Saturday, July 20, 2013

almost everyone who has ever worn them has asked this question at one time or another

Have you ever wondered what happened to all the mates to those single socks in your sock drawer?

Mankind has been pondering this mystery for...well, for as long as we've been wearing socks.

Aside from the fact that pairs or sets of objects automatically have a higher probability of being broken up simply due to the law of averages (or maybe it's Murphy's Law - I can never remember), single socks seem to disappear at a much higher rate than say, shoes or chopsticks. Everyone I know who has ever worn socks has eventually had one sock in a pair go missing, and usually they are never to be seen again. So where do they all go? And why socks? We've all seen the occasional single shoe on the freeway entrance ramp and wondered how it got there, but given the sheer number of missing socks people deal with in everyday life, the entrance ramps should be knee deep in them, right? Yet they're not in evidence anywhere.
(photo borrowed from here)

This conundrum has been puzzling me for some time now, so I've done what every other self-respecting person in the 21st century would do: I googled "missing socks".

It's a marvelous tool, Google. Back in the middle of the last century, my father was an editor and my mother was a teacher, and I grew up in a family where everyone was well-versed in the art of research. By around the age of six, all the Russell kids were expected to be able to look up words in the dictionary, and by the age of nine, capable of going to the library and conducting more in-depth research as needed. Fact checking is second nature to us Russells. Yet, Google did not exist back then, and Dad would have scoffed at the very notion of being able to type in a question and access more answers than you could imagine, but that is a story for another time...

So back to pondering the mystery of the missing socks.

What I found in my googling research is that there exists a wide variety of theories; some are totally out there and wild, but some sound so scientifically plausible and matter of fact that any normal person wouldn't even think to question them.  (Any regular readers of this blog have by now come to realize that normal does not apply here)

Here's what I found:
First up, the standard let's be serious and grounded about this: socks do not just "disappear" theories.
So why is this guy so bored?
  • Scientific theory #1: Socks do not get lost in the dryer. The culprit is the washing machine. Supposedly, washing machine repairmen are always being called out to disentangle single socks from washing machine agitators. The recommendation is to put the socks at the very top of the load in the machine so they won't be pushed down to the bottom and tangled under the agitator. Personally, I've never found a missing sock under the agitator and nobody I know has either. And this theory doesn't explain the continuing loss of single socks in the age of front-loaders, which have no agitators at all.
  • Scientific theory #2: Again, the washing machine is named as the culprit. If the socks are placed on top of the load, and the washer is overfilled, the socks (and sometimes even underwear) can float over the top of the washer tub when the machine is agitating and get sucked into the pump or get tangled in the motor. Other times they find their way into the drain. Or they can permanently reside  between the washer's basket and the machine housing. This still does not explain why socks go missing in houses with front loaders.
  • Scientific theory #3: If you were to go right now and dismantle your dryer, you may find a few single socks, along with some underwear lying in a pile of lint under the dryer's tumbler. The theory is that small items like socks and bikini underpants make their way out of the dryer basket and into the blower housing via an open or loose lint screen. I'm not about to dismantle my dryer to disprove this one, but given the number of socks we've lost over the years, the blower housing would be so full of socks the dryer couldn't possibly work at all.
Now on to the less scientific, more commonly held beliefs:

  • Unscientific theory #1: Inside your dryer vent lurks a worm hole, where individual socks are sucked in and spit out on the beach of the Island of Lost Socks. I like to think all my lost socks have been paired up in mixed marriages on a lovely beach somewhere, living happily ever after.
  • Unscientific theory #2: Dryers can not only rearrange matter, they are also capable of short-range teleportation; single socks are transformed into coins and end up as spare change under your sofa cushions. Conversely, your lost car keys? They are now dryer lint. I'm not so sure about this one. If this theory were true, we would end up with random single socks we've never seen before.
  • Unscientific theory #3: Weekly sacrifices must be made to the Laundry Gods.  This theory states that in order to keep things on an even keel, we must make sacrifices to the angry laundry gods, kind of like the sacrificial virgin being offered up to the angry volcano. Otherwise, by saving the socks by clipping them together or cleverly washing pairs in a mesh laundry bag in the effort to thwart the gods, you may end up inadvertently suffering their wrath. It could be a red t-shirt in a load of whites, or something worse. The laundry gods' wrath is not to be underestimated. What are a few missing socks compared to that?
  • Unscientific theory #4: Tiny Ninjas come to steal your socks in the middle of the night. Here's a video explaining it all:
Personally, I have three cats, and I'm still missing socks.
  • Unscientific theory #5: Evil Sock Monkeys are stealing socks to create a Sock Monkey Army hell bent on taking over the world. If you don't believe me, check out this photo:
(photo borrowed from this site)

In my research, I've also uncovered some historical evidence covered up for over 70 years, which seems to support this theory:

And I'm not the only one intrigued by this mystery. The Bureau of Missing Socks  is an organization solely devoted to unraveling the mystery of the single disappearing sock (no pun intended).

Of course, there is also some evidence that a new trend could be developing that could combat this age-old single sock problem:
Once celebrities get on the bandwagon, it could no longer be a sign of absent-mindedness or a disorganized's now a Fashion Statement!

I think I'll go and take apart my dryer now.