by Susan Orlean
At the time, Lang was in his thirties. He had been doing origami — that is, shaping sheets of paper into figures, using no cutting and no glue — for twenty-five years and designing his own models for twenty. He has always considered himself very much a bug person, but his earliest designs were not insects; in the nineteen-seventies, he invented an origami Jimmy Carter, a Darth Vader, a nun, an inflatable bunny, and an Arnold the Pig. He would have liked to have folded insects, but, in those years, bugs, as well as crustaceans, were still an origami impossibility. This was because no one had yet solved the problem of how to fold paper into figures with fat bodies and skinny appendages, so that most origami figures, even television characters and heads of state, still had the same basic shape as the paper cranes of nineteenth-century Japan. Then a few people around the globe had the idea that paper folding, besides being a pleasant diversion, might also have properties that could be analyzed and codified. Some started to study paper folding mathematically; others, including Lang, began devising mathematical tools to help with designing, all of which enabled the development of increasingly complex folding techniques. In 1970, no one could figure out how to make a credible-looking origami spider, but soon folders could make not just spiders but spiders of any species, with any length of leg, and cicadas with wings, and sawyer beetles with horns. For centuries, origami patterns had at most thirty steps; now they could have hundreds.