Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search

xkcd is a webcomic drawn by Randall Munroe, hosted at xkcd.com. It focuses on science, mathematics, computers, and general geekiness, told with a light, quirky sense of humor, and at times profound philosophizing. Its art style is minimalist, told through simple stick figures. New comics are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with each comic accompanied with title text serving as Randall's commentary.


[edit] History

xkcd began as a series of Randall Munroe's hand-drawn sketches which were first posted on Randall's LiveJournal account named xkcd_drawings. The first sketches were posted Friday, September 30, 2005. Randall posted 13 sketches that night from 8:34 pm to 8:46 pm. Most comics were titled and accompanied by a comment from Randall (similar to what would become the title text in xkcd). The 8:40 pm post, now comic 24: Godel, Escher, Kurt Halsey, included the first link to xkcd.com in respect of a comic strip drawn during a NASA lecture (see more under the [[24:_Godel,_Escher,_Kurt_Halsey#Trivia|trivia]} of that strip.

The next post was on Sunday, October 2, 2005 in which Randall indicated that he would begin posting comics on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (the post, made just before midnight, was Monday's drawing). xkcd has generally been posted on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule ever since, other than during the 2005 winter break between December 5, 2005 and January 4, 2006 when no comics were posted.

Randall posted comics on LiveJournal until Monday, January 30, 2006, when Randall announced that he would be posting his comics on xkcd.com and had set up an RSS feed and an automated posting method with the help of someone named Derek. Randall created a syndicated RSS feed account for LiveJournal called "xkcd_rss". The original LiveJournal account was therefore no longer necessary and would be shut down. The next post, on Sunday, April 23, 2006, advised that Randall was about to delete the original LiveJournal account, and credited "davean" for helping with the automated posting script. For unknown reasons, all of the comics originally posted only on LiveJournal (i.e. before January 1, 2006) were all dated January 1, 2006 when the comics were subsequently posted on xkcd.com, and the strip numbering of those comics are not all in the same order as originally posted on the LiveJournal account. From 45: Schrodinger the next 11 comics were posted both on xkcd and on LiveJournal, but one of the comics ,54: Science, were released out of order, making the order wrong from 51: Malaria up to Science. The original order on LiveJournal can be found on this list: Category:Comics posted on livejournal. The last comic to be released on both sites had the same release day: 55: Useless. And the next comic was the first to be released only on xkcd: 56: The Cure.

When comics were archived at xkcd.com, they were given numbers which did not match the order in which the strips were originally posted to LiveJournal. As it is currently numbered, xkcd premieres with Barrel - Part 1 - the first part of a five-part story whose parts were distributed amongst the first thirty-one strips. Following the premiere strip, five of the next seven strips are simply one-panel sketches with no hidden meaning or comic purpose. One is clearly marked as a sketch from Randall's 11th grade Spanish class which was originally the first sketch posted on the LiveJournal account. This comic clearly was a scanned pencil sketch with slightly-askew graph-paper grid visible. 1. Not that both the original number one and the current number one was posted on the first day on live journal.

The light-blue grid on the checkered paper Randall had used for most of his drawings were a part of the style of early xkcd. The first comic 1: Barrel - Part 1 did not use it, but then only four other comics of those posted on LiveJournal did not use this pattern. They are 15: Just Alerting You, 24: Godel, Escher, Kurt Halsey, 38: Apple Jacks and 42: Geico. The grid evolved to the point where in some strips in only appeared without the outlines of the individual panels of a strip. It is clear that some of the drawings were drawn on checkered paper originally and the grid was scanned in, but it is unclear whether some had the grid added digitally to match the others. But that would be weird given the five comics without this grid. In a few comics the grid is black and on some the grid was faint as if it was poorly scanned or Randall had attempted to erase it (he noted having done this on 11: Barrel - Part 2).

The last comic (by number) to use the grid was 44: Love, which was actually posted relatively early on the LiveJournal account but received a high number when the comics were renumbered. The last comic by date to use gridlines was 39: Bowl, although even these comics may have been posted on LiveJournal out of order. The faint remains of gridlines in comics 26: Fourier and 27: Meat Cereals suggest that Randall may have erased gridlines in these and other comics as well. In 2012, Randall revived the blue grid as a background image for what if?.

Similarly, the art process has evolved. The first comics appear to have been physical sketches (pencil or ink) which were scanned and directly posted; although some comics occasionally featured a digitally added caption. The first comic that appears to have had digital inking and effects (although it could also just be a different physical medium) is 23: T-shirts. The comics continued to be hand drawn, and hand lettered, with possibly a bit more digital polish. The comic slowly evolved to apparently become entirely digitally inked and lettered. Although early comics included sentence-case text, beginning with comic 90: Jacket, Randall began using all-caps (although it took several strips for the all-caps to become the standard format).

[edit] Style

xkcd comics are usually plain, black-and-white line drawings, featuring stick figures, some of whom form a cast of recurring characters. From time to time, Randall posts things that aren't his every-day comics, but does something a little above-and-beyond. Whether it's a case of user-interactivity, leveraging certain behaviors of HTTP or the graphic medium, or even just commemorating the passing of an influential person, these few comics stand apart from the usual Cueball and Megan antics.

[edit] Meaning of "xkcd"

According to the xkcd FAQ, the name "xkcd" is "not actually an acronym. It's just a word with no phonetic pronunciation -- a treasured and carefully-guarded point in the space of four-character strings."

However, it has been noted ([1]) that if each letter of the alphabet is mapped to 1 through 26, the sum of the values for X, K, C, and D is equal to 42. The value may be significant since this is the answer given to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything by the supercomputer in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In April 2005 the film adaptation opened, the same year in which Randall later posted his first comics to LiveJournal. The book is also referenced in 548: Kindle.

See also 207: What xkcd Means.

[edit] Transcript on xkcd

Most comics on xkcd have a transcript posted on xkcd. On the about page on xkcd this is explained under:

Is there an interface for automated systems to access comics and metadata?

His example in general is to the transcript for comic 614, 614: Woodpecker, which can be found on this address:


Just change the number in the address to go to any other comics info. On this page is also the title text.

Today's comic has this page on this link:


The transcript is not the same as the one used on these pages, which also includes names only used on Explain xkcd and more details of the images etc. And many comics with Large drawings is not transcribed on xkcd.

The last transcript that can be found as mentioned above is for 1608: Hoverboard:


After that a mistake evolved in the combination of transcripts with the other details. There are no transcript for the next two comics after Hoverboard, only the details like title, date and title text. But then after that the transcript returned, but now it was for the comic released two numbers before. So the transcript for 1609: Food Combinations, which should have been here:


is first "released" here:


where the transcript for 1611: Baking Soda and Vinegar should have been.

So far the last comic with a transcript like this seems to be 1674: Adult, with the transcript three comics later under 1677: Contrails here:


So it had shifted one more comic since the first error.

After this page there seems to be no more transcripts (not tested through, just checking several from that and up till the day of this post where 1788: Barge was the last released comic). So it is no longer of any help with the transcript.

[edit] Footer comics

Five footer comics has been used at the bottom of xkcd almost from the beginning after only xkcd.com was used to post comics.

They are likely selected to give a broad specter of the content and most likely are to some of Randall's own favorites (or users favorites).

They have changed at least twice since the first was used back in February 2006 before they changed a third time to the current five comics in August 2010.

[edit] Warning and footnote

At the bottom of the xkcd page there was a warning for most of the first ten and a half years, and below that there was, since 2007 a footnote. Both has been removed, but a new footnote has appeared. See the links for more information.

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?