It’s the Twine that Binds
July 17, 2019 4:12 AM   Subscribe

99 Percent Invisible goes on a delightful road trip across the US to investigate the true mystery of our time: who has the world’s greatest ball of twine, how were they made, and who really made them? posted by adrianhon (25 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Surprised that the 99% Invisible article didn't mention Weird Al's "The Biggest Ball of Twine In Minnesota", though of course, I'm sure that's only one of the many songs about the twine ball.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:39 AM on July 17, 2019 [8 favorites]

Hay and straw used to be in rectangular bales held together with twine. So you feed the hay to the livestock and you have twine left over. Now hay in baled in giant marshmallows.
posted by theora55 at 5:44 AM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cawker City's great ball is literally the spectacle around which this entire Kansas town is wound. It's an item of great renown among local college boys, who use it to stage elaborate inter-fraternity pissing pranks every pledge season. The stale waft of urine hits the rafters on humid days, and if you listen closely you can hear mice scurrying about the ropes.

Take that Darwin! *raspberries*
posted by aw jeez at 6:02 AM on July 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Greg Nog, it's mentioned in the first couple minutes of the podcast episode.
posted by RobertFrost at 6:12 AM on July 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

FTA: Before you know it, he had a six-inch twine ball, and the six-inch twine ball would get to a foot,” explains Courtney Johnson. And for reasons unknown even to himself, Johnson rolled that twine ball for the next 29 years.

There is 100% a psychological horror flick to be made out of this story.
posted by solotoro at 6:14 AM on July 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

all im saying if there's not a certain bon scott ac/dc song used in this episode someone needs to be fired
posted by entropicamericana at 6:26 AM on July 17, 2019

The Darwin, MN ball is the only one that's actually a ball, as it turns out. The others are lumps.
posted by theory at 6:27 AM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Can you xray those things to be sure the old farmer that got the ball rolling didn't just use it to encase the victim of a viscous threadbare plot?
posted by sammyo at 6:32 AM on July 17, 2019

Wait, what college boys are local to Cawker City? Concordia, KSU Salina? I used to drive past on the way to K-State, but that’s much too far to be considered local.
posted by rewil at 6:33 AM on July 17, 2019

Also isn't it strange to describe the location of Darwin as being about an hour west of St. Paul? It's a bit like telling someone who doesn't know where Long Island is that it's east of Newark.

While technically correct, you're kind of being deliberately provocative.
posted by theory at 6:41 AM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Eh, they probably meant Minneapolis (it's not an hour west of St. Paul, even saying it's an hour west of Minneapolis is a bit of a stretch - it's closer to an hour and a half in normal traffic). But considering how often St. Paul is called Minneapolis, I'll let the other twin get the mention.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:48 AM on July 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

somebody took what should have been insignificant little pieces of twine or string or garbage and they’d made something that’s essentially made them immortal
So on the one hand, yes, sure. On the other hand, I think that what's kind of gut-level distressing about this to me goes the other direction: It's a glorification of hoarding. Twine should be useful. They were clearly originally saving it because it had a use, not because they were proto-environmentalists who cared about whether it was going to wind up in a landfill. They couldn't bear to throw it away because it might be needed.

In the process of keeping it, they turned it into something that became its own whole thing to maintain. Short of an apocalypse scenario, nobody's ever going to use that twine. It has been rendered unusable by the act of keeping it to use later. Most things shouldn't, in fact, be immortal.
posted by Sequence at 7:01 AM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Example and I once made a pilgrimage to the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota while visiting her parents.

Totally worth it.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:02 AM on July 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Now fighting the urge to make an interactive fiction game about balls of twine in Twine.
posted by cortex at 7:06 AM on July 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I love love love 99PI. Roman Mars has a voice that could melt chocolate.
posted by slogger at 7:08 AM on July 17, 2019

Weird Al's latest tour has a shorter set list because it uses an orchestra and has to follow union rules. "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" still made it in there.
posted by Quonab at 7:52 AM on July 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I always want to point out that Weird Al's Twine song is a stylistic parody of Harry Chapin's most whimsical song: "Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas", which I've sincerely felt Al should add to his own performances once in a while.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:56 AM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been to Darwin a handful of times and I've seen the one in KS. For some reason I like them better than a lot of weird roadside attractions. What's fascinating to me is that most of these were not made to get famous or put a town on a map but because of some compulsion to wind the twine. Many of us have wound up twine balls, but stopped at 6 inches or so. What makes a person just keep going beyond the point where it makes any sense?

Weird Al's latest tour has a shorter set list because it uses an orchestra and has to follow union rules. "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" still made it in there.

My family is going to this show in a few weeks, in Minnesota even, and this is very good news. My kids have asked a few times already if I think he'll play it. It's a good song to do with an orchestra.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 8:13 AM on July 17, 2019

Reminds me of that Homer Price story “Mystery Yarn” about the biggest ball of string. A bit obscure and old fashioned, but it’s a good yarn (heh) and the clever lady wins the contest.
posted by k8bot at 8:16 AM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

That Weird Al album (it's from the UHF soundtrack) was, for a while, stuck in our car's tape player. If you wanted car audio, it was Twine Ball or bust. (Actually, that should be "or Men Without Hats", as "Rhythm of Youth" featured on the reverse of that homemade tape. Unfortunate that Hats doesn't feature in more karaoke catalogs or I'd be killin' it.)
posted by ptfe at 9:39 AM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

There's something kind of nice about all of these largest balls of twine deciding on their own definitions of 'largest', 'balls', and 'twine' so they all can have their own world records and claims to fame.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:49 AM on July 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was all ready to jump in and defend Darwin's honor here, but see I don't need to. A friend of mine grew up near there, and I think I still have a postcard on the fridge starring the World's Largest Ball of Twine in Darwin.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:36 PM on July 17, 2019

How is no one talking about The World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:30 PM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

As much as I appreciate them using St. Paul rather than Minneapolis as the reference point, "an hour east of St. Paul"* puts you solidly into Wisconsin and nowhere near Darwin.

* They definitely said "east", I rewound to be sure because that kind of basic factual error is so unlike 99PI. Maybe it was corrected in a later feed?
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:37 AM on July 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I thought you said weast
posted by sjswitzer at 6:09 PM on July 18, 2019

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