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Reef Knot, Thief Knot, Granny Knot, Grief Knot

Posted in Puzzle

Last week we showed you two knots, but asked you to name four. That’s because knots are partly about topography, partly about where the ends are. A classic example is that the Sheet Bend and the Bowline are identical in terms of topography, but one is a loop, one is a bend, and if you don’t make that distinction, bad things can happen in terms of how the structure is loaded.

In this Puzzle, we started with the picture at the top of this post. The upper one looks like a Square Knot, but it could also be what is known as a Thief Knot, thus:

The upper knot is a Reef Knot (Square Knot). The lower one is a Thief Knot.

The structure is the same, but the ends are on the same side of the standing parts with the Reef Knot, and diagonally opposed for the Thief Knot. As dear Mr. Ashley tells its story, “There is a legend that sailors tie clothesbags, and bread bags with this knot, and that thieves always retie them with reef knots and so are inevitably detected. It is a pleasing story that should encourage honesty. However, if I have ever met this knot in practical use, I have neither recognized it nor paid penalty for my failure to do so.”

An even more obscure pair of knots are the two that share the structure of the lower knot at the top of this post. If you were to pull back on that picture, you would either get the Granny Knot or the Whatknot. Neither of these knots are to be recommended for general use, but Ashley notes that, with the ends arranged in one way, the Whatknot is the least secure bend in the world. Pull on the standing parts, and the knot just crawls out of the rope. But flip the ends past each other, and it miraculously becomes one of the most secure bends in the world. You can see details on this, as well as how to turn this phenomenon into a really mean knot prank, in the ABK, #2579. Here is what the two not-quite-twins look like:

The upper knot is a Granny Knot. The lower knot is a Whatknot (Grief Knot).

I will take this opportunity to note that the Whatknot’s bipolar behavior is only an extreme example of a common issue; many knots’ reliability is entirely dependent, not just on how they are tied, but how they are drawn up, and how their ends are disposed.

Of the entries that got two of the knots right, the winner is Allan Jaenecke, who wins his choice of any of our DVD’s.

No one guessed correctly on three of the possible answers, but from the pool of got-’em-all entries, the winner is John D. Rae who runs the Marlinespike Sailor’s Guild page on Facebook. I am particularly pleased that John’s name got picked, as it makes it easy for me to give his site a plug. Go there, join that group. Oh, and John also introduced me to a new name for the Whatknot: the Grief Knot. This is a portmanteau of “Grief” and “Granny.” Makes for a catchy couplet (see title).

As always, the winners are welcome to trade their prizes in on other items in our catalog. Also as always I encourage readers to submit candidates for future Puzzles. So far no one has…

Until now I’ve been tacking the Puzzle onto the end of each blog entry, but in future it will have its own space. Next Wednesday, watch for a particularly tough puzzle about the difficult choice made by a pirate with aspirations to captaincy.

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