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Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).
> Describe xkcd hereWhat? No, we're not doing another Describe Topic Here joke.> sudo Describe xkcd hereOkay.xkcd is a Stick Figure Comic by Randall Munroe. It is a gag-a-day comic, and generally does not have a continuing plot line or continuity (though there are occasional short story arcs). Many of the jokes are based on math, physics, UNIX and Internet memes, as well as romance and sex. It utilizes Alt Text for each and every comic which contain additional jokes and context.Originally a relatively unknown set of personal sketches and doodles, it grew in popularity in 2006 when other webcomics (such as Dinosaur Comics) began linking to it. However, it was when Randall posted a "Map of the Internet", and said map was subsequently featured on Slashdot, that xkcd's popularity truly erupted. Since then, it has been among the most well-known of webcomics.Of course, you wouldn't know that just by looking at the comic. The characters are still drawn as very basic stick figures, with no facial features other than hairstyle (which is often used to distinguish males and females). However, there are three recurring characters who can be recognized by their respective headgear:
A dark haired woman, referred to in several comics as "Megan"; she shares many of the same interests with the nondescript Author Avatar and is commonly shown to be in a relationship with him. Was the main character of the "Choices" Series.
There also seems to be a recurring main character with a distinct personality (most likely the author's own), but since he looks exactly the same as all the other stick figures without hair or hats, it could be argued that he's just a stock character. He has picked up the nickname Cueball.
There are other recurring characters in the same social circle — e.g. the dark-hairedexistential nihilist — but most of them are less distinctive.Has mentioned this very wiki. The wiki has returned the favor, taking many XKCD comics for page images (see Trivia.XKCD for the list), as well as making the image for all pages under the category "Webcomic" a little picture of Black Hat Guy.xkcd is part of the documentation for goto on the PHP website, and was mentioned as a ticket in a changelog◊note For those curious, here's #619.Two big occurrences for the comic happened in 2012. The webcomic reached one thousand comics in January; as the above-mentioned main character says, "Wow — just 24 to go until a big round-number milestone!" Later in June, xkcd added a section called What If? to its website, where Randall tackles hypothetical questions with physics and silly drawings. Has a lot of snark.Numerologists take note: adding up the numerical values of the title's letters yields a sum of 42. Coincidence?... Yes.Completely unrelated, but some fans had the bright idea to create graphs in XKCD style.The subcomic Time, now finished, is so big it has its own page now.
Affectionate Parody: 141: Parody Week, whose strips don't really make fun of anything and, in some cases, could actually have been used by the regular cartoonist except for the artwork. It turns into a deconstruction of parody with the author halting his MegaTokyo parody because he feels sorry for the writer. The author also stops a later Penny Arcade parody because he respects the writers too much (with the respect transitioning to Ho Yay and then Slash Fic before he finishes.)
For 2012, the comic itself changes depending upon the web browser one views the comic with (as well as various other factors, such as location and operating system, but the web browser is the easiest to view the change with), with at least four different variations in Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera.
The Alt Text for 1036 reads: "I plugged in this lamp and my dog went rigid, spoke a sentence of perfect Akkadian, and then was hurled sideways through the picture window. Even worse, it's one of those lamps where the switch is on the cord."
Art Evolution: Compare the first 150 strips or so with the newer ones.
Art Shift: A few strips actually shift up in terms of quality. The author doesn't seem to have a strong inclination to keep up such things though. On occasion, Randall has created temporary UNIX-themed and 3D-versions of the comic.
In The strip #349, we learn that trying to install FreeBSD has a chance of stranding one in the middle of the ocean. In Click and Drag, we have an ocean somewhere to the right, and there are two stick figures in the middle of it, complaining "Stupid FreeBSD..."
...Which comes up AGAIN even later, as a possible outcome in a "choose your own adventure" style comic.
In "Useless", an early comic, a heart is inserted into various mathematical formulas ending in question marks. It was captioned "My normal approach is useless here." Five years later in "Probability", he wrote a strip about a terminally ill woman. The Alt Text reads, "My normal approach is useless here, too."
In "A-Minus-Minus", the Black Hat Guy sells an office chair on eBay, only for the actual package to arrive at the purchaser's home a bobcat. 251 comics later in "Packages", one character sets up a script that purchases something random off eBay every day so he can continually receive packages (notice the Alt Text). The bobcat gets mentioned yet again in "Coupon Code" (Alt Text again).
In "Barrel - Part 1", the very first comic, a boy starts floating around in a barrel. In "Ferret", the author puts wings on a Ferret hoping he will fly. Eventually, the boy loses the barrel, and 11 comics later, in "Barrel - Part 5", is rescued by the winged ferret.
The punchline for "Barrel - Part 1" is reused in Click and Drag", when you scroll all the way to the right.
The man with the loud girlfriend and the elliptical dish from "Loud Sex" gets a mention in the Alt Text from "Bass".
The comic Up Goer Five explains a space rocket with only the 1000 most common words used in English. It includes the phrase "you will not go to space today" for when something goes wrong. The What If? blag turned it into arunninggag.
Don't Explain the Joke: The comic frequently violates this rule. In many cases, the punchline occurs in the second-to-last panel, only to have a final panel that then explains it. Other times the punchline is in the last panel... but there's a final sentence that then explains the joke. On the rare occasion neither are done, you can probably check the Alt Text and find it explained there.
Early Installment Weirdness: Newcomers to the series will find it very strange that the first few dozen comics are actually just sketches and philosophical musings set to artwork. It wasn't until around 50 strips in that xkcd as we know it began to surface.
Earth All Along: The "Time" comic, which updated once an hour for just over four months after posting, is set in some strange world where the inhabitants don't seem to know things that are common knowledge among humans, like how rivers work and why birds chirp. The reveal eventually showed that it's actually set in the distant future of what was once (and will soon become again) the Mediterranean Sea.
Government Conspiracy: This open letter to whatever group or groups are secretly controlling the U.S. government telling them to get their shit together, it's embarrassing.note Referring to the 2013 government shutdown.
"Why are you carrying a chin-up bar?" ... "I'm not really a not-carrying-a-chin-up-bar person."
"Based on my impressions from walking down the aisles, home improvement stores stock about as many light bulbs as cans of paint. A normal house might have about 20 light bulbs, so let's assume a house needs about 20 gallons of paint. Sure, that sounds about right."
In one of Black Hat's schemes, he takes the observation that standard internet server racks and beehive frames are both 19 inches and have similar pitches and runs with it, noting that most web hosting TOSes* Terms of Servicedon't mention beehives in what's not allowed. The Alt Text calls back to the example listed above, noting that most TOSes also don't prevent dogs from playing baseball in the server facility.
Note that the video was released within hours of the comic. Say what you will about XKCD's fandom, but damn.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Most characters in the strip, male and female, have a strong devotion to making life a little weirder from the start, including Black Hat Guy, so at least by real-world standards, the recurring female character can come off as one, such as in #308.
The appeal of this trope is parodied in comic 122: "I didn't actually mean be different. I just want silly and entertaining on command now and then."
The Masochism Tango: Black Hat Guy and his girlfriend. He blew up her car, for Chrissakes. By moving the mines she had set up to blow up his car. She stole his hat. He likes his hat.
Measuring the Marigolds: Subverted in "Beauty". Yes, scientists find beauty and wonder in their work. It's just not always what everyone else thinks of as beautiful.
This strip starts out fairly normal. Then the whole world falls apart all of a sudden.
The small print about "the algorithm" on the home page might also qualify as either an example or a parody:
We did not invent the algorithm. The algorithm consistently finds Jesus. The algorithm killed Jeeves.note In context, possibly a reference to the search engine rather than the hypercompetent valet. The algorithm is Banned in China. The algorithm is from Jersey. The algorithm constantly finds Jesus. This is not the algorithm. This is close.
The story behind that is as follows: In 2007, some billboards popped up in New York with those sentences on them, as part of an apparent viral marketing campaign by ask.com. However, they apparently didn't finish it; the phrases didn't return anything relevant on Google. Randall decided to exploit this by having the many bloggers in his fanbase post the sentences as links to xkcd.com. He added them to the site itself so that the effort wouldn't be misinterpreted as an attempted Googlebomb. It worked; if you Google the phrases, the top results are all references to xkcd.
Then we have #521. Start with trying to one-up some christmas light displays on Youtube. End up fighting raptors with lightsabers, Bill Gates killing Santa, and finally cutting down the Yggdrasil as a Christmas tree.
Older Than They Think: (In-Universe) With the rapid pace of technology and information, everyone assumes that conversation is dying, newspapers are becoming sensationalist garbage, the sanctity of marriage is being threatened, society is collapsing, and things were better in the old days. This comic shows that people have been believing this for over a century.
The Operators Must Be Crazy: #1438 posits what would happen if mission control acted like indifferent telephone service operators during the Apollo 13 disaster; the operator doesn't care about their emergency, makes snarky comments when they try to explain their plight, and brushes them off in favor of a call from his mother.
Organ Theft: Inverted in 914. His ice is stolen... and he wakes up in a bathtub full of kidneys, rather than the other way 'round.
Overcomplicated Menu Order: Xkcd orders $15.05 worth of appetizers, expecting the waiter to figure out what quantities of which items to serve in order to reach that number. The joke is that the costs listed on the menu just happen to mean that the waiter is being asked to solve a complex mathematical problem.
Time may count as both this and Overly Long Gag: the image on the strip page changes every hour, forming a stop-motion video with narrative when combined on external sites such as this one. People discussing it on the forums initially assumed it would go on for a few days, it went beyond that. Then it seemed logical that it would conclude at the end of the week, with a punchline on April 1st. When it became clear that the story was of two people building a sandcastle on the beach, the most common prediction was that upon finishing the sandcastle the tide would wash it away and the scene loop to the beginning, forming a metaphor of some sort. Eventually the castle was finished and the tide did wash it away, the scene fading to white... only for a brand new scene to start, two people now on a quest to find out how seas and river and everything else works! It went on for over four months, updating each hour, and finally ended on July 26, 2013.
Planet of Steves: The Alt Text for Hurricane Names reveals that with the English and Greek alphabets and the Oxford English Dictionary exhausted, and the subsequent storms proving to be uncountably infinite, the NOAA gives up and names all the remaining hurricanes "Steve".
Pluto Is Expendable: "It's been two years. I thought those wounds had healed. But I stand by what I said. Pluto never should have been a planet."
Retirony: This strip shows an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to defy the trope, with an officer dying the day before his last day on the job, when the department locks retiring officers into a heavily protected room for that day.
Mailing people bobcats, which started in 325, and was referenced in the title text in two subsequentcomics. More recently, during the 2013 holiday season, the XKCD store stated, "I will probably not send you a bobcat" in the main page link.
In the "what if" section of the website, the Netherlands is often seen as a superpower, from conquering the world as Munroe explains what happens if the oceans started to drain to having colonized Mars.
Sarcasm Mode: "Try an Internet petition drive — those totally work."
Self-Imposed Challenge: A rare non-video game example: This strip inspired an actual Flash implementation of the game. It's pretty unplayable (that's kind of the point) with the usual Tetris goals, but a MeFite pointed out the game is actually interesting and reasonably challenging if you try to end the game with as few pieces as you can.
Serial Escalation: There are poster sized comics. There's one or two wall sized comics. But #1110 is so big it probably wouldn't fit on the floor of a passenger jet hangar. It's 165888 pixels wide by 79872 pixels high (roughly 46'/12m wide by 22'/6m tall at 300DPI). The stick figures are about half an inch tall in a world that is to them 5 miles across. Trying to find everything in it is likely to take at least half an hour.
Sexy Shirt Switch: At the bottom of #819, that girl in biology class wearing one of your shirts rates 4 (out of 4) stars on the hotness meter. That girl in biology class wearing one of your mother's shirts rates a Flat "What.".
In the first "1337" comic, one character poses the question, "How does she type with oven mitts on?" This is a reference to a frequently asked question on Homestar Runner's Strong Bad emails, and possibly also a reference to his "training gloves" in the site's "In Search of the Yello Dello" toon.
In the "Jurassic World" strip, apart from the obvious reference to Jurassic World, the punchline is that the reconstructed dinosaur is T-Rex from Dinosaur Comics (and as a bonus, he's depicted in the same pose he always stands in when delivering a punchline).
In this strip: "Haiku? It's an experimental OS that I... oh, never mind." Now try counting the syllables.
The Alt Text in this strip asks, "When you talk about the job experience you'll give me, why do you pronounce Job with a long 'o'?" This is a reference to the Biblical figure Job, whose story centers on him being tormented with sickness while maintaining his faith in God.
With some exceptions, like the one against homeopathy, the Take Thats are usually intended to be in jest. Occasionally the comic doesn't make this entirely clear; notably, the one against anthropology majors was so widely seen as a serious insult to the field that the author later issued an apology for it, as noted above under Incredibly Lame Pun.
That Cloud Looks Like: Cueball asks Megan what she sees in a cloud, but she instead points her cell phone at it and uses Google's image search to identify it. Google says it's a cloud, Cueball is unimpressed.
One guy tries to fool people by getting a vanity plate consisting of 1's and I's, thinking he can commit crimes with impunity as no one will be able to correctly record his plate number. This backfires on him in that he's the only one with a license plate like this, so the cops can find him easily; and the Alt Text suggests his girlfriend gets a similar plate so that she can commit crimes that he'll get blamed for.
Viewers Are Geniuses: One of the biggest practitioners. The strip often bases comics on obscure math, physics, or computer jokes. This has gotten less common over time, and the forums are very useful. You may need to be knowledgeable in several possibly obscure or complicated fields to completely get some of the earlier ones. For example, computer programing, meteorology, cosmic rays, and tao philosophy. Really.
Another example: Hand this to an electronics technician, and just sit back and watch the laughter.
Viewers Are Morons: This directly goes against the above assertion, sometimes twining the two. While many of the jokes in the strip are aimed towards those in specialized fields or hobbies, Randall has a tendency to explain these references and jokes within the comic.
This was more prevalent in earlier comics, which can probably be attributed to the fact that Wikipedia was still new and pretty unknown when Randall started his strips, and so things that are now fairly common knowledge among anyone who has spent any time on the internet (like the Donner Party) were still only known by those who studied certain fields or the sort of people who get on Jeopardy.
Weasel Words: Randall has a bone to pick with Newscasters who use "one of the [X]" instead of "the [X]" when they aren't 100% certain to the validity of a claim, they get so used to hedging their speech that they use it in cases where they can be 100% certain, and the weasel words just ruin what they are saying.
Wham Episode: Randall reveals that due to illness in the family, the next few weeks are going to be filler. Normal updates resume. Then five months later, he gives us a Tear Jerker with a heart-breaking Ironic Echo. (His now-wife is doing just fine, though.)
Zerg Rush: Due to the popularity of xkcd, it's common to click on links and watch counts skyrocket. This is more apparent on "What if?", which has at least one outside link and a couple of PDFs per post. One of the most common comments in any of them is "xkcd army reporting in!"
Zonk: The beret guy appears on a nameless game show based on the classic two-goats-and-a-car problem and wins a goat. Instead of going for the car, he takes the goat and says he has an overgrown yard.