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Super Bowl Context
Why did the chicken cross the road? It begins over five thousand years ago with the domestication of the red junglefowl in southeast Asia and the development of paved roads in the Sumerian city of Ur.
Title text: Why did the chicken cross the road? It begins over five thousand years ago with the domestication of the red junglefowl in southeast Asia and the development of paved roads in the Sumerian city of Ur.


White Hat tries to make normal conversation with Cueball about yesterdays american football game, the Super Bowl 50 the 50th final and thus the gold anniversary of the Super Bowl that was played on 2016-02-07, the evening before this comic was released.

When asking Cueball if he watched the game, Cueball begins with a simply Yes, but then continues to discuss the special fact that about a third of the US population watched the event, which is a incredibly high percentage in today's media landscape. And according to Cueball this fraction is increasing, despite media fragmentation. Thus even though there are today more and more different ways to watch news, sports and other entertainment, the Super Bowl seems to continues to gain more viewers every year. (There was a fall in 2013, but from 2011-2015, this was the only year the rating/number of viewers dropped, and in 2014 it was above the 2012 level. It is at the time of this explanation still not determined if this gold anniversary Super Bowl broke the last years (2015) all time record).

It turns out that Cueball have a problem. He just cannot reply to any simple questions, without trying to put the conversation into some kind of context that does not necessarily have anything to do with the questions asked, or at least not with the expected answer. From White Hat's reply it is obvious that he has experienced Cueball like this before, as he asks if they could just talk without your weird need to give context for everything?

Cueball feel the need to disseminate any information he finds interesting, even in trivial conversation. Normally people like to have context-free conversations and White Hat invites Cueball to try to fit in with normal people's conversational style.

Cueball apologizes and agree to try, but even though he really try hard, and with White Hat encouraging him to just reply normally to a question about the rumored retirement of Peyton Manning (an American football quarterback for the Denver Broncos), he cannot stop himself to begin putting in context in his reply again.

This time he goes out of a tangent talking about Peyton as a the mammal he (and everybody else) is, and then continuing to discuss the process of aging and mentioning two reasons for this (which are not very well understood). The first he mentions is accumulation of damage, which among other includes mutations which can lead to diseases such as cancer. The other process he mentions is timed factors which among other includes Telomeres. These have been linked to biological aging because of the shortening of telomeres at each cell division; when telomeres become too short, the cells die (and so do mammals).

To cap it of he then mentions that retiring is a recent concept. But this only makes sense when comparing to how long there have been mammals, not compared to how long there have been sport and games, where people could be too old, and thus needed to retire long before they would die from old age. Before humans began to enjoy things for fun, the concept of retiring made no sense. You worked/fought for a living, until you got too old... and then you died.

Peyton Manning is the quarterback for the Denver Broncos who won the Super Bowl 50. At the age of 39 years (and 320 days) he is the oldest quarterback to win the Super Bowl. There has been speculation (see another example here) that he will retire this year, ending his career on a high note. White Hat probably expects Cueball to join in such minimal-context speculation. But when failing miserably again White Hat finally gives up, and suggest they should try another conversation in a year, when Cueball might have learned to talk about Super Bowl without context (hence the title).

Cueball in this comic may very well represent Randall, as much of xkcd is spawned from, or occasionally poking fun at, his own hyper-analytical tendencies. And it is also very common knowledge that he is not very interested in sport, but still he has made several comics about american football and specifically about the Super Bowl. In 1480: Super Bowl he even mentions the fact that he do not know much about sport in general.

The title text continues the joke with Cueball replying to the old anti-humor joke: "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Cueball replies with a preposterous amount of information instead of the cliched simplistic answer: "To get to the other side."

Cueball begins to mention how come there are any chickens. They are believed to be descendants from domestication of the Red junglefowl, which occurred at least five thousand years ago in Asia as Cueball correctly explains. Before there where any chickens, there could not be any one crossing a road. And also there needed to be a road to cross. And in order for it to be called a road, it seems Cueball defines this as a road with some kind of pavement. The first development of paved roads was in the city of Ur in the ancient Sumerian civilization about 4000 BC (6000 years ago) (also partly explained in Cueball's reply). This means that the joke may very well be at least 5000 years old, even in it's current chicken/road version. It was just lucky Cueball wasn't asked about what came first the Chicken or the egg...

As a trivial note, this comic is a rare instance of White Hat not being used as a fall guy for the joke.


[White Hat and Cueball are walking together.]
White Hat: Did you watch the Super Bowl?
Cueball: Yes, like a third of the country.
Cueball: A fraction that is steadily increasing despite media fragmentation.
[White Hat stops and Cueball turn towards him.]
White Hat: Can't we just talk without your weird need to give context for everything?
Cueball: Sorry. I'll try.
[As White Hat asks Cueball another question Cueball bunches his hands into fists. He is clearly struggling.]
White Hat: Sounds like Peyton Manning's probably going to retire.
Cueball: Yes, I... ...It...
White Hat: C'mon, you can do it...
Cueball: He...
[Cueball spreads out his arms a little as he replies with two long sentences, while White Hat walks away from him.]
Cueball: —Mammals like Peyton age via a process that involves both the accumulation of damage and poorly-understood timed factors.
Cueball: Yet the concept of retirement itself is surprisingly recent...
White Hat: Okay, good try. Maybe next year.

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