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Fuzzy, or approximate, string matching is a technique used for searching text for specified "strings" of characters. Normal string matching would only find results that fit the search exactly (searching for "missile" would find only occurrences of "missile"). Fuzzy string matching instead finds results that are "close enough" by some metric (searching for "missile" would find "missile" but also close variants like "missal" or "missel"). This is often used in search engines, as typos, misspellings, and inexact searches are commonplace.
Missile silos are often thought to be the first targeting priority in event of a nuclear strike, in hopes of preventing retaliation from the target. If a list of potential nuclear missile targets were stored, and a fuzzy search was looking for "missile silos", the Missal of Silos would most likely be returned as a result and could be made a target.
In Christianity, a missal is a priest's book of instructions, texts and music for the proper celebration of Mass. The Missal of Silos is an 11th-century missal from the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos in northern Spain; it is famous for being the oldest known paper document in Europe, written at a time when the usual writing material was parchment.
Cheyenne Mountain is a mountain in Colorado, which houses an underground compound (aptly named the Cheyenne Mountain Complex) designed to withstand a nuclear strike and host to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Cheyenne, Wyoming, on the other hand, is the capital of Wyoming. The residents of Cheyenne, Wyoming would prefer their town not to be the target of a nuclear attack because of confusion with Cheyenne Mountain. However, Cheyenne, Wyoming is likely a listed target due to the nearby 90th Operations Group at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base operating Minuteman III ICBMs from missile silos.
There have been several comics with nuclear weapons as a part of the plot. See for instance 1655: Doomsday Clock, where several other comics are mentioned in the explanation.
- [A passage from the Wikipedia page for Missal of Silos is shown, with underlined heading and with links in the text in blue font. The last line is partly cut off by the comics panel, but can be read.]
- Missal of Silos
- From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- The Missal of Silos is the oldest known paper document created in the Christian West; it is 11th century in date.
- The missal is held in the library of the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos near Burgos, Spain. It is one of a number of liturgical manuscripts...
- [Caption below the panel:]
- Spain would like to remind everyone not to use fuzzy string matching in their nuclear strike target lists.
- The transcript of the Wikipedia article shown on the comic is accurate to the revision made on 2 September 2018.
- This is because a spurt of editing took place on Wikipedia on the day of the comic, since xkcd and Wikipedia editing have similar target demographics.
- This "xkcd-Wikipedia effect" has happened before.
- One example of this revolved around 878: Model Rail, in which the alt-text mentioned that the debate over the title of the HO/H0 system was disturbingly long, and "coincidentally", the talk page debate got a little longer on that very day.
- And most famously, the comic 1485: Friendship, caused at least four Wikipedia pages to be vandalized, so these pages had to be semi protected.
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