- Take a piece of paper.
- Fold it flat.
- Make one complete straight cut.
- Unfold the pieces.

The answer turns out to be *any pattern of straight cuts*.
**Try it out yourself **by printing one of our several examples.

Another early reference to folding and cutting is a July 1873 article
“National Standards and Emblems” in *Harper's New Monthly Magazine*,
volume 47, number 278. This article tells the story about Betsy Ross and her
relation to the American flag. It claims that in 1777, George Washington and a
committee of the Congress showed Betsy Ross plans for a flag with thirteen
six-pointed stars, and asked whether she could make such a flag. She said that
she would be willing to try, but suggested that the stars should have five
points. To support her argument, she showed how easily such a star could be
made, by folding a sheet of paper and making one cut with scissors. The
committee decided to accept her changes, and George Washington made a new
drawing, which Betsy Ross followed to make the first American flag.
One method for
folding and cutting a five-pointed star is described on ushistory.org's
Betsy Ross page.
The truth of this story is unclear,
but it still makes for an early reference.

Fold and cut was the basis for several early magic tricks. The earliest such reference we know is 1833, in a book called “The Girl's Own Book” by Lydia Marie Child. See The Public Paperfolding History Project for images from this and many more references.

In particular,
before Houdini was a
famous escape artist, he was a general magician.
His 1922 book *Paper Magic*
(E. P. Dutton & Company, pages 176–177)
describes a method for making a five-pointed star.
According to David Lister,
this book appears to have been ghostwritten by another magician, Walter Gibson,
but Houdini still may have performed the trick.

Another magician, Gerald Loe, studied the fold-and-cut idea in some
detail. His 1955 book *Paper Capers* (Magic, Inc., Chicago)
describes how to cut out arrangements of various geometric objects,
such as a circular chain of stars.

Martin Gardner wrote about the fold-and-cut problem in his famous series in
*Scientific American* (“Paper cutting”, chapter 5 of *New
Mathematical Diversions (Revised Edition)*, Mathematical Association of
America, Washington, D.C., 1995.). Gardner was particularly impressed with
Loe's ability to cut out any desired letter of the alphabet. He was also the
first to state cutting out complex polygons as an open problem. What are the
limits of this fold-and-cut process? What polygonal shapes can be cut out?

There are two methods for solving this problem, by different sets of people. I call them the straight-skeleton and disk-packing methods. You can read descriptions of them below, or watch the free online video lecture describing them:

Analyzing the straight-skeleton method, from
the book.

The straight skeleton consists of the majority of the creases and achieve the
desired “lining up” of cuts. In addition, there are *perpendicular*
creases. Basically, from each vertex of the straight skeleton, we shoot a ray
perpendicular to each reachable cut edge, and the ray “bounces” (reflects)
through any skeleton edges it meets.

The difficult part is proving that the straight-skeleton creases together with
a subset of the perpendicular creases (and a few more auxiliary creases) can be
folded into a flat origami. This is done by exhibiting a *folded state*,
that is, by demonstrating how the piece of paper looks when folded. This
folded state must satisfy the properties that each face is isometrically
preserved and that paper does not intersect itself.

The most detailed description is the book
*Geometric Folding Algorithms:
Linkages, Origami, Polyhedra*.
The full paper (which includes all proof details) is still in progress. The
longest
description includes many of the proofs and was published in the
*Proceedings of the Japan Conference on Discrete and Computational
Geometry* (JCDCG'98),
to appear as a volume in Lecture Notes in Computer Science.
A 2-page
description of the method (without proofs) appears in the
*Proceedings of the 10th Annual ACM-SIAM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms*
(SODA'99).

This work is related to Robert Lang's TreeMaker, although it was initially developed in isolation. The intersection is that they both solve the fold-and-cut problem when the faces (shapes to be cut out) are all convex. Both TreeMaker and our work extend far beyond this common base, in different directions. Essentially, TreeMaker tries to collapse a polygon to a specified folded shape but only addresses convex polygons, whereas the straight-skeleton method focuses on the unfolded shape and addresses nonconvex and disconnected polygons.

An example of the disk-packing method, from
the paper.

- the disks do not properly overlap (but may touch),
- the gaps between disks have either three or four sides,
- there is a disk centered at each vertex of the desired cut pattern, and
- the edges of the desired cut pattern (i.e., desired cuts) are the union of radii of disks.

The most detailed description is the book
*Geometric Folding Algorithms:
Linkages, Origami, Polyhedra*.
The paper “A
Disk-Packing Algorithm for an Origami Magic Trick”
also describes the method in detail, though it has some small issues.
The most recent version
includes some simplifications, and appears in the
*Proceedings of the 3rd International Meeting of Origami Science, Math, and
Education* (OSME
2001).
The original version
was published in the *Proceedings of the International Conference
on Fun with Algorithms* (FUN'98).

Our use of disk packing is quite different from Robert Lang's TreeMaker, although it is intriguing that the same method comes up in two different contexts in origami mathematics.

Try out our new simple fold and cut font!

A 2010
paper with Martin Demaine, Andrea Hawksley, Hiro Ito, Po-Ru Loh, Shelly Manber,
and Omari Stephens considers what happens when we restrict the folds to
a sequence of **simple folds**, folding along a single line at a time.

Check out our new font based on simple
fold and cut!

Ivars Peterson briefly describes the fold-and-cut results in his article,
“Fold-and-Cut
Magic”,
which appears in
*Science News*,
volume 162, number 22, November 30, 2002.

Joseph O'Rourke briefly describes the two fold-and-cut methods in his
“Computational
Geometry Column 36”, which appears in
*International Journal of Computational Geometry and Applications*,
volume 9, number 6, pages 615-618, 1999; and *SIGACT News*, volume 30,
number 3, issue 112, September 1999, pages 35-38.

One application of the fold-and-cut theorem is the design of the logo for CCCG 2001.

Some of our earlier papers on the fold-and-cut problem are the following:

- The technical report
“Computing
Extreme Origami Bases” studies the special case of cutting out
a convex polygon.
In this case, we can not only compute a folded state exists,
but we also provide the continuous motion of the paper through time
that reaches this folded state. In fact, the motion can be achieved
while keeping rigid the regions between creases rigid, called
**rigid origami**. - “Planar Drawings of Origami Polyhedra” studies some properties of the
foldings of convex polygons using graph drawing.
A 2-page
summary was published in the
*Proceedings of the 6th Symposium on Graph Drawing*(GD'98). The full version is a technical report.