As I recline weekly in velvet smoking jacket and exquisite cravat to
dictate The List to my oiled, submissive stenographer, it is often given to me
to muse on the science and aesthetics of tie knots. Happily, Messrs Fink and
Mao have now systematized the study of this most indispensable of gentlemen's
apparel. Our authors are Cambridge physicists, and they have devised a highly
ingenious mathematical method of proving exactly how many different ways there
are to tie a tie, given certain practical (tie length, volume of knot) and
aesthetic (symmetry) constraints. Such an advance in our understanding is the
fruit of knot theory, a branch of topology under which we can see that a tie is
a random walk on a triangular lattice. This eminently desirable little
volume also paints a deft history of the tie, with clear knotting diagrams for
each of its sartorial results. A perfect seasonal gift for fathers who would
like to enter the new millennium more sprightly of step, and more elegant of
This wonderful little book by Thomas Fink and Yong Mao has changed my life.
Now, when I tie a tie, I know
what I am doing, and why. Fink and Mao have performed a great service for
civilization, doing for tie-knot
tying what Isaac Newton did for the motion of the heavens: lifting it from
the darkness of secrecy, ritual and
superstition to the light of rational, scientific good taste...Fink and Mao
have shown that it's possible to be both smart and smart - in brains and
A masterpiece of ludicrous arcana by two Cambridge researchers....
brilliant idea for a book. Thomas Fink and Yong Mao are condensed-matter
theorists at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, and their work on tying
knots made headlines around the world last year after it was published in
Nature (1999, 398, 31). Using ideas from statistical mechanics, they worked
out that there are 85 ways to tie a necktie. However, only 13 of these knots
were deemed to be aesthetic on the grounds of "symmetry" and
"balance". Three of these - the Windsor, the half-Windsor and the
four-in-hand - were already widely known, whilst a fourth, dubbed the Nicky,
was found to be a simpler version of the unaesthetic "Pratt", which
was invented to much acclaim in 1989.
The fact that only thirteen knots withstood their aesthetic contraints
is comparatively unimportant.
More interestingly the authors accompany it with a deft but
resolute history of the tie, as well as detailed knotting instructions.
The unconventional should consider one of the rather novel options like
the "crossed Christensen". But perhaps not before the office, it
might take some time.
Once they have established the history, the authors explain their knotting
breakthrough. Mathematicians have already invented a rich and precise
language for each element of knotting, and Fink and Mao combine these
elements in all possible ways to create a rich array of knots. They also
show how to exploit mathematical rules in order to define when a knot is
distinct from anything that has ever been seen before....
My favourite review from notmydesk.com.