17: What If

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Not to be confused with the what if? blog.
What If
I once made an anniversary card for my then-girlfriend with this layout.
Title text: I once made an anniversary card for my then-girlfriend with this layout.


This comic features a man and a woman in a romantic setting, surrounded by a fractal combination of love and doubts; an arrangement based on the Apollonian gasket construction. Three circles are drawn tangent to each other, then additional circles are added that are tangent to three existing circles (without overlapping), ad infinitum.

Randall's character design wasn't yet fully settled. Considering that Megan arguably was introduced two comics ago, and that the man has some hair, the couple might or might not be interpreted as Cueball and Megan.

Randall's later blog and book have the same name, What If?, though with very different meaning.


[A large black circle with white bubbles inside it, filled with hearts, question marks, and stick figure couples. The hearts are colored red.]
[Bottom left circle - stick figure couple with a heart]
[Top right circle - with couple:]
what if this isn't everything it should be?
[Two circles left of top-right:]
i'm not even sure how i feel
[One circle right of top-right:]
what if i'm making a mistake?


"One of my best friends just got engaged.
I really, truly think they're going to be very happy together."
  • This comic was posted on xkcd when the web site opened on Sunday the 1st of January 2006.
    • It was posted along with all 41 comics posted before that on LiveJournal as well as a few others.
    • The latter explaining why the numbers of these 41 LiveJournal comics ranges from 1-44.
  • One of the original drawings drawn on checkered paper.
  • The title this comic received when posted on xkcd is almost the same title (except the "?") as the book/webpage: what if?

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


We can infer that it ultimately wasn't everything it should be? Firstly, then-girlfriend could also mean current wife (remember the title text is Randall speaking, not Cueball).

Also, I think that the Fractal nature of the card is to reflect that all these questions, and the actual attraction depicted pictorially, will always be a part of the relationship, staying the same at all "levels" - which, to me, IS the romance.

Randall wrote "then-girlfriend" in 2005-2006, and only got married in 2011. 21:14, 12 October 2012 (UTC)

How is it known that Sarah and Scott are the ones that got married? It's not on the LiveJournal post or in the comic/title text. For that matter, Sarah is only "mentioned" on two pages, this one in un-cited trivia, and another in one-off dialogue; how is it known she's even a friend of Randall's? Would love to either add this information to their pages if it's supported, or remove the clutter if it's unsubstantiated. - jerodast (talk) 13:06, 21 December 2012 (UTC)

I've removed the line "The various subideas within seem to echo elements of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics" from the explanation. I understand there are questions where different answers may result in the relationship ending or continuing (creating two branches of the many-worlds tree), but the topic of being unsure of a relationship crops up in a number of other comics, and I don't see that there is any link to quantum mechanics or the many world interpretation. Randall, having a very analytical mind, simply extends his analysis to his relationships where there are not necessarily concrete answers. (See 55: Useless, 523: Decline, 584: Unsatisfied, and others I can't be bothered to look up right now). If anyone disagrees, go ahead and reinstate the line, but please also include reasoning as to why it applies. --Pudder (talk) 08:27, 22 October 2014 (UTC)

Personal tools


It seems you are using noscript, which is stopping our project wonderful ads from working. Explain xkcd uses ads to pay for bandwidth, and we manually approve all our advertisers, and our ads are restricted to unobtrusive images and slow animated GIFs. If you found this site helpful, please consider whitelisting us.

Want to advertise with us, or donate to us with Paypal?