The best way to turn a knob is overlooked. An investigation into this neglected question has been recognised with a prestigious award.

A group of Japanese industrial designers came to the conclusion after a series of lab-based trials that the bigger the knob, the more fingers needed to turn it.

The team is one of ten to be recognised at this year's Ig Nobel awards for research that "first makes you laugh, then makes you think".

The physics prize for showing why ducklings swim in a line formation is one of the awards at the virtual ceremony. An international collaboration won the peace prize for coming up with an artificial intelligence that helps gossipers decide when to tell the truth and when to lie.

The winners were presented with a three-dimensional paper gear featuring images of human teeth and a £10tn dollar bill from Zimbabwe, with Sir Richard Roberts handing them out.

Prof Gen Matsuzaki, an industrial design researcher at the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan, won the engineering prize because he focused on a problem that no one cared about.

To turn a knob larger than 1 cm, three fingers are normally required, with a shift to four and five fingers occurring when a knob is greater than 2.5 cm. The team concluded that they couldn't turn a columnar control of small diameter with all five fingers.

He speculated that the work may have inspired the design of appropriately shaped faucets or volume control knobs. His focus has been on bag handles and umbrella grips since 1999.

The question of why ducklings swim in a line formation was the subject of the physics prize. Fish said that he would never win the award.

After watching a mother duck and her offspring swim in a river that runs through Michigan State University, he pondered the question. The fish got a group of ducklings to follow a mechanical mother duck in a large tank of water and found that the linear formation saved energy with the last duckling in the line benefiting most.

A team that analysed what makes legal documents so hard to read won the literature prize. Francis Mollica, who worked on the study at the University of Edinburgh, said that we need to know how bad legal language is. Poor writing is to blame according to the paper. One of the worst tendencies is centre embedded, where you put one sentence inside of the other, instead of keeping them separate.

We didn't test the motives of people who made contracts incomprehensible for bad faith reasons.

A study on how constipation affects the mating prospects of scorpions and a survey of classic Maya pottery suggest that the ancient Maya may have had a penchant for booze.

The editor of the magazine Annals of Improbable Research said: "If you didn't win an Ig Nobel prize tonight, better luck next year."