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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)."
Former Content Warnings on xkcd comic pages

troper@tvtropes:/$ describe xkcd here

What? No, we're not doing another Describe Topic Here joke.

troper@tvtropes:/$ su

root@tvtropes:/# describe xkcd herenote 

Okay.

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, science, UNIX or Internet memes, as well as romance and sex. It utilizes Alt Text for each and every comic, which contains 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 "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). There are a couple recurring characters that can be discerned by their headwear:

  • "Black Hat Guy": a Jerkass badass character with a black pork-pie hat, who in one storyline encountered a woman who out-Jerkassed him and has now become his romantic interest.
  • "White Hat Guy": best described as "tries to be as mean and cool as Black Hat Guy, but fails miserably". He has the same type of hat as Black Hat Guy, only it's white.
  • A beret-clad Cloudcuckoolander and Anti-Nihilist, generally thought of as an Existentialist, albeit one with strange powers and a thing for pastries.
  • 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 nicknameinvoked Cueball.

There are other recurring characters in the same social circle—e.g. the dark-haired existential 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 ImageSource.xkcd for the list), as well as (formerly; may he be mourned) 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 

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.

Two entries, the subcomic Time and the "small game" Hoverboard, are so big that they have their own pages.

The comic also has a wiki of sorts of its own; Explain XKCD, a resource for understanding the jokes that may fly over the reader's head.


xkcd provides examples of:

    open/close all folders 

    #-E 
  • 20% More Awesome: Graphing things that cannot be quantified is a running theme in many comics.
    • This particularly meta example involves a graph about a decline in a relationship that might be caused by graphing things.
    • "Love Songs" is a scatter plot that measures how much the singer likes the addressee, versus how much the addressee likes the singer. Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" maximizes both axes, while Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" minimizes it.
    • "Sphere Tastiness" graphs the size of various spheres against how tasty they are. Plotting fruit and celestial bodies together, Randall concludes that (at the midpoint of the objects' magnitudes of size) there is an object 800 meters in diameter that tastes worse than grapes but better than the moon.
  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Exaggerated in 57: Wait For Me, where in the 90 seconds Megan was gone, Cueball had a baby with another woman, and the baby grew to about Megan's age.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: Beret Guy does this a lot. Examples include Vacuum, where he uses a vacuum cleaner to "unlock the tremendous energy of the vacuum [as in "vacuum energy" in quantum mechanics]"; and Interferometry, where he uses the principles of interferometry to ride two small dogs as if they were one giant dog.
  • 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.)
  • Age-Gap Algebra: Dating Pools focuses on the "half your age plus seven" rule, which says that it is creepy to date anyone who is half your age plus 7 years.
  • Aggressive Categorism: How It Works: When a guy sucks at math, it's the guy's problem; when a girl sucks at math, the problem lies with all girls.
    Guy to Guy: Wow, you suck at math.
    Guy to Girl: Wow, girls suck at math.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
    • Zealous Autoconfig shows Cueball trying to connect to a Wi-Fi network of someone's access points. The "zealous autoconfig" program in his computer begins a dictionary attack, attempts to find a WEP vulnerability, connects to Cueball's Bluetooth to locate the children of the owner of the access point, and kidnaps the children to start a negotiation with their parents.
    • Genetic Algorithms provides one solution to prevent this from happening: setting the cost of the algorithm from becoming Skynet to a very high amount.
    • Subverted in Skynet, where Skynet "becomes too self-aware" and stops its plan of killing all humans.
  • All Just a Dream:
    • In Tech Support, Cueball is given the chance to ask a tech-savvy person for help if he speaks a secret word on the phone, which could help him on tech support. It is revealed, however, to be a dream.
    • "Like This One" has Cueball and Megan talk to a researcher who is studying "gas molecules, like this one" as she gestures around them. The comic suggests languages, social interactions, gravitational fields, and sound waves as normal things for a researcher to say "like this one" to point out when inquired about their specialization; the Alt Text, on the other hand, points out how the phrase "I'm a neurologist studying dreams, like this one" would immediately shift the tone of the conversation.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: In Creepy, Cueball and Megan are sitting on chairs. Megan secretly wants Cueball to notice her, but the reason why he is ignoring her is because he thought he would get regarded as creepy if he did try to talk to her.
  • Alt Text: Every single comic has a second punchline if you hover your mouse over the comic for a few seconds. This is probably one of the most well-known examples of such, in fact (even providing the trope page's image).
  • Alternative Calendar:
    • In Daylight Calendar, a new calendar system is implemented in which a "day" is counted as 12 hours of daylight, however long that may be, in order to provide extra time on deadlines. During November, the sun may rise and set as many as three times a "day".
    • Consensus Time has a different alternate handling of a "day": people click a button when they feel like it's 9 AM, and then the clocks adjust themselves based on the median of their choices.
  • Ambiguous Syntax:
    • Hyphen plays on the suffix "-ass" as an intensifier and the prefix "ass-" as a modifier.
    • Jacket plays on "fucking" being both an intensifier and the present participle of "fuck".
    • Laser Scope plays on "miss" meaning 'aiming for a target and not hitting it', and 'sadness at not seeing them': "Miss your loved ones? You don't have to. RJX-21 laser scope". Alt Text: I wish I'd missed you then so I wouldn't be missing you now"
  • Anachronism Stew: Discussed in Period Speech, where all the words and phrases in the character's dialogue are from different periods. The point is that a few hundred years from now, all the English from historical and modern times would be lumped together into "old-timey language" and thus be interchangable.
  • Analogy Backfire: In SkiFree, the monster in the eponymous game (which runs faster than the player) is likened by Megan to the inevitability of death. What she didn't know is that pressing the "F" key could make the player go faster than the monster.
  • Ancient Astronauts: Parodied in "Alien Visitors", which plays with the usual trope by having the aliens who would teach humanity to build stone monuments arrive thousands of years too late. "Alien Visitors 2" continues the story of the previous strip by having the aliens recommend technologies that humans have learned to be dangerous, such as a hydrogen blimp and lead gasoline, or inefficient, such as biplanes and Juicero.
  • Angrish: Parental Trolling has a father conditioning his daughter's speech centers to shut down when she's upset. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Animal Athlete Loophole:
  • Anti-Advice: According to New Products, products that are criticized by techies achieve great success, and those that are hyped eventually flop.
  • Anything but That!: Many of the strips revolve around Randall's fear of velociraptors. Search History, for example, shows Randall's search history consisting of information about velociraptors and ways to survive their attacks.
  • Apophenia Plot: In "Puzzles", a bunch of child adventurers are looking for their aunt's hidden amulet. One of them notes that the aunt's name (Gertrude) starts with G, as does "ground", and thus concludes that the amulet is buried. Obviously, it makes no sense for Aunt Gertrude to bury her stuff just because she goes by a name that starts with the letter G.
  • Appeal to Familial Wisdom: In "Flies", a character falls back on this only to discover their mother's Proverbial Wisdom was far from infallible.
  • Appeal to Worse Problems: Demonstrated in Bigger Problem, as an excuse for not helping to fix <problem>. Naturally, when called on it, they don't want to help with <bigger problem> either.

    F-J 

    K-O 
Ponytail: Our research shows that compared to the overall population, people who agree to participate in scientific studies are significantly less likely to call the police to rescue them from our lab.
Alt Text: fMRI testing showed that subjects who don't agree to participate are much more likely to escape from the machine mid-scan.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Also, he somehow managed to go from upgrading a computer to being stranded out in the middle of the ocean surrounded by sharks.
    • 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.
    • And however he lost his genetics, rocketry, and stripping licenses in one go.
    • The "Apollo 12 rum incident" seems to qualify. No consensus has been reached yet about the nature of said incident, how it relates to harpoons, or whether it actually happened or was made up by Randall.
    • In City Talk Pages the actual contents of the said Wikipedia article is this; the talk page describes various weird events happening, including a complaint from Voltaire, remarks on how the page image contains an in-progress murder, the article apparently taking a stance on correct condom use, and an Edit War breaking out between an editor and the murderer. The contents and edit history of the city are left up to the imagination.
    • Another Wikipedia example: Wikipedia Article Titles suggests that Randall isn't very interested in reading the pages for Meryl Streep or seagulls, but some kind of unexplained "Meryl Streep Seagull Incident" would pique his curiosity, especially if it was a disambiguation page, implying multiple seagull incidents.
  • Nostalgia Filter: In Morning News, a younger person assumes that journalism before the Internet was less damaging to her brain, and that newspapers had much better and more thoughtful opinions; an older woman agrees on the condition that they not go look at old newspapers to verify it.
  • Number Obsession: One specific example is the narrator of the strip "Alone" who describes himself as feeling distant from most people because he's always abstracting numbers and patterns, and falls in love with a woman because the pattern of her touches is the Fibonacci sequence.
  • Occam's Razor: Parodied, naturally. According to Megan, the simplest explanation to the Barber Paradox is that Occam shaves the barber.
  • Office Sports: What programmers get up to while their code's compiling.
  • Off the Chart:
  • Off the Rails: In Outbreak, Cueball and Megan derail the Zombie Apocalypse by promptly killing Patient Zero and destroying all the Toxin X-7 they've created.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • As said by Michael Phelps when the boxes of Jell-o mix get wheeled in while he's swimming.
    • December 25th Launch has ground control prepare for a rocket to launch, only for Santa to come into range. Cue an "Oh no." from one of the personnel.
  • Old People are Nonsexual: In "Ages" people 55 and up are marked with "more sex than anyone is comfortable admitting".
  • Old School Introductory Rap: In "Open Mic Night", two very nerdy rappers go up with raps in the following format: "I'm M.C. [scientific concept] and I'm here to say [line that self-demonstrates the concept]". E.g. "M.C. Aphasia" goes on to incoherently mumble words after introducing herself (aphasia is a language disorder).
  • Old Shame: In-Universe In Old Files, Cueball has this reaction to looking through his high school work and discovering he wrote poetry. The Alt Text has him finding an Animorphs fanfic and quickly deleting it.
  • Older Is Better: This comic shows that older technology is still very useful, and can't be completely replaced by every new technology.
  • 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.
  • On a Scale from One to Ten: Parodied with the Universal Rating Scale, which mashes together the 1-10 rating scale (with 0 and 11 included for good measure), the five-star rating scale, the American movie rating system, the American education grade system, the IUCN Red List categories, and the Starbucks cup size chart, among others.
  • One-Word Title: Although whether or not "xkcd" is a word is a matter of opinion.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield:
  • Ontological Mystery: #505 starts with this, and then puts another layer on top.
  • 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.
  • Orphaned Etymology: Etymology raises the question of what a falcon is in Star Wars.
  • 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.
  • Overflow Error:
    • A character gets thrown off by this while Counting Sheep, causing their mental image of the whole herd to stampede in the opposite direction. Whether it's a bigger problem to have one's brain throw an overflow error or to be awake even after 32,767 sheepnote  is anyone's guess.
    • "Depth" features 32,767 angels dancing on the head of a pin- one more and they'd become 32,768 devils.
  • Overly Long Gag:
    • On TV Tropes
    • Significant, which even combines this with Overly Pre-Prepared Gag.
    • Expect to burst out laughing several times during #1110. Not from the little tidbits in it, but from scrolling through it and finding you're still scrolling but it's not ending!
      • That or simply stare in awe with mouth agape while thinking about how long that had to have taken to make...
    • Many pages in the What-If blog have these, but this one deserves a special mention, combining this with a constantly returning Brick Joke.
      White Hat Guy: I even tried making a big show of putting on headphones, but he just KEPT TALKING.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative:
  • Overly Pre-Prepared Gag:
    • Just shy of a hundred years of Googled predictions for the future, until you get to 2101.
    • 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.

    P-T 

    U-Z 
  • 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.

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