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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.

Explanation

White Hat tries to make normal conversation with Cueball about yesterday's American football game, Super Bowl 50 the 50th championship game, and thus the gold anniversary of the Super Bowl, which 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 simple Yes, but then continues to add the contextual fact that about a third of the US population watched the event, which is an 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 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. At the time of this explanation it is not yet known if this gold anniversary Super Bowl broke last year's (2015) all time record).

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

Cueball feels 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 agrees to try, but even though he really tries hard, 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, the game's winning team), he cannot stop himself from including context in his reply again.

This time he goes off on a tangent about Peyton as a mammal, as he (and everybody else) is, and then adding the process of aging and mentioning two reasons for this (which are not well understood). The first he mentions is accumulation of damage, which includes mutations that can lead to diseases such as cancer. The other process he mentions is timed factors which 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 off, he mentions that retiring is a recent concept. But this only makes sense when compared to how long there have been mammals, not compared to how long there have been sports and games, where people could be too old, and thus need 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 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, failing miserably again, White Hat finally gives up, and suggests they should try another conversation in a year, when Cueball might have learned to talk about the Super Bowl without context (hence the title).

Cueball in this comic may represent Randall, as much of xkcd is spawned from, or occasionally poking fun at, his own hyper-analytical tendencies. And it is also common knowledge that Randall is not very interested in sport, though there are several xkcd comics about American football and specifically two of them are called Super Bowl. The year before this one he made another comic in relation to the final, and in this comic, 1480: Super Bowl, he even mentions the fact that he does not know much about sports in general. So this is the second year in a row a comic has been released in conjunction with the Super Bowl final. But before 2015, there has only been one other comic like this, which has in 2006 with 60: Super Bowl.

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 with the origin of 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 were chickens, there could not be one crossing a road. Also there needs to be a road to cross. 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 its current chicken/road version. Although it might seem that it was just lucky Cueball wasn't asked which came first the Chicken or the egg, Cueball's response would have been appropriate to that question. Since chickens are believed to be descendants from domestication of the Red junglefowl, the red junglefowl egg would have preceded the chicken, so the egg came first, before the chicken. (And, continuing the theme, the dinosaur egg came before the chicken, the chicken egg, the Red junglefowl, or the Red junglefowl egg.)

Given that this comic is poking fun and providing too much context, it could be seen to be offering a parody of this site (i.e www.explainxkcd.com itself) in that this site does nothing but provide context for jokes from xkcd that are meant to stand alone. Explaining here how this comic is explaining this site's behaviour ends up going "full-meta."

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

Transcript

[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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