Academics tackle knotty subject


01-12-1999

Two top Cambridge scientists have taken a break from their ground- breaking research to solve the age-old problem of what to buy a man for Christmas.

The ideal gift is a book entitled The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie, and its unlikely source are academics Dr Thomas Fink and Dr Yong Mao.



They first applied their brilliant minds to the knotty problem of ties as a diversion from their work on statistical mechanics at department of physics.



Their research showed the humble tie could be tied in 85 different ways - and when they published the findings in a scientific journal they were so overwhelmed by the response they decided to produce a book.



'The book was lots of fun too,' said Dr Thomas Fink.



'Researching it, especially the history section, was a good change from the day job of maths and equations.'



And the pair's editor at publishers Fourth Estate, Clive Priddle, has high hopes that the unusual book will collar the Christmas market.



'Apart from the practical aspect of it, I hope the eccentricity of it will appeal,' he said, adding that the book was a 'beguilingly funny combination' of incredibly difficult mathematics and one of the most everyday objects.



'I should think people will buy it for husbands, brothers and fathers - although there have been female models wearing ties and knotted scarves on the catwalk this year,' he said.



The book contains a short history of ties, demonstrations of how to tie all 85 knots, and an explanation of the maths behind the study.



It came about after the two physicists realised that the movements made in tying knots were similar to movements made by molecules which move around in patterns called 'random walks', making one step at a time, either to the right, left or centre.



By applying the theory to ties, they were able to calculate 85 distinct ways of producing a perfect knot.



Fortunately, you don't have to be a mathematician to copy the knots, even if the 10 book is sub-titled 'The Science and Aesthetics of Tie Knots.'