Spagetti Bridges Article


The word pasta comes from the Italian for paste, meaning a combination of flour and water - including the many forms of spaghetti, macaroni, and egg noodles. According to the American Pasta Report, 40 percent of respondents say spaghetti is their personal favourite, followed by lasagne (12%), macaroni and cheese (6%), fettuccine (6%), linguine (3%), elbows (3%), pasta salad (3%), and angel hair (2%).

Pasta is one of the foods children most frequently eat at home, according to research conducted by Minnesota foodmaker Land O'Lakes. Seventeen percent eat spaghetti while 16 percent eat macaroni and cheese. Statistics from the NPD Group, a Chicago custom research body, show that children eat 62 pounds of pasta each year, more than any other age group. Consumers enjoy pasta for dinner more than 40 times a year (approximately once a week), with dry pasta as their favorite form, according to Harry Balzer, of NPD.

Spaghetti, the world's favourite form of pasta, isn't just a food: it can also be used to build bridges and towers. If you find that hard to believe, just take a look at this video from 2017: of an entry in John Hopkins University's 2017 spaghetti building competition.

Years before the university (in Baltimore, Maryland) began using spaghetti as a building material, Okanagan University College (Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada) conducted an annual bridge-building competition. Its contests were not just for students, but were open to anyone wishing to enter. Several professional engineers and architects took part.

"The limits that humble pasta has been pushed to in these events is remarkable," says the OUC website, "It is common for a structure made of nothing more than spaghetti and glue to span a gap of a metre AND support the equivalent weight of a man.

"These are not mere bundles of noodles strung together over night - a typical champion bridge can take weeks or months of assembly, testing and tweaking before it is ready. Many a student has lost sleep the night before the contest, only to see his/her creation die early because of a small mistake

"In 1998 the task was to build a spaghetti tower 30cm high, that had to support a one kilo weight for two minutes. Each team had a wooden platform, spaghetti, hot glue guns and three hours to work with. Of the towers that survived the stress test, the one that weighed the least won first place.

"Other years have seen cantilevered towers that had to support weight without falling over, and 'fast' on-the-spot bridge building, where a small bridge must span a meter gap and support a two kilo weight for 10 minutes. In each case the lightest design that works gets the prize."

In a Canadian Engineering Competition in Victoria BC, student and professional engineers used 200,000 popsicle sticks and several kilograms of pasta to build more than 200 bridges. The Richmond/Delta Branch won the contest with a bridge in the over-17 category that exhausted testing equipment and refused to crack under 154 kg of test weight. Richmond/Delta also took first place in the 13-18 category with a bridge that withstood 90.9 kg. In the under-13 category, the Fraser Valley Branch took top honours with a bridge that finally broke under 95.9 kg.

Back in 1995, at San Francisco State University, Professor Peter Pfaelzer challenged students in his engineering graphics class to build a sturdy spaghetti bridge, cheap but effective in design. He said later that although the students were working with "nonsense materials," they were learning common problems. Some of the models had bowed and buckled at the top; other bridges held a great deal of weight, but were heavy and used too much glue and pasta.

The winning bridge, designed by Richard Delao and Maria Robleto, weighed only 13 ounces and supported about four pounds. Its "performance factor" was twice that of any other bridge. The professor was delighted. "There are some excellent engineering prospects in that group," he said.

In an e-mail message, Prof. Pfaelzer told us "I will probably do a spaghetti bridge next semester."

FOOTNOTE. On April 1, 1957, the British Broadcasting Corporation's Panorama program reported on a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. TV viewers saw Richard Dimbleby walking among trees growing spaghetti, while workers pulled the pasta off the trees and put it into baskets. When viewers called to ask how they could grow spaghetti plants, the BBC replied "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best." It was a classic April Fool hoax. For a full account, click on the Wikipedia article to read more:

Copyright © 2002. Eric Shackle.