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Reversal: Guinness awards record to French man who made Eiffel Tower from matchsticks

It took Richard Plaud years, not to mention more than 700,000 matchsticks, to build his replica of the Eiffel Tower. The structure stands 7.19 meters, or a little taller than 23.5 feet.
AGT/via Richard Plaud and @toureiffelallumettes/Screenshot by NPR
It took Richard Plaud years, not to mention more than 700,000 matchsticks, to build his replica of the Eiffel Tower. The structure stands 7.19 meters, or a little taller than 23.5 feet.

Richard Plaud, a Frenchman who has dreamed of building the world's tallest matchstick sculpture, made headlines this week when Guinness World Records rejected his huge model of the Eiffel Tower, saying Plaud broke the rules.

"It hurt me," Plaud told TF1 French TV news. News outlets reported on his disappointment that his work was rejected.

But after an official review, "it seems that we have been heavy-handed in the application of our rules in this case," Guinness World Records Director of Central Records Services Mark McKinley said in an email to NPR as Guinness announced the reversal.

The 1:45 scale model stands 7.19 meters (a little taller than 23.5 feet). It took Plaud years — and more than 700,000 matchsticks — to build the finely detailed structure. Finally, last month, he unveiled the finished result to thousands of people and his followers on Instagram.

The unveiling of the Eiffel Tower model drew a large crowd, and Plaud enlisted the survey firm AGT to validate the structure. The event was memorialized by a video showing the fruit of his long-term project.

The Guinness records organization initially said the materials Plaud used were too different from standard matchsticks you can buy in a store. At issue was his decision to go straight to a French matchstick company and arrange for a shipment of sticks that were evidently fairly standard — but lacked the match's normal flammable tip.

Because there was no sulfur, Plaud's dream went up in smoke, as Le Parisien reported.

The idea was to save time and prevent waste. But in their initial ruling issued in late January, the Guinness judges found that, based on their rules and criteria, Plaud wasn't using the same materials as other record contenders such as the now-former title holder Toufic Daher of Lebanon, who used approximately 6 million matches to build a scale replica of the Eiffel Tower in Beirut standing around 21.4 feet.

Plaud, who lives in Montpellier-de-Médillan, about 70 miles north of Bordeaux in western France, spoke to the media about his dreams being crushed like so many thin sticks of wood. A local paper reported on Guinness' refusal to homologuer his bid for the record, mirroring a unique English verb: homologate (to formally or officially approve), a term that would surely be more common if it didn't sound like a scandal.

Then came Thursday's dramatic reversal. Guinness World Records overruled its earlier decision and updated its website to declare Plaud the record-holder.

"We are therefore very happy to award Richard with the Guinness World Records title," McKinley said in a message to NPR, "and we have corrected some inconsistencies within our rules which now allow the matchsticks to be snipped and shaped as the modeller sees fit."

Plaud, 47, has been posting images and stories documenting his progress in building the wooden Eiffel Tower on his Instagram and Facebook pages. In the past week, he's also been sharing news articles about Guinness' refusal to declare his achievement a record.

Guinness World Records says it regrets the "distress" Plaud has experienced due to the difficulty in getting his bid for the record certified. It's now congratulating him "on his truly impressive structure — and his new Guinness World Records title."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.