520: Cuttlefish

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Unless the CS students finish the robot revolution before you finish the cephalopod one.
Title text: Unless the CS students finish the robot revolution before you finish the cephalopod one.


It appears that Cueball and Megan are physicists visiting a biology lab. Their guide, a biologist looking like Cueball, gives them a description of the humble cuttlefish that is both accurate and makes them sound like other-worldly creatures with highly advanced capabilities.

The scene takes an unusual turn when the scientist implies that the cuttlefish have been easily trained to improve their capabilities. He then demonstrates this by giving a simple command, whereupon the cuttlefish rise out of the water, only to attack and kill both Cueball and Megan, demonstrating an ability to fly, talk, and discharge lethal electric shocks in the process. (See also 35: Sheep).

This is all revealed to be a dream, but it has given Cueball a warning not to underestimate the biologists. Apparently, they can be just as crazy and dangerous as any other kind of scientist. Cueball (who represent Randall as it is xkcd that salutes in the final panel) offers a toast to all biologists everywhere and plans an alliance with them against the chemists, hoping to prevent further attacks on physicists. He is then shown drinking from a laboratory flask, something that any scientist would be wary of.

In the past, Randall has been somewhat dismissive of the non-math/non-physics scientific disciplines, so this comic may be trying to mend some bridges with biologists. But not with chemists.

In the title text, CS stands for Computer Science. The "robot revolution" references events in film and literature, wherein robots, having become commonplace in the workforce, achieve independent thought and declare war on humanity, like in The Terminator, The Matrix, or the movie I, Robot. Randall implies that the physicists will switch sides if the robot revolution arrives first. Cephalopod is the class of animals that encompasses cuttlefish, as well as squids and octopodes.


[A scientist (looking like Cueball) is pointing into an aquarium tank with two small animals floating in the water. He explains that they are cuttlefish to Cueball and Megan, who are on the other side of the tank looking into it, Cueball with a hand to his mouth. Above them there is a frame inside the panel with a caption:]
We visit a bio lab:
Scientist: These are cuttlefish.
[Very detailed drawing of a cuttlefish, with its special W shaped pupils, all eight arms and two longer tentacles, and the striped body with waving parts shown waving down each side. The scientist tells about the animal with text above and below.]
Scientist (off-panel): They're frighteningly smart, have manipulating arms and tentacles, have ink jets, can dart backwards and see the polarization of light through their w-shaped pupils.
Scientist (off-panel): And their sides are 200 DPI display screens which they use for camouflage and communication.
[Back to the original setting where the scientist stands a little farther back from the tank with his arms down. Cueball and Megan have also moved farther back and are even leaning away from the tank.]
Scientist: When we realized how intelligent they were, we began to teach them.
Scientist: They've advanced quickly.
Scientist: Cuttlefish: GO.
[The two cuttlefish float straight out of the tank (lines indicating the movement and water splashing at the surface of the tank). The scientist looks down at them, while Cueball and Megan are holding hands and leaning farther back and Cueball taking his hand back to his mouth.]
[Pan to only the scientist, standing with one arm bend in front of him and the other holding a finger up to his mouth, and the tank from where the cuttlefish now fly toward Cueball and Megan, who are now off-panel. Lines behind the cuttlefish show that they fly right but bob up and down. The cuttlefish talk in a strange way where the letters are alternately up and down.]
Cuttlefish: Kill the Physicists
Cuttlefish: Kill the Physicists
[Pan to Megan and Cueball, with the tank almost inside the left frame. Both cuttlefish are surrounded by their own zigzag lines, which then extend from them in a thin line to encompass either Cueball or Megan. Cueball was running away from them, when this happens, with legs bent at the knees and arms out, one bent. Megan has fallen, lying face down with her arms out.]
[In this panel with faint gray shading, Cueball is waking up in bed from the dream, rising up to a sitting position suddenly as indicated with two movement lines behind his head. One arm is supporting him on the bed next to the pillow, and the other is pulling his sheet down away from his torso. The first sentence is maybe still part of the dream, as there is no line from Cueball to the sentence, and it is written high up. There is a line to the second sentence.]
Cueball: Oh god.
Cueball: I knew it.
[This panel is divided into five segments. At the top, there is a large caption in two lines. There are three drawings following each other from left to right. First, a bottle is pouring liquid into a an Erlenmeyer flask (a conical laboratory flask) that is half full. Then, Cueball takes the flask and holds it up as a salute. Finally, he drinks from it, leaning his head way back. Below there is more text.]
Salutes Bio Majors
If we join you against the chemists, will you train your fleshy minions to leave us alive?

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I dispute the idea of "memes." I don't remember my 2008/2009 Internet culture too well, but I certainly don't think cephalopods ever became much of a meme. This needs some revision. --Quicksilver (talk) 02:07, 21 August 2013 (UTC)

There was entire subgenre of cephalopod themed jokes on certain science blogs, especially Pharyngula. Don't think it matters much for this wiki though. 16:57, 24 July 2020 (UTC)

Personally I think that "themes" works better, have edited accordingly, feel free to change it back though Whiskey07 (talk) 14:42, 19 November 2013 (UTC)

I added a comment that The Battle for Wesnoth may have added Cuttlefish as a result of this comic. I am not certain on that, if I'm wrong, please correct me. Kyt (talk) 01:41, 4 January 2014 (UTC)

I found a forum entry (http://forums.wesnoth.org/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=11168) that refers to the Wesnoth cuttlefish in May 2006 (more than two years before this comic came out) so I have edited the explanation accordingly. Also, non-accordingly. 18:38, 10 January 2014 (UTC)

While the evolution of cuttlefish attacking with electricity is probably what Randall meant, I am an avid fan of Dungeons and Dragons and I'd like to think that this is the beginning stages of what is known as an illithid. Cueball and Megan aren't killed by electricity but by the psionic abilities of the newly created illithids. - vegeto18 2014-02-18 03:14 PM

The robots don't revolt in Asimov's "I, Robot." They obey the three laws of robotics, unless programmed with modifications. As far as I understand, the plot of the film does not follow the novel. 02:52, 1 August 2014 (UTC)

I was going to comment just this, but after seeing that I was not the only one who thought this, I have decided to edit the page. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
You are correct, the movie does not follow the plot of the book, as that would be impossible. The book is a collection of short stories about robots, some positive and some negative. As such, saying that the film doesn't follow the novel is unfair. The movie took the themes of the book and concepts from the stories to produce a quite good film. 22:14, 3 June 2016 (UTC)

The cuttlefish and their method of killing the physicists resemble the Ood from Doctor Who, introduced in the 2006 episode "The Impossible Planet", in which the Ood became possessed by the Beast and began killing off scientists on the colony. The Ood were revisited in early 2008 in " Planet of the Ood", where they electrocuted the individuals who had enslaved them. 23:53, 5 August 2014 (UTC)

IF I MUST TEAR YOU APART, SHEPARD I WILL108.162.216.110 11:07, 23 March 2015 (UTC)

In a way, Reapers symbolize a culmination of all science made apocalyptic revolutions implied here, being giant space-faring robots that look like giant squid (and I will never forgive Mass Effect 3 for not having a Reaper kill be part of the final battle scenes, or letting us conclusively kill Harbinger). -Pennpenn 04:04, 8 May 2015 (UTC)

Don’t know if this is related but cuttlefish will also change colors rapidly to stun fish (first comment sry if did wrong) 02:34, 28 February 2019 (UTC)

"Cephalopod is the class of animals that encompasses cuttlefish as well as squids and octopodes." And the chambered nautilus! And several extinct groups, like the ammonites and belemnites! Muahaha! Signed, mad former bio teacher. Randall, we accept your offer of allegiance as our minion. Nitpicking (talk) 14:22, 29 August 2021 (UTC) Hi guys you are awesome!

Is the biologist Black Hat incognito as Cueball? 17:42, 13 September 2022 (UTC)