Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
This comic marks the second year of Randall Munroe's wife's battle with cancer, and appears to depict actual events from those two years. Randall is depicted as Cueball and his wife as Megan, as per usual for both.
Explanations of the individual panels:
- Panel 1: Randall's wife-to-be (at that point) receives a diagnosis over the phone (from Dr. Ponytail) as Randall sits by her side supportively. His wife has Megan long hair at this time.
- Panel 2: His wife undergoes IV (intravenous) chemotherapy. Because of the hair loss that results from chemotherapy, many patients opt to shave their heads when they undergo chemotherapy. As can be seen from the stubble she did not shave her hair, but has lost almost all of it. Only the hair coming back between chemo sessions is the cause of the stubble. Her hair grows back over the course of the panels following the end of her chemo (from panel 7).
- Panel 3: The two of them spend time alone together, experiencing something beautiful in the world for it may be one of her last chances to do so. Randall reinforces this sentiment in panel 8. In this panel (#3) she wears a knit cap presumably because it is cold, as well as the fact that patients with hair loss from chemo are urged by doctors to keep their heads covered to protect their scalps from the sun.
- Panel 4: The couple waits for a phone call from her doctor to hear the results of a scan. Both are clearly impatient and anxious.
- Panel 5: More chemotherapy. The couple plays Scrabble, in which players use letter tiles to spell words in a cross-word style. She uses the fact that she has cancer as leverage to get Randall to ignore the fact that the word she has played (zarg) is not a real word.
- Panel 6: Someone suggests they come for a visit next year, but all they can think about are the words "next year." Their future is entirely uncertain because of her health, making long-term planning a consistent source of worry and doubt. In this panel she wears a knit cap to hide her missing hair.
- Panel 7: Randall and his fiancée marry. With the chemotherapy completed, her hair has grown back enough that she has stopped using her knit cap.
- Panel 8: The couple goes whale (humpback whales) watching, possibly on their honeymoon. In this panel, she again wears the knit cap either because it is cold or because she is weak.
- Panel 9: Randall paraphrases a line from the song "Still Alive" (watch the video) from the video game Portal ("I'm doing science and I'm still alive"). He does this because his wife is again back at her laptop working.
- Panel 10: The two of them sit under a tree reflecting on the significance of the past two years.
- Panel 11: Randall and his wife go out to dinner to celebrate the fact that she has made it two years since her biopsy. This turns awkward for Hairy, the waiter, since he had assumed it was an anniversary of their marriage.
The title text is referring to a possible side-effect of chemotherapy drugs, the inability to concentrate. It could also just be the fact that the chemo can make you feel just terrible. When whatever effect kicks in, she loses the rest of their Scrabble games for that day. However, as we see in panel 5, there is a reason why she wins all of the first half of their games. But this is not enough, or she even forgets to play on the cancer, when the drugs takes effect.
Knit caps have only been used a few times in xkcd, most prominently on Knit Cap Girl in 1350: Lorenz, see her section for more details.
This strip is continued in 1928: Seven Years.
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée sit on a bed, Randall's fiancée is talking on the phone. The person she is talking to, a doctor holding a clipboard, is shown inset.]
- Randall's fiancée: Oh god.
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée sit together while Randall's fiancée, now bald, is receiving chemotherapy. They are both on their laptops.]
- IV pump: ... Beeep ... Beeep ... Beeep ...
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée (who is wearing a knit cap) are paddling a kayak against a scenic mountain backdrop.]
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée sit at a table, staring at a cell phone. There is a clock on the wall. Her head is stubbly.]
- Randall's fiancée: How long can it take to read a scan!?
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée are back at the hospital again, Randall's fiancée receiving chemo. They are playing Scrabble.]
- Randall: "Zarg" isn't a word.
- Randall's fiancée: But caaaancer.
- Randall: ...Ok, fine.
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée (wearing a knit cap) are listening to a Cueball-like friend. A large thought bubble is above their heads and it obscures the friends talk. The text below, split in three is the only part there can be no doubt about:]
- Friend: So next year you should come visit us up in the mounta
- Randall and Randall's fiancée (thinking): "Next year"
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée are getting married, with a heart above their heads. Randall's wife's hair is growing back.]
- [Randall and Randall's wife (wearing a knit cap) stand on a beach, watching a whale jump out of water.]
- [Randall's wife is sitting at a desk with her laptop standing on top of two books. Her hair has grown back a little more. Randall stands behind her.]
- Randall: Hey—
- Randall: you're doing science,
- Randall: and you're still alive.
- Randall's wife: Yeah!
- [Randall and Randall's wife sit under a tall tree on a hill.]
- Randall: It's really only been two years?
- Randall's wife: They were big years.
- [Randall and Randall's wife sit at a table in a fancy restaurant. Her hair has grown back even more. The waiter (Hairy) brings them a dish with a cover on it.]
- Waiter: Happy... Anniversary?
- Randall's wife: Biopsy-versary!
- Waiter: ...Eww.
While it is known that Randall's wife has since survived more than two years past the date of the invitation in Panel 6, it is unknown whether the invitation was later accepted, as the followup comic Seven Years does not seem to include a visit "up in the mountains" among its various other recreational activities. However, since it is possible that the invitation was made up for the comic in order to represent the worry over any invitation envisioning the future at that time, it is possible that it was never proposed as depicted in the comic. Therefore, the real life invitation(s) which inspired the inclusion of Panel 6 in the comic could perhaps have referred in real life to an activity that is actually depicted in Seven Years, or to some other activity, which then may or may not have been realized.
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There are no words to convey how awesome you guys are. Thank you.
Also, great Portal reference.
220.127.116.11 07:30, 30 November 2012 (UTC)
Flip cancer. Lost my mother-in-law to it and now my dad is undergoing chemo for stage IV lung cancer.
- Seconded. This strip hits close to home, even years after the fact. And given that of my parents and grandparents only one grandmother was not yet diagnosed with any type of cancer, both frequentist and Bayesian statisticians probably agree I should be cautious myself. 18.104.22.168 20:01, 30 November 2012 (UTC) madd
Did anyone else think the second to last panel was a couple who were sitting close to ground zero of a nuclear bomb? It took several glances to finally see a tree instead of a mushroom cloud. Sayno2quat (talk) 15:35, 30 November 2012 (UTC)
- When I first saw that panel from my peripheral vision, I also thought it was a mushroom cloud.CityZen (talk) 17:46, 30 November 2012 (UTC)
- Now that you mention it - on my monitor, before scrolling, I only swa the upper half of what looked indeed like a mushroom cloud. 22.214.171.124 19:45, 30 November 2012 (UTC) madd
- Agreed; the mushroom cloud was my first impression, too. And I hazard the guess that it was intentional: it's an apt metaphor of how your world seems to explode... -- IronyChef (talk) 14:02, 1 December 2012 (UTC)
The language of referring to Randall's girlfriend as "wife" before they were married is awkward.CityZen (talk) 17:47, 30 November 2012 (UTC)
- Ok, "partner" is slightly less awkward, but I think using "Cueball/Megan" instead of "Randall/Randall's partner" would be most consistent.CityZen (talk) 21:17, 30 November 2012 (UTC)
- +1 on s/Randall/Cueball/g (and s/(girlfriend|partner|wife)/Megan/gi) with an explanation that the comic very likely depicts real-world events in Randall's and (real-world) Megan's life. Though it might be tributary to make the inferential leap, I think would be entirely "unscientific" to do so (which is so unRandall...) It also reinforces the notion that this happens to many, many more couples: Randall and Megan are not unique in what they are experiencing, though Randall does an excellent job of illustrating just what they're going through. (And yes, I could just go and change it myself, but wanted to discuss beforehand.) -- IronyChef (talk) 14:02, 1 December 2012 (UTC)
- Wikis lack democracy. Somebody puts their foot down, and that's that. In any case, I think if someone is going to insist that these characters can only represent Randall and his wife Megan, it's odd and slightly disrespectful to never use her proper name.CityZen (talk) 01:29, 2 December 2012 (UTC)
- Crying out about social injustice is the adult version of screaming "Ouch!" when a parent grabs a child's arm to get their attention. Democracy is not do-what-you-want-to. Democracy is having a discussion and then acting upon the results of that discussion. There have been many discussions about having Randall in comics. The result was that whenever Randall decides to place himself in a comic, that we should honor that. So, instead of using a generic character he put himself and his wife into the comic. So, we honor that. We do not know the name of his wife, Randall is a very private person, we respect his privacy and only go by the information he gives out, and we don't make wild speculations, this is why we don't refer to her by (any) name; it's the most respectful thing we can do.
- To prevent vigilante edit warring I've locked the page. Now, if you think that the site should not recognize when Randall specifically puts himself in comics, then there is a reason to bring this discussion back to the table. lcarsos_a (talk) 05:45, 2 December 2012 (UTC)
- So why is this comic different from 881, 931, 933, and 996? There was consistency until 1141. Consistency is what's wanted in a Wiki.CityZen (talk) 05:39, 3 December 2012 (UTC)
- I believe those other comic is rather general, where this particular one has enough set of facts that specific to Randall's case. That said, I agree with you that consistency is good, having the character called Cueball and Megan and explicitly said that those represent Randall and his wife probably better. Arifsaha (talk) 16:48, 7 December 2012 (UTC)
- My two cents: As Arifsaha said, those other comics are general. Each is one scene demonstrating one situation or discussion, so Cueball/Megan could be any couple going through cancer treatments. In this case, quantity does matter in determining the significance of "evidence that this is Randall". There are so many scenes here that it's clear a very specific and personal story is being shared.
- Also, the title text usually is from Randall's perspective (obviously there are exceptions, but when the text is realistic, it's a safe assumption). Here it says "she", not "my wife", indicating that the person being referenced has already been introduced (i.e. is in the comic). Further linking the Randall text with the characters is the fact that it directly references the panel 5 scene, rather than: "related ideas that are not in the comic" (933/996), simple objective explanation (931), or a reference to a previous strip (881). So unless you want to argue that the title text is intended to be Cueball addressing the readers and not Randall, it seems like this is all about Randall & his wife. - jerodast (talk) 16:06, 22 December 2012 (UTC)
- As CityZen said above, consistency is good. It is not that we don't want to recognize Randall in the comic, but we probably want to recognize it in the way where we said that in this comic Cueball and Megan represent Randall and his wife. I imagine it is possible that a reader see other comic and start questioning why the characters were called Cueball and Megan in the other comic but called Randall and his wife in this comic. I believe it will be easier to simply consistently label the character Cueball and Megan, then explicitly and clearly said and explain that in this particular comic, Cueball and Megan represent Randall and his wife. Arifsaha (talk) 16:48, 7 December 2012 (UTC)
- Cueball and Megan do not represent Randall and his wife. Cueball and Megan are the everyman/woman (and usually not even that but the geekiest kind of every(wo)man). Now, if Randall were building a story arc that spanned 1000 comics I would believe that this was Cueball and Megan, in character, standing in for Randall's real life experience. But the fact is, Randall clearly marks when he intentionally has multiple comics that build directly upon each other, see Category:Comic series. If xkcd were a story driven web comic we'd have to point out that Cueball and Megan have been married several times, as well as been flirtatious with other characters, had children both in and out of wedlock. It's much more easily explained that this comic is Randall and his wife merely drawn "in the style of". Ignoring an unusually personal comic for the sake of consistent character naming seems absurd to me. lcarsos_a (talk) 17:50, 7 December 2012 (UTC)
- Also there is an established precedent for Randall's appearance in comics - he appears as an unadorned stick figure in all of them, despite clearly being Randall. Just because he looks like Cueball doesn't mean we need to call Randall "Cueball but really he's Randall this time". If anything that's even more confusing. Randall and Cueball both appear in (different) comics, and they're drawn the same. I'm sure people can handle that. - jerodast (talk) 16:06, 22 December 2012 (UTC)
Panel 3 is possible reference/inspiration for comic 1024: Error Code--Shine (talk) 18:56, 30 November 2012 (UTC)
- Given what we know from Randall's past two years, I would rather infer that comic 1024 was inspired by one of these activities as seen in panels 3 and 8. 126.96.36.199 19:43, 30 November 2012 (UTC) madd
- I was leaning towards the trip in panel 3 inspiring comic 1024 rather than referencing it as well. Shine (talk) 20:50, 30 November 2012 (UTC)
Sooo... Because the clipboard-holding character in the first panel is a woman, we assume she's a nurse instead of a doctor?
- Seriously the clipboard-holding character is much more likely to be a doctor than a nurse if they are communicating actual results of medical tests.--188.8.131.52 03:58, 6 December 2012 (UTC)Anonymous
- I agree, although, Randall went out of his way to draw a garment on her that has short sleeves, unlike a lab coat. However, doctors wear scrubs too. I'm changing it. - jerodast (talk) 15:22, 22 December 2012 (UTC)
Hey I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask questions, but I don't really get why the waiter says eww at the end? Thanks in advance! Love this site! -- 184.108.40.206 (talk) 12:29, 6 December 2012 (UTC) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- The waiter says "eww" at the end because, instead of celebrating a wedding anniversary (or similar) which is what he is expecting, the couple are celebrating a "biopsy-versary". It's the contrast between the mental image of what happens in a biopsy with the emotions of what is normally expected when celebrating an anniversary (eg wedding anniversary as opposed to cutting-a-hole-in-you anniversary).220.127.116.11 03:38, 7 December 2012 (UTC)
- It's the equivalent of "yuck" and similar expressions of moderate gross-out. 18.104.22.168 09:34, 7 December 2012 (UTC)
Can we get a Cancer series tag on some of these comics? There have been a lot of them, after all. --Jimmy C (talk) 14:10, 11 December 2012 (UTC)
- Down at the bottom, there's a section that lists the categories this page is in. The Cancer category has been there since this page was created. Also, please add comments in chronological order. lcarsos_a (talk) 14:19, 11 December 2012 (UTC)
Since my mother has just made her 27th biopsy-versary, my sympathies, prayers and best hopes are with anyone who has won someone from, lost someone to, is fighting or is fighting with someone, any form of Cancer.
Which is, pretty much everyone; is this forum, with Randall in particular.
Paulo Sedrez 22.214.171.124 20:35, 7 January 2013 (UTC)
the first few frames got me... ;_; 126.96.36.199 03:03, 22 February 2013 (UTC)
I do not know if this is a Scary Thought, but, in IV machines, a long beep repeating itself (for example, the 2nd panel here) means that either the IV machine had finished its infusion or there in an occlusion (which means that the flow from the bag to the vein was cut off somehow, a problem that can be inflicted by simply moving the tube in a way that bends or even folds the tube). If an occlusion occurs, a nurse would need to fix the problem (in my example case: re-'straighten' the tube) and very painfully push the fluid into the vein until the gap caused the occlusion disappears into the vein. Greyson (talk) 20:50, 15 April 2013 (UTC)
I would assume panel 8 depicts their honeymoon since it follows directly after the wedding panel. -j 188.8.131.52 14:18, 8 August 2013 (UTC)
- Yeah. I added it.–St.nerol (talk) 23:45, 8 August 2013 (UTC)
It's been four years since I first read this comic. I still tear up a little each time I get to the "still alive" panel. 184.108.40.206 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Is it just me, or does Randall appear to be performing a biopsy on his dinner in panel 11? Anonymous 03:57, 14 December 2017 (UTC)