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The Wrong Stuff
The phantom found Edward Everett Hale a century too early; by the time we invented satellites, the specifics of his 'brick moon' proposal were dismissed as science fiction.
Title text: The phantom found Edward Everett Hale a century too early; by the time we invented satellites, the specifics of his 'brick moon' proposal were dismissed as science fiction.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a TRAIN MADE OF NEON TUBING - Please change this comment when editing this page. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

Multiple times in history, there have been incidents where companies, governments, and engineers have proposed or developed plans for large vehicles composed of unconventional materials. One example is Project Habakkuk (mentioned in the comic), an aircraft carrier which was to be composed of pykrete, a mixture of wood pulp and ice. The comic imagines that all of these proposals are linked together by a single "Material Phantom," a ghost which haunts engineers and convinces them to design giant vehicles made of the impractical materials.

The three "wrong material vehicles" mentioned in the comic are:

  • The Spruce Goose - An actual flying boat made, in spite of its name, almost entirely out of birch wood. Most modern planes are constructed out of aluminum, some other metal/alloy or (partially) out of carbon / glass fibre composites (CFRC / GFRC).
  • Project Habakkuk - A proposed aircraft carrier composed of pykrete, a mixture of wood pulp and ice. Modern aircraft carriers are built from steel.
  • Trojan Horse - A mythological, giant wooden horse, supposedly used by the Greeks to invade the city of Troy. Actual horses are composed, like any other animal, out of meat, bone, and other tissues and bodily fluids.[citation needed] In addition, the interior of the Trojan Horse was composed of Greek warriors rather than horse innards.

The title text references Edward Everett Hale's science fiction novella The Brick Moon, the first known depiction of an artificial satellite in fiction. The novella is, of course, just a sci-fi story, but the title text states that Hale was actually approached by the Material Phantom, and the novella was a serious proposal for a moon made out of bricks. Apparently, it was only retroactively perceived as science-fiction.

The title "the Wrong Stuff" is a play on The Right Stuff, a book/movie/TV series about the astronauts of Project Gemini. In that title, "the right stuff" refers to the figurative material that these men were made of which gave them the bravery to embark on these missions.


This comic was uploaded with the "the" in "the Wrong Stuff" being entirely lowercase, breaking the normal title case used for XKCD comic titles. Possibly another word was initially intended to come before "the", in which case lowercasing "the" would be correct. xkcd displays lowercase letters in titles with small caps, making the lowercase "the" less obvious than it is in the true lowercase used on explainxkcd.

However, it's worth noting that the comic title has since been changed to "The Wrong Stuff," with "the" capitalized as per standard title case.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[A ghost is approaching Cueball in a workshop. They are surrounded by shop equipment, such as a table with a press on it, and a small pile of what appears to be lumber. Cueball is backing away from the ghost, holding his hands up defensively.]
Ghost: oooOOOOOOoooo Build a spaceship out of bricks! oooooOOOOOOOOoo
Cueball: No! Go away!
[There is a caption underneath the panel]
The Spruce Goose, the Project Habakkuk Ice Ship, and the Trojan Horse were all work of the Material Phantom, a ghost that wanders the Earth convincing engineers to make giant vehicles out of the wrong stuff.

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