Sliiiiiiiiiiiinky - the world's longest Slinky??

21 metre (71 foot) long Slinky suspended on 418 elastic threads is free to move in three dimensions.

2006 July 6:

Added some notes on how to find what I call 'shirring elastic'.

2006 April 4:

Added some photos 1, 2, 3 of a 20 foot Super Slinky made by some students in Tucson Arizona.  This is the work of Erik and colleagues who have a bus dedicated to hands-on physics exploration: .

2002 April 14:

2002 February 10:  

2000 May 10: 

14 November 1999  (Page established 5 January 1999.)

Here are photos and a description of my long 21 metre (71 foot) Slinky.   Richard James invented the Slinky in 1945, and his family still run James Industries, employing over a hundred people manufacturing Slinkies.  (Slinkyis/was a trademark of James Industries Inc. Pennsylvania, which was purchased in 1998 by Poof Products, Michigan.)  On 12 November I spoke to Tom James, CEO of James Industries, and he told me he was unaware of any otherSlinkiesof this length.

These photos are from 31 December 1998 at Beckett Park, in the Melbourne suburb of Balwyn, and 1 January 1999 at the Earthcoredance-party at Goughs Bay on Eildon Weir.  (See the map here - it is south-south-west of Mansfield in the top corner of the map.)

In the future, I intend to have videos and details of how I made this, so that others can construct their own.

On 13 of November 1999 I put the Sliiiiiiiiiiinky up again at Beckett Park. (Here is the invitation.) 

Click on the small photos to see the full-size version.  Each large image is between 34 and 165 kbytes. With Microsoft Internet Explorer, you may have to wait for the entire image to load before you see anything.  One more reason to get the better browser - NetscapeNavigator or Communicator - where you see the image loading progressively.

Back to the main First Principles index page for all sorts of show-and-tell things.

All these photos are "thumbnails". 
Be sure to click on each photo to
see the full-size image!!!!

There are videos and stereo sound recordings here: video/ audio/ .

  <<<< Click on the photos!!!!

I decided to make Sliiiiiiiiinky on my 43rd birthday in early November.  I hadn't done anything aesthetically creative since making some music with Csound in 1996.  I could have earned some more money, but instead I thought of a really fun thing do do with it!  There's much more to Slinkies than walking down steps!  For instance, let one hang to the ground, supported by the last two turns resting near the tip of your little finger.  Now stick your little finger in your ear and touch the Slinky with a coin.

The primary purpose of Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinky is to send large low-frequency waves which are visible rather than audible - waves in the 0.2 to 10 Hz range.  The audio-frequency vibrations are intriguing too - I have experimented with a piezo pickup.  See the audio/ directory .   A few people looked quite perplexed and asked me, very seriously, whether it was art.  Whether people consider this art or not, I don't mind.  I see a lot of art in many everyday things people do.  Kinetic Sculptureit certainly is!  Or rather, kinetic sculpture is what people dowith it. (See the end of this page for Kinetic Sculpture links.) 

The first photo was taken at lunchtime Thursday 31 December 1998 - after I finished construction the night before.  Lachlan Hardy at this end, sending some handsome waves west.  Lachlan helped me construct Sliiiiiiiiinky.   See here for a fab short essay by Lachlan on adventure. My father Jeff is at the other end.  To the right is my mother Ruth and my youngest brother Matthew- who helped me set up and run Sliiiiiiinky at Earthcore that night.  When I was growing up my father was a research physicist.  My parents were able to answer almost every question I ever had and I have been very lucky to have such an upbringing!  Hoorah for energetic, loving parents - and for Mechano and Encyclopedia Britannica. (Now, if we only had the Net in the 1960s . . . ).

Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinky Staaaaaaaaaaatistics:

Here is a photo of a large low-frequency vertical wave.  What these pictures don't convey is the slow, graceful, fluid motion of these waves.
By walking alongside them, you can watch them progress and slowly be transformed by the filtering and non-linear effects of the system.  If there are waves coming from the other direction the two sets of wave pass through each other, and the Sliiiiiinky assumes the shape of the sum of them.  This is particularly interesting with standing waves at the other end - as a continuous frequency, or slowly changing frequency, is reflected from the far end.

The differing colours which sections of the Sliiiiiiiiiiinkyassumes are partly due to variations in the zinc plating of individual componentSlinkies. This is particularly so in diffuse, early morning, light.

Co-pilot Adriana Hardy as at the west end, sending waves to brother Lachlan at the east (lookout tower) end.
As I hoped and as several people have remarked, virtually anyone can do something with the Sliiiiiiiiinky and it will be visible to themselves and others.  Perhaps only paraplegics cannot create public kinetic sculpture with it.

There are a wide variety of things which can be done with the system.  There are limits beyond which the elastics will become tangled - mainly longitudinal waves caused by "throwing" the end.  One part gets ahead of and on top of another, and all hell breaks loose!  Many are things I would never have thought of, and it is a special pleasure seeing people come up with novel and often delicate ideas for how to make Sliiiiiiiiiiinkywriggle or writhe.

It is good therapy.

Other than water waves, I think that most people have little awareness of the nature of wave motion - and water waves are a very specialised and cryptic form of wave motion.  Sound is the most common, obvious, wave motion we encounter.  I am often seeing audio as waveforms and I generally understand the processes which cause sound, so waves are an ordinary part of my life.  Still, it is a pleasure to see them so large and slow and pure!

Light is waves of the electrical and magnetic fields. It is identical to radio-waves, microwaves, infra-red, ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma-rays - except that these have longer and shorter wavelengths.  The only thing which keeps electrons in orbit around atoms is the same stuff: photons of electromagnetic waves.  So every chemical bond and all the forces which hold us together are also based on waves. (The forces inside the nucleus of atoms is a different story!)

Co-pilot Adriana sending more waves to Lachlan.

These move gracefully, but when there are substantial waves of different frequencies going in both directions, the result can be quite complex.  You can see some of Adriana's paintings in the gallery section of this web site.

If I was going to build another one, I would be tempted to use black shirring elastic instead to make it less visible, especially at night.  After these photos were taken, I dyed the elastic a mid grey, and I think it is less obtrusive this way, though many people like the waves in the white elastics too.

Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinky is having a rest.

I was concerned about getting all the elastics exactly the same length, but it doesn't matter if they vary somewhat, since Sliiiiiiiiinkyis rarely sleeping when anyone is around.

Remember, these photos are "thumbnails".  Be sure to click on each photo to see the full-size image!

After the trial run at Beckett Park, I took Sliiiiiiinky home and untangled some elastics.  Then Matthew and I drove to Earthcore and got it set up shortly after midnight.  Here are two flash photos from the early hours of the morning.

The first one has an accidental double exposure on the left.

Because it was only me, most of the time, looking after Sliiiiiiinky and there were thousands of enthusiastic people, I decided to fence off all but one end.  The yellow tape is "Acid Hazard" industrial warning tape someone gave me because of my Devil Fish work with the TB-303 "acid" box beloved of many techno musicians.  It generally worked, but I did have to talk to a few people.  One excellent idea was to lie on the ground underneath Sliiiiiiiiiiiinky and watch the waves go right over you.  I want to try this sometime, but I didn't want people doing it this night, because it is so easy to bend the Sliiiiiiiiiiiinky and tangle the elastics.

The Sliiiiiiinky was set up in a gentle valley between the three sound-systems.  There wasn't time to organise lighting, so we used a 12 volt hand-held spot lamp running from the Kombi's auxiliary battery.

At the far end, I placed a ladder and some masking tape to keep people out.  This isn't very aesthetic.  The last two sections of the frame are going up the side of the valley a little and this was excellent because the people at this end who were making the waves could see the far end clearly - where their efforts took 18 to 20 seconds to arrive.  The far end was held by a light elastic to the ladder, so it was effectively free to move.  This caused waves approaching the end to be reflected, so if a continuous frequency is sent for 20 seconds or so, in the absence of other waves, then the far end develops standing waves because the amplitude of the waves going to that end and being reflected from that end are about the same.  It is a very attractive movement - like a snake!

The first photo shows the results of some fast wrist-shaking, with one big left-right-and-back-again swing in the midst of it.

The second shows the results of circular arm movements.  It is great fun making a tubular, revolving, moving-away spiral like this! Unfortunately, it also causes Sliiiiiiiiiiiiinky to twist and roll over, causing serious tangling.  Minding Sliiiiiiiiky can involve encouraging people to be demonstrative with it, but also warning them against going beyond the limits of safe operation and towards the tangle zone.

Two reasonably wild sets of waves!

Most ravers are quite gentle with Sliiiiiiiinky.  Some were gently touching it to see how small a wave they could make.  There were a few out-of-place bogans and yobbos at the party.  Those who were drunk and larger than life, or for whom every second word was foul.  They enjoyed wriggling Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiinky as much as anyone else, but I had to keep an eye on them because they could easily do a circular motion and push the end forwards at the same time, which causes one part to land on top of another - and so to tangles.

Some wild action, some contemplative gentle wriggles and some more wild action.  The third image is big - 247 kbytes.


In this fabulous On the Move state of Victoria, tourism development is always high on the agenda - and Sliiiiiinky has great potential!  Late at night, two weeks after the New Year's eve party, amid howling dogs and an eerie light, I found a small package on my doorstep with three happy snaps from some visitors from who-knows-where.  Click on the image below to see them all.


Sliiiiiiiinky was operational from 12.30 AM until 11.30 AM.  Thanks to Shannon and the other people who looked after it while I snoozed in the shade of the Mango Mothership!

A special thanks to Cat and Becky for their special help, and to Lachlan and Matthew for their assistance with building and setting it up!

Shannon helped me set up Sliiiiiiinky at Earthcore in February.  I have a few photos of that, but I mainly concentrated on taking videos.  I hope to have some video files on this site before too long, and some notes on how to make your own Sliiiiiiinky and frame.

6 April 2002

It was high time we gave it another wiggle!!!   Check out the audio/ directory for some sound recordings!  These two photos are by Hugh McSpedden, projectordelic lighting man whose work spans five decades.  I first saw him with a wizards hat and cape, roaming the stage of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, grasping a handful of slide projector remote controls, whilst assistants with huge semi-spherical glass petrie dishes and overhead projectors blasted throbbing images to mix with the slide projections . . . . . .   Click these to see the full size versions of these photos, which are1024 x 768 and have file sizes up to 200 kbytes.  

Slinky with horizontal waves      Slinky with complex waves     

"There is another system!" - Colossus, in "The Forbin Project".

Thanks to Jim Gage in Sweden for telling me of a Slinky at a hands-on science "museum" in Copenhagen.  The link to the English version of the web site of Experimentarium, is The Slinky page (with a long URL) was here but perhaps this site is changed or kaput.

It is a 15 metre Slinky, although Jim thinks it is a specially made spring rather than an authentic product of James Industries Inc.  It is suspended by strings, so it can support horizontal and longitudinal waves, but not the vertical waves which are possible with the use of elastic suspension.

It is supported from the ceiling and nowhere near the ground - so people cannot tangle and stretch it.  It seems that one or both ends can manipulated by visitors and that a balcony runs alongside it.  I have contemplated a Sliiiiiiinky installation in a building, and this idea of having the balcony run alongside it, but not close enough so people can touch it, seems ideal.

Experimentarium looks absolutely fascinating! A quick browse of the 300 exhibits gives me the impression that its exhibits are generally interactive and that they are finely attuned to an appreciation of the physical world.  Some science museums have too many computer simulation devices, geared more for entertainment than insight, in which all-too-often children simply hammer away at the buttons trying to make something happen, without a care as to what actually happens.


Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiinky's third outing was at  Earthcore'sToolangi State Forest party on 6/7 February 1999.  With the assistance of my friend Pippa, I took some videos and have made a ~1 hour video of the Sliiiiiiiiinky and how various people created kinetic sculpture by sending waves along it.  I sent this to what used to be James Industries (see the next item).

In March 1999 I heard from author Lou Harry who was completing work on a book about the history of the Slinky. He had met Betty James, who in 1998 retired as CEO of James Industries, the company she founded with her husband in 1945 to make Slinkies.  James Industries has been sold to another toy company with a strong belief in US based manufacturing: Poof Products.  (This is a business name which wouldn't last in Australia, because it is a pejorative term for male homosexuality.) Poof's specialty is a wide range of toys made from foam plastic.  Check out the web-site of their Slinky Toy subsidiary - they even have a gold-plated Slinky!

Lou Harry told me he had never seen anything like Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiinky, so perhaps it is the longest Slinky after all. In November 1999, I spoke with Tom James, son of Betty James, who named the Slinky. He said they had never heard of anything comparable to Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinky. The next step will be get an entry for the longest Slinky in the Guinness Book of Records!

A note on the spelling of Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinky.  I just hold the "i" key down for as long as I feel like each time.


Here are some notes on finding elastic for your Sliiiiiiiiinky project.   Please do let me know of such constructions you make yourself, or any success finding this elastic for sale.

I bought several spools of "shirring elastic" from an industrial supplier M. Recht, as discussed below.  The label inside says "DuPont Lycra Canada", "Decitex 310" and "3226-MERGE 130- 18- 13" (Decitex apparently means grams per 10,000 metres, whereas Denier means grams per 9,000 metres.). 

The term "shirring elastic" does not appear to be used in North America.  This is like hat elastic, but thinner.  There is a single core of white elastic, which is presumably "spandex", also known as "elastane".  "Lycra" is a tradename for "spandex".  It has two sets of fibre wrapped around it, in opposite directions, which are also white.  This fibre is simply wrapped, not woven as it is in "hat elastic".  It is about 0.5mm in diameter.

DuPont's division which made this is now Invista:  but I can't find any detailed product information there or at .  Here is a technial page on "lycra yarn": .  This mentions "310 dtex" Lycra yarn.  "310 dtex" is a good search term:
I still can't advise on anywhere to purchase this in North America.  However, if you contact M. Recht and Company, who I have found to be exceptionally helpful, they can supply it.  Their current shirring elastic is not identical to what I bought from them in 1998, but it is presumably the same thickness and elasticity.  They say it is an 850 metre cone, weighing 0.5kg.  The cost is $11.81 per cone.

You may also be able to purchase it from the following sites, which I found with a search for "shirring elastic":  This looks quite promising. Likewise. 

Some Slinky Links

Please email me if you want to know more!  email: .

- Robin Whittle

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