2210: College Athletes

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
College Athletes
Their signature play is the three-point combinator, a recursive offense which is guaranteed not to halt and continues accumulating points until the buzzer.
Title text: Their signature play is the three-point combinator, a recursive offense which is guaranteed not to halt and continues accumulating points until the buzzer.


Ponytail is reading from her phone about the California Fair Pay to Play act, which was signed into law on September 30, 2019, two days before this comic was released. It gives college athletes the rights to their name and image (face, body, etc.) for financial gain, in contrast to NCAA rules which require that athletes be unpaid. This bill threatens the NCAA's notion of amateurism, which has become a topic of public debate.

White Hat thinks this law is a good thing, but then Cueball claims that his state has passed an even better law giving college players rights to the names and images of any California athletes. Note that Cueball's state is thus not California, so it is very odd they can use names from another state, in addition to the oddity of gaining rights to another person's name and image.

Ponytail doesn't believe Cueball, but he carries on claiming that all members of his school's basketball team thus have changed their name to Steph Curry after the NBA player who plays for the Golden State Warriors, a team in California. Cueball explains in particular that only one player copied the name from the NBA player, then another member of the team copied the name from that player, and so on.

As it turns out, in his final remark, all this has only been the setup for his grand joke: Cueball tells Ponytail and White Hat that this process of recursive name usage is known as "currying". In addition to a pun with basketball rules against carrying, avoidance of which often involves passing from one player to another, this is also a play on both the basketball player's name "Curry" used here, as well as the mathematical procedure called currying, named after mathematician Haskell Curry. This sort of humor is very typical of Cueball, leading Ponytail to state that she "hates him".

Currying is when a multi-variable function is broken down into a sequence of single-variable functions, each of which outputs a new function until the final variable is consumed. For example, the function f(x,y,z) can be curried into f(x)(y)(z), where f is a function that consumes x and produces a function f(x), which in turn consumes y, yielding the function f(x)(y), and that in turn is a function f(x)(y) which consumes the parameter z to finally produce f(x)(y)(z), which is equal to the original f(x,y,z). This is not commonly used in most areas of math except for foundational logic but it is widely used in functional programming.

When Cueball says a team made up entirely of Steph Currys, White Hat questions what the plural form should be, and should it instead have been "Stephs Curry"? This is referring to the pluralization of phrases where a noun is followed by a modifier of some sort, such as attorneys general, parts unknown, heirs apparent, mothers-in-law, and so on. In these cases, plurals are formed by pluralizing the noun parts of the phrases; however, some of these are rare or foreign enough that speakers of English don't always identify them correctly and pluralize the last word instead, e.g. attorney generals.

The title text is a computer science joke, saying that the Steph Currys basketball team's signature play is the "three-point combinator", a joke on the three-point play in basketball, and a type of fixed-point combinator called the Y Combinator, introduced by Haskell Curry. The description of "three-point combinator" is dense with word play that relates to the Y Combinator, which is used to implement recursive methods in functional programming languages, has notable properties relating to halting (see: the halting problem), and has a common form in which a second argument is used as a counter that is increased by one with each recursive call until termination. "Signature play" may also be a play on words, as currying transforms a method signature.

In this case, when this move is performed, it will just keep accumulating points, as it is guaranteed it cannot halt and will not stop until the time runs out and the buzzer that ends the game is activated. Such a move can of course not be a part of a real basketball game, and more of a nod to the Golden State Warriors' reputation as a high-scoring, nearly-unstoppable offense widely known for three-point shooting.


[Cueball, Ponytail and White Hat are having a conversation. Ponytail is checking her phone.]
Ponytail: Oh, huh. California passed a law giving college athletes full rights to their names and images.
White Hat: Good, I think?
[Cueball holds his hand up in a fist, while Ponytail, holding her phone down, and White Hat looks at him.]
Cueball: That's nothing. Our state gave college players rights to use the names and images of any California athletes.
Ponytail: It did not.
[In a frame-less panel Cueball holds his hands out, Ponytail's phone is gone and White Hat puts a hand to his chin.]
Cueball: Sure it did!
Cueball: That's how our school fielded a basketball team made up entirely of Steph Currys.
White Hat: Or is the plural "Stephs Curry"?
[Cueball holds both hands up in front of him. Ponytail has her arms down but she is balling her hands into fists.]
Cueball: They didn't all copy the original Steph, though. One player got the rights to his name, then the next player got it from them, and so on.
Cueball: This process is known as "currying".
Ponytail: ...I hate you so much.

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


This was posted way earlier than usual. Still technically Wednesday 00:02 UTC, but usual posting is mid-late afternoon UTC. 01:00, 2 October 2019 (UTC)

I noticed that too. That's really weird... I wonder what caused it? 06:14, 2 October 2019 (UTC)
It happens from time to time. See e.g. discussion of 2188:_E_Scooters. --Lupo (talk) 06:56, 2 October 2019 (UTC)

Note that the joke about how to pluralize names ("Steph Currys" vs. "Stephs Curry") is also present in "How to win an election" in the "How to" book. There it's in the form of "Bob Caseys" vs. "Bobs Casey". 07:53, 2 October 2019 (UTC)

So glad this site exists! I came here thinking the explanation would be about how to cook curry :-) 11:28, 2 October 2019 (UTC)

I don't think 'signature play' was an intentional pun on the signature (aka type) of a function, but great catch. 12:47, 2 October 2019 (UTC)

Is the category Category:Comics featuring real people applicable here? It does seem to feature some comics where real people are only mentioned... Others with real people are not in that category... --Lupo (talk) 12:56, 2 October 2019 (UTC)

Added to the category. Makes sense to me. 18:48, 2 October 2019 (UTC)
Yes if a real person is named it belongs in that category. But there will of course be comics where this has not been spotted. Well noted! --Kynde (talk) 14:38, 3 October 2019 (UTC)
"... but he curries on..."?? ==

The explanation includes the sentence "Ponytail doesn't believe him but he curries on...". I don't see a reason for the use of "curries" vs. the normal "carries", except that the explanation writer is adding an additional (unnecessary) pun. I'd suggest changing it back to the idiomatic "carries on". -- 16:34, 2 October 2019 (UTC)

Yes it was a joke. Like in the incomplete reason etc. But I have not problem you removed it. Hope someone got a laugh first, and now it is preserved here ;-) --Kynde (talk) 14:38, 3 October 2019 (UTC)

The explanation states that Cueball is implying that his school is from a state other than California, but I don't see any such implication in the comic. 18:20, 2 October 2019 (UTC)

Second panel "Our state gave..." Bugstomper (talk) 19:13, 2 October 2019 (UTC)
Yes pretty clear that California made this law, and Cueballs state made a better law! --Kynde (talk) 14:33, 3 October 2019 (UTC)
The laws misunderstood?

First, the California law, which "gives athletes rights to their names and likeness". In reality the athletes always had rights to their names and likeness. What the new law allows is for the athletes to license their names/likeness to commercial companies, and receive renumeration for that. Thus, Cueball's summary of the law, even though not incorrect, if taken literally can be misunderstood that the athletes had no rights to their names before.

Then the "other state"'s law, which "gives players rights to use the names and images of ANY California athlete". This is not a real law, so there is a considerable latitude in its possible meaning. This law's summary is intentionally constructed in such a way as to mimic the California's law summary, but that doesn't mean its meaning should be taken literally. I believe that it is *unlikely* that Randall intended this law to be taken literally, mainly because such law would likely be unconstitutional (if one state recognizes name/likeness as a property, then another state may not violate those property rights). What I think the law actually means is that that state's athletes can use *as their own* the name/likeness of another player, provided that they licensed that name/likeness legally. Thus, it's a pun on the word "use": usually when companies "use athlete's name/likeness" means they produce ads featuring those athletes; whereas in the Cueball's state to "use athlete's name/likeness" would mean to adopt it as your own.

Such interpretation is confirmed in the last panel: "one player got the rights to his name, ...". Thus, the first player had to obtain those rights, presumably paying to the original name owner. However, once that player adopted the name as his own - he is now free to license the name to the next player on his team, and so on (presumably at a huge discount). (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~) (Also please do not add sections to the discussion...)

Of course it is a joke law. But Cueball presents it to the others as a real law from his state. And no Randall did not intend this to be believed as a real law, and the explanation already mentions the flaw with other state vs own state and that it is either a mistake or Cueball just running along to setup for his currying joke! --Kynde (talk) 14:38, 3 October 2019 (UTC)

Just a nit that, IMO, "carrying" in bball isn't about passing or not (that would be traveling) but its other name is "palming" Oddly, WikiP has it as "[carrying] occurs when when the dribbling player continues to dribble after allowing the ball to come to rest in one or both hands." which makes it sound like double dribble. I guess they're all related somehow, I guess I thought of carrying/palming as holding the ball up, while dribbing, for an improper period of time. I guess it's com-pli-cated - see #5,6 & 7 https://www.sdhsaa.com/Portals/0/PDFs/Officials/Basketball/MostMisunderstoodBasketballRules.pdf Afbach (talk)

There have been a ton of changes since I made my fist version of the explanation where I did change some parts and added several new things... So I'm pretty happy to see that no one really changed the idea behind my explanation, but just added and improved. Cool :-) --Kynde (talk) 14:40, 3 October 2019 (UTC)