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 sword is made from an iron meteorite. 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 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 would definitely not be considered a desirable attribute to increase.
The title text refers to the last season ("Book 3: Fire") of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sokka lost his boomerang and decides to apprentice for a short time with a swordsmith. When he chooses his metal, he chooses the giant meteor which felll earlier in the episode. Throughout the rest of the season, his Space Sword is heavily spoken of, as he forms an emotional attachment to it. On a side note, Toph the Earthbender gets a small piece of the meteor and wears it as an armband and bends it into useful things. The characters have a long argument about the oximoronic term space-earth, and Toph becomes the first metalbender.
- [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?
add a comment!
- Salesman: It gives the wearer +2 to cancer risk.
- Cueball: I think we should find another shop.
"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)
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. -- 220.127.116.11 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.18.104.22.168 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.22.214.171.124
15:42, 22 July 2013 (UTC)