Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Title text: This exotic blade was wrought from a different fallen star. The meteorite was a carbonaceous chondrite, so it's basically a lump of gravel glued into the shape of a sword. A SPACE sword!
The comic explains how weapons would really behave if they were made out of unusual materials. In fantasy stories, using unusual materials for weapons traditionally makes the weapons more powerful and cooler despite limited explanation for exactly why materials of extraterrestrial origin are so superior to their earthen counterparts.
The first panel is a reference to a fairly common fantasy trope: the use of iron meteorites for making weapons and armour (for example the sword "Brisingr" of the Inheritance series, "Anglachel" in the Tolkien Legendarium or the bear's armour in Pullman's Northern Lights). The quality of such metal can be rather hit-and-miss. On one hand, iron from meteorites was often mixed with "terrestrial" iron in the early stages of human development to create relatively high quality steel for swords. Undeveloped metalworking techniques at the time meant that extraterrestrial metal was often more refined and plentiful than man-made metal ingots. With that in mind, however, research has shown that meteorites have an abundance of the chemical element Antimony (Sb) which by itself is a very brittle metal and therefore swords forged from metals harvested from meteorites may not be as strong as lore would have one think.
The second panel is a reference to stories set in Middle-earth and the sword is Sting, which glows blue when Orcs are near. Sting used to belong to Bilbo Baggins; when he grew old he gave it to Frodo Baggins as a gift. The dagger in question, though, glows because of the radioactive properties of Actinium (Ac) which is also highly toxic. Definitely not a dagger you would want to carry around for your every day battles.
The word "Eldritch" in the third panel means sinister, ghostly, or magical.
The fourth panel mentions that the weapon gives a +2 to a player's attribute. This is a reference to role-playing games in which it is common to find items that are able to improve one's character by increasing desirable attributes. In this case, however, +2 to cancer risk, a consequence of the dagger's radioactivity, would definitely not be considered a desirable attribute to increase.
In the title text, the salesman tries to sell Cueball another meteoric blade, this one made from a carbonaceous chondrite. Carbonaceous chondrites are rocky meteors that generally don't contain a lot of metallic iron. The salesman is either stating that the blade is simply a bunch of nonferrous meteor fragments glued together in the shape of a sword, or stating that the iron he got out of the meteor is so full of impurities that it may as well be gravel. However, because it's made of extraterrestrial material he seems confident he'll still be able to sell it on novelty value alone.
- [Cueball and Megan are in a weapon store talking to a bearded salesman wearing a hat.]
- [Salesman holds up a sword.]
- Salesman: This sword was forged from a fallen star. Antimony impurities make the blade surpassingly brittle and weak.
- [Salesman holds up a dagger.]
- Salesman: And this dagger is made of metal from a far-off kingdom. It glows blue.
- Off-panel: When orcs are near?
- Salesman: No, always. Radiation from the Actinium content.
- Megan: ...Does it have Eldritch powers?
- Salesman: It gives the wearer +2 to cancer risk.
- Cueball: I think we should find another shop.
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"extraterrestrial metal was often more refined and plentiful than man-made metal ingots." -I'd love to read about this. Citation needed! --Buggz (talk) 08:59, 28 September 2012 (UTC)
- Sure. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_meteorite. It was mostly cultures with little industry picking up meteorites and finding that the stuff lying on the ground was miles better than the awful fragile metal that they were making from rocks. Davidy22 (talk) 09:06, 28 September 2012 (UTC)
Actually the first extra terrestrial tools belonged to a man who lived when the earth was inhabited by angels. They needed to find weapons to manage the brontosaurii or giants that lived in those days and were killing everyone. So he developed metallurgy and got the credit for such by god.
If you don't believe me look up Twoball Chain (aka [Tubular Cane]) I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 18:15, 20 January 2015 (UTC)
In fantasy stories, the world is usually much more complicated place. Meteorite, which may have easily traveled billions kilometres going through places with environment greatly different from anything available on the planet, can easily develop interresting properties. Still, for every super-cool super-effective sword, there must be many other meteorites whose properties make them LESS usefull for weapons.
Even in our universe, meteorites may went through temperatures and magnetical fields much greater that available for preindustrial civilization. -- 126.96.36.199 10:42, 28 September 2012 (UTC)
That salesman was likely to sell a flashlight as a lightsabre.--DelendaEst (talk) 11:20, 28 September 2012 (UTC)
It is possible that Randall drew inspiration from the piece of news that was making rounds yesterday, best exemplified by an article in The Register titled STATUE found by 1930s NAZI expedition is of ALIEN ORIGIN. Many publications ran a similar headline, stating that the statue, and not the material it is made from, is of extraterrestrial origin. mem (talk) 13:46, 28 September 2012 (UTC)
The explanation should perhaps also address how in various computer/fantasy games one will often come across a weapons dealer, a non-player character who will happily sell you whatever he has in stock. CityZen (talk) 20:06, 28 September 2012 (UTC)
- You know, the shopkeeper struck me as a particularly jaded individual, perhaps tired of the RPG fan-boys (and -girls, judging by Megan's presence) looking for a real-world souvie of their gaming exploits. He gives some half-hearted patter, but is completely forthcoming in unsalesman-like fashion: I'm going to lay this out without misrepresentation, and if you're dumb enough to buy this.... But that's just me. -- IronyChef (talk) 14:15, 29 September 2012 (UTC)
Hey! The word "eldritch" is actually more pertinent than I thought it would be:
1500–10; earlier elrich, equivalent to Old English el- foreign, strange, uncanny ( see else) + rīce kingdom ( see rich); hence “of a strange country, pertaining to the Otherworld”; compare Old English ellende in a foreign land, exiled (cognate with German Elend penury, distress), Runic Norse alja-marki r foreigner" Woot.Noni Mausa (talk) 12:07, 29 September 2012 (UTC)
Anyone as annoyed as me to find a 45 year old paper costs $40? Living here in The Ferengi States of America is getting harder and harder.188.8.131.52 17:04, 29 September 2012 (UTC)ExternalMonologue
- Lol. 'Ferengi States of America' Genius.
Both of the swords can be taken as references to the Tolkien Legendarium. The first, made from a fallen star, could be a reference to Anglachel (Gurthang). Anglachel is a sword from First Age Middle Earth that was crafted from a fallen star. Turin Turambar reforged it as Gurthang. After the Fourth Age, it is the sword that Turin uses to ultimately kill Morgoth.
The second sword, which glows blue, could be a reference to the infamous Sting, which belonged to Bilbo and Frodo in the Third Age but was crafted in Gondolin in the First Age.184.108.40.206 15:42, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
Am I the only one here that thinks the swordsmith looks suspiciously like the Beret guy (with a beard (may be fake))? Or his ancestor perhaps? This kind of odd behaviour fits (albeit remotely) with the Beret Guy's persona. BK201 (talk) 18:52, 18 December 2013 (UTC)BK201
Fallen-star swords made sense in a universe where fallen stars are magical things rather than meteorites, like first-age Arda, or where civilization hasn't developed iron smelting, like early Hyborea. The problem is that most epic fantasy is set in a quasi-medieval setting in a solar system just like ours, so normal swords are late medieval steel and falling stars are lumps of impure iron that can't possibly be nearly as good as steel, but the writer still uses them because, you know, Tolkien and Howard did it, so it's standard fantasy. Even A Song of Ice and Fire, which goes into enough detail that you know their swords are like 13th century European steel, and has an interesting story about the superior Valyrian steel (which, like real-world Damascus steel, requires now-lost techniques, and which also required horrific sacrificial magic) still throws in a fallen-star sword because fantasy. 220.127.116.11 06:35, 18 September 2015 (UTC)
Couldn't the sword forged from a meteorite be a reference to "Avatar: The Last Airbender", where Sokka's sword is forged from a meteorite? 18.104.22.168 09:20, 9 February 2016 (UTC)