1801: Decision Paralysis

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Decision Paralysis
Good point--making no decision is itself a decision. So that's a THIRD option I have to research!
Title text: Good point--making no decision is itself a decision. So that's a THIRD option I have to research!


This comic illustrates a common problem in the internet era where, with the wealth of knowledge available to us at all times, one puts undue weight on otherwise arbitrary decisions.

This is taken to a comedic extreme by showing how Cueball is unable to make a critical, time-sensitive choice without putting hours of research in to justify it. Any benefit to researching the imminent decision of "which car will get us to our destination fastest" will be more than offset by the time it takes to make that decision.[citation needed] The inability to make a snap judgment in this case will prove very destructive as the bomb mentioned by Megan will now likely detonate before they get to the base. The difference in time/effort needed to steal either car is likely presumed to be insignificant to this scenario.

In the caption below the comic Randall gives the reader one of his recurring protips. In the tip, he reveals a weakness for his potential opponents to exploit. Randall admits to having the same problems with decision-making as Cueball, and suggests that if he were placed in an equally urgent situation testing his (in)ability to choose, he would fail just as spectacularly, as long as he had free access to the internet. As the old saying goes, "give 'em enough rope, and they'll hang themselves"; in this case, give Randall enough internet access, and he'll get caught in an indefinite research loop.

The title text continues this absurdity by bringing a third option to the table, the choice of inaction (which by wasting his time on calculations and research, Cueball has taken), a choice here that seems unacceptable, but the time spent mentioning (and researching it) simply adds to that already spent researching the two cars. Of course this option ensures that they are not killed when the bomb explodes, because they will not be anywhere close to the base. That might make it the only reasonable choice left after wasting so much time pondering which car to steal.

That not making a choice is also a choice has often been mentioned in literature and other places, like when the band Rush in their song Freewill sings "If you choose not to decide - You still have made a choice".

Supposing both of them know how to drive (and steal) a car and defuse the bomb, the best option in this situation is to leave the phone in the pocket and steal both cars, and see who gets there first to defuse the bomb. This would both ensure one of them reaches the base as quick as possible and at the same time resolve the problem of which car would be best for the problem. Of course that would also have defused the joke, No Pun Intended...


[Megan and Cueball are standing near two sport cars. Megan points excitedly at the cars while Cueball looks at his smartphone.]
Megan: There! If we steal one of those cars, we can get to the base and defuse the bomb!
Cueball: Hmm, the one on the left accelerates faster but has a lower top speed.
Cueball: Ooh, the right one has good traction control. Are the roads wet?
[Caption below the frame:]
Protip: If you ever need to defeat me, just give me two very similar options and unlimited internet access.


  • The problem of choosing between cars with different accelerations and top speeds is the center of the car customization mechanic introduced in the seventh installment of the Mario Kart series.
  • It is known that Randall has played some version of the game, as it has become a recurring theme.
  • Although presented as a joke, this is a very real problem in electronics design. Buridan’s principle by none other than Leslie Lamport states:
"A discrete decision based upon an input having a continuous range of values cannot be made within a bounded length of time."
  • This is not the first time that Randall has made a comic that tells his readers how to trick him (or his friends) like in 1121: Identity, where he notes how to get his password from a friend.
  • In 1445: Efficiency Randall describes why he is so inefficient (again, demonstrating the option 3 beautifully,) and in 309: Shopping Teams two nerds out shopping have to choose between two similar objects and end up in a similar situation, though without a deadly deadline.
  • This was the first of two comics in a row where having access to the internet on a smartphone while out walking is a major part of the plot, the next being 1802: Phone, where Randall find that it is a problem that it is impossible to take a walk without being updated on his phones feed all the time.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Don't hurt me: First explanation. There's serious problems with it, I know. Be gentle. 05:59, 20 February 2017 (UTC)

356: Nerd Sniping appears to be a practical application of this. 09:14, 20 February 2017 (UTC)

309:_Shopping_Teams is also directly relevant. B jonas (talk) 11:26, 20 February 2017 (UTC)

Talking about Nerds: 309: Shopping Teams ??? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Yes to shopping teams no to Nerd snipping. Completely different reason to wasting time. --Kynde (talk) 15:39, 11 March 2017 (UTC)

Depends on what internet service you use to make your decision. I tried to compare car reviews with Amazon's Alexa and it led me to binge watching the recently concluded season of The Grand Tour. Nialpxe (talk) 13:59, 20 February 2017 (UTC)

My first reaction upon seeing the comic was: "There are two of you and two cars! Just steal each a car and whoever gets to the base first starts dealing with the bomb. (Plus, you get to find which car is faster)" 14:35, 20 February 2017 (UTC)

Good point. Of course the joke is that Cueball/Randall gets sucked into comparing. The third option might seem like a good alternative rather than risking being at the base when the bomb explodes (more likely due to the time wasted in the first place...) --Kynde (talk) 19:31, 20 February 2017 (UTC)

Randall has previously mentioned ways of harming him, like that one where he taught everyone to impersonate him, or trick his friends into punching him. 19:51, 20 February 2017 (UTC)

I guess you mean this for the impersonate: 1121: Identity. I'm a bit more uncertain if the other is this one 706: Freedom. But this seems more like something that could happen not something that has happened. I have included the first as I think that it relevant. Thanks. --Kynde (talk) 20:04, 20 February 2017 (UTC)
I meant 1057: Klout for the punching one. But reading it back, I'm not so convinced anymore. 06:51, 22 February 2017 (UTC)
Ah. By the way those two comics 706 and 1057 "klout" up each other, as both invites people to hit Randall so now he will not know why people do it :-) And I agree that it is not so clearly an invitation as the one about Identity or this comic --Kynde (talk) 18:41, 22 February 2017 (UTC)

If the pair are, as the page asserts, standing next to the cars then megan would have said these cars. also, the cars as drawn, if next to the pair, are very small and floating in space. they appear instead to be quite far away. -- 12:35, 21 February 2017 (UTC)

Agree have changed the line in the transcript. --Kynde (talk) 18:41, 22 February 2017 (UTC)

The title, and the comic, seem to about the well known phenomenon "Analysis Paralysis", see this page. 03:49, 23 February 2017 (UTC)

My girlfriend always says - The harder a decision is, the less it matters 20:11, 28 February 2017 (UTC)

Wow. That is really insightful - I will remember this, thank you (and her)! L-Space Traveler (talk) 22:13, 24 July 2023 (UTC)

Possible car models

I don't know if it's at all significant, but the car on the right is recognizably a 2016 Toyota Prius - I own one of these and the rear end of the car has a very distinctive design. The Prius does have good traction control - the 2004 model was one of the first "mid-level" (read: non-sport, non-luxury) vehicles to prominently feature Vehicle Stability Control, so while this feature is now common in most cars, the Prius still retains some notability for having it. KieferSkunk (talk) 23:05, 24 February 2017 (UTC)

There's another (admittedly tenuous) link here: The advertising campaign for the 2016 Prius, introduced during the Super Bowl that year, featured a couple of bank robbers stealing a Prius and using it to evade the cops in various ways that showed off the car's features - most notably its improved performance (over older models) and its high gas mileage. KieferSkunk (talk) 23:08, 24 February 2017 (UTC)
The specific car model is irrelevant at this comic.--Dgbrt (talk) 23:11, 24 February 2017 (UTC)
(Edit Conflict) Actually, nevermind - I zoomed in and realized that the car isn't as definite as I thought. It does have the general shape of a Prius, but the features would need to be better defined. KieferSkunk (talk) 23:13, 24 February 2017 (UTC)
  • I think the car on the left looks like like its optics are from 2000 Ford Mustang, while its roof should be from 90's Mustang. Both cars have decent acceleration, but 90's 3.8L V6 Mustang has top speed limited to 115mph. Muscle cars are not so good at traction, also.

So, there may be a competition between new Prius and robust Mustang or basically any muscle car.