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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Word Puzzles
Eno's storied aria was once soloed by Judge Lance Ito on the alto oboe at Ohio's AirAsia Arena.
Title text: Eno's storied aria was once soloed by Judge Lance Ito on the alto oboe at Ohio's AirAsia Arena.

Explanation

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This is another comic where Randall presents his hobby of fooling other people. Cueball knows that Megan is a word game enthusiast and - while both are probably at a party - he presents a complex sentence rather than just doing small talk. And he is successful as we can see that she is just thinking about the proper solution to that puzzle.

The dialog, caption, and title text contain many words that appear frequently in crossword puzzle answers because they fit well with intersecting words, in part because they have a high density of vowels. Some of the terms (parts of, start of) are also commonly used in cryptic crossword clues to indicate that nearby words should be combined or split to create an answer.

Brian Eno is an English musician, composer, record producer, singer, writer, and visual artist. He is best known for his pioneering work in ambient music and contributions to rock, pop, electronic, and generative music. He was born on 15 May 1948, and is still an active artist. But live concerts by him were rare and may not happen ever again. However, the aria was not written by himself but by his au pair who is also an opera star. And this happened after Eno ended his live career.

The title text goes further on this puzzle and asserts that Lance Ito was playing the aria solo on an oboe at the fictive Ohio's AirAsia Arena. Ito is well known as the judge in the O. J. Simpson murder case.

The kind of puzzle that Megan thinks she is solving is called a "Cryptic", which has markedly different rules than ordinary crosswords. If Cueball's statement had been "Part of this aria is an Indian garment" the answer would have been "sari", because a part of the phrase "this aria" is the sequence "sari", which in turn is an Indian garment. Cueball's actual statement contains quite a few familiar cryptic puzzle triggers. The word "composed" can be a hint of a preceding or following anagram, in this case of "this aria" or of "by Brian" or of even longer adjacent strings. Although "opera star" could be a famous singer, say "Caruso", it might also be the name of an opera followed by the name of an astronomical star. "Au pair" could be any of its ordinary meanings, say "nanny", but might also be "earrings" (because AU is the chemical symbol for gold, and a gold pair could be earrings). The word "start" is often a hint to take just the beginning of a word, so "the start" would be "t", or "start of his" would be "h" or "hi". The New York Times runs a cryptic crossword as its "second Sunday puzzle" every other month or so, and there are other regular cryptic crossword venues. There are various guides on the web for solving cryptics, such as this one at The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/puzzclue.htm.

Transcript

[Cueball and Megan standing together. He makes some gestures with his hand and some musical notes are above him while Megan holds her fist before her mouth.]
Cueball: Parts of this aria were composed by Brian Eno's Opera Star au pair at the start of his post-live era.
Megan (thinking): ...parts...start...eno...aria...
[Caption below the frame:]
My hobby: Messing with word game enthusiasts by using words that make them sure there's a puzzle to solve


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