The sock monster

By Marcus Wilson 12/02/2011

As I’m sure is the case in your house, socks go missing on a regular basis. You’re sure that every night a PAIR of socks goes into the linen basket, and that when the washing is done ALL its contents go in the machine, but, once things are dried and ready to go back in the drawers and wardrobes, some sock somewhere will be missing its partner.

Now, to try to limit this problem I have an odd-sock box. When I find a sock without a partner, it gets checked against the contents of the odd-sock box, to see if it’s a match. If it is, then great, we have recovered a pair; if it’s not, then it goes in the box. And so the contents of the odd sock box sometimes increase in number, and sometimes decrease.  But mostly  the contents increase.

One would of thought that if there are (say) ten odd socks in the odd-sock box, then there are ten rogue socks scattered around the house somewhere. Let’s face it, socks only ENTER the house in pairs (I’m fairly certain on this point) and only LEAVE it again in pairs, so by the law of continuity the total contents of the house should remain pairable. So where are they? I further hypothesize then that the chances of me finding a rogue sock (e.g. under a bed, on top of a bookcase, under the cat bowl etc) should be directly proportional to the number of rogue socks there are – the more rogue socks, the greater the chance of stumbling on one.  Moreover, the rate of loss of socks, I suggest, is roughly constant – after all, I tend to put the same number of socks on my feet every day, so why would I be more likely to lose one one day as opposed to the next.

So we can construct a differential equation for the number of rogue socks in the house – the rate of increase of rogue socks is equal to a constant (for the loss part) minus another constant times the total number lost (for the re-discovery) part. A bit of maths tells me then that I would expect the number of rogue socks to eventually reach a limit, when the rate of loss equals the rate of discovery, and approach that limit exponentially, rather like the voltage across a charging capacitor.

Alas, experimental data suggests that there is no sign of such a limit being reached. The contents of the odd-sock box seems to be growing linearly.

My new hypothesis, which I shall need to test, is that we have a  sock eating monster in the house. Evidence for this hypothesis, I admit, is currently thin, but it would certainly explain why the cat suddenly leaps two feet in the air without warning (on being startled by the sock monster), or, in the middle of the night, runs up and down the corridor several times (being chased by the sock monster).    Unfortunately, there’s also the nagging question  of why the sock monster hasn’t learned to raid the sock box when it feels a bit peckish, but let’s ignore that one.  

Next step is to construct a sock-monster trap (at least the bait will be easy to procure) and wait…


0 Responses to “The sock monster”

  • You need to be careful, Marcus – according to Terry Pratchett, just thinking about such beings as sock monsters will bring them into being. (Mind you, at the time that this happened in the Discworld, it was because Death was on holiday somewhere & all that life-force that wasn’t ‘stopping’ had to go somewhere!). As I remember it, the sock monster does (in that world) exist; it is a blue vaguely elephantine thing that hides behind the washing machine…

  • Best explanation I’ve heard…..
    Socks come in pairs – male and female. When the conditions are right in the washing machine they have sex. Then the female eats the male.

    • So…what then happens to the baby socks? (Or does the cat eat those? It would explain why he gets so excited when I go into the laundry – I thought it was because his food bowl is located there, but maybe he’s after something more tasty.)

  • Clearly there must be a sock monster. Otherwise, if the sock box is increasing in resident numbers (and bearing in mind this is an international phenomenon present in all countries with sock-wearers) then it follows that the entire house will fill with socks; whole towns would fill with socks and we would be taken over by socks. I am 40 and our house should therefore be FULL of socks, particuarly as we have four people in our household and socks are a regular purchase.
    Absence of evidence of, in this case, existence of the sock monster does not preclude existence, just lack of detection of evidence of existence.
    I don’t wear socks in summer – maybe this either slows down the rate of single-sock accumulation or the winter population of sock monsters declines.

    • Just thinking – technology allows us to fit smart tags to each sock in a pair such that they continually ‘ping’ each other to check that their beloved partner is there. If they get separated by more than a couple of metres (presumably because one has been snaffled by the sock monster) they could both let out a scream and you could come running to the rescue.

      Not sure how well the tags would survive a washing machine cycle, though.

  • Well, it would depend on when the socks are snaffled. I mean, are you sure that the socks are still paired when they go on the line, or is there an interdimensional wormhole in the washing machine itself, through which snaffling may occur?

  • Didn’t see any interdimensional wormholes last time I put a load of washing through the machine…