207: What xkcd Means

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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What xkcd Means
It means shuffling quickly past nuns on the street with ketchup in your palms, pretending you're hiding stigmata.
Title text: It means shuffling quickly past nuns on the street with ketchup in your palms, pretending you're hiding stigmata.


This comic purports to finally answer the question, "What does 'xkcd' mean?" However, instead of giving an answer as to what the letters actually mean (according to Randall, it's literally "just a word with no phonetic pronunciation"), he offers five quirky behaviors. This is reminiscent of TV commercials that ask, "What does [brand name] mean? It means [happy activity]!".

The first panel shows a driver, marked by a red line, making a right turn at a red light, a U-turn on the connecting road, and then another right turn, returning them to their original direction presumably faster than waiting for the light. Right turns at red lights and U-turns are legal in all 50 states, but some intersections do not allow them (and turning at a red light is illegal everywhere in Europe, except for if the traffic lights have been fitted with an auxilliary green arrow which indicates such an allowance during a road junction's sequence). Hence, this complicated maneuver is "questionably legal". However, under certain circumstances in the US state of Oregon, it appears that this is actually legal.

The second panel shows Cueball searching for his mobile phone by having his friend call it to locate the ringtone, only to hear a ring from inside of his dog's stomach, possibly a reference to Jurassic Park III.[citation needed] This, by the way, is a weird depiction. Usually this is done by someone with or close to you. Because if Cueball didn't have his phone, then how could he get someone outside the house to call it? Having someone you meet call your phone, presumably to find it, is used in 2900: Call My Cell, although it turned out it was not really about finding the phone, rather, Black Hat showing his inner classhole.

The third panel discusses calling an Ackermann function using Graham's number as input arguments to horrify mathematicians, where Graham's number is a (very) large number (once celebrated as the largest number ever used in a proof, although it is no longer the record holder), and the Ackermann function is a (very) fast-growing function, thus the function's output must be insanely large. (In fact, A(g64, g64) is actually smaller than g65.)

The fourth panel describes how walking in a specific pattern on a tile floor based on arbitrary rules related to the position of the black and white tiles will cause someone to be unable to walk normally on a tile floor ever again. This is further referenced in 245: Floor Tiles.

The title text refers to stigmata, marks corresponding to Jesus' crucifixion wounds. They are also sometimes reported to bleed periodically. Using ketchup to fake stigmata would be a good idea, as from afar people would think that you actually are bleeding from your (supposed) stigmata. Devout Catholics have claimed to have spontaneously developed stigmata.


[Caption above the panels:]
What does xkcd mean?
[Two cars sitting at a red light at a multi-lane intersection; one of them makes a right turn, then shifts over to the left lane and makes a U-turn across the dividing line to go back the way it came. It then shifts back to the right lane and makes another right turn, continuing down the road past the traffic light. This is shown with a red arrow.]
It means saving a few seconds at a long red light via elaborate and questionably legal maneuvers.
[In an inset circle in the panel, someone is on a cell phone. In the panel itself, a second person is looking at a dog.]
It means having someone call your cell phone to figure out where it is.
Dog's stomach: Ring
[The mathematical function "A(g64, g64)=" appears in the panel. Next to the equal sign stands a mathematician, clutching his head.]
It means calling the Ackermann function with Graham's number as the arguments just to horrify mathematicians.
Mathematician: AUGHHH
[An approximately 8 by 8 square of floor tiles is shown. Each black tile has 2 tiles between itself and another on all sides, starting at the bottom left. A guy and girl are shown next to it, walking on what is presumed to be the same pattern of floor tiles.]
It means instinctively constructing rules for which floor tiles it's okay to step on and then walking funny ever after.
[Line indicating the uppermost right black tile: Black tiles okay.]
[Line indicating tile directly below it: White tiles directly between black tiles okay.]
[Line indicating a white tile in the last column over: Not okay.]


  • In his Google-speech, Randall said that xkcd originated as a previously unused random 4 letter string which he used, e.g., as his account name on various internet services.

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I'm pretty sure that the first panel isn't talking about the legality of U-turns; I think it's actually talking about the legality of bypassing traffic signals: https://www.drivinglaws.org/resources/is-it-illegal-to-cut-through-a-parking-lot-to-avoid-a-red-light.html

I do the last panel ALL THE FRIGGIN' TIME. Alpha (talk) 20:07, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

Graham's Number has not had that title for several years now.... See here: http://googology.wikia.com/wiki/Graham's_number XKCD also means getting addicted to webcomics because they are too funny -- 21:57, 22 June 2015 (UTC)

A question, what is meant with "(In fact, A(g64, g64) is less than g65)"? Is g65 more than g64? Is it much more? Is A(g64, g64 "insanely large" compared to what you would expect or not? Maplestrip (talk) 13:05, 24 June 2015 (UTC)

It means that mathematicians who read XKCD are not horrified by the idea, but calmly compute the result. (g65 is obviously more than g64 ; both Graham's number and Ackermann functions are methods to make ludicrously high numbers, and the "only slightly more" means that they growing in roughly same ludicrous speed) -- Hkmaly (talk) 02:04, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

You know, if everyone did the traffic thing at intersections, it would basically be the same as a roundabout. -- 16:19, 26 November 2015 (UTC)

Apparently (page 28) some intersections where I live are designed for the maneuver in panel 1.--Troy0 (talk) 17:30, 29 July 2016 (UTC)

Yo mama ≡ 1 modulo A(g64, g64) unsigned int (talk) 22:13, 22 March 2017 (UTC)

I ran into a situation yesterday where the first panel saved me five minutes in traffic. The road I was driving on had two lanes on each side. The left lane was backed up a quarter mile and the right lane was empty, as across the next road, construction trucks blocked the right lane. I drove all the way down the right lane, took a right turn, and then proceeded to execute the maneuver depicted in the comic. Half a dozen other cars caught on and followed. 21:16, 23 February 2018 (UTC)

Maybe it's about his ex Casey D.

Xylophone kicking contest delayed, x-rays knitting crumbles Denmark, xenon kangaroos can't derive, xylocarp kiwi creates dimension, xebec krypton concedes durian Me[citation needed] 05:53, 2 October 2023 (UTC)

Left turn on red is also legal. But the basic rule is that the turn can't require crossing any traffic lanes, so you can only do it when turning from one one-way road to another. So it's not useful for the maneuver in the comic, because you can't make a U-turn on the second road. Barmar (talk) 15:38, 29 February 2024 (UTC)

"how could he get someone outside the house to call it" Some of us still have land lines (and far more did when the comic was written). You can also use email or online messaging. Barmar (talk) 15:44, 29 February 2024 (UTC)

Generally, if you have a landline to talk to someone outside your house, you can do the "call your own (mobile/cell) phone from your (landline) one" without even needing anybody else. (As long as you can remember/look up your own number! That'd might be a necessity, 'cos I can still remember other peoples' phone numbers from decades ago, that no longer apply, but still struggle to remember my own without always initially self-doubting if it starts "0754... or "0745...".)
That said, post-landline I've also had to go out without my mobile (because I couldn't work out which cushion/whatever it had clearly hidden itself beneath) and then as I was about to leave the venue, where I'd prearranged a meet with someone, have asked the person concerned to "wait half an hour for me to get home, then try to give me a ring... and if I don't call back within five minutes, try once more as I instead specifically listen out upstairs...". Which worked, incidentally, but can't remember offhand if it actually needed that second attempt.
And I always interpreted the comic as being someone not in the same room, or at least outside the immediate frame of view, to add yet another reason to be drawn that way. But who knows what exact kind of situation Randall was imagining. (Well, Randall might...) 16:30, 29 February 2024 (UTC)

"Using ketchup to cover up stigmata wouldn't be a very good idea, as from afar people would think that you actually are bleeding from your (supposed) stigmata." ...Is the joke not that the ketchup itself is supposed to resemble the bleeding? Why is that not even mentioned as a possibility? 18:37, 10 March 2024 (UTC)

Until recently, it didn't say this, leaving the (IMO) more obvious reasoning implied. But someone obviously had the other idea in mind. (I had your thoughts, but didn't get around to making this alternate reading more a secondary possibility again). Maybe I'll go back in and check it. Or feel free to edit it yourself, if you think you can. 21:01, 10 March 2024 (UTC)

The ketchup isn't hiding the stigmata, it's pretending to be the stigmata. The rapid shuffling past is what's hiding the "stigmata". 14:28, 30 April 2024 (UTC)