Date:5 July 2013
What my father taught me: Bill Nye
The star of Bill Nye the Science Guy, mechanical engineer and Mars rover sundial creator, on learning to tie knots.
My dad called himself Ned Nye, boy scientist. His life was changed and shaped by four years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in World War II. All watches were confiscated, and he lived without electricity, so he would keep time by observing shadows. Fortunately, he survived, and he came home and immediately married his college sweetheart. He left the bad memories of the camp behind, but his love for sundials stuck with him. He would eventually patent the sand-dial, which is a device that you can take to the beach so you don’t get sand in your watch. I still have it – it’s 50 years old and still works. Go figure. As a rebellious teenager, I made a point of not paying much attention to him, but his love of sundials stuck with me. I think he’d be proud to know I helped put the first sundials on Mars.
My dad was also very good with knots. It bothers me when I see someone put a mattress or a Christmas tree on a car and they can’t tie fundamental knots. Knots are power. Everybody should learn to tie knots.
The king of the knots is the bowline. Bowline, square knot, half-hitch, two half- hitches, taut-line hitch and the crow’s hitch are the tenderfoot knots. If you know those, you’re in good shape. If you also know the pipe hitch, Spanish bowline and trucker’s hitch, then you’re in really good shape.
Then there’s the knot that changed my career: the square bow. Dad taught me how to tie it when I was in high school so I could dress as a waiter for the girl’s athletic banquet. I said to my fellow waiters, “Let’s impress these girls”. So we agreed to wear bow ties. My dad and I were watching Perry Mason one night, and he showed me how to tie one around my thigh.
The key is, when you drape it around your neck one side must be 2 cm longer than the other side. There’s the square bow; then there’s the granny knot, which is a square knot gone awry. The granny knot just won’t work for a bow tie. You must use the square bow. My dad taught me that. He gave me my signature.