Why do pillow cases end up inside duvet covers in the wash? Some say it’s due to the alternate cycling of the drum.
‘Washing machines predominantly cycle one way. To loosen the laundry, the drum sometimes abruptly turns the other way. Due to this opposite movement, suddenly a few litres of water bumps very forcefully into the laundry, and therefore the opening of the duvet cover will come to lie completely open. Smaller laundry falls in one piece at a time. As soon as the machine goes into centrifuge mode, the smaller laundry pieces are being pushed in further. It is very difficult for laundry that is in the duvet cover to get out.’
– From the Dutch National Science Quiz 2006
So then why do my headphone wires tangle in my pockets? Some researchers at the University of San Diego concluded that it’s due to entropy.
UCSD physicists Douglas Smith and Dorian Raymer published Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String in 2007.
They put one piece of string in the box spun it. 3415 times recorded observations while varying the length of string, rotation speed, number of rotations and size of the box. Why 3415?
‘The scientific answer is that 3,415 was around the point where we had statistically compelling results,’ Smith writes. ‘The human answer is that 3,415 times was about as much as we could stand.’
They concluded that knots formed quickly. They built a computer simulator that used the Jones polynomial. It turns out that there’s mathematical history that includes the Jones study that resulted in a property based on parameters such as the number of string crossings.
You might think DNA and cancer research but Smith and Raymer won an ig Nobel Prize in 2008 for proving that heaps of string or hair will inevitably tangle. There’s even a video that 5000 people have watched on YouTube.
It reminds me of how miserable I feel during the annual untangling of Xmas lights. This is too depressing to continue.