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85 Ways To Tie A Tie

T. Fink & M. Yao.

A quirky little book that mixes knot theory with fashion

The knot used by most men for their ties is the so-called four-in-hand knot, which became fashionable back in the 1860s. The name has nothing to do with the way the knot is tied, and neither is it named after the knot used to secure the reins of a four-in-hand carriage. Instead, the name is taken from the Four-in-Hand Club, a London gentlemen’s club whose members helped to popularise the knot.

In the 1930s, Edward, Prince of Wales, helped to introduce two more knots, namely the bigger, bolder and brasher Windsor and half-Windsor. Then, in 1989, Britain’s nattiest dressers were shocked when the American inventor Jerry Pratt revealed the existence of a new knot, dubbed the Pratt.

At this rate of progress, it would have taken until the middle of the next century before a fifth knot was added to the
tie-wearer’s arsenal. However, earlier this year, two physicists working in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University decided to employ mathematics to speed up the evolution of the tie. Thomas Fink and Yong Mao published a paper in the scientific journal Nature, in which they proved the existence of 85 distinct knots for ties, offering a whole new range of possibilities for the fashionable man about town.

Fink and Mao have now expanded their Nature paper into a slim little book, The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie, an ideal gift for the fashion-conscious physicist. They begin by giving a brief history of the tie, pointing out that a drop in solar activity towards the end of the 17th century resulted in the so-called “Little Ice Age”, which in turn helped to boost the popularity of the cravat…

(extract from Simon Singh’s review, Daily Telegraph, 23 December 1999)