You're Knot Tying Your Shoes Right

I learned to tie my shoes when I was five, the same way everyone else learns it. I was shown how to tie the first knot — over, under, pull it tight — and then to bring it home with the two bunny ears to make it secure — Make a bow, pull it through to do it right.

Except generations upon generations of Americans have been fed bad information. Our parents lied to us, and we have lied to our kids.

And we would have gone on lying, each parent unwittingly passing on the oral lessons of over, under, pull it tight if science hadn't "well, actually-ed" our shoe tying traditions.

Leave it to science to ruin everything for us. Science is that nerdy kid at prom explaining to everyone that kissing is the number one way for germs to spread, which is why he and his good friend, Dungeons & Dragons, are going stag that night.

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley recently determined that the traditional shoelace knot is ineffective and does not stay tied for very long. They ruined everyone's childhood in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

According to USA Today, the researchers discovered that our regular knot often leads to what the authors call "catastrophic knot failure," which sounds like shoe explosions.

I don't actually know if it leads to shoe explosions, because I didn't read the study, but it sounds serious.

After finding the cure for cancer and solving world hunger, the scientists set about determining which shoelace knot was the best one.
They hooked up a treadmill with a type of pendulum for a foot, tied the shoe with the normal knot, and found that it frequently failed because of the foot's repeated impact against the ground and the constant whipping around of the "bunny ears." In some cases, once the lace loosened, it would completely untie in two strides. The researchers said the standard knot failed every time it was tested.

They called this the "weak knot," and bullied it after home room so they could feel tough. They also tested a "strong knot," which only came apart half as much as the weak one.

To make a strong knot, says USA Today, "cross the left lace over the right and pull it through the resulting loop. Form both the right and the left lace ends into loops and wrap the bottom of the right loop around the bottom of the left.

In other words, the right bunny ear goes under and then around the left bunny ear.

I question the validity of their findings, however, because the team did not measure double knots. Double knots don't come untied for anything. They're the leather jacket and motorcycle boots-wearing knots that don't take crap from anyone.

One person not surprised by the weak knot's performance was knot theorist Colin Adams of Williams College, who was not involved with the study.

He told interviewers, "Yes, knot theory is really a thing. Yes, that's really my job. No, not like a sandwich artist. Yes, yes, that's very clever. 'Knot involved' in the knot study, I get it."

Adams also agreed the weak knot is a version of the "granny knot," but that the strong knot, which is a version of the "square knot," is the superior knot.

I'm more than a little annoyed at this news because science has been such a buzzkill over the years when it comes to ruining the things for people. Think of something you like, and scientists have released a study that shows it will kill you.

Movie popcorn can kill you, coffee causes cancer, eggs have cholesterol, Chinese food is bad for you, don't eat red meat, oh wait coffee's fine, we were wrong about the egg thing too.

It's more than a little frustrating, because science can be that annoying know-it-all friend who truly doesn't enjoy themselves unless they can pop whatever balloon of happiness you happen to be enjoying at the moment.

On the other hand, it's more important than ever to embrace science these days, and to properly understand it. When people believe dinosaurs roamed the Earth 6,000 years ago, that the climate is magically warming all by itself, or that the Earth is flat — looking at you, Shaquille O'Neal! — it's important that science be allowed to constantly study truly important theories.

It will be science that provides the answers for important issues of our day, like minimizing the California drought, combating the rising sea levels, or finally proving that toe shoes are the worst shoes in the history of mankind.

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

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