what if?

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Not to be confused with 17: What If.

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what if? is a blog hosted on the xkcd.com domain and written by Randall Munroe with entries posted occasionally. Before publishing the what if? book, articles were posted weekly.

On the blog, Randall uses his degree in physics and strong scientific background to discuss hypothetical physics questions apparently submitted by readers. Since 2014, there's also a book of the blog.

Unlike other sites which answer readers' questions, what if? typically takes the question beyond the original scope likely intended by the reader and takes it to some extreme for humorous effect. For example, in the first article, he discusses what would happen if a baseball were pitched at 90% of the speed of light. After effectively describing what would occur as a nuclear explosion, leveling the stadium and the surrounding mile radius, he concludes with the note "A careful reading of official Major League Baseball Rule 6.08(b) suggests that in this situation, the batter would be considered 'hit by pitch', and would be eligible to advance to first base."

The questions Randall tackles range from realistic possibilities (e.g. the probability of achieving a perfect SAT score by guessing) to completely fictional questions (e.g. How much Force power can Yoda output?). In his explanations, Randall, often uses diagrams in an xkcd style. Regardless of the context, Randall tends to take the questions extremely literally and responds seriously to them, even if they are whimsical (such as the Yoda question). This is clear from his response to the question of what would happen if everybody on Earth stood together and jumped at the same time. After acknowledging that the question has been answered elsewhere, he recaps the result, but then focuses more intently on the unasked resulting issue of the aftermath of everyone on Earth being magically transported to one location as they all try to return home.

This site is not under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License like xkcd is.


Contents

[edit] Release schedule

  • The two first articles were released on the same day, Tuesday July 10, 2012, probably to get the blog going, and let users of xkcd see that there was going to be more.
    • After that they were released weekly for almost three years, with just a few times with two (and once three) weeks between releases, up until article 136 was released on April 12, 2015 (2 years and 40 weeks).
    • First after 25 releases was there a two week Christmas break before article 26 was released on December 31, 2012.
    • After that there were five more two weeks break, one three week break (before December 11, 2014) and two releases in a row (133-134 towards the end of this period of 136 articles), where the release dates where shifted so the two came out over three weeks' time with about 1.5 weeks between them.
    • The second break came a year after the first and was also a Christmas break before article 77 was released on December 31, 2013
    • Then from August 2014 there came several two week breaks, one in August, one i September and two in November, the last lasting three weeks into December, and on top of that the normal two weeks Christmas break.
    • After this less orderly period there came a period of 10 weeks in a row with 10 releases starting on January 1, 2015.
  • The release day was fixed to once a week on a given weekday, except for a few articles that were delayed a day (or two) in one week, but then next week's article would again be released on the normal day.
    • To begin with the released day was Tuesdays, and the third article was released a week after the first two on Tuesday July 17, 2012.
    • The release day shifted to Wednesday from article 100 released on Wednesday June 11, 2014.
    • The release day shifted once more to Thursday from article 117 released on Thursday October 23, 2014.
    • The final six articles in this period were released on four different week days, only two of them with one week apart.
  • The result of the above is that over the first 144 weeks 136 articles where released with never more than 3 weeks between releases. As the first two were released on week 1, this means that there were 134 articles released over the next 143 weeks, meaning there were only 9 weeks without an article.
  • But after article 136 was released on April 12, 2015, Randal took a 13 weeks break from updates until July 14, 2015.
    • At the time Randall wrote a note stating "What If updates are temporarily on hold, and will resume on July 14th, 2015 at 7:49:59 AM EDT."
    • This was the date and time that the New Horizons probe achieved its closest approach to Pluto.
    • The article 137 from July 14, 2015 was about the New Horizons probe.
  • After the break only three articles were released, two more were released after article 137 over three weeks, the last article 139 released on August 4, 2015.
    • But then there where two more breaks, so only one more article where released in, 2015, with article 150 released after more than 6 weeks on September 18, 2015.
  • First after 17 more weeks releases began again with article 141 on Tuesday January 16, 2016.
    • After than articles began coming out regularly with a total of 9 releases out before the end of March 2016, mainly on Tuesdays to begin with then one on a Friday before the last two came on Saturdays with two weeks breaks before each, the last being article 149 on March 26, 2016.
  • Since then only two more articles have been released with about 8 weeks between them.
    • So at the moment of writing this, summer 2016, it seems it is down to about one release every two months.
  • See more details for breaks in the releases in the table with a list of all the articles down below.

[edit] The book

Randall announced his what if? book on 12 March 2014 in the blag. It was published on September 2, 2014, and the UK edition of the book was published on September 4, 2014. It is the 2nd book published by Randall.

The general cover of the book

It is just like 'xkcd:volume 0' a compilation of some questions from the website, but half of them are new.

In the UK edition of the book, Randall included a preface about his thoughts on the units used in the UK. (The Metric System)

[edit] Summary

The summary on the back of the book reads:

Randall Munroe left NASA in 2005 to start up his hugely popular site XKCD 'a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language' which offers a witty take on the world of science and geeks. It now has 600,000 to a million page hits daily. Every now and then, Munroe would get emails asking him to arbitrate a science debate. 'My friend and I were arguing about what would happen if a bullet got struck by lightning, and we agreed that you should resolve it . . . ' He liked these questions so much that he started up What If.

  • If your cells suddenly lost the power to divide, how long would you survive?
  • How dangerous is it, really, to be in a swimming pool in a thunderstorm?
  • If we hooked turbines to people exercising in gyms, how much power could we produce?
  • What if everyone only had one soulmate?
  • When (if ever) did the sun go down on the British empire?
  • How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?
  • What would happen if the moon went away?

In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, studded with memorable cartoons and infographics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion. Far more than a book for geeks, WHAT IF: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel much the smarter for having read.

The summary on the back of the UK edition of the book reads:

Hey! Thanks for looking at my book. If you're thinking about buying it, here are some things you might want to know:

Humans can't digest the cellulose in paper, but if we could, eating this book would give you about 2,300 calories (including the cover).

This book can't stop most bullets; if you want to use it for armour, you may want a lot more than one copy.

If you have a good arm, you could probably throw this book about 45 feet. With practice, it's possible to throw a book every 800 milliseconds, which means that if human attackers are sprinting towards you, you'll have three or four chances to hit them before they reach you. If, on the other hand, you're being attacked by a coyote, it's higher top speed means you'll have only one chance to hit it. Aim carefully.

HIDDEN FEATURE: The inside of this book has words and pictures, plus a special UK foreword. It answers many important questions, including whether you could jump from a plane with a helium tank and inflate balloons fast enough to slow your fall and survive (yes) and whether you could hide from a supersonic windstorm in Finland (yes, but it won't help).

[edit] Trivia

  • There is an easy way to link to a given what if? story by using a template. For instance write the following:
    • See the [[what if?]] ''{{what if|147|Niagara Straw}}''.
  • Copy paste the above text and correct the number and the title to get this result:

[edit] Articles

  • Below is a list of the articles released in the what if? blog.
    • This list can also be found in the acrhive section on the what if? blog.
    • But here more data can be added...
No. Title Release date Weeks since last release Comment/Short note on subject
1 Relativistic Baseball July 10, 2012 The very first what if? released is about what would happen it trying to hit a baseball flying with 0.9c (c = speed of light). Hitting it will be your least (and last) problem in this world.
2 SAT Guessing July 10, 2012 0.0 This second article was released on the same day as the first, probably to get the blog going, and let users of xkcd see that there was going to be more. It is about the possibility of scoring a perfect score on the SAT test simply by guessing. It turns out that is impossible, and Randall used some time explaining just how impossible it is...
3 Yoda July 17, 2012 1.0 First regular release. From here on standard release day was Tuesday.
4 A Mole of Moles July 24, 2012 1.0
5 Robot Apocalypse July 31, 2012 1.0
6 Glass Half Empty August 7, 2012 1.0
7 Everybody Out August 14, 2012 1.0
8 Everybody Jump August 21, 2012 1.0
9 Soul Mates August 28, 2012 1.0
10 Cassini September 4, 2012 1.0
11 Droppings September 11, 2012 1.0
12 Raindrop September 18, 2012 1.0
13 Laser Pointer September 25, 2012 1.0
14 Short Answer Section October 2, 2012 1.0
15 Mariana Trench Explosion October 9, 2012 1.0
16 Today's topic: Lightning October 16, 2012 1.0
17 Green Cows October 23, 2012 1.0
18 BB Gun October 30, 2012 1.0
19 Tie Vote November 6, 2012 1.0 The release date in the archive is the wrong year 2013.
20 Diamond November 13, 2012 1.0
21 Machine Gun Jetpack November 20, 2012 1.0
22 Cost of Pennies November 27, 2012 1.0
23 Short Answer Section II December 4, 2012 1.0
24 Model Rockets December 11, 2012 1.0
25 Three Wise Men December 18, 2012 1.0
26 Leap Seconds December 31, 2012 1.9 The first two weeks Christmas break
27 Death Rates January 8, 2013 1.1
28 Steak Drop January 15, 2013 1.0
29 Spent Fuel Pool January 22, 2013 1.0
30 Interplanetary Cessna January 29, 2013 1.0
31 FedEx Bandwidth February 5, 2013 1.0
32 Hubble February 12, 2013 1.0
33 Ships February 19, 2013 1.0
34 Twitter February 26, 2013 1.0
35 Hair Dryer March 5, 2013 1.0
36 Cornstarch March 12, 2013 1.0
37 Supersonic Stereo March 19, 2013 1.0
38 Voyager March 26, 2013 1.0
39 Hockey Puck April 2, 2013 1.0
40 Pressure Cooker April 9, 2013 1.0
41 Go West April 16, 2013 1.0
42 Longest Sunset April 23, 2013 1.0
43 Train Loop April 30, 2013 1.0
44 High Throw May 7, 2013 1.0
45 ISS Music Video May 14, 2013 1.0
46 Bowling Ball May 21, 2013 1.0
47 Alien Astronomers May 28, 2013 1.0
48 Sunset on the British Empire June 4, 2013 1.0
49 Sunless Earth June 11, 2013 1.0
50 Extreme Boating June 18, 2013 1.0
51 Free Fall June 25, 2013 1.0
52 Bouncy Balls July 2, 2013 1.0 The release date in the archive is the wrong month June.
53 Drain the Oceans July 9, 2013 1.0
54 Drain the Oceans: Part II July 16, 2013 1.0
55 Random Sneeze Call July 23, 2013 1.0
56 Restraining an Airplane July 30, 2013 1.0
57 Dropping a Mountain August 6, 2013 1.0
58 Orbital Speed August 12, 2013 0.9
59 Updating a Printed Wikipedia August 20, 2013 1.1
60 Signs of Life August 27, 2013 1.0
61 Speed Bump September 3, 2013 1.0
62 Falling With Helium September 10, 2013 1.0
63 Google's Datacenters on Punch Cards September 17, 2013 1.0
64 Rising Steadily September 24, 2013 1.0
65 Twitter Timeline Height October 1, 2013 1.0
66 500 MPH October 8, 2013 1.0
67 Expanding Earth October 15, 2013 1.0
68 Little Planet October 22, 2013 1.0
69 Facebook of the Dead October 29, 2013 1.0
70 The Constant Groundskeeper November 5, 2013 1.0
71 Stirring Tea November 12, 2013 1.0
72 Loneliest Human November 19, 2013 1.0
73 Lethal Neutrinos November 26, 2013 1.0
74 Soda Planet December 3, 2013 1.0
75 Phone Keypad December 10, 2013 1.0
76 Reading Every Book December 17, 2013 1.0
77 Growth Rate December 31, 2013 2.0 The second two weeks Christmas break
78 T-rex Calories January 7, 2014 1.0
79 Lake Tea January 14, 2014 1.0
80 Pile of Viruses January 21, 2014 1.0
81 Catch! January 28, 2014 1.0
82 Hitting a comet February 5, 2014 1.1
83 Star Sand February 11, 2014 0.9
84 Paint the Earth February 18, 2014 1.0
85 Rocket Golf February 25, 2014 1.0
86 Far-Traveling Objects March 4, 2014 1.0
87 Enforced by Radar March 11, 2014 1.0
88 Soda Sequestration March 18, 2014 1.0
89 Tungsten Countertop March 25, 2014 1.0
90 Great Tree, Great Axe April 3, 2014 1.3
91 Faucet Power April 8, 2014 0.7
92 One-Second Day April 15, 2014 1.0
93 Windshield Raindrops April 22, 2014 1.0
94 Billion-Story Building April 29, 2014 1.0
95 Pyramid Energy May 6, 2014 1.0
96 $2 Undecillion Lawsuit May 14, 2014 1.1
97 Burning Pollen May 20, 2014 0.9
98 Blood Alcohol May 27, 2014 1.0
99 Starlings June 3, 2014 1.0
100 WWII Films June 11, 2014 1.1 From here on standard release day was Wednesday.
101 Plastic Dinosaurs June 18, 2014 1.0
102 Keyboard Power June 25, 2014 1.0
103 Vanishing Water July 2, 2014 1.0
104 Global Snow July 9, 2014 1.0
105 Cannibalism July 16, 2014 1.0
106 Ink Molecules July 23, 2014 1.0
107 Letter to Mom July 30, 2014 1.0
108 Expensive Shoebox August 13, 2014 2.0 The third two weeks break.
109 Into the Blue August 20, 2014 1.0
110 Walking New York August 27, 2014 1.0
111 All the Money September 2, 2014 0.9
112 Balloon Car September 17, 2014 2.1 The fourth two weeks break.
113 Visit Every State September 24, 2014 1.0
114 Antimatter October 1, 2014 1.0
115 Into the Sun October 8, 2014 1.0
116 No-Rules NASCAR October 15, 2014 1.0
117 Distant Death October 23, 2014 1.1 From here on standard release day was Thursday.
118 Physical Salary October 30, 2014 1.0
119 Laser Umbrella November 13, 2014 2.0 The fifth two weeks break.
120 Alternate Universe What Ifs November 20, 2014 1.0
121 Frozen Rivers December 11, 2014 3.0 The only tree weeks break, the sixth break in total.
122 Lava Lamp December 18, 2014 1.0
123 Fairy Demographics January 1, 2015 2.0 The third two weeks Christmas break, the seventh break in total
124 Lunar Swimming January 8, 2015 1.0
125 Bowling Ball January 15, 2015 1.0
126 Stairs January 22, 2015 1.0
127 Tug of War January 28, 2015 0.9
128 Zippo Phone February 5, 2015 1.1
129 Black Hole Moon February 12, 2015 1.0
130 Snow Removal February 19, 2015 1.0
131 Microwaves February 27, 2015 1.1 The release date in the archive is the wrong year 2014. From here on there seems to no longer be a standard release day for some time.
132 Hotter than Average March 7, 2015 1.1
133 Flagpole March 17, 2015 1.4 The first of two longer shifts in release day two weeks in a row which resulted in only two releases over three weeks, resulting in the eight break in total.
134 Space Burial March 28, 2015 1.6 The second of two longer shifts in release day two weeks in a row which resulted in only two releases over three weeks, resulting in the eight break in total.
135 Digging Downward April 5, 2015 1.1
136 Spiders vs. the Sun April 12, 2015 1.0
137 New Horizons July 14, 2015 13.3 The second longest break up til summer 2016, the only one to have been announced. The ninth break in total.
138 Jupiter Submarine July 28, 2015 2.0 The sixth two weeks break, tenth break in total.
139 Jupiter Descending August 4, 2015 1.0
140 Proton Earth, Electron Moon September 18, 2015 6.4 First and shortest of two long breaks in a row, the 11th break in total.
141 Sunbeam January 12, 2016 16.6 First and longest break so far of two long breaks in a row, the 12th break in total. From here on standard release day was again Tuesday.
142 Space Jetta January 20, 2016 1.1
143 Europa Water Siphon January 26, 2016 0.9
144 Saliva Pool February 2, 2016 1.0
145 Fire From Moonlight February 9, 2016 1.0
146 Stop Jupiter February 16, 2016 1.0
147 Niagara Straw February 26, 2016 1.4 From here on there is no longer any standard release days.
148 Eat the Sun March 12, 2016 2.1 The seventh two weeks break, 13th break in total.
149 Pizza Bird March 26, 2016 2.0 The eight two weeks break, 14th break in total.
150 Tatooine Rainbow May 23, 2016 8.3 First two months break of at least two in a row, the 15th break in total.
151 Sun Bug July 21, 2016 8.4 Second two months break of at least two in a row, the 16th break in total. How many fireflies is needed to outshine the sun. And what if we only made one big firefly instead of (not so) incredibly many? Again that would be the end of our galaxy... The release date in the archive is the wrong month June. It was released between 18-20 July, as the link here was posted on the 20th. But on the archive page is says it was released on June 21, which should probably have been July 21.
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