Why do your earphones get tangled in your pocket? Science has the answer
Researchers investigated earphone tangles the only way they could - but putting different lengths of cable in a box and 'agitating' them repeatedly
It was probably the 21st century’s preeminent sage Bill Murray that summed up the problem most succinctly: “How to tie the strongest knot ever: 1) Put some headphones in your pocket 2) Wait one minute”.
But have you ever wondered exactly why this happens? Well, scientists have and to find out what mysterious pocket-sized-goings-on are going on they did what any sensible researcher would: they put different pieces of wire in a box and shook them up to see if they got knotted. They did this a lot, in fact, 3,415 times in all.
The results (detailed in a now quite venerable 2006 paper entitled "Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string" by Dorian M. Raymer and Douglas E. Smith) showed that two key factors cause complex knots to “form within seconds”: “critical string length” and “agitation time”.
The probability of knot forming versus string length.
Essentially the longer the lengths of cable and the more they’re shaken the more likely it is that a knot will spontaneously form. Qualities such as cable rigidity and diameter also play a part but it's length and time spent tumbling that matter most – and unfortunately, these are the factors you’re least likely to change.
Raymer and Smith came to their conclusion by experimenting with cables of varying length and different “agitation times," finding that cables shorter than 46 centimetres will rarely – if ever – get knotted, with the probability increasing with cable size before plateauing just after 2 metres in length.
For the average pair of earphones (defined as 139 centimetres in length) this means the probability of a knot spontaneously forming in an enclosed space about the size of your bag is just under 50 per cent. That’s right, every time you dump your earphones after arriving at school or work there’s a one in two chance you're
dicing with death going to be slightly annoyed later in the day.
Knot formation in action. The box on the left is the rotating container used by Raymer and Smith, with one crossed wire quickly leading to chaos.
Raymer and Smith also noted that the Y shape of earphones increases the chance of knotting substantially, with only one end of the wire or cable having to cross another to start off the tumble-weed reaction of a spontaneous tangle.
All in all, the pair identified 120 different types of knot in their trials, including “all prime knots with up to seven crossings”. Nextt time you drag a sorry clump of cables from your pocket just be glad you weren’t assisting on that particular un-tangling.
- 1 Woman 'suffocates newborn baby in plastic bag and puts it in her desk minutes after giving birth'
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Nepal earthquake in pictures: Photos show devastation caused by 7.8 magnitude earthquake
Royal baby: Live updates as superbug closes ward at St Mary's Hospital in London where Duchess of Cambridge is due to give birth
Nepal earthquake: Rescuers forced to dig with their bare hands in search for survivors as images show damage to historic buildings
Ed Miliband and Boris Johnson in angry clash live on BBC's Andrew Marr Show
Bali Nine executions: British grandmother on death row in Indonesia Lindsay Sandiford says she 'just wants to get it over with'
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...
£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...