The Extreme Sport of Origami

“A physicist’s computer program speeds the creation of stupefyingly complex paper sculptures.”

Jennifer Kahn in Discover Magazine:

WalkingsticksmallIn the dojo of the origami purist, there are only two rules: The folder may use just one sheet of square paper, and the paper cannot be cut or torn in any way. Following these rules to make a figure like a peace crane, with four basic features—a head, a tail, and two wings—is relatively easy, and origamists traditionally proceeded by trial and error, unfolding and refolding a piece of paper until it started to resemble, say, a swan. For hundreds of years, origami’s most complex patterns topped out at 20 steps.

These days patterns requiring more than 100 steps are common. Some of that competitive acceleration is due to Lang, who transformed the art by writing a computer program that can generate the blueprint for ultracomplex origami sculptures. Even with digital assistance, figuring out the sequence of folds that will create a beetle and all its ornaments is a mathematical problem of staggering complexity. Still, the reigning champion of intricate origami is a 23-year-old Japanese savant named Satoshi Kamiya. Unaided by software, he recently produced what is considered the pinnacle of the field, an eight-inch-tall Eastern dragon with eyes, teeth, a curly tongue, sinuous whiskers, a barbed tail, and a thousand overlapping scales. The folding alone took 40 hours, spread out over several months.

More here.