1753: Thumb War

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Thumb War
"Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty--" / "Can't we just read Pat the Bunny?"
Title text: "Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty--" / "Can't we just read Pat the Bunny?"


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A thumb war is a common game for children, in which two players hold hands and attempt to pin each other's thumb down. The game is often started with both players chanting "one, two three, four, I declare a thumb war, five, six, seven, eight, try to keep your thumb straight", referencing the goal of the game.

The standard concept is subverted here: Black hat interprets the simulation of hand-to-hand combat with thumbs differently, comparing it with real conflict. He shows this in further lines, invented by himself.

The second rhyme, "finger guns proliferate." represents the idea that hand-to-hand combat is outclassed by combat with arms (guns, specifically). This holds true, of course, for any technological advancement able to make a significant difference in resulting military tactics in a war. Black hat transfers this into the "thumb war universe", introducing finger guns into the thumb hand-to-hand combat. The finger gun faction uses their military superiority to establish dominance, and thus proliferate, that is, extend territory or numbers. This is, of course, nonsensical.

The third rhyme continues the counting until twelve, thus entering the two digit number space, the idea being that multiple digits (numbers) have united against a common foe, since one alone cannot protect itself, according to Black Hat. It is left open from what the thumbs are supposed to be protected, maybe multiple digits. This is funny because of the pun involved: Digits are glyphs of numbers (compare single-digit number vs. multi-digit number) as well as one's fingers. Thus, also "fingers can't protect themselves".

The last line is utterly nonsensical: Black hat states that, even though this useless thumb war goes on and on, the "thumb U.N.", the thumb war universe equivalent to our United Nations, won't try to put an end to it using diplomatic power. In real life, the U.N. has the power to mandate intervention using (blue-helmet) peace forces in war zones to put an end to violence or give out a mandate to nations so that they can intervene in some crisis on their own behalf.

All of this is a nonsensical continuation of the original rhyme since fingers don't reproduce or own territory nor unite to form a common Organization. It is, instead, a quite cynical portrayal of our world, criticizing the "might is right" mentality that is the sad reality of our globe, and the government of the world by the militarily strongest nations. It puts the UN in an unfavorable light since it portrays it either as corrupt or apathetic, both equally bad.

Hairy, meanwhile, is bored and annoyed by all this and wants to stop playing. This could be a metaphor for how our industrialized, fun-oriented societies only care about entertainment and not the real problems mankind has. Hairy could portray a happy European or American, who is only satisfied with instant gratification, games, and joy instead of confronting the problems we western nations brought about as would be our responsibility or duty.

− Black Hat continues to make Hairy uncomfortable as an adult, such as in 1210: I'm So Random. In the title text, Hairy adds another verse, requesting to do something more appropriate for children, reading a picture book.

This is the second time a young Black Hat has been used. The first was in 1139: Rubber and Glue.


[A young Black Hat and Hairy are sitting across from each other. A toy truck is on Black Hat's left, and a stack of blocks is on Hairy's right.]

Black hat: One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war.
Black hat: Five, six, seven, eight, finger guns proliferate.
Black hat: Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, digits can't protect themselves.
Black hat: Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, thumb U.N. won't intervene.
Hairy: I don't want to play with you anymore.

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I love this new perspective of the comic. Seeing the characters as kids is an interesting concept, especially when one of them is Black Hat. Hopefully more of these kind of comics will come to exist. I wonder what kind of "classhole" tendencies Black Hat had as a kid... --JayRulesXKCD (talk) 14:38, 31 October 2016 (UTC)

We also get to see Black Hat as a child in 1139: Rubber and Glue -- 15:00, 31 October 2016 (UTC)
Well, yes, but I wonder... will Randall do anything else with this? --JayRulesXKCD (talk) 11:21, 1 November 2016 (UTC)
I do not think so. --Kynde (talk) 12:18, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

Is this really Hairy in the comic or just a young Cueball, just with hair? Note that also Black Hat has visible hair under his hat in this comic, whereas the adult version doesn't have hair (or at least none visible). 14:48, 31 October 2016 (UTC)

This is Hairy as Hairy is not a single character, but just the name used to identify a stick figure with hair and to distinguish them from a Cueball (a stick figure without hair). The characters with hats are pretty much the only ones assumed to be non-generic recurring characters. Also, Black Hat does have hair, as seen in comic 377: Journal 2 -- 15:03, 31 October 2016 (UTC)
It can be discussed again and again if children represents the adults. The current explanation makes it clear that these are children that probably grow up to be the two characters. In principle I would say they are not those two, just as any child drawn like Cueball or Megan are not those. And for that same reason it could be argued that this is not Hairy. But if the other is Black Hat as a child then why not Hairy. Both are also in the 1139: Rubber and Glue mentioned above. (Actually all four mentioned here are in that as children). For the sake of this explanation it makes sense to use the names). --Kynde (talk) 12:18, 1 November 2016 (UTC)
A good way to get around generic and recurring, diferentiated characters is to follow Black Hat Guy. Since he's one of the two most consistent recurring charaters of them all since 72: Classhole (his literal establishing character moment), you can get the personalities, behavioural traits and relationships of the recurring Cueball, Megan, Hairy, Ponytail, etc. from looking at those that interact with him (you can do that with Beret Guy as well). It's not perfect, but you can establish your own canon regarding "the gang" and their adventures. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I didn't see Hairy's not wanting to play anymore as boredom but as either developing fear, or/and not wanting to play by weird rules he doesn't understand. Trivia; my school yard version didn't have a 5-6-7-8..., our thumb's shook "hands" and bowed to each other before the fight began. ~~Cris 15:42, 31 October 2016 (UTC)

Agreed (on both parts). The current description's "…and then counting up by fours and making rhymes" was utterly foreign to me, and I had to read it a few times to make sure it really was implying that it was standard to count above four. I've never heard of anything beyond "One, two, three, four; I declare a thumb war!" (accompanied by the thumbs touching alternating sides of the "ring"). Unless we can get anyone who can support the claim that counting above 4 (with or without rhymes) is normal or even uncommon, it should probably be expunged. 16:51, 31 October 2016 (UTC)
I always learned it with two verses, although the second one varied - "1, 2, 3, 4. I declare a Thumb War." and then either "5, 6, 7, 8. Try to keep your thumbs straight." or "5, 6, 7, 8. This'll be a piece of cake." The last word of the second verse was the cue for the fight to begin. --BoomerSooner162.158.74.42 17:31, 31 October 2016 (UTC)
Same. NotLock (talk) 20:00, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

"Twenty" is a pretty good rhyme for "bunny" if you pronounce it "twenny", which is common in North America. Also, our local variant of Thumb War also stopped at four. Jkshapiro (talk) 01:16, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

Okay, I thought I was alone, though where I come from it's pronounced /ˈtwʌn(t)i/. (And I reveal the smallest bit more information about myself to the internets. Private eyes, gawk away.) --XndrK (talk) 02:48, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

Plot twist: The character on the right is the one who grows up to be Black Hat. The one on the left is never seen as an adult, because Black Hat takes his hat, resulting in instant regression into emo stuff. Hppavilion1 (talk) 04:30, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

Well funny, but since it's Hairy on the left that is afraid of Black Hat this just doesn't make any sense ;-) --Kynde (talk) 12:18, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

Did other local variants have the index finger "sneak attack"? Index finger sneak attacks were always in play for me... 21:06, 2 November 2016 (UTC)