Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Title text: Here in the entomology department, we have a simple two-step formula for answering any question: (1) ants are cool, and (2) we forgot the question because we were thinking about ants.
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A university student (Cueball) goes to his advisor (Hair Bun Girl) because he is uncertain about his choices for grad school. However she doesn't advise him about academic matters, but instead talks about ants, specifically the ability of fire ants to join together to form floating rafts in case of flooding. This is of course pretty cool, but not helpful. So Cueball asks what lesson he should learn from this. The advisor just states that Ants are so cool. Correctly Cueball states that she is not big on metaphors, as there was none hidden in her first statement. She continues to tell him what she is big on: Ants.
This humor relies on a tendency to use a particular phasing to incite corresponding modes of thought. An example of the phrase 'consider the' can be found in Monty Python's Life of Brian, or in the Biblical reference on which that sketch was based. While some uses of the phrase 'consider the' indicate simple taking notice, such as 'consider the source', the phrasing 'consider the noun' as a sentence typically indicates deeper contemplation of the metaphor being offered. When Hair Bun Girl says "Consider the fire ant." as a sentence, it appears to be phrasing to invite metaphorical interpretation but by the end of the comic Cueball has realized it was not.
In the title text we learn that the advisor belongs to the entomology department (making her an entomologist - i.e. someone who studies insects). In that department they have a two-step formula to answer any questions. It won't help you much because all you will learn is that ants are cool and then they have forgotten anything else you told them while thinking of ants.
Or perhaps entomology is a red herring: Somebody noticed that fire ants is an anagram of fine arts.
A university student (Cueball) is meeting with (Hair Bun Girl) for some advice concerning his second thoughts about grad school. Her response begins with a popular reference from the Bible concerning ants; however, she specifically narrows in on the sub-family of fire ants. The book of Proverbs is a self-proclaimed book on receiving wisdom and instruction to be made wise. Thus, her response appears to begin as an instruction to him in response to his question. The proverb in particular she appears to begin quoting instructs the lazy person to consider the ant who prepares for the desolation of winter by providing during the bounty of summer despite not having to be have to told so. The assumption by the reader would be that she is going to compare Cueball to a lazy person and instruct him to prepare for the later years (winter of life) by studying now while he is young (summer of life). However, after the initial phrase she instead discusses a cool fact about fire ants. Continuing in the vein of the joke, that Hair Bun Girl was going to use a Proverb to instruct, Cueball asks her what lesson he is supposed to take away. To which she replies with her fascination for ants. The last exchange between the two seems to imply that the expected metaphor would have had as much effect on Cueball to continue grad school as an excited rant about fire ants or perhaps it expresses that Hair Bun Girl finds more instruction in the study of the natural world than in ancient writings. In either case, it is left unanswered as to whether her argument was enough to answer Cueball's dilemma.
The title text is usually a secondary joke to the panels. Whereas a reader may have assumed that Cueball went to meet with a University adviser, we find in the title text that he was actually in the entomology department. It is reasonable to assume that his grad studies are in entomology and he was meeting with a professor who is a close friend or acts as a career mentor. Thus, her discourse on fire ants may have been to persuade Cueball that his grad studies in entomology where well worth continuing because of the exciting nature of the field of study. This would be achieving the intent of the Proverb she appeared to quote (convincing Cueball to continue life preparations by finishing grad school) although she discarded its wording. In almost an immediate and seemingly bizarre contradiction, she chalks up her strange rambling on fire ants as just a formula that all entomology personnel use when asked any question. This would imply that the answer Cueball received had literally nothing to do with his question or situation he was in and any similarity to being a meaningful answer or even a proverb of instruction was purely coincidental and unintended.
Fascinating facts about ants
- It is, however, very likely that Randall is fascinated by ants (he is fascinated by a lot of cool stuff…)
- In his celebration game for his new book 1608: Hoverboard, there is a scene in the Star Destroyer were Cueball is talking to a giant ant queen:
- Cueball: What's up?
- Ant queen: The usual. Poopin' out ants.
- Cueball: Eww.
- The queen can lay millions of eggs and she controls all the other ants.
- All the working ants are female.
- Weaver ants weave their colonies using larvae silk.
- Leafcutter ants cut of leafs to bring home to feed to their live stock... A fungus that they in turn eat. Thus making them the first farmers on Earth, millions of years before humans even existed.
- Army ants are known (and feared) for their aggressive raids.
- There are ants enough on earth to fill more than 100 football stadiums to the brim. (At least according to footnote 2 of the what if? no. 73: Lethal Neutrinos).
- [Cueball is talking to Hair Bun Girl, an advisor, who is sitting behind a desk.]
- Cueball: I'm having second thoughts about grad school and could use some advice.
- [Same setting as before. The animated advisor talks while gesticulating with her hands.]
- Advisor: Consider the fire ant.
- Advisor: When there's a flood, fire ants survive by joining together into giant floating rafts.
- [Cueball is just standing there in the next beat-panel]
- [Back to the first setting but in a larger frame.]
- Cueball: Wait, what lesson am I supposed to take from that?
- Advisor: Ants are so cool!
- Cueball: ...You're not big on metaphors, are you.
- Advisor: I am big on ants.
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