1628: Magnus

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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In the latest round, 9-year-old Muhammad Ali beat 10-year-old JFK at air hockey, while Secretariat lost the hot-dog-eating crown to 12-year-old Ken Jennings. Meanwhile, in a huge upset, 11-year-old Martha Stewart knocked out the adult Ronda Rousey.
Title text: In the latest round, 9-year-old Muhammad Ali beat 10-year-old JFK at air hockey, while Secretariat lost the hot-dog-eating crown to 12-year-old Ken Jennings. Meanwhile, in a huge upset, 11-year-old Martha Stewart knocked out the adult Ronda Rousey.


Cueball shows Megan an app, Play Magnus (iOS, Android) which claims to simulate playing chess against Magnus Carlsen at various ages. Carlsen is a chess grandmaster who is the world champion as of the date this comic was released. The idea behind the app is that as Carlsen grows up he becomes better at chess and thus it become exceedingly difficult to beat him as he gets older. As Cueball claims he could have beaten Magnus when he was 8½-year-old, but not a half-year later, we can now estimate Cueballs strength to be that of a typical adult hobbyist, with a FIDE rating of about 1200.

Taking the idea a step further, Megan wants such an app for other sports tennis and swimming, where skill couldn't imaginably be simulated via an app at all. She wants to compare herself to an 8-year-old Serena Williams, a top-ranked professional tennis player. Or to a 6-year-old Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian competitor of all time.

Cueball expands beyond sport, wishing to determine if he could cook better than an 11-year-old Martha Stewart (author of several cookbooks). Megan wonders if she'd have won an election against a 12-year-old JFK (John F. Kennedy, the 35th American President). Obviously, cooking and politics were skills acquired later in life for both figures. Also, the U.S. Constitution prohibits anyone from serving as President before the age of 35, so it seems unlikely that any 12-year-old candidate could win, regardless of skill level, simply because voters would not want to elect someone ineligible to serve for another 23 years. Such a contest would likely be prohibited altogether, as ineligible candidates tend to have ballot access issues.

Cueball and Megan continue speculating about an app simulating the skills of random celebrities at various ages, even beyond the talents that made them famous. They finally end up comparing 8-year-old Magnus's swimming skill against 9-year-old Martha's (he wins). But they'd both lose a hot dog-eating contest against the championship racehorse Secretariat. At this point even Megan realizes (with considerable understatement) their project "has gotten weird". Chess was previously compared to basketball in 1392: Dominant Players, which also mentioned Magnus. This is the tenth comic about chess on xkcd .

The title text extends the point to even greater absurdity, e.g. the ludicrous prospect of a young Martha Stewart knocking an adult Ronda Rousey (professional wrestler and actress) unconscious, or 9-year-old Muhammad Ali (professional boxer and activist) beating a 10-year-old JFK in air hockey. The former may be a reference to the fact that professional wrestling is more entertainment than competition, and the outcomes are often pre-staged, so the victor would not depend on which contestant was more skilled. This was also referenced in the title text of 2291: New Sports System. The horse also gets re-mentioned in the title text, losing in a hot dog eating contest against 12-year-old Ken Jennings (at time of comic writing record-holder of winning streak on television game show Jeopardy!).


[Cueball walks from the right towards Megan while holding up his smartphone.]
Cueball: Magnus Carlsen has an app where you can play chess against a simulated version of him at different ages.
Cueball: I can beat the 8½-year-old, but lose to him at 9.
[While Megan talks to Cueball he lifts his hand to his chin, while holding the smartphone down.]
Megan: I want that, but for other games. Can I beat 8-year-old Serena Williams at Tennis? Swim laps faster than a 6-year-old Michael Phelps?
Cueball: We should make a simulator.
[Cueball walks out left and Megan follows him. He must have pocketed his phone as it is not in his hand.]
Cueball: ...Why limit it to games? Can I cook a better chicken than 11-year-old Martha Stewart?
Megan: Win an election against 12-year-old JFK?
[At the top frame of this panel there is a small frame with a caption. Below lies Megan on the floor to the left in front of her laptop, while Cueball sits on the floor to the right facing her in front of his own laptop. Between them are some heavy books.]
[Cueball and Megan sitting at laptops in the bottom of the panel.]
Megan: Looks like 8-year-old Magnus Carlsen can swim faster than 9-year-old Martha Stewart.
Cueball: But they both lose a hot-dog-eating contest to 2-year-old Secretariat.
Megan: This project has gotten weird.

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Attempted to write the transcript. Hope I did an okay job... ‎ (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

It was great. I just added some descriptions of the panels. --Kynde (talk) 15:01, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

Actually it is an election against JFK, not an eating contest (panel 3) 18:46, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

Might Ronda Rousey being knocked unconsious be a reference to her recent loss to Holly Holm, where Rousey indeed was knocked unconcious? -- 10:27, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

The word reference means "a thing you say or write that mentions somebody/something else; the act of mentioning somebody/something". Since the comic doesn't mention Holly Holm, there is no reference. I think there isn't even an allusion (something that is said or written that refers to or mentions another person or subject in an indirect way). 13:46, 11 January 2016 (UTC)
Besides, the phrasing is "knocked out". That needn't be a combat/contact-sport 'KO' in which Rousey was rendered actually unconscious in an intentional/explicable manner, according to the activity, but could just be telling us which of the two passed through to the next round of a bracketed competition of some other kind. (Either of a form that remains unspecified or, as the most recently mentioned competition, in an earlier iteration the hot-dog-eating contest. Either way, 11yo Stewart wasn't highly expected to win, whatever the match conditions, but the outcome needn't be so against form as it might have in a pugilistic match.) 15:13, 11 January 2016 (UTC)
Since nothing is mentioned about which sport and Rousey is mentioned for the first time and it is a surprise she looses (on a KO) it is obvious to me that it refers to her fighting skill and a real KO. And if it was one of her first KO in that match is could easily be a reference especially if it was not expected. These two last things I do not know anything about though... --Kynde (talk) 15:41, 11 January 2016 (UTC)
Rousey was undefeated before her loss to Holm, and it was considered quite an upset since Rousey had won most of her bouts quickly (average bout 3 minutes). I'm not a big Mixed Martial Arts fan, but I thought the title text was an allusion to the Rousey-Holm fight. 15:40, 18 January 2016 (UTC)

Magnus' App is available here: http://www.playmagnus.com/. There are also numerous youtube videos of him playing against himself at various ages. -- 10:33, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

JFK was not 10 in 1961 as that is when he became President and you have to be at least 35 to do that. Momerath (talk) 15:26, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

Whops. That went to fast, thanks for correcting it. ;-) --Kynde (talk) 15:39, 11 January 2016 (UTC)
the 35 thing should be mentioned, if only for the ignorant and the foreign, and especially since it's a possible nod towards ted cruz, who by any previous interpretation of "natural born" does not qualify either. -- 13:25, 13 January 2016 (UTC)

Maybe I misunderstood some special reference or way to put it here, because as it links to the correct wiki page, it seems the author knew what he was talking about but: " Michael Phelps who is the most decorated Olympian competitor of all time, with a total of 22 medals in three Olympiads." is still a very strange formulation imo. As correctly linked an Olympiad is the time span between two Olympic Games (aka 4 years). First of all Phelbs won the Medals from 2004 to 2012 so if one really would want to write that in olympiads it would be closer to two. Even so I think it very strange to ever talk about the olympic medals over the course of such a timespan as they were won at three distinct events, while countless other medals were won in the time span. I would rather change it to "olympic games" or something. 15:51, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

Does anyone else actually kind of want this to exist? I mean, it would certainly settle a lot of playground discussions. :P Hammy2211 (talk) 15:55, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

Ronda Rousey is a former Judo Olympian and current MMA fighter, not a boxer. Holly Holmes (who she lost to) is an ex-boxing champion. 16:32, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

Ok, changed Rousey from "boxer" to "fighter". Jimmbo (talk) 16:38, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

Does Randall Munroe know of a world outside of his own little country? Or is this comic ironic? It's very much one person from not-USA (aka “the world”) versus a lot of people from the USA. 18:46, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

First: The United States is not a little country. Second: All Americans know little about the world. Probably Randall knows a little more about the world than the average American. Or at least he believes so. 13:34, 13 January 2016 (UTC)

Hmm. It appears somebody really wants to use this page to detail Ms. Rousey's recent triumphs. I don't want an editing war, so I'll leave it be, but I don't believe that's the purpose of our undertaking here.Jimmbo (talk) 20:01, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

I believe the current explanation misunderstands parts of the comic. It says: “But it claims to do so with an unlikely precision which Randall is mocking; e.g. that Cueball could have beaten Magnus when he was 8½-year-old, but not a half-year later.” The age is probably referring to the virtual Magnus' age, not Cueball's age; you can set the app's skill level in half-year increments (at least for the earlier years). So this is not Randall mocking the app, it's merely setup for the rest of the joke. 01:32, 12 January 2016 (UTC)

"But it claims to do so with an unlikely precision which Randall is mocking": the precision of the app is in fact credible. Carlsen was gaining 100 Elo points every six months until he was 15, and a chess-playing program can emulate, roughly, a human Elo performance. --Chvsanchez (talk) 01:48, 12 January 2016 (UTC)

Hey, who took out my citation needed joke?Untothebreach (talk) 08:17, 12 January 2016 (UTC)

The current explanation describes that Serena Williams is a tennis player but only describes Michael Phelps as "the most decorated Olympian competitor", not that he was/is a swimmer. The explanation also claims that it is obvious that Martha Stewart learned cooking later than at age 11, which I don't think is so obvious. But I don't know Martha Stewart, so perhaps it is obvious. 10:29, 13 January 2016 (UTC)