1762: Moving Boxes

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Moving Boxes
Later, when I remember that I'm calling movers, I frantically scribble over the labels and write 'NORMAL HOUSE STUFF' on all of them, which actually makes things worse.
Title text: Later, when I remember that I'm calling movers, I frantically scribble over the labels and write 'NORMAL HOUSE STUFF' on all of them, which actually makes things worse.


Randall talks about moving boxes and not labeling them until he forgets what's in them. Since he doesn't know what's in them, he writes silly things on the boxes as a joke. Some things are unusual/unlikely (e.g. sand, hydrants, peat) and some are abstract/impossible (e.g. elves, taupe, dark matter). Several of the categories overlap confusingly; for instance, "sand" and "silt" and "dark matter" are all generally considered as "particles"; "membranes", "edges", and "shawls" are all kinds of "manifolds"; "hooves" are part of "bison"; "fog" contains "water"; and "triangles" consist of three "edges". Another way to interpret this comic is that Randall actually has these items (or at least some of them) in the boxes and has simply forgotten which boxes contain what.

According to the title text, when Randall remembers that he is calling movers, he frantically scribbles "Normal House Stuff" on all the boxes. He says this makes the situation worse, possibly because the movers see the scribble and become suspicious. Alternatively, labeling every box with the exact same phrase will make it even harder to figure out what they contain and where they should go in the new dwelling.

Explanation of boxes[edit]

Label Explanation
Box 1
Grids Grids are mathematical drawings; they would be constructed by drawing them, not stored in a box (though graph paper might be). May refer to a classic snipe hunt where a hazing victim is tasked with finding "a box of grid squares".
Bison Bison, a relative of the buffalo, are large animals that would probably not fit in the box.[citation needed]
Checkerboards The tabletop gaming boards on which one plays Checkers. It is also the name of the corresponding pattern and thus can be interpreted as an abstract term like many other "objects" in this comic. Note that a checkerboard could be considered a grid.
Fog Fog is essentially low-lying clouds which, being dispersed in air, are hard to box using only cardboard.[citation needed]
Box 2
Beacons Beacons are devices designed to draw attention to themselves, for various reasons. From the generic term "beacon" this could mean anything from electronic GPS locator beacons to miniature replicas of naval lighthouses. Or, alternatively, it could be like what is referenced in the 7th panel of 921: Delivery Notification, which is used to summon elves (which happen to be in the same box).
Elves Elves are a range of fictional and mythological human-like magical creatures. Classical elves would be small enough to fit in a cardboard box, while high-fantasy elves would not.
Sand Sand grains are fine particles of rock. While it's not unheard of for people to need to store sand, it's usually not stored along with your personal belongings on moving day.[citation needed]
Box 3
Hemoglobin Hemoglobin is the protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body. This may be a solution of hemoglobin protein, but one human generally would not need a full box of it.[citation needed]
Box 4
Water As with sand, it's not unheard of for, say, a laboratory to store water samples for testing. But again, these wouldn't be stored along with your personal belongings on moving day. And if this is meant to be drinking water, it would be a waste of effort; drinking water is accessible practically anywhere one might move to, through plumbing or commercially sold bottled water. A full box of drinking water might last a single person less than a month before requiring a restock.
Hooves Hooves are possibly best known as horse and cow 'feet'. This could also be read as a compound word, Water-Hooves akin to water-wings.
Box 5
Shorebirds Also known as Waders, these are an order of birds that commonly wade along shorelines and mudflats. Stuffing them in boxes would be a bad idea.[citation needed]
Box 6
Oil This could mean anything from cooking oil to petroleum, but either way, transporting a box full of oil bottles is unusual because both are easily commercially available. A full box of cooking oil would be way more than a person typically needs, while a single box of petroleum would only be useful for a few vehicle refuels at most. This amount of petroleum could reasonably power a small back-up generator.
Vectors Vectors are properties with magnitude and direction, such as velocity, momentum, acceleration, etc., but can depend on the context. In any situation, they are not physical objects, so they cannot be put in boxes. Alternatively "vector" could mean a carrier of a disease, such as ticks or mosquitoes, but while more possible to box they would still not be practical to keep with common household goods and the intent of moving them as such would be dubious at best.
Silt Material between sand and clay size-wise. A sediment. See sand and water above for why this is unusual. Randall has a special place in his heart for rock particles of various sizes; see What If #83.
Box 7
Membranes Delicate thin pliable sheet or skin of various kinds. Usually fragile or cut easily. Not something you would expect to be packed with something sharp.
Shards Broken pieces of smooth and hard objects, such as ceramic, glass, or crystal. Often sharp: something you would normally expect to be thrown out, rather than packed up for moving house.
Box 8
Shawls Shawls are a simple item of clothing, worn loosely over one's shoulders. Being of rectangular shape, they are supposed to be worn in colder weather.
Glucose Glucose is possibly best-known as the sugar plants produce for energy, but can be manufactured.
Kits A kit is any set of tools, supplies, and/or instructions for a specific purpose. These could be first aid kits, software development kits, bomb-making kits, sewing kits... It can also refer to juveniles of some mammals, such as foxes or rabbits (it is not very likely that such animals would be packed in a box - though compare 325: A-Minus-Minus). Alternatively, this may be a compound word "Glucose Kits", diabetic assay tools to help the patient regulate their blood sugar.
Box 9
Hydrants Fire hydrants are likely too big to fit in boxes and are also simply odd objects to be packing into a box.
Particles As almost all matter is composed of particles, it is hard to find exceptions. Thus, this is very vague.
Knots Knots are things tied in ropes; they can hold things or just be there. This would be hard to put in a box without rope.[citation needed] Could also refer to knots in a piece of wood, which are hard to put in the box without the rest of the wood. Knots could also refer to the unit of speed, used in maritime and air navigation, as well as meteorology, which would be impossible to box as it is not a physical object.
Box 10
Graphite Graphite is a crystalline form of carbon, where the atoms are arranged in sheets. It is found in some household products (pencils and lubricant oil), though in either case the name of the end product would be a more likely box label. Graphite is also a color.
Taupe Taupe is a dark tan color in between brown and gray, again, not an object. May be a reference to Gliese 581f (a.k.a. Taupe Mars) from xkcd #1253.
Box 11
Field Lines This could refer to field lines as used to depict electromagnetic fields, or possibly to the lines painted on an athletic field to mark the boundaries of play. The former is a visualization tool rather than physical objects; the latter consists of streaks of paint on grass or artificial turf, and thus neither kind of field line is the kind of physical object that could be packed into a box.
Box 12
Traps May be a reference to 'My house is full of traps' from What-If #34, or possibly just generic traps such as Bear traps and Booby traps
Box 13
Edges An edge is a line segment joining two vertices. Even though physical objects do have edges, you cannot store edges themselves as they are just mathematical constructs.
Tribes A tribe is a social group of people, and have existed before states were formed. It is impossible to store a group of people in the box, let alone multiple groups.[citation needed]
Dough Dough is a thick, malleable, sometimes elastic, paste made out of any grains, leguminous or chestnut crops. It is used in the process of cooking, but it doesn't make sense to pack it while moving.
Box 14
Dark Matter Dark matter is what is believed to be a big part of the mass of galaxies, but we have never observed it, so it is not possible to pack it.[citation needed] Alternatively, if all dark matter were permanently packed in boxes like this, it would explain why it has never been observed: According to the Copenhagen interpretation of the uncertainty principle (in other words, the Schrödinger's Cat), dark matter may both be in the box and somewhere else in the universe until somebody opens the box.
Box 15
Manifolds In topology, Manifolds are spaces with certain "nice" properties (i.e. they are locally Euclidean). This is yet another mathematical construct that is impossible to pack into a box. Manifold could also refer to a pipe or chamber branching into several openings, for example, an engine exhaust manifold. While physical, it's unlikely that multiple are put in a box for moving.
Box 16
Triangles Within the context of this comic, the reference is likely to the abstract shape. On the other hand, it would not be unusual to pack one or more triangles into a box.
Peat Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation that forms in wetland bogs, moors, mires, and swamps. Like sand and silt, this would be unpleasant to transport in a cardboard box.
Crowns These may be royal crowns or may be the coin worth five shillings in UK pre-decimal currency.
Box 17
Scrolls A scroll is a roll of papyrus, paper, or parchment that contains writing. It is a common item in fantasy games (as elves and traps).


[A bunch of cardboard boxes stacked up, each labeled]











Field Lines







[Caption below the panel:]
I always forget to label my moving boxes until they're sealed up and I've forgotten what's in them.
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I think I've got some Dark Matter in a box left in my basement. Anyone knows how long you can keep this stuff until it expires? 13:36, 21 November 2016 (UTC)

Mine is about 13.8 billion years old and still OK. But shouldn't about 3/4 of the boxes be filled with dark matter? -- 14:21, 21 November 2016 (UTC)
You probably mean 1/4 (and dark energy is the other 3/4). But we don't know how dark matter is distributed. In the extreme and unlikely case that dark matter consists entirely of MACHOs, there are no boxes with it. -- 01:25, 22 November 2016 (UTC)
Hah! Mine's 13.81 years old.
It should be good for another 10^100 years or so. Give or take a few duotrigintillion years. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

--Thejohnfan (talk) 14:28, 21 November 2016 (UTC)Thejohnfan

Yeah - you've really gotta be careful about labelling that stuff - since it neither absorbs nor emits electromagnetic radiation, you're going to have to use gravitational lensing techniques to figure out which box it's in - and we all know how much of a pain THAT can be on moving day! SteveBaker (talk) 14:59, 21 November 2016 (UTC)
Make sure to keep it all individually wrapped. It may become unstable if allowed to mingle. -- 03:17, 22 November 2016 (UTC)
When I last moved house, I methodically labelled every single box with it's exact contents. Several meticulously itemized boxes contained (amongst other things) stuff like "Acrylic art paint", "Rodent poison" and "Adhesives" - and the movers saw this and refused to move about a dozen boxes because they contained things that are liquids or hazardous materials. This was more than I could fit in my car - so this became a huge deal. So next time, I'm going with "Normal House Stuff". Seriously - just label them with the room you want them dumped in at your new home and a number...write the actual contents in a MySQL database...preferably with a photo of the box before you taped it up. SteveBaker (talk) 14:59, 21 November 2016 (UTC)
Label the boxes with "Normal house stuff'); DROP TABLE Boxes; --" if you're doing that. 15:16, 21 November 2016 (UTC)
How do you access the MySQL database when your computer is still packed away in a box? B jonas (talk) 16:08, 21 November 2016 (UTC)
The MySQL database is in a box clearly labelled "Cyberspace" so the movers know where to put it - there is a certain degree of recursion involved in this, but it can be managed. And to access it - I carry a phone...although the magic USB-C to USB-C cable needed to charge it is almost certainly in a box labelled "Attic 237", "Basement 96" or "Garage 49(a)". SteveBaker (talk) 14:34, 22 November 2016 (UTC)

Note that there is a similar use of "Normal" in https://xkcd.com/1530/ 16:54, 21 November 2016 (UTC)

Protip: Label boxes you don't want the movers to know about with "Party Favors." 16:22, 21 November 2016 (UTC)

Indeed, it's a great idea to obfuscate your items with "less valuable" names, or replace everything with numbers + room names, like "Kitchen 2." Just don't lose the inventory list. 10:48, 22 November 2016 (UTC)

The explanation for Bison says they're "also known as buffalo". Not sure if that's technically accurate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bison Excerpt: "Although sometimes referred to historically as a "buffalo", it is only distantly related to the true buffalo." (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Yes, but colloquially, this is acceptable. For another example, see "Indian vs. Native American." 18:08, 21 November 2016 (UTC)

The "shards" could also be a reference to "sharding", as in "MongoDB is web scale"[1] CrazyVaccine (talk) 17:30, 21 November 2016 (UTC)

membranes shards may also refer to sponges (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I read the "shawls glucose kits" as "shawls, glucose [testing] kits", not as "shawls, glucose, kits" (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

>>Vectors ARE physical objects in the wonderful world of epidemiology... also, I believe that it's incorrect to say that you can not put the 'physics' kind of vector into a box... just not, uh, physically, more theoretically? Also the same for field lines (unless it is full of dug up painted clods from the lines from an actual soccer field or something), but you could absolutely place a magnet next to a box, and now there are field lines in it, ammirght? -(unsigned, embarrassed, pedantic, etc) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Come on people this is funny! While Randal may not remember which box things are in, we must assume he KNOWS what stuff he has - ergo he really has all this stuff or at least these are keywords that represent real stuff (like "triangles" could be drafting set-squares) The joke is trying to figure out what on earth these keywords might actually represent! It being xkcd and Randal, we should not assume these are all "normal" items found in typical housholds but may be computer and tech linked. 22:17, 21 November 2016 (UTC)

I'm glad he's keeping the shorebirds and oil separate. Not everyone is so considerate. Jkshapiro (talk) 01:49, 22 November 2016 (UTC)

My father tells me about the depressing sight of removing dead grebes at his workplace. 10:48, 22 November 2016 (UTC)

Some of the boxes could be considered mathematical constructs, i.e., one box contains all the vectors, and is thus a vector space. Another contains edges, 12 of them to be precise. One box appears to be either a Gaussian surface or a magnetic yoke, containing field lines. -- 03:14, 22 November 2016 (UTC)

Reference #14, Dark Matter: perhaps fairer to say you can't *knowingly* pack it? After all, if you can't observe it then it might be there without you knowing about it. (talk) 07:15, 22 Nov 2016 (UTC)

I wonder if there is a reason why he grouped items in certain ways. For instance, "shards" would destroy "membranes", so it is funny that he put them together. But why did he put "beacons", "elves" and "sand" together?

Trying to make sense of the word choices. The boxes contain elements from the following domains: - biology (ex: hemoglobin, bison, shorebirds, membranes) - physics (ex: dark matter, field lines, particles, taupe (the light frequency)) - chemistry (ex: graphite, glucose) - mathematics (ex: vectors, triangles, manifolds, edges) - fantasy (ex: scrolls, elves, traps, fog) - improbable objects (ex: hydrant, tribes, sand, shards). Do you see other ways to classify the objects? -- P500g (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Has no one noticed yet the obvious political references of this comic? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

No what is it? 03:28, 23 November 2016 (UTC)
Me neither.... All I can think is how the election went the wrong way, and many people said they'd move to Canada, so maybe that's an implied link, that now he has to move? - NiceGuy1 04:17, 23 November 2016 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. And hey! Suddenly I'm not being harrassed with Captchas when I contribute! Yay, I'm finally being accepted as human! :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:26, 13 June 2017 (UTC)

This may be a hidden reference to schrodinger's cat https://xkcd.com/45/ -- pointing out that cat may not be the only thing that may or may not be in a box? 03:28, 23 November 2016 (UTC)

There is no box with a cat in it. Or is there? -- P500g (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
What about a box with a bobcat? :) 02:55, 26 November 2016 (UTC)

I'm surprised to see no mention or over-analysis of the fact that the "Hydrants Particles Knots" box doesn't say "Contents:" (and is the only such box) :) - NiceGuy1 04:17, 23 November 2016 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:26, 13 June 2017 (UTC)

I thought the joke was graphite and taupe is literally what the box is made of? The box is colored taupe and he wrote on it with graphite. Also I was thinking that water + hooves = glue. Zipfian (talk) 19:04, 22 November 2016 (UTC)

Maybe the kits are of this kind: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kit_(association_football) -- 12:54, 23 November 2016 (UTC)

Do I add comments at the top or the bottom? I was thinking maybe this cartoon might be an indicator that Randall is moving to Canada with all the other movie stars who said they were leaving if Trump becomes president, especially since Randall was a supporter of Hillary. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Beachvolleyball field lines might be boxed because they are in fact 48m of blue ribbon which is usually carried along by the coach wound on a reel as they tend to disappear from lonely courts. - Sword Flanders (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Nobody mentions that all boxes contain dark matter? It's just so spread out that any given box contains very little dark matter. Nitpicking (talk) 02:18, 26 February 2022 (UTC)