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Effects of High Altitude
If she'd lived in Flagstaff (elevation 6,903 feet), Cruella de Vil would only have needed 89 dalmatians for her coat.
Title text: If she'd lived in Flagstaff (elevation 6,903 feet), Cruella de Vil would only have needed 89 dalmatians for her coat.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a HIGH BOT. Please mention here why this explanation isn't complete. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

This comic starts out with three effects of high altitude related to the air getting "thinner" and the lower air pressure. Denver is one mile (5280 feet or 1609 meters) above sea-level (as marked on the steps of the State Capitol). At this elevation, the average atmospheric pressure is about 83% of sea level pressure, or about 840 mbar instead of 1013 mbar, and gravity is 99.94% normal, or 9.801 m/s2 instead of 9.806 m/s2. This has a number of effects:

  • Water boils at 202 degrees F (94 degrees C), slightly lower than the baseline 212 degrees F (100 degrees C) it takes at sea level.
  • Baseballs and golf balls fly slightly farther.
  • Sunburn develops faster because there less atmosphere above to filter out harmful ultraviolet rays.

As usual for xkcd, the effects of high altitude are extended in a comically absurd manner, applying this "slightly less" rule to things that have nothing to do with altitude:

  • Scrabble is a board game where each letter is assigned a point value based on its frequency of use in the edition's language. The comic claims all letters are worth 16% more. When applied to the normal values for the Scrabble tiles in English
    • Q is worth 12 instead of 10
    • X is worth 9 instead of 8
    • Y is worth 5 instead of 4
  • A common superstition states that breaking a mirror causes 7 years of bad luck. The comic claims that at higher altitudes, only 5½ years are caused. It is unclear whether this implies that people living at higher altitudes have more or less luck.
  • Marketing campaigns will often state "X is the new Y" to draw the audience of Y in toward the newer X. When used with age, usually at 10 year intervals ("40 is the new 30" is the slogan referenced), it is an attempt to convince an older audience that they can share in an experience commonly associated with a younger audience. At higher elevations, the comic claims, people can use or do things designated for an even younger audience
  • German band Nena's hit 99 Red Balloons (an English adaptation of the original song called 99 Luftballons) is a song about a global (not necessarily nuclear) war started by a large clump of balloons mistaken for enemy aircraft (although the original German song refers to "UFOs aus dem All", the lyrics of the English-language song say "There's something here from somewhere else" which does not imply extraterrestrial origins, merely that the object is not of domestic origin; and "the war machine springs to life", which implies that a rival nation on earth is thought to be the culprit). The comic claims that if launched from a higher altitude, 94 balloons would have sufficed.
  • 4:20 is a code word for cannabis and has evolved in some circles to be the socially acceptable hour to consume cannabis. This has in turn evolved into a joke that when checking the time and finding it is exactly 4:20, people will add "blaze it" as a reference. The comic claims that, at higher altitudes, the socially acceptable time is earlier, so if there is an elevation of one mile, the socially acceptable time would be 4:17 and therefore, marijuana jokes are made earlier. This joke is probably related to the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado.
  • Referenced in the title text, One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a children's book and Disney franchise based on it, where the villain, Cruella de Vil, aims to capture and kill 99 Dalmatian puppies to have the perfect spotted fur coat (the title comes from adding to them the two that try to save them). The comic claims that, at a higher altitude in Flagstaff (6903 ft / 2104 m), she would only have needed 89 Dalmatians, possibly implying that puppies at higher altitudes are bigger, or that Cruella de Vil at high altitudes is smaller.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
Effects of High Altitude
How life is different at one mile above sea level
(e.g. in Denver)
[Eight small panels, each containing an image with a caption at the top:]
Water boils at 202°F
[A pot on a stovetop, with steam rising from the pot]
Baseballs and golf balls fly 5-10% farther
[A baseball flying through the air]
Sunburns develop significantly faster
[Five wavy arrows hitting a curved surface]
Scrabble letters are worth 16% more
[Scrabble tiles for letters Q, X and Y with point values 12, 9 and 5, respectively]
Breaking a mirror only causes 5½ years of bad luck
[Cueball looking down at a broken hand mirror on the floor]
40 is the new 28
[Cueball and Megan are talking. Megan is gesturing]
Megan: 50 is the new 40, and when you account for elevation it's more like 37.
Nuclear war can be started with only 94 red balloons.
[Five black balloons floating]
People make marijuana jokes slightly earlier
[Cueball and Ponytail are talking. Ponytail is looking at her phone]
Cueball: Hey, what time is it?
Ponytail: 4:17 Blaze it!


The effect of altitude on sports was already topic of 852: Local g.

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