If you’re dealing with a tangled mess of Christmas lights, it can be hard to get into the holiday spirit. It seems that no matter how neatly packaged these shimmering strands are. winter, the next holiday season somehow find themselves in a torture ball. So what’s causing this messy mess?
In 2007, researchers published a study in the journal Nature. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (opens in new tab) (PNAS) explains what causes this headache-inducing phenomenon. For the experiment, they put different lengths of string inside a box and mechanically jiggled the strings to rip them around like a load of laundry in the dryer. They repeated the process over 3,400 times and noticed that within seconds of turning the box, knots began to form. More than 120 node types occurred throughout the experiment.
“It didn’t take long for the knots to form – maybe about 10 seconds. We were surprised by that,” said the study’s co-author. douglas smith (opens in new tab)A professor in the Department of Physics at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) told Live Science. “We immediately started to see these complex knots starting to form. It was all very fast.”
The researchers also learned that the length of the rope affects the likelihood of knots forming. Not surprisingly, 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 emerging also increased, eventually becoming 100% guaranteed. According to the study, the material the rope was made from also had an effect, with more flexible wires experiencing more knuckles than rigid wires.
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But perhaps the most important factor that led to knots was whether the ends of the ropes were loose, allowing them to move freely to form knots.
“Ends are the things that really make a knot” Dorian Raymer (opens in new tab)The study’s lead author and a former UCSD student who now works as a consulting systems engineer told Live Science. “Sailors probably know best, what end you have to control. [of a rope] we do it to avoid knots. Otherwise, the ends may move over or under other parts of the rope, ultimately leading to knots.”
And when it comes to Christmas lights, having dozens of light bulbs coming out of the cord provides even more opportunities for wandering.
“Based on my personal experience using Christmas lights, I think it’s the light bumps coming out of the side of more wires that create a lot of friction and get stuck together,” Smith said. “Worse than an ordinary piece of string.”
So what can you do to prevent knots from missing the holiday cheer? A popular tip is to wrap the lights around a flat piece of cardboard before putting them in a sealed box.
“Make sure you tape the ends of the lights to the cardboard,” Raymer said. “This way, you immobilize them and they won’t be loose and flapping their wings around.”
“Or have someone else hang them for you,” Smith agreed, saying.