The sock equation

March 20, 2012 • 12:37 pm

If you haven’t been victim of this equation, you’re extraordinarily lucky:

When I was younger, I had a bright idea to solve this problem: simply put a small nylon snap at the top of each sock.  Then, before putting them in the washer, snap each pair together so each sock stays with its mate. Dry them likewise.  Presto—your socks are already matched!

Then, years later, I found that somebody else invented them independently (see this article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune from 1977).  I guess the socks (called “Perma-snaps”; my own name was “Snap-Eze”) never caught on.  And I still have a plastic bag full of unmatched socks, hoping some day that I’ll find their mates.

Another solution I thought of was to throw in a single spare sock to propitiate the Sock-Eating God each time you do your laundry.

69 thoughts on “The sock equation

    1. …and so it was in stardate -310782.7 that first glimmerings of science that later lead to the development of transporter technology were discovered.

  1. Or you could use the elastic band on the socks to keep them together in the washer and drier. That’s what I do, and I haven’t lost a sock since I was 17, when I started. Good news: the elastic band doesn’t wear out very quickly.

  2. When I was a kid, my grandmother’s washing machine was notorious for losing socks. After a four-day visit to her house, we would inevitably return a sock or three short. However, the missing ones usually turned up at Grandma’s eventually, and she (good Jewish grandmother that she is) would mail them back to us.

  3. How about selling socks in threes? A pack of three socks could be called a “Trois Chaussettes”. That way you have to lose two socks before it’s useless. I should be in marketing.

  4. Actually, the socks aren’t getting eaten, they’re being raptured — by the Invisible Pink Unicorn Herself no less. You should feel fortunate, for it is a Sign that She has blessed you. And, when She really likes you, She even turns your socks Pink.

    Really, Jerry. I’m surprised you didn’t know this…after all, She is the ony deity whose existence can be proven by evidence. Specifically, even atheists believe in Her, thereby providing all the proof one needs.


  5. I threw out all my socks and bought a big pile of identical black ones. Now I’ve got a big pile of grey socks, no two of which are the same shade.

  6. A simple solution is to stop caring if your socks match. This has the added advantage of saving the time spent sorting socks after washing!

    1. This has the added benefit of making you seem like an ultra-cool hipster, who just can’t be bothered to care about the unimportant things regular schmoes care about.

      Alternatively, it might make you seem like an ultra-cool hipster who has some special insight as to the savviest, most avant-garde way to clothe one’s feet. Important stuff!

        1. Heck, making a big deal out of something barely noticeable is the most hipster of all.

          But mostly, I just felt like taking a swipe at hipsters. This happened to be a suitable(ish) outlet.

  7. Another solution I thought of was to throw in a single spare sock to propitiate the Sock-Eating God each time you do your laundry.

    I’m guessing the Sock God would laugh at such an attempt by regurgitating the missing sock while eating one out of all the pairs.

  8. This one is too good… I laughed out loud. I’ve always said that the washing machine eats socks….. and now you gave me the confirmation.

    By the way, I love your emails.


  9. “Another solution I thought of was to throw in a single spare sock to propitiate the Sock-Eating God each time you do your laundry.”

    That assumes the sock-eater actually eats socks. I believe that, instead, it feeds on human desire for matching pairs of socks, so in this case, it would simply remove one of the matches.

    I like to torture the beast by wearing sandals as often as possible.

  10. Jerry, I’m surprised that you (being a biologist) didn’t know that some socks spontaneously morph into the extra clothes-hangers found in every closet.

    Nobody has yet observed how they accomplish this, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before we discover one pupating under the dryer!

  11. In my 45+ years of doing my laundry, I have never lost any socks to the washer or dryer. The problem is not that what comes out is less than what went in, the problem is that they didn’t all get put in. The problem is GIGO. QED 😉

  12. The important question is, could we rewind the tape of history, would those missing socks choose to not be lost.

    1. In one episode of the UK TV series Last of the Summer Wine, a nurse asked Compo to remove his sock, to which re replied “I’m not wearing a sock.”

  13. My problem was compounded by the need to wear three socks – one under an ankle brace I must use. There are several items on the market to solve the problem, but most do not work well. I simply use a rubber band to link the appropriate three socks – problem solved. I am still wondering how this thread explains how evolution is true!

    1. Do you mean “Why”? Anyway HERE are three of the stages of sock evolution. The example I’ve linked is incomplete, because it doesn’t demonstrate the origins of the various types of yarn nor does it show the severe selection pressure that socks undergo in the marketplace/washing machine environment.

      P.S. The Designer sock movement must be stamped out!

  14. Personally, I have not had issue with this but my daughter always does. Hereditary factor involved here?

  15. Or do what I do … (genuine as well) … I lost a leg when I was a nipper so ever since then I keep one sock on the prosthesis until it dies of old age. I then buy job lots of black sock to semi-match !

  16. It is well known that the massive black hole at the centre of our galaxy consists mostly of unmatched socks.

    1. I thought it was well known that washing machines teleport socks to random locations at the side of the freeway in the middle of nowhere. Surely you’ve seen them there.

  17. They never caught on because missing socks isn’t as big a problem as some people think it is. It’s also easier to grab mom’s underwear washbag and stuff a whole load of socks into it than to peg every pair of socks.

  18. I don’t believe in God but I do believe in the sock fairy that mixes up my draw full of nicely paired socks.

  19. All these people admitting to loosing one sock in the washing machine makes me feel much better, I thought it was just my problem… has any one ever lost a matching pair?

  20. The hozone layer: mysterious zone in space to which one sock in every three loads of washing disappears.

  21. The same supernatural forces are present in the southern hemisphere, even in Australia, although here we only wash socks after wearing for a week.

    1. Ah, ballpoint pens. They have a gregarious habit, whereby they all end up in clusters (and almost invariably somewhere you are not when you need one). And how they do this is not known, they can never be observed in migration. I think they sneak sideways through hyperspace.

  22. I believe the equation is not correct. The actual equation is:

    2 * sock + dryer = sock + dryer

    Subtracting dryer from both sides gives us:

    2 * sock = sock

    Subtracting sock from both sides gives us:

    sock = 0 * G, where G is the God constant.

    I know that some of you might argue that introducing G is unnecessary. But, that is because you lack faith.

  23. No, no, the dryer didn’t lose your sock. It gave you an extra one! Spontaneous generation in action.

    1. I’m guessing the guy wearing the boots would notice pretty quick if he forgot to put on socks.

  24. Or consider the hypothesis that the washing machine is merely the tool of aliens who abduct earth socks to store their muffins in. (This is no stranger than the dogma in the Apostles’ Creed.)

  25. In Annapolis, MD., boatyard employees wear socks only in the winter. On Mar. 20, they have the Burning of the Socks Festival to celebrate spring. If you burn them, you don’t need to wash them. Ergo, no lost socks.

  26. I don’t even try to pair socks. I just grab two socks that look similar from the pile in the sock drawer. After all, if they look near enough the same to me, who else is going to notice? Conceivably that could end up with some odd socks that mismatch too much to be paired (I’m not sure how to do the maths on that), but all that says is it’s time to wash the rest of them and chuck them back in the sock pool – I mean, drawer.

  27. OK I own up Jerry. I have a load of odd socks that I don’t recognise. do you think that the black hole at your end swallowed them and spat them out through mine?

  28. Lakeland makes a sock clip which is on the socks whenever they are not on the feet. This has produced blissful harmony in my household, where my own socks are clipped and my husband’s are free to roam. He sorts his just-washed socks into pairs to lay them out to dry, and mine can be gathered by their lime-green peglets. And the sock monster starves.

  29. Maybe that’s not a dryer, but a mini-Tardas. Maybe socks don’t really disappear, but simply reappear in another Tardas. So, when you find a lone sock, it came from another point in space and time. They are lost only to you. It’s twin still exists.

        1. Mais bien sûr!

          TARDIS is ostensibly an abbreviation for “time and relative dimensions in space” — although I think that’s really a backronym.


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