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Down the Hatchet

Blame the Gnomes

By Akshay Patil

I hate to admit it, but it’s the truth. I had always teased others when they confided in me before, but I never knew that one day I would discover that I, too, had fallen victim to a curse that plagues so many of us. I have an odd number of socks.

As shocking as this may be, I’ve never actually gone out and purchased an odd number of socks. I always bought sets of sock “pairs” from clothing stores. I’ve also never thrown away a single sock on its own. According to theoretical mathematics, this would imply that the current state of my sock count is unreachable... an impossibility! Mind-boggling! An extraordinary find! Raise Newton out of the grave, and give Euler a wake up call -- have we got a problem for them!

Sadly, the reality of the situation is that somewhere out in this great, vast, wide world, is one of my socks. It could be next door or on the other side of the world. This would imply that at some point, I, uhm, lost it. That’s so embarrassing.

You’d think someone with basic competencies would be able to do their laundry without losing an item as simple as a sock. A plain, golden-toed sock. Yet for some reason it happens. Not only does it happen, but it happens often. So often that it’s even part of our freaking culture to crack jokes about the missing sock. No one at MIT understands the it’s-oh-so-hard-to-program-the-time-on-the-VCR joke, but crack a joke about missing socks and the crowd laughs to the point of tears while gasping, “it’s so true! It’s so true!”

I even have a very sneaking suspicion that I haven’t lost one sock, but instead (2n+1) socks, where n is a positive integer. The problem lies in the fact that I’m a sandals man. My feet need to be free.

Autumn is little more than a prolonged argument between me and mother nature as she tries to get me to finally put my sandals away and slap on a pair of socks and shoes. As you can guess, during a good two thirds to three quarters of the year, I’m happy as a... penguin, yeah... penguin... a penguin wearing sandals.

My laundry’s limiting reagent (that’s right, I said it, you know you call it that too) during those care-free times is my skivvies. Socks are not an issue. But come winter (i.e. crappy weather and finals), the great metaphorical chemical process that is my laundry changes nature and my socks define all the stoichiometry.

Part of the problem is that I’m morally opposed to buying socks. Again this primarily stems from the whole sandal philosophy. I’m also not much of a clothing shopper; I swear to you this wouldn’t be a problem if tech companies gave away free socks. And if they gave out boxer shorts too, I’d be SET. But free silicon-valley underwear is the stuff dreams are made of... back to reality.

Sometimes I like to sit around and think what my renegade socks are up to. Are they stuck underneath a washing machine, wondering just how long that rinse cycle was supposed to be? Are they backpacking across Europe, seeing the world? Did they get eaten by penguins in Antarctica (because that’s where penguins live!)? Maybe they got covered by chocolate and then got eaten by penguins in Antarctica. Yeah, that sounds more plausible.

Wherever my socks are, I hope they’re having fun. Maybe they’re reading this column... if so, I wish them luck in all of life’s adventures and kindly remind them of their abandoned companion who sits lonely in my sock drawer, wishing he/she (side note: it is damn hard to sex a sock) had a mate. So come back sometime, ok? Stay clean, be fruitful, and multiply (because math is fun and baby socks are just so gosh-darn cute).