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Tied and Tangled

It’s not magic, it’s cooperation!

In this activity, students use topology and cooperation to untangle themselves from each other.

They’ll have to use lateral thinking and topology to untangle themselves from their partners.

Topology is the mathematical study of shapes and spaces. It involves looking at the shapes that result through stretching, transforming, deforming, folding and twisting. Tearing, on the other hand, is not allowed!

Magic is something that seems otherworldly or mysterious. Magicians entertain us by creating the illusion that they have strange and mysterious powers.

In the world around us, we can get by without having a good understanding of how everything works. For many of the complicated gadgets that we use, the science is hidden inside the “black box”. So it may seem to work “like magic”. Science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke claimed that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. If we understand why things happen based on our observations or previous knowledge, things don’t seem as magical anymore.


  • Explain the importance of observation when doing science.


  • Per Class or Group:
    a large open space

Key Questions

  • Were you able to untangle yourselves?
  • Can you come up with a harder approach? An easier one?
  • Is there an impossible version of this tangle?

What To Do

  1. In groups of 6-7, ask students to stand in a circle.
  2. Ask each student to reach their right hand into the middle of the circle and randomly grab another person’s hand in the circle.
  3. Repeat with the left hand, making sure they are holding two different peoples’ hands (It won’t work if two students are holding both right and left hands).
  4. Students have to figure out how to untangle themselves to form a circle without letting go of each other’s hands.
  5. The first group to untangle themselves wins!

Tip: Students are allowed to face in or out of the circle.


  • How many people can you get tangled and de-tangled again?