2127: Panama Canal

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
(Redirected from 2127)
Jump to: navigation, search
Panama Canal
Once they selected the other proposal, we could have kept shopping ours around, but we would had to modify it include an aqueduct over their canal, which would be totally unreasonable.
Title text: Once they selected the other proposal, we could have kept shopping ours around, but we would had to modify it include an aqueduct over their canal, which would be totally unreasonable.


The Panama Canal is, as the name suggests, a canal through the country of Panama. It is important for bridging the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and is an important trade route. The canal is in Panama because this is the narrowest piece of land for crossing between the two oceans. When the Panama Canal was being proposed, several alternate routes were suggested such as the recently-revived Nicaragua Route.

Cueball says that when the Panama Canal connecting the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean was being planned, he proposed an alternate route that connects the Arctic Ocean to the Great Southern Ocean. At the time, the northern terminus would have been inaccessible, because the Arctic Ocean was almost completely covered by ice. His suggested route runs somewhat to the east of the continental divide and has a total length of slightly over ten thousand miles, in contrast to the real-life canal which is only fifty miles long. The extra length and more-rugged terrain make his proposal much more difficult to build and maintain than the real-life Panama Canal.[citation needed]

Moreover, while the real-life canal significantly shortens the travel distance between major cities on the east and west coasts of the Americas, his alternative offers little benefit over traveling north or south in either the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. In fact, with the lack of currents that can aid travel and the slow speed required to traverse canal locks, it would be significantly slower. In addition, ships would have to wait approximately 100 years for global warming to melt the ice in the Arctic Ocean along the northern coast of North America sufficiently for them to enter or exit the northern end of the canal. (However, since construction of this canal might take even longer, the ice might not be a problem by the time it was completed.)

The title text references the now-existing Panama Canal, and the fact that Randall's canal would need to cross it at some point. The title text suggests that crossing two canals would have to be done via aqueduct, instead of the more useful at-grade crossing, most likely at Gatun Lake, which would allow boats to travel between the two canals by simply connecting them. The humor here is that this canal would be one of the most ambitious construction projects in history; an aqueduct being added to the costs is an expense on the same scale of needing an extra screw to hold something in on Apollo 11. The route depicted appears to cross the Mackenzie, Missouri, Rio Grande, and Amazon rivers anyway, so only this additional crossing is apparently "unreasonable."


[Cueball is standing in front of a poster with two maps showing the Americas. He is pointing to the right one with a stick he is holding in his hand. Specifically to the red line going through the Americas from the Arctic sea above Canada near Alaska, down through North America, through the middle of Central America down through the middle of South America to end up in the Antarctic sea below the tip of South America. On the map to the left there is a similar red line indicating the Panama Canal crossing the thinnest part of Central America from the Pacific Oceanto the Atlantic Ocean. Both lines end in small dots on either "side" of the continent. The two maps have labels above them:]
Atlantic-Pacific option
Arctic-Antarctic option
[Caption below the panel:]
I still don't understand why the Panama Canal planners rejected my proposal.


  • The Panama Canal was the main theme in 1632: Palindrome and there is a scene in 1608: Hoverboard where a song that Cueball sings references the canal. Panamax is referenced in the title text of 1865: Wifi vs Cellular.
  • If Cueball had proposed an alternative Panama Canal when the original was being built, he would have to have been alive in the early 1900s. Assuming he was at least 18 when the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed to authorize the canal (a very generously low estimate), this version of Cueball would been born no later than 1885.
  • This is the second comic in a row with a map based theme. Randall likes maps.
  • A canal crossing a canal occurs at several places. One of the more famous ones is the Magdeburg Water Bridge in Germany. It also features some locks nearby, so ships can change from the canal to the Elbe river, and vice versa.
  • Another interesting connection of canals on different height levels is the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Can any English majors verify if 'we would had to modify it' in the Title text is grammatically ok or not? It sounds like it should be 'we would have had to modify it' or 'we would've had to...', but I could be wrong or maybe it was intentional? Stickfigurefan (talk) 18:45, 22 March 2019 (UTC)

Pretty sure it is just a missing word and yes I think "have" is the missing word so we would have had to modify it was the intention. Maybe it will be corrected, the comic has only been up 20 minutes now. --Kynde (talk) 18:53, 22 March 2019 (UTC)
But as written, you can split the title text exactly in half (at the the space after "would", and including the final period). "Have" doesn't work--the two halves aren't even--"halve" works...but then you have to split it as "ha|lve". Elvenivle (talk)
Hm, there also appears to be another missing word: "...would ['ve/of/have] had to modify it [to] include...". I was hoping there was a joke in the shorter cut--representing the standard Panama palindrome--crossing the longer title text (represented in the vertical canal, leaving an improperly-cut "have", either as 've or "of") but two missing words doesn't seem to fit that hope. Elvenivle (talk)
The title text reads as if Randall was sleepy, drunk, or distracted. The missing words are common typos. 02:13, 23 March 2019 (UTC)
Should it be fixed, to help it make more sense to non-native English speakers? “That Guy from the Netherlands” (talk) 16:58, 25 March 2019 (UTC)

Fun fact: The portion of the Arctic–Antarctic Canal that passes through central Panamá actually runs from south to north (or at least southwest to northeast), rather than from north to south! —TobyBartels (talk) 19:58, 22 March 2019 (UTC)

The actual Panama Canal runs West to East from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Both are due to the fact that Panama is a bit of an S shape. Cgrimes85 (talk) 00:17, 23 March 2019 (UTC)
Right, that's the real fun fact. Mine is a fun fact in the alternate universe where Cueball's canal proposal was accepted. But I'm pleased that both of these can be seen on Randall's maps, if you look closely. —TobyBartels (talk) 02:57, 23 March 2019 (UTC)
Not permanently. The Pacific plate is rotating counterclockwise, so Baja will someday be off the coast of California instead of off the coast of Mexico (the boundary between the Pacific plate and North American plates runs through the Gulf of California and the San Andreas fault). This motion may straighten Panama... or tear it apart into two disconnected pieces (making a canal unnecessary). 18:49, 23 March 2019 (UTC)

My proposal for the Suez Canal was for it to run from the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Dezhnev via Nepal and Tibet... 21:17, 22 March 2019 (UTC)

Would you opt for tunnel through Himalayas? Note that Himalayas are still rising by more than 1 cm per year, so you would need to compensate in your maintenance plans. -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:51, 22 March 2019 (UTC)
Would it connect to the proposed bridge to Alaska?
Yes! Aqueduct over the Bering Strait, then straight across Alaska to connect to Cueball's canal. And I was thinking of using multiple canal inclined planes and boat lifts to get over the Himalayas. The Everest base camps need a canal to bring in supplies from South America (there would be a tunnel under Everest, obviously). 14:08, 25 March 2019 (UTC)

It's interesting to me how palindromic the Panama cut is...compared to the other one. Elvenivle (talk)

Wot no Palindromes 00:53, 23 March 2019 (UTC)

I propose a canal between Tierra del Fuego and The Cape of Good Hope. US$ and I keep the difference if the project is completed under-budget. These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 06:03, 23 March 2019 (UTC)

There is also the issue that the proposed canal would go though at least a dozen countries. Political problems in any of the countries would probably result in it closing. Remember that the United States was so afraid of losing access to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi that they paid for the Louisiana purchase. 02:58, 25 March 2019 (UTC)

Quick note: The Falkirk Wheel is not a canal crossing a canal, it is a boat lift which replaced a series of locks. It is part of the Union canal, near its junction with the Forth & Clyde canal, but there is no canal crossing. 09:08, 25 March 2019 (UTC)

I vote we burn up the remainder of our fossil fuels ASAP, so the greenhouse effect will ensure that the artic ice melts and the alternative canal becomes viable. 09:32, 25 March 2019 (UTC)

If we change the path a little we can use the Mississippi River for a while.

Why does the title text say "...modify it include an aqueduct..."? I don't think "it include" is grammatically correct.

It’s not. I just noticed that too.Szeth Pancakes (talk) 21:08, 3 March 2022 (UTC)