Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
There are three Cueballs discussing a particle accelerator. One Cueball asks the others about the "tertiary Free-electron laser (F.E.L) guidance system". As this is a fairly technical topic, we would expect a response filled with scientific jargon. The joke is that the other Cueball instead responds in a much simpler manner. He uses simple phrases such as "smash the right things together" and "that would be very bad".
As the caption below the comic notes, Cueball and/or Randall has spent the previous night reading the Simple English Wikipedia, a simplified version of Wikipedia intended to be easier to understand, and now he finds himself using similarly simple syntax. For example, the article for a particle accelerator describes it as "a machine that makes really tiny things called particles travel at very high speeds." This is similar to the simple response given by the responding Cueball. In the actual comic, Cueball was able to effectively communicate the dangers of using a broken F.E.L. using simple syntax similar to the style of the Simple English Wikipedia.
From the title text, Randall believes that if people teaching advanced mathematics followed this style, their subject would be more accessible. The implication is that more people would be drawn to studying mathematics and that (naturally) the world would be a better place because of this!
This concept was later revisited in 722: Computer Problems, 1133: Up Goer Five, (possibly most notably) Thing Explainer, and 1436: Orb Hammer.
- [Three Cueball-like guys stand in front of a sketch. The middle Cueball is the protagonist of the comic and will be called Cueball.]
- Left Cueball-like guy: Do you have any thoughts regarding the particle accelerator's tertiary F.E.L. Guidance System?
- Cueball: We can't put the broken part in the machine. It wouldn't smash the right tiny things together. Then the machine might break.
- Cueball: That would be very bad.
- [Caption below the frame:]
- I spent all night reading simple.wikipedia.org, and now I can't stop talking like this.
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This is possibly even another take by xkcd at conspiracy theories such as the one in http://xkcd.com/966/
- In this comic too he presents conspiracy theories against each other, the black hole with the guidance system.
The fact that the reference of something bad happening is to the Black hole theories comes from the fact that the comic was drawn the same time the theories were most predominant.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_of_high_energy_particle_collision_experiments#Micro_black_holes Mr Andersom (talk) 13:40, 13 April 2013 (UTC)
I don't think there's a joke here regarding "particle accelerators not having a guidance system" (paraphrasing the first paragraph of explanation, currently). Maybe there's a confusion about the phrase "the particle accelerator's tertiary F.E.L. Guidance System"? The FEL (Free Electron Laser, IIRC) itself is a tunable lasing 'cavity' for electrons that is magnetic, not optical, in nature, but (again, IIRC) is supplied with electrons at relativistic speeds by way of a particle accelerator (depending on which FEL, sometimes dedicated to the FEL and sometimes "from a main multipurpose ring", such as the LHC might be). Particle acceleration requires that the particles being accelerated be constrained within the ring (when being brung up to speed or collided within the ring's in-line experiment zones) or redirected out of the ring (or allowed to depart it, but still in a controlled manner) if being used for an out-of-ring experiment. It's true that particles being smashed are thrown together rather haphazardly (when compared, say, with collisions at the scale of vehicle crash tests), but there's actually quite a lot of sophisticated detection equipment used to work out the path of the particles so that guidance can be applied by magnetic fields (separately from the 'corner turning' ones and/or including those). I think I would consider such systems (including the ones that 'extract' particles for use in off-ring experiments) worthy of the title "guidance systems", albeit external to the particle as opposed to on-board like on a smart missile... And so if (and I haven't checked, so colour me wrong if I turn out to be so) the complex has at least three FELs attached, it's reasonable to assume that the third of these (hierarchically speaking) has, like its brethren, a particle guidance system involved at some point to ensure the electron supply is suitably contained and piped into it... Or it refers to the third of (at least three) beam-guiding systems for the lone FEL. Maybe even this means something active within the magnetic "wiggler" assembly of the FEL itself, or even (if this is what they do) on the output to the FEL leading into the LHC itself... But whichever it is, it the relevent FEL Guidance System surely exists in some form or other.
...TL;DR; - I'm pretty much sure the joke is more of an "Up-goer 5" nature... I also don't see any reference to Black Holes/conspiracy theories... It's just doing an "If this part is broken, you will not
go to space collide any particles today" thing, surely? 220.127.116.11 22:05, 27 May 2013 (UTC)
- Sorry, but I have no time to read this comment. Keep short! --Dgbrt (talk) 22:18, 27 May 2013 (UTC)
- I agree with 18.104.22.168. There's nothing about conspiracy theories, even indirectly. I've removed that part. I also don't see anything criticizing Simple English Wikipedia, or two versions. To the contrary, he praises it (albeit somewhat exaggeratedly) in the title text. I left it for now, though. Mattflaschen (talk) 08:44, 13 October 2013 (UTC)
There is a community portal discussion of what to call Cueball and what to do in case with more than one Cueball. I have added this comic to the new Category:Multiple Cueballs. Since there is clearly one Cueball that is the protagonist and do most of the "talking" he should probably be listed as Cueball. Just made a note that the other guys also looks like Cueball. --Kynde (talk) 21:19, 7 June 2015 (UTC)
Maybe it would be worth adding a reference to Randall's new book "Thing Explainer", which follows the same concept.--22.214.171.124 00:12, 6 December 2015 (UTC)
- Nah, it's fine without it, since the comic doesn't directly refer to it (for obvious reasons) and because it's not based on the concept of the limited vocabulary that Thing Explainer and Up Goer Five, it's just simplistic. -Pennpenn 126.96.36.199 02:40, 22 January 2016 (UTC)