Think Tank: Halloween Necklaces and Life Minutiae

Every year for Halloween, the kids at the children’s center at school come around to offices and go trick-or-treating. Candy isn’t allowed, so we try to get them other goodies like stickers, pretzels or activity packs. This year, my office bought stickers, pretzels and plastic necklaces on a thin string.

What the necklaces are supposed to look like.
What the necklaces are supposed to look like…

Because they came in a big package from Oriental Trading Company, I had to take the necklaces out and separate them. As soon as I did that, the necklaces got incredibly tangled.

….and what they actually looked like.

So, I had to sit there all afternoon and untangle all 48.

A coworker was walking by as I was trying to unknot the necklaces, and she asked what I was doing. After I told her, she mentioned that she had read about some physics research about why stuff like this gets tangled.

So, of course, I turned to my computer and opened a browser tab.

Some researchers at UC San Diego were interested in why the thin cords used for earbuds get knotted so easily, which led them to draw conclusions about anything string-like in general. The slightest motion, as well as some other factors, can cause a string to tangle. So even though it might be an engineering problem that one day we’ll fix, a knot is a phenomena that not even Apple can avoid without help.

Don’t get me wrong: having to unravel 48 necklaces with fluorescent-orange string and plastic closures was still really annoying. But while I was staring at the knot trying to figure out where one necklace started and another, I realized that there are other people around the world doing research on life minutiae to help explain the human experience just a little better. Knowing that someone is currently in the midst of getting to the root of a problem and figuring out how to solve it, however small it is, is oddly comforting. In some way, that made my afternoon worth it.

Did you have any experiences today that were both weird and thought-provoking? Let me know in the comments.



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