357: Flies

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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I don't know about houseflies, but we definitely caught a lot of fruit flies with our vinegar bowl. Hooray science!
Title text: I don't know about houseflies, but we definitely caught a lot of fruit flies with our vinegar bowl. Hooray science!


The saying "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar" means that people are more likely to be won over with politeness than hostility.

When Cueball's friend tells him this after he replies to a "noob" using swear words, he then says that the saying is literally false by saying that balsamic vinegar attracts more flies than honey. He then tells his friend to try it with his own fruit flies. Fruit flies are attracted to the products of fermentation, particularly to ethanol and acetic acid. The acidity in vinegar is due mostly to acetic acid.

When Cueball's statement is found true, as balsamic vinegar smells like sweet and decomposing fruit to the fruit flies, his friend complains to his mother (with a vitriol influenced by Cueball, perhaps to get some favor) that she lied to him. He then says that another saying, "a watched pot never boils," is also literally false. That saying means that an event that is monitored with impatient attention will seem to take longer, much like watching a clock. However, the pot will boil eventually, so if you keep watching it continuously, you are bound to see it boil at some point.

In the title text, it seems that Randall explains why he wrote this comic — his vinegar bowl attracted a lot of fruit flies. However, he has not done the experiment with houseflies.

The notion of a watched pot not boiling is ascribed to Benjamin Franklin under the pseudonym "Poor Richard." He writes, "a watched pot is slow to boil," meaning "Time feels longer when you're waiting for something to happen."[1]


[Cueball is typing on a computer, and his friend is lying on the floor.]
"Noob" (on computer): *$@#!
Friend: Hey, ease up on the noobs. Like my mom always said, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
[Cueball has turned his chair around.]
Cueball: No, you don't.
Friend: You don't?
Cueball: Nope, set out a bowl of balsamic and a bowl of honey. The vinegar gets more.
[Cueball's friend is now sitting on the floor.]
Friend: ...Seriously?
Cueball: You have fruit flies. Try it yourself.
[Cueball's friend is standing in front of a table, talking into a phone. On the table, there are two bowls, and the bowl on the left seems to be surrounded by flies.]
Friend: Mother! You lied to me! And it gets worse. I was watching a pot yesterday, and guess what it did? It boiled, mother.

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Actually, the saying was originally “A watched pot never boils over.” This means that you should watch a pot to make sure the water doesn't spill out. 17:57, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

Nope. The phrase did not originate with the word "over", which makes less sense anyway, defeating the purpose.[1]Kazvorpal (talk) 05:27, 10 November 2019 (UTC)

Pretty sure that A watched pot never boils is an expression unto its own. If you sat and watched a pot long enough it would still boil over, on the macro scale there is no effect on observing something. 09:10, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

I thought that this expression meant that the water boiling process have a Murphy law like property in it: that the pot tends to boil over when you turn away from it. 21:59, 30 November 2013 (UTC)

CLEARLY the idea is that you are waiting for the pot to boil so that you can add something to it. You are not waiting for it to boil over; you are waiting for it to boil. The point is that many things that you want in life take longer to eventuate than you think, and sitting there fixating on them doesn't actually help and is a waste of time. Do something else useful in the meantime; the pot will boil when it's ready. 19:48, 5 February 2014 (UTC)

Honey has a much higher sugar content than Balsamic vinegar. My hypothesis for this is that the real draw fro the flies is related to fragrance 19:18, 3 April 2014 (UTC)

I agree on this and updated the explanation. Mumiemonstret (talk) 14:10, 5 June 2014 (UTC)

Could this be a metaphor for trolling? Richmond tudor (talk) 00:24, 18 February 2015 (UTC)

I was actually waiting for the day I'd be able to use the knowledge this strip has bestowed onto me. Unfortunately I'm such a slob that there are just WAY too many. But it *certainly* seems to be working so far! I also did some research and found out the flies I'm having are called vinegar flies. What's funny is that when I searched for Florida [insert insect name here], it turns out my college (UF) has pretty much the entire field of Florida entomology covered, and I doubt it's because I'm using the school network.

But I've been living in a dumpster-quality environment for weeks and haven't gotten remotely sick. My immune system is *crazy* good, haha! But there comes a point where it's just plain disgusting and the flies get annoying, so I am in the process of cleaning up, not so much because of the health hazard as much as it is just the smell and how I'm tired of getting hundreds of flies in my face. Also a few of them bite, and they're starting to spread throughout the rest of the dorms so... yeah. If UF's Lakeside building 3 dorm ends up getting fumigated... it's my fault entirely.


Also I don't want to wake up to find my bed crawling with maggots. IDK where they laid eggs and the RA is forbidding me to use Raid. IDK why they'd sell it in the PODs (UF's convenience store) if we're not allowed to use them. International Space Station (talk) 07:04, 28 October 2015 (UTC)

--- Is an unwatched pot in a superposition of boiling and not boiling? --- Ruffy314 (talk) 01:56, 20 November 2015 (UTC)

In English, the acid in vinegar is called "acetic acid". IIRC, "ethanoic acid" makes sense from the IUPAC rules for forming chemical names, so perhaps the writer speaks a language that uses that term. 20:27, 3 October 2016 (UTC)

Just a note - white vinegar doesn't work well. Apple cider vinegar is much more effective. Add a little dish soap, put it in a narrow-mouth bottle (like 20oz soda bottle), and it'll catch a LOT of gnats or fruit flies. 14:59, 12 August 2020 (UTC)

wait, do people actually refer to their mom as "mother???" 12:55, 3 October 2021 (UTC)Bumpf

Not usually, no. Hence the humour. AzureArmageddon 16:08, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

Has anyone actually verified the claim that vinegar catches more fruit flies? AzureArmageddon 16:08, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

Nope. -- Z1mp0st0rz (talk) 15:37, 24 April 2024 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)