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The Concept

Pen twirling is the act of spinning a pen around the thumb of your hand. Sounds simple but it takes many people years of practice to get it right. once you get it, though, you'll find that you can't stop doing it during meetings, lectures, exams, sermons, etc. It becomes something akin to shaking your leg while sitting down - you do it so often that you don't even notice anymore.

The history of pen twirling isn't much of a history. I first started seeing some of my Chinese friends doing it during high school (late 80s). When asked where they learned how to do that, they answered that they got it from their friends/relatives from Hong Kong.

Pretty soon, like a virus, practically every Chinese kid in Ottawa between the ages of 12 to 19 started to spin the pens in their hands and infuriating the less agile with their prowess. Outside of seeing your Asian friends do it during aforementioned circumstances (ie. meetings, lectures, etc), pen twirling also made appearances on television. Yes, if you actually looked closely, you could clearly see that the Asian students in class during episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 were twirling their pens madly. A colleague of mine swears that he saw characters in Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball twirling pens.

Eventually, variations on the twirling started to appear - the most popular being the ability to spin it counter-clockwise and then flick it back clockwise in one smooth motion.

The Method

First off, let me tell you that I could not do a pen twirl for years. With a great deal of frustration, I watched my friends all do it painlessly. To top that off, they started mocking my ethnicity, like I wasn't Chinese enough to spin a goddamned pen around my thumb.

Anyway, I practiced and practiced and still couldn't get it right. My walls, my face, my clothing - the ink stains on practically anything within my vicinity was a testimony to my total ineptness at pen twirling.

During my first year of university, I was sitting at the campus bar having a few drinks and pulled out my books for a quick review. While reading up, I whipped out my pen and, without even thinking about it, started to perfectly spin the pen around my thumb a few times. Most patrons that night attributed my giddy laughter to the alcohol...little did they know that I was celebrating the fact that I finally mastered the ancient (circa 1987) Chinese art of pen twirling! In fact, I can now twirl a pen in each hand - I am now the John Woo of pen-twirling!

Okay, back to the method...

  1. Get a pen, preferably with a cap on the writing end.
  2. Lightly balance the pen between your thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. The thumb, which faces you, should be on one side of the pen, whereas the index and middle fingers grip the other side of the pen. The tip of your ring finger should be balancing the pen at about 1/3 of the length from the capped end of the pen (which should be facing at a slight angle downwards).
  3. Using a gentle push with your middle finger and a balancing push with your thumb, the pen should be able to spin around your thumb and you catch it between your thumb and index finger. The trick here is to exert an equal amount of force with your middle finger and thumb - the middle finger pushes towards you and the thumb pushes away from you.
  4. Keep trying until you scream in frustration or lose an eye (whichever comes first).

I've found the best pens to use are the BiC SOFTFeel JUMBO pens with a rubber shaft. These pens have a great grip on them so it's less likely to go flying off in all directions if you mess up the twirl.

Good luck! If you're lucky, within five years, you'll have mastered one of the most useless tricks around and impress everyone (except any Asians that you may know).

The Disaster

Straight from CNN.com...

Bizarre Pen-Twirling Incident Results in 1 Dead, 10 Wounded

January 27, 2003 Posted 1:21 PM PST

OTTAWA, CANADA - A bizarre incident involving pen-twirling has left 1 dead, 10 wounded, and 1 suspect in custody.

According to witnesses, during a staff meeting on Friday at an Ottawa-based Health Canada office, David O'Sullivan, 28, declared that he had finally mastered the ancient Chinese art of pen-twirling. He then proceeded to display his prowess and successfully managed to twirl a pen on each hand twice. However, on his third attempt, he lost control of the pens and they both flew off at lethal speeds.

After bouncing off the heads of several colleagues and wounding them in the process, one of the pens buried itself in Mario Romeo's foot. Mr. Romeo, 28, screamed out in pain and began to yell obscenities at Mr. O'Sullivan. As Mr. Romeo rose from his chair to strike Mr. O'Sullivan, the second pen ricocheted off a wall nearby and struck him through the eye, killing him instantly.

Mr. O'Sullivan has been charged with one count of manslaughter and, under a new law enacted by the province of Ontario, one count of idiocy causing death.

(Yes, it's a fake story that I put on the legendary and now-defunct CNN Fake website.)

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