How the @#*% do my iPod earbuds get so tangled?

I take out my earbuds, carefully wrap them up, and gently put them into my pocket alongside the iPod. Ten minutes later I take them out only to find that my iPod has graduated from Contortionist University and been practicing liberally in my pocket. It takes another ten minutes to sort it all out. I’m convinced that quantum mechanics is involved.

Am I the only one who experiences this?


No, you aren’t. I was just thinking about this and noticing that the material on my new iPhone earbud cords is different from the kind on my old ones, and that the new ones and the ones for my computer headphones have this weird tendency to crinkle up and get “stuck” in one fold or another. The only way to fix it is to unplug them and “unwind” the cord, but then it goes back in the pocket and the process repeats itself.

The old ones must be made from a different kind of plastic, since they don’t do that, although they did tangle up.

Vox Imperatoris

It’s physics! Nobel prize-winning physics!

That’s really interesting, but it still doesn’t explain the weird twisting effect that certain types of plastic cords have, even when they’re not actually being knotted.

Vox Imperatoris

It’s a conspiracy by the people who make them for Apple. They do it so all you iPod users are obvious to the rest of us with Bluetooth capable devices, so we can watch and laugh at you (to ourselves) while we rock out on our wireless stereo headsets and with our devices safely in our bags/pockets. Seriously, riding the buses every day, I see at least one of you iPod people trying to untangle your little buds. Why bother?

Back in the day, when I used wired earbuds, I bought a little wind-up thingie from Best Buy for under $10. I don’t remember what it’s called, but it saved me from all the frustration - I highly recommend!

No one seems to have written the article on spontaneous helix formation in slightly sticky strings yet.

I don’t have an iPod, but my headphones always do this! It’s super annoying.

Yes mine get super tangled also. It’s like a crease in a sense. Once the they get into a twist you can untwist them but they just want to go back and do the twist.

I have no useful information to offer, but only a couple of apt quotations:

Clearly your headphones long for the days when they were tow-lines and hosepipes, are tangle in sympathy and revolt.

Come on, this happens with all aparatus that have cords (mobile phone chargers to name one) and asking why it happens is on a par with “What are we on this planet for?”.

So actually it is one of the difining philosphical questions of our time :wink:

How did I miss this, even after previewing? I mean, “and tangle”, of course. :smack:

I don’t use the iPod earphones - I don’t like sticking things in my ear. I use the ones that hang over your ear. And YES, they frustrate me to no end. I have taken to folding them twice and then tying a loose little knot in them and they STILL get tangled. I have curly hair, I’m already fighting tangles every day. I don’t need my earphones to rebel, too.

The research that won this year’s Ig Nobel Prize for Physics offers an explanation:
PHYSICS PRIZE. Dorian Raymer of the Ocean Observatories Initiative at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, and Douglas Smith of the University of California, San Diego, USA, for proving mathematically that heaps of string or hair or almost anything else will inevitably tangle themselves up in knots.
REFERENCE: “Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String,” Dorian M. Raymer and Douglas E. Smith, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 42, October 16, 2007, pp. 16432-7.

This is a great question and I am thrilled that there are some real yet weird explanations. This question is one that I made a mental note to ask here too.

So, am I the only one that has the little slidey-thing on my earbud cord? I thought that was the whole point of that clever little device, you slide it up to hold the earbuds together and essentially make a single cord out of the two individual earbud cords when you coil it up. I definitely think it helps minimize earbud cord tangle.

I was going to mention the “bolo tie” slide that Shoeless mentioned.

Unfortunately, if you have an iPhone, they did away with this little slider because they put the small pinch controller/microphone in the middle of the right wire.

Well yeah. It’s less of a problem if you use the little sliding plastic thing that comes with ipod earbuds that keeps the buds together when not in use. But you can still get some crazy spaghetti if you just stuff it in your pocket.

I bought one of these and it did the trick for me. There’s other similar solutions such as this or this or this.

But you can also use techniques such as this or this or this if you don’t want to fork over any dough.