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Paper Planes – The Only Way To Fly!

by Karen Tortora-Lee on June 4, 2010

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Tell me the truth . . . Paper Airplanes – Origami for Americans or just a clever way to send the math test answers across the room?

America’s favorite paper company, Dunder Mifflin, used the Paper Airplane in the director’s cut of their paper commercial, and everyone’s favorite engineer – Dilbert – has one in the opening credits of his animated series.

This weekend you can compete in the First Annual Paper Airplane Derby as part of the Come Out & Play Festival.  It’s a great chance to be creative, show off your skillz and win a trophy!

I chatted with Rachel Schutt and Linda Perkins about what makes their Derby the fliest event at the festival.


The 2010 First Annual Paper Airplane Derby is going to be part of this year’s Come Out & Play Festival in Brooklyn, NY. It sounds like a great day! How did you get involved in the festival?

Rachel: I had participated as a competitor in the festival a couple years ago. I love games, in particular, scavenger hunts. When we saw that there was a call for submissions to the festival, we brainstormed a bunch of ideas. In our brainstorming, we gravitated towards games with a certain structure: participants are given a bunch of materials and in a limited amount of time must construct/engineer/design a product which they must then immediately enter into a competition. We played around with a bunch of “products” and decided that the simplicity of the paper airplane and the fact that *anyone* could do it made the paper airplane a good candidate. We put together a proposal and were excited to be accepted into this year’s Come Out & Play Festival. We’re in amazing company.

Paper Airplanes are this iconic thing – everyone made one with the first hand-out they ever got in first grade . . . it was inevitable. What’s your theory as to why people love to turn paper into paper airplanes?

Rachel: Perhaps one aspect is it’s amazing that a 2 dimensional object can be turned into a 3-dimensional object and that the object can fly! When a kid first sees someone fold a paper airplane, it must blow their mind! And then I think people tend to feel happy doing activities they did as a kid. Though they may not always have the opportunity to do those things, or may feel a bit silly or self-conscious, it taps into their innate enthusiasm.

What’s your own funniest, strangest or most ingenious personal paper airplane story?

Rachel: I think Linda has a better story than I do because her story helped inspired this Derby. The story sticking out in my mind is a story my mom just told me the other day. One of my best childhood friends came over to play when we were 3 years old and he was very shy and quiet and didn’t seem to be doing anything, and then suddenly… he crafted a paper airplane! I don’t remember that. But now he’s an engineer.

Linda: I also work in the film business and once got an entire film crew to participate in a paper airplane contest while we were shooting on a stage at Steiner Studios. What started out as a joke became a competitive weekly event. It was really fun to see everyone perfecting their airplane designs, researching them on-line and practicing flights during the week for the Friday lunchtime competition.

You’re up against some stiff competition – for instance, during your time slot (Sunday June 6 at 12 PM) I may want to go to Prospect Park instead to check out the Festival’s game of Silverball (“a fast-paced and high-scoring game of human pinball, a cross between baseball and soccer, played on the side of a hill”). Or, I may want to play Sidewalk Wars which seems to be a combination of tag and kidnapping. Sell me on why the Paper Airplane Derby is better than ANY of those other things!

Rachel: The games you mention do sound fun! However, our games are BETTER because *anyone* can do it. You don’t have to be a super athlete or particularly coordinated to compete in the paper airplane derby! Also it flexes other skills: your engineering skills, your creative skills, your inner dork skills. We’re hoping that all types of people will show up at the derby. If you never won prizes for athletic events in high school, now’s your chance! We have trophies. Did I mention, we have trophies?

Linda: I would also add that all the games at the Come Out and Play Festival are fun for different reasons. It’s not necessarily that one is better than another but that games appeal to people for different reasons. We liked the idea that a paper airplane derby creates a level playing field — kids vs. adults, boys vs. girls, airplane design vs. airplane beauty. And whether you are a kid or remember the magic of making a paper airplane out of your math test as a kid we hope to create a fun and competitive environment with pageantry reminiscent of the Kentucky Derby. And there are trophies! Who doesn’t want to win a trophy!!

Lastly – We’ll post the winner of The Paper Airplane Derby (as well as some runner ups) next week. Before people head on out to compete – do you have any suggestions for winning? Give us your best tips!

Rachel: We posted some designs on our blog so those are some ideas. Practice makes perfect! But in addition to planes that fly very far, we also will be giving awards for planes that are beautiful so you can make a BEAUTIFUL plane that doesn’t fly very well at all and still win a prize! Also innovative design and most spirited participant. So my suggestion is just be yourself: creative, spirited, innovative, and you’ll have a chance at winning!

Thanks, ladies, for the great tips, and we hope everyone comes out to enjoy the fun and festivities of the festival.   Check back next week to see the winners!

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