Still need to wrap gifts? This calculation will help you do it quickly and efficiently.


Being surrounded by piles of cylindrical, spherical, or non-rectangular shaped gifts can be a nightmare for non-expert gift wrapping, especially if you’ve left the wrapping until the day of the big exchange. From creating mountains of scrap paper to careless crumpling the edges of your gifts, that’s enough to make anyone want to toss your gifts in a gift bag.

But before you despair and throw in the towel altogether, there are some expert and scientific packing tips that just might save your vacation. When it comes to wowing your friends and family with exquisite packaging, Alton dulaney is a seasoned authority. Known as “the world’s most famous gift-wrapping artist”, DuLaney is the host of the YouTube Originals show “The great gift wrap exchange. “

“People too often think of gift wrapping as a chore, and just give up and throw the gift away in a gift bag,” says DuLaney. “A well-wrapped gift shows that you have thought not only about the selection of the gift, but also about its presentation.”

When it comes to skillfully wrapping a gift, regardless of its shape, DuLaney has several tips that can start the job off right:

  • Before cutting your wrapping paper, wrap it around the gift first with an inch of overlap to “cover the top, bottom and both sides, and enough paper to cover almost both ends.”
  • Cut the length of your paper first, then the width.
  • When packing something oddly shaped, don’t be afraid to divide the work into individual pieces.

    “I’ve packed everything from bikes to bar stools, golf clubs to go-karts,” says DuLaney. “There is always a solution.”

    As to why these tips work so well, Katie steckles, mathematician and science communicator, explains that it all comes down to a common geometry problem.

    “Since these are shapes, gift wrapping involves a lot of 2D and 3D geometries – converting a 3D shape into a 2D network,” says Steckles. “And figure out how to do it with as little overlap as possible so that you don’t waste too much paper.”

    For rectangular gifts, or “cuboids” (eg a box), Steckles says the math checks with DuLaney’s approach. To make sure you’re cutting the right amount of paper to wrap something like a box, Steckles suggests measuring the sides of the object or unrolling the object on the paper to map its coordinates.

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    In one video tutorial Steckles Made in 2015, which has been viewed over 500,000 times, it reviews simple formulas to help even the most novice packer. For example, when wrapping a cylindrical gift, Steckles says that you can measure the object’s circumference (the measurement that loops around the object) by multiplying its diameter (the straight line that runs through the center of the object). object) by the constant Pi. These types of measurements can help you avoid cutting too much or too little paper.

    Such methods are not foolproof for all forms, concedes Steckles. A sphere or ball is a major outlier when it comes to clean wrapping jobs. Modern difficulties in wrapping such a shape may relate to objects like bath bombs or basketballs, but Steckles says the question of “wrapping” a sphere dates back to some of the earliest cartographers.

    “As cartographers know, you can’t represent the surface of a globe without distorting or stretching the countries at the top and bottom of the map,” says Steckles. “The geometry of a sphere means that it’s impossible to wrap a flat square on the surface without a lot of overlap or cut. We say the shape has a positive curvature, which means if you draw crossed lines in two perpendicular directions, the surface curves downward in both directions, and this is what makes it geometrically different from a flat shape like a piece of paper. “

    ➡️ Try this: the art of furoshiki

    Tatiana Magoyan / EyeEmGetty Images

    These math tips can help you reduce the amount of trash you create during your packing frenzy, but the majority of your neatly folded gift wrap will always end up in the trash. While some natural gift wrap can be recycled, much more cannot be thanks to plastic or glitter coatings. This waste can add an estimate 2.3 million pounds to landfills every year.

    Instead, try wrapping your gifts in reusable fabric. These decorative wrapping fabrics, called furoshiki, date back to 8th-century Japan. This method is beautiful and low polluting. In addition, it will prevent you from picking up scraps of paper scattered around your house.

    If after all these tips you still have trouble wrapping a gift perfectly, Erik Tomorrow, professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reveals a little-known fact that may reassure you: even mathematicians technically do not know how to pack a perfect cube, let alone a box.

    “Yes [the wrapping] is a square piece of paper, we know the best [way]”, said Tomorrow.”[But] What if I gave you an eight and a half by eleven rectangle? The answer turns out to be really complicated … And again, it’s just a matter of wrapping a cube. If you pack a general box it’s going to get even messier. Here, we don’t even know the correct answer. “

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    Trying to answer such questions is only part of what mathematicians can use packaging for in the “real” world, says Demaine, whose research focuses on computational methods to perfect geometric folding. . Demaine and Steckles claim that computer modeling of packaging can help design everything from expertly folded airbags to self-propelled origami robots.

    Ultimately, Demaine, Steckles, and DuLaney all agree that wrapping gifts shouldn’t be a chore, but rather an opportunity to express your creativity and appreciation for those around you. So don’t worry if your packaging job isn’t perfect, even mathematicians aren’t perfect.

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