Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Tomorrow's sessions will be entirely devoted to sewing machine rotary hooks.
Title text: Tomorrow's sessions will be entirely devoted to sewing machine rotary hooks.


Cueball is standing at a lectern on a podium (or is it a lectern?), addressing a large crowd. He is describing the program of some event, listing the different topics that will be covered. These appear to be random, but the caption gives the punchline: it is a conference on things that seem like they shouldn't work but do.

By "things that seem like they shouldn't work", it means things that the average person would have some intuitive sense that the function of thing was impossible, and yet ample real-world experience shows that they do, and may become a routine function that people depend upon. TTSLTSWBD in the title and the banner is the abbreviation for "Things That Seem Like They Shouldn't Work, But Do".

There are two sessions in the morning (before lunch) and two in the afternoon.

Organ transplantation, where a functioning organ is cut out of one person (possibly a dead one) and put into another person where it will now operate for their benefit. Given the very complex and delicate nature of living tissue, it's rather surprising that this could work at all. In reality, it's not a simple process, and a lot of things could go wrong, but modern medicine is advanced enough that organ transplantation is widely accepted and regularly practiced, usually functioning well enough to extend life.

Airships, or dirigibles, are huge, rigid structures which are filled with bags of lighter-than-air gas, which causes the entire structure to float, and could carry both passengers and significant loads. The idea of such a huge vessel traveling, able to both move rapidly and float in place, would be hard to imagine if it didn't exist, yet zeppelins functioned and were a practical mode of transportation for a time. Unlike the other things mentioned, airships are largely obsolete (having lost favor due to safety concerns and surpassed by other technologies). Airships are a recurring theme on xkcd.

Mechanical gyroscopes are simple devices consisting of a spinning disc mounted inside three concentric gimbals as a fixture, or more often observed at work as a single spindle in a free-standing external frame that can be held or moved around by hand. The rotational inertia of the spinning disc resists change in orientation, and tends to remain in a single orientation (if free to do so) or else exert counter-intuitive forces (where directly encouraged to change its central axis). The notion that a disc can remain so steady can be counterintuitive even to those who understand the physical principles. This weirdness has been previously referenced in 332: Gyroscopes. An optical gyroscope does not mechanically resist any motion but (relying upon an effect originally exploited in a failed attempt to disprove Special Relativity) ultimately provides similar feedback about the rotation of the unit into which it is mounted.

Butterflies fly with an unusual fluttering pattern, which works in part due to the notoriously complex principles of fluid dynamics that may look like uncontrolled fluttering but yet somehow allows the creature to land directly on specific flowerheads to feed. This is not as intuitively understandable as the flight of larger creatures such as birds.

The title text refers to rotary hooks on sewing machines, which are a complicated (and complicated looking) mechanism whose purpose is to feed one thread in a loop around a whole spool of another thread, and are apparently counterintuitive enough that the conference feels they need a whole day to cover them.

This concept is referenced in 2115: Plutonium.

The conference that the comic pictures is another example of a thing that seems like it shouldn't work but does. At first glance, Cueball seems to be listing a random, disconnected list of topics that will be covered, which runs counter to the format of most conferences. It initially seems inconceivable that enough people would be interested in all of those separate topics for the conference to make a profit (from attendance fees). However, the audience is packed, demonstrating that this is not the case. This may be because many people enjoy the mind-expanding feeling of having their intuitions shattered.


[Cueball stands behind a lectern on a podium, gesturing with one hand held out, speaking to an audience. A banner hangs on the wall over the crowd with large letters on it. Illegible smaller text is written under these letters.]
Cueball: Next we have a session on organ transplants and another on airships.
Cueball: Then lunch, then we'll have one on gyroscopes and one on butterflies.
[Caption below panel:]
The first annual conference on Things That Seem Like They Shouldn't Work But Do

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XKCD 332 should be referenced here. Gyroscopes are not only directly referenced but also the similar observation that they should not work. I am being careful not to edit this page at the moment since it's probably very active. 04:46, 11 November 2021 (UTC)

Done! :D Esogalt (talk) 06:10, 11 November 2021 (UTC)

"FIRST ANNUAL"?? How does one know that it will be an annual event until the second one takes place??? <PET PEEVE> 10:14, 11 November 2021 (UTC)

Planning is a thing? Esogalt (talk) 10:33, 11 November 2021 (UTC)
It immediately followed the long-running 363-day conference on Things That Seem Like They Should Work But Don’t, so naturally there’ll be another one every year. They didn’t even have to change the banner. 10:47, 11 November 2021 (UTC)
There may never be a second, especially in Randallworld. As a roundworld example, this very year we had the "31st First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony". ;) 12:35, 11 November 2021 (UTC) I once was in a "First Annual Iron Man" competition that wasn't held the following year, so . . . . 13:50, 11 November 2021 (UTC)

Uh...I legit want to go to this conference. 13:58, 11 November 2021 (UTC)

It's actually entirely possible to plan conferences yourself, so maybe if you know some place where it could be held you could organize it? shitpoocrapfeces 15:11, 11 November 2021 (UTC)
Hey, that's a good idea, thanks shitpoo...crap...maybe I shouldn't take unsolicited advice from strangers on the internet... 15:38, 11 November 2021 (UTC)

I don't think that lunch is listed as if it were a topic. It's normal to say that lunch takes place between sessions. The session topics are described as "on <something>", but lunch isn't. And why isn't there a [citation needed] after saying that many humans eat lunch? That's clearly more sarcastically appropriate than the ones about airships being big and heavy. Barmar (talk) 15:33, 11 November 2021 (UTC)

Agreed, I wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or amused at that entry. I was... "anused" (presumably pronounced "ann-YOOZED"). --mezimm 15:17, 12 November 2021 (UTC)
Also agree. I'mma remove it. Jkshapiro (talk) 17:01, 1 July 2024 (UTC)

I feel like the conference itself seems like it should not work, but apparently the conference did work. 19:51, 11 November 2021 (UTC)

Bumblebees! 20:39, 11 November 2021 (UTC)

Due to the n’t shortening, the banner looks like it could mean “Things That Seem Like They Should Work But Don’t”{unsigned)

I would dispute lunch being there for the displacement of dinner. In some parts, dinner is still firmly in the middle of the day, if it is eaten at all. The evening meal is teatime and may be more or less important ("high tea" might happen, if ritualisticly social, but that's leaning firmly towards finger-food) depending on what/if dinner was eaten. 'Lunch' is merely a foreignish term for a dinnertime-'lite' (or more informal, like desk-eating or al-fresco sarnis in a manner that isn't a full-on picnic, where a full dinner is not eaten and tea (or a more formal "evening meal") is the major meal), with 'elevenses' being any mid-morning break (ideally within wishful range of 11AM, but can be early!) with at least a choice of biscuits accompanying some work-appropriate drink (maybe less filling than the fabled "brunch", but that's not necessary if you have a good fortifying breakfast first thing) sometimes termed a "mid-morning/pre-dinner lunch" in gatherings where there's also to be a cooked buffet at or soon after midday. If you want to (but apparently it's not good for overnight blood-sugar or sleep-patterns) there's also "Supper" to be partaken of before bed. Liquid-lunch (or liquid-supper) is a drinks only repaste, of an alcoholic variety, often in pints and/or short-measures, and very rarely does this apply to other suffixed versions (rather, it could just be continual between the two, but not considered healthy). Of course, I don't speak for everyone, especially hobbits, but there can be much cultural confusion so I'd normally suggest not trying to tie mealtimes down too much. (In dialects of English. The German Abendessen and Mittagessen, etc, seem obvious enough!) 16:36, 12 November 2021 (UTC)

Other Possible Conference Topics[edit]

Vinyl records, anyone? 23:25, 14 May 2022 (UTC)