WHEN RESEARCHERS AT THE CAVENDISH LABORATORY IN CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND, DECIDE TO TIE ONE ON, THEY TAKE THE JOB SERIOUSLY. Thomas M.A. Fink and Yong Mao, seeking a fashion breakthrough, used computer models to find all the knots men might use to fasten their neckties. The researchers report in Nature that they came up with 85 of them. Taking into account aesthetic concerns such as symmetry and balance, the scientists were left with 10 knots--six of which have never been seen on Madison Avenue or Bond Street.

To study knot-tying, Fink and Mao defined the process as a series of half-turns initiated by bringing the wide end of the tie either over or under the narrow end. Subsequent moves had to obey two rules: With each half turn, the wide end of the tie must alternate between moving toward the shirt or away from it. And the wide end cannot move in the same direction--right, left, or center--two times in a row.

The last time a new knot appeared was in 1989 when the pratt knot made its debut on the front page of The New York Times. So far, the six Cavendish lab knots are nameless, but any one of them could become a runaway fashion hit.

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