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Ever wondered why your headphones are always in a knot? Turns out, science has a reason! Join Michael Aranda as he explains the science of headphone knots and if there is hope for any of us getting out of a twisted situation! Let's go!

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Sometimes, headphones are just the worst. It seems like every time I want to whip out my earbuds and go for a run,.

I’m stuck untangling a huge knotted mess. I swear I try to keep them organized, but nothing seems to work. Believe it or not, scientists have studied this phenomenon before or at least something like it.

And they’ve found that pieces of string naturally form knots within seconds of being agitated. So clearly, there’s a reason I’m not the only one suffering from headphone tangles. But better yet, these findings also point to a solution that just might end our days of untangling cords once and for all.

The knotty experiment dates back to 2007, when a physics professor at UCSD and a lucky undergraduate decided to find out exactly how strings make a mess of themselves. They dropped strings of various lengths and stiffnesses into a plastic box, which they then spun at various speeds and for various amounts of time. Using a computer, then they meticulously cataloged the types of knots, if any, that resulted, using a branch of mathematics called knot theory to guide them.

Knot theory has all sorts of applications, from physics to biology, but it’s also good for just understanding how and why stuff gets tangled up. In knot theory, knots are always studied as closed loops, so after the strings in this experiment got jumbled, the two ends were tied together to form a circle. From these basic experiments, which included more than 3400 test drops, the duo discovered a couple of things, like the fact that it doesn’t take much to get a knot.

In just 10 seconds, with 10 rotations, about half of the strings formed knots. So don’t beat yourself up, knots just happen. Strangely, these knots were almost all big, single knots what mathematicians call prime knots instead of strings with two knots, say, at either end, which they call composite knots.

Without doing the experiment, researchers would have assumed both types were possible. But instead, they tended to tie themselves up the same way, over and over. First, they’d coil up, creating some loops.

Then some of the overlapping strands would work their way across one another, forming a kind of braid. Depending on the number of crossings, which happened as many as 11 times, the knots could get very complex. So we know these knots happen, and how, but is there any hope for those of us plagued by headphone tangles?

Well, the researchers noticed that the chance of a knot forming generally went up if the string was longer in length, or spun for a longer length of time. But if it was spun too fast, the strings weren’t allowed to tumble, and the probability of a knot went down. Stiffer string also decreased knot potential.

Giving the string less space by reducing the box size also made it much harder for the knots to form. Weirdly, not enough space is also the reason doctors think umbilical cord knots are very rare the amniotic sac is just too tiny for much knotting to occur. So, your math-approved way of avoiding tangled earbuds is to just tuck them away in a tiny space, ideally wrapping them around something so they can’t jiggle at all.

And if all that doesn’t work, well, maybe next time you can just marvel at the wonderful complexity of your knot instead. Who knew knots were so amazing? I bet you did, if you’re a knitter.

It’s already starting to get cold where I live in Montana, so it’s definitely hat and scarf season. If you’re ready to snuggle indoors and try out a new craft, you can knit yourself a scarf in Davina Choy’s Knitting Basics class on Skillshare. You’ll learn several basic techniques and how to troubleshoot common mistakes.

And at the end, you’ll have a cozy neck! Right now Skillshare is offering SciShow viewers two months of unlimited access to over 20,000 creative and technical classes for free. Follow the link in the description to check out Davina Choy’s classes as well as thousands of others. [♩OUTRO].