For Want of a Paperclip

I was helping the Little Miss with her math homework the other day. This second-grader of mine is learning statistics. I don’t recall learning statistics in second grade. The thing I recall most about second grade was learning to churn ice cream. The page she was assigned in her math book had a circle divided into four equal parts. Two were shaded black, one white, and one grey. The instructions said to spin a paperclip in the circle twelve times, and note how many times it pointed to each color. These results would then be used to complete a set of fractions.

A paperclip is a wonderful invention. Even its shape is elegant, rounded as it is on both ends. This led to the first problem. The instructions, presumably written for a second grader to understand, did not explain how we should know which end of the paper clip was pointing to color in question. Both ends look the same.

This would have been a serious showstopper, but we were saved this embarrassment because I could not locate a paperclip to save my life. Where have all of the paperclips gone? I went about the house in frantic search of a paperclip. I spent twice as long trying to locate one than it would have taken to complete the entire assignment.

Usually, I can find a stray paperclip or two in a desk drawer. But my desk no longer has drawers, and hasn’t now for five years. There is almost always a paperclip attached to the back page of the Field Notes notebook I carry in my pocket. Alas, my current notebook has no paperclip. It was lost at some point, and I haven’t replaced it (probably because I haven’t been able to find a paperclip).

I used to keep a paperclip in the car for reasons that now elude me. Out to the car I went, but no paperclip there either. There is often a paperclip or two along the floorboard behind my desk, but since we had the carpets replaced, that carpet is pristine and free of paperclips.

The funny thing about paperclips is that I almost never use them for clipping paper–Field Notes notebook excepted. Often I bend them out of shape and use the pointy end for resetting a device, or scrapping dust bunnies from the charging port on my iPhone.

According to a 2011 piece in The Atlantic, Americans buy 11 billion paperclips a year. That’s close to a hundred billion paperclips in the years since, and not one to be found anywhere. I couldn’t even find a paperclip to photograph for this post! Who’s hoarding all of the paperclips?

The Little Miss eventually reminded me that she needed to get this homework done. To do it, we needed to generate 12 random numbers between 1 and 4. Since I couldn’t locate the paperclip we were instructed to use, I did the next best thing. I ran downstairs to the game shelf. The Little Man had a new (and so-far, unused) Dungeons & Dragons starter set. I figured I’d grab the 4-sided die and use that. But the games had already been packed away for our upcoming move.

Frustrated, the Little Miss and I sat at the table and twelve times, we asked Alexa to pick a random number between one and four. What could have been done with a paperclip, now required an entire neural network.

I started to worry, as I finished writing this post, that “paperclip” might not be spelled as one word. I reached for the dictionary, forgot that it was packed away (probably with the Dungeons & Dragons set, and all of the paperclips) and with a reluctant sigh, pulled up the Merriam-Webster site and looked up the word. Turns out, it is two words: paper clip.

I’m not going to change it though. I’m too worn out from running around the house in a failed attempt to locate a paperclip.



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