2052: Stanislav Petrov Day

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Stanislav Petrov Day
I was going to get you an alarm clock that occasionally goes off randomly in the middle of the night, but you can ignore it and go back to sleep and it's fine.
Title text: I was going to get you an alarm clock that occasionally goes off randomly in the middle of the night, but you can ignore it and go back to sleep and it's fine.


Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov was a lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces who became known as "the man who single-handedly saved the world from nuclear war" for his role in the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident. The incident was unknown to the public until it was revealed shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On 26 September 1983, during the Cold War, the satellite-based early-warning system of the Soviet Union reported the launch of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles from the United States. At the time, tensions with the U.S. were on edge, and high officials of the Soviet Union, including General Secretary Yuri Andropov, were thought to be highly suspicious of a U.S. attack.

Petrov checked ground-based radars which had not detected a launch, noted that the warning system had detected only 1-5 missiles instead of the hundreds that would have been expected in the event of a first strike, and chose to mark the system alert as a false alarm. This decision is seen as having prevented a retaliatory nuclear attack, which would have probably resulted in immediate escalation of the Cold War stalemate to a full-scale nuclear war and the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. Investigation of the satellite warning system later confirmed that the system had indeed malfunctioned.

While it is highly probable that if Petrov had reported this incident to his superiors they would have come to the same conclusion, it was a point in time when many people feared that the Cold War might become hot. Andropov, the new Soviet leader, was considered weak by the US president Ronald Reagan, and the Western countries were deploying new missile installation in Europe to counter existing missiles in the Eastern Bloc. This fear of nuclear war meant that at this time the peace movement in most western countries reached one of its highest levels.

In this comic Cueball reacts to his alert on Stanislav Petrov Day as if it was a false alarm. This is of course a truly ironic since what we celebrate is that Stanislav treated an alert as a false alarm. Also his first comment "Oh shoot" could have been the reaction of Stanislav if he had not assumed it was a false alarm.

In real life, many alerts reach everybody on their mobile devices, often causing them to be ignored without deeper knowledge about the issue behind. This was however not the point in this comic.

The title text presents a much less important false alarm where one of them, probably Cueball (or perhaps Randall), was thinking about giving a gift to the other one in the form of an alarm clock that alerts randomly in the middle of the night. That particular alarm is one where she or he can just breathe a sigh of relief and go back to sleep because it's not a real alarm and is perfectly safe to ignore. However if this keeps going off when it’s not supposed to, then when you are actually supposed to wake up you may very well end up assuming that it’s another false alarm, and thus will sleep late anyway, completely defeating the point of the alarm. Also when a real alarm is supposed to wake you up in the middle of the night, you will have been trained to ignore alarms. This is all part of the joke.

History of Petrov Day as a holiday

On the 2007 anniversary, Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote a blog post for LessWrong suggesting that "Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, take a minute to not destroy the world." Not destroying the world has since evolved into an annual tradition. There is a website for the holiday, with several variations of a ritual involving lighting and snuffing candles. The intended mood is that of a somber holiday, somewhere between Thanksgiving and a funeral.

However, there are also more lighthearted takes. A "hardcore mode" would be just like the normal holiday, but "During said ceremony, unveil a large red button. If anybody presses the button, the ceremony is over. Go home. Do not speak." Alternatively, "you use a website connected to *another* house where people are also celebrating Petrov Day. If anyone in one house presses the button, the other house receives a launch alarm. They have 60 seconds to respond. At the end of 60 seconds, their party is over, and they must go home silently. The website has some chance of giving you a false alarm." The website can be found here with instructions on how to use it here.

Stanislav Petrov himself died in 2017, but in 2018 the Future of Life Institute decided to award his surviving family a $50,000 prize for his contributions. However, in the words of MIT Professor Max Tegmark, who presented the award, the fact that Petrov's son couldn't "get a visa to visit the city his dad saved from nuclear annihilation is emblematic of how frosty US-Russian relations have gotten, which increases the risk of accidental nuclear war.”


[Megan is looking at her phone while Cueball stands in front of her.]
Megan: Hey, Wednesday was Stanislav Petrov Day. We missed it.
Cueball: Oh, shoot!
Cueball: I got a calendar alert for it, but I assumed it was a false alarm.

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Wednesday was also Talk Like a Pirate Day Barmar (talk) 14:51, 28 September 2018 (UTC)

What is a pirate's favorite letter?
Many people think it's the 'R', but it's actually the 'C'! 15:05, 28 September 2018 (UTC)
...I feel like I've read that on a webcomic somewhere... 15:32, 28 September 2018 (UTC)
It's a common audience participation joke when Paul and Storm perform The Captain's Wife's Lament, maybe that's what you're thinking of 13:36, 1 October 2018 (UTC)
Ye'd think they'd be the most fond if the 'C', but without 'P', they just be irate. 16:01, 28 September 2018 (UTC)

Ayyy, got this one pretty fast. 15:18, 28 September 2018 (UTC)

I thought that International Talk Like A Pirate Day was September 19th. I've been celebrating it on that day for decades Mr. I (talk) 19:37, 29 September 2018 (UTC)

I just read about Mr Petrov the other day, maybe on Quora. I wonder if Randall received the same article in his daily digest :) 16:26, 28 September 2018 (UTC)

History of Petrov Day as a holiday

My critics: Not explaining much to the comics content; even admires that a stupid citation is still needed; this Wiki isn't a link list; I can do more... But I don't want to do censorship so maybe we can put this into a single sentence belonging to an explanation. Otherwise some could be moved to a trivia section. --Dgbrt (talk) 18:17, 28 September 2018 (UTC)

I can't find anything specific, but a couple other articles list this BBC link https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24280831 which states that his heroism was kept secret until after the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991ish) and that Mr. Petrov "kept silent for 10 years" - so 1993 or maybe 2001. Afbach (talk)

Read the first paragraph: "The incident was unknown to the public until it was revealed shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991." --Dgbrt (talk) 21:41, 29 September 2018 (UTC)

I think everyone missed the subtle point in this comic - Stanislav was famous for correctly identifying the nuclear attack alert as a false alarm, and Cueball thought the calendar alert he received was a false alarm as well! I believe that's the real joke here! Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 14:30, 29 September 2018 (UTC)

I agree. Had already just added this when I read your comment --Kynde (talk) 22:34, 30 January 2020 (UTC)

You all missed the joke of the “false alarm clock”, which is that if it keeps going off when it’s not supposed to, you very well might assume that it’s another false alarm when you are actually supposed to wake up, and thus will sleep late anyway, completely defeating the point of the alarm. PotatoGod (talk) 20:33, 29 September 2018 (UTC)

I agree. Have just added this after I read your comment --Kynde (talk) 22:34, 30 January 2020 (UTC)

Is it just me, or does Eliezer Yudkowsky show up abnormally frequently in explainXKCD? 04:35, 30 September 2018 (UTC)

So, corrolarily if that's a word, if you don't ignore the alarm clock and go back to sleep, the world ends? (On a personal note, Stanislav Petrov day is the day before my birthday. It is somewhat gutting to think back on a day when I was opening presents, stuffing myself with cake, and running around the yard playing hide & seek with a bunch of other kids, and thinking just how different that day might have been). 17:45, 1 October 2018 (UTC)

Hmmm, at first I thought this incident may have been the inspiration for the movie "WarGames", but then hearing that it was kept secret until over a decade later, means that couldn't have been the case. Or could it? -Electro-- 21:59, 7 October 2018 (UTC)

Also, note the subtle choice of exclamation "Oh, shoot!" which would have been the response of Petrov's superiors if he had not chosen to ignore the alarm and done as he was directed. 02:01, 26 November 2018 (UTC)

Nice spotted. Have just added this after I read your comment --Kynde (talk) 22:34, 30 January 2020 (UTC)

NASA's DART mission

I can't help pointing out that on 2022 Stanislav Petrov Day the DART probe hit the tiny asteroid moon Dimorphos in a mission to test how to redirect a potential future Earth-threatening asteroid. Looks like APL wanted to take part in the world-saving fame... -- 08:18, 27 September 2022 (UTC)