It's been a good week for … rope tricks

It's been a good week for … rope tricks

Ever wondered how cowboys pull all those stunts with their lassos? Probably not. But a French physicist cares. Unperturbed by the seeming triviality of his quest - and presumably untroubled about uncovering the meaning of the universe - Dr Pierre-Thomas Brun, of EPFL in Switzerland, has cracked a maths equation for spinning a lasso.

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Anyone can teach themselves the famous "flat loop" by following some basic formulae, says Brun, himself now lassoing like a rodeo veteran.

He showed off his "cowboy physics" skills at the American Physical Society meeting in Denver.

Trick roping has evolved from a basic means of catching cows into a performance art form, made famous by vaudeville cowboy Will Rogers in the 1920s and 1930s. Fancy moves include the merry-go-round, the wedding ring and the particularly tricky Texas skip.

So was Brun messing around with a rope merely to avoid doing his homework on atom splitting? Apparently not. Lassos actually harbour useful mathematical secrets.

"Elastic threads are everywhere in our daily lives - from hair and textile yarns to DNA and undersea broadband cables," said Brun. "All of these threads twist and coil according to the same equations as the cowboy's lasso."

And "Cowboy Craig" Ingram, a champion roper who performs around Colorado, agrees.

"There's a lot of science to trick roping: geometry, speed, timing and centrifugal forces," he said.

Whip crack-away, as they say.

Maybe a piece of rope is all we need after all in order to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

It's been a bad week for … macho footballers

Any credibility the prima donnas of Italian football had left has been wiped out by news that their new national strips are designed to give them a massage during the game.

The shirts, worn for the first time at last Wednesday's friendly against Spain, contain a special tape that provides "micro-massages" for the wearer. According to the manufacturer, the massage strips "maximise muscle power" by allowing the body to recover more quickly from exertion.

The technology, however, can only go so far. Manicures and pedicures will have to take place at half time, and adoring fans will still be required to massage the players' egos.