Washing Machine: dramatic thrill ride?

Washing Machine: dramatic thrill ride?


A few years ago, Samsung invited the Thrill Engineer to swap his boiler suit for a lab coat. I was asked to conduct scientific research to answer some pretty tough questions: why do odd socks go missing; what’s the the probability of it happening; and what can Samsung do about it? The result? An in depth advertorial for Samsung’s [then] brand new “add wash” washing machine – you know, for that moment when you’ve just started up the washing cycle and turn around to find a pair of pants on the floor, and just wish there was some way for it to be magically added to the current wash load. I just found the film in our archives under “DO NOT AIR”, but as it’s resonating with a few things I’ve been thinking about recently, I thought we’d take a tumble through those thoughts before watching the film (at the bottom of this post)

The first idea starts with the image of a young man sat watching a washing machine in the laundrette; going round, and around… and around. The vortex of fabric performs a mesmerizing side show, that can oscillate between horror and burlesque – depending on the state of your underwear. It reminds me of one the simplest walk-through attractions I’ve seen at the fairground – and just one of the many optical illusions that informs our VR work at Studio Go Go. Watch the next video and you’ll see how effective it is (I tried this walk-through attraction at IAAPA in 2019 and voted it my personal ‘highest bang-for-buck’ ride in town).

washing machine as optical illusion tunnel

Sadly, on the day of writing this post, news of Dame Olivia Newton John‘s death has just been announced. My mum took my sisters and I out of school early in 1978 to see Grease (an unheard of event, which was very exciting). The bit at the end when Good Sandy turns into Bad Sandy… I nearly dropped my Mivvi for Livi. That very same rotating tunnel of optical illusion continues to frame Sandy’s loveliness in this earliest-of-boyhood memories. I’ll let Sandy tell you, and Danny about it [stud]…

good washing machine turns into bad washing machine

Of course, riding inside a washing machine (or tumble dryer) unless you’re Olivia Newton John can be dangerous; it can also be funny. [this section has been cut] I’ll let you search YouTube – there’s too many to list. Here’s someone else thinking about rides as washing machines. It’s one of our experimental subjects being interviewed on BBC News in 2006, at our inaugural Fairground: Thrill Laboratory month-long festival of events at the Science Museum, London.

baby in a washing machine

Our man here had just taken a ride on a Miami Trip, which spins riders around in a flat vertical plane, as if they were sat on the connecting rod running through the wheels of a steam locomotion, with the rider staying seated upright at all times. Here’s a model I made of such reciprocating motion for the exhibition Engineering Fun: The Story of Orton & Spooner earlier this year.

this is how I'd make a steam powered washing machine

As we’re now thinking about films (Grease), let’s reflect on Samsung’s advertorial, which I know you’re yet to see. It’s about ‘the science of missing socks’. Why would anyone be so bothered about an odd sock missing from their wash that they might consider spending an extra hundred pounds for a technological feature that’s designed to alleviate this one-a-year occurrence? Let’s look at the sock as a character that we might empathise with. American writer Kurt Vonnegut would probably have said something like this about it: “Socks plan to go on a ride together some place nice; they plan to arrive independently and meet when they’re on the ride; left sock gets lost on the way to the ride; panic and horror of both socks as they realise the rides taken off with only right sock onboard; amazing rescue mission by ride operator reunites socks mid flight; socks arrive together at their final destination in  dramatic reveal as the cabin door is opened”. It’s a powerful story, and a great marketing narrative! How about I let Kurt tell you about the science behind the story in his own words?

washing machine as thrilling narrative arc

But that narrative arc could very easily take a different course. The washing machine is not a place a sock wants to go. Other dirty washing is not a group with which our sock protagonist wishes to associate. A dramatic narrative more in line with The Fugitive starts to form, or perhaps something a little more surreal and humorous if you’re Rik Mayall, Ben Elton, and Lise Mayer writing an episode of The Young Ones.

washing machine as horror house for socks

And so, finally, on to that washing machine advertorial! It’s a very thin premise (I work hard in my role as ‘scientist averts disaster’). However, in retrospect, I think there’s enough in this load to make your mind spin at 1,400 rpm if you’ll let it. I’m just off to wash and iron our technician’s boiler suits. I’ll leave you to hang me out to dry. Pip pip!

washing machine as washing machine