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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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You can read a brief introduction about this wiki at [[explain xkcd]]. Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the wiki! We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between. If it is referenced in an [[xkcd]] web comic, it should be here.
  
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Revision as of 03:05, 4 September 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have an explanation for all 1 xkcd comics, and only 0 (0%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

Latest comic

Go to this comic explanation

Decision Paralysis
Good point--making no decision is itself a decision. So that's a THIRD option I have to research!
Title text: Good point--making no decision is itself a decision. So that's a THIRD option I have to research!

Explanation

This comic illustrates a common problem in the internet era, where, with the wealth of knowledge available to us at all times, one puts undue weight on otherwise arbitrary decisions.

This is taken to a comedic extreme by showing how Cueball is unable to make a critical, time sensitive choice without putting hours of research in to justify it. Any benefit to researching the imminent decision of "which car will get us to our destination fastest" will be more than offset by the time it takes to make that decision. And thus in this situation it will be wholly worthless, as the bomb mentioned by Megan, as the reason to steal a car, will likely have detonated even before they get to their base.

In the caption below the comic Randall gives the reader one of his recurring protips. In the tip he states that he has the same problems with choosing as Cueball, although it seems unlikely he has ever had such a pressing situation to test his ability to choose. But Randall's tip tells the reader that he can be defeated by giving him two very similar options (like two fast cars to choose from) as long as he has unlimited internet access and thus no problems researching his decision indefinitely. The time Randall waste on this needless research would enable his opponent to defeat him by making a quick choice, no matter if it was the best.

This is not the first time that Randall has made a comic that tells his readers how to trick him (or his friends) like in 1121: Identity, where he notes how to get his password from a friend.

The title text continues this absurdity by bringing a third option to the table, the choice of inaction (which by wasting his time on calculations and research, Cueball has taken!..), a choice here that seems unacceptable, but the time spent mentioning (and researching it) simply adds to that already spent researching the two cars. Of course this option ensures that they are not killed when the bomb explodes, because they will not be anywhere close to the base. That might make it the only reasonable choice left after wasting so much time pondering which car to steal.

The band Rush (band) touched on the subject in the title text with their song Freewill (song), with the lyrics written by Neil Peart. The lyrics are, "If you choose not to decide - You still have made a choice".

The difference in time/effort needed to steal either car is likely presumed to be insignificant to this scenario.

Supposing both of them know how to drive (and steal) a car, the best option in this situation is to leave the phone in the pocket and steal both cars, and see who gets there first to defuse the bomb. This would both ensure one of them reaches the base as quick as possible and at the same time resolve the problem of which car would be best for the problem. Of course that would also have defused the joke, No Pun Intended...

In 1445: Efficiency Randall describes why he is so inefficient (again, demonstrating the option 3 beautifully,) and in 309: Shopping Teams two nerds out shopping have to choose between two similar objects and end up in a similar situation, though without a deadly deadline.

356: Nerd Sniping portray a situation where a scientist forgets everything around him when presented with an interesting problem. However, here it is the solution to a math problem, not a choice between two similar options that "snipes" the scientist.

The problem of choosing between cars with different accelerations and top speeds is the center of the car customization mechanic introduced in the seventh installment of the Mario Kart series. It is known that Randall has played some version of the game, as it has become a recurring theme.

Although presented as joke, this is a very real problem in electronics design. Buridan’s principle by none other than Leslie Lamport states:

A discrete decision based upon an input having a continuous range of values cannot be made within a bounded length of time.

Transcript

[Megan and Cueball are standing next to two sporting cars. Megan points excitedly at the cars and Cueball looks at a smartphone in his hand.]
Megan: There! If we steal one of those cars, we can get to the base and defuse the bomb!
Cueball: Hmm, the one on the left accelerates faster but has a lower top speed.
Cueball: Ooh, the right one has good traction control. Are the roads wet?
[Caption below the frame:]
Protip: If you ever need to defeat me, just give me two very similar options and unlimited internet access.


Is this out of date? Clicking here will fix that.

New here?

Last 7 days (Top 10)

Lots of people contribute to make this wiki a success. Many of the recent contributors, listed above, have just joined. You can do it too! Create your account here.

You can read a brief introduction about this wiki at explain xkcd. Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the wiki! We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between. If it is referenced in an xkcd web comic, it should be here.

  • List of all comics contains a table of most recent xkcd comics and links to the rest, and the corresponding explanations. There are incomplete explanations listed here. Feel free to help out by expanding them!
  • If you see that a new comic hasn't been explained yet, you can create it: Here's how.
  • We sell advertising space to pay for our server costs. To learn more, go here.

Rules

Don't be a jerk. There are a lot of comics that don't have set in stone explanations; feel free to put multiple interpretations in the wiki page for each comic.

If you want to talk about a specific comic, use its discussion page.

Please only submit material directly related to —and helping everyone better understand— xkcd... and of course only submit material that can legally be posted (and freely edited). Off-topic or other inappropriate content is subject to removal or modification at admin discretion, and users who repeatedly post such content will be blocked.

If you need assistance from an admin, post a message to the Admin requests board.

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