String figure glossary

Spinal Vertebrae

string figure Invented by Martin Probert 1997. My local wilderness is a place where one frequently comes upon such relics, the bleached remains of sheep and of wild ponies that have succumbed to the harsh moorland winter. Use a loop at least five foot, or 1m 50cm, wide.

  1. Position 1 on the left hand alone.
  2. With the right hand, and with the right thumb below and the right index, middle and ring fingers above, take hold of the left palmar string, give it a half turn away from you to create a loop, then, putting the left thumb and little fingers down into this loop, place the loop over the left thumb and little fingers and release the right hand. Arrange so that the loops around the fingers are little more than finger size, and maintain this small size of loop throughout the following steps.
  3. Arrange the loops on both the left thumb and little fingers so that the hanging strands are nearest the tips of the fingers, then navaho the loops on the left thumb and little fingers.
  4. Take hold of the far left little finger hanging strand and bring it up between the left thumb and index, lay it towards the tip of the left thumb, and release it to become a near left thumb hanging strand, then, to the far side of the released strand, take the original near left thumb hanging strand and bring it up between the left ring and little fingers, releasing it to become a far left little finger hanging strand.
  5. Navaho the loops on the left thumb and little fingers.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you run out of string, aiming to keep the loops being created about finger size.
  7. Put the tips of the left thumb and little fingers together, and transfer the left little finger loop to the left thumb. You have Spinal Vertebrae. The figure is three dimensional.
  8. To dissolve quickly, identify the short horizontal piece of string beneath the left thumb and take hold of it with the right hand between the two loops that hang from this string. Release the left hand. Open out the right hand loop.

Footnote: Zoology professor Michael Pollock of Canada adds further entertainment to his lectures on vertebrates, organ systems and cladistics (in which organisms are grouped according to shared features) by showing appropriate string figures. He writes (Bull. Int. String Figure Assn 2002:57-8) that "Martin Probert's magnificent three-dimensional representation of the vertebral column .. is stable enough that I can take it off my fingers and pass it around the class so that students can appreciate its lifelike nature". See also Cladogram.

Copyright © Martin Probert 2003
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