Block of the Week: Cobweb

The World Wide Web

Nothing makes my heart sink faster than turning a corner in an abandoned mineshaft and seeing a wall of cobwebs. Not because I’ll have to fight a bunch of cave spiders – that part’s easy – but because I’ll inevitably have forgotten to bring a pair of shears and I’ll have to break my way through with just my increasingly sticky sword.

Cobwebs became a part of Minecraft gradually – their textures were added to the game’s files way back in 2009, then they were turned into an actual block in Beta version 1.5 in early 2011, then they only began spawning naturally when abandoned mineshafts and strongholds were added in the Adventure Update in late 2011.

Today cobwebs spawn in a variety of out-of-the-way places in the Overworld. Strongholds and abandoned mineshafts still, but also woodland mansions, igloo basements, and abandoned villages.

Gathering cobwebs is very easy with shears. You’ll get yourself a stack or two very quickly. If you’re not equipped with shears, though, then you’ll need a sword enchanted with silk touch. You can use a regular sword to chop through them as fast as with shears, but then they’ll only drop string.

Cobwebs are surprisingly useful for such a rare block. You can place blocks on them – including paintings and signs – which can disguise a secret entrance (albeit one that’s very slow to enter). You can also use them in traps - slowing down mobs and other players trying to enter your base, or to prevent fall damage.

One nifty trick is to use them in redstone circuitry. Delaying an item falling onto a pressure plate or into a hopper can add a longish pause – about 25 seconds – before the effects of a circuit activating. You could use that feature to keep a door open for a while before closing it again, for example.

The “cob” in “cobweb” originally comes from the Old English word “coppe”, meaning “spider”, which is almost certainly because cobwebs are made by spiders. Not all spiders, mind you – there are plenty of spider species that don’t spin webs at all.

Cobwebs were added to the real world at some point more than 100 million years ago, as proven by a fossilised spider web found encased in amber from the early Cretaceous period. They don’t all come in the same shape – some spiders spin more tangled webs, and others are more geometric. Some even build webs communally, with many spiders sharing a single web.

Cobwebs are made of silk, which is made inside a spider’s body and squeezed out of organs called “spinnerets”. Spiders can produce several kinds of silk – sticky, fine, or thick – for different purposes. Some are capable of producing up to eight different silks during their lifetime.

In 1973, astronauts took spiders into orbit on the Skylab space station to see whether they’d spin webs in space and what those webs might look like. The two spiders – named Arabella and Anita – took a while to adjust to zero gravity but eventually made webs that were similar to those on Earth but finer in places.

Oh, and it’s always worth remembering that the “web” in “website” comes from cobwebs, because the tangled, interlaced structure of links between different websites resembles a spider web. Maybe we’re all just spiders in one enormous, communal cobweb. There’s something to think about that next time you’re stuck in one in Minecraft, waiting to inch your way out.

Duncan Geere
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Duncan Geere