This comic shows a graph in which several "mysteries" are mentioned and placed on the graph according to how weird they are on the x-axis and the y-axis indicates whether Randall has an explanation or not for the mystery. Each item is listed in the table below.
The title text refers to the mystery of Randall staying up late to read Wikipedia articles, when he was already supposed to be asleep an hour ago. This is apparently not very unusual for him (see for instance 214: The Problem with Wikipedia). And this mystery actually has an obvious explanation: Following up on an idea that eventually led to today's cartoon.
The X axis in the graph indicates weirdness. The table assumes that the item to the far left is 0% (not that weird) and the item to the far right is 100% (weird as hell). The Y axis indicates if Randall has an explanation. The table assumes that the item at the bottom is 100% (Randall has a clear explanation) and the item at the top is 0% (Randall has no explanation).
||On 8 March 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cut off radio contact and diverted from its flight path with 227 passengers aboard, eventually heading over open ocean, eventually crashing in a remote part of the Indian Ocean. The disappearance remains without explanation, although parts were found on Reunion Island in July 2015.
|Lead masks case
||In 1966 two Brazilian electronic technicians were found dead on a hill top. No injuries. Both were wearing lead masks. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the men may have died of drug overdoses, believing that they were able to communicate with aliens.
|Salish Sea feet
||Over a dozen dismembered human feet were found between 2007 and 2016 on the coasts of the Salish Sea in British Columbia (Canada) and Washington (United States).
||D. B. Cooper was an airplane hijacker who jumped from a plane after successfully extorting a large ransom in 1971. The man's whereabouts remain unknown to this day, though some of the ransom money has been recovered. Previously referenced in 1400: D.B. Cooper which compares Cooper to film director Tommy Wiseau. Note that this "Mysteries" comic was published shortly after Tommy Wiseau did a Reddit AMA.
|The WOW signal
||The Wow! signal was a strong and clean radio transmission near 1420 MHz received by the Big Ear Radio Observatory at Ohio State University in 1977 that appears to have originated from interstellar space. This is the strongest evidence to date of radio signals transmitted by extraterrestrial intelligent beings.
||The Mary Celeste was a sailing ship found adrift off the Azores Islands, mysteriously abandoned yet otherwise undisturbed, in 1872. Most likely the crew abandoned ship, wrongly believing it was in danger. Its name has become a watchword for mysteriously abandoned ships.
||UVB-76 is a mysterious shortwave radio station, Possibly serving as a numbers station, apparently originating from Russia, that has broadcast a monotonous buzz tone since 1982 with occasional other content.
|Who Carly Simon is singing about in You're So Vain
||The ironically self-referential lyrics of the 1972 song include "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you." There has been much speculation regarding the person or persons to whom Simon was referring.
||A set of letters were written by the so-called Zodiac Killer, a serial killer who was active in California in the 1960s and 1970s. The letters are available at Wikisource. Some of the letters are encoded, only some of which have been deciphered. The killings remain unsolved.
|Dyatlov Pass incident
||On 2 February 1959, nine skiers in the northern Ural Mountains apparently fled their tents naked. They were found dead, some with physical injuries. Considering his skepticism towards paranormal, conspiracies, or UFO-related phenomena, it is likely that Randall subscribes to the theory that the unusual physical injuries are the natural result of decomposition, and that the nudity of the hikers was due to 'paradoxical undressing' - which occurs in some cases with hypothermia.
|Kentucky meat shower
||In 1876, a number of chunks of meat fell from the sky in Kentucky; this was possibly projectile vomit from vultures.
||The Lindbergh kidnapping was the kidnapping and murder of 20-month old Charles Lindbergh Jr. in 1932. Various conspiracy theories surround the event.
||The Roanoke Colony was the first English attempt to establish a permanent settlement in the New World. The colony of over a hundred settlers disappeared some time in the late 1580s, with no signs of violence and no definitive evidence as to what happened. However, given the hardships faced by the colonists when they were left and that the buildings in the colony were dismantled, indicating departure was not hurried, it is likely they moved and/or integrated with the local tribes. Which probably accounts for Randall's high "explainable" rating. (See title text of 950: Mystery Solved)
||Toynbee tiles are colorful tiles with cryptic messages that have been found embedded in asphalt in the streets of various midwestern-to-eastern cities in the United States and four South American cities. Analysis has shown that they are linoleum and tarpaper, laid on hot days and pressed into the soft road surface by passing cars.
||Amelia Earhart and her navigator tried to circumnavigate the earth along the equator in a small airplane in 1937, but disappeared over the Pacific Ocean without any trace. See also 950: Mystery Solved.
||Jimmy Hoffa was an American labor union leader who disappeared in 1975. He is widely believed to have been murdered. (See title text of 950: Mystery Solved). Randall marks this as very much not weird, because Hoffa was heavily involved in organized crime - however he was killed, the motive seems clear.
||The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system. It came to public attention in the early 20th century and probably was written in Italy in the early 15th century. See also 593: Voynich Manuscript.
|Loch Ness monster
||The Loch Ness Monster is a supposed animal that reputedly inhabits Loch Ness, a lake in Scotland. Multiple complete scans of the lake using sonar show no evidence of the monster, and the lake ecosystem is far too small to support even a single creature as large as the monster is alleged to be.
||Bigfoot is a supposed animal or hominid that reputedly inhabits the Pacific Northwest region of North America. The best piece of evidence for Bigfoot, the Patterson–Gimlin film, retains some mystery - scientists are divided as to whether it's possible for a person in a suit to mimic the walk of the creature in the film - but contains so many features not seen on any real ape (for instance, dark palms and hairy breasts) that few scientists take it seriously. More generally, no corpses or skeletons have ever been found, despite the presence of logging crews in many places where Bigfoots have been seen, and fur and droppings always turns out to be human or from another animal.
||The 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy has inspired many conspiracy theories, beginning almost immediately after the event. The subsequent murder of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald added fuel to the fire by encouraging speculation that he was silenced to cover up the true story. Many of the details that were initially considered weird - for instance, the path of the bullet, which early analysis showed had flown in a strange curve, audio recordings of multiple shots, and discrepancies in Lee Harvey Oswald's life story - have been found to be erroneous. In particular, careful analysis of the positions of Kennedy and Governor John Connally, who was riding in the car with Kennedy and was also struck by the bullet, show that a single bullet could have caused all the wounds suffered by the two men.
|Oak Island money pit
||An indentation in the ground on Oak Island (off the east coast of Nova Scotia, Canada), led to over 200 years of treasure hunting, with the excavations repeatedly hampered by flooding pit collapses. A few flagstones, and periodic layers of logs are all that have been found. Rumours abound as to what it conceals: Marie Antoinnette's jewels, pirate treasure and Shakespeare's manuscripts have all been suggested. It is called The Money Pit, because of all the money that has been wasted in trying to solve the mystery.
|Why I keep putting ice cream back in the fridge instead of the freezer
||Apparently, Randall absent-mindedly puts his ice cream container into the refrigerator rather than into the freezer.
Here's a list of wikipedia links I compiled that will be useful for anyone wanting to update this page. http://www.reddit.com/r/xkcd/comments/2zog5d/xkcd_1501_mysteries/cpktray 22.214.171.124 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
And I've got a solar eclipse to see (explainable, but weird!) but I started to compile things. Haven't got any links sorted yet, and percentages are (badly) done by eye. If someone does it better, ignore it.
126.96.36.199 09:33, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
- (Whoops, pasted the flatfile format version by accident, in my rush, rather than the more Wikifriendly one that I discarded. Commenting it out until/unless I redo it. But you should still be able to see the details via the Talk Edit pages if you're bothered. Oh, and there was really too much cloud to see the eclipse for what it was. 188.8.131.52 10:29, 20 March 2015 (UTC))
- I dropped the image into our CAD system and plotted the point co-ordinates. I've filled in the resulting percentages, which should be somewhere about right with a little rounding. --Pudder (talk) 10:35, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
- Exactly right. (Although I didn't read the zero/zero crossing point is supposed to be maybe 50% on both scales, but instead ±zero. Still, doesn't matter. And perhaps displays/sorts better.) And looks like I don't need to recover my formatted notes after all. 184.108.40.206 11:19, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
220.127.116.11 09:49, 20 March 2015 (UTC) XKCD has explained the Voynich Manuscript before: http://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/593:_Voynich_Manuscript
- XKCD has also 'explained' DB Cooper before (1400: D.B. Cooper) if that is worth mentioning. 18.104.22.168 12:06, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
I have to wonder if Randall has ever seen http://keithledgerwood.com/post/79838944823/did-malaysian-airlines-370-disappear-using and if so, whether he simply doesn't believe it. Not to sabotage his 100%-100% example if he wants to keep it there, but I'd put it at only 50% weird and 10% unexplainable. 22.214.171.124 14:02, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
- Oh lawdy, the tinfoil hat brigade has arrived. 126.96.36.199
Anyone else reminded of Fuck Grapefruit? 188.8.131.52 00:19, 24 March 2015 (UTC)
- Carly Simon
The Carly Simon explanation includes the text "This sets up a paradox in which the song is and isn't about the vain person." This isn't correct. The song is definitely about the person. Carly is thus asserting that the subject's vanity will lead him to a correct interpretation of the song. Going to change the explanation. EverVigilant (talk) 14:51, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
I don't see why this is on Randall's chart. The Wikipedia article is all the explanation the world needs. And Warren Beatty's reaction to the song simply seals it for me. No Big Deal. Move On. – tbc (talk) 18:41, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
The Carly Simon song is about Carly Simon, and how she was mistreated by the vain person. It's only vanity makes the person think it's about them. 184.108.40.206 14:08, 24 March 2016 (UTC)
In November 2015, Carly Simon confirmed (as part of the publicity for an upcoming memoir) that the second verse is about Warren Beatty, and that the other verses refer to two other men whom she has yet to name. --220.127.116.11 14:27, 24 November 2015 (UTC)
- WOW signal
It now says "This is the strongest evidence to date of extraterrestrial radio signals.", which is technically incorrect. We observe radio signals from outer space all the time, they originate from young stars, Big Bang, active galaxies, and so on. This should probably be rephrased to something about extraterrestrial intelligence, but I'm not sure if it deserves to be called "evidence". Jolindbe (talk) 16:18, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
- Regarding the "evidence" bit, I'd go so far as to say that it's a single signal that can't actually be tied down (even in the light of further study) to: a) receiver error/interference; b) terrestrial(/orbital) origin; c) natural universal processes. (In the latter case, especially, c.f. Pulsars, which were tentatively blamed on "Little Green Men" at first, but are now understood for what they are.) Maybe if we'd have had some more WOWs (or longer to listen to the one that we had) we could have analysed it, but it remains a mystery because neither is true. Pretty much everything else has been explained as "not evidence for aliens" (definitively, or on the balance of probability there's a better working theory that it's not) leaving this as... an anomoly. Not 'evidence', but not explained, either. For now! 18.104.22.168 20:45, 21 March 2015 (UTC)
- I agree with Jolindbe. Extraterrestrial only means "not of terrestrial origin," which applies to all natural radio sources, as well as extraterrestrial intelligence. It's too broad a phrase to be used in this way. A better description might be "This radio signal is the strongest candidate to date as evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence."22.214.171.124 14:25, 23 March 2015 (UTC)
- Dyatlov Pass Incident
Um, Wikipedia regards avalanche as most plausible explanation of the Dyatlov Pass incident, and it appears to be most widespread and down-to-earth explanation that doesn't involve the supernatural or secret soviet weapons test, things like that. Shouldn't we include mention of the avalance then, perhaps? I mean, with such high "explainability" rating it's pretty clear that Randall probably assumes avalanche, since if he assumed other, less widespread theory he probably would downgrade the "explainability" to account for the fact that it's more disputed version. 126.96.36.199 18:13, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
- The Key points of the accident were: hypothermia, fatal injuries from strong force, tent that ripped from within, traces of wandering, weird tan, lost tongue, lack of clothing. The most scientific and easiest explanation I know was: Avalanche that accounts for fatal injuries; Snow glare that accounts for weird tan; paradoxical undressing and hypothermia that accounts for lack of clothing and signs of wandering; and Scavenging animals that accounts for the lost tongue and ripped tent. Kagakujinjya (talk) 02:54, 22 March 2015 (UTC)
Actually Wikipedia really seems to suggest secret USSR military tests both parachute mines and nuclear missile related. Beyond being between two test facilities, the soviet conspiracy would imply secret operations, if it were just an avalanche, the USSR wouldn't have covered details up. It's not that extreme to believe the USSR did some secret testing, because it's more or less fact. Therefore, the idea secret testing was involved isn't *that* strange or unreasonable. Occam's Razor, given the difficulty for some of those things, like the tent being torn from the inside out, or the tan.
Also ball lightning is worth mentioning in your quest for not Secret Soviet test or supernatural in nature.
188.8.131.52 04:53, 22 March 2015 (UTC)
- Though I can't say anything about supernatural nature of the incident because I don't have proof,(well, I don't have any proof at all because the incident was happened in 1959) I think I can give you an argument about the weapon test and the cover up. Occam's Razor. I mean, weapon test normally done in secured military area, not out in public area. All the more reason if you want to test a secret weapon. Basically, there's no point of doing weapon test there. Furthermore, 1959 was a time when government very sensitive about data, I'd say that they would even declare the recipe of a pie as a national secret. And since we probably read the same source that is Wikipedia, I don't know where they suggest the weapon test theory since the first sentence under the subtitle 'theories' unambiguously say that "avalanche damage is considered one of the more plausible explanation for this incident". Then, about the ball of lightning and (if I may) radioactivity, since I'm pretty sure that none of that stuff turns up in the original documents from the incident, I'll argue that those were added later by people who just can't resist making things spookier than the incident actually are. Kagakujinjya (talk) 06:53, 22 March 2015 (UTC)
As a semi-professional mountaineer and a last-year medical student, I'd like to point out some commonly and erroneusly believed data. Surely I'm not a professional and I underline that I still can't explain what really happened there. But some facts should be understood. Firstly, I don't think the Avalanche explanation is reasonable. It's very clear that 4 of dead bodies found in a place which about 1.5 kilometers away from the tent. If it's really an avalanche, I assure you, you cannot be able to run away (like 1.5 kilometers!) before it catches and bury you under the snow. Plus, such an avalanche should bury all the tent under the snow level, not particially. Yet, sometimes it isn't an avalanche, I mean, an amount of snow comes down from the peak, makes a loud noise and terrifies you to the bones as you worngly fear that "Avalanche is coming and will bury me alive".. and may partly covers the tent. Yes, this is more reasonable. The tent might have been covered up with the snow and made it all fallen-down, frightening the Dyatlov squad so bad that they tore the tent to get out immediately. But, there I need to object. These nine peole are a group of experienced mountaineers. When got out from the hole of the tent, experienced mountaineers should have easily seen that it wasn't an avalanche. They should have relax and, after enough time, start mocking each other for how he/she pissed off like a kitty. But they ran down the hill for 1.5 kilometers without their suitable clothes and equipment! No sir, I don't think such replacement of snow levels in this amount, would make the Dyatlov squad to act this way. In the diary of the squad, a member of group wrote they had settled the tent on a low degree of slope on the eastern façade of the mountain, which makes the avalanche and snow replacement less possible. By the way, I have seen four different avalanches so far. I have seen a couple mountaineers died of it. Yet, I don't see any possibility of such avalanche may cause a spot and penetrative head injury as it happened in the incident. An avalanche smashes you. The snow gets in your nostrils and ears, makes you paralyzed with permanant necrosis in your extremites, usually damages your urinary tracts, causes mesenteric ischemia due to the shock, applies pressure on your ribs (rarely can make fractures, either) But it doesn't make your skull crashed. It'll be more realistic to say spot injuries on skull needs spot or high-pressured impacts, not blunt ones. (A better and more detailed account for this point is also can be read on the official document)
And secondly, scavenging animal idea can be an explanation for the lost tongue, true. However, in autopsy report (I didn't save the link for the original report, I wish I did), it said that the loss of tongue starts from glottal root, which makes whole thing another debate. During the process of decay, soft tissues like tongue degenerate and regress. It would be normal if a smaller tongue was found. And a missing part in the tongue could mean wolves, rats or pigeons had had a feast of fresh human meat. But even after many years of decay, corpse should still obtain some amount of tongue tissue. And unless you're an animal obsessive with the little red worm in the hunt's mouth, you don't spend extra effort to eat it all starting from the root. You prefer more muscled and delicious parts like femoral area or abdominal organs. In the conclusion, after 56 years, nothing really explains a lack of tongue in the mountaineer's dead mouth.
Yet, the general scientific idea for the weird shade of skin is right, I think. All the decay processes includes this so-called "tanning". Furthermore, the radiation issue is explained with Kyshtym disaster happened 18 months before the incident and not very distant to the mountain pass. I don't know how radiation effects on the material like in these occasions, even months later. But it seems satisfying to me. It's not mentioned here but another theory is based on the foamy saliva seen on the perioral region of Igor Dyatlov's dead body. I don't know if we can use Occam's Razor on this finding but when I was a student in Forensic Medicine Rotation, we were tought that most basic explanation for foamy saliva is toxication. So if we'll talk about Occam's Razor, signs of dread and delirium in the squad, panic-caused runaway from the tent, injuries could be caused of it and the foamy saliva may lead us to the toxication of gas, which is compatible with "Soviet weapon" claims.
I don't want to support any of the theories without many other possible evidences to be declared. But I really can't accept the claim that an avalanche was the reason. You can't escape out of an avalanche and a non-avalanche snow replacement doesn't make you so frightened. Moreover, this explanation is not a real explanation for heavy injuries. Actually, many specialists of the first expedition equip in 1959 thought it had not be able to be an avalanche happened there when they considered the geography of the mountain they discovered the tent (You can have a little trip on Google to find the thoughts of the specialists) While this remains a mystery, how do we think the incident so explainable ?
I know some people wants such incidents to remain mysterious. Nevertheless, I see sometimes we skeptical people are over-simplistic to have an explanation. So, unlike Randall do, I see no point of marking the Dyatlov Pass Incident as "Very Explainable". However, I guess this all has an explanation in the Russian goverment secret archieves. In 2008, the official TV channel of Russian federation opened up the case again. In many interviews it was told, some curious people during 1980s digged deeper to reach further investigations but all of them was confronted a goverment block and strictly advised to stay out of this case. I don't know, it seems more scientific to say there is some more hidden behind locked doors and document boxes for some reason in this incident than carelessly insisting on avalanche, wolves and paradoxical undressing.
I apologize for my bad English grammar. --184.108.40.206 18:14, 2 April 2015 (UTC)
- Off the chart up and to the right
How the Universe came into existence (the physics and math behind "Why is there something rather than nothing?") is far weirder with less of an explanation than anything on Randall's chart – scientists' claims, which redefine "nothing," notwithstanding. And then how life started and evolved (the chemistry and biology – and quantum physics? – at the transition point between inanimate amino acids and cells and the subsequent arrival of homo sapiens) is almost as strange as the Big Bang. – tbc (talk) 18:34, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
- Yep. And how to make a star. And how to make a planet. 220.127.116.11 11:19, 21 March 2015 (UTC)
- Hydrogen + Time 18.104.22.168 14:28, 23 March 2015 (UTC)
- Plus... magic? 22.214.171.124 05:22, 24 March 2015 (UTC)
- Inaccurate explainability rating
I've read the Russian wikipedia article on Dyatlov Pass Incident and not only it's incredibly weird (much more details than condensed English article), but also no plausible explanation is provided that would account for all the incredibly weird stuff going on. I have no idea how that could be awarded 96% explainability.
UVB-76, on the other hand, is a pretty easy to explain as one-time-pad encrypted military broadcast, with buzzing to occupy the frequency and discourage others from using it. How is that just 23% explainable, I have no idea. That's what I've found in Russian sources, anyway.
Also, the Toynbee Tiles mystery is pretty much solved if you trust "Duerr, Justin. Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles" as a source.
There are even more inconsistencies pointed out above. At first I've suspected that the scale is accidentally inverted, but D.B. Cooper story is pretty poorly explained, so it's more like the whole thing is just randomly messed up.
--Shnatsel (talk) 19:54, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
Is it seriously that hard to explain the "UVB-76" thing? I've been listening to this thing for a year now and even have explained how it works from the innards a few months back. Besides, it's not even called UVB-76, it was a mishear of UZB-76, and it's not even that callsign anymore. The callsign has changed to MDZhB and it is a marker to occupy the frequency of the "Codename Vulkan" communications channel. The way this thing works is that it is a bunch of gears that control a buzzer, when the Buzzer goes down you can hear it winding down and the repairmen screwing in some things when they come in.
126.96.36.199 20:49, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
The Obvious: one of at least three such stations used by the Russian military(see also the pip and the squeaky wheel)
The less obvious: the purpose being either secret communication, time synchronization, measuring ionosphere changes, emergency Russian military mobilization with a dead man's switch style of constant commmunication to keep the frequency clear of other users as well as in case Moscow (or in this case Pskov [crazy side note: sister city of Roanoke, Virginia]), or something else
Unclear: other things about it
188.8.131.52 05:16, 22 March 2015 (UTC)
- Lost Colony
Before the Roanoke colonists left, they carved "Croatan" into a post. The Croatan were a small native tribe living on the coast, who'd had friendly relations with the colonists. They disappeared along with them. A generation or two later, a completely new tribe called the Lumbee were found living further inland, with some caucasian features and using European farming techniques. It's pretty obvious what happened. Shanek (talk) 19:20, 21 March 2015 (UTC)
I had no idea that *nothing* of MH370 was ever found (or at least so far). Reading up on the wikipedia article makes me even more confused: this map shows the plane going westward basically towards india but then this map shows the searches *west of Australia* and going *down to Antartica*! WTF?? What the hell happened to that plane?! It's now been a *year* and *nothing* was found at all. Totally weird and unexplained. --Anarcat (talk) 23:50, 21 March 2015 (UTC)
- ... and here's the explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_search_for_MH370.png. Still freaking mind-boggling if you ask me. That thing could as well be in Khazakstan for all we know. Terrifying. --Anarcat (talk) 00:02, 22 March 2015 (UTC)
- sort order
The arrangement of entries in the table seemed random to me. I moved them around so the weirdest entries are at the beginning and the most easily explained are at the end. Thus the joke entry is last, as a punch line. Pesthouse (talk) 01:18, 23 March 2015 (UTC)
- The Taman Shud Case
This is one of the weirdest mysteries I've come across. I'd be surprised if Randall hasn't heard of it, though. See Wikipedia. Mark314159 (talk) 01:22, 23 March 2015 (UTC)
- z axis
Too bad that comics can't be 3D (or at least not convincingly) since an axis
"Time you wasted on googling around on topic X after reading the comic" would
be very interesting...I browsed on Songfacts more than all else combined -
talk about priorities :-) 184.108.40.206 16:13, 26 March 2015 (UTC)
Is it worth mentioning that all the articles mentioned are creepy or otherwise likely to keep one up at night? --220.127.116.11 18:37, 27 August 2018 (UTC)
Salish Sea Feet
This has actually been explained quite thoroughly - see . It's my least favourite thing about the comic, though I understand that Randall wouldn't want to edit past work.