1578: Squirrelphone

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
(Redirected from 1578)
Jump to: navigation, search
After a while, the squirrel starts making that beeping noise and doesn't stop until it hops back up onto the stump.
Title text: After a while, the squirrel starts making that beeping noise and doesn't stop until it hops back up onto the stump.


"Squirrelphone" is a compound word combining "squirrel" and "phone".

In this comic, we see a squirrel pretend to be a telephone, only to bite Cueball when he tries to pick it up and use it as one. This is humorous because a living squirrel is not an appropriate creature to maintain a phone call[citation needed]. This could be seen as an example of mimicry in nature, or parasitism where one creature gains a benefit from another.

It may be an allusion to the vampire squirrel which was documented recently that allegedly 'attacks and kills' deer. The comic follows the absurd conclusion that the squirrel uses mimicry to 'attack and kill' humans. Cueball may be lucky to still be alive[citation needed]. Another possibility is that the squirrel thought that Cueball was trying to eat it because Cueball picked it up and put it near his mouth, so it bit Cueball in self-defense. If this is the case, then biting Cueball can be said to have worked, as Cueball did relase the squirrel, as shown in panel four. However, this fails to explain why the squirrel was imitating a phone, which would make a human more likely to pick the squirrel up, so Randall was more likely trying to reference the recent vampire squirrel documentation.

The sounds the squirrel makes correspond to the tones that the terminals make when you use the POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) in the US:

  • When someone else calls you and the receiver of your phone is on the hook, the phone makes loud and long "riiing riiiing" tones. This is the case in the first frame of the comic.
  • When you pick the receiver up, the phone call is established and no extra noises are made.
  • When no phone call is established and you pick up, a continuous humming tone is heard, meaning the service is up and you can dial someone else's number (A dial tone).
  • If a phone is left off hook for too long, a loud howler-tone is played. This is to alert anyone present that the phone is off-hook. In this case, you should hang up so that you can receive calls. Once on-hook, the receiver can be picked up again to dial. Many cordless phones will also beep if left off their cradles for too long, to warn that their rechargeable batteries are getting drained.

Squirrels have been used frequently in xkcd, also in what if, where it has for instance been used as a cute animal to replace a drawing of something scary or unpleasant like in Blood Alcohol or Cannibalism. So this is some twist for the cuteness factor of squirrels in xkcd.

It may also be the case that "squirrelphone" is a reference to the popular web-mail software SquirrelMail.

The title text takes the joke further by showing the squirrel possesses another phone feature: that cordless phones need to recharge frequently, either by setting them at their cradles or by connecting them to a charger, in the case of mobile phones. When they sense the battery is low, they emit a beeping noise every few minutes. In this case, the stump is the squirrel's cradle. However, the reason that cordless phones beep when they are getting low on battery is in order to alert humans to move them to the charging cradle because the phones cannot move themselves. On the other hand, squirrels can move on their own without needing humans to pick them up,[citation needed] so the squirrel likely only does it in order to trick people into picking it up, which further suggests that it is a vampire squirrel.


[Cueball is approaching a stump with a squirrel perched on it. A ringing noise is coming from the squirrel's back.]
Squirrel: Riiiiing
Squirrel: Riiiiiing
[Cueball has picked up the squirrel and is holding it to his left ear.]
Cueball: Hello?
[The squirrel bites Cueball's head.]
Squirrel: Chomp!
Cueball: Ow!
[Cueball holds his hand to his cheek while the squirrel leaps away, fleeing.]
Cueball: ???

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Could it be a reference to this? http://web.media.mit.edu/~stefanm/phd/cellularsquirrel/ ‎ (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I think it might be a reference to this: ‘Vampire squirrel’ caught on camera for the first time ever – Washington Post. -- 07:35, 16 September 2015 (UTC)
agreed: [1] 10:25, 16 September 2015 (UTC)

What about the old "Bananaphone" pun? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Sometimes I wonder if the joke is to make ExplainXKCD squirm. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

^ Not really. Those like me who used SquirrelMail had a laugh. Mostly every XKCD joke is incomprehensible to people not familiar with the subject of the joke. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

"a living squirrel being not an appropiate creature to mantain a phone call. "... well, duh. Everyone knows that a squid would make MUCH more sense! 05:16, 16 September 2015 (UTC)

A puppy... www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0tiNwOpZ68 14:11, 16 September 2015 (UTC)
I doubt this is supposed to be about SquirrelMail; it's much more likely to just be "Bananaphone" with a squirrel. 05:33, 16 September 2015 (UTC)
Maybe a _dead_ squirrel would work better. At least it wouldn't bite... Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 08:16, 16 September 2015 (UTC)

"chomp" is also a command on unixoid operating systems that removes characters which carry no information (leading, trailing white spaces, newlines etc) from strings. Seems like the squirrelphone removed every bit of non-information, essentially cutting the call to nothing. 07:10, 16 September 2015 (UTC)

Whoever put that [needs citation] in there deserves a medal XD Apbarratt (talk) 08:34, 16 September 2015 (UTC)

Summary of POTS should be present tense - POTS is still active. 16:42, 16 September 2015 (UTC)

The tone played at the end is likely a howler tone, not fast busy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Off-hook_tone -- Trenin (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Do we really need an explanation of every noise landline phones make? Only two really apply here, ringing and howling. Since even cellphones have ringtones, I don't think ringing would need to be explained in the detail that it is, just something like "These phones would make a series of rings on receiving a call (as shown in the first panel) and would automatically stop ringing and answer when picked up." I must admit I'm young enough that my first impulse for a squirrelphone beeping was "Oh, it must be one of those wireless home phone recievers and it's low on battery." I suppose squirrelphones must still be wired, though, though it doesn't look like it. 17:39, 16 September 2015 (UTC)

Seems like we do need the explanation for the ring tones. Sine this is a real squirrel imitating a phone, it is of course not wired. It just pretends making the appropriate sounds. --Kynde (talk) 19:38, 16 September 2015 (UTC)

How do we know it's not a phone pretending to be a squirrel? Mikemk (talk) 23:55, 16 September 2015 (UTC)

What if the squirrel swallowed a phone? Like in Jurassic Park, when the spinosaurus swallows the satellite phone? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I think this is part of the joke. The way it is drawn shows the noise coming from the squirrel's abdomen not its mouth. It's not a squirrel pretending to be anything. The squirrel was probably just as surprised to be picked up and spoken into as Cueball was to be bitten by a ringing squirrel! --R0hrshach (talk) 16:06, 17 September 2015 (UTC):By that logic, all most characters in XKCD appear to talk out of their foreheads. Apbarratt (talk) 09:24, 18 September 2015 (UTC)

Just to let you know, there is nothing currently up on the wiki page that explains this comic. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

This whole page is dumb as hell. You guys overexplain everything. Not every joke requires or benefits from a multiple-paragraph explanation and a bunch of imagined allusions. This comic in particular should be a lesson that sometimes you guys need to take a day off on this site. And by the way, the "citation needed" joke has become a cliche. 05:16, 17 September 2015 (UTC)

You don’t have to read it – there are many other site on the net ;-). --DaB. (talk) 13:20, 17 September 2015 (UTC)
They are correct though in this instance and many others. Often times when someone doesn't "get the joke" they still blather on in the explanation and it ends up sounding obtuse and contrived. I like to follow Albert Einstein's rule of thumb, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough". --R0hrshach (talk) 16:06, 17 September 2015 (UTC)
Your whole commentary could be summarized by a link to 915, and I agree with you, except for the "citation needed" part. It seems to be a running joke on Randall's blog (blag) posts. I used to dislike it before I knew that. Now, I just tolerate it. Also, the explanation for the title text was completely missing, so I added one. Feel free to improve it, everyone. 03:27, 26 January 2016 (UTC)

Wait, seriously the POTS description is written in the past tense, as if it were something people were not used to anymore. Ringing landline telephones are not yet a thing belonging to history museums (although rotary dial ones almost belong there.) Ralfoide (talk) 14:21, 17 September 2015 (UTC)

This youtube video ("Animal Phone") seems to have some similarity in the content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMNW51-RmwU 14:30, 17 September 2015 (UTC)

I think the joke is that despite the absurdity of the situation, a squirrel ringing like a phone, Cueball just "goes with it" and picks up the telephone expecting it to work despite common sense telling him that however improbable the situation or why it is ringing it is still a squirrel. In the third panel, nature takes over and the squirrel does what it realistically would do. This leaves Cueball confused. If the squirrel was just a squirrel then why was it ringing like a phone? And if the squirrel was ringing like a phone then why did it bite him like a squirrel? It's a bit of the ol' Looney Tunes logic when Wylie Coyote would paint a tunnel in the side of a butte and the Road Runner would successfully use said tunnel entrance while for Wylie it would go back to being just a painting on the butte. I think we all have analogous life experiences. --R0hrshach (talk) 16:17, 17 September 2015 (UTC)

Alternative explanation: it's a squirrel which is more or less carrying out the function of a telephone. The message, from an unknown caller, who hangs up after delivering it, is a vicious bite. Stevage (talk) 11:25, 21 September 2015 (UTC)

Just a couple years ago I heard the unmistakable sound of a Nintendo Game Boy. It was a bird! (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~) 16:47, 14 February 2020 (UTC) Could it be a Jojo reference to Diavalo who makes phone calls with his younger version of himself through various objects?

^ doubtful, especially since this comic was made before the anime for that part existed. -- 03:20, 10 November 2020 (UTC)