Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Title text: 'Can't you just use the LHC you already built to find it again?' 'We MAY have disassembled it to build a death ray.' 'Just one, though.' 'Nothing you should worry about.' 'The death isn't even very serious.'
Cueball and Ponytail are applying for a large amount of grant money to find the Higgs boson. Under scrutiny, they have been forced to admit that they have "lost" the particle which had been previously "found". This is a humorous play on the term "finding" when applied to fundamental particles. The common usage means to discover or observe the existence of a class of particles, rather than to know the current location of an individual particle.
The Higgs boson is an elementary particle that is predicted by a physical model of the universe (the 'Standard Model'). Observing evidence that Higgs bosons really exist is a key test of this model: if a search for the Higgs boson had failed to find evidence confirming its existence then the Standard Model would have been shown to be an incorrect description of reality. Finding the Higgs boson was one of the main reasons why the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was built: to create energies high enough for the Higgs boson to become manifest. The point is, once evidence for its existence has been observed it is not possible to 'lose' the Higgs boson in a way implied by Cueball and Ponytail.
In the title text, the off-screen questioner wonders why Cueball and Ponytail can't use the LHC to find the particle again. The implication is that this would avoid spending another $3 billion. Their responses imply that the pair have already dismantled the LHC and converted its components into a death ray (a particle-beam weapon to be exact). The ostensibly reassuring platitudes offered mimic those used to placate those who were worried about possible apocalyptic consequences of commissioning the LHC, for instance the creation of black holes, strange matter, a vacuum bubble or proton-eating magnetic monopoles.
The comment that "The death isn't even very serious" in the title text may be a reference to Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot." Robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin tells supercomputer The Brain not to worry about death, that it wasn't a "big deal," when the robot is working on an equation relating to hyper drive. The Brain was able to deliver the solution, since anyone using the hyperdrive would be briefly "dead" (no longer exist), but in the end, they would arrive safe and sound.
This also implies that the death ray was only able to produce one death, as opposed to the many deaths such a weapon could be expected to cause, just as it is implied that the LHC only produced a single Higgs boson, which was subsequently misplaced. In 401: Large Hadron Collider the proton stream from the LHC was used to cause the eventual death of a helicopter.
- Offscreen: Tell us about your proposal.
- Ponytail: We're requesting $3 billion in funding to find the Higgs boson.
- Offscreen: ...wait. Didn't you already find it a year or two ago?
- Cueball: Yes, well, um.
- Ponytail: ...OK, this is embarrassing.
- Cueball: See, the thing is—
- Offscreen: Don't tell us you lost it already.
- Ponytail: Look.
- Ponytail: In our defense, it's really small.
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They can lose the DATA about Higgs Boson. To help prevent such possibility, I would like to mention that the found Higgs Boson energy is between 125 and 126 GeV/c^2 Hkmaly (talk) 12:18, 22 October 2014 (UTC)
- It may be nitpicking because of the 'equivalancy of mass and energy', but isn't the term GeV/c2 usually used to describe a particle's mass while GeV is used to describe its energy?--Dangerkeith3000 (talk) 15:29, 22 October 2014 (UTC)
- You are right with the terms. However, when speaking about mass the "/c^2" term is implicit. 188.8.131.52 03:46, 24 October 2014 (UTC)BK201
Sorry, felt it better to change "play 'hide and seek' with" to "know the current location of", because it read too as too anthropomorphic for the tone of the explanation. Like I don't play hide-and-seek with my house-keys, when they're temporarily unlocated. (Unless the world is weirder than I'm aware of, and the voices in my head are right after all!) Apologies if the hyperbole was the intent, and feel free to revert. 184.108.40.206 14:53, 22 October 2014 (UTC)
The 4th paragraph begins with "Meagan's mention that "The death isn't even very serious"...". Shouldn't it be Ponytail, not Meagan? --220.127.116.11 16:28, 22 October 2014 (UTC)
- Or Cueball. Changing to "The comment..." 18.104.22.168 17:36, 22 October 2014 (UTC)
Though of course this is a comic and not an actual transcript of a news conference or proceedings determining actual grant money, is there something significant missing or unanswered about the Higgs Boson that would require significantly more money (for e.g. a BIGGER COLLIDER!!!!!!!!)? Or is this rather a play at the "Find/Found" difference, and Randall just used the Higgs to make the point? I believe last I heard they found something that must be it, but I suppose further study was required to confirm it (or something)... Brettpeirce (talk) 20:37, 22 October 2014 (UTC)
I am like 99% sure that "the death isn't even that serious is a reference to one of the hitchhiker's guide books. 22.214.171.124 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Maybe they just precisely determined it's momentum? -- Craignelson7007 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I don't read the "just one" reference as being just one death - "... to build a death ray.' 'Just one, though.'" certainly sounds like they built just one death ray. 126.96.36.199 03:11, 24 October 2014 (UTC)
- In the phrase "the death isn't even very serious", "the death" is singular. I read this to mean "we didn't even kill someone important." It is likely ambiguous intentionally. It could also mean "the death ray doesn't cause very serious death." as though you could cause a mild death. "Don't worry he's only dead. He won't mind." 188.8.131.52 04:31, 24 October 2014 (UTC)BLuDgeons
In the explination they mention that they caused the eventual death of a helicopter. It hasn't been proven (as of yet) that helicopter cancer caused the helicopter's early death. There are plenty of human cancers that that can smolder on for years. Prostate cancer comes to mind.184.108.40.206 14:36, 24 October 2014 (UTC)
- "Prostate cancer comes to mind" - ouch. Brain tumors are pretty lethal.220.127.116.11 14:34, 27 October 2014 (UTC)
I think it would be good to mention the unusual use of "The" in "the Higgs boson" as opposed to "Higgs bosons" or "a Higgs boson". This allows the comic to suggest that the Higgs boson is a singular entity which the LHC was meant to find (and perhaps capture).
--18.104.22.168 02:26, 31 December 2014 (UTC)
I was going to find the image on Wikimedia Commons, but no amount of research could allow me to find that image. So I just deleted the 'image' and removed the incomplete bar. --JayRulesXKCD (talk) 11:38, 26 September 2016 (UTC)