954: Chin-Up Bar

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Chin-Up Bar
Those few who escaped found the emergency cutoff box disabled. The stampede lasted two hours and reached the bottom three times.
Title text: Those few who escaped found the emergency cutoff box disabled. The stampede lasted two hours and reached the bottom three times.

[edit] Explanation

Black Hat has a plan to block traffic on the longest, single-tier escalator in the Western hemisphere. At the time of the comic's publishing, this record was held by a 70-meter escalator in the Wheaton station in Washington D.C.'s Washington Metro subway system.

An escalator is a motorized stairway. Black hat totes a chin-up bar up the escalator, resulting in a conversation about Black hat's motives for doing such, where Black hat uses sly conversing methods to avoid saying his true motives. Upon reaching the top, he quickly locks the bar in place at about chest height.

Chin-up bars are typically capable of holding up a 300 pound (130 kg) person without moving. The unexpected appearance of a solidly attached bar at the top of a crowded escalator could be disastrous. The first people would probably stumble backward to avoid it or hit it and topple backwards, and collide with the passengers immediately behind them, knocking them off their feet and likely creating a domino effect all the way down. As the escalator continues to move people forward, the wave of falling people is moving backward, however its apparent speed will be slower than its actual speed.

That is the joke in the title text, that over two hours the wave can reach the bottom only three times, whereas if this were a simple staircase the event would only last once and be over as quickly as people can fall down. The people that actually made it to the bottom were unable to use the emergency shutdown because Black Hat had disabled it.

[edit] Transcript

[Black Hat is standing on an escalator as it ascends. He is carrying a pole with what looks like a bracket on each end, resting on his shoulder. In front of him is Ponytail, and in front of her is a punk with spiked hair and pimples. Behind Black Hat is Cueball. Behind Cueball is a man wearing glasses with a goatee standing next to someone with short hair.]
[The view closes on Black Hat and Cueball. In the background a girl can be seen standing on the descending escalator.]
Cueball: This is a long escalator.
Black Hat: 70 meters. Longest in the country.
[In the background the girl from the last panel has now passed the group and a few other people can be seen descending.]
Cueball: Why're you carrying a chin-up bar?
Black Hat: Why aren't you wearing a hat?
[The view opens up a bit more to show the two riders ahead, and the two behind.]
Cueball: I'm not really a hat person.
Black Hat: And I'm not really a not-carrying-a-chin-up-bar person.
[Close up on Cueball.]
[The view opens up to show the same people in the first panel. They're near the top of the escalator now and Ponytail is beginning to step off.]
Cueball: Seriously, why did you bring it?
Black Hat: How should I know? I'm not a psychologist.
[As Black Hat steps off the escalator he turns and installs the chin-up bar such that it blocks people from leaving the escalator, about waist height. Cueball turns to observe what Black Hat is doing.]
Click click
[They get onto the descending escalator. The man with glasses and a goatee and his companion are blocked from leaving the escalator by the chin-up bar.]
[The view shows an extended section of the escalator, the top right has become a pile of people all squished together and on top of each other. One person has grabbed another by the hair and is standing on a third person in an attempt to not fall. Someone is falling off the pile and another person is running down the escalator to avoid them. People closer to the bottom of the escalator are looking horrified at the scene ahead of them. In the background hat man and his companion are visible. Black Hat is looking toward the bottom of the escalator, not caring or noticing the chaos unfolding. Cueball looks back pensively.]

[edit] Trivia

  • It would appear that the glasses-and-goatee'd man behind Cueball is the psychologist from 435: Purity, and that the person he is with is the sociologist from the same comic. This gives new meaning to Black Hat's line about not being a psychologist.

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I know the Wheaton Metro station and its escalator very well (I live about 5 miles from there). There are several issues with the comic.

  • There isn't a convenient place that the panels showing diagonal motion (1-6 & 10) can be shown from. The entire escalator set is in a solid tube through the rock. I guess that it could be done from the *third* escalator.(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheaton_(WMATA_station) ) (This would be with (viewed from the bottom, the center going up, the left going down and the right either not moving or going up)
  • There are emergency cut off boxes both at the top and the bottom of the escalators.
  • There is a kiosk about 40 feet from the top of the escalator staffed by an employee next to the fare gates.
  • In panel 9 there are two raised disks between the up and down escalators. While this is true in some of the other escalators, the ones for Wheaton are very close together and there is only one column of raised disks.Naraht (talk) 16:41, 28 February 2013 (UTC)

- What can we learn from this? - That not all of the facts in XKCD comics are right, and some are outright exaggerated (thank you Mr. Naraht). I personally learned that life will keep hurting me on purpose until I figure out how to help myself (Thank you Life and thank you Mr. XKCD for this lesson). - E-inspired (talk) 16:46, 28 February 2013 (UTC)

This is a comic. It's Fiction. It does not claim to be the "Wheaton Metro" escalator anyway - that was in the commentary. Relax. 19:16, 22 March 2013 (UTC)

While I agree that Naraht needs to calm down (I used to live 1 mile from the Wheaton Metro, and would walk up it as fast as I could), you cannot say that the comic did not claim to be the "Wheaton Metro." Black Hat describes it as 70m long, and the longest in the country. There is only one escalator that fits that description, and it is in Wheaton, Maryland. It's like seeing them going up an elevator, never seeing what they are ascending, and having one of the people mention that they are going to the top of the tallest free-standing stone structure in the world, 555 feet, 5 1/8 inches. There is but one structure that fits that description: the Washington Monument. A description can make a claim without using the exact wording. 03:44, 7 August 2013 (UTC)

Grammatically, the last sentence should be "The people that actually made it to the bottom were unable to use the emergency shutdown because Black Hat had disabled it. ", (adding 'had' to 'disabled') using the past perfect for the last clause because it refers to an earlier time than the time of trying to use the emergency shutdown, even earlier than the events of the first panel. -CFitz 10:39, 12 November 2013 (UTC)

The title text does not say "those few who reached the bottom." It says "those few who escaped." Several people could have gotten around the chin-up bar or jumped the divider to get on the down-escalator. The explanation of the title text does not take this into consideration. 20:20, 3 January 2014 (UTC)

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