1229: Screensaver

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I'm entering my 24th year of spending eight hours a day firing the Duck Hunt gun at the flying toasters. I'm sure I'll hit one soon.
Title text: I'm entering my 24th year of spending eight hours a day firing the Duck Hunt gun at the flying toasters. I'm sure I'll hit one soon.


This comic features the "Starfield" screensaver, a popular Windows screensaver of the 1990s, which presents a moving starfield, like what would be seen by an observer moving past stars at superluminal speeds (see a video example). This illusion is generally created by drawing white dots on the computer screen, and then moving these dots outwards towards the edge of the screen before disappearing. Some of the "stars" appear to pass closer to the viewing point than others, resulting in movements of visually greater speeds, and more excitement; one can also fixate the center of the screen, hoping to see the appearance of a star as close as possible to it, which would later on pass very close to the viewpoint. This comic extends it to the situation where the observer actually collides with one of these stars, something that never happens with screensavers of this type. The "signal lost" error message appears because the source of the signal is no longer transmitting, since it was destroyed when colliding with said star. It appears that the screensaver was generated by a real spacecraft taking pictures of the space.

The "Duck Hunt gun" is a reference to the NES Zapper used with the Nintendo Entertainment System game Duck Hunt, originally published in 1984. The user would point the Zapper at the connected television screen while playing Duck Hunt, and the NES would recognize whether or not the zapper was pointed at an appropriate target or not. "Flying Toasters" is another old screensaver (in the After Dark package, made for computers but not for the NES). In the title text, Randall states that he is trying to use the NES Zapper to shoot down flying toasters. However, the Flying Toaster screensaver and the NES Zapper are two separate things that were never meant to be used together, so the flying toasters will never react to being "shot" at by the NES Zapper.


I've been staring at the screen every night for twenty years, and it finally happened.
[A star field.]
[The same star field, but there's a larger white dot glowing in the middle.]
[The same star field, but that larger white dot's looking bigger now. Oh. It's clearly a star.]
[The screen is filled with white. It's coming straight for us.]
[The screen is filled with static.]
signal lost

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This is my first time contributing to the site and my first time posting a comic up. If I've missed something, then please let me know. Thanks. --James Chin (talk) 07:02, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

Thanks for your contribution. You did forget to add the comic at the [List of all comics] and the redirect for the title was missing. I've done this right now.--Dgbrt (talk) 10:18, 24 June 2013 (UTC)
Yeah, thanks a lot! Everything is always perfectible (as is my rewording of your explanation), but your explanation was quite complete on the first shot, and that's the main added value here. So you got the essentials right Face-smile.svg (and you're welcome to do it again on new comics or incomplete ones). - Cos (talk) 12:50, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

I can't stop thinking that the last panel is not "noise" but a binary coded message/file. It seems just enough compressed/unsharp to make it possible to read out every pixel as a bit, and perhaps there is some kind of "datafile" with error correction? Anybody tought about that? -- 07:22, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

In all likelihood, it's a message from an alien race that roughly translates into 'lorum ipsum dolor' 19:42, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

How do you know it is Cueball who tries to shoot the flying toasters? -- (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Why StarTrek? In my experience, in StarTrek the stars are lines instead of dots, therefore the look is different. -- Hkmaly (talk) 08:43, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

The Buck Rogers TV series of the late 70s/early 80s had a star field zoom for the closing credits -- the thing about it was that the "stars" would actually hit the screen and get stuck there, rendering it more of a zooming-through-a-snow-storm effect than a naive-traveling-through-space effect. It always bothered me at the time as showing how cheap the show was. I think later I actually came to find the effect rather pretty...

It's probably quite unlikely to collide with a star like that, wouldn't it be much more likely to pass near enough to enter an orbit?-- 14:25, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

Anything travelling fast enough for the stars to be moving by like that would have way too much energy to be captured into an orbit around the star. Trajectory altered, yes, but not captured. 15:23, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

Technically, the Zapper gun would end up detecting a target, because the gun itself was just a light/darkness binary detector. When you triggered the gun, the videogame displayed for a split second a black/white pattern in the screen so the gun would detect if you were pointing at the target. So eventually the gun would detect the white of the flying toaster (if well aimed) or the black background (if bad aimed) and respond that a duck was hit. -- lvps1000vm 15:20, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

My take was that one of the "stars" went supernova, which you might see if you watched the sky every night for 20 year, and the final panel would be the result of overwhelming radiation. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Someone is probably writing a program to make the zapper actually usable to shoot down the toasters as we speak. Also, it's somewhat unrelated as I really see no hint of it in the comic, but a screen similar to this screensaver appears at the end of Final Fantasy VII. 17:38, 25 June 2013 (UTC)

A Zapper that work with the toasters would be good, but what we really need is a starfield screensaver that does what the comic does, ending in a collision with a flaming fireball of awesome. Hippyjim (talk) 22:06, 25 June 2013 (UTC)

I would have to assume that the impetus for this comic came from the recent supermoon on June 23. I would have added that to the explanation, but I'm not sure if speculation (even when it's highly likely) belongs. -- imvintage 25 June 2013 (UTC)

This comic reminds me of a recent post at http://what-if.xkcd.com/47/ (signed: 21:57, 25 June 2013 (UTC))
Oh, that SUPERMOON... It's just a gap filler for the press at science sections (even NASA did), but nobody would recognize when looking at the sky. The Moon is always "big" when it's close to the horizon, but this is just a human imagination. My 13% cents. --Dgbrt (talk) 22:42, 25 June 2013 (UTC)

Hi there, I would guess instead of the star hitting, the monitor just crashed and that's why the signal was lost. Regards, Roy. 06:51, 27 June 2013 (UTC)

Twenty years? That would mean he starting staring at the screen in the 1980s. I would really doubt the starfield screensaver existed then. Xyz (talk) 14:35, 15 July 2013 (UTC)

Please check your calender. The current year is 2013, which makes 1993 20 years ago. --Chtz (talk) 14:39, 15 July 2013 (UTC)
Makes you feel old, doesn't it? 14:17, 19 July 2013 (UTC)
The fact that this comic came out more than two years ago, makes me feel old. --Chtz (talk) 14:49, 19 July 2013 (UTC)

Supernova? Supermoon? Monitor crashed? A signal in the noise? No, No, No and Apophenia. You are viewing the Microsoft Starfield screensaver, apparently flying through a dense field of stars at immense speed. In the screensaver, the idea of colliding with a star is not modeled. In this comic, it is. The star that we are heading towards appears to get larger and larger, and the presence of sunspots makes it clear what we are seeing, and that the star is not itself changing. The final panel depicts what would appear if the screensaver image was not computer-generated, but was actually being transmitted by a camera. When the ship carrying the camera hits the star, the transmission of video will most likely end, hence 'signal lost'. Now, was that so hard? 18:21, 7 January 2014 (UTC)

I think we need to really look in to the fact that the last image had some sort of hidden message on the static 18:39, 14 January 2016 (UTC)

 @ Possibly “Signal lost”?