5 Scientific Explanations Behind Everyday Nuisances

In an era where our gadgets exceed the science fiction of just 20 years ago, it's amazing how many everyday annoyances have never gotten fixed. Nobody has invented tangle-proof wires, or smooth-pouring ketchup, or good-smelling bus passengers. You can't get too mad at science for not solving these problems. It's not like they haven't tried. It's just way more complicated than it sounds to fix things like ...

#5. Wires That Get Tangled in Storage


You stuff your headphones into your pocket, take them out half an hour later and curse as you try to untie a knot that looks like it was impossible to have formed on its own, like you have tiny knot-tying elves in your pockets trying to screw with you.

We don't care what Dr. Jonas says. It's the elves, dammit!

It's the same with your computer cables, and the Christmas lights in your attic, and your garden hose. In fact, everything in your home that is capable of twisting into a knot seems to be involved in a giant conspiracy against your sanity. And it always pisses you off, because there's no reason for it -- why would a bunch of wire that was in a nice loop when you stored it suddenly be a tangled mess later?

The Science:

Don't think that science has just been asleep at the wheel on this one; there is an entire mathematical discipline that specializes in how seemingly random tangles form. Knot theory is in fact one of the more popular pastimes among the mathematically well-endowed, and it focuses entirely on the "How the hell do things get tangled?" dilemma.

"I don't see how my nudity helps this experiment in any way."

And here's what they have found out: It is a near-mathematical certainty that a wire/string/hose/etc. of any length will knot in storage. To put it simply (and it gets infinitely complicated), there is only one way for a cable to be straight, but a massive number of ways it can get tangled. Scientists have found literally hundreds of separate, unique types of individual knot, or "prime knots," and they can be combined in infinite ways. You could go your whole life and never see the same knot twice.

So any time you have a bunch of long, flexible objects (or, in the garden hose scenario, one really long object in multiple loops), the objects link in a number of places. When there's enough contact points, and the objects are long and slim enough, the chances for these objects not getting into one of those trillions of knot states is downright astronomical. The more contact points, the more possible knotted states.

At some point, it's just easier to use a bowie knife and buy a shitload of cords.

So even a little motion -- jostling the box of Christmas lights when you move it, a change in temperature causing your garden hose to shrink a tiny bit -- makes those states catastrophically accumulate, often within seconds. Put the headphones in your backpack, walk across campus, boom: You have descended into knot hell.

Can It Be Fixed?

Yes and no.

The actual knotting will happen no matter what. Sure, the crucial element is motion, so restricting that by neatly arranging the cables and securing them with, say, cable clips will do the trick. But if you are the kind of person who considers that an option, chances are your cables are neatly arranged and alphabetized already.

Which is widely considered an early warning sign of sociopathy.

If the movement can't be restricted, like with those headphone cables, you can either muster up the patience and technique to roll them up neatly or, failing that, just bury them at the bottom of the bag under something heavy and hope for the best.

#4. Hard-Boiled Eggs That Are Impossible to Peel

You've probably noticed that hard-boiled eggs tend to come in two varieties: the ones that can be easily, perfectly peeled in three seconds flat, and those that will have you removing the shell in painstaking fragments for minutes, and the end result looks like you subcontracted a rabid beaver to do the job for you. What's up with that? Did you screw up the freaking boiling of an egg? Are you the worst cook in the world? Or maybe there are ... two sorts of hens? Angry and happy hens? Constipated and ...?

"And there goes my appetite."

Yeah, let's not take that theory any further. Do you have anything, science?

The Science:

Of course it does! There are people who actually research these things for a living, and this is what they've found: It's all about freshness. And no, it's not "fresher is better."

The fresher the egg, the more acidic the egg white is. Since the acid levels directly determine how tightly stuck the shell is to the egg white, this means that the freshest eggs are also the most difficult to peel. With time, the acid slowly decays and the contents shrink a little, leaving more space between the egg shell and the solid cooked white and easing the peeling process.

Which leads us to the problem behind the problem: Older eggs are the only ones that are easy to peel, so you can just let them sit -- but you want your eggs now. It's an egg emergency!

"This hangover won't unhangover itself."

Can It Be Fixed?

It can. Awesomely.

All you need is the lung capacity of a professional athlete, and you can just blow that egg right out of its shell. Literally -- you peel a bit of shell off of each end, put your mouth up to it and blow incredibly hard. It should shove the egg right out the other end:

Well, that, or you can just artificially increase the pH of the water you boil the egg in by adding a little baking soda, which lowers the egg's acidity. But if you watched that egg-blowing video, we can't think of a single reason why anyone would want to peel eggs in any other way ever again.

#3. Fresh Fruit That Rots Within Hours

You buy some fruit, and you stick it in that drawer in the refrigerator where you keep your fruit (or the basket on the counter, whatever). The next day, you go to grab one of your fresh new strawberries, only to find that they're already dark and squishy. Damn that grocery store for selling you this trick fruit that looks perfect on the shelf, but self-destructs the next day! Why hasn't somebody filed a class action over this bullshit?

Fear of the mighty Tom Thumb cartel?

Well, it's actually not the grocery store's fault.

The Science:

When you put your brand new fruit in your fruit holder, was the fruit you bought last week still sitting in there? Of course it was, you might still eat that shit! You don't just throw away money. Well, have you ever heard a grumpy old grandmotherly type say, "One bad apple spoils the bunch"? There's science behind that.

Grandma: 1, Science: Probably much more.

The second a fruit is picked, the flow of a hormone that represses ripening stops and the fruit becomes extremely sensitive to another chemical called ethylene. It speeds up the process that breaks down the fruit's cell walls, making it squishy and vulnerable to germs and fungus. If a fruit also happens to be damaged -- a "bad apple," if you will -- it starts to produce ethylene in spades. Enough, in fact, to spare -- it will infect any other fruit in the vicinity.

Because of this, the damaged fruit is basically a plague carrier -- and therefore pretty goddamn bad news for the healthy, fresh fruit stuck in the same bag or basket.

Now this is fit only for the daiquiri of a pauper.

Can It Be Fixed?

Keep fresh fruit and old fruit separate. Other than that, there's not much that can be done to stop the phenomenon. That doesn't mean science isn't trying, though.

Meet the Water Shade:

Coming soon to an embarrassingly wealthy person near you.

What looks like a particularly tasteless fruit tray/plastic cover combo is actually a complicated concept device custom made to inhibit the rotting process by keeping oxygen -- which is vital to the rotting process -- away from the fruit. What looks like the cover is actually a 360-degree waterfall that cloaks the fruit bowl under a constant thin stream of running water, complete with a motion detector that turns off the water whenever a hand approaches. It's just a concept, but we sign off. Especially since it seems like that's a small modification away from being able to have instant chocolate-covered fruit at any moment.

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