2416: Trash Compactor Party

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Trash Compactor Party
What an incredible smell you've discovered.
Title text: What an incredible smell you've discovered.


This comic is another in a series of comics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Randall is planning a party for when the pandemic is under control and it will again be acceptable to meet with people in close proximity and without a face mask or other kinds of protection.

But he has realized that after more than a year, where social distancing has been a thing, it will be difficult to get people to voluntarily move closer than 1-2 m from each other.

Thus to break the ice, and the social distancing, his party will have a theme - it will be a Trash Compactor Party. So he plans to install two moving walls on either side of the party room, which will slowly move together pressing people closer together. It is supposed to be a theme party, so the walls are not supposed to crush people in the end, but force them to get much closer than one meter apart.

In the comic Randall shows how people might react to this after more than a year without being close to anyone not from their own family/corona bubble.

Cueball and Megan are trying to push each of the walls of the trash compactor back in order to prevent it from pushing them closer to the three other people. Two of the other attendees, Science Girl and White Hat appear to be anxiously shying away from the inexorably increasing proximity of both of their neighboring guests, as they hold their arms nervously and protectively around their chests and necks. Thus reflecting the common current trend for many normal people to maintain increased personal space when meeting or passing other people out and about, compared with the pre-COVID era. Randall's claim is that this will not just go away because the restrictions are completely lifted if the pandemic comes under control. Ponytail is the one that seems least concerned; she even stands with a wine glass in her hands. She is looking at Cueball, maybe amused at the other people's reactions to a now safe situation.

The title text references a high-profile instance of the trope from the original Star Wars film (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope). Han Solo utters this quip shortly after he and several other main characters bail out of a firefight and land in a trash compactor. The walls then start closing in and, as in the comic, the characters are not enthused about being pushed ever closer together, and seek to push back on the walls before being crushed. Here, the quote also expresses a sense of (a new) hope: since a common symptom of COVID-19 is a loss of smell, the fact that the characters are all able to smell their surroundings suggests that the pandemic is gone.


[An ongoing party of five people is placed between two walls on wheels. There are two machines on either side of the walls, moving the walls on the left and right ever-closer in. The machines have pistons that push the walls together. Their rods are not long enough for the walls to meet in the middle, only to push the people close together. Near the left wall, Megan is sitting on a chair pushing on the approaching wall with hands and feet. Next to her is (and adult) Science Girl looking toward the other wall with her hands held up to her neck. Then follows White Hat, also with his arms raised towards his neck, he is looking at Megan's wall. Next to him is a small table with a glass and a plate with something on it, probably snacks. On the other side of the table stands Ponytail with a wine glass in her hand. She is looking to the right at Cueball, who is standing on the other side of a chair standing between them. Seems like he just got up after having been sitting there looking at the advancing wall. Now he is standing pressed up against it pushing on it with both hands.]
[Caption below the panel:]
I'm planning a trash-compactor-themed party for when this is all over so we can get used to standing near each other again.

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Who invited the dianoga? Oh, it's ok, it's gone now. 01:20, 26 January 2021 (UTC)

Me: Ok, let me get Cory Doctorow in his balloon to come and pick me up from here from comic #497Mr. Nobody (talk)

If the characters aren't supposed to die, then could someone please change the incomplete explanation template? Former was supposed to be a reference to no longer socially distancing and no longer alive, but I don't have any other ideas. 02:00, 26 January 2021 (UTC)

I read this very differently. I read this as randall needing a trash compactor to force him to stop distancing

I agree with the unsigned comment above, I read it as forcing the party guests to physically get together and break social distancing habits. Doing some quick and dirty measurements, (read: putting my fingers up to my screen and moving them around) showed that the walls wouldn't be able to physically crush them, just force them incredibly close together.-- 02:55, 26 January 2021 (UTC)

I measured with a ruler, The pistons seem to have 2cm of movement each and the space between the walls is 7cm. So, only about half the space will be closed off. MAP (talk) 05:42, 26 January 2021 (UTC)

TV Tropes is referenced on Explain xkcd anew! 06:37, 26 January 2021 (UTC)

It's quite similar to 1187, isn't it? 17:24, 26 January 2021 (UTC)

To a degree. Most of the similarity arises from the mechanisms on the sides. 18:24, 26 January 2021 (UTC)

The first thing I thought of was Fermat's Room the 2007 film. Bwisey (talk) 19:01, 26 January 2021 (UTC)

Does the fourth paragraph (beginning "Though a significant proportion of the population seem to have returned to being oblivious to the pandemic...") contribute anything of value to the explanation? It seems to me like blatant editorializing. MeZimm 00:10, 27 January 2021 (UTC)

Aside from the grammatical to-and-fro that happened (fun to watch), I think it helps set up the "will attend party, but still allergic to nearness" nature of the guests. c.f. that prior comic where the television drama was being compulsively assessed in the light of being contemporary yet had no masks or social distancing, i.e. psychology and situation jar together. It has to be pointed out that these weren't 'Covidiots' more afraid of the rules than the virus, nor natural asocial agoraphobic hermits who'd never liked attending parties beforehand and wouldn't be there 'now' (with or without crusher-walls). I don't know if I could say that in fewer words than what are there, but it looks like I just did in many more... (Congrats to Randall, BTW, for expressing that sense of peoples' recoiling horror against the enforced nearness of others in a faceless stick figure pose. That's art, that is.) 01:37, 27 January 2021 (UTC)

only one of the five attendees will need to duck for them to safely occupy the same 2d space, except for the furniture. i wonder if ponytail is simply weighing up the possibility of an embarrasing situation. still, the furniture bothers me and i would like to see how randall proposes they can resolve that without overcomplicating the picture (remember when there was a debate over ambiguous depth and lines when two were seated on a sideways sofa). i like how megan is cursing the fourth wall. ocæon (talk) 14:55, 27 January 2021 (UTC)

The big rewrite to remove 'personal feelings' (?) could at least have made it a snappier explanation, not longer. And while it is a truth that this group remain reluctant to close up, even after 'it is all over', there are enough current examples of irresponsible behaviour that at least a few-word nod to these lot having obviously been/become used to being sensible/rule-following should have been made. But I don't feel like an edit-war on that matter, so fair enough. 15:47, 27 January 2021 (UTC)