Getting into the holiday spirit can be challenging if you’re faced with a tangle of Christmas lights. It seems that no matter how neatly these twinkling threads are each kept. winter, somehow end up in a ball of torment the following Christmas season. So what causes this mangled mess?
In 2007, the researchers published a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (opens in a new tab) (PNAS) explaining what causes this headache-inducing phenomenon. For the experiment, they placed different lengths of rope inside a box and shook it mechanically so that the ropes rattled like a load of laundry in the dryer. They repeated the process more than 3,400 times and noticed that knots began to form within seconds of turning the box. Throughout the experiment, more than 120 types of knots were formed.
“The knots didn’t take long to form, maybe about 10 seconds. That surprised us,” the study’s co-author. douglas smith (opens in a new tab), a professor in the Department of Physics at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), told LiveScienceKick.com. “We immediately started to see how these complicated knots formed. It was all very fast.”
The researchers also found that the length of the rope affected the likelihood of knots being formed. As expected, as the length of the rope increased (the longest length used in the study was 15 feet, or 4.6 meters), the probability of a knot occurring also increased, eventually being 100% guaranteed. %. The material the rope was made of also had an effect, with more flexible ropes experiencing more knots compared to stiffer ropes, according to the study.
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But perhaps the biggest factor that led to knots was whether the ends of the ropes were loose, allowing them to move freely to form tangles.
“The ends are really what make a knot form”, dorian raymer (opens in a new tab)the study’s lead author and a UCSD alumnus who now works as a consulting systems engineer told Live Science. “Sailors probably know best, that you have to control what ends up [of a rope] they are doing to avoid knots. Otherwise, the ends can move over or under other sections of the rope, eventually causing knots.”
And in the case of Christmas lights, having dozens of bulbs sticking out of the cord presents even more opportunities for tangles.
“Personally, based on my own experience with Christmas lights, I think it’s more of the nubs on the lights sticking out of the side of the wire that create a lot of friction and get caught on each other,” Smith said. “It’s even worse than a normal piece of string.”
So what can you do to prevent knots from hijacking the holiday cheer? A popular trick is to wrap the lights around a flat piece of cardboard before storing them in a closed container.
“Make sure you tape the ends of the lights to the cardboard,” Raymer said. “This way, you pin them down, and they won’t be loose and flapping.”
Smith agreed, adding, “Or have someone else hang them.”