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5 Scientific Explanations Behind Everyday Nuisances

#2. Salt That Clumps in the Shaker

Clumped-up salt is a common nuisance and a gateway to many an awkward situation, as anyone who has been walked in on while hammering the salt shaker with an ice pick can attest to. It's one of those things that just seem to happen no matter what -- you store the stuff in a closed container in the darkness of your spice rack, yet the next time you fancy a dash on your fries, you can count on having to spend some time spice-punching the rock-hard formation that has somehow grown out of the grains.

But it's not as if you can do anything about it. That's just how salt works, right?

Getty
You're a cold bastard, salt.

The Science:

The problem is that your salt acts as a magnet -- for water. Table salt, also known as sodium chloride, is strongly hygroscopic. This means it constantly attracts water molecules from the air and soaks them up. This, in turn, helps glue the salt crystals together, until they're too big to pass through the holes at the top of the container. Salt's constant attempt to Voltronize itself is by no means limited to rainy weather, either -- although high humidity does increase the clumping.

Can It Be Fixed?

You might have been to a restaurant or diner somewhere that showed you the answer. They were the ones whose salt shakers contained those little, uncomfortably maggotlike brownish bits. They are actually grains of uncooked rice.

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Well, some of them are maggots.

Much like that guy at the bar who skulks around downing every unguarded drink he can find, the rice literally steals all the moisture the salt can muster and soaks it up in its starchy inner matrix. Now slightly soggy, the rice lies content in the knowledge that it has once again completely ruined salt's shit ... until it dries up to the exact same state it was before and starts all over again.

The only problem is that the rice grains need to be periodically replaced, lest they soak up too much to handle their task. Wait, what's that? Science already came up with a ridiculously convoluted, multichambered shaker that does precisely that? Never mind.

Patent #4387803
"Yes, this absolutely was the best use of our time."

#1. Splattering Tomato Sauce and Stubborn Ketchup Bottles

So you have invited your date over for dinner in your home. And if you are a guy, you are almost certainly making spaghetti.

The house is filled with the appetizing aroma of your cooking. Everything is neat and clean. You've even remembered to stow away your bedroom chains and the gimp mask. There's nothing that could possibly go wrong. That is, until you check on the tomato sauce, innocently bub-bub-bubbling on the stove. When the doorbell rings, you open the door for your date, covered in red stains, looking like you just used your microwave to explode a cat.

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"I swear I'm not a shitty cook, I just murder animals!"

One wardrobe emergency moment later, you settle down to eat and grab a ketchup bottle, because you are eating fries with your spaghetti for the purposes of this narrative. And yes, you still buy the glass ketchup bottles and not those plastic squeeze bottles, because you're a man with class. You tilt it over, and absolutely nothing happens. You start spanking the bottle angrily, and after about 25 swats, the damn thing suddenly unclumps half of its contents on your plate, spray-bathing you in tomato all over again.

The good news: It's not your fault. The bad news: The freaking tomatoes are throwing themselves at you.

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"And soon we'll be taking your women and despoiling your land."

The Science:

Tomatoes have a number of interesting properties, seemingly custom made to mess with the poor soul attempting to cook with them. In the case of spaghetti sauce splatters, the main culprits are cohesion and viscoelasticity.


Today's Cracked was brought to you by the letters "C" and "V," and by drugs like "all of them."

When the hot metal of the pot meets the sauce, gassy bubbles form and push upward -- it's the same as when you put any liquid on heat. But the molecules in tomato pulp are designed to mess with this phenomenon in the worst possible fashion: They stick together way harder than most other liquids (cohesion) and resist deformation (viscoelasticity). This means that the gas has to work like a bastard to push through, and a whole bunch of sauce hitches a ride to the surface from it.

When the bubble actually manages to make it to the surface, it's a freaking cruise missile compared to the BB guns of regular bubbles, exploding all over the stove top, making you feel like the incompetent cook in an infomercial they show before demonstrating the gadget meant to solve the problem.

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"Act now, and we'll throw in a jar of cheap wine!"

As for ketchup, the trick physics is playing on you is thixotropy. This is when a substance is a gel when sitting still, but becomes a fluid when in motion. Often without warning. People tend to prefer ketchup pretty thick, after all. So the manufacturers add thickening agents such as corn starch into the mix, creating a thick glue that will remain a near solid until it is shaken in just the right way. Then the molecules rearrange themselves into a fluid and drown your french fries.

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So it goes.

Can It Be Fixed?

As for the sauce, constant, quick stirring can provide an outlet for the gas bubbles, but seeing as tomato sauce is thick as hell and takes a fair amount of time to make, this means investing in some serious elbow grease. And while some swear that oiling the edge of the pot can totally prevent the splattering phenomenon, science would say otherwise -- the bubbles have to go somewhere.

Smooth ketchup distribution remains an equally demanding task -- even the squeeze bottles become a spurting, farting mess when they're less than half full. While there is no shortage of tips and how-tos on the subject, they tend to range from useless common sense stuff ("Do it carefully") to mad scientist levels of lunacy that involve bendy straws, manual dexterity and an uncanny immunity to the public scorn of fellow diners.

Geekologie
Or just keep a shitload of these in your pocket at all times.

Baer would like to thank K. Montagne and Corey Reidy for their help with this article. Her blog can be found here.

For more things we have the answers to, check out 6 Ways Your Body Loves to Screw You (Explained by Science) and 6 Things That Annoy You Every Day (Explained by Science).

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