Imagine that each of the ropes in the two sets of links in Figure 1 are solid (with thickness) and made of very flexible and stretchy rubber.
Question: is it possible to deform one set of links into the other in a continuous motion (without tearing or cutting)? In other words, can you get the purple pretzel off the red ring?
Surprise answer: Yes!!
Students (as well as you) may find this very hard to believe!
The Math Behind the Fact:
The transformation can best be explained by a sequence of pictures that demonstrate the transformation, since it is not easy to describe in words! It is important here that the ropes are solid, with thickness, and very stretchy; it wouldn’t be possible otherwise. See Unbelievable Unlinking for a hint on how it can be done. The reference contains a solution.
A course in topology is the best place to learn about links and knots and continuous deformations.
How to Cite this Page:
Su, Francis E., et al. “Pretzel Unlinking.” Math Fun Facts. <https://www.math.hmc.edu/funfacts>.
V.V. Prasalov, Intuitive Topology.
Fun Fact suggested by: