Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Now that xkcd is carried by United Features Syndicate, there are going to be a few changes to the comic. Obviously, with the rights signed over, it will no longer be published under Creative Commons, and all previous strips will be retroactively un-CC'd and relicensed under UFS terms. All online content will be protected via proprietary DRM. I also recieved a letter outlining topics and content that would be off-limits in the new xkcd. Prohibited content includes:

- Cultural references that would be lost on the average newspaper reader

- Mathematics above the high-school level

- Obscure scientific subjects

- Overt sexual material

- Objectionable words such as fuck, shit, cunt, ass, tits, cock, scrotum, bitch, Belgium, pussy, or twat

- Same-sex relationships

- Star Wars

- Star Trek (Original Series and Enterprise)

- The home phone numbers of White House employees

- Bacon-based currencies

- Erotic use of flywheels

- Exposés regarding other United Features syndicated characters

- Exposés regarding the personal lives of United Features Syndicate executives, specifically including CEO Kenneth Lowe

- Teledildonics

- Portrayals of Johnny Cash as an Amway distributor

- Any story that ends with "and that's how my penis got the nickname 'grappling hook'."

- Computer-computer cybersex

- Swordfights between white people

- Bitch & Animal

- Sexualization of Mt. Rushmore

- Staplers as mélée weapons

- Road trip buddy comedies starring Tank Girl and William Howard Taft

- Eric S. Raymond performing in Cirque du Soleil

- Hats with buckles

- Licking of nipples atop a moving train

The internet is the past. Newspapers are the future! See you in the funny papers.
Complaints should be directed to the xkcd writing staff.
Title text: Complaints should be directed to the xkcd writing staff.


This is a non-numbered April fools' comic, and is the first April fools' joke performed on xkcd. This comic is formatted similarly to other posts such as Blue Eyes. The post describes xkcd becoming syndicated into a newspaper, changing from a webcomic. Newspapers are notorious for censorship of content, and Randall describes all the changes that would be required of the comic, the humor coming from their progressive absurdity.

Randall then offers a "free preview" of the new syndicated version of xkcd. This is a parody of newspaper comics such as Garfield, which tend to use relatively weak jokes in order to appeal to a broad audience. Notably:

  • The joke being told, "Why did the computer cross the road?", is based on one of the most well-known jokes in existence. Those who know the joke have probably heard variations of it dozens of times, and will not find another one to be very humorous.[citation needed]
  • The punchline of the "joke" is that computers are complicated. This relates to the general cultural stereotype (in the US) that math is hard, and by extension anything related to math is hard.
  • The punchline is followed by an extensive editor's note explaining the meaning of the acronym "LOL." Although that acronym could be considered the most niche terminology in the comic, it is still one of the most well-known texting abbreviations.
  • Furthermore, the editor's note clarifies that LOL is meant to be an indicator to the audience that they should find something funny. The fact that humor has to be pointed out to the comic reader shows just how weak it is.
  • The layout of the comic is a clear reference to Garfield, including the usage of three identically sized panels (in the same aspect ratio as Garfield), the use of borders around the outer panels but not the one in the middle, the fact that the characters don't change poses between panels, and the floor taking up about 15% of the bottom of each panel. See here for an example.

In addition, the strip image is noticeably grainy, as if it were a photograph of a newspaper.

List of changes supposedly imposed on Randall[edit]

Cultural references that would be lost on the average newspaper reader
xkcd is known for its niche cultural references, one of the main reasons this wiki exists.
Mathematics above the high-school level
Another trademark of xkcd is its use of mathematics for humor. More complex mathematics tends to not lend itself as well to comedy.
Obscure scientific subjects
Again, this is a common feature of xkcd comics, which turns off many would-be readers for its exclusivity, making xkcd difficult to syndicate.
Overt sexual material
xkcd's abstract art style means that it can get away with sexual content without seeming profane, and takes advantage of this often.
Objectionable words such as fuck, shit, cunt, ass, tits, cock, scrotum, bitch, Belgium, pussy, or twat
Newspaper comics tend to have very "clean" humor, which xkcd's usual writing style is ill suited for. Belgium is the rudest word in the universe according to the US-version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Same Sex relationships
Newspapers are more often read by older people, so same-sex relationships are often absent to avoid conservative backlash.
Star Wars
Star Wars, a common reference in xkcd, is an intellectual property that would need to be licensed, at great expense to United.
Star Trek (Original and Enterprise)
Similar case to Star Wars. It is curious that the original series and Enterprise are referenced specifically, and not any of the intervening series (i.e. The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager)
The home phone numbers of White House employees
At this point, the list items begin to become more absurd, tipping more credulous readers off to the joke.
Bacon Based Currencies
Bacon was a significant meme around this time, especially on Reddit, where xkcd comics were very popular. (Compare 1835: Random Obsessions.)
Erotic use of Flywheels
While it is hard to see how one could use Flywheels erotically, there have been attempts.
Exposés regarding other United Features syndicated characters
Here Randall seems to imply that certain (fictional) comic strip characters are involved in scandals, of which he knows the details.
Exposés regarding the personal lives of United Features Syndicate executives, specifically including CEO Kenneth Lowe
Overly specific stipulations like this one often suggest scandals or wrongdoing of the named parties.
A form of technology used to have sex remotely, obviously unsuitable for the funnies.
Portrayals of Johnny Cash as an Amway distributor
Amway is a Multi-level marketing company; a link to Johnny Cash is not apparent.
Any story that ends with "and that's how my penis got the nickname 'grappling hook'.
As comics are expected to be family friendly, anything involving rope-driven genitalia grappling devices would likely be unwelcome.
Computer-computer Cybersex
Two chatbots cybering with one another is a plausibly real thing, and an easy target for xkcd.
Swordfights between white people
Possibly a reference to the cliché that white people can't dance.
Bitch & Animal
A "queercore" gay punk band, never mentioned elsewhere in xkcd.
Sexualization of Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into Mount Rushmore features the 60-foot (18 m) heads of Presidents George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), as for the sexualization of the mountain, See Erotic use of Flywheels.
Staplers as mélée weapons
By folding a stapler open and compressing its upper half, a stapler can be used as a very ineffective[citation needed] imitation of a hand gun. Hand guns are ranged weapons, and therefore not mélée weapons. Staplers could however be used as a short range mélée weapon that would leave a staple in the opponent upon impact.
Road trip buddy comedies starring Tank Girl and William Howard Taft
This is simply a bit of surrealism on Randall's part; Tank Girl (the subject of a comic book and 80s cult sci-fi movie) and William Howard Taft (the president that everyone knows as "The one that was so fat he got stuck in the tub) would have very little reason to go on a road trip together.
Eric S. Raymond performing in Cirque du Soleil
More surrealism. Eric S. Raymond (more commonly known by his login name esr) is a controversial figure in the tech scene; he's most well known for maintaining (poorly, in some people's opinion) the legendary Jargon File, and for writing The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which some consider one of the seminal manifestos of the modern Open Source/Free Software movement. He would have very little time or energy to spend performing French-Canadian contortion-based performance art. (Cirque du Soleil was previously mentioned in the title text of 198: Perspective.)
Hats with buckles
Most likely a reference to Pilgrims and how they are traditionally depicted in paintings and would probably fall under "cultural references that would be lost on average readers".
Licking of nipples atop a moving train
Refer to #4.


[A Cueball and his Cueball-like friend are standing in some sort of grassy area.]
Cueball: Why did the computer cross the road?
Friend: I don't know.
[Same scene, but Cueball and his friend are moved to the right.]
Cueball: I don't know either! Computers are so complicated!
Friend: LOL!
Editor's note: "LOL" is an online acronym for "laughing out loud." It alerts you to something funny, so keep an eye out!

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Where is this coming from? was this actually online in 2007? Between comics 242 and 243? --Lupo (talk) 08:08, 18 November 2019 (UTC)

Can we discuss the jokes in this comic, like Belgium jokingly being considered a swear word? 20:12, 22 November 2019 (UTC)

I think we should. :) You are free to start a list of the items, to explain them, or a discussion here in the discussion page.

Alright, nobody has touched this for quite a while now, so I might as well. I kinda expected this page to be finished, but it is amazingly not so. 09:50, 27 December 2019 (UTC)

Hello, it is I again. I have something on my mind. I believe this comic never really was a thing. I will lay out everything I know. The link to the original comic at the top is broken and returns a 404 error. I cannot for the life of me find anything on this comic on Google other than a lone post on the xkcd forums, which could just as well have been posted in either 2007 or 2019, but I can't check because the forums are down. As well, it is odd that this explain xkcd page only came into existence 12 years after the comic was purportedly posted. Taking all of this into account, I have reason to believe that this entire thing has been a fabrication, i.e. that this was made in 2019 by a fan. I'd try to gather more concrete evidence for this, but that's where I run into a dead end. I have no idea how to proceed. I know of exactly one person who could settle this conclusively, which is Randall Munroe himself, but I imagine he has more important things to do. If any of you could prove/disprove my theory, that would be great. In the meantime, sure, I'll just assume this comic did actually get published in 2007. 10:34, 27 December 2019 (UTC)
The link does work, it just has an extra '/' at the end. I agree though that there's still something a bit different about the comic to others published at a similar time. The image looks like it's been copied out of a newspaper (although this might be deliberate) and having such a lengthy section of text outside of the comic is unusual. Google claims that the forum post dates from 1st April 2007, but in the absence of any other reference on the main site my guess is that this only appeared on the forums. AlChemist (talk) 20:55, 31 December 2019 (UTC)
Someone may try to find it on a wayback machine or something like that? Never used any of those archives and don't really know how they work... --Lupo (talk) 08:07, 6 February 2020 (UTC)
It's on the Wayback Machine, as early as April 9, 2007, but the link is just to the image - no text or anything ( 02:01, 30 April 2020 (UTC)
Follow-up - here's the link to the XKCD forum post: Unfortunately, the link to the actual comic as posted on xkcd is extremely elusive. Many references to the comic are in the (now offline) XKCD fora - one of the few others I could find lists different lead-in text: 02:31, 30 April 2020 (UTC)

I switched the big table to a format that is more readable on smaller screens, as per the Editor FAQ §3, and added some more explanations in the process. Hope that's in everyone's interest. I also fixed up the broken Unicode (at first, I thought it was part of The Joke, but it is also correct in the archived forum thread.) -- // (talk) 22:19, 7 May 2020 (UTC)

Question: do we really need to explain every. single. one. of those items? the ones that are missing all fall into the "this is funny because it's random" (see also: 1210) category, imo. -- // (talk) 22:19, 7 May 2020 (UTC)

Some of them definitely do. I'd never heard of Tank Girl before I read this comic, and while linking to the Wikipedia article is nice it would be useful to have info relevant to the comic in the explanation. Also, side note - what's so random about hats with buckles? Some baseball caps I've worn had buckles instead of Velcro for adjusting them to fit your head. I assume that they're referring to stereotypical depictions of Puritans and leprechauns with giant buckles on their hats, but what's so weird about that? 19:19, 10 May 2020 (UTC)
i think the "hats with buckles" refer to belt buckles on hats (random internet image). and its "haha, so random" in the sense that there is no connection to the comic itself. if you can come up with something more concrete, go for it, but i honestly doubt there's more behind it. -- // (talk) 16:05, 12 May 2020 (UTC)