The Teeniest Toothpick Building

The Teeniest Toothpick Building

May 28, 2019

Mini Empire State BuildingDo you know the famous building in the picture to the right? It’s the Empire State Building, once the tallest building in New York City. But the tiny wooden Empire State in the guy’s hand holds a world record, too: it’s the smallest Empire State ever. Steven Backman made this sculpture out of pieces of toothpicks, using just a razor blade, pliers, and glue. The teeny building is less than 1 inch tall and is perfectly “to scale,” meaning its height, length and width relate in the same way as for the real building…if the building is 20 times as tall as it is wide, so is this one. In the video he also shows off a tiny Big Ben (the famous London clock tower), the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and other toothpick buildings.  We hope you didn’t need to clean your teeth!

Wee ones: What shape are the windows on the Empire State Building?

Little kids: If Steven needed 1 toothpick as the center of the building and cut pieces off 5 others, how many toothpicks did he use in total?  Bonus: If he used another 7 toothpicks to nibble on snacks while working, now how many did he use?

Big kids: If Steven’s teeny 4-sided sculpture has 4 ridges glued onto each side, how many little pieces did he glue on?  Bonus: The real Empire State Building has 6,500 windows. If Steven could fit only 100 tiny windows on his sculpture, how many are missing?

The sky’s the limit: The Empire State Building (without the spire) is 1,250 feet tall. If Steven’s sculpture was exactly 1 inch, how many times as tall is the real building? (Reminder if needed: A foot equals 12 inches…and 12 is 2 x 2, x 3, so you can multiply in steps if you like.)




Wee ones: Rectangles, and maybe even squares (rectangles with 4 equal sides).

Little kids: 6 toothpicks.  Bonus: 13 toothpicks.

Big kids: 16 pieces.  Bonus: 6,400 fewer windows.

The sky’s the limit: 15,000 times as tall! Just multiply 12 inches per foot times 1,250 feet.

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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