Knot good

It’s one of those pet hates; when you pop you headphones in your pocket and the tangle elves get to work tying all sorts of knots in them, meaning that listening to music the following day takes 10 minutes longer than you had planned.

Well, it’s not your fault. I’ve recently learned that you can blame PHYSICS!

A duo at the University of California found no elves (durr – they’re invisible!) but they did find some PHYSICS!

It is well known that a jostled string tends to become knotted; yet the factors governing the “spontaneous” formation of various knots are unclear. We performed experiments in which a string was tumbled inside a box and found that complex knots often form within seconds.

From that initial line, maybe the best way to avoid this difficulty is not to jostle your pockets. Some men may find this rather taxing.

We used mathematical knot theory to analyse the knots. Above a critical string length, the probability P of knotting at first increased sharply with length but then saturated below 100%. This behaviour differs from that of mathematical self-avoiding random walks, where P has been proven to approach 100%. Finite agitation time and jamming of the string due to its stiffness result in lower probability, but P approaches 100% with long, flexible strings.

Basically, all other factors (and basically, this means trouser jostling) being equal, the longer your cable, the more likely it is to knot.

There are graphs, photos and a whole raft of other formulae and statistical explanation in the paper. I did my best to work my way through it and, despite falling asleep twice, managed to get to the end.

Imagine my disappointment when I found that they had not even bothered to provide a solution for this horrible phenomenon.

Science is amazing and science can be used to demonstrate amazing things. You only have to look at some Austrian bloke jumping from what appeared to be a large, old-fashioned kettle on the edge of space to see this. But all those amazing things are no use if they can’t be put to practical use. Lest we forget, Felix’s freefall allegedly taught us that we could safely eject from spaceplanes of the future (ok, bit of a stretch there in attempting to justify their expense sheet by the guys at Red Bull perhaps, but still).

But this, for all their efforts:

The experiment was repeated hundreds of times with each string length to collect statistics.

gives us just that. Statistics. And they are statistics that say that if you put your headphones in your pocket and you jostle (or even if you don’t), you are going to end up with knotted cable.

This is no help whatsoever and I feel that I must apologise on behalf of science. In my humble opinion, experiments with no practical application should be banned. Physics should be banned. Raymer and Smith have dragged its name through the mud.

And if those bans leave us with no more skydives from space, well so be it. The likelihood of me ever having to evacuate a spaceplane seems rather small when compared with the likelihood of me having to untie another sodding knot in my Sennheiser CX300II’s every time I take them out of my pocket. And no, I am not a serial jostler.

Science must provide answers and solutions. Otherwise we might as well just all study the arts.

2 thoughts on “Knot good

  1. The world is pleased to know that you aren’t a serial trouser jostler.

    (carefully avoids any Jimmy Savile tie-ins)

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