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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 17:59, 4 March 2014

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!
We have an explanation for all 1550 xkcd comics, and only 13 (1%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

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Strengths and Weaknesses
Do you need me to do a quicksort on the whiteboard or produce a generation of offspring or something? It might take me a bit, but I can do it.
Title text: Do you need me to do a quicksort on the whiteboard or produce a generation of offspring or something? It might take me a bit, but I can do it.

Explanation

Cueball is in a job interview and is being asked prototypical job interview questions by Ponytail, "What is your greatest weakness?", "What is your greatest strength?" and "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

In a roundabout way, Cueball answers that he is a living organism, and as such he has inherent flaws which could cause him to die. This is a reference to the fact that biological systems are "messy" and are not always optimal in design or operation. For example, cancer is a disease where the cellular machinery that governs cell replications breaks down and prolific cell division happens, endangering the organism through the creation of tumors. While this is a true weakness, it is also a weakness of all biological organisms and is not likely to help the interviewer determine if he is qualified for the job. However, it is likely to help the interviewer determine if he is right for the job -- because the interviewer is likely to know that a person who gives silly and unhelpful answers is not right for most positions.

For the second question Cueball answers that he will one day be the ancestor to all living humans or none of them. As you go farther and farther into the future the ratio of people alive will either go to 0% or 100% of the descendants of the character. The most recent common ancestor (MRCA) for humans is estimated to have been alive between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago. If the MRCA's ancestors are traced back, the Identical Ancestors Point can be found, at which point the entire population are either ancestors all living humans or no living humans. For humans, this point is estimated to be between 5,000 and 15,000 years ago.

In the last frame, for Cueball to be the actual ancestor to all living humans within 5 years literally means that all the humans who are not his children or grandchildren (including Cueball himself), must have died in a near total extinction of the human race - his apparent optimism about the possibility of this occurring would therefore be worrisome. Alternatively, it may be linked to the alternative described in the third frame: for Cueball to be the virtual ancestor to all living humans he must “produce a generation of offspring” for a start - Cueball is therefore optimistic in his ability to father a child someday, but is unsure to have it done within five years (unless Ponytail indeed wants him to “produce a generation of offspring”, in which case she may be the mate needed for that job).

The overarching joke is that Cueball assumes that the interviewer is assessing his fitness as an organism from a genetic perspective rather than his fitness for performing a particular job. The biggest limitation on fitness is survival time and mortality.

The title text takes this further, equating producing offspring during an interview (which would be awkward for all involved) with something that may actually help assess a candidate's efficacy as an employee, namely writing out a sorting algorithm on the spot, another prototypical interview question (see also 1185: Ineffective Sorts, especially the bottom left panel).

Transcript

[Ponytail is shown sitting on a swivel chair, to the left of a desk.]
Ponytail: What would you say is your biggest weakness?
[The view expands to show Cueball sitting on another swivel chair, on the opposite side of the desk.]
Cueball: Probably that I'm a giant tangle of parts that don't always work right, so I can die easily.
Ponytail: Biggest strength?
Cueball: There will come a day when I'm either an ancestor to all living humans, or to none of them.
Ponytail: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Cueball: Probably not the ancestor of all living humans yet. But you never know!



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