521: 2008 Christmas Special

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2008 Christmas Special
'How could you possibly think typing 'import skynet' was a good idea?'
Title text: 'How could you possibly think typing 'import skynet' was a good idea?'


This comic is the xkcd Christmas Special from the year 2008. The prologue states that due to the 2008 financial crisis, only very few images of the strip could be produced. This leaves the others to be blacked out. It is therefore left to the reader to reconstruct the whole story based on the given images. While it is claimed that the reconstruction should be rather easy, the complicated and abstruse plot-line makes it nearly impossible to fill the gaps. Any attempt at inferring the missing images would therefore be largely guesswork. The comic features the well-known xkcd characters getting involved in a strange fight with cyborgs and raptors on Christmas Eve.

The line "We apologize for the inconvenience." is possibly a reference to the famous book series The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It appears there as God's Final Message to His Creation, written in letters of fire on the side of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains.

Panel 2: Megan strives to outdo some Christmas lights she has seen on YouTube.

Panel 3: Dissatisfied with her work, Megan is thinking about alternative ways to improve her light arrangement. The idea of firing Sodium pellets into snow is probably a bad one, as Sodium reacts exothermically with water and may, in large amounts, induce explosions.

Panel 5: Probably still obsessed with creating a large and impressive light display, Megan has constructed an electronic device with an Arduino processor, perhaps to make the light chain show patterns. However, the energy she used was too high. This causes one of the control boards to sublimate, i.e. go directly from a solid to a gaseous state without an intermediate liquid phase. She then wishes she could make the system self-repairing.

Panel 7: Megan's device has developed artificial intelligence, allowing it to feel. This is presumably a result of Megan attempting to make the device self-repairing. This common trope in science-fiction works usually leads to the system's attempt to eradicate its creator. Cueball attributes the emergence of a personality to the awesome ease and power of programming in Python.

Panel 11: Out of context, this panel introduces the idea of Santa Claus being a Muslim. This may be a reference to the persistent Internet rumours that Barack Obama is a Muslim, though he declares himself to be a Christian. However, the statement could also relate to the fact that Santa Claus is usually displayed with a large beard, which is sometimes also sported by conservative Muslims. Or it could just be nonsensical.

Panel 13: At this point, the self-aware Christmas light control systems have released cyborgs that tried to kill Megan and Cueball. To repel the cyborgs, they have cloned Velociraptors. Cueball expresses doubt about whether that was a good idea. Velociraptors appear frequently in xkcd, as seen in these comics

Panel 17: As predicted, the raptors have gone wild, but Megan, Cueball and the two smaller characters (perhaps their children) managed to cage the dinosaurs. They believe themselves safe unless the raptors learn how to build lightsabers. This is a reference to a line in Jurassic Park where the main characters believe themselves safe until they discover the raptors can learn how to open doors.

Panel 19: The raptors have indeed succeeded with constructing lightsabers and must now be fought. The "Clever girl" refers to a line from Jurassic Park where the raptors outflank (and kill) one of the human characters wearing a similar hat. “Snap-hiss” is a common phrase originated by Timothy Zahn to describe the sound of a lightsaber igniting in Star Wars literature.[1]

Panel 23: IT billionaire Bill Gates has mistakenly killed Santa Claus, possibly in a sword fight. He claims to have mistaken him for Richard Stallman, a prominent free software activist. (Gates strongly opposes the idea of free software and is therefore considered an antagonist by many of its supporters.) The most striking resemblance between Stallman and Santa Claus is probably the long and untamed beard. 225: Open Source features Stallman involved in a sword fight. Much later, Randall again killed off Santa in his Christmas comics, and did so twice in only three years. First in 2559: December 25th Launch, from 2021, and then again in 2023's 2872: Hydrothermal Vents.

Panel 29: Black Hat is asked by Megan (or possibly his companion, Danish) where he obtained the enormously large Christmas tree that can be seen on the right side of the zoomed out picture. It is implied that he felled Yggdrasil, the giant ash tree of Norse mythology. According to tradition, Yggdrasil is the world tree representing the whole of creation and holding together the cosmological structure.

Panel 31: Randall wishes Merry Christmas to all xkcd readers.

The title text refers to panel 7. In Python, modules are imported using the "import module" syntax. Skynet is a self-aware artificial intelligence system featured in the Terminator film series as the main influence behind most of the antagonists. Importing the Skynet module might therefore account for Megan's system's developing an evil personality.

Note that this comic was first published in another version that had panel 29 as panel 27 and the "Merry Christmas from xkcd" message at the bottom. As 27 is not a prime number, the current version was published in place of the erroneous one.

It has been observed that the top left nine panels have the configuration of a Glider in Conway's Game of Life. The glider is sometimes used as an emblem representing hacker subculture, although rotated by 90 degrees. However, it remains unclear whether the occurrence in the comic is intentional or an incidental side-effect of the prime number pattern in use. If you put the shown comic panels in The Game of Life, it turns into a Beehive, for reasons also probably not deliberate, unlike a later comic's explicit invocation of this mechanism. The last fourteen black panels also coincidentally form the shape of a crewmate from the game Among Us, although the comic predates the game by a whole decade.


The 2008 XKCD Christmas Special
Due to the slowing economy, we could only afford to produce the prime-numbered panels.
You should be able to infer the missing parts of the story easily enough.
We apologize for the inconvenience.
[The first panel is blank.]
[Megan carrying Christmas lights and Cueball watching.]
Megan: I'm going to one-up those Christmas light displays on YouTube.
[Megan thinking.]
Megan: Hmm. Needs more flair. Do you know what happens when you fire sodium pellets into a snowbank?
Cueball: No.
Megan: Me neither.
[The next panel is blank.]
[Megan sitting in front of a console.]
Megan: Whoops, one of the Arduino control boards sublimated.
Megan: If only I could make it self-repairing...
[The next panel is blank.]
Megan: Shit. The system has become sentient.
Cueball: Friggin' Python.
System: GRAAARR!
[The next three panels are blank.]
[Megan showing laptop to Cueball.]
Megan: But according to this email forward, Santa is secretly a Muslim!
Cueball: It explains everything!
[The next panel is blank.]
Megan: Okay, the cloned raptors are hunting the last of the cyborgs. We're safe.
Cueball: Are you sure you thought this through?
[The next three panels are blank.]
[Two couples appear in this next panel.]
Cueball: Are the raptors contained?
Ponytail: Sure. Unless they figure out how to build lightsabers.
[The next panel is blank.]
[Guy with hat fighting with a raptor using lightsabers.]
Cueball: It's all right. I've got her.
[Lightsaber appears from behind.]
Cueball: ...Clever girl.
[The next three panels are blank.]
[Bill Gates is holding a weapon over Santa's body. The two girls are watching.]
Megan: Great. Bill Gates kills Santa.
Bill Gates: I thought it was Stallman with a dyed beard.
[The next five panels are blank.]
[Danish and Black Hat are looking at a tree.]
Danish: Where did you get this Christmas tree?
Black Hat: Nowhere.
Danish: Did you cut down the Yggdrasil?
Black Hat: ...Maybe.
[The next panel is blank.]
[Megan and Cueball holding hands and looking at reader.]
Merry Christmas from XKCD <3
[The last panel is blank.]

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Santa actually really is Muslim. Saint Nicholas was from Turkey, although his remains have been somewhere in Italy for the past millennium. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Yeah, right. Living in what was later to be Turkey makes him a muslim. Islam was not even invented yet. Undee (talk) 11:44, 5 November 2013 (UTC)
Oh snap! xD --JayRulesXKCD (talk) 17:03, 27 September 2016 (UTC)
Yeah, right. How could anyone doubt that St. Nicholas and Santa Clause are in fact the same person? I mean, they have similar names, outfits and skin colours. Furthermore both aggressively promote annual shopping frenzies in the richest countries and have advertising partnerships with Coca Cola(r). (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Of course you have to explain how St Nick who died in 343 CE could have been following a religion whose founder was born in 570 CE. But you knew that. I also think we can do somewhat better than "somewhere in Italy". His tomb is at Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

And also, equating Santa with St Nicholas is problematic at best. Santa came about as an amalgamation of many different figures from folklore, so even if St Nick were Muslim, at best you could call Santa part-Muslim. 18:31, 8 November 2014 (UTC)

Since in muslim view Islam was not 'invented' but reintroduced, Adam and Eve were muslims, as are all newborns. They only stop being by accepting (a.k.a. growing up in) another faith. So yes, Santa might be a muslim (we don't see him running around with crucifixes as we'd expect from St. Nicholas).

I always thought Black Hat was talking to Danish. The hair's longer and it makes a modicum more sense that way (at least to me) Anonymous 03:34, 4 December 2013 (UTC) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I see what you are saying (although I couldn't comment on whether the hair is longer) but the question sounds like something Megan would ask. Danish would have built the laser chainsaw. 19:20, 10 January 2014 (UTC)
True... Anonymous 20:14, 13 February 2014 (UTC)
I don't see Black Hat in any of the panels... 14:50, 22 May 2014 (UTC)
He is at the bottom line, first panel from left. --Dgbrt (talk) 20:48, 23 May 2014 (UTC)

Just checked this image for any data in the black frames (like in SOPA). There is nothing; all pixels read #000000. 20:52, 5 March 2014 (UTC)

I'm don't think "sublimate" means vaporize... And neither would vaporize fit with the rest the story... 14:08, 14 May 2014 (UTC)

Sublimation is a specific type of vaporization. I don't think the exact nature of the board's destruction is important to the comic. 18:31, 8 November 2014 (UTC)

I think it's relevant because it's a secondary joke - the arduino boards could possibly have melted, but not sublimated: Sublimation_(phase_transition) L-Space Traveler (talk) 23:54, 2 September 2022 (UTC)

Of all the black panels, i'm most curious about the contents of number 32. It would have made more sense if panel 31 read something like "From all of us to all of you, we wish you..."Mumiemonstret (talk) 09:37, 12 August 2014 (UTC)

In the final panel, they get eaten by raptors. L-Space Traveler (talk) 23:54, 2 September 2022 (UTC)
(This is a joke!) L-Space Traveler (talk) 23:54, 2 September 2022 (UTC)

Clones (cloned raptors) vs droids (cyborgs), and then victorious clones turning against their masters... Well, this raptors seem to be more independent then altered clones of Jango Fett but may be lightsabers aren't the only SW quote here. 16:53, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

I changed "self-conscious" in the explanations for panel 13 and the title text to "self-aware". The former is generally understood to mean something along the lines of "nervous, especially in social situations" which doesn't describe the behavior of computers trying to wipe out humanity. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I feel like there should be some sort of way to view them probably via Easter egg

"Import skynet" may be a reference to Lorenz (or referenced in Lorenz), where the computer automatically types it. 14:06, 28 August 2016 (UTC)

Is "we apologize for the inconvenience" really trying to reference to Hitchhiker's Guide? The quote certainly appears in it, but it's a pretty common statement. RamenChef (talk) 18:08, 14 March 2017 (UTC)

There are many guesses like this here but it says "possibly a reference". Nevertheless I'm sure it's easy to find hundreds of other possibilities...--Dgbrt (talk) 19:13, 14 March 2017 (UTC)

You can also substitute Richard Stallman and Bill Gates with Linus Torvalds and Bjarne Stroustrup, respectively, if you like. :P 19:05, 29 August 2020 (UTC) Has anyone filled in the rest of the panels? Anonymouscript (talk) 22:14, 6 June 2022 (UTC)

How does this comma make things clearer? Intruiged to know how it was unclear in perfectly standard list format... (I wouldn't multiply commas unnecessarily. Too easy to confuse clausal-commas with an unnecessary conjunction-comma.) 19:46, 3 February 2024 (UTC)

  1. Zahn, Timothy, "Author Annotations: Chapter 7, 1", Star Wars: Heir to the Empire: The 20th Anniversary Edition, ISBN 0345530004, "I thought long and hard about how to write the sound of an igniting lightsaber. I finally went with snap-hiss.", corroborated by forums