1358: NRO

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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'DISPATCHING DRONE TO TARGET COORDINATES.' 'Wait, crap, wrong button. Oh jeez.'
Title text: 'DISPATCHING DRONE TO TARGET COORDINATES.' 'Wait, crap, wrong button. Oh jeez.'


Where's Waldo? (the North American renaming of the British Where's Wally?) is a children's puzzle book in which you have to locate 'Waldo', a character with a distinctive striped shirt and hat, in a picture crowded with hundreds of characters. This is harder than it sounds, since the characters and other distractions are both very small and quite densely packed on the page, and the pages (especially in later books) are often littered with "decoy" characters wearing similar articles of clothing to Waldo's. In some cases, almost all characters as well as several objects have the red-and-white stripes.

Cueball and his friend are using satellite imaging to find Waldo, by holding the book up to the sky and viewing it on the computer, presumably using some advanced image processing software to identify Waldo among the crowd. This would require a very advanced camera, as resolutions are usually much lower than would be necessary to resolve the characters in a Where's Waldo book. But since Cueball works at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the US government agency responsible for operating spy satellites, he probably has access to some powerful satellite/UAV-mounted cameras.

The humor in this being, while he could be using that power for much more important things, he's instead trying to solve a simple game. Further, the Cueballs could probably hook up the image parsing software to a smaller camera on the ground, rather than a satellite-mounted camera. They would get even better results without using a camera by scanning the image and running it through the same image processing software.

The title text is implying that the Cueball operating the computer has accidentally launched a drone at the co-ordinates, which would be where he and his friend are standing. The drone is presumably a military drone armed with explosive weaponry — not a good thing for those on the receiving end.


Cueball and a friend are in a remote area. The friend is holding a Where's Waldo? book towards the sky.
Laptop: [Target located]
Cueball: Got him. Left edge, two inches down.
The National Reconnaissance Office has an unusual approach to Where's Waldo.


  • A What If comic examining the use of the Hubble Space Telescope for the purpose of taking photos from the earth's surface can be found here: Hubble. It just shows that current technology is not capable of achieving the image resolutions needed here.

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Could what if #32 be valid here? https://what-if.xkcd.com/32/ --Mralext20 (talk) 07:30, 21 April 2014 (UTC)

Nah. Spy satellites are usually on geosynced orbits, so they always hover over the same area of the ground, meaning no blur. 14:17, 21 April 2014 (UTC)
Spy satellites are not usually in geosynchronous orbits, as this would be much too far away from earth to be of much use, Spy satelites are normally in very low polar orbits to maximize the areas they can spy on. 22:52, 21 April 2014 (UTC)

Not only he is using the satellites, he is also using the software - probably something which will highlight recognized target on photo. -- Hkmaly (talk) 11:28, 21 April 2014 (UTC)

I always thought this was a reference to the Governments Facial Recognition software they're working on. Combine that with the NSA's spy satellites and you can locate anyone anywhere. Maybe the NRO is a combination of such organizations and technologies (very very deadly) and they're testing it out using a Where's Waldo book. Not only testing the cameras on the satellite's resolution but the facial recognition software's ability to pick out a specific person in a crowd. Glitch (talk) 14:08, 21 April 2014 (UTC)

The sentence "He usually is quite hard to find, which makes it challenging." is really bothering me. I'm not sure what to do with it. I considered deleting it or shortening it, but none of those feel right. 18:02, 21 April 2014 (UTC)

What was bothering you about it? It was a quick and dirty explanation at the time, so it doesn't matter. Fizzle (talk) 21:36, 22 April 2014 (UTC)

Redundancy. "The hard thing is challenging." "The big thing was huge." 09:42, 7 May 2014 (UTC)

Would "Government Facial Recognition" work at all via satellite? Wouldn't they do better with Governments Scalp Recognition? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Possible reference to xkcd.com/970? -CyanLights 17:46, 23 April 2014 (UTC)

I don't see that. 970: The Important Field is about private guns, but this comic is about real military items. --Dgbrt (talk) 20:53, 23 April 2014 (UTC)

similar to http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3222#comic but SMBC goes much deeper and darker. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The USA murdering children from the sky is not a fit subject for humour. I find this comic repugnant. -- The Cat Lady (talk) 11:51, 25 October 2021 (UTC)

Well...while there is an NRO Kids section at the NRO's website, no child labor is mentioned in xkcd's official transcript. This estimation is a bit blunt to me, considering that I've found Randall's humor to be fine and precise (I mean...it's why we have explainxkcd)...and it seems rather important to the joke to take these as adult employees of the org, with their expanded adult capabilities. Elvenivle (talk) 00:22, 4 June 2023 (UTC)