1600: MarketWatch

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Markets have been rocked by a second day of uncertainty after someone set up a giant Ouija board on the NYSE wall controlled collectively by the movement of the stock tickers.
Title text: Markets have been rocked by a second day of uncertainty after someone set up a giant Ouija board on the NYSE wall controlled collectively by the movement of the stock tickers.


Blondie as a news anchor is reporting on the day's price swings on the stock market. It has been noticed that the Dow index has traced out the DC skyline.

MarketWatch (as written above the skyline) is a website focused on stocks. The DJIA (as written on the screen) is the Dow Jones Industrial Average, commonly referred to as the Dow. It is a stock market index, meaning that it is a general indicator of how the market is running (in this case, an aggregate of how 30 major industrial companies are doing). The stock market is famous for having unpredictable price swings, but for them to specifically make a tracing of a skyline (or any recognizable image) would definitely weird out most investors. The DJIA has been featured previously in 426: Geohashing.

DC refers to Washington, D.C. The DC skyline shown here traces out the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument (an obelisk) and the United States Capitol, which are located in that order in a line down the National Mall. This, this, this and some of these photos show the skyline depicted in the comic.

As seen in 276: Fixed Width, unusual patterns can be addictive to the point of harming those involved in the pattern's creation. The joke, however, rests in the fact that stock investors probably have a lot at stake, so following a pattern rather than pursuing gains would be uncharacteristic. Although some investors follow superstitious behavior (such as making trades to follow a pattern rather than make more obvious profits), many trades are now made by automated computer systems, which may recognize some types of patterns, but would not recognize the DC skyline, making it impossible for the stock market to continue to follow such a pattern merely because of the efforts of the human traders.

Buying and selling stocks based on patterns in the price charts is a common, but controversial, method of investing. Many day traders and some professional investors still use stock patterns (head and shoulders, trend lines, etc.) to make trades (see for instance Analyzing Chart Patterns). Most professional investors and finance academics believe that this practice is random (see strong and weak efficient markets hypothesis).

In the title text it is noted that the markets again has been shaken by uncertainty (for the second day running, after the DC skyline incidence from the main comic). This time, it was because someone at NYSE (the New York Stock Exchange) had set up a giant ouija board that was controlled by the movement of the stock tickers, thus, collectively, everyone at the NYSE, as all have some influence on those.

The ouija is also known as a spirit board, a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0–9, the words "yes", "no" and possibly a few others. A movable indicator indicates a spirit's message by spelling it out on the board during a séance.

Ticker tape was an early way of transmitting stock price, and it was run through a stock ticker which printed abbreviated company names as alphabetic symbols followed by numeric stock transaction price and volume information. Today this has been replaced with electronics, but the concept of the stock ticker lives on, however, in the scrolling electronic tickers seen on brokerage walls and on financial television networks.

If the stock exchange begins to look to spirit boards people will get worried (also maybe by the cryptic messages from beyond they are receiving via the stock ticker) explaining the uncertainty. Of course, some people might claim that this is not so far from how stock brokers decide what to do anyway…

The general idea of manipulating the DJIA for goals unrelated to financial gains reminds of the Geohashing Bill Gates achievement.

The Washington Monument was also part of the game in 1608: Hoverboard, just left of the starting area.


[Blondie as a news anchor reports on the day's price swings in the DOW. To the left of her is a chart showing how the index suddenly went from "random" to tracing out Washington DC's skyline starting with the Lincoln Memorial, then the obelisk of the Washington Monument and finally the United States Capitol. After that the index goes back to normal "randomness". Two words are written at the top of the screen to the left and right:]
Blondie: Wild swings on the markets today as investors noticed the DOW was tracing out a silhouette of the DC skyline, and everyone got too weirded out to break the pattern until they finished the capitol building.

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I don't get it as much... Perhaps something to do with the apparent erratic behavior of a stock market chart? You'd expect a rising and falling line, but for it to completely trace out building patterns is odd.[citation needed] It would need a straight line, wouldn't it? and isn't that impossible in graphs like this? -- 13:01, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

Couple of things in play with this one:

  • Comic #1600, so that's probably a reference to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. (address of the White House). True, the WH isn't mentioned, but it's flat and makes for an uninteresting skyline element. What is shown looks to be the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, followed of course by the Capitol Building as referenced by the text.
  • Desire not to break the pattern is like in comic #276, where the pattern is so tempting that people wanted to continue with it, in spite of negative side effects.

Just a couple of thoughts. 13:21, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

There is no such a thing as "probably a reference". A reference requires mentioning the referenced thing. A more appropriate word would be coincidence. 13:30, 6 November 2015 (UTC)
He/she is guessing that it is a reference, and that is a good guess. "That's probably a reference" is fine to use in this situation. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
But it's not a reference, it's a coincidence. If it were a reference the White House could be seen in the skyline; it's just between the Washington Monument and the Capitol 13:58, 6 November 2015 (UTC)
Coincidence is not at all appropriate when the intended meaning is that something was done purposefully. What the person is speaking of is an implicit reference, so "reference" was the right word choice. You are speaking of explicit references, which are merely one type of reference. GonzoI (talk) 15:59, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

My view is that it is a play on how silly stock trader can be sometimes. There is a way of trading called technical analysis, where a trader will look for graphical "patterns" and "signals" in the stock charts and trade on that. This way of doing is notoriously looked down at by either truly quantitative investors that rely on actual stats/signal processing to place their bets or fundamental investor that will look for information in things like the balance sheet statement of a company to place their bets. So if you are such a technical analyst and you see such a pattern as DC Skyline appearing in the stock chart of a stock...well best of luck to make a trading decision based on that, mate.

With those who 'play the stock-market' seeking to gain an advantage, it at first seems impossible that an existing pattern (to some extent predictable) could continue, because at least some of those expecting the pattern will then trade on the assumption of that trend, thus changing the trend, even if (as stated) many others find it too compelling to rebel. Except that others will no doubt expect such a degree of self-interest, and place their own trades to take account of that, and yet others may try to predict what others will predict the first rebels predict everyone else is trying to do... theoretically ad infinitum, and thus maybe sustain the original pattern (or something close enough... e.g. the Capital dome being a few points 'higher' in the graph than it ought to be, but still similar enough in shape and symmetry).
High-frequency microtrading algoritms have the same issue of recursion. Initially they exploit human errors and behaviours, but then an algorithms that can predict what these algorithms would predict can 'play the algorithm', and so on to an arbitrary level of recursion. Not that the sum total would be likely to be swayed towards an aesthetic graph, but how about a high-frequency trading algorithm whose sole effort (intentionally or otherwise) would be to place transaction requests to 'tweak' the market towards a given result? With enough capital (NPI!) behind it, it's theoretically possible, and if co-designed with an algorith that would rely upon generating its own profit from knowing (and yet not acting to disrupt) the 'planned trend'. I wouldn't like to suggest there'd be a net sum profit, across both(/all?) levels of algorithms employed... Greater minds than I (or at least ones more privilidged in position and resources) have doubtless tried this kind of thing, however... 18:10, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

Plus, Randall seems to be playing on the whole idea some pundits on TV gives people that "the market" is a conscious entity with the ability to go up and down. If this was the case, well this skyline pattern could emerge just like that. But as real price is defined by market participants behavior, there is no way for it to be so smooth (unless this is a fairly illiquid stocks that trade rarely and jumps violently when it does.) Finally, the comments play on the same idea that some people will see a "spirit" in the market, while it's just participant pushing the price around (taking actual economic factors into account in their decisions.).

And stock price can definitely jump if a major event happen or flatline if nobody trades it so the Capitol is really the only pattern that feels truly impossible here :p (first time I post here, so apologies if I did not respect a rule of the wiki) Legaulois (talk) 14:16, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

In my mind, there has recently been an increase in tools allowing for live events to be controlled by massive numbers of internet users in order to attempt to bang out patterns. Twitch Plays Pokemon comes to mind. Perhaps this comic has something to do with this new trend: a stock market version of the Twitch Plays phenomenon, with investors trying to bang out a pattern together by pressing the right buttons (buying stocks and dumping them) in the right order. Is that worth mentioning? 15:17, 6 November 2015 (UTC)dmar198

I saw this as a reference to the logos TV news reports use for their segments. Most market news segment logos have some representation of a generic or stylized line meant to imply a market index, and I know I have seen at least one that had their stylized line draw pictures in the middle similar to this. GonzoI (talk) 15:59, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

If the stock market crashes after hours and there's no one to see it, does it still make a sound? Ralfoide (talk) 16:23, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

I think this comic has more in common with the recent 1596: Launch Status Check. The traders become obsessed or distracted with driving the stock market index to continue drawing the Washington skyline like an etch-a-sketch instead of their fundamental purpose of making a profit. 18:50, 6 November 2015 (UTC)Pat

This is almost certainly based upon whatever article inspired this popular codegolf.stackexchange.com question: https://codegolf.stackexchange.com/questions/33059/draw-with-your-cpu . Apparently some students drew the silhouette of their school on their country's outbound IPv6 traffic graph. Unfortunately, Google has failed me hard and I have no idea what the original article is. 05:50, 7 November 2015 (UTC)

I'm no expert on xkcd characters, but why is this one labelled as Ponytail when she doesn't have a ponytail? Atreides (talk) 05:38, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

Correct this is not ponytail and I have corrected it. As you say she has not tail ;-) --Kynde (talk) 14:54, 24 November 2015 (UTC)

I believe this stems from a surprising correlation between the recent movement of the Shanghai stock exchange, and a map of Virginia, see https://twitter.com/dlin71/status/636397462190718976 Jorgbrown (talk) 04:46, 12 November 2015 (UTC)

Am I crazy or does the flag on the Capitol Building actually move the line move backwards a pixel before going back down? This would indicate hacking time as well as the financial market... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)