284: Tape Measure

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
(Redirected from 284)
Jump to: navigation, search
Tape Measure
This sequence was later reproduced in the International Tape-Extending Federation archives, retitled 'The Founding of the Sport'.
Title text: This sequence was later reproduced in the International Tape-Extending Federation archives, retitled 'The Founding of the Sport'.


Cueball acts childishly, finding a tape measure and then playing with it. He then extends it to 8 feet (approx. 2.5 meters), wondering whether or not that was a record, which makes him imagine a sport where extending the tape measure as far as possible was the goal.

Tape measure strips, of the 'spring metal' kind are manufactured with a slight inherent curve upwards, laterally, where not curved along their length (e.g. whilst still on the spool). Extending the tape straight out from the spool, the sideways curve dominates and adds structural strength to keep the relatively light tape-strip supported against gravity. By doing so, it allows fairly easy operation to extend a tape upwards (e.g. from the floor to the ceiling of a room) or for a smaller distance sideways (e.g. the width of a picture-window) without needing a second person or the extra effort of hooking the 'end hook' over something at the 'end-point' before pulling the case back fowards the 'start'. The tape can also still be bent around corners or circumferences, at the loss of local longitudinal strength and perhaps some accuracy, if a single straight-line distance isn't desired. It is this combination of flexibility and rigidity that makes such tapes so useful for common household and maintenance measurements larger than a piece of paper (for which a rigid ruler is more useful) but smaller than a property's yard area (where a surveyor's non-sprung metal tape might be laid out) and not habitually involving curves (as with a draper's cloth tape).

However, as a tape measure is extended (especially horizontally), the weight of the strip eventually does overcome the support offered by the bend, causing it to collapse. As cleverly depicted in the comic, a single point tends to 'crumple' (often where vibrations from the handling induce a resonance; and tending towards where the cantilever forces are greatest, near where the operator is currently drawing the tape out) and this then causes a collapse in which other bends introduce themselves from the dynamics of the tape in motion and the force of its impact on the ground/other objects.

Skillfully and steadily holding the tape measure at an angle can redirect some of the weight load, reduce the momentary tendencies to cross the 'bending threshhold' and allow for a longer total extension. Vertically, it is likely that most such tape can support itself (with minimal care) against collapse, but would reach no length at all in a sideways direction. The ultimate aim of those who attempt idle 'tape extending' challenges is often to achieve the longest horizontal extension. Or the highest 'figure' revealed from the tape, whilst doing so, which would actually be the length of the slightly arced diagonal, but would be fairly close to the slightly smaller 'reach length' attained, and usually good enough for idle entertainment. However, it is implied that this technique can be explored to the point of becoming its own sport, at which point one presumes that professional "competitive tape extension" would rely solely upon the observed horizontal extension (without, or prior to, hitting the ground), with competitor's chosen extension techniques with their standard (competition-grade) tapes perhaps even making on-tape graduations unnecessary and totally irrelevent.

The title text refers to a future where this sport exists, and this comic is a representation of the origin of this sport.


[Cueball finds a tape measure.]
Cueball: Hey, a tape measure.
[Cueball extends the tape measure.]
extend extend
[The tape measure falls.]
[Cueball tries again.]
extend extend
Cueball (thinking): Ooh, eight feet. I wonder if that's a record.
[Cueball imagines an olympic stadium, with three people extending tape measures]
Audience: Gooo! Goooo! Gooooooo!


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


I think it should be mentioned that Randall uses the unit Foot instead of Meter.--Dgbrt (talk) 10:28, 8 July 2013 (UTC)

All of the tape measures of the given type that I've used are in feet because I, like Randall, am in the US! (I've seen metric ones, but not used them). It seems entirely natural, although if you really feel it's relevant... --Quicksilver (talk) 18:41, 22 August 2013 (UTC)
I wonder why they don't make the tapes with metric on one edge, and imperial on the other. Some rulers and most vernier calipers do that. BK201 (talk) 17:35, 12 December 2013 (UTC)BK201

I have seen them with both units, but unless you're switching between them, it's better to have the same on both edges, since you can then make your pencil marks accurately on whichever side is more convenient. (For household use, though, my favorite shows inches on one edge and half that on the other, for centering.) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

They do in some countries. I can confirm that it's a standard in New Zealand, at the very least. Apparently that's just not the case in America. Daniel 02:16, 20 February 2014 (UTC)
Or in Denmark - here we only have the metric tape measures.Kynde (talk) 11:33, 7 March 2014 (UTC)
In china we use meteric units and traditional units like Chi(1/3 m from the last century till now) and Zhang(10 Chi's as far as I know). I think only some clothes-making rulers use traditional units because people are used to them. 10:39, 7 July 2014 (UTC) Not registered
UK here, and pretty much any tape measure I've ever encountered has both metric & imperial. --Pudder (talk) 16:08, 7 October 2014 (UTC)
In Germany they're metric in most cases. But I found some with both scales. And I got excited since some tabletops (such as Warhammer) use imperial units, whiles others (Battlefleet Gothic - at least in the German rules) us metric units. And some (Flames of War) provide rules for using both. Now I can play all of them with only ohne tape measure :) Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 12:19, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
Another U.S. here, and I commonly see tape measure with both systems. I think that may be what Cueball is using here, but he just thinks "8 feet" because Americans tend to think about things in the imperial system. Trogdor147 (talk) 19:00, 7 September 2023 (UTC)

Stanley Fat Max tapes have this measurement as a selling point: http://www.stanleytools.com/default.asp?CATEGORY=HT_TAPES_FATMAX&TYPE=PRODUCT&PARTNUMBER=33-716&SDesc=16%27+x+1-1%2F4%26quot%3B+FATMAX%26reg%3B+Tape+Rule First one on the list. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

As a very serious professional carpenter I can confirm that, indoors to avoid wind, one can with patience achieve at least 25’6”. My longer tapes lack enough of a cup to support much length. I mean extending vertically of course, if done at an extreme angle as shown the comic I am unable to get more than 6’ based on rigorous trials performed just now.

I tried how long my tape measure could go, the maximum length when I held the measuring tape was 9'9, which is around 2.98m. Guess this can really be an Olympic Sport when done correctly.Boeing-787lover 08:02, 26 June 2018 (UTC)

I will say, it must be insanely easy to measure results in this sport. Trogdor147 (talk) 19:00, 7 September 2023 (UTC)

I've just overhauled the middle of the explanation (it was a surrounded by brackets, for a start, which I removed (then added sub-patenthises of my own, for asides, naturally)...) and I've mentioned that the tape's own measurement probably isn't "competition standard measurement" as the long, low arc is an unreliable distance compared with horizontal distance. I suppose using "stock" tapes (ostensibly commercial tapes, like certain motor-racing events sort-of-use "production" vehicles) might still have graduations on them (perhaps a "tape-cam" is trained closely on the unit, to reveal the final 'unsupported' number visible, at a certain level of competition), but in the full professional/olympic-level version of the sport I think it'd probably be a matter of how horizontaly far from the spool can the tape go, using a sport-approved standard tape which needn't then have any graduations (or just marks for competitors' own 'pacing' purposes) and the measurement is on the ground.
As, indeed, is the case on the depicted sports' field, though I'm a bit worried about the various lateral positions of the competitors depicted. Possibly those are just guidelines, and VAR/Hawkeye/whatever technology is used to establish 'end to support' distance to laser accuracy.
The other pondering I had about this is whether it's a 'sustained' distance (the distance extended to that you maintained/exceeded for <x> seconds, prior to any collapse), 'achieved' distance (that which was instantaneously reached just before ground-strike), 'reached' distance (like long-jump, the nearest point at which the ground was eventually contacted, a "collapse" would be like falling badly backwards on landing) or 'recovered' distance (spool out, spool fully back, any ground strike at all disqualifies that attempt, so you have to push it only as far as you feel you can). Each of these could even be different disciplines, with their own particular tactics and techniques (e.g. "push it out as you feel it tangibly collapse, to try to gain that extra 'extension' slightly before it hits ground, but not so much that you induce more bending/kinking!", or "patiently stay behind the others, waiting for theirs to fail then complete your recovery"). Which would make for a more varied sports event. (Like going to see a race-meet involving F1, Nascar, Rally and Demolition Derby events on/within/around the same track. Or, yuknow... full Field(-and-Track) Athletics events, or even (tri/pent/dec/etc)'-athlons' for cummulative cross-discipline abilities! ((Yep, that's all worth considering. Future ITEF members, please feel free to take notes...)) 14:01, 19 November 2023 (UTC)