fun.

photo 1

My 11-year-old straining to hear his little brother. Note his nerdy t-shirt.

My husband screaming to Thads

CAN YOU HEAR ME?!?!

CAN YOU HEAR ME?!?!

I HEARD SOMETHING!!!

I HEARD SOMETHING!!!

Categories: musing
  1. mathematrucker
    June 9, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Awesome fun project!

  2. alex
    June 9, 2014 at 11:34 am

    I enjoyed this post! Sounds fun!

  3. June 9, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Too much time on your hands or you are just stringing us along. ;-)

  4. Ariadne
    June 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Hmm, not clear if you actually heard talk, and wonder about that knot tied in the middle of the line. Would sound negotiate that in a strait line or sort of verge off in 2 directions of the string ends of the knot?

  5. Richard Séguin
    June 9, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Neat! I did that when I was a kid. I wonder if metal wire would work better at long distances like that.

    But, be careful! It won’t be long and you’ll discover that another string has been attached to yours, terminating somewhere around the corner on a can at the ear of someone wearing black wingtips and very dark glasses.

    • Michael Thaddeus
      June 11, 2014 at 1:14 am

      No need to worry, they only record the metadata!

  6. jerrycritter
    June 9, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    It would work better without the knot in the string. The knot dampens the sound vibrations.

  7. Becky Jaffe
    June 11, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Fun! Is there a natural limit on the length the string must be in order to carry the vibration?

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