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Earbuds always getting tangled? There is a mathematical explanation

Posted: , by Maxwell R.

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Earbuds always getting tangled?  There is a mathematical explanation
So, you’re jamming to tunes while on a walk or run, once done, you neatly wrap the cable around your phone, or very neatly around a couple of fingers and place them in a snug pocket. When you go to retrieve them later, your accessory is a mangled mess. How does that happen?

It has happened to everyone, and anyone who says it hasn’t happened to them is either lying, or they don’t own a set of earbuds. It is enough of a problem that there is a whole section of accessories that promise to control or eliminate the tangling.

There are even so-called “tangle-free” designs that are flat, or are designed like a zipper, whatever.  If human nature proves one thing, it is that anything can get tangled, even if an effort is made to keep things nice and tidy.

Physicists have now determined why this happens, and as with most answers in this universe, they are rooted in math. We are not going to bore you with the equations since it is entirely possible that this goes to a level of calculations most people would just be happy to avoid.

However, researchers did look into the phenomena, and it started by tumbling various cables in a box. “Within seconds,” they found that these cables would form complex knots. From various experiments they were able to build a computer simulation. The simple answer is that cables tend to form coils, and loose ends find their way into weaves (like braiding hair).

The factors governing these events were chronicled in a report published in the Proceedings National Academy of Sciences by the Department of Physics at the University of California, San Diego. To reach their findings, the researchers performed more than 3,400 experiments with varying gauges of cables and watched for more than 120 types of knots to form.


sources: Discover via DVICE

13 Comments
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posted on 20 Jun 2014, 01:27 3

1. chocowii (Posts: 327; Member since: 30 Jan 2014)


The guy/s who made those have a lot time to spare. Does this apply to flat cords too?

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 01:55 3

3. kent-gaga (Posts: 47; Member since: 10 Apr 2012)


probably no
that why they call the flat ones "tangle-free"

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 01:58

4. shadez10 (Posts: 402; Member since: 15 Jan 2012)


but mine tangles sometime...

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 02:52 6

7. kent-gaga (Posts: 47; Member since: 10 Apr 2012)


sometimes sugar-free stuff can still contain sugar :v

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 02:18 1

5. fzacek (Posts: 1623; Member since: 26 Jan 2014)


My guess is that it can happen to flat cords too but to a lower degree...

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 06:10 6

8. shahrooz (Posts: 137; Member since: 17 Sep 2013)


you don't spare your time for science, you dedicate your time to science. since it is the most important thing to humanity.

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 10:05 2

9. chocowii (Posts: 327; Member since: 30 Jan 2014)


+1 for science!
And having tangled cords are important to humanity. Lol!

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 19:58

11. yajia1 (Posts: 107; Member since: 22 Aug 2012)


Everything needs explaining even as "stupid" as the tangling of earphones. If all people are like you, we wouldn't know until now why the sun rises on the east and sets on the west. Just be glad that Science tries everything to explain everything to you.

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 16:44 2

10. nexusdude (Posts: 149; Member since: 22 Aug 2013)


I'd say the most important thing for humanity is oxygen, but we know that thanks to science too.

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 01:54

2. kent-gaga (Posts: 47; Member since: 10 Apr 2012)


uhmmm what?

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 02:22 1

6. nanozander (Posts: 68; Member since: 19 Oct 2011)


http://imgur.com/Li585XK

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 20:14

12. roscuthiii (Posts: 1791; Member since: 18 Jul 2010)


I think this article may be proof that I'm way too anal retentive... tangles used to drive me crazy. Not just earphones, but any cables/cords.
Now, when I wrap up my earbuds they stay wrapped up that way until I I'm the one that unwraps them again. Maybe they'd eventually tangle, but they maintain integrity long enough to last the few hours/days until I need them again.
Could be because I keep the loose ends to as little slack as possible, plus limit the opportunity for tumbling during stowage.

posted on 22 Jun 2014, 13:30

13. Ethos (Posts: 59; Member since: 08 Sep 2013)


i think they are not tangled as much but WE think they are bcos we see it and when we start trying to untangle it we actually doing it worse so tangling even more and after few seconds we finding way to untangle it ..

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