1640: Super Bowl Context

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Super Bowl Context
Why did the chicken cross the road? It begins over five thousand years ago with the domestication of the red junglefowl in southeast Asia and the development of paved roads in the Sumerian city of Ur.
Title text: Why did the chicken cross the road? It begins over five thousand years ago with the domestication of the red junglefowl in southeast Asia and the development of paved roads in the Sumerian city of Ur.


White Hat tries to make normal conversation with Cueball about the recent (at the time of comic publishing) American football game, Super Bowl 50.

When asking Cueball if he watched the game, Cueball begins with a simple Yes, but then continues to add the contextual fact that about a third of the US population watched the event, which is an incredibly high percentage in today's media landscape. And according to Cueball this fraction is increasing, despite media fragmentation. Thus, even though there are today more and more different ways to watch news, sports and other entertainment, the Super Bowl continues to gain more viewers every year.

It turns out that Cueball has a problem. He cannot just reply to a simple question without trying to put the conversation into some kind of context which does not necessarily have anything to do with the question asked, or at least not with the expected answer. From White Hat's reply it is obvious that he has had conversations like this with Cueball before, as he asks if they could just talk without your weird need to give context for everything?

Cueball feels the need to disseminate any information he finds interesting, even in trivial conversation. Normally people like to have context-free conversations[citation needed] and White Hat invites Cueball to try to fit in with normal people's conversational style.

Cueball apologizes and agrees to try, but even though he really tries hard, with his fists clenched and White Hat encouraging him to just reply normally to a question about the rumored retirement of Peyton Manning, he cannot stop himself from including context in his reply again. White Hat probably wanted Cueball to join in such minimal-context speculation. But, failing miserably again, White Hat finally gives up, and suggests they should try another conversation in a year, when Cueball might have learned to talk about the Super Bowl without context (hence the title).

This time he goes off on a tangent about Peyton as a mammal, and then adding the process of aging and mentioning two reasons for this (which are not well understood). The first he mentions is accumulation of damage, which includes mutations that can lead to diseases such as cancer. The other process he mentions is timed factors which includes telomeres. These have been linked to biological aging because of the shortening of telomeres at each cell division; when telomeres become too short, the cells die (and so do mammals).

To cap it off, he mentions that retiring is a recent concept. But this only makes sense when compared to how long there have been mammals, not compared to how long there have been sports and games, where people could be too old, and thus need to retire long before they would die from old age. Before humans began to enjoy things for fun, the concept of retiring made no sense. You worked/fought for a living, until you got too old and died.

Cueball in this comic may represent Randall, as much of xkcd is spawned from, or occasionally poking fun at, his own hyper-analytical tendencies. And it is also common knowledge that Randall is not very interested in sport, though there are several xkcd comics about American football. The year before this one he made another comic in relation to the final, and in this comic, 1480: Super Bowl, he even mentions the fact that he does not know much about sports in general. So this is the second year in a row a comic has been released in conjunction with the Super Bowl final. But before 2015, there has only been one other comic like this, which was in 2006 with 60: Super Bowl.

The title text continues the joke with Cueball replying to the old anti-humor joke: "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Cueball replies with a preposterous amount of information instead of the cliched simplistic answer: "To get to the other side."

Cueball begins with the origin of chickens. They are believed to be descendants from domestication of the Red junglefowl, which occurred at least five thousand years ago in Asia, as Cueball correctly explains. Before there were chickens, there could not be one crossing a road. It also couldn't be called "crossing the road" without a pavement. The first development of paved roads was in the city of Ur in the ancient Sumerian civilization about 4000 BC (6000 years ago) (also partly explained in Cueball's reply).

As a trivial note, this comic is a rare instance of White Hat not being the fall guy for the joke. But already in his next discussion with Cueball (1657: Insanity) he was again the butt of the joke.


[White Hat and Cueball are walking together.]
White Hat: Did you watch the Super Bowl?
Cueball: Yes, like a third of the country.
Cueball: A fraction that is steadily increasing despite media fragmentation.
[White Hat stops and Cueball turn towards him.]
White Hat: Can't we just talk without your weird need to give context for everything?
Cueball: Sorry. I'll try.
[As White Hat asks Cueball another question Cueball bunches his hands into fists. He is clearly struggling.]
White Hat: Sounds like Peyton Manning's probably going to retire.
Cueball: Yes, I... ...It...
White Hat: C'mon, you can do it...
Cueball: He...
[Cueball spreads out his arms a little as he replies with two long sentences, while White Hat walks away from him.]
Cueball: —Mammals like Peyton age via a process that involves both the accumulation of damage and poorly-understood timed factors.
Cueball: Yet the concept of retirement itself is surprisingly recent...
White Hat: Okay, good try. Maybe next year.

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Peyton Manning is a football player who is really good (the only NFL player been MVP five times). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peyton_Manning Aquaplanet (talk) 11:19, 8 February 2016 (UTC)

Am I the only one who finds the last speech pattern weird? Saying "mammals like Payton" seems a little reminiscent of comics 1541 and 1530... 13:30, 8 February 2016 (UTC)

Don't think so, there is no body snatching involved -- he is simply trying to connect whitehat's statement with some trivia; Mainnings is a human, humans are mammals, retirement is a recent human invention -- the statement is simply just hyper over loaded with irrelevant facts. 15:12, 8 February 2016 (UTC)
Agree with that. Since we are all mamals and all mamals age, many of them via the same processes there is nothing wrong with the statment, only with the timing. --Kynde (talk) 21:04, 8 February 2016 (UTC)

Ok, I'm just gonna come out and say it: Coldplay sucks. 14:03, 8 February 2016 (UTC)

Is this some pop culture reference I'm missing? (I didn't watch the Super Bowl, so perhaps it's a reference to that?) 19:03, 8 February 2016 (UTC)
Coldplay played in the Halftime show. --Kynde (talk) 21:04, 8 February 2016 (UTC)

The first paragraph at the moment is merely insulting nerds and not really explaining anything. (N.B.: would the "stereotypical Nerd" watch sports, at all?) -- 15:44, 8 February 2016 (UTC)

I wrote it. I'm a nerd. It is more a self-reflection than an insult. I think it explains everything. 16:12, 8 February 2016 (UTC)
I'm also a nerd, but the generalization given (in the present/former comic explanation) is not a high-fidelity description of me. However, since it's a humorous hyperbole, I'm letting it go with just a "citation needed" stamp.  :-)
But, hyperbole or not, I did not feel like the rest of it was generally accurate. That is, not all nerds are (or act) the same. The description given seems to match Cueball's depiction in this comic, but does not match "nerds" generally. So I tried to soften it a little, while exercising restraint. (It's the sort of generalization that is funny when it's the joke, but does not seem as appropriate in an explanation of the joke.)
To answer the first point, though, it's hard to define what a "stereotypical nerd" is. If we choose it to be Sheldon (of TBBT), then you're right in assuming that a nerd would not be watching sports at all (and would need a reminder of last year's Super Bowl comic). However, there are many types of nerds. If "nerd" means "someone with an extreme interest in a field" then "sports nerd" can be a synonym for what we called a "jock" back in school.
Also, for what it's worth, I work in the software industry, and an alarming (to me) number of engineers are quite interested in sports and sporting events. They might otherwise be called nerds. YMMV. 19:03, 8 February 2016 (UTC)
I have changed this completely. He is not a nerd. He just cannot focus on a normal conversation. --Kynde (talk) 21:04, 8 February 2016 (UTC)
You are a nerd. 23:11, 8 February 2016 (UTC)[citation needed]
Well thanks, that must be one of the biggest compliments you can get on explain xkcd ;-) --Kynde (talk) 20:24, 9 February 2016 (UTC)

Does anyone else feel that the "maybe next year" line was intentional? Teams that don't win the Super Bowl (or at least their fans) will use the line when their hopes for a ring have been lost. This is particularly apparent in the case of Cleveland Browns fans, who sometimes use the line during pre-season games. 18:18, 9 February 2016 (UTC)

I wonder if the comic is making fun of this website? The explanations are sometimes (usually) over the top. 00:20, 3 March 2016 (UTC)

I think White Hat should be Black Hat. SilverMagpie (talk) 17:18, 2 May 2017 (UTC)

Anyone else think that Cueball’s struggling attempt to refrain from providing context led to the context eventually stated being more extreme than usual? Starting context with “mammals like Peyton” is going another few steps back than the other context provided (which said nothing about the Super Bowl viewership of mammals, for example). It seems like the context was building up within him, getting more extreme as he attempted to restrain it. PotatoGod (talk) 17:21, 6 May 2018 (UTC)