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the truth behind the missing socks!

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Author's note: This was originally written for the Journal of Irreproducible Results (now the Annals of Improbable Research) and I had given out a couple of copies of a draft of it for a few folks to proof and/or comment on. Along the way, one of these copies had ended up over at the offices of a magazine named Micro Cornucopia which then printed it in their June 1987 issue, without asking or even notifying me. I only found out about it because someone mentioned having read it some time after it had been on the newsstands. Needless to say, it couldn't appear in the JIR at that point. Micro Cornucopia did eventually pay me for the article, though there were never any contracts or agreements signed regarding the rights to it.

On the Experimental Verification of the Nonconservation of Parity and the Quantum Mechanical Tunneling of Macroparticles


Experiments verifying macroparticulate parity nonconservation and macroparticulate quantum mechanical tunneling are discussed.


The nonconservation of parity has long been observed in weak interactions, and quantum mechanical tunneling is a frequent event in radioactive decay; however, no significant research has been conducted to determine whether similar processes occur involving macroparticles. Even general macroparticulate quantum effects have heretofore been ignored by the scientific community. This, in all probability, is due to the uncanny and disturbing resemblance macroparticles bear to actual physical objects, a drawback which frightens off all but the bravest of theoreticians. To assist in the amelioration of the relative dearth of knowledge in this field, it was decided to conduct two experiments to determine if quantum mechanical processes occured in macroparticles: the first would determine if parity was conserved; and the second, to attempt to discover tunneling effects.

Because macroparticles do behave so much like actual objects, it was necessary to conduct all experiments as far from physics laboratories (1) as possible. Certainly the most convienient location satisfying this requirement was my house, and so, all experiments were conducted there.

Experiment 1: Nonconservation of Parity

To demonstrate the nonconservation of parity in macroparticles, it was first necessary to have a group of macroparticles on which to experiment. As the macroparticles best suited to parity experiments, I chose socks (2). The socks chosen were size thirteen, black, over-the-calf men's dress socks puchased from a local clothing emporium. Several pairs were purchased at one time; their average mass was 38g per sock. They went through a two-stage (3) purification process and were removed from the washing machine two at a time to determine that they were indeed still in pairs.

Next, the macroparticles were loaded into the macroparticle dehydrator/storage-cylinder accelerator (4) which accelerated the macroparticles to 6.5 X 10E5 +/- 2.1 X 10E5 TeV and heated them to approximately 347 K. They remained in the storage cylinder for 1561.1 +/- 0.4 seconds and then were removed en masse and placed in a drawer (5).

Each day, over a period of about two weeks, one pair of macroparticles was removed from the drawer, worn (6) , and set aside for future recycling. At the end of the experiment, when all pairs had been removed, a single sock remained in the drawer--the group of macroparticles had changed parity from even to odd. This experiment was repeated a total of four times and in three of the four trials, parity was not conserved.

Experiment 2: Macroparticle Tunneling

Discovery of the event that led up to this experiment came about entirely by accident: one morning several plates, bowls, and pieces of stainless flatware (these will be hereinafter refered to as Kitchen Macroparticles or KMPs) appeared in the basement, clustered about the television set, which is directly beneath the kitchen where these KMPs would normally be found. When questioned regarding this curious event, all proximate mini-persons (7) denied moving the KMPs or even being aware of their presence in the basement.

I began a controlled experiment to determine if these KMPs were indeed tunneling through the relatively high potential barrier of the kitchen floor to the lower energy state of the basement. First of all, all KMPs were removed from the basement, washed (8) , and placed in cupboards; proximate mini-persons were carefully instructed not to take any KMPs outside of the kitchen.

The following evening (9 hours later), a thorough examination uncovered a total of fourteen KMPs in the basement distributed in a roughly Gaussian pattern around the television set (which, as you will recall, is directly below the kitchen). There were two bowls, six plates, three spoons, two forks, and a knife.

The thickness of the floor was measured to be 22.4 cm, which suggested that the KMP wavelengths must be roughly on the same order of magnitude. The individual KMPs were measured, and they ranged from 15.5 cm to 28.1 cm with an mean length of 19.3 cm, correlating remarkably well with the estimate based on floor thickness.

A closer examination revealed that every single KMP exhibited signs of recent contact with comestibles, although a relatively small quantity of actual edible material remained adhered. Perhaps most significantly, the material adhering to the KMPs was invariably food which apparently had been heated (soups, microwave quick-lunches, leftovers, ice cream soup, etc.); no unheated edible material (twinkies, cookies, etc.) adhered to the KMPs. We may therefore conclude that greater than ambient thermal energies are required for quantum mechanical tunneling.

Foods similar to those adhering to the KMPs were discovered spilled in the kitchen, strongly suggesting that the foods which heated the KMPs had been unable to tunnel through the floor themselves either because of shorter wavelengths or a lesser effect of gravity on food than on dishes. As previous experiments have shown that, in fact, the force of gravity has a stronger effect on food than on dishes (9 ,10); I suspected the former possibility, a suspicion which was confirmed when the spills were measured and all were found to be under 4 cm. Comestible fragments that remained adhered to the KMPs, on the other hand, were generally at least 10 cm in length, much more capable of tunneling through the floor.

Finally the distribution of food-heated plates (the most common KMP found) confirmed the tunneling hypothesis: 9 were found in the kitchen, 3 were found on a table near the television, and 1 was found under the table (11)--coinciding almost exactly with the exponential distribution expected for KMPs not tunneling, having tunneled through the floor, and having tunneled through both the floor and table. I also discovered that a spoon was missing altogether which I assumed must have passed through the Earth entirely, but several calls to Hong Kong universities failed to uncover the location of the wayward spoon, so this has not as yet been confirmed.


It has been conclusively demonstrated that the parity of macroparticles is not conserved, and, therefore, socks must come in right-left pairs rather than the single type invariant under reflection operations as was previously supposed.

Similarly, it has been shown that macroparticles of greater than ambient thermal energies are easilly capable of tunneling through potential barriers such as a kitchen floor, and that the first-floor metastable state has an approximate half-life of 16.6 hours.

The discovery of quantum effects in macroparticles may be the single most important development in quantum mechanics since the Schroedinger equation, but research in this field is far from over; we still need to know the relative probabilities of appearance and disappearance of socks and whether the universal sock population remains constant. We need to calculate macroparticle tunneling half-lives with a greater degree of accuracy, and we still need a clearer determination of the effects of temperature on macroparticle tunneling. For example, my cans of soft drinks are forever dissappearing from the office refrigerator; the fact that they are cold suggests parity effects at work, but the fact that they always vanish and never appear suggests the effects of tunneling. Perhaps most importantly, I still need a grant or a Nobel prize or something, which clearly indicates the need for further research.


  1. Interactions of objects and researchers under laboratory conditions bear at best only the most superficial resemblance to their real counterparts. (cf E.P.A. highway gas milage estimates)
  2. Socks come in pairs and are much cheaper than shoes.
  3. The first stage involved removing labels, price tags, and those little plastic hooks; the second stage consisted of running the socks through the medium load cycle of a Speed Queen(R) washing machine with Tide(R) detergent.
  4. Speed Queen(R) heavy-duty electric clothes drier.
  5. Approximate capacity 35,000 cc.
  6. One macroparticle was placed on each foot; feet were carefully counted each day to confirm that they had not also changed parity.
  7. Juvenile Homo Sapiens, ages 11-17 years, sharing same parentage as experimenter.
  8. Using a Kitchenaid(R) dishwasher and Cascade(R) dishwasher detergent.
  9. R. C. Rutabeta, "Generalized Theory of the Buttered-Side effect," J. Recalcitrant Foods 4 (1981), 1630-1661
  10. H. B. Rosie and N. Freap, "Experimental Verification of the Diner Effect With Particular Emphasis on the Comparative Analysis of Paper Towel Absorbtion Coefficients as Affected by Television Camera Proximity," Murphy's Legal Journal 186282 (1984), 62431-62432
  11. The other two plates were on the floor away from the table, and so were not included in this analysis as they might adversely affect the results.
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