2861: X Value

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X Value
The value of n is still unknown, but new results constrain it to fall between 8 and 10^500, ruling out popular 'n=1' and 'n=2' theories.
Title text: The value of n is still unknown, but new results constrain it to fall between 8 and 10^500, ruling out popular 'n=1' and 'n=2' theories.


In algebra, a variable is any symbol used to represent a number that has not been determined or chosen. The most familiar algebraic variable is x (the unknown input), with y often being the yet-to-be-determined output (its value being dependent on x). According to the comic, the value of x has finally been found, being 4.1083. The joke is that a general-purpose variable, which may take different values in different scenarios, turns out to have a specific value, as though it were a constant. Constants in mathematics and other scientific fields are also often represented by a single symbol - some of the most well-known are π (3.14159...), e (Euler's number, 2.71828...), i (an Imaginary unit, where i2 = -1), and c (the speed of light in a vacuum, 299,792,458 m/s (670,616,629 mph, 1,079,252,848.8 km/h, 1.8026x1012 fur/ftn)).

The specific number 4.1083 does not have any notable significance or special role in the contexts of physics, chemistry, finance, astronomy or cryptography. This number to 3 decimal places, 4.108, was referenced previously in comic 899: Number Line.

The title text declares the value of n is unknown. n is often used as an unknown/undetermined integer value. In statistics, it might be used to specify the size of a sample. For example, a list where n = 50 would mean the list contains 50 data points, for which that number of iterations or a larger number of cross-comparisons might be expected.

According to the title text, however, the value of n has been narrowed down to somewhere between 8 and 10500, or one hundred quinsexagintacentillion. This narrowing-down isn't particularly narrow, although it is perhaps quite specific compared to the 'pre-narrowing' possibilities of being absolutely any finite value at all.

The title text also says that this narrowing has ruled out the (usually) simplest values of 1 or 2. Saying "n=1" or "n=2" is a popular way to disclaim or discredit a story implying causality. An anecdote followed by the disclaimer "n=1" typically involves a personal experience or observation that someone shares as a point of reference or evidence, but then acknowledges that it's just a single instance and may not be representative of a broader trend or truth.

For example, someone might say, "I started eating a spoonful of honey every morning, and ever since then, I haven't caught a cold. It must be boosting my immune system." Then, realizing that this is just their personal experience, they add, "But of course, that's just my experience - n=1. It's not scientific evidence that honey prevents colds."

In this example, "n=1" is used to acknowledge that the claim is based on a single instance (n refers to the sample size in a study, with 1 indicating only one subject or data point) and may not be a reliable or generalizable conclusion.

If values of 1 or 2 have been ruled out, that implies that all causality claims based on observations technically have at least 8 observations (whether known or unknown). In the honey-cold example, that means at least 7 other people have had the same experience.


[A math formula is circled.]
x = 4.1083
[Caption below the panel:]
Big math news: They finally figured out the value of x.

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


transcript and short explanation added someone, i guess(talk i guess|le edit list) 18:47, 29 November 2023 (UTC)

Is there an easter egg here? Is 4.1083 a significant constant in some field? 19:00, 29 November 2023 (UTC)

Dunno...but when I Googled it, it came up with a picture of a motorcycle I used to own - same vintage, same colour, same non-original aftermarket panniers - which was a little strange. Anybody else return any results centred around long-since-departed vehicles?
Or not? Yorkshire Pudding (talk) 19:31, 29 November 2023 (UTC)
Googling for it showed me... a picture of this very xkcd. It's recursive? Ralfoide (talk) 20:46, 29 November 2023 (UTC)
Nothing interesting on Wolfram Alpha either https://www.wolframalpha.com/input?i=4.1083 Ruffy314 (talk) 16:26, 30 November 2023 (UTC)
I noted a proximity of "4.108(3)" to "42" and wondered if there was a connection ("how close can I get to 'the answer' without getting hammered for plagiarism or infringement?"). The comment below suggesting a link to the November 2023 "value" (= market capitalization) of X/Twitter is brilliant, but given that the market cap figure seems to have been posted on the day this comic was released, plus the evidence from comic 899, "coincidence" is probably the best explanation. 18:27, 30 November 2023 (UTC)

https://www.der-postillon.com/2012/08/mathemuffel-erleichtert-wert-von-x-ein.html 20:42, 29 November 2023 (UTC)

This is in german, could you maybe give a translation at least? someone, i guess(talk i guess|le edit list) 20:45, 29 November 2023 (UTC)
Here is the English article: https://www.the-postillon.com/2017/04/value-of-x.html 06:36, 1 December 2023 (UTC)
Basically the same joke, x being set to 5 in this case. The website is a satirical online newspaper. --Coconut Galaxy (talk) 06:12, 30 November 2023 (UTC)

The "narrowing down" of n might be a reference to a combinatorics problem Ron Graham was solving, managing to narrow down the dimensions of the hypercube with a certain property to be more than 6 and less than... Well, Graham's Number. 22:12, 29 November 2023 (UTC)jamieth

Even that is accomplishment. Really, narrowing number down from infinite set to finite one is the biggest narrowing you can do. -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:29, 29 November 2023 (UTC)
More than narrowing from one infinite set to a smaller infinite set? 08:35, 2 December 2023 (UTC)

"In string theory the number of flux vacua is commonly thought to be roughly 10^500,[4] but could be 10^272,000[5] or higher." -- String theory landscape#Compactified Calabi–Yau manifolds Abclop99 (talk) 22:23, 29 November 2023 (UTC)

As of today, the value of Twitter (which some may call X for unknown reasons) is of 41.09 Billion USD. This might be the joke? 22:50, 29 November 2023 (UTC)

The variable 'n' is often used in computer programs to be a counter for some activity that is repeated 'n' times. 'n' may be user input or it might be a calculated value like the number of items in a list. So the code would be something like, for the integer 'i' starting at 1 and iterating up to 'n' number of times in whatever computer language is being used. In this case, 'n' would be limited to the maximum value of the specific integer type in that computer language on that machine. Rtanenbaum (talk) 03:34, 30 November 2023 (UTC)::

A result that the math community has been waiting for for a long long time! 08:16, 30 November 2023 (UTC)

What is wrong with comic 899? I can access other pages, but 899 gives error. SDSpivey (talk) 16:50, 30 November 2023 (UTC)

...that comic works for me. By all means I can think of, but especially through either 899: Number Line, 899 or Number Line (the latter two being redirect-pages to the first, of course).
Now occasionally (more frequently than I'd like), the server comes back with a message that it can't (currently, in that instance) give you the page, for reasons of its own. More rarely (but not unknown), Cloudflare with tell you that the whole site just isn't responding. But (wait and) try again and it usually works. (Unless you've just filled in a CAPTCHA, in submitting a page edit, in which case it's likely to tell you that the CAPTCHA is wrong/not ticked/completed it, so you get told off and have to try again.)
If it's not such a transient problem, for you, could you let us know in what context you're trying to get there and failing?
PS. "New comments should be added at the bottom." Answer: Because it's confusing. Question: Why shouldn't we put new things in front of old things? 19:22, 30 November 2023 (UTC)
Make sure that you have your Math module settings to PNG, not MathML. This creates an error in pages with Math modules as mentioned in the FAQ someone, i guess(talk i guess|le edit list) 19:45, 30 November 2023 (UTC)
I've been having the same problem for the last 2 days: comic 899 won't load from any link or even a navigation button from an adjacent comic. I can access the talk page, but trying to get to comic 899 gives this result:
MediaWiki internal error.
:: I'm betting that comic 899 is the n'th comic and that broke math so the comic could not be displayed until someone from the math department at MIT stepped in and incremented n.

Original exception: [ZWloWSNSV_QR0qrq5MDPrwAAABA] 2023-12-01 05:00:09: Fatal exception of type "MWException"

Exception caught inside exception handler.

Set $wgShowExceptionDetails = true; at the bottom of LocalSettings.php to show detailed debugging information.
I'm logged in with my math preference set to MathML. Ah, I just changed to PNG and the page loads fine. Thank you. (I guess it's time to review the FAQ and see what else I'm doing wrong!) Orion205 (talk) 05:07, 1 December 2023 (UTC)

Careful research has also definitively determined that the best random number is 7. 20:37, 1 December 2023 (UTC)

Well, it wasn't my edit that was reverted, but it is a rather old and 'popular' joke in the field. (Of course, it's "N", not "n" in "P=NP". I had considered changing it, myself, to be more correct, but, it would have meant diluting the intended humour.) 18:44, 15 December 2023 (UTC)

Big O Notation?[edit]

I suspect the title text about n is a reference to big o notation where the function is only meaningful when n is large, but you might want to choose a function with "Bad Big-O performance" if you know in advance that n is below k (usually 2 or 3 or less than 10). https://stackoverflow.com/questions/842242/big-o-when-the-value-of-n-gets-very-small, thus ruling that n > 8 would ensure that the Big-O growth would predict the most performant function. -- Jh6p (talk) 21:51, 1 December 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Value of n[edit]

the value of n has been narrowed down to somewhere between 8 and 10^500

Reminds me the problem from Ramsey theory which inspired the creation of the Graham's number. The current lower limit is 13 (an improvement from the original lower limit of 6). The upper limit is a number whose decimal representation is too large to fit in the observable universe. - Mike Rosoft (talk) 07:24, 13 January 2024 (UTC)