1908: Credit Card Rewards

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 20:48, 27 October 2017 by (talk) (Explanation)
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Credit Card Rewards
I should make a list of all the things I could be trying to optimize, prioritized by ... well, I guess there are a few different variables I could use. I'll create a spreadsheet ...
Title text: I should make a list of all the things I could be trying to optimize, prioritized by ... well, I guess there are a few different variables I could use. I'll create a spreadsheet ...


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Cueball is trying to choose the optimal credit card program (the one that will result in biggest savings with the expenses he has). He realises that he has to substract the cost of him spending time on optimizing, so he wants to optimise the time needed to do the optimising. But in order to to that effecientely, he first has to optimise the time spent on optimising the time...

Hairy notices hidden assumption that Cueball will spent his time on something more productive than this, e.g. that his time has value. Cueball response is that he can "fail to optimise so many better things"... This means that Cueball is aware of the big flaw in his reasoning.

The title text further expands the idea. Cueball wants to present a list of things to optimize to Hairy. However, he still needs to optimize the priorities of that list, before optimizing the list itself.


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Does Randall realize this goes completely against the "Working" comic (https://xkcd.com/951/)? I wonder if he's changed his outlook or if he's just inconsistent :P

I read it as if the character likes doing this, and wouldn't be doing anything more fun otherwise. So if it is a game to you, sure waste your time, but if you are doing something you don't particularly like and waste more time than you save in money, you are just being stupid. 22:43, 29 October 2017 (UTC)
There's also the fact that in "Working" the additional work was required every time, and so each additional penny saved comes from additional work. Here, this is about doing the work once and getting the outcome several times. This is actually pretty consistent with someone who is into programming - where in theory you do more work once to save time on each occurence of a repeted task. Now the fact that even "optimizing once and for all" isn't a sure outcome is discussed in https://xkcd.com/1319/ . 11:24, 30 October 2017 (UTC)
I've often used this reasoning myself, actually. First example to mind is renaming multiple files (like episodes of a TV show). I COULD rename them one by one according to my naming scheme, but often I put a little extra work into having Excel figure out my scheme and renaming them programmatically, then rename them all in under a second. The time I spent is more than how long renaming a file or two would have been, but less time than if I had renamed them all. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:38, 31 October 2017 (UTC)
Actually I find the point of view here is roughly identical to Working... In that one he has successfully determined that the extra time isn't worth it in that particular case, while here he's trying to find a balance between the extra time spent and the rewards of his analysis. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:38, 31 October 2017 (UTC)
I don't it goes against 951, essentially he's trying to stop before he's spent 9 minutes to save a dollar (and hairy is questioning that he would have otherwise spent that 9 minutes earning more than a dollar) 01:17, 28 October 2017 (UTC)

This reminds me of Hofstadter's law // See also #1658 and this Explain xkcd for #1658 18:26, 27 October 2017 (UTC)

How did he miss the circular reference error? (unsigned comment from

This is similar to comic 1205 (Worth the time), except that it's just a one-time event and just thinking about the table makes it worse. For example the top right cell of that table could just say "none, because it took you longer to search for and apply this chart). Fabian42 (talk) 09:36, 30 October 2017 (UTC)

There's also 1445 (Efficiency), in which Randall confesses this search to optimize tasks killing his effeiciency is a personal problem for him. 14:30, 30 October 2017 (UTC)

Simple, use an infinite summation to figure out exactly. That's right, Jacky720 just signed this (talk | contribs) 18:41, 15 April 2018 (UTC)