96: Mail

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 19:14, 5 September 2017 by (talk) (Explanation)
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I'm on the USPS no fly list
Title text: I'm on the USPS no fly list


We see Cueball on a phone with someone who sends various strange things through postal mail. The third panel is a pun on the usage of the phrase 'a lot of time.' Normally, this means that something will take a while to finish; in this case, however, it means it is literally a large quantity of time that is being sent.

Quantizing time ("discrete packets of time") is a theory that time is not continuous as particles in the quantum mechanics. It could be one of the big mistakes in modern science, but feels as if there's more to it, in the world of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.

The title text states that due to his habit of mailing strange things, he has been barred from sending mail through the United States Postal Service (USPS).

A no fly list is a list of people who are not allowed to use commercial airlines for travel in the United States. It is maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center. Here, the person sending strange objects through mail is on the USPS no-fly-list for people. The joke here is that USPS does not have such a list for people. There is a list of items banned from being shipped by USPS, which includes most consumer electronics with lithium batteries. It could also imply that the sender attempted, at one point, to mail themselves via air mail.

This comic might be related to W. Reginald Bray, an Englishman from the turn of the 20th century, who was famous for mailing unusual objects (including himself) to experiment with the postal system (detailed link here).

A list of the things:

A running chainsaw: While a chainsaw may be mailed with risks and precautions, a running chainsaw would be very dangerous to mail assuming there was a constant power source.

A baby's first word: This is a sound, and thus can not be mailed. It can be recorded and the recording mailed.

A blank stare: This is abstract, and the closest to mailing it would be a picture.

A dizzying height: Like the above, this is abstract. However, someone could conceivably package and mail a telescoping ladder, such that would allow the recipient to reach a dizzying height.

Pi: A mathematical term close to 3.141592653589793238462643383, but is infinitely precise and thus can not be mailed to the full extent of its precision. However someone could draw a graph with a compass and ruler, in which would be represented a line of length pi.

Time: This is completely abstract and cannot be mailed. [citation needed]


Phone: Do you think I could mail a running chainsaw to someone?
Cueball: I doubt it.
Phone: What about a baby's first word?
Cueball: Look, your obsession with sending strange things through the mail is getting out of hand.
Phone: Can you mail a blank stare?
Phone: A dizzying height?
Phone: Pi?
Cueball: ...
Phone: Well, did you at least get that package of time I sent you?
Cueball: I... you... no, I didn't.
Phone: Well, there was a lot of it, so it will probably take a while.

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How about a bobcat? 05:57, 30 December 2013 (UTC)

No, but live scorpions are: http://pe.usps.com/text/pub52/pub52c5_007.htm -- 15:36, 20 January 2014 (UTC)

I think it's black hat guy on the other end of the phone line. 20:47, 20 January 2014 (UTC)

If it were the black hat guy, he'd have something more snarky to say. This cueball's character is more in line with beret guy. 07:08, 26 February 2015 (UTC)BK201
Black hat does have an obsession about these things. see 325. This seems to be likely that it's him. But ill leave the desicion to someone else. 05:23, 7 June 2016 (UTC)

Did anyone else read it as him not being allowed to mail himself via USPS? --Pudder (talk) 17:12, 27 November 2014 (UTC)

A package of time, if it even made sense, would not require time not to be continuous. However I won't remove that paragraph from the explanation. 19:18, 5 September 2017 (UTC)

The second paragraph here is rather unclear and could use some rewriting. Unfortunately, I can't get a good enough grasp of what it's trying to say to do it.

  • The first sentence I think is trying to say something like "...time is not continuous - similar to particles in quantum mechanics", but I don't know enough about the subject to know if this makes sense.
  • The first part of the second sentence looks like it's trying to say "This is not a widely accepted theory..."
  • I don't know what the second part of the second sentence is getting at at all

Can anyone else have a go at it? 12:09, 17 January 2018 (UTC)