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Mystery of the Dryer Solved Scientifically

June 03, 1993|AURORA MACKEY | Aurora Mackey is a Times staff writer

No offense to the producers of those shows about unexplained mysteries, but personally, I have absolutely no desire to watch them.

Why should I, when I have plenty of my own unexplained mysteries at home to deal with?

It's always baffled me, for instance, that I have to drag my kids out of bed each morning for school, yet I'm forced to threaten them with all forms of inhumane punishment (no dessert, early to bed) if they get up to watch Saturday morning cartoons while it's still dark outside.

And why is it that there is no homework to do before dinner, but it suddenly appears--like MAGIC!--when it's time to help with the dishes.

Strange? You betcha.

But that's nothing compared to the mysteries of the wash room, the eerie happenings that regularly go on in my family's washer and dryer.

Oh, I know. Most of you are probably thinking that you, too, have a bag full of unmatched socks--the mates of which also have strangely and mysteriously disappeared. So what's the big deal?

But let me ask you this:

Have you ever opened up your dryer and found a very large woman's maternity bra there, and had absolutely no one in your home who possibly could have had any use for it?

Have you given up trying to keep matched pairs together and bought only white socks for your kids--only to find a neon-colored one, which you have never seen before in your life , mixed in among them?

Or noticed how--weird but true--the one blouse you are certain you put in there, and which is now gone, was exactly the same color as the lint now covering the lint trap?

Well, maybe you haven't wondered about the mysteries of your wash. But 14-year-old Christie Conrad of Thousand Oaks has.

And last week, a science experiment she conducted on the subject--which netted her first place in her division at Ventura County's Science Fair last month--went on to the state finals at the Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles.


Christie's experiment, like all good scientific probes, came from a simple source: Curiosity.

Around her house, Christie, an eighth-grader at Los Cerritos Intermediate School in Thousand Oaks, does the laundry. Usually, she said, she takes care to turn garments right side out before tossing them into the wash.

So why was it that whenever she removed the clothes, many were now inside out? Was she imagining it?

To find out, Christie limited herself to charting only the fate of her family's underwear: that of her father, an electrical engineer; her mother, a high school science teacher; her 17-year-old sister's and her own.

"I thought it was a wonderful, wonderful project," said Susan Falk, the science fair coordinator at Christie's school.

Even Christie's mother, who teaches science and physics at Thousand Oaks High School, was curious about the results. "Christie is in an honors science class, and last year she did an experiment on pendulums," she said.

"With that experiment, of course, I already knew what she would find, because Galileo already figured it out. But with the underwear, I had no idea."

After recording the findings of more than 100 washes, Christie and her father headed over to the library, where she learned how to use algebraic equations to plug in her data.

The results?

More than 50% of the time, she said, the underwear did, in fact, turn inside out in the wash. Only one family member's unmentionables usually came out the way she put them in.

"My sister's Jockey underwear with a wide waistband resisted turning inside out the most," she said.

Impressive? The judges at the Ventura County Science Fair last month obviously thought so, and awarded Christie first place in the math/computer category.


No, Christie didn't win at the state competition in L.A. last week.

Two things, she said, could have contributed.

For one, a judge there didn't think her underwear experiment really belonged in a math category, and so he placed it under "applied mechanics" along with experiments "with a lot of pulleys and moving parts and things like that."

But some of the judges also didn't seem to understand what she was trying to do, she said, and a few even didn't take it seriously.

"When one judge asked her if she really thought this was an important issue," her mother said, "she said to him, 'You must not do the laundry in your house.' "

Ah, a girl with pluck. I like that.

And so, apparently, did the folks over at Jockey International.

When a local representative of the Wisconsin-based company heard about Christie's winning entry at the county science fair, the company graciously donated six pairs of underwear to each member of her family.

They also sent a letter, just prior to the state competition.

"We are confident," the letter said, "that once again, Jockey For Her underwear will prove to be the superior performer in your experiment, and will be the brand of underwear which is least likely to turn inside out after washing."

Ah, science and mysteries.

Don't you just love it?

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