A Pen-chant for Spinning

Waaay back in high school there was this Korean kid who had this trick he could do with a pen. He held it upside-down, and with a little twitch, he got it to spin around his thumb. This was a far more interesting event than whatever the teacher was talking about, so I buddied up to him and learned the trick.

He had a couple of other tricks, but I never bothered. I learned how to spin a pen around my thumb, and did so happily through high school, college, grad school, and plenty of boring meetings, until the boring meetings started to include vice presidents.

Over the years the occasional person would comment on my trick, and I taught it once or twice, but for the most part it was like juggling — something I learned during my misspent youth, which is of little value now.

Then the other day I saw a video about the pen spinning world championships. The … wha? Yes, it exists. And yes, there’s video:

Some interesting bits:

  • The pens are very heavy
  • The pens don’t write
  • One competitor’s mom complains that “he spends a lot of money on pens.”
  • For a bunch of kids from Hong Kong, they speak phenomenally good English.

So naturally I watched a whole scad of these videos, some of which are mesmerizing. And I found this one, with world-renowned pen spinner Kam Kuo, who shows some of the basics. Including … The Thumbaround, which is the trick I learned way back when (noo!! my secret is revealed!)

Funny bits here:

  • He credits another spinner who “hurt his thumb.”
  • “I don’t have my hand insured, I just try to take good care of it.”

It’s all very fascinating, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to buy a carbon fiber pen. If you watch the second video, stick around for his trick with a rubber band. Just sayin’.


4 thoughts on “A Pen-chant for Spinning

  1. Re: Hong Kong and English-remember Hong Kong was British until 1999, so English as a language of business and education is well established there. The young ones are more connected to China, and Chinese, of course, but through the outstanding educational system, their second-language acquisition, usually English, is well-supported. Not a surprise at all.

  2. You’re right that it makes perfect sense … it’s just that in the US, hardly anyone masters a second language that they learn in school .

  3. Nice post…thanks for spreading the word about pen spinning 🙂

    A small note: while not all “pens” write, a lot of them do. The reason for them not writing is because the ink tube (as light as that may be) actually decreases its spinability. So some spinners will sacrifice the writing functionality to get the most out of their pen.

    Outside of tournaments, however, you will see a lot of pen spinners use writable pens.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Kam. You’re right … a kid in that first video said his pens didn’t write. A subtle difference there.

    I’m not surprised, though. Even for the few small tricks in my repertoire, I sought out heavier pens. They worked a lot better.

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