572: Together

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Together
This scavenger hunt is getting boring. Let's go work on the treehouse!
Title text: This scavenger hunt is getting boring. Let's go work on the treehouse!

[edit] Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Edit for tone, style, speculations, explanation also dangerously enters into a mere description of the panels at times, the place for that is the transcript not the explanation
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

When they are very young, Cueball and Megan run away from two others (who look like Cueball and Megan as well) standing next to a box in an open field of grass. Together, they do the typical things people consider romantic, such as rowing a boat across a mountain lake, sitting on a bench watching the sunset and getting married, a major milestone for romantic love.

Flash-forward: Cueball and Megan have grown old together and are sitting on a porch swing, another romantic image for being together, in love in old age. (Although the woman looks like Hairbun, and the old man is wearing a sailor cap, we can assume this is still Megan and Cueball given the juxtaposition of the preceding panel.) An explanation for old Cueball's sailor cap is his cherished memory of them being together in the rowboat during their early courtship (a period of time during which a young couple are romantically involved but prior to marriage).

Inexplicably, old Cueball leaves Megan without a word, walking with the aid of a cane, ignoring her pleading question and call to return. This raises similar questions in the reader's mind like, "Where's he going, what's happening, has he lost his mind?" We next see him arrive back at the same place as in the first panel, indicated by the two people who are still standing next to the same box. A sheet of paper is lying on top of the box which old Cueball picks up and checks off the item "HAPPINESS" in a list titled "SCAVENGER HUNT" where the first two items of the list already have check marks (INDIAN-HEAD PENNY and SNAKE SKIN) followed by items that do not (FOUR-LEAF CLOVER, SHARK TOOTH and another, obscured by a cartoon speech bubble).

So the punchline is that finding happiness was just one item in what is presumably the longest-running scavenger hunt of all-time, considering Cueball grew significantly old during the hunt (so the duration was as much as 70 years, since Cueball is now having to use a cane).

The comic ends with one of the three people asking, "What's next?" Another punchline is that the other two people have been patiently waiting for Cueball and Megan to return and complete the hunt. One wonders why they didn't simply proceed to find the next items. This would indicate that this is a tag-team scavenger hunt where each item is found in the order listed and by alternating teams. So the other two people will now have the task of finding a four leaf clover somewhere.

The list of items indicates that this is not a hunt for easy items. This is typical of scavenger hunts that attempt to be challenging. The US Indian Head cent (penny) was produced from 1859 to 1909, making it somewhat rare. A four leaf clover is a rare variation of the common three-leaf clover. A shark tooth is not easy to obtain, especially from a live shark, unless you live near a beach with souvenir shops and even then you have to question whether the tooth really is from a shark and not some other less interesting aquatic animal. Like the shark tooth, the snake skin is a little easier to find but still challenging unless you live in the southwest. Still, you have to find a snake and skin it or at least find a snake skin that has been shed by the animal molting, and even then that might not qualify as satisfying the quest, depending upon the requirements for "snake skin" since this is just the dead outer layer of the snake's skin.

The title of the comic is probably a reference to the saying that you find happiness together with your loved one. Cueball and Megan could have taken many different paths to find happiness, together or separate, but they chose togetherness as a way to find happiness, which is a common theme in love stories. But happiness is not something a person finds, it is an experience, hence the need to accumulate enough experiences to determine beyond doubt that happiness was truly found.

The title text indicates that after all this time, the players may abandon the game due to being bored with it, which is another genius punchline. The treehouse reference in the title text is another example of a common childhood activity. Naturally, the intended mental image is a bunch of old men and women building a treehouse and playing in it like six year olds is another punchline. It is also typical for children to tire of a game before it is finished. Except here, Cueball spent nearly a lifetime on just one part of this game! The idea of adults having a fort in the woods was also mentioned, rather darkly, in the title text of 219: Blanket Fort.

Three of the old people looks very similar to three of those standing in line in 586: Mission to Culture.

[edit] Speculation

Why Cueball waited until old age to confirm that he and Megan had found happiness? Two possible explanations: 1) he forgot they were playing a game (Megan must have forgotten, or at least didn't know why Cueball was leaving her) or 2) Cueball wanted to be certain that he had found happiness and not just some illusory sensation of happiness. Often, happiness is situational and temporal, requiring a statistically sufficient population of experiences before drawing a meaningful conclusion -- and even then with a probability for error. Knowing Cueball's penchant for math and science, the latter is a more likely explanation. This observation into the true meaning of happiness is the genius of this comic.

Why did old Cueball leave old Megan on the swing without a word of explanation? This is a good question to ponder, but the most likely explanation is unsatisfying: Randall probably wanted to create a plot twist in the story, to build suspense and invoke questions as to where Cueball was going as well as propel the action into the subsequent scene. This is unsatisfying because the reader must assume that Megan was in on the game from the beginning and therefore would be aware of the hunt, and if they were so much in love for so long, why wouldn't Cueball want to share the triumph with her of checking off this rare item from the list? It leaves a confusion that may never be cleared up and is just one of those unfortunate sacrifices to the art of storytelling. A better setup might have been to start with only Cueball and his friends, Megan is not involved in the game (although the reader would have to assume that Cueball met Megan somewhere, somehow). Then Cueball courted Megan, married her and grew old with her in happiness, then leaves her to return to his friend and the game -- this would have made more sense and been just as poignant. Leaving old Megan on the porch wondering, "What's happening, did I do something wrong, is my husband okay?" -- it seems rude for Cueball to just leave her without explanation and not fitting in with the premise of being happy together. Maybe Megan long ago gave up on the game and doesn't care about it anymore and Cueball never gave up on it, but this is just speculation.

[edit] Transcript

[Cueball and Megan are running in a field, holding hands. They are running away from another pair which also looks like Cueball and Megan. This pair stand in the background, next to a small box. There may be something lying on top of the box, but it is difficult to see clearly. The sun is shining above them.]
[Cueball and Megan are in a boat on a lake, very romantic. Cueball is speaking to Megan, illustrated with a heart.]
Cueball: ♡
[Cueball and Megan sit together on a bench on a beach, watching the sunset.]
[Cueball and Megan stand in front of an altar under a wedding arch, with confetti falling around them. He is wearing a butterfly and she a veil.]
[Cueball and Megan, now old and wrinkled, sit together holding hands on their porch at the top of a small stair outside their house. He has a sailor cap on and Megan now wears her hair in a bun.]
[The same setting is depicted but seen from the side of the house. Cueball begins walking away from Megan using his cane. He has descended from the stair. Finally Megan speaks, and unusually there is a speech bubble, with an extra smaller bubble hanging on to it for the second sentence.]
Megan: Dear? Where are you-
Megan: Come back!
[Cueball approaches an old couple, presumably the kids from the first panel now turned old. They seem tired looking down all the time. The man only has hair around his neck and also a cane. The woman has long thinning hair. The box from the first panel is between Cueball and the other two. On top of it lies a piece of paper]
[Same picture except that Cueball is now standing still and has picked up the paper from the box and writes on it with a pen. Again there is a speak bubble.]
Cueball: Okay,
[The paper is shown. It is a scavenger hunt list with at least six items. The three first items have been checked off. The last item is blocked by the speech bubble, but can be seen to be there from the check box.]
Scavenger hunt:
☒ Indian-head penny
☒ Snake skin
☒ Happiness
☐ Four-leaf clover
☐ Shark tooth
Cueball (off-panel): What's next?


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Discussion

Definitely one of the sweetest xkcd strips ever. Alpha (talk) 07:30, 1 March 2013 (UTC)

Or one of the most sad - as he just maried for a game and left when he was finished with his project... Kynde (talk) 00:41, 7 April 2014 (UTC)

U Could "building a treehouse" refer to an adult activity that is frequently postponed and possibly never finished, like items in a to do list? 108.162.212.196 17:34, 1 January 2014 (UTC)

No, those are shark teeth. I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 04:04, 30 January 2015 (UTC)

I feel maybe the wife was concerned that he was wandering off, and wants him to come back. 108.162.241.166 19:17, 24 July 2015 (UTC)

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