17: What If

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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What If
I once made an anniversary card for my then-girlfriend with this layout.
Title text: I once made an anniversary card for my then-girlfriend with this layout.
Not to be confused with Randall's new what if? blog.


This comic features a man and a woman in a romantic setting, surrounded by a fractal combination of love and doubts. From the early date of this comic, plus the hair on the man, it's doubtful that this couple is Cueball and Megan.

The layout is a Sierpinski Triangle-like fractal arrangement based on the Apollonian gasket construction. Three circles are drawn tangent to each other, then additional circles are added which are tangent to three existing circles (without overlap), ad infinitum. The question marks and hearts represent the doubt and love the characters feel in their relationship.

In the title text, Randall says he sent a card like this to his then-girlfriend. We can infer that it ultimately wasn't everything it should be.


[A large black circle with white bubbles inside it, filled with hearts, question marks, and stick figure couples]
What if this isn't everything it should be?
I'm not even sure how I feel
What if I'm making a mistake?


  • Original Randall quote: "One of my best friends just got engaged. I really, truly think they're going to be very happy together."
  • The friends referenced are Scott and Sarah
  • This is the sixteenth comic posted to livejournal. The previous was 16: Monty Python -- Enough. The next was 18: Snapple.

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We can infer that it ultimately wasn't everything it should be? Firstly, then-girlfriend could also mean current wife (remember the title text is Randall speaking, not Cueball).

Also, I think that the Fractal nature of the card is to reflect that all these questions, and the actual attraction depicted pictorially, will always be a part of the relationship, staying the same at all "levels" - which, to me, IS the romance.

Randall wrote "then-girlfriend" in 2005-2006, and only got married in 2011. 21:14, 12 October 2012 (UTC)

How is it known that Sarah and Scott are the ones that got married? It's not on the LiveJournal post or in the comic/title text. For that matter, Sarah is only "mentioned" on two pages, this one in un-cited trivia, and another in one-off dialogue; how is it known she's even a friend of Randall's? Would love to either add this information to their pages if it's supported, or remove the clutter if it's unsubstantiated. - jerodast (talk) 13:06, 21 December 2012 (UTC)

I've removed the line "The various subideas within seem to echo elements of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics" from the explanation. I understand there are questions where different answers may result in the relationship ending or continuing (creating two branches of the many-worlds tree), but the topic of being unsure of a relationship crops up in a number of other comics, and I don't see that there is any link to quantum mechanics or the many world interpretation. Randall, having a very analytical mind, simply extends his analysis to his relationships where there are not necessarily concrete answers. (See 55: Useless, 523: Decline, 584: Unsatisfied, and others I can't be bothered to look up right now). If anyone disagrees, go ahead and reinstate the line, but please also include reasoning as to why it applies. --Pudder (talk) 08:27, 22 October 2014 (UTC)