Rubber Band Balls: The Ultimate Collectors' Item

What to do when a simple hobby grows into an obsession

| September-October 2000


Rubber band balls start as an innocent childlike game but grow into an obsession. They start out so young, tender, and small, but perseverance and dedication can yield a heavy, healthy ball of considerable size. The striped orb becomes so heavy with densely packed rubber bands that it's beautiful—round, colorful, and bouncy. The heavier the better. Before you know it, your days are filled with rubber, thoughts of rubber, and searches for rubber. You've got it bad. A rubber fetish of an alien kind. You ’re a rubber baller. 

Rubber balling has many joys. It’s fascinating to watch your rubber band ball grow and evolve. Various rings of color hold court for a while but gradually disappear under new layers of rubber. The rubber band ball thus teaches a valuable, Zenlike lesson about the impermanence of all things. Don’t get too attached to that purple or blue broccoli band stripe—if your ball is healthy and growing, that color will be gone in a few weeks. Rubber band balls also have a social conscience. Think of all that rubber going to waste every day on mail room floors, in offices, and on sidewalks. The recycling revolution starts with you, brothers and sisters. You must stoop, pick, and pocket those bands, and then transfer them to your eager orb. You have to do your part to save the earth—and your ball.

And I do mean that seriously—your rubber band ball is in mortal danger. New band growth must at least exceed the decay rate of the older bands on your ball’s surface. The sad fact of rubber balling is that rubber rots. On a slow-growth ball, you can see the broken and cracked rubber bands held fast by the sparse new rubber. You must be careful to feed your ball only with the best, freshest rubber. (Though you must find it or salvage it, never buy it.) There’s nothing more discouraging to the rubber band scavenger than to pick up a band that fails the initial and very necessary stretch test. I curse the wasted effort of picking up a band that breaks when I test it. I rejoice when a newly scavenged band stretches wide and holds fast. Bring only these mighty, stretchy bands as offerings to your ball.

Your rubber band ball is in danger of another unpleasant fate. Believe it or not, a ball can get too big. Most rubber bands have a stretch limit. Eventually, as you build your ball, it will exceed the stretch capacity of the common rubber band. Eventually, it will grow too large for common rubber bands. At this point, you must resort to the rare industrial-size rubber bands that can stretch many feet. Even the most diligent rubber baller faces a terminal slowdown of ball growth here. You must wait and wait for a big band to appear at your feet, like manna dropped on the Israelites as they wandered lost and hungry in the desert. In the meantime, you can proudly weigh your ball and measure its circumference. You can compare your ball with a friend’s. And you can admire your ball’s surface shape. You will notice that a rubber band ball is not truly round, but bumpy and slightly askew. If you broke out your calculus formulas, I’m sure you’d find that the ball approaches roundness much like a curve approaches the asymptote of an ideal endpoint. It is in this approach toward roundness that a rubber ball’s true beauty lies. The ball is not round and never will be round, thank God! The imperfections make the ball the miracle that it is. This is a moral lesson that each of us can take to heart, just one more of the joys of rubber balling.



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