Physicists finally explain why your earphones are always tangled.
There are few daytoday events that send me into a rage as quickly as a pair of tangled earphones. As soon as I put them down, they somehow thread themselves into an unholy mess. And don’t even think about putting them into your pocket or bag. So how do headphones (and other stringy objects) get so knotted in such a short time? To find out, these physicists started by tumbling strings of different stiffness in a box. They found that “complex knots often form within seconds” (so it’s not just my imagination!), and that stiffer strings are less likely to get knotted up. They then used these data and computer simulations to explain how the knots are likely formed (see figure below); basically, when jostled, the strings tend to form coils, and then the loose end weaves through the other strands, much like braiding or weaving. And voila! Tangled headphones to make your day just that much angrier.
Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string.
“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. We used mathematical knot theory to analyze the knots. Above a critical string length, the probability P of knotting at first increased sharply with length but then saturated below 100%. This behavior differs from that of mathematical selfavoiding 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. We analyzed the knots by calculating their Jones polynomials via computer analysis of digital photos of the string. Remarkably, almost all were identified as prime knots: 120 different types, having minimum crossing numbers up to 11, were observed in 3,415 trials. All prime knots with up to seven crossings were observed. The relative probability of forming a knot decreased exponentially with minimum crossing number and Möbius energy, mathematical measures of knot complexity. Based on the observation that long, stiff strings tend to form a coiled structure when confined, we propose a simple model to describe the knot formation based on random “braid moves” of the string end. Our model can qualitatively account for the observed distribution of knots and dependence on agitation time and string length.”
Related content:
NCBI ROFL: Will this research untangle scientific mysteries? I’m a frayed knot!
NCBI ROFL: Domestic cats do not show causal understanding in a stringpulling task.
NCBI ROFL: No way. According to my tongue, that hole is definitely wider. (That’s what she said.)

dotjean

Serawit


Steve Baker

kristiekburchfield

Jared Rosenfield


Steve V

John Schickler


Serawit

truthify

Serawit

The_Xander_Crews

Serawit

The_Xander_Crews

Serawit

John Schickler

Ross Andrew Simons

Serawit

Vash

Wil Post

Vash

Wil Post

Vash

Wil Post

Vash



LarryWallpaper


Argum

Serawit


Ewoud van Pareren

Serawit

http://www.mikemorkes.com Mike Morkes

Serawit

Bobby Bryla

Serawit

gberke

Damian Black

Leonard Martinez

John Schickler

Rain Water Systems

Carly Corday

Carly Corday

JohnnyD

Vash

Rain Water Systems

John Schickler

Patrick


RoyShastid

Serawit




Ralphus

Serawit

Daniel Mathieson


The_Xander_Crews

Daniel Mathieson


Curious


MrNiceCar

Serawit

Surprisingly Blank

MrNiceCar



Paul K

Serawit

Dubbelyoo Bee

Bobby Bryla

Serawit

http://www.kertongroup.com Derek Kerton

Serawit ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

Rain Water Systems


http://www.kertongroup.com Derek Kerton

Ginafred



JamesPaulWhite

Serawit


Phil

Serawit

Daniel Mathieson

James The Chimp

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Vash The Stampede

Steve Killen

Serawit

Steve Killen

Serawit

Steve Killen

Serawit

Steve Killen

MikBys




Daniel Mathieson

http://www.kertongroup.com Derek Kerton

Anonymous

Curious

http://chymera.eu Horea Christian

kakaaka

OGIS

akshay


Ralphus

The_Xander_Crews

http://www.mikemorkes.com Mike Morkes

bdbr

Steve Killen


Jon

Serawit


Bigg Russ

http://downunderhorsemanship.com/ Lisa

dotjean

John Schickler


brad tittle

Clive Durdle

joe3eagles

kelub

joe3eagles

April Adams

Rickie M


http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Atwood


waitsmt

http://shareme.in/ Gavz

Wil Post

David Cooper


Billabob Johnson

http://fearlessflyer.com Michael Soriano

jay beacham

David Cooper


Mo Pacaldo

James The Chimp

techrsr

Gerry Malone

David Cooper


Kent Applegate

flyfisher111

David Church

habiballa

Carly Corday

Rukbat

KristinaMessilyv

luke101

John Raguso

j2saret

Phil Levin

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Donald Huntington

mariajlandreth

OWilson

brewster

Christa Davidson

Laila

Talia Morris

Laurie Gabriel

Sami Luciano

Nitrobuz Ae

Esper Swap

Whitney Dahlin

J Smith

Cliff Harald