(Strange) Physic and Laundry

People don’t usually associate the words “physics” and “laundry” with each other. But if you think about it for a few seconds, there’s quite a lot of applied physics going on any time you do a load of laundry. The fluid dynamics involved in how the agitator stirs the wash water to help the detergent remove dirt. The way the centripetal force generated by the spinning tub helps squeeze excess water out of the clothing. The airflow calculations needed to optimize drying when warm air is forced through a dryer. There’s a lot of physics going on every time you throw a load of dirty clothing in.

Then there’s the ‘strange’ physics that seems to randomly happen when we do a load of laundry. How many of us haven’t speculated about the possibility that a random worm hole opened inside our dryer to swallow a missing sock? Or that a space/time dilation is why a load of laundry to seemingly taking forever to dry?

Then there’s the truly strange physics of the stuff that happens and just does not make any sense…like what happened to me recently

I had a load of colored clothing to do, and like I usually do, I started loading by spreading my jeans out around the bottom of the tub. After they were in, everything else went in on top, again spread around to try to avoid the dreaded ‘heavy spot’ that can set a washing machine to rattling all over the floor. Last, but not least, was the liquid detergent, a circle of darker color atop everything else, complete with the cup that held it (both to clean out the cup for the extra use, and to get the maximum amount of detergent out of it possible). Down went the lid, ’round go the setting knobs, and the final press of the start button to set everything in motion. With everything churning away, I adjourn to my computer to add to my current novel. An hour later, my subconscious reminds me that, yes, I have to stop writing and tend to my laundry. Now, things get truly strange.

Upon opening the lid, I see not the usual neat layer of clothing, pressed hard to the sides of the tub. No, part of the load is as it should be, but the rest is a confused jumble that has resisted the forces of spin to remain stubbornly around the central agitator. I begin trying to sort out what is before me, but the clothing is so intricately intertwined that finding a place to start unraveling the mess temporarily eludes me. After several minutes and more than a few aborted attempts to divine what has happened, I managed to find a loose item I could disentangle it from the rest. Its removal reveals another item, then another, until the picture become clear. Somehow, a pair of gym shorts had managed to not only float free of everything else, it had settled over the central agitator, with the column passing through one of the leg holes. Once that had occurred, it seemed to have become entangled with several other items to form the twisted mass I’d beheld. But that is not the strange part.

Somehow, in that churning mass of water and clothing, not only had this pair of gym shorts contrived to effectively dock with the central agitator, it had managed to swallow the detergent cup with one of only two pockets on it. Even more bizarrely, the opening of the pocket is barely wider than the widest diameter of the cup.

How all this happened, I have no clue. Every time I think back on the event, the logical part of my mind stops, scratches it’s head, and mutters “What the….”. The creative part of me, though, wonders if Chance decided it was time to play the Mother Of All Practical Jokes on me.

Whatever the reason, I think I can safely say it is a moment that will stick with me for years to come.

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