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Published: Thursday, 1/27/2005

Burst your bubbles: Pop-pop-popping plastic packing material is an obsession for some

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Brooke Beamer, 9, pops
Bubble Wrap with a twist.
Brooke Beamer, 9, pops Bubble Wrap with a twist.
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Redecorating a room and can't decide which wallpaper to choose? Reach for the Bubble Wrap.

After all, that's what it was originally invented for.

The cushiony, parcel-packing product that everyone loves to make go "pop-pop-pop" was dreamed up more than 45 years ago by two New Jersey engineers, Marc Chavannes and Al Fielding, who were trying to create a plastic wallpaper.

University of Toledo student Rachel Maiberger begins by popping the bubbles along the edge. University of Toledo student Rachel Maiberger begins by popping the bubbles along the edge.
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That use hasn't caught on just yet, but don't give up on it. Lisa King isn't.

"I may just have to do a room for my psychotic husband," joked the owner of the Wallpaper Co. on Reynolds Road. "It could be kind of cool, actually. You could throw things and maybe they wouldn't break."

Sounds like a great way to celebrate the fifth annual National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day on Monday.

The original event honoring Bubble Wrap was started by a radio station in Bloomington, Ind., in 2001. It has since been recognized by Chase's Calendar of Events, which tracks unusual observances.

Those sheets of plastic blisters have proven amazingly adaptable over time, and their importance seemed confirmed last year when the Museum of Modern Art in New York included them in its "Humble Masterpieces" exhibit.

For some it's packing material, for others a stress reliever, and for a few it's an obsession.

"I just love to pop it," said Alexis Harris, 22, of West Toledo. "It has to be popped. I pop it till it's gone."

UT student Abe Hussein pops slowly, savoring a sheet of Bubble Wrap for a couple of days. UT student Abe Hussein pops slowly, savoring a sheet of Bubble Wrap for a couple of days.
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Her preferred method comes in stages. She starts by popping a few at a time with her fingers, her pace slowly increasing. Then she puts it on a flat surface and squashes it with her palm before, in the coup de grace, stomping it on the floor with her foot.

To those like Ms. Harris who just can't get enough, there's a less physically demanding way to pop Bubble Wrap online at www.virtual-bubblewrap.com. Or you could stop by a store like Wrap N Ship on Central Avenue and buy one of the 250-foot-long rolls.

Business has gone up in recent years as more people sell items through online auctions and pack them on their own. The business has its hazards, however, like resisting the overwhelming urge to pop the product.

"Especially for the small children who come in, it's very tempting for them," said owner Sandy Griffin. "We'll give them scrap pieces so they don't pop the stuff that's on the shelf."

UT student Alicia Knauss says she pops one bubble at a time, making sure she deflates them all. UT student Alicia Knauss says she pops one bubble at a time, making sure she deflates them all.
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She's seen it all when it comes to alternate uses for Bubble Wrap. Nursery school teachers let kids stomp on it for fun. Some people use it as wrapping paper for gifts. One woman covered someone's car in it as a practical joke.

Rohn Shellenberger, an official at Sealed Air Corp. in New Jersey, which produces enough Bubble Wrap every year to stretch to the moon, said he's even seen prom dresses and swimsuits made from the stuff.

But few could have given more thought to the material's possible uses than Tim Nyberg, co-author of The Bubble Wrap Book (HarperPerennialPublishers, 1998).

One of his favorites is a response to government suggestions that people use plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal themselves in their homes in the event of a biological attack. The problem, as he sees it, is suffocating in an airtight room. The solution?

Alexis Harris of West Toledo starts popping a few bubbles at a time, then picks up the pace. Alexis Harris of West Toledo starts popping a few bubbles at a time, then picks up the pace.
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"I suggest using Bubble Wrap instead of plastic sheeting," he said. "That way you can pop the bubbles [to release air] and that will give you something to do while you're slowly suffocating."

A use more celebrated - by men at least - was Farrah Fawcett's appearance on the cover of Playboy magazine in 1997 draped only in Bubble Wrap.

Any discussion of the product quickly comes back to breaking those bubbles, so The Blade recently gave some local people a chance to indulge their Bubble Wrap desires and show off their popping styles.

"We like to pop all the outside ones and then crumple it up," said Rachel Maiberger, a University of Toledo freshman from Tiffin who demonstrated this as she spoke.

Later, her fingers played over a small sheet of the stuff, checking for bubbles that had not yet been burst and wearing down the plastic so much that it quickly ripped in half.

"My sister and I fight over them," she said. "My dad owns a business and we always take all the popping stuff."

Abe Hussein of Columbus likes to take it slowly, savoring a sheet of Bubble Wrap for a couple of days.

"A couple of days?!" interrupted his UT roommate, Abiye Adane, also of Columbus.

Mr. Hussein defended himself: "You can't just crack them all at once. It takes me forever to do this because I do it one by one." As he said this, he started slowly popping individual bubbles. At which point Mr. Adane - acting as only a college roommate could - grabbed it from him and wrung the plastic like a towel, setting off a loud series of explosions.

Others, however, needed a little prodding.

"These don't make much noise. I wouldn't waste my time with it," said Gene Reebel, a retired accountant from Temperance, while staring down a sheet of little bubbles.

Faced with a reporter who wouldn't relent, he eventually gave in - and in so doing revealed an unusual style, slowly pulling out a pen from his shirt pocket and stabbing at a single bubble.

He said, "I'll pop one just to make you happy."

Contact Ryan E. Smith at: ryansmith@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.

The inventors of Bubble Wrap were trying to create a new wallpaper. It didn t catch on, but it has become a popular packing material. Lots of other uses have been discovered, too. As you prepare to celebrate Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day on Monday, think about using it to make a kite, a makeshift pillow, or, for the more daring, even clothes.

Here are a few more ideas:

• Burglar alarm: Spread Bubble Wrap on the floor inside your doors and windows. When a would-be thief enters and walks across the floor, the pop-pop-pop-poppop-pop-pop will alert you to the intruder.

• Shower curtain: Make an interesting and functional shower curtain by taping together sheets of Bubble Wrap.

• Sleeping aid: Place a lightweight six-foot roll of Bubble Wrap as a mat under your sleeping bag. Or fold a 12-foot-long piece of Bubble Wrap in half and tape the sides to make the padded sleeping bag of your dreams.

• Garden helper: Put some Bubble Wrap in your gardening

gloves to help prevent blisters and scratches and give added protection to your palms when pulling weeds and digging holes. Put some under your knees, too.

• Stress reliever: Stuck in the office late? Tax deadline

getting too close? Pop some Bubble Wrap until you ve popped away your frustrations and stress. It s better than biting your nails.

• March Madness: Glue some Bubble Wrap on top of the teams on your NCAA March Madness basketball bracket. Once a team has lost, pop its bubbles. It s a fun, interactive way to say See ya! to the teams that have ended their tournament run.

SOURCES: THE BUBBLE WRAP BOOK, HENKEL CONSUMER ADHESIVES, INC.



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