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Proper Usage Of PTNs

Editor’s note: We’ve managed to coax ChemBark’s Paul Bracher out of his blogging blackout. Welcome back, Paul! Other erstwhile bloggers looking to come out of retirement for a guest post or two should email me at r_pepling at acs dot org. –Rachel

I received a periodic table necktie for Christmas, which doubles my tally of PTNs to two.  Look at it over there—absolutely hideous.  Nevertheless, I will keep it, and when the time is right, I will wear it without shame.  For now, as a service to the chemical community, I feel compelled to instruct the millions of readers of C&ENtral Science on the correct use of chemical neckwear.

PTNs generally range from ugly to uglier to yuck, but that doesn’t stop chemists from buying them.  Ideally, you would be able to find a PTN that was understated to the point of having to inspect it closely to make out the periodic table.  Such ties do not exist, as no designer with any class would put the periodic table on a tie.

Blinded by their love of chemistry, many men have trouble grasping the exact fashion statement of wearing a PTN.  Contrary to what you (as a chemist) might believe, the major statement is *not* that you love chemistry.  When people see your PTN, the first thing that enters their minds will be: “This guy is a weirdo.”  These people may eventually discover that you are just trying to be funny (5%), but they will probably end up confirming that you are, in fact, a weirdo (95%).  Despite these long odds, most of you will self-assuredly claim not to be weird, because weirdos are never conscious of their weirdness.  This is precisely why socially questionable behavior never gets corrected.  Next time you put on your periodic tie, please ask yourself, “Am I weird?”  If your answer is no, ask someone else—like the life-sized nude statue of R. B. Woodward in your bedroom.

So, when is

it acceptable to wear a periodic tie?  The best time to break one out is when you purposely want to be irritating.  Maybe there’s an event you don’t want to go to but you’re obligated to attend (e.g., a party with your SO’s fellow yentas).  In such a situation, you’ll probably relish an opportunity to be annoying.  Respond to guests’ questions with answers that will make them feel uncomfortable.  If someone says “Nice tie,” reply “Sorry, I’m married, but thanks anyway.”  If someone asks if you’re a chemist, exclaim “OH MY GOD!  How did you know?!” and stare blankly at them for 10 seconds with your mouth gaping open.  Be creative.  Be cruel.  The possibilities are endless.

In situations where you’re not purposely trying to be a jerk, stick with a regular necktie.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others.”


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  • Jan 16th 200921:01
    by Jim Klent

    If you go to:
    you can see an R. B. Woodward tie.

  • Jan 17th 200922:01
    by Neil Gussman

    Paul–Great post!! Novelty ties of all kinds are dumb, the ones that double identify the wearer as geek are the worst.

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    Jan 19th 200900:01
    by Chemistry Blog » Blog Archive » Paul Bracher from ChemBark is back.

    [...] Link: Proper Usage Of PTNs [...]

  • Jan 19th 200911:01
    by sam

    As a designer and manufacture of novelty items, I am offended.

  • Jan 19th 200912:01
    by blatnoi

    Apparently, wearing them at faculty meetings brings up a whole other layer of social complexity. You probably should have tenure before wearing it.

    They are great for wearing around the department if you’re a professor and like to dress formally. I haven’t made up my mind whether it’s a big no-no to wear one at an ACS meeting.

  • Jan 19th 200919:01
    by Paul

    Don’t wear one at a conference, and if you do, don’t pose for pictures.

  • Jan 20th 200919:01
    by retreaD

    Welcome back Paul ! You got me started in the game (now posting on “The Skeptical Chymist” in the “Chemiotics” section). Will you revive ChemBark?

  • Jan 20th 200921:01
    by Paul

    Hey Retread. ChemBark will rise again, but not for 6 months or so.

  • Jan 27th 200901:01
    by Hap

    Hello Paul. Glad you’re (sort of) back.

    If you’re social inadequate enough, the PTN is unnecessary. Doodling structures I find helps – it’s not intentional to repel bystanders, but it’s cheaper and less ugly than the necktie.

  • Mar 12th 200919:03
    by Wolfie

    Oh yes, it must be so. I am so sad, Paul, to find you back here with no progress. What can we do, as the community of chemists ? We all love you and wish you a successful comeback. President Obama also loves you in all his glory and truthfulness and he welcomes you. Please join him in his successful team with your Harvardmates.

    Good luck,


  • Jun 18th 200914:06
    by Daniel Mietchen

    Thanks for the advice, Paul – what is the license of the image? I would like to use it for http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Periodic_Table_of_Elements (where CC-BY-SA is the default).

  • Jun 19th 200920:06
    by Paul

    Feel free to use it for whatever.

  • [...] should be no surprise that periodic tables of varying ilk (including neckties, baked goods, videos, and elephants) would frequently make appearances around here. We are a [...]

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