Title text: Instead of bobcat, package contained chair.
This comic is a reference to the six-word short story For sale: baby shoes, never worn, which has been commonly attributed to famous author Ernest Hemingway (the disputed authorship of the story is referenced several times in the comic).
The comic plays on the fact that the original story takes the form of a short advertisement that might have been seen in a newspaper, and makes up alternate versions that use various modern 'standards' that did not exist in Hemingway's time. In keeping with the original, each example remains six words long. The title text obeys this rule, too. Many of the drafts poke fun at the tragedy that the original story suggests. With the original ("For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn"), readers could infer that the baby who would have worn the shoes must have died. Randall tries to make the reader infer other, more absurd things instead.
The comic also alludes to Hemingway's practice of repeatedly re-working drafts of his novels before publication. For example, he is reported to have rewritten the final passage of A Farewell To Arms 39 times. Later editions of his works include these rough drafts, allowing the devoted reader to understand how the work developed.
The following are the various drafts offered in the comic.
|For Sale: This gullible baby's shoes||This suggests the seller somehow tricked the baby out of its shoes.|
|Baby shoes for sale by owner||This suggests that a very intelligent baby is somehow selling its own shoes, or that someone is selling an old pair of shoes they had as a baby. This style represents the typical automobile or house sales ads, differentiating the sale by owner from the sale by a professional middleman (a car dealer or a realtor) and thus bypassing the extra expense of middleman's fee.|
||A fragment of a preemptive rebuttal to the comic’s premise (or at least its title). This sentence was stopped at the sixth word, in keeping with the premise.|
|Free shoes, provided you overpower baby||This suggests the person posting the ad is asking people to forcibly steal shoes from a baby. This alludes to the common expression "like taking candy from a baby", meaning a task is extremely simple and effortless. One doesn't necessarily need to overpower a baby to steal its shoes either; there are other methods such as annoying the baby until it throws its shoes or tricking the baby (see the first example above).|
|For Sale: Weird baby's toe shoes||Randall once again displays his distaste for weird toe shoes, that is, shoes with individual toes. Rather than the tragedy implied by the original story, this instead implies that the baby has odd taste in shoes, and perhaps the parents would rather their child wear regular shoes.|
|For Sale: Baby shoes ✓Prime Eligible||This is a reference to Amazon, which offers Prime as a paid service to expedite shipping of items ordered on its website.|
||Another fragment of a rebuttal, written in an encyclopedic style, and also stopped at the sixth word.|
|This weird trick covers baby feet!||This is modeled after common 'click bait' wording designed to get users to visit web pages, typically using words such as "this weird trick" or "secrets they don't want you to know" to artificially increase its apparent appeal. xkcd has previously parodied click bait in 1283: Headlines and 1426: Reduce Your Payments.|
|For Sale: Baby shoes, just hatched||This plays on the meaning of the phrase "baby shoes", reframing it to mean a newly-born shoe (similar to "baby bird"), rather than its typical meaning of footwear designed for babies.|
|Sale: Seven-league boots (expedited shipping)||Seven-league boots are mythical boots that allow their user to move seven leagues (21 miles) per step. The "expedited shipping" part suggests that the people delivering these boots may be wearing seven-league boots themselves, allowing them to reach the customer much faster than if by airplane (except, of course, if the boots had to be shipped overseas).|
|Complete this survey for free shoes||This is another reference to common internet marketing campaigns, where users are incentivized to take surveys in exchange for small compensation such as free samples or coupons.|
|Shoes, by Ernest Hemingway ||This is a reference to Wikipedia. "Citation needed" is used to mark claims that require additional evidence to justify as true. In this case, Randall is using this to question whether the short story was really written by Hemingway.|
|This is my greatest short story||This is a completely different style that could also have been used to write a short story in six words. Rather than telling a story about shoes, this is more "meta" by referencing itself and being a self-fulfilling (or self-defeating) prophecy. (The sequel was titled "Don't bother reading my other stories").|
|For Sale: Baby shoes (-1) [Cursed]|| This is written like a description of a virtual item typically found in Roguelike games or MMOs. "-1" typically means the item will reduce its wearer's stats (such as defense or speed rating) by one point. "Cursed" usually means the item cannot be taken off the wearer's body once it is put on. It might also reference the fact the original story suggests the baby died, perhaps because of the cursed shoes.
"-1" in this context is usually read aloud as "minus one"; this would break the six word pattern.
|<blink><marquee>Baby shoes!</marquee></blink>||This is reminiscent of the style of HTML widely used in the 1990s. Both the <blink> and <marquee> tags make the text content ("Baby shoes!") appear more prominent and attention-grabbing. On a normal web page, these tags only affect how the text content is displayed on screen and aren't directly shown to visitors. However they are shown here to make the six words count, albeit in a lighter shade of gray to reinforce the fact that they're not part of the text content. An interesting note: When this comic was first posted to xkcd.com, the '/' in the </blink> tag was missing. This was fixed between the 19th and 20th of June, 2015, showing that the omission was, indeed, unintentional.|
|For Sale: Baby-sized saddle, bobcat||This is a reference to 325: A-Minus-Minus in which Cueball says: 'Instead of office chair, package contained bobcat'. A 'baby-sized saddle' is presumably a very small saddle that's only usable if the user was a baby and was trying to ride a small animal such as a bobcat.|
|Hemingway busted for Craigslist shoe scam||This is written like a news headline where Hemingway supposedly wrote about shoes in order to perpetrate a scam. Craigslist is a website where users can advertise and seek goods and services.|
The title text continues the reference to 325: A-Minus-Minus, but inverts the situation. Rather than unexpectedly receiving a bobcat by package, this time the package contains a regular item instead of the expected bobcat.
- Hemingway's Rough Drafts
- [A list of rough draft stories.]
- For sale: This Gullible Baby's Shoes
- Baby Shoes For Sale By Owner
Actually, there's no evidence Hemingway wrote
- Free Shoes, Provided You Overpower Baby
- For Sale: Weird Baby's Toe Shoes
- For Sale: Baby Shoes ✓ Prime eligible
Though popularly attributed to Hemingway, the
- This Weird Trick Covers Baby Feet!
- For Sale: Baby Shoes, Just Hatched
- Sale: Seven-League Boots (Expedited Shipping)
- Complete this survey for free shoes!
- Shoes, by Ernest Hemingway 
- This is my greatest short story.
- For sale: Baby shoes (-1) [cursed]
- <blink><marquee>Baby Shoes!</marquee></blink>
- For Sale: Baby-sized Saddle, Bobcat
- Hemingway Busted for Craigslist Shoe Scam
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