2773: Planetary Scientist
Title text: This rumpled fabric at the corner looks like evidence of ongoing tectonic activity.
Ponytail, a planetary scientist, is shopping at a mattress store. The store clerk seems to be giving her a guided tour of various models of mattress, including the most popular model shown in the comic.
Ponytail asks if the bed is a waterbed, a type of mattress which is filled with water instead of the usual solid material. The clerk, Cueball, begins to explain to her that it's actually a hybrid made of foam (among other things, maybe water, but it's usually the terminology used for a significantly hi-tech foam/spring combination construction, rather than just the former or the latter with or without minor padding), but Ponytail interrupts him, saying that she believes it actually is a waterbed based on "how it moves."
The comic caption reveals the punchline, that because subsurface oceans have become so ubiquitous in the study of planetary science (especially because they serve as an indicator for the potential for life on another planet), Ponytail is starting to see them everywhere, even in clearly unrelated contexts such as mattresses. Here, the water in the waterbed is analogous to a planet's subsurface ocean (i.e. both being water underneath a solid outer layer). Alternatively, the comic could be commenting on the difficulty of discerning hydroxyl spectra of water absorbed in mineral hydrates from free water in remote detection studies of the Moon, asteroids, the moons of Jupiter and those of other large planets, like Uranus.
The title text goes in a similar direction with planetary science, having Ponytail tell the now-confused clerk that the rumpled fabric on one part of the bed seems like "evidence of ongoing tectonic activity," referencing tectonics and how protruding geographic formations (such as mountains) are formed through it. Again, the punchline is the relentless penetration of Ponytail's occupation into her everyday life. Typically, however, rumpled fabric may be caused by someone pushing the fabric on a bed, or just not making the bed carefully enough, and not 'mattress tectonics' as Ponytail suggests; though this might well be a humorous reference to sexual activity, which often takes place on beds and frequently causes fabric rumpling, as has been previously referenced in xkcd.
- [Ponytail is shopping for a mattress and Cueball points with one hand towards a mattress to their left. It lies on a bed with two mattresses on top of each other, there is a price tag on the one on top. To their right is another bed with one mattress also with a price tag. Both price tags have a $ sign on them. There are five wall posters behind them. To their left is one with a picture of a bed with unreadable text above and below. Next to it is a smaller note with three lines of unreadable text. To their right is a poster with a zoom in on a mattress with some item on top of it that looks like a wineglass. There is a line of unreadable text above. Next to that are two slim posters, one has a large word "Sale" on it, but the rest of the text on that and on the one below is unreadable.]
- Cueball: And this is one of our most popular models.
- Ponytail: Is it a waterbed?
- Cueball: No, it's a hybrid foam--
- Ponytail: No, look at how it moves. I'm pretty sure it's a waterbed.
- [Caption below the panel:]
- Planetary scientists are starting to see subsurface oceans everywhere.
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