Sock it to me with theories

Burt's Eye View

Despite how it appears, it’s not a conspiracy.

The mystery of the missing sock, I mean. Feel free to keep claiming conspiracies for all that other stuff.

I began pondering the age-old quest for missing socks the other morning when I saw a Tweet from my buddy Ed: “I literally can find one of every sock I own, but not a matching pair. It has to be a vast conspiracy orchestrated by some shady cabal.”

Shady sock-stealing cabals comprise only a small portion of missing footwear theories. Here are a few others proposed by late-for-work people frantically trying to find a lost sole mate:

* They were abducted by aliens as souvenirs. “Thanks for visiting Earth! Y’all come back soon.”

* Missing socks are reincarnated as extra Tupperware lids. “Does that odd lid fit this single sock? I could at least carry my sandwich in it.”

* They were swiped by elves to wear as hats, to use as throw rugs and other hobbit hovel necessities. “Look at this darling knitted shopping bag I found in the humans’ dryer.”

* Dryer lint is the cremated remains of missing socks. “Please spread my ashes over the underwear drawer.”

* There are no missing socks. The dryer actually acts as a cloning machine that creates new socks, but only one at a time. “I have an idea. Let’s throw a bunch of dollar bills in the dryer.”

But a group of researchers say the whole stinky situation boils down to mathematical equations.

In a study commissioned by Samsung to launch a new washing machine line earlier this year, British scientists concluded people lose an average 1.3 socks a month — about 15 a year — or about 1,264 lost socks over a person’s lifespan. Exactly how many socks varies, which can be calculated by an algorithm they call the “Sock Loss Index”:

(L(p x f)+C(t x s))-(P x A).

To figure it out, L equals laundry size; p equals number of people living in the home; f equals frequency of washes in a week; C equals washing complexity; t equals how many types of wash households do in a week; s equals the number of socks washed in a week; P equals the “positivity towards doing laundry,” measured 1 to 5; and A equals the degree of attention, which includes checking pockets, unrolling sleeves, turning clothes right-side out and unrolling socks.

The scientists also believe they’ve ferreted out the culprit: The humans in the household did it.

Yeah, right. Sometimes, science devises some crackpot theories so wild you know they simply cannot be true.

According to the Samsung report, it begins with diffusion of responsibility — thinking that someone else in the household is keeping track of your socks; “heuristics” — mental shortcuts we take to save time and effort, like only checking the easiest places before declaring an object gone for good; confirmation bias — if we don’t see any odd socks lying around, we think there aren’t any missing, until one fails to come out of the laundry; and human error — we drop the sock, kick it out of sight and forget about it.

Think what you want, but personally, as I sit here wearing one blue sock and one red sock, I’m going with the aliens and the Tupperware lids. Nothing else makes sense.

— Send your sock theories to Cole at or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.