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Ping Pong Challenge

Compliments are important in a business where client testimonials and referrals can make or break your pipeline. If my work is good and people like it, sometimes they tell me, and I smile over’a job well done.’

If my work is good and people like it, sometimes they will tell other people. When that compliment makes it back to me, my smile is bigger. Occasionally, the smile becomes a true laugh-out-loud. Not too long ago, one of my former editors passed along this compliment she heard about me:

“Oh, Terra. She is such a good writer. She could describe the inside of a ping pong ball and make it sound interesting!”

Yes, I did laugh out loud. Yet, the more I thought about that compliment, the more I felt a challenge tugging at my sleeve.

Could I really describe the inside of a ping pong ball and make it sound interesting?

Challenge Accepted

As my process for any writing project always starts with discovery and research, the first thing to do was to find a ping pong ball. I asked around church, where I knew there are two different youth group rooms. There is a ping pong table in the basement, but, sadly, no way to use it for its intended purpose (no balls or paddles).

A sympathetic acquaintance thought maybe she knew where in the church there may be a ping pong ball to be had; she led me back into the sanctuary, down the center aisle, up onto the chancel (from where the pastor preaches!), then back through to the choir room.

We were there to check the choir book cubby of her son, a sometime choir member, for the paddle and ping pong balls he frequently stores there. (Yes, go ahead, re-read that. All true. I couldn’t make this up.) Alas, he must have taken them home because the cubby was empty, but his back up shirt was still hanging on a rack. (I’m not explaining that one.)

Ping…

Several more days went by whereas I discovered I could buy on Amazon a gross of ping pong balls for just under $40, and vaguely knew that I could walk into a store and buy a smaller quantity. All this time, I am thinking, “Well, I’ve seen ping pong balls, I must have held one once—it is small and white and its bounce resounds with that familiar ‘pleenk’.”

But, all that has to do with the outside of the ball. I would really need one in-hand.

While I focused on meeting project deadlines, while I planned and took a short vacation, while I generally kept our household going while maintaining my business, I thought about ping pong balls.

Pong…

A relic, at the Strong National Museum of Play.
A relic, at the Strong National Museum of Play, Rochester, NY.

The first video game, Atari’s Pong, was a rudimentary table tennis-styled game where a digital “ball” is volleyed between two “paddles” (um, lines.) It was the late 1970s, we were seeing the future, and it was AWESOME. By the way, how did we go from Pong to Halo? Cough<military industrial complex>. Anyhow… I’m being generous, the Pong “ball” wasn’t even round.

A portion of the Tom Hanks movie Forrest Gump centered on the title character’s post-Vietnam service professional ping pong career, which took him to matches around the world. Despite all of those segments of feverish ping pong-ing (and “pleenk-ing”), not a single ping pong ball was harmed in the making of that movie. It was all computer-generated graphics (a bit better than Pong).

Ball (finally)

The ping pong balls on Captain Kangaroo were real. This goes back to the nether-reaches of my memory, when my sister and I would sit in front of the television at the crack of dawn watching that kids’ television pioneer.

The details are fuzzy, but all of Captain Kangaroo’s interactions with a certain Mr. Moose hand puppet ended in a hailstorm of ping pong balls raining down on The Man of Big Pockets and Epic Sideburns. Lots of pleenking. HILARIOUS to a three year old. (Take that, Nickelodeon.) I am sure that is where I first heard of and saw a ping pong ball.

I have also heard of the misappropriation of this wholesome sporting good in the name of youthful imbibing, but have never myself played Beer Pong. Honest. I am not, in case you didn’t know, an athlete.

Finally, a networking event took me to within a short walk from my neighborhood Target, where for a small sum I acquired a box of six white Table Tennis Balls. (You say Tomato, I say TomAHto.)

Moment of Truth: I open the box and behold a ping pong ball. It is impossibly light, with a slightly matte finish. I bounce it; it pleenks (a very satisfying noise, after imagining it for so long).

But I still don’t know what it looks like on the inside.

I don't know what that is.
To boldly go…

It’s a mystery

What I imagine about the inside of a ping pong ball is that it is very quiet, and that the light filtered from the outside is softened. If the outside is dark, then inside the ball might have a comforting inner glow, like how the subtle non-light of moonbeams paints a room vaguely blue to dark-adjusted eyes.

Perhaps it is like a womb, a place of stillness save for a heartbeat, where our most basic sensations are satisfied. Just think of it—a place absent of the cacophony of life, where sensory assaults simply do not exist.

Then again, a homogeneous, texture-less, windowless, door-less, seamless chamber where some inescapable light never shuts off may be the stuff of asphyxiating nightmares.

Is it a mystery?

YouTube demystifies nearly everything under the sun and moon. In the quest to meet this challenge, I have lost dedicated 14 minutes of my life to observing—to the tune of a 1980s video game musical score, and in Japanese subtitles—how a ping pong ball is made.

Basically, it starts out looking like a celluloid heavenly host that is soaked in something, steamed in something (sorry, Japanese subtitles!), and then it is plungered into halves (think Kermit the Frog’s eyes). Those halves are then trimmed, tumbled, run along multiple conveyor belts, matched, sealed, coated, and triply inspected in a process that requires TWELVE different specialized machines, plus meticulous, repetitive hands-on labor.

For a ping pong ball. And you thought your job was maddening complicated.

Challenge Fulfilled

Ergo, having beheld a ping pong ball, and having studied footage of a ping pong ball being made, and having used that empirical data to instruct a theory, and having a skill for conceptualization, I must finally posit this about the inside of a ping pong ball:

…..

It’s white.

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  1. I really LOL-ed at the comments about Captain Kangaroo. I loved Captain Kangaroo! Thanks for jogging my memory. I would have just cut open a ping pong ball, but then it really wouldn’t be inside anymore.

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