2244: Thumbtacks And String

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Thumbtacks And String
A tattoo of a tattoo parlor receipt
Title text: A tattoo of a tattoo parlor receipt


In many media, crimes and conspiracy theories are solved on bulletin boards. "Leads" are attached to the board using thumbtacks, and the leads are connected to each other using string (specifically twine is mentioned), in order to sort out connections and possibilities. There are many systems for information mapping that show entities as nodes in a graph, with relationships represented by connections between nodes.

Beret Guy, eccentric as always, manipulates this by making just such a setup solely to determine where to buy the thumbtacks and string for use in it. The joke is that the bulletin board is entirely self-referential -- without a need for thumbtacks and string to hold and connect things on the bulletin board, there would be no need for the bulletin board itself, but because of the bulletin board's string and thumbtacks, Beret Guy needs the items advertised on it. An additional minor joke may be that the Office Depot store map near the bottom of the bulletin board has markers that are often called "digital pushpins".

In media, characters (especially conspiracy theorists) tend to obsess over these boards, overanalyzing or staring at every little detail to try and make sense of them – Beret Guy may be so obsessed with these string boards that he has been driven to obsessing further over the details of making more of these boards.

The title text continues the self-reference theme: The receipt for the tattoo is tattooed to the person who orders the tattoo, which is the receipt for said tattoo of the receipt. This has happened for real in Norway.

The idea of the receipt being the object you buy, has been used in a rug that used to be sold by IKEA.


[Beret Guy is in front of a bulletin board covered in images, connected by thumbtacks and string. The below transcripts of each image are left to right, top to bottom.]
Sale String and Twine
Where to Buy Thumbtacks
Scrapbooking Supplies (partially covered:) Call Now
Great Deals YARN
Office Supplies Thumbtacks Pushpins & More
Office Depot
Office Supply Liquidation SALE

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Per the title text: I've overheard various people mention, usually in arguments, tattooing information to prevent it being forgotten. 22:06, 20 December 2019 (UTC) M.Striker

Reminds me of this rug (sold by IKEA), which looks like a giant receipt of the very same rug. 23:09, 20 December 2019 (UTC)

Getting all information on that receipt correct would be quite challenge even with pre-ordering ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:13, 20 December 2019 (UTC)
The explanation suggests the actual receipt is printed on the rug, but it's not custom made. 16:31, 23 December 2019 (UTC)
Above ikea rug link shows generic models only. I assume it's no longer available. Better provide generic image search, as it actually returns the relevant item:


The tattoo subtext makes me think it's referring to the 2001 film 'Memento', a film noir in which the main character tries to solve a mystery while suffering from amnesia so he carries a bundle of clippings from motel-room to motel-room and has the most important clues tattooed onto his body. RimGreaper (talk) 23:55, 20 December 2019 (UTC)

Firesign Theater had a scene in their album, "Don't Crush that Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers," that has a mural named, "Heroic Struggle of the Little Guy to Finish the Mural." Cosumel (talk) 17:16, 23 December 2019 (UTC)

I'm disappointed that the bulletin board itself only counts as one of the generic office supplies. -- 10:39, 21 December 2019 (UTC)

A quick search provided a real world example of the title text "A tatoo if a tatoo parlour receipt". The exercise of string and tacks is left for readers of Pinerest Iggynelix (talk) 15:09, 21 December 2019 (UTC)

This example should be added to the Explanation!
ProphetZarquon (talk) 16:15, 21 December 2019 (UTC)
If only that bit of the Explanation could also serve as an example... 20:24, 21 December 2019 (UTC)
Added it and other things here above to the explanation. Of course he was from Norway... (Said the Dane, next door neighbor to Norway, with almost the same written language :-). --Kynde (talk) 23:08, 21 December 2019 (UTC)
Note that none of the Norwegian guy's tattoos are actually self-referential. The first tattoo is the receipt for McDonalds, the second tattoo is the receipt for the first tattoo. Barmar (talk) 00:46, 24 December 2019 (UTC)

ROTFL because it reminds me of some program managers at a former company who thought they could organize tasks on a large project by putting them up on a board and sequence-ordering them with colored twine. Made for a nice piece of modern art and not much more. Cellocgw (talk) 15:06, 23 December 2019 (UTC)

I think that its a play on puting the cart before the horse. You can't make a Thumbtacks and string diagram without thumbtacks and string, you can't tattoo a receipt for the tattoo without having got the tattoo. 16:58, 23 December 2019 (UTC)


Transcript needs a lot of work:

- Emojis, as visual elements, should probably be removed

- Figure out a way to describe everything on the board and the connections, including:

- position of each item on the board and in relation to Beret Guy
- relative size of each item
- contents of each item - not all of them are clear/specific text or symbols
- connections between items, some of which are to specific content elements within an item

- Describe Beret Guy's position

I plan to work on this later, but likely won't complete. River 05:17, 13 March 2021 (UTC)