1400: D.B. Cooper

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D.B. Cooper
'Why on Earth would someone commit air piracy just to finance a terrible movie decades later?' 'People are very strange these days.'
Title text: 'Why on Earth would someone commit air piracy just to finance a terrible movie decades later?' 'People are very strange these days.'



In 1971, a man referred to by the media as D. B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 and escaped with $200,000 in ransom money (equivalent to $900,000 in 2003 or $1,250,000 in 2020). While the FBI maintains that Cooper was most likely killed when he parachuted from the plane, they have never determined his identity, and the investigation was called off in 2016, making it the United States' only unsolved plane hijacking. (This mystery was later referenced in 1501: Mysteries, and then again in 2452: Aviation Firsts.)


In 2003, Tommy Wiseau released The Room, which is considered by many to be the worst film ever made, but has also earned a sizable number of fans who uphold it as a prime example of a film that is "so bad, it's good". In the decade since, Wiseau has become something of an icon alongside his infamous movie, of which he was the producer, writer, director, and main star. Surprisingly little, however, is known about him. The comic refers to "The Room" as "...the 'Citizen Kane' of bad movies." This is a comparison between what is widely considered the best film of all time, which was, coincidentally the first film produced by, written by, directed by, and starring Orson Welles and what is widely considered the worst film of all time, the first film produced by, written by, directed by, and starring Tommy Wiseau.

This comic points to similarities between several details of Cooper and Wiseau's stories:

Cooper Wiseau
"Vanished mysteriously with a large amount of money":

Cooper escaped with $200,000 in 1971 dollars, equivalent to around $1.3M today. $5,800 of that money was recovered in 1980 in the vicinity of where Cooper jumped from the plane, but the rest was never found. Assuming Cooper survived, he would have had decades to turn the $200k into an even larger fortune.

"Appeared mysteriously with a large amount of money":

The Room cost $6 million to make, and initially grossed a mere $1,900—a loss of 99.97% of the investment. It is generally assumed that all or most of that money was Wiseau's own, which raises the question of how he obtained such wealth. Although Wiseau claims to have earned his money by selling toys to tourists, and later factory-reject jeans, his Room co-star Greg Sestero considers it very unlikely that he earned so many millions this way.

"Real age/name unknown":

Cooper's real name remains unknown. While he was estimated to be in his mid-40s, his precise age is also unknown.

"Colleague says he's much older than he claims":

In 2010, Wiseau stated that he was 41. Sestero, however, says he was born in the 1950s. If born in 1950, he would have been 21 when Cooper jumped.

"Ambiguous, possibly affected speaking style ('negotiable American currency')":

Cooper's use of this unusual phrase has led to speculation about his origins, including as to whether he was perhaps not an American.

"Ambiguous, possibly affected speaking style ('You are tearing me apart, Lisa!')":

The most famously melodramatic line from The Room, "You are tearing me apart, Lisa!" is one of several which highlights Wiseau's unusual accent and less-than-complete command of the English language. As with Cooper's "negotiable American currency," it is phrased in a way not typical of American English.

The phrase "You're tearing me apart!" originally appeared in Rebel Without a Cause, though it appeared in a more appropriate context. Wiseau simply wanted to include the phrase because he adored James Dean, without considering how the phrase ended up feeling in his movie.

"Fate unknown":

Cooper has not been seen since he jumped from the plane, though the FBI has investigated over a thousand "serious suspects." He either died trying to jump from the plane, or disappeared completely after touching down.

"Background unknown":

Despite Wiseau being a public figure for over a decade since the release of The Room, little is definitively known about his background. Sestero says Wiseau was born somewhere in Eastern Europe - people who have traced his family tree found his family are likely from Poznań, central Poland. Wiseau has said he has moved back and forth between Europe and the U.S. throughout his life, spending significant time in France and Louisiana. His accent is hard to place.

His legal name, place of birth, date of birth, and nationality are all unknown, as are most of the details of how he's spent his life.

The comic then compares an FBI sketch of Cooper with a photograph of Wiseau, apparently to claim that they have similar appearances. The only real similarity is that they're both wearing sunglasses.

However, these are only a few cherry-picked aspects of their lives, and do not seriously suggest that they are the same person. For example, even if we assume that Wiseau was born in 1950, and that Cooper was only 35 (probably the youngest age which can be mistaken for mid-40s) in 1971, that leaves a 14-year gap between their ages. Likewise, Cooper was said to have either an American or Canadian accent, while Wiseau's bizarre accent is certainly not North American. While Cueball's theory in this comic is clearly a joke on Randall's part, given Randall's known distaste for conspiracy theories, this may also be making fun of people who base theories off of minor details while ignoring contradictory ones and bigger-picture questions. The question in the title text, for instance, notes that Cooper would have gone through a huge amount of effort just to produce a movie; a similar rhetorical device is often used against convoluted conspiracy theories, where one points out a vastly simpler way for the supposed conspirators to have accomplished their goals.

The title text goes on to attribute such a weird motive for hijacking to the impression that "people are very strange these days," which is another quote from The Room.


[Cueball is using a baton to point towards a projector.]
D.B. Cooper
("Dan Cooper")
Hijacked a plane in the 1970s.
On landing, demanded money and
parachutes. Jumped from plane
mid-flight and was never found.
  • Vanished mysteriously with large amount of money
  • Real age/name unknown
  • Ambiguous, possibly affected speaking style ("negotiable American currency")
  • Fate unknown
[Cueball has his palm out.]
Tommy Wiseau
Wrote, directed, and starred in
The Room, a film widely hailed as
"The Citizen Kane of bad movies."
  • Appeared mysteriously with large amount of money
  • Colleague says he's much older than he claims.
  • Ambiguous, possibly affected speaking style ("You are tearing me apart, Lisa!")
  • Background unknown
[Two images captioned "Cooper (FBI sketch)" and "Wiseau (Flickr photo by Al Pavangkanan)".]
Offscreen voice: This is the dumbest theory I've ever heard.
Cueball: But it explains everything!!


This is the first xkcd comic featuring D. B. Cooper.

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Feels like a conspiracy(?) 12:15, 28 July 2014 (UTC)

Isn't it a reference to the Malaysia Airlines conspiracy theory? http://humansarefree.com/2014/07/busted-mh-17-was-in-fact-lost-flight-mh.html?m=0 - Renee 00:44, 29 July 2014 (UTC)

No. 10:31, 29 July 2014 (UTC)

Oh, this is a hilarious comic! --Dangerkeith3000 (talk) 15:14, 28 July 2014 (UTC)

Could someone explain what "the Citizen Kane of ____" is all about? --NeatNit (talk) 17:05, 28 July 2014 (UTC)

"Citizen Kane" is regarded as a masterpiece landmark film, and other films are often compared to it as a highly favorable compliment. 18:08, 28 July 2014 (UTC)
"Citizen Kane" as a reference point here is more meaningful that that. Apart from being a landmark film, "Citizen Kane" was also made by a movie-newbie at that day, namely Orson Welles, who not only played the title role, but also directed, co-wrote and co-produced the movie, very much like Wiseau did with his landmark film; the only significant difference thus being "Citizen Kane" the best and "The Room" the worst movie ever made. 13:14, 30 July 2014 (UTC)

This is really just a curiosity, but what is unusual about the phrasing "You are tearing me apart"? (I'm obviously not a native speaker) Ly mar (talk) 17:12, 28 July 2014 (UTC)

  • Beyond using "You are" instead of "You're", not much. The oddness of the line is mostly through the delivery in the film, not the grammar. ImVeryAngryItsNotButter (talk) 17:14, 28 July 2014 (UTC)

Is this the first xkcd to feature a full color photograph of a person? 17:38, 28 July 2014 (UTC)


adjective: contemporary

   living or occurring at the same time.
   "the event was recorded by a contemporary historian"
       dating from the same time.
       "this series of paintings is contemporary with other works in an early style"
       synonyms:	of the time, of the day, contemporaneous, concurrent, coeval, coexisting, coexistent More
       "contemporary sources"
   belonging to or occurring in the present.
   "the tension and complexities of our contemporary society"

"In 1971, a man referred to by the media as D. B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 and escaped with the contemporary equivalent of over $1 million in ransom money."

So that can be either 1971 dollars (contemporary to D. B. Cooper's time) or 2014 dollars (contemporary to the present time).

(A lot of people think definition no. 2 is the only definition, but it isn't.)

--RenniePet (talk) 00:49, 29 July 2014 (UTC)

I appreciate your work to improve the explanations here. But, such theatrics over a one word edit are unnecessary. lcarsos_a (talk) 02:14, 29 July 2014 (UTC)
I've changed it now so it's clearer anyway141.101.98.12 10:31, 29 July 2014 (UTC)

I created an account solely so I could remove the anomalous use of "beg the question". [1] Gidklio (talk) 04:31, 29 July 2014 (UTC)

What is a "European accent"? Any accent that is not Indian, Chinese, or Japanese? --Frerin (talk) 10:15, 29 July 2014 (UTC)

Yeah - or Australian, or Inuit, or African, or South American or any other accent that's not from a cultural/language group primary to Europe (and definitely not North American [clear from the context of the sentence]), but more specifically, not any European form of English (so, perhaps, Icelandic, Polish, Czech, Bulgarian, and many other possibilities) which might be hard for an untrained listener to specifically identify as anything but "European". Many languages have commonalities due to geographic proximity, not only in terms of accent, but also syntax and vocabulary, which would modify the learners' ability to accurately acquire and render a foreign language in the same ways. That is, someone who natively speaks Portuguese and someone who natively speaks French will have similar troubles in learning subtleties of American English but which would contrast from those troubles encountered by someone who's native language is Hindi, Tagalog, or Yoruba. Brettpeirce (talk) 13:41, 29 July 2014 (UTC)

According to one reddit user, Tommy Wiseau is from Poland, and his last name was "Wieczór" [meaning "Evening"] or variation of it. 17:10, 2 August 2014 (UTC)

Just popping in to note that Cooper's fate is no longer unknown, his niece came forward in 2011. He was survived the jump with some injuries but had lost the money in the process. Real name Lynn Doyle Cooper, died 1999. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Nice try, but the real Dan Cooper wouldn't have used an alias that shared his last name. That's the kind of amateur mistake that always leads to discovery & arrest, but the real guy was pretty damm sharp and one hell of an operator to pull it off. Not that this guy didn't tell his niece he was D.B. Cooper; just that he never told her he was kidding...

-- 17:57, 7 November 2018 (UTC)

Not to deny or confirm that, but the Wikipedia article on D.B. Cooper states that 9,710 of the bills are still missing (290 bills were found in Washington State wilderness in 1980). If one does not spend the money one holds (because even if it is to be invested or laundered, someone will notice the serial number(s) and report it; the numbers are now available online, not to mention the look of old bills; the average replacement rate for US bills is about two years, so seeing a large bundle of slightly-peculiar looking 1970s-era bills may engender a slight sense of difference), one will not have enough to make an independent film, because money is only useful to us when it is used. PS. I'm sorry for the length of this comment, but it's just getting all the details ironed out and fixed down - my apology is just making the comment longer? OK... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Ummm... The pictures are red linked :'( 22:48, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

I have to ask: was the use of the inappropriate French word "baton" (stick) in the transcript a deliberate joke about European mangling of English? A native speaker of American English would write, "pointer". Nitpicking (talk) 12:21, 7 December 2021 (UTC)

To bring a native British English perspective to this (whether we do "European mangling of English" is a problematic suggestion in at least two distinct ways!), I'm not sure I'd call it a "baton" - which is something a conductor would use to guide an orchestra or a relay-runner would carry along their share of a running track - but not a "pointer" either. A "laser pointer" would be a pointer, but comparatively modern.
At school (long ago enough to have blackboards rather than whiteboards) I'd call the held stick what it often was, outside its life as pointing object. So often it was either a ruler (30cm/1ft for most, perhaps a 1m/1yd stick for the ambitious or exuberant gesticulator) or, occasionally, the rubber (i.e. the "Board-rubber", the chalk eraser; and youthful innocence/ignorance and local vocabulary meant we never ever thought of that word as meaning a condom!) possibly being held on the off-chance that it was needed to be suddenly thrown at a disruptive or inattentive pupil - as it often ended up being.
The alternative of the day (transparencies on OHPs) would be to cast the shadow of the felt-tip pen used to scrawl upon the horizontal acetate sheet being shone up and across onto the projector screen.
My only experiences in the post-whiteboard world, save for those business-sized paper-pads and those thick marker pens ('sharpies', though not yet well known by that pseudo-brandname), is to call it a cursor, because it is a projected desktop with a mouse cursor doing the job of pointing. When it isn't a form of shadow-puppetry with the bare hands of the lecturer being made to cast some form of pointy shade upon the output. 23:55, 7 December 2021 (UTC)

They're the same guy. I don't know how you didn't notice it before! Z1mp0st0rz (talk) 19:50, 15 April 2024 (UTC)