878: Model Rail

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 22:24, 10 April 2013 by (talk) (Transcript)
Jump to: navigation, search
Model Rail
I don't know what's more telling--the number of pages in the Wikipedia talk page argument over whether the 1/87.0857143 scale is called "HO" or "H0", or the fact that within minutes of first hearing of it I had developed an extremely strong opinion on the issue.
Title text: I don't know what's more telling--the number of pages in the Wikipedia talk page argument over whether the 1/87.0857143 scale is called "HO" or "H0", or the fact that within minutes of first hearing of it I had developed an extremely strong opinion on the issue.


In model rail construction, HO scale refers to the currently most popular scale for modeling railroads, in which 3.5 millimeters in the model corresponds to 1 real-world Imperial foot. As the comic suggests, it works out to a ratio of about 1:87.1. (In Europe, the scale is defined as exactly 1:87 instead, to avoid reference to US measurements,)

The (apparently less-experienced) modeller wants to make an HO model layout of his town. However, the more-experienced modeller points out that this is a bad idea, due to nesting. To make it a perfectly accurate model, the modeller would have to include a model of his house, which includes his basement, which includes the model. So, he would have to make a model of the model, which will include a smaller model of the model, and so forth.

Matryoshka dolls are toys of Russian origin that can be stacked inside one another. Here, the "Matryoshka limit" is the hard barrier that follows as a result of the nesting. Matter is not infinitely divisible; once one gets the level of atoms, it's impossible to go any smaller. The unit shown in the last diagram is the ångström, a preposterously small unit of measurement that was created when humans started discovering preposterously small things, like crystal structures and wavelengths.

The rules of model train layouts reference the 1999 cult classic Fight Club, where the first rule of Fight Club is "do not talk about Fight Club." However, while the club instituted the rule because their activities were morally and legally questionable, the rule in the comic was instituted by friends and family members who, apparently, were sick of hearing the train enthusiasts talk about model train layouts all the time.

The "Philistines" comment is not referring to citizens of ancient Palestine (at least not directly), but rather the philosophy of Philistinism. Nietzsche defined a Philistine as someone who is purely negative in how they define style, i.e. they know exactly what they hate and don't really have anything they like. A common stereotype for artists is to refer to anyone who dislikes their work as "Philistines," thus dismissing their criticism as being part of a larger personality defect on the critic's part rather than any particular failing of the artwork in question.

The title text references this discussion. 1167: Star Trek into Darkness is entirely about a similar debate on Wikipedia.


The actual xkcd page for this comic does not have the normal transcript filled in, so the following was done by hand

Person 1: I want to build a perfect H0-scale (~1/87) model train layout of my town.
Person 2: In your basement? Bad idea. Never make a layout of the area you're in.
Person 1: Why not?
Person 2: Because it'd include a little 10" replica of your house.
Person 1: So? That's be cool! I'd make tiny replicas of my rooms, my furniture -
Person 2: - and your train layout?
[The comic shows how the models would nest together.]
[Layer 1: 18 meters across. The two modellers are shown standing next to it.]
[Layer 2: 21 cm across.]
[Layer 3: 2.4 mm across. A mosquito is shown for comparison. It stands over roughly half of the town.]
[Layer 4: 28 μm across. A strand of spider silk is shown for comparison. It is much thicker than the roads.]
[Layer 5: 320 nm across. A cold virus is shown for comparison. It covers roughly a quarter of the town. At this level the town becomes notably "fuzzy" as individual atoms are discernible.]
[Layer 6: 37 Å across. The town is simply spheres (atoms) at this point. The large hill near the back is the only noticeable feature, consisting of five atoms jutting out from the mostly flat ground.]
The Matryoshka limit: It is impossible to nest more than six H0 layouts.
Person 1: My God.
Person 2: Yeah. It's the second rule of model train layouts: No nesting.
Person 1: ...What's the first rule?
Person 2: "Do not talk about model train layouts." That rule was actually voted in by our friends and families.
Person 1: Philistines.

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


It IS possible to go smaller than one atom, but it tends to make a really bright flash and loud noise. The original atomic bomb was the second guy's reading of a train modeler's notes, miraculously preserved in a refrigerator. -- 03:37, 29 January 2013 (UTC)

Corrected HO to H0 -- 22:25, 10 April 2013 (UTC)

I hate it when my model train layout gets crushed by a cold virus. 23:38, 28 December 2013 (UTC)

You mean your model model model model model train layout.. 20:39, 20 January 2014 (UTC)

3.5mm per foot? What kind of half-assed system is that?? It's an embarrassment. 21:13, 5 February 2014 (UTC)

3.5 millimeters is due to the origins of HO scale. It literally means "Half O", and "O" scale, now 1/4 inch per foot in the US, was 7 mm/foot in Britain, where the scales originated. The debate over "HO" and "H0" comes from the same source, as "O" scale was originally labeled "0", following the larger scales of 1, 2, 3, etc, used for toy trains in the early 20th century. As for the name today, it's pronounced "Aitch-Oh" in most, if not all, of the world. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

In Germany this scale is called "H-Null" (H for halb=half; Null=zero). So H0 is definitly correct there while HO is completly illogical. The HO can be used in english only because it is common to use O instead of saying zero, while this is uncommon in most other languages. 09:49, 2 August 2016 (UTC)
How is half of zero logical but half of O isn't? 06:04, 10 June 2017 (UTC)

The "this discussion" link doesn't lead to the discussion in question. Please fix? Anonymous 17:32, 13 February 2014 (UTC)

I can't see this. But a former add here is fixed, maybe this helps.--Dgbrt (talk) 23:14, 13 February 2014 (UTC)
The {{w}} does interpret the link target as the page name. So when linking to "Page?bar=foo" will not interpret the bar parameter. Additionally because there was a = in one parameter it treated everything before as the parameter name and everything after it as the parameter value. If the first problem wouldn't be a problem at least the first parameter would need to be defined as 1=…. I reverted that part to the old working version. 13:49, 3 June 2014 (UTC)

There is a community portal discussion of what to call Cueball and what to do in case with more than one Cueball. I have added this comic to the Category:Multiple Cueballs. Since the one who knows the rule to me seems like the best candidate for a Cueball here, I have changed the transcript to make him Cueball. He has the interesting comments of this comic, so maybe it is OK to let him be listed as Cueball? On the other hand someone has previously done the opposite, proving that it is not possible to say that Cueball is any particular guy. But it is just easier to explain the transcript (and the comic) when calling one of them Cueball rather than guy 1 and 2 (left of right etc.)--Kynde (talk) 14:11, 29 July 2015 (UTC)--

The original width of the section of real world being modeled (18m * 87) works out to 1 mile. Johanna-Hypatia (talk) 21:15, 26 September 2016 (UTC)

Is this really a sensible interpretation of the "philistines" comment? It seems to hinge on more obscure, original use of the word, and slightly far-fetched. In particular, considering Munroe's other comments on that movie, I had assumed they were considered philistines simply for cluttering the rulebook with needless pop-culture references, as per the more common definition given on the wikipedia page of "[A person with a] lack of and an indifference to cultural and æsthetic values".Thomson's Gazelle (talk) 11:50, 6 March 2017 (UTC)

Fight Club has also been referred to (at least) in 922: Fight Club. I think this should be mentioned, but I'm not sure how to work that into the current text. 20:53, 9 December 2017 (UTC)

This idea can be used to prove Brouwer's Fixed Point Theorem in 2 dimensions. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brouwer_fixed-point_theorem#Illustrations --Cosmia Nebula 01:54, 19 January 2019 (UTC)

Why not just put a little note in the scale model of his basement to refer to the zoomed in version of the model? user:Claire Kholin

Cueball's problems with nesting would be solved if he made the replica of the town at a specific moment of time - making a replica of the town before he made the replica would avoid nesting entirely since that moment of time would not include the replica itself.