1507: Metaball

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Shoot, it landed in the golf course. Gonna be hard to get it down the--oh, never mind, it rolled onto the ice hazard. Face-off!
Title text: Shoot, it landed in the golf course. Gonna be hard to get it down the--oh, never mind, it rolled onto the ice hazard. Face-off!


In the first two panels of this game Megan kicks a football (also known as a soccer ball in some regions), but the surprise comes in the next panel when it turns out she tried to kick it into a basketball hoop where Cueball is either trying to catch, stop or dunk the ball. Hairbun is also reaching an arm up after the ball. But then Ponytail yells "Out!". When Megan asks Ponytail why the ball is out, Ponytail explains it is due to the infield fly rule that was invoked when the ball crossed into the baseball zone - a very complicated rule to understand for baseball outsiders.

They are playing a ball game that incorporates the rules of many games that use a ball. The rules seem to be based on the location of the ball. Ponytail is holding a map which divides the area into zones. Each time the ball enters a new zone, the rules change to become the rules of the ball game represented in that zone.

The name "Metaball" is the combination of the prefix "meta" and the word "ball". Not long before this comic there was another comic with "meta" in the title: 1447: Meta-Analysis. The entire joke is meta in 917: Hofstadter.

Megan is out according to the rules of baseball, because the football that she initially kicked in the football zone in an attempt to score in the basketball hoop (in the basketball zone), clipped the corner of the baseball zone. And suddenly her high kick turned into a pop fly and Ponytail (presumably the referee (and creator/ruler) of this game) invoked the infield fly rule which forces the batter out. In this case that would be the kicker Megan as she is the last to have touched the ball.

In baseball the infield fly rule can be invoked by the umpire (i.e. the referee in baseball, Ponytail in this case), to prevent an infielder from intentionally dropping a fair ball when runners are on multiple bases, forcing the runners on base to advance and allowing the infielder's team to quickly perform a double or triple play by throwing the ball to where the runners are trying to get and performing force out on their base. The infield fly rule, once called out by the umpire, forces the batter to be out whether or not the infielder tries to get the batter out. While complicated, and difficult for outsider to understand, the rule has been in baseball for a long time and makes sense in context.

The title text continues the comic. After Megan is ruled out, even though Cueball misses the catch, the ball now enters the golf section of the field, meaning that the players would have to hit the ball into a golf hole to score. Given that the ball is much larger than a standard golf ball, this would prove difficult. However, before they get this far, the situation changes as the ball rolls into a separate section of the field called the ice hazard.

On a golf course a hazard is either a bunker (with sand) or a water hazard. If the latter type freezes over it could be called an ice hazard. However, in this Metaball game this section of the course is apparently used to play some form of ice hockey. And since the game has been held up when Megan was called out, they will now have to restart the game with a face-off (a skirmish between two players of opposing teams to restart the game). It can be argued that an ice hockey puck can be considered a ball, since ice hockey has evolved from, and is a variation of, older stick-and-ball games. And since they play both baseball, basketball and golf with the association football, they could also continue playing ice hockey with this ball instead of a puck.

For the record there are several other versions of hockey that are played with a ball (ball hockey for instance) and at least one of these is played on ice (see broomball). In these games face-offs are also used. It seems likely that Randall has chosen some of the most popular sports of the US - and then used a soccer/football instead of an American football.

Given the timing of this comic with the US collegiate basketball tournament, we may assume Randall is writing as a response to that. He has previously given an opinion on sports (see for instance 904: Sports, 1107: Sports Cheat Sheet and 1480: Super Bowl).

This concept is very similar to Calvinball from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes by American cartoonist Bill Watterson.


[Megan runs towards a bouncing soccer football.]
[Megan kicks the soccer football upwards.]
[Cueball leaps towards the ball as it falls towards a basketball hoop. Hairbun also stretches her arm up.]
Ponytail (offscreen):Out!
[Ponytail walks toward them consulting a piece of paper divided in sections:]
[Megan (offscreen):] What do you mean, out?!
Ponytail: The ball clipped the corner of the baseball zone. Infield fly rule.
[Megan (offscreen):] Aw, maaan...

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This... looks amazing! I wonder if this is going to be a case of xkcd influencing real life, like geohashing, the "citation needed" on speeches or cory doctorow cosplaying... cory doctorow. 08:26, 3 April 2015 (UTC)

I sure hope so!! Luc (talk) 03:10, 16 July 2016 (UTC)

Perhaps this is how you play sportsball? 11:19, 5 April 2015 (UTC)Indigofenix

Have you seen the videogame version? 02:44, 12 March 2017 (UTC)

Over here in Rightpondia (UK), "Hockey" means "Field Hockey" (I'm sure I've never actually heard "ball hockey" as a term before, ever, although must be the same)... although it's mostly popularised as a (often very vicious!) girl's sport; see the St. Trinians cartoons/films. Although we understand Leftpondians (and especially Upper-Leftpondians) mean Ice Hockey when they miss off the qualifier. Just as vicious, of course (except now that everyone wears armour... also c.f. usual comments regarding Rugby League/Union vs 'American Football'/Gridiron). But none of these have anything on the near-variant of these games (mainly in Ireland) that is Hurling..! (As to Field Hockey as Aussie Rules Football is to Association Football?) 16:25, 3 April 2015 (UTC)

Some Canadian input: ball hockey /= field hockey. Field hockey is played on a field and has stick that looks like a 'J'. Ball hockey on the other hand is played on a hard surface (with an ice hockey stick). In organized leagues the arena is often just like an ice hockey rink without the ice; boards and all. Ball hockey can be played on foot or on roller-blades. Often when kids play street hockey it will be ball hockey, though just as likely to be with a specific street hockey puck that is designed to slide on pavement. 20:20, 6 April 2015 (UTC) ce_nedra32

Suspiciously similar to Calvinball. -- 21:18, 3 April 2015 (UTC)A Martin

I agree, but there seem to be preset rules (the sheet that Ponytail is holding), suggesting that it isn't made up as they go along 09:01, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

Indeed, my first thought on seeing this was this is exactly the opposite of CalvinBall. Which may well be thr point. 12:27, 6 April 2015 (UTC)

I see influences of Hofstadter's Godel,Escher,Bach, which has 1) the idea of how the play-by-play of a football game would be altered if it were baseball (among other counterfactuals), and 2) the idea of a boardgame whose rules change according to where pieces are on the board. Fewmet (talk) 22:26, 3 April 2015 (UTC)

I wonder how the concept of 'out' (as opposed to 'in') would be dealt with as the ball passes into (and eventually out of) the volleyball zone. 05:58, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

Baseball zone... ;-) Although I'm sure there is a volleyball zone somewhere... --Kynde (talk) 13:35, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

OK I guess this is not a complaint since the explanation seems to make sense. But I'm still confused about something. In the third panel the invocation of the infield fly rule is entirely wrong, The infielder must either catch and drop the ball or appear to deliberately refuse to catch the ball. The panel shows the ball still in the air when the call is made. As an athletophobe I just spent 20 minutes of my life researching the infield fly rule (http://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5322&context=penn_law_review) (!!!) so... well... I get it but how do you make the leap?ExternalMonolog (talk) 09:01, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

The comic explanation had it wrong. It is Megan (the batter/kicker) who is Out when Ponytail yells. A high ball in Baseball can be called infield fly before anyone even tries to catch it. So it is of no consequence weather Cueball tries to catch it, or actually tries to dunk the ball. I have corrected the explanation acordingly. And also added the fact that the rule is hard to understand to outsiders of baseball. -- Kynde (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
TY! I've done some thinking and it's starting to dawn on me that the strategy the runners take interacts with the infielders actions. On the plus side this has prompted me to make a new life rule: You should always distinguish between strategy and cheating, but you should never be too picky about it!  :¬D
ExternalMonolog (talk) 21:59, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

A quick comment about hockey: there a variation, hockey cosom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indoor_field_hockey). It is played normally indoor and with a ball. But it is also a cheap variant that school in Quebec use in winter in PE, as skating equipment with proper gears for rink hockey is both expensive and require skill that kids might not have. It would better fit with the Metaball title.--Labreck (talk) 10:03, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

No problem playing golf with a football? Then why anyproblem playing Ice hockey with such a ball? It is easier to get a foot ball into a ice hockey goal than to it into a golf hole. --Kynde (talk) 13:35, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

The title reminds me of J H Conway's paradoxical "Metagame", whose rules are: the first player (L) names a finite game (e.g. Nim), and then the two players (L and R) play that game. Is Metagame a finite game? If it is, then each player in turn can name Metagame, and the process never ends, so it isn't finite. But if it isn't finite, L must name another finite game, so the game does end. 10:04, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

Reminds me of Hich-Hiker's "Brockian_Ultra-Cricket" http://hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/Brockian_Ultra-Cricket%7Ctitle=Brockian Ultra-Cricket - Hitchhikers :

"Rule Four: Throw lots of assorted items of sporting equipment over the wall for the players. Anything will do – cricket bats, basecube bats, tennis guns, skis, anything you can get a good swing with.

Rule Five: The players should now lay about themselves for all they are worth with whatever they find to hand. Whenever a player scores a “hit” on another player, he should immediately run away as fast as he can and apologize from a safe distance. Apologies should be concise, sincere, and, for maximum clarity and points, delivered through a megaphone.

Rule Six: The winning team shall be the first team that wins." Briantist (talk) 13:57, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

Who is the female with her hair in a bun?--17jiangz1 (talk) 14:17, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

Not anyone in particular but she was also in 1504 and I have found 7 appereance of Hair Bun Girl with hair in a bun. So I have added her as a minor character. --Kynde (talk) 16:46, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

Not sure where to post this but paragraphs following an external links are in separate boxes to the rest of the text. I looked at a few other comics and it's the same. It had better not be deliberate as it really breaks the flow of the explanation when it is cut off mid sentence--Figvh (talk) 03:25, 6 April 2015 (UTC) nevermind it's fixed now--Figvh (talk) 03:48, 6 April 2015 (UTC)

I'm surprised no-one has mentioned actual Metaballs yet. Daedalus (talk) 20:19, 6 April 2015 (UTC)

Ponytail has a feynman diagram on her rule sheet :) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I know I am not the only person who once tried to play Calvinball. At least I hope I'm not. The Goyim speaks (talk) 12:48, 7 April 2015 (UTC)

Am I the only one who misread the title of this comic as "Meatball"? Jevicci (talk) 14:30, 7 April 2015 (UTC)

The Wikipedia page says "Not to be confused with Meatballs." 22:07, 9 August 2023 (UTC)