It would seem I am not alone in loosing single socks. My April column exploring why my home seems to loose single socks — not pairs, but single socks — has generated more mail than any column I have written over three years! In deference to the strong interest expressed by my readers in this issue, I thought it would be interesting to review the many alternative opinions my readers express.
My chosen hypothesis: Single socks become trapped in the dryer. In my column, I suggested that individual socks might occasionally be drawn past the turning cylinder into the back of the dryer. Only three readers supported this proposition, the same number that proposed socks were being taken by extraterrestrials as flying saucer fuel. One supporter noted that she had never lost socks in many years of doing laundry, until she bought a dryer, but now looses them regularly. Another supporter reported a smoking gun: a single sock outside on the grass, by the dryer exhaust vent.
A hypothesis I had discarded: Its the washer. Four readers felt I had been too cavalier in dismissing the possibility that single socks were being trapped in the washing machine. They pointed out that I was mistaken in stating that there was no way a sock could pass out of the interior metal jacket of the washer. Actually, there is a thin gap between the rotating cylinder and the top of the washer through which an errant sock might escape.
My readers most popular hypothesis: Static cling. Fully twenty one readers (three male college professors and eighteen women who actually do the family wash) advanced the proposition that the missing single socks have been hiding within the sleeves of sweat shirts or jackets, inside trouser legs, or curled up within seldom-worn garments. Rubbing around in the dryer, socks can garner quite a bit of static electricity, these readers point out, easily enough to cause them to cling to other garments. Socks adhering to the outside of a shirt or pant leg are soon dislodged, but ones that find themselves within a sleeve, leg, or fold may simply stay there, not lost so much as misplaced.
A few of these readers reported actually running across previously-lost socks hiding in the sleeves of winter garments or other seldom-worn items. One of the college professors suggested forming a scientific society devoted to zerohosierology, so that the role of static electricity in single sock sequestration can be more fully documented.
One doubting Thomas, criticizing his wifes penchant for the static cling hypothesis, wondered why her static-removing Cling-free sheets dont work on his single socks, and asked how often anyone has seen socks falling out of pant legs as people walk down the street.
Some readers suggested avoiding static cling by pinning socks together, while others suggested avoiding the problem altogether by buying all socks of the same color so that lonely socks could more easily find mates.
A novel hypotheses: The dog ate them. One reader reports that her dog loves to eat pre-washed socks perfumed with foot odors, which she often finds somewhat the worse for wear in backyard dog poop.
A hypothesis I cannot help but love: Transformation. Three readers advanced an idea I have also heard attributed to Jerry Seinfeld, and that I cannot get out of the quirky corner of my mind. Like many readers, I discard the socks I have worn each evening in a laundry basket in my closet. Over many years, I have noticed a tendency for socks I have placed in the closet to disappear. Over that same long period, as my socks are disappearing, there is something in my closet that seems to multiply — COAT HANGERS! Socks are larval coat hangers! Now theres a hypothesis worth testing.
As my previous attempt to use science to sort out the fate of the missing socks has not led to a result many readers share, Im going to have to have another shot at addressing the problem. I invite my readers to join me in the First Annual Saint Louis Sock Census. Taking a Sharpie permanent black or white marker, I am going to number each of my socks (1A & 1B, 2A and 2B, etc.). I may look a little unusual walking around, but all in the cause of science… Im going to pair each number up when they go into the laundry basket and wash, check the pairings before they go into the dryer, and check them again at folding. My familys hilarity at daddys involvement in the details of family laundry will be a small price to pay for scientific enlightenment on such a universal question. If your humor and curiosity can stand it, join me. Well report on the results in 283 days.