Knotty and Nice: Researchers Untangle Christmas Light Woes

Dorian Raymer was an undergraduate physics major in 2007 when he and Professor Douglas Smith published their research, “Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String,” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The pair’s research, which involved placing strings of various lengths into boxes, found that longer strings are more likely to tangle when placed into a container and rotated. Smith and Raymer repeated their experiment 3,415 times and found that strings less than 46cm in length would not tangle. More movement also meant a greater likelihood of tangling, and room for the string to move within the box was also found to be a tangle-factor. The researchers noted that flexible materials were more likely to knot. So what does this mean for Christmas lights? Well, strands of Christmas lights are a perfect storm for knots. They’re long, flexible, and often packed away in boxes that are both roomy and frequently jostled.

So what can you do to avoid knots in your Christmas lights? Smith and Raymer’s findings focused on the why, but there are plenty of suggestions on how to avoid tangles. Pinterest is full of handy tips, like wrapping light strands around cardboard, old ribbon spools, or gift-wrap tubes, and YouTube has loads of instructional videos for untangling and preventing knots. But perhaps there’s a budding research scientist out there with an even more ingenious and foolproof solution?