2741: Wish Interpretation

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Wish Interpretation
"I wish for everything in the world. All the people, money, trees, etc." "Are you SURE you--" "And I want you to put it in my house."
Title text: "I wish for everything in the world. All the people, money, trees, etc." "Are you SURE you--" "And I want you to put it in my house."


In this comic Black Hat has found a lamp with a magical genie inside. This genie will only fulfill one wish (not the standard three) and warns that it will twist the wish to teach him a lesson...

In stories where wishing can come true by magical means, a common cliché is that the wisher will make a wish (for greater or lesser personal gain) but the entity who grants it will inadvertently (or 'inadvertently') fulfill the exact wording in such a way that something bad happens which the wisher clearly did not foresee. This may teach the wisher, or at least the reader of the story, an important moral lesson against greed. The wish-granter is not always represented as deliberately obtuse or malicious, but may merely be a naive and uncritical servant of the wish-granting process. A wish for money, for example, might be 'easiest' to accomplish by suddenly being the recipient of a loved-one's Life Insurance rather than the rather less upsetting scenario of finding that they possess a winning lottery ticket. In the comic, however, this genie is perfectly self-aware of the part he will play in creatively misapplying the wish, and even goes so far as to forewarn the wisher – maybe a deliberate ploy to have wishers take a moment to think and tone down their more spontaneous demands.

However, as is characteristic for him, Black Hat has no concern for the wider negative effects, and immediately wishes for rain to no longer happen, perpetually, for the apparent trivial reason of merely saving him the need to carry an umbrella. The consequences of this drastic change to the weather (no matter by which method it is accomplished) would plainly be very bad, as Black Hat is almost certainly fully aware. The genie realizes that there is very little 'good' idea for him to twist into a bad one, and that Black Hat will be peculiarly unreceptive to being 'taught a moral lesson'. Especially compared to the utter devastation that the granted wish will cause to the rest of the non-wishing world, which the genie might be reluctant to enact.

Having persuaded his wisher to retract the original request, the genie now has to deal with two rather too open-ended, generally pessimistic requests in a similar vein. Exactly what Black Hat "deserves" is presumably subjective. That kind of phrasing sometimes arises as a false reassurance, where a person assumes they deserve something desirable, but are ultimately judged to deserve punishment. In this case, give Black Hat's flagrant immorality, he presumably doesn't deserve anything good. He's likely smart enough to realize this, but demands it anyway, and the genie seems to have enough latent sympathy to be concerned about the trouble being invited.

Undaunted, the next version of Black Hat's revised wish uses even more unambiguously perilous wording. The suggestion of "what's coming to" someone is frequently used as a threat (or menacing promise) of violence. Even taken at face value, the wish would either be meaningless (Black Hat would receive whatever fate would have befallen him without the wish, and the genie would have effected no change), or it would be tautologous (whatever is coming to him is whatever the result of the wish is, so how is the genie to decide what that should be?). Regardless of the outcome, Black Hat is wishing for something already negative with no room for a moral twist, or something that is essentially tautological. This disheartens the genie even more, given the genie's apparent obligation to be inconveniently literal and problematic in interpreting wishes.

Clearly outclassed in his attempt to establish his ability to cause problems, or perhaps out of pity for Black Hat's self-destructive wishes, the genie gets frustrated and backtracks rapidly. He offers just $20 (a token amount of money, possibly out of his own pocket in order to completely avoid using his potentially dangerous magical abilities) to get himself out of the original formulaic deal and permanently away from having to be under Black Hat's influence.

In the title text, the wisher (possibly still Black Hat) wishes for everything in the world. This is itself a not unknown "bad wish" that would be creatively twisted into a bad consequence for the necessary narrative reasons (for example, ownership of everything in the world might come with inconvenient or even impossible responsibilities). The wish continues, however, and explicitly asks that all of this be put into their house. This is impossible for two reasons: First, everything wouldn't fit in their house unless it was made extremely dense, beyond the point of usefulness; second, it causes an infinite recursion, since their house is something in the world, so it would have to be put inside itself. Trying to grant this wish would likely also frustrate the genie, and certainly not allow them their usual scope of a personal (and proportional) educational twist.

Black Hat has been seen experimenting with the rules for wishing before, in 1086: Eyelash Wish Log.


[Black Hat is holding a genie lamp in his hands. A genie has appeared from the end of the lamp. The genie is depicted as a turbanless Cueball-like figure floating without a lower body, having a puff of smoke in place of his legs.]
Genie: I will grant you one wish.
Genie: But beware, for I will twist the meaning of your words to teach you a lesson!
[Black Hat holds the lamp to his side. The genie has his arms crossed.]
Black Hat: Gotcha! Hmm.
Black Hat: I'm tired of carrying an umbrella. I wish it never rained again.
[Close-up on the genie.]
Genie: ...Okay.
Genie: I'm supposed to twist your words to teach you a lesson, but that actually sounds very straightforwardly bad.
Genie: Can you maybe try again?
[Zoom back to Black Hat and the genie.]
Black Hat: Fine. Just give me what I deserve.
Genie: Oh my god. Have you read any stories about wishes?
Black Hat: Come on! I want to get what's coming to me.
Genie: Listen, I'm just gonna give you $20 and call this even.

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To all you people reading the discussion, why can't I add my own person page? I mean, is a year too new? I think I know, (but I'm not completely sure.) (talk) 23:29, 22 February 2023 (UTC)

Oh, you have to have an old enough account to make one? I had been wondering how to. Thexkcdnerd (talk) 00:02, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
To "No Idea If There's A Character Limit LMAO": I have granted your wish, hope that will teach you a valuable lesson. If the Thexkcdnerd or any one else need the same favor just write me a message on my page --Kynde (talk) 08:06, 24 February 2023 (UTC).
He already had one with several comments in it already, not sure how there's two now??? And personally, I never looked into how to make a Talk page, didn't have one for years until someone made mine a couple of months ago. :) Partially I figured I'd never notice messages there. NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:25, 26 February 2023 (UTC)

Ironically, a banknote created by a genie would be counterfeit, although the odds of legal trouble over $20 are nonetheless low. 23:43, 22 February 2023 (UTC)

It doesn't have to be. The genie could take one away from someone, or just get one that's been lost. Also, the sentence for counterfeiting is the same regardless of the denomination. SDSpivey (talk) 00:31, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
The sentence for counterfeiting may be the same but the probability someone would actually go through the trouble of prosecuting you for $20 is much less than say $10,000 03:04, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
The US Treasury Dept. prosecutes every case it can prove. SDSpivey (talk) 04:06, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
So 2 things: First of all they need to prove it. For that someone has to notice. Not every 20-Dollar-note will be scanned, and I guess the genie could make a pretty good copy (if he needs to copy it). Also noone said US-Dollar. The Genie could make a twist and use one of over 20 other currencies called dollar. Not sure if US Treasury Dept. would be interested in that :D by the way, the eastern caribean dollar has the short "XCD" - does anyone think that a thousand of those would be labeled XkCD? --Lupo (talk) 13:13, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
Or he could use Monopoly money. Or Geniedollars. He never said it would be legal tender, after all. 14:42, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
For me, Monopoly Money has always been in £s (the board I always used going from Old Kent Road to Mayfair, naturally), though I've noticed that online (hyperinternational) representations, that I see in game-ads, now seem to use a special "barred-M" currency symbol (to copy how £, €, ¥ and $ are variously barred versions of L, E, Y and S).
What Cueball-genie would use is an interesting phosophical question. I suspect he just gets whatever he needs (for personal use) out of petty cash and settles it up later. 15:47, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
Yes, I've read some story where a wish-granting entity generated money by re-printing money lost in some catastrophe (like, burned down, sunk in ship or something). Technically, such banknote is counterfeit, but it's impossible to prove it. -- Hkmaly (talk) 00:58, 24 February 2023 (UTC)
A all powerful genie could make a 20 dollar bill that is now valid without taking it from anyone. Just making a new one and changing reality so it is one of the "real" bills. Also after all the trouble with Black Hat and the Genie offering the bill I'm sure it is valid. Suggesting he has his own money it ridiculous. What should he use those for? I'm sure it is a perfectly valid 20 dollar bill. And the discussion above is irrelevant for such a powerful genie. ;-) --Kynde (talk) 08:18, 24 February 2023 (UTC)
What would he have it for? For buying his frappegenieos, obviously. 09:08, 24 February 2023 (UTC)

That's cool. Try https://what-if.xkcd.com/23/. Part 1. I need a new signature. (but I'm not completely sure.) (talk) 23:46, 22 February 2023 (UTC)

I would (as the genie) just teleport Black Hat to the desert. No other trickery or devastation needed. SDSpivey (talk) 00:34, 23 February 2023 (UTC)

The oldest "Wish that I wish I didn't wish" I am personally aware of is Midas turning everything he touched into gold, including the food he tried to eat and his beloved daughter. Personally, I'd wish that the genie teach me a lesson. Nitpicking (talk) 03:16, 23 February 2023 (UTC)

Another such example from Greek mythology is that the goddess Eos married a mortal man called Tithonus, and asked Zeus to grant Tithonus eternal life. Unfortunately, she asked for eternal life rather than eternal youth, so Tithonus aged at the normal rate with predictably unfortunate results. (This one is important to bear in mind if a genie or god grants you a wish, and you're tempted to try for immortality...) Zoid42 (talk) 15:16, 26 February 2023 (UTC)

It's kinda funny how a citation is needed for claiming that wishing rain doesn't exist is bad because Randall will just cover it in "What If 3" 20:59, 22 February 2023 (UTC)

He already replaced the rain with candy in What If 2. -- 07:28, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
Citation needed is used way too much[citation needed] and we are already two that have removed two of those from the explanation. It is rarely funny[citation needed] and should really only be used when a citation is needed[citation needed]. ;-) --Kynde (talk) 08:18, 24 February 2023 (UTC)

The proper way of teaching Black Hat a lesson would be twisting his wish to make it beneficial to humanity. Tkopec (talk) 08:20, 23 February 2023 (UTC)

"And I want you to put it in my house." / [POOF!] - "Here, I turned your house into a Klein bottle." 08:25, 23 February 2023 (UTC)

That would better satisfy "And I want my house to contain it", from one single-step literalist perspective... Wishes-gone-strange usually work on the basis of the 'laziest' misinterpretation (with or without the intention of mallice) that doesn't require too much reinterpretation.
But how to misinterpret "put it in my house"? Hmmm... Nothing to suggest that it must stay there. Perhaps everything is going to be squeezed in through the front door and (Niagra Straw-like) eventually pushes most out of the back door. The house structure (but not fixtures and fittings) magically strengthened to continue being houselike, even as whatever the back yard is like (before it gets its own turn of being sequentially transported through) fills up with mountains (literally!) of the resulting wreckage/mishmash.
But not sure if the house itself is not already "in the house", i.e. its structure, to be exempt by prior "in"ness (if not ownership)... I'm not a genie, and have not gone through the rather extensive training/job-orientation that they clearly go through. 14:56, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
Wouldn't the simplest thing be to just turn the house inside-out? 16:48, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
"I've turned your house inside-out, and we redefine 'inside' and 'outside'. Everything, including the house itself, is within the 'outside' surface of the house." Except the small amount of air 'outside', of course. See also the "Asylum" in Douglas Adams's So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish. BunsenH (talk) 16:55, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
This idea has already been used by Randall in 2403: Wrapping Paper --Kynde (talk) 08:20, 24 February 2023 (UTC)

I had a good laugh when I saw one of these 'corrections'. US English mandates "fulfill", where the UK/etc English version is "fulfil", yet it also goes the other way and uses words like "reveler" where most (all?) other versions of English would prefer "reveller".
And would hope that, whenever words get USified, the editor involved realises (or "realizes", yet surprisingly not ever "realizez"!) that they aren't actually correcting typos (like they sometimes comment), merely relocalising the wordz.. sorry.. words! :P 15:21, 23 February 2023 (UTC)

...--JLZ0kTC5 (talk) 01:02, 24 February 2023 (UTC)

In https://xkcd.com/1086/, it's shown that Black Hat gained the ability to wish on his eyelashes via wish; and if his wish on February 6th is anything to go by it's likely that whichever entity granted that wish deliberately misinterprets wishes in much the same way as this genie wants to. Should this be mentioned in the explanation? --A Stingray (talk) 19:47, 23 February 2023 (UTC)

Curious - if you put all the objects of the world's surface into Black Hat's house, would that be a neutron star, or would it get to a micro black hole? (talk) 19:49, 23 February 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The Schwarzschild radius of the whole Earth is less than 1cm, so we can say for sure that an accumulation of 'just' all things upon its surface into a volume the size of any house would be far short of gravitational collapse into a singularity.
I don't offhand know how much stuff there actually will be, thoug. We could start by extrapolating from something like this to work out how dense a packing you'd need in any given volume of house.
Likely still not anywhere near neutronium level, I'm guessing, because a tablespoon of neutron star apparently is the mass of Mt Everest, and you could fit a lot of tablespoons (or pour a lot of tablespoons'-worth of stuff into, though the distinction itself hardly matters) into even the smallest "bedsit" living space. 21:01, 23 February 2023 (UTC)
an Earth-mass neutron star wold be 305m in diameter (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron_star#Density_and_pressure). If you compress that down to the size of a typcal house, it would collapse into a black hole (question 3 here: https://www.astro.umd.edu/~miller/teaching/questions/neutron.html therefor if you have a house-size neutron star and add enough mass to make an earth-mass neutron star, it would collapse to a black hole). Ergo, if you have earth-mass matter in the space of a house, it would immediately become a singularity, and collapse down to the size of a coin. however, there is also another possibility, depending on how the genie adds the mass to the house. If the genie simple adds matter to the house, if slow enough it would start to undergo fusion and radiate the energy away. Third possibility. There is no known process to get neutronium except in supernovae, so we have to assume the genie will simply start with a house-sized amount of neutronium, and added mass. This would quickly form a VERY SMALL black hole. Adding mass from here would put the material in the BH's accretion disk; some would fall in, some would stay in the disk, and some would radiate away. - Weylin Piegorsch 03:22, 24 February 2023 (UTC)
Everything in the world could mean the entire universe too. And even if just the Earth, what then about Earth it self? If threes are things then what about rocks? If rocks are things then what about molten rocks? And if that's a thing then the entire Earth should be in the house. Still it would not become a black hole. --Kynde (talk) 08:18, 24 February 2023 (UTC)
If it's everything in the XKCD world, then it's all 2-dimensional, so would have no mass. The genie could just colour in Black Hat's house solid black (the blackest black there is) and erase everything else XKCD from existence, including Black Hat himself. And the genie. Of course, that would meet essentially the same problem as the 'never rain' scenario. 09:17, 24 February 2023 (UTC)
Ooh I like previous answer :) But to "not a black hole" - an Earth-mass neutron star (assuming you can make one) would be 300m in diameter. That's bigger than a typical house. I suppose you could consider "House of God", which means Genie could get away with making no changes at all, or Buckingham Palace, which might just be big enough to fit that neutron star. Otherwise, to get the neutron star down to the size of a house, once you get it *just a little* smaller than 300m it near-instantly collapses to a Black Hole. So a Earth-mass black hole is far smaller than a house, but there is no possible Earth-mass thing the size of a house, excpet perhaps the accretion disk around a near-Earth mass black hole. -Weylin Piegorsch 17:22, 24 February 2023 (UTC)
For everything in the world, I would not expect to count the entire world (or universe!) itself. Maybe whole mountains (or significant volumes of water, or swathes of atmosphere) as it encompasses "things of importance" within (unexcavated diamonds, all the fish, every in-flight airplane?), but not significant amounts of lithosphere (on top of the pedosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere). So we're nowhere near an Earth-mass, by my estimation. But IANAGenie, so I haven't been shown the SOP or manual that covers such interpretations... 19:25, 24 February 2023 (UTC)
For everything in the world, and assuming that the genie isn't trying hard to twist things to a harmless interpretation, I'd expect everything from the lithosphere down. BunsenH (talk) 22:44, 24 February 2023 (UTC)
I'm actually good with the above two rebuttals. I personally would advocate for an interpretation of "in the world" to include supra-surface features, though where you draw that line (stratosphere? ionosphere? magnetosphere? Hill sphere minus moon's Hill sphere?) would be open to debate. However, I think that might be an interesting debate for another forum. In the context of interpreting this comic, "in" == lithosphere-only vs "in" = lithosphere-on-down vs "in" = lithosphere-on-down plus some amount of atmosphere/magnetosphere/Hill sphere I think would all be valid interpretations. it's likely that lithosphere-on-down plus any definition of atmosphere that excludes the moon is probably fairly close in mass (though I didn't research that). For anything the includes the entire mass of Earth, it's likely a black hole would eventually form (though there are outlier cases where it may simply result in a fusion-based radiation explosion). For lithosphere only, if we take the lower value from here https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-total-mass-of-the-Earths-crust and then convert that to neutron-star size here... well actually I couldn't find an easy reference to figure that out (likely because it's a VERY obscure question). But if we take Earth mass of 6×10^24 kg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_mass), and ratio it, lithosphere is 2.4x10^22 / 6x10^24 = 4x10^-3 earth masses. Assuming a neutron star has uniform density for all masses (not a valid assumption but lithosphere-mass neutron stars can't be created by non-genie means, so whatever), we can then ratio the volumes of the resulting neutronium spheres. Earth-mass neutron star is 300m radius, V = pi*R^2 therefor V(E)/V(l) = pi*(300m)^2 / pi*R(l)^2, or the radius of a lithosphere-size neutron star is R(l) = 300m*sqrt(V(l)/V(E)). Since we're assuming ratios, V(l)/V(E) = 1/4*10^-3 = 250, which results in the radius of a lithosphere-size neutron star of 300m/sqrt(250) = 19m radius, or 38m diameter. At that point, it really depends on the size of Black Hat's house - 38m is within reasonable width of a house. Er... a rather large house, but still reasonable size. To be fair, this is the radius of a resultant neutron star, and a 38m-wide house is much more box-ish than spherical, so it would likely still need to get squished to fit that size house, where that "squishing" would still force it to collapse into a BH. However, since were talking genie magic - if we consider the largest houses, they may (I don't know, I'll assume) have a volume comparable to sphere of 19m radius, and therefor the genie's magic would be able to contain it within the boundaries of the house. So to summarize: given what is in the comic, and reasonable interpretations, there may be a fusion-radiation explosion; or a very weird neutron star; or a BH; or a BH with accretion disk radiating like crazy; and all of these may be sitting either the void of space or atop a lithosphere-less Mantle (and I'm too tired to think through THAT ramification), and any of these may or may not be sitting inside some kind of atmosphere. Since all of those possibilities are reasonable, therefor it is ambiguous and unanswerable exactly what would happen, given the limited data in the comic. Regardless, one things is certain: NONE of these are happy outcomes. At least the Moon likely would be fine. I hope. Maybe I should book the next ULA launch, with some building materials.... - Weylin Piegorsch 01:57, 25 February 2023 (UTC) ***UPDATED*** to correct volume formula (had previously used area formula), and anyway I had the math wrong: V = (4/3)pi*r^3 -> if we cancel the (4/3)pi, V(E)/V(l) = r(E)^3/r(l)^3 -> r(l) = ((V(l)/V(E))*r(E)^3)^(1/3) = (250*305)^(1/3) = 42m radius of lithosphere-mass neutronium sphere. That's a bit big for any house, but the biggest houses in the world (https://www.magicbricks.com/blog/biggest-house-in-the-world/122852.html) have enough volume for it, assuming genie magic can constrain it to an appropriate shape, and assuming genie magic can add additional pressure to overcome the unsuitably-low gravity to overcome electron degeneracy pressure threatening to make it explode. Therefor, corrected math, but ultimatey the same results. - Weylin Piegorsch 21:28, 25 February 2023 (UTC)
Given the secondary specification of all the "people, money, trees...", I'm more inclined to believe that the interpretation of "in" has by that point been defined as (a possibly further objective subset of) the range of soil-to-stratosphere... 06:01, 25 February 2023 (UTC)

At least it's not the lamp out of 879: Lamp. 12:39, 26 February 2023 (UTC)

Reminds me of an XFiles episode: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Je_Souhaite

"This is likely a reference to Roald Dahl's 'The Umbrella Man', a short story about a man who scams people by getting them to buy his stolen umbrellas for £20." I highly doubt that. In the Roald Dahl story, the man sells his stolen umbrellas for one pound, not twenty, and the genie isn't buying Black Hat's umbrella. There seems to be no connection. I think that claim should be removed from the page. 19:39, 7 March 2023 (UTC)