1753: Thumb War

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Thumb War
"Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty--" / "Can't we just read Pat the Bunny?"
Title text: "Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty--" / "Can't we just read Pat the Bunny?"


Two small children, one a small Black Hat, sitting among their toys are playing thumb war. This is a common game for children, in which two players hold hands and attempt to pin each other's thumb down. The game is often started with both players chanting "one, two three, four, I declare a thumb war." In some variations, the chant continues counting up by an additional set of four, with a rhyme. Once the opening chant is complete, the game consists of trying to pin the opponent's thumb down. A pinned thumb must be held down for long enough to complete a count of four, or to complete the closing chant, "one, two, three, four, I won the thumb war".

The standard concept is subverted here: Young Black Hat interprets the simulation of hand-to-hand combat with thumbs differently, comparing it with real conflict. He shows this in further lines, invented by himself.

The second rhyme, "finger guns proliferate," is a pun on the finger gun gesture and describes small arms proliferation - the spread of black-market weapons which often comes with war as captured and smuggled guns make their way into the hands of paramilitary groups. Black Hat transfers this into the "thumb war universe", introducing finger guns into the thumb-to-thumb combat.

The third rhyme continues the counting until twelve and mentions digits as in fingers, and states that they cannot protect themselves. This may be implying an imposition of firearms regulation or arms control as a response to the small-arms proliferation in the previous verse, or the defenseless nature of noncombatants in war.

In the last line Black Hat states that, even though this thumb war goes on and on, the "thumb U.N.", the thumb war universe equivalent of the United Nations (UN), won't intervene. In real life the UN would try to put an end to a given war by using diplomatic power and has the mandate of using (blue-helmet) peace forces in war zones to put an end to violence and give out a mandate to nations so that they can intervene in some crisis on their own behalf.

The thumb war game in Black Hat's version is instead a quite cynical portrayal of our world, criticizing the "might is right" mentality that is the sad reality of our globe, and the government of the world by the militarily strongest nations.

The other child, who will someday turn into Hairy, meanwhile, is unnerved by all this and wants to stop playing. Since Hairy is just a normal child he is really not interested in Black Hat's realistic version of what a war really is.

In the title text it seems like Hairy interrupts Black Hat's last rhyme after twenty, and finishes with his own rhyme, with "Bunny" ending in the same sound if you pronounce twenty like "twunny" as in some parts of the world. So it goes like this:

Black Hat: Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty
Hairy: Can't we just read Pat the Bunny?

Thus Hairy requests that they do something more appropriate for children, like reading a picture book - specifically, the "touch and feel" book for small children and babies known as Pat the Bunny. It isn't clear what Black Hat would have said if not interrupted, but if twenty was indeed pronounced so as to slant-rhyme with bunny, one possibility is, "I'll annex your entire country," (which could conceivably be followed by, "Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four. You're not sovereign anymore.").

This is the second time a young Black Hat has been used. The first was in 1139: Rubber and Glue. Black Hat has continued to make Hairy uncomfortable even as an adult, for instance in 1210: I'm So Random.


[Two children are sitting on their knees between a toy truck to the left and five building blocks to the right; three square blocks are stacked in a precarious tower and to the right of the tower there is one more square block which has a rectangular block leaning on it. Both children have lots of hair but the child to the left has a black hat on, so they are possibly young versions of Black Hat and Hairy. They are sitting across from each other with one hand touching the other's hand. Their thumbs can be seen sticking up above their hands.]
Black Hat: One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war.
Black Hat: Five, six, seven, eight, finger guns proliferate.
Black Hat: Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, digits can't protect themselves.
Black Hat: Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, thumb U.N. won't intervene.
Hairy: I don't want to play with you anymore.

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I love this new perspective of the comic. Seeing the characters as kids is an interesting concept, especially when one of them is Black Hat. Hopefully more of these kind of comics will come to exist. I wonder what kind of "classhole" tendencies Black Hat had as a kid... --JayRulesXKCD (talk) 14:38, 31 October 2016 (UTC)

We also get to see Black Hat as a child in 1139: Rubber and Glue -- 15:00, 31 October 2016 (UTC)
Well, yes, but I wonder... will Randall do anything else with this? --JayRulesXKCD (talk) 11:21, 1 November 2016 (UTC)
I do not think so. --Kynde (talk) 12:18, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

Is this really Hairy in the comic or just a young Cueball, just with hair? Note that also Black Hat has visible hair under his hat in this comic, whereas the adult version doesn't have hair (or at least none visible). 14:48, 31 October 2016 (UTC)

This is Hairy as Hairy is not a single character, but just the name used to identify a stick figure with hair and to distinguish them from a Cueball (a stick figure without hair). The characters with hats are pretty much the only ones assumed to be non-generic recurring characters. Also, Black Hat does have hair, as seen in comic 377: Journal 2 -- 15:03, 31 October 2016 (UTC)
It can be discussed again and again if children represents the adults. The current explanation makes it clear that these are children that probably grow up to be the two characters. In principle I would say they are not those two, just as any child drawn like Cueball or Megan are not those. And for that same reason it could be argued that this is not Hairy. But if the other is Black Hat as a child then why not Hairy. Both are also in the 1139: Rubber and Glue mentioned above. (Actually all four mentioned here are in that as children). For the sake of this explanation it makes sense to use the names). --Kynde (talk) 12:18, 1 November 2016 (UTC)
A good way to get around generic and recurring, diferentiated characters is to follow Black Hat Guy. Since he's one of the two most consistent recurring charaters of them all since 72: Classhole (his literal establishing character moment), you can get the personalities, behavioural traits and relationships of the recurring Cueball, Megan, Hairy, Ponytail, etc. from looking at those that interact with him (you can do that with Beret Guy as well). It's not perfect, but you can establish your own canon regarding "the gang" and their adventures. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I didn't see Hairy's not wanting to play anymore as boredom but as either developing fear, or/and not wanting to play by weird rules he doesn't understand. Trivia; my school yard version didn't have a 5-6-7-8..., our thumb's shook "hands" and bowed to each other before the fight began. ~~Cris 15:42, 31 October 2016 (UTC)

Agreed (on both parts). The current description's "…and then counting up by fours and making rhymes" was utterly foreign to me, and I had to read it a few times to make sure it really was implying that it was standard to count above four. I've never heard of anything beyond "One, two, three, four; I declare a thumb war!" (accompanied by the thumbs touching alternating sides of the "ring"). Unless we can get anyone who can support the claim that counting above 4 (with or without rhymes) is normal or even uncommon, it should probably be expunged. 16:51, 31 October 2016 (UTC)
I always learned it with two verses, although the second one varied - "1, 2, 3, 4. I declare a Thumb War." and then either "5, 6, 7, 8. Try to keep your thumbs straight." or "5, 6, 7, 8. This'll be a piece of cake." The last word of the second verse was the cue for the fight to begin. --BoomerSooner162.158.74.42 17:31, 31 October 2016 (UTC)
Same. NotLock (talk) 20:00, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

"Twenty" is a pretty good rhyme for "bunny" if you pronounce it "twenny", which is common in North America. Also, our local variant of Thumb War also stopped at four. Jkshapiro (talk) 01:16, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

Okay, I thought I was alone, though where I come from it's pronounced /ˈtwʌn(t)i/. (And I reveal the smallest bit more information about myself to the internets. Private eyes, gawk away.) --XndrK (talk) 02:48, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

Plot twist: The character on the right is the one who grows up to be Black Hat. The one on the left is never seen as an adult, because Black Hat takes his hat, resulting in instant regression into emo stuff. Hppavilion1 (talk) 04:30, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

Well funny, but since it's Hairy on the left that is afraid of Black Hat this just doesn't make any sense ;-) --Kynde (talk) 12:18, 1 November 2016 (UTC)

Did other local variants have the index finger "sneak attack"? Index finger sneak attacks were always in play for me... 21:06, 2 November 2016 (UTC)

Is the addition of guessing what Black Hat would say after twenty and twenty-four really necessary? It's just guessing, and does not help explain the comic in any way. Boochin (talk) 04:02, 26 May 2023 (UTC)