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Why Do Headphones Always Get Tangled

It happens to us all. You put your headphones in your pocket or bag after neatly wrapping them only to discover minutes or hours later that they are somehow spontaneously wrapped themselves into a ridiculous knot. Now you have to spend minutes unweaving the mess of cords only to repeat the same disaster in the near future. So why do headphones always inevitably get tangled and what can we do about it?

Well thankfully there are scientist out there studying every possible problem imaginable, and this is no exception. Dorian M. Raymer and Douglas E. Smith were in search of the answer to this exact question. After performing 3,415 trials they discovered that there are 2 factors that determine the likelihood and the level of knotting that will occur to any given string; “critical string length” and “agitation time”. They also mention that cable rigidity and diameter are also factors, but are not as influential.

In their paper “Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string”, they show in a graph that the longer the string and agitation time, the more likely it is to become knotted. Strings shorter than 46cm rarely have this problem, but if you consider the average pair of headphones is 139cm this provides little comfort. This length has a 50% probability of tangling while being jostled around in your pocket.

While they are in your pocket, the loose Y shape earbud ends start moving around and become intertwined with the rest of the cord. If only there was a solution to this problem. Physicist Robert Matthews from Aston University in Birmingham has come to the rescue. He explains that by simply clipping the 2 earbuds together near the top and then clipping them to the near end of the audio jack, you will never have to waste valuable time unknotting your earbuds.

Along with Matthews solution there are many other gadgets out there that claim to be the solution you have been waiting for. There are retractable earbuds that get neatly reeled in after each use, or how about cord wraps and spools in fun shapes that help you keep things in order. If you would rather just DIY it then find a binder clip or hair clip to hold the cords together or head to the bathroom and grab an empty prescription bottle where you can tuck them away in there for safekeeping. There are plenty of solutions to help you avoid having to pull your hair out every time you need your earbuds.

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