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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 22:26, 9 January 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki! We already have 5 comic explanations!

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Fire Ants
Here in the entomology department, we have a simple two-step formula for answering any question: (1) ants are cool, and (2) we forgot the question because we were thinking about ants.
Title text: Here in the entomology department, we have a simple two-step formula for answering any question: (1) ants are cool, and (2) we forgot the question because we were thinking about ants.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: More details needed.

A university student (Cueball) goes to his advisor (Hair Bun Girl) because he is uncertain about his choices for grad school. However she doesn't advise him about academic matters, but instead talks about ants, specifically the ability of fire ants to join together to form floating rafts in case of flooding. This is of course pretty cool, but not helpful. So Cueball asks what lesson he should learn from this. The advisor just states that Ants are so cool. Correctly Cueball states that she is not big on metaphors, as there was none hidden in her first statement. She continues to tell him what she is big on: Ants.

This humor relies on a tendency to use a particular phasing to incite corresponding modes of thought. An example of the phrase 'consider the' can be found in Monty Python's Life of Brian, or in the Biblical reference on which that sketch was based. While some uses of the phrase 'consider the' indicate simple taking notice, such as 'consider the source', the phrasing 'consider the noun' as a sentence typically indicates deeper contemplation of the metaphor being offered. When Hair Bun Girl says "Consider the fire ant." as a sentence, it appears to be phrasing to invite metaphorical interpretation but by the end of the comic Cueball has realized it was not.

In the title text we learn that the advisor belongs to the entomology department (making her an entomologist - i.e. someone who studies insects). In that department they have a two-step formula to answer any questions. It won't help you much because all you will learn is that ants are cool and then they have forgotten anything else you told them while thinking of ants.

Or perhaps entomology is a red herring: Somebody noticed that fire ants is an anagram of fine arts.

Fascinating facts about ants

  • It is, however, very likely that Randall is fascinated by ants (he is fascinated by a lot of cool stuff…)
  • In his celebration game for his new book 1608: Hoverboard, there is a scene in the Star Destroyer were Cueball is talking to a giant ant queen:
Cueball: What's up?
Ant queen: The usual. Poopin' out ants.
Cueball: Eww.


  • The queen can poop out millions of eggs and she controls all the other ants.
  • All the working ants are female.
  • Weaver ants weave their colonies using larvae silk.
  • Leafcutter ants cut of leafs to bring home to feed to their live stock... A fungus that they in turn eat. Thus making them the first farmers on Earth, millions of years before humans even existed.
  • Army ants are known (and feared) for their aggressive raids.
  • There are ants enough on earth to fill more than 100 football stadiums to the brim. (At least according to footnote 2 of the what if? no. 73: Lethal Neutrinos).


[Cueball is talking to Hair Bun Girl, an advisor, who is sitting behind a desk.]
Cueball: I'm having second thoughts about grad school and could use some advice.
[Same setting as before. The animated advisor talks while gesticulating with her hands.]
Advisor: Consider the fire ant.
Advisor: When there's a flood, fire ants survive by joining together into giant floating rafts.
[Cueball is just standing there in the next beat-panel]
[Back to the first setting but in a larger frame.]
Cueball: Wait, what lesson am I supposed to take from that?
Advisor: Ants are so cool!
Cueball: ...You're not big on metaphors, are you.
Advisor: I am big on ants.

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