Binder Clip


It's Thursday night at 9:33 PM, and that means that it's a perfect time for some gratitude and nostalgia. This chilly evening, with my laundry piling high, I am going to take some time to let the good thoughts flow. The subject of tonight's brain adventure: binder clips. Won't you share in the delight with me?

The humble binder clip is, of course, one of mankind's greatest inventions. Ubiquitous, lightweight, adaptable, strong, inexpensive. These tiny office-bound fasteners play much more a role in my life than one of mere paper handling. Ever since reaching binder clip enlightenment in a math class several years ago, my life has been markedly better. You might say something about correlation and causation, and you might be right, but get the hell out of here Steve, nobody invited you. (Sorry Steve, I still love you as a friend.)

Yes, it was in the Love building that I unleashed The Answer in the form of binder clips. You might think that they're only good for holding some papers together in a less permanent form than a staple. In fact, the strength of this small piece of bendy metal with some more metal for flippiness and leverage comes from its versatility. Some ingenuity inspired by the professor with the Stokes Theorem Hat combined with a little bit of good old fashioned college poverty would help catalyze my creation.

We were expected to take exams on these tiny desks that were still going strong around 50 years after their deployment. The desks would have been fine too if I didn't spend more than half of my total lecture time spoiled by the comparatively huge-surfaced desks of the Huge Classroom Building 2/3 of a mile south southeast of Love. Since I had a taste of 2010s luxury mansion desks, I had been corrupted.

Here was the problem: when taking a test, you had to deal with at least two pieces of paper at a time. First was the problem statements – the printed sheet of paper that had the problems to answer. The second was your solutions. You know, the thing that the professor would grade. The Love building's desks hardly had enough room for a single sheet of paper, let alone two. Switching back and forth between the two pieces was inefficient at best, and even a slight inefficiency would, on average, lead to a lower score on the exam. Environment matters no matter how smart you are!

What was needed was a way to efficiently handle both pieces of paper at the same time. I need to see the problem while I work on it, but it doesn't need to be written on. The solution: hire an assistant to come to the test with me and hold the problem statements in front of me the entire time. That solution was discarded though -- the professor probably wouldn't like it. And anyway, I was poor, remember? The question then became this: “what is better than a human assistant?”

Binder clips. You probably guessed.

Think for a moment about a binder clip. Yes, the business end of it holds the paper. This fact is well-documented. But what about the flippy, leveragey parts? That pair of parts is usually forgotten once the paper is firmly held. But it can be used to suspend from something else! If I could figure out a way to adhere the binder clip to the back of the desk in front of me, I would be golden.

Soon after thinking of that plan though, my excitement waned. It would probably not be a good idea to rely on the desk in front of me. I'm only paying for one seat in the room, and it's pretty full on test days. To bother somebody else by messing with their desk during the test seemed ill-advised. No, I would need a solution that only required one desk.

I looked to my binder clip for inspiration. Then I looked to some cardboard boxes in my closet. My mind lit on fire, and I started cutting cardboard. Two rectangles. I put four binder clips on it the long one, making a slot for a shorter piece of cardboard to fit into. Then, tension was achieved with a few rubber bands, holding the document stand together. Finally, with a ruler acting as a desk-extender fastened on with a spring-clamp, my baby was born. I put a piece of paper onto my creation, and it held mightily. I shed a single tear.

On test day, I got there early to set it up. I sat in the front row so that there would be enough room for the contraption. As I received the exam from the professor and set it on the perch, I felt a little pity for my unfortunate classmates that would have to juggle their papers. Then Dr. StokesTheoremHat said “begin,” and that thought became unimportant.