Mathematicians and scientists are closing in on an understanding of tangles and knots. Why am I thinking about that?

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Because I spent the weekend decorating the yard for Christmas. Lots of neighborhood Christmas lights were flipped on Thanksgiving night. But plenty of folks, including myself, spent the weekend putting up lights -- or, at least, trying to.

What a frustrating, irritating, seemingly impossible task it is to untangle a string -- or , worse yet, strings of lights--Â  that are snarled, tangled and knotted together!

For some, the only answer is to throw them away and start new.

http://www.ehow.com/video_2371253_untangle-christmas-lights.html

Thatâ€™s not the solution for me.Â  I look to science and math.

Mathematicians say, for example, that not every tangle in a string is a knot. And, just three basic moves - called Reidemeister moves - are needed to untangle an unknotted string.

That's encouraging.

However, three steps are not all thatâ€™s needed to undo a messed up light string. Recently, it was discovered that the number of Reidemeister moves that MAY be needed to undo a string that's a closed loop, is more than 2 to the power (100 billion times N), or way longer than the life of the universe.

Okay. Mathematics isnâ€™t going to be the trick thatâ€™ll untangle my Christmas lights,but it does justify my Christmas-light frustration.

Do you have a knack for untangling lights? Do you know a way to get the snarls out,without pulling out hair, cussing like a sailor or giving up and tossing them in the trash?