1890: What to Bring

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What to Bring
I always figured you should never bring a gun to a gun fight because then you'll be part of a gun fight.
Title text: I always figured you should never bring a gun to a gun fight because then you'll be part of a gun fight.


This comic derives its humor from combining two common but unrelated pieces of advice: "never bring a knife to a gun fight", and "never put water on an oil fire". The corollary to these phrases is that a knife is only useful for a knife fight, and water is only useful for a wood fire (or similar solid and porous fuel). Randall creates a confusion matrix applying each of the solutions (knives, guns, lids, and water) to each of the situations (knife fight, gun fight, wood fire, oil fire) to predict the likely outcomes.

The squares in the table are highlighted in green to answer "Yes" to the question, where the specified object is appropriate or advantageous for the situation, or red to answer "No", usually because the object would not be helpful in resolving the situation. The grid concludes that, not only are both pieces of advice correct (bringing knives to gun fights, and using water on oil fires would both end in likely disaster), but only the prescribed solutions are appropriate for each situation (e.g. any solution other than a lid would be ineffective for an oil fire, and potentially very dangerous). The sole exception to this trend is bringing a gun to a knife fight, which would give you a major tactical advantage over your opponent.

The ultimate point of this comic may be in the title text. There is a phrase in American English, "to bring a knife to a gun fight," which means "to be so naive as to be unprepared." While Randall may be commenting specifically on managing conflict escalation by being adequately prepared for the situation, it is also possible that he is subtly expressing his opinion about the virtues of restraint.

Should you bring ... to ... a knife fight a gun fight a wood fire an oil fire
a knife If you bring a knife to a knife fight, you will be evenly matched with your opponent (all else equal). If you bring a knife to a gun fight, you will be at a perilous disadvantage. (Although, at close range, a knife is considered more lethal than a firearm in certain situations, e.g. a holstered pistol.) Attempting to stab a wood fire with a knife will only lead to you being burned. Attempting to stab an oil fire will only cause you to get burned and leave metallic scrapes in the pan.
a gun Bringing a gun to a knife fight will usually leave your opponent at a perilous disadvantage due to the gun's far greater range. (Though if the fight is in close quarters, you will likely be at a disadvantage. You may also be accused of "not playing fair", but only if you leave survivors.) [1] Bringing a gun to a gun fight will leave you evenly matched with your opponent. Shooting at a wood or an oil fire will not extinguish either one. Depending on the exact caliber of the bullet, you may even end up scattering the wood or oil fueling the flames, leaving you with a worse situation than before. Also, most bullets contain lead, so the heat of the fire may cause the bullet to give off toxic fumes.
water Splashing either a knife-wielder or a gunman with water may blind your opponent briefly, but if you're still in a fight (i.e. you cannot use the opportunity to flee), it won't win you the fight. (However, water can disable some antique guns that use black powder, since the powder will not ignite when wet.) Wood fires are best extinguished with a well-aimed splash of water. Pouring water on an oil fire is notorious for creating huge fireballs and scattering the oil, making the situation even worse (boilover).
a lid Attempting to put a lid on the head or weapon of a knife-wielder or gunman will probably not help matters,[citation needed] as it may only serve to agitate them. While it might momentarily confuse your opponent, it probably won't give you much of a running start. (However, a metal lid with the right sort of handle could serve as a makeshift shield.) Trying to put out a wood fire with a lid would usually require a lid far too large for you to carry. An oil fire is best extinguished by cutting it off from oxygen; stove top oil fires generally occur in cooking pans, which often come with lids suited to making an airtight seal. A fire-resistant blanket or towel also works well for this purpose.


[Text in the top-left corner of the comic:]
"Should you bring _____ to ______?"
[The comic is laid out like a grid, with implements down the left-hand side (A knife / A gun / Water / A lid) and the type of "fight" across the top (A knife fight / A gun fight / A wood fire / An oil fire). The grid illustrates the "match-ups", with a green square denoting a "correct" match-up and a red square denoting a Very Bad Idea.]
[From the top left corner, going from left to right, top to bottom, with each first item being on its own line in the grid, the squares are as follows:]
[Green square, two combatants face off against each other with knives, equally matched.]
  • A knife to A knife fight
[Red square, a person with a knife faces off against someone with a gun, and is clearly outmatched.]
  • A knife to A gun fight
[Red square, a person holds a knife in a wood fire while saying "OW OW OW".]
  • A knife to A wood fire
[Red square, the person with the knife scrapes at the oil inside the pan that's on fire while saying "OW OW OW". The scraping accompanied by the text "SCRAPE SCRAPE".]
  • A knife to An oil fire
[Green square, the person with the gun points it at the opponent with the knife, who exclaims, "Dude!"]
  • A gun to A knife fight
[Green square, two combatants point guns at one another, equally matched.]
  • A gun to A gun fight
[Red square, the person with the gun shoots pointlessly three times at the wood fire, which carries on blazing. The shooting is accompanied by the text "BLAM BLAM BLAM".]
  • A gun to A wood fire
[Red square, the person with the gun shoots at the flaming pan, which does nothing to put it out. The shooting is accompanied by the text "BLAM".]
  • A gun to An oil fire
[Red square, the person with the water throws it uselessly in the face of the person holding the knife.]
  • Water to A knife fight
[Red square, the person with the water throws it uselessly in the face of the person holding the gun.]
  • Water to A gun fight
[Green square, the person throws the water on the fire and successfully extinguishes it, which makes a "SPLOOSH" sound.]
  • Water to A wood fire
[Red square, the person is shown reeling back from the oil fire, the water glass going flying, as the oil fire explodes with a "FOOM".]
  • Water to An oil fire
[Red square, the person with the lid comically places it on the head of the person with the knife, who stands there in confusion.]
  • A lid to A knife fight
Red square, the person with the lid ineffectually places it on top of the gun the other person is pointing at them.
  • A lid to A gun fight
Red square, the person with the lid holds it near the wood fire, which does nothing to put out the fire.
  • A lid to A wood fire
[Green square, the person places the lid on top of the oil fire, which suffocates and extinguishes it.]
  • A lid to An oil fire


  • The original image for this comic was missing one of Cueball's arms in the first panel. The original image is here.
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Presumably water in a gun fight _might_ work if the guns involved are particularly old fashioned (e.g. see Flintlock) 06:35, 15 September 2017 (UTC) A flintlock style uses a metal 'frizzen' which hinges over the 'pan' into which the priming power is placed. This not only protects the powder from the weather (and a splash), but also keep the powder in the pan as the firearm is moved about. When the mechanism is fired, the flint comes striking down on the surface of the frizzen which both opens the cover and directs sparks into the pan. The type of firearm that might be made inactive with a splash of water is an older design called the matchlock which held a lit cord or match in a mechanism over the open pan. The gun is fired by allowing the match to fall into the pan and detonating the powder.

Water in a gun fight would also work if the guns are water guns or if the fight is against the Wicked Witch of the West 15:09, 17 March 2020 (UTC)

I see that bringing a lid to a knife or gun fight might serve as some sort of a shield? 06:52, 15 September 2017 (UTC)

It'd work quite well against a knife (even if the knife penetrated the shield, it still wouldn't be able to get to any part of your body except the hand holding the shield, and it'd quite likely get stuck), but not against a gun (you can make metal thick enough and strong enough to resist gunfire, but pot lids are kind of obviously not designed for that, and they're generally not big enough to confuse an opponent about where your body is either). Magic9mushroom (talk) 10:39, 17 November 2021 (UTC)

If your lid is big enough, you can extinguish a wood fire too 09:50, 15 September 2017 (UTC)

Is this Randall being political about the situation with North Korea? Maybe I'm reading too much into it, although the world would probably be a better place if more people (and countries) followed the tag text. Fluppeteer (talk) 10:29, 15 September 2017 (UTC)

But what if... you bring a wood fire... TO A KNIFE FIGHT?! Also, I'm not the only person thinking about BOTW's lowest-defense shield, am I? OriginalName (talk) 11:24, 15 September 2017 (UTC)

US Military personnel use "lid" as a euphemism for their uniform hat. I think that interpretation is represented in the drawing for "lid to a knife fight". 12:57, 15 September 2017 (UTC)

Using a gun to extinguish fire probably was influenced by this official tweet of a sheriff 5 days ago "To clarify, DO NOT shoot weapons @ #Irma. You won't make it turn around & it will have very dangerous side effects", which was necessary after stupid people started to try to fight the hurricane with guns. Sebastian -- 15:23, 15 September 2017 (UTC)

The sentence "which often come with lids suited to making an airtight seal" is inaccurate. Lids don't form an airtight seal, and airtightness is not necessary to extinguish a pan fire.--Pere prlpz (talk) 23:58, 15 September 2017 (UTC)

The phrase "don't bring a knife to a gun fight" is not a statement of general naive lack of preparation, but is specifically used to advocate literal firearms as a means of defense over literal knives. The "gun fight" refers to encounters with armed criminals who, the phrase suggests, will still use their gun to your disadvantage whether or not you are capable of fighting back. It has been subverted occasionally as an implied threat (usually in drama rather than reality) when the situation is reversed, i.e. the criminal is armed with a knife and the would-be victim is armed with a gun. The violence implied by "a gun fight" tends to restrict more metaphorical use of the phrase. The title text seems to be based in the original meaning, with the implication that Randall expects a gun being used against an armed criminal to escalate violence. (talk) 20:08, 16 September 2017 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Struggling to work out whether this comment is tongue in cheek, or for real. 16:31, 18 September 2017 (UTC)
Hmmm... Since I don't see the humour in this comment if it was meant as a joke, and trolling is just pointless, I'm going to go ahead and treat it as a serious comment. No. Just no. A literal knife to a literal gun fight would be where the saying came from, but even then only as a metaphor or simile, as an issue easily understood. It should be obvious to anyone who knows how guns work that the gun would have an almost complete advantage. The saying actually means being on unequal footing in some conflict, where the person being warned is trying to attack or go against someone who is better prepared. The stereotypical jock trying to argue a point against the captain of the debate team (presumably the captain being the most experienced at making logical well-reasoned arguments, and as such would have no problem winning such an argument). A brand new private in the army challenging a multi-stipe sargeant to a fist fight (presumably anyone who has risen to the rank of sargeant and gained several stripes besides is quite experienced at fighting). A child challenging an Olympic medalist to a race (besides being an adult, presumably someone who has won a medal has tremendous ability at whatever kind of race this is). "Bringing a knife to a gunfight" is a common SAYING to describe such situations. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:01, 19 September 2017 (UTC)

Just noticed that the comic on xkcd got a little correction: The "Water to a knife fight" Cueball was missing an arm. -- 23:12, 17 September 2017 (UTC)

Here's still the old image. Can anyone update it? -- 21:59, 22 September 2017 (UTC)

The gun is the only thing with two uses, so it's obviously the most useful. 1337357 (talk)

A nuke would neutralize all of these threats, so obviously it would be the "most" useful. But nuking a wood fire to put it out would probably be overkill. Randall isn't trying to say that something is the "most" useful, he's just showing us different scenarios.Herobrine (talk) 13:13, 1 October 2017 (UTC)

Is this a co-violence matrix?

This should probably be in the Charts category, but I can't figure out how to do so. 18:53, 4 February 2021 (UTC)

Done. Herobrine (talk) 01:55, 5 February 2021 (UTC)

Brining a knife to a wood fire would probably help after a knife fight if you have a bad wound you need to cauterize or something… Szeth Pancakes (talk) 19:43, 15 November 2021 (UTC)

The transcript is not currently incomplete. Any objection to removing the Incomplete tag? Nitpicking (talk) 03:21, 28 April 2022 (UTC)

Huh. However, even though someone posted here about the updated image in 2017, it has not been swapped. I've never edited one of these pages to change the comic image, anyone feel like stepping up? Nitpicking (talk) 03:24, 28 April 2022 (UTC)
Simple for you/anyone like you to do:
1) Upload the new image first (presume you have sufficient rights to do so, as a named contributor of some standing), if it isn't already somewhere in the uploads area and you know where it is.
2) Edit the page and accordingly change the line (very near the top, in the comic-template element) that says:
| image     = what_to_bring.png
3) (Optional but expected...) Add something, maybe in a Trivia section, to explain there was an original image (*with linky to "what_to_bring.png"*) that had been corrected.
...the assumption with those instructions is that you/whoever upload the long-revised version (not the _2x one!) as "what_to_bring_NEW.png" or however you'd like to uniquely name it as different, rather than update/overwrite the current on-server image.
Yes, you should also be able to do that (and *linky* to the prior-version-of image, in the historical note bit while not needing to change the comic-template-block at all ...I'm almost certain), but it's not the usual practice. And it might even be more complicated to do, at least the first time anyone tries to get the prior-version link just right and not looking odd. ;) 04:06, 28 April 2022 (UTC)
Done. Thanks. Nitpicking (talk) 18:17, 1 May 2022 (UTC)

I feel like the intended takeaway from this graph is that of the four implements, the gun is the most useful. 18:09, 2 January 2023 (UTC)

The quantity of water isn't really specified in the matrix. Although the illustration shows a bucket, bringing an appropriately-supplied firehose or water cannon to either type of fight would quite probably win it. -- 04:36, 11 August 2023 (UTC)

Avoiding knife fights?[edit]

Where did it say “the best way to survive a knife fight is to not get into a knife fight” again? I am pretty sure that I read it in the context of this comic back then. (And I acted accordingly since then! It worked, I am still alive.) -- 17:11, 16 August 2023 (UTC)


  1. While the chart states that you should bring a gun to a gun fight, the title text makes the observation that bringing a gun to a gunfight might just raise your status from 'inconsequential bystander' to 'combatant'. So perhaps you shouldn't bring a gun to a gun fight if not bringing one is a way to avoid being considered part of the fight. It probably all depends on why there is a gun fight to begin with, and why you are choosing to go to it, with or without a gun (or knife or water or lid). Or Randall may simply (and wisely) mean that you shouldn't go to a gunfight at all, which is a genuinely valid point, and not a joke. If you're not there, you can't get shot.