547: Simple

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Actually, I think if all higher math professors had to write for the Simple English Wikipedia for a year, we'd be in much better shape academically.
Title text: Actually, I think if all higher math professors had to write for the Simple English Wikipedia for a year, we'd be in much better shape academically.


There are three Cueballs discussing a particle accelerator. One Cueball asks the others about the "tertiary Free-electron laser (F.E.L) guidance system". As this is a fairly technical topic, we would expect a response filled with scientific jargon. The joke is that the other Cueball instead responds in a much simpler manner. He uses simple phrases such as "smash the right tiny things together" and "that would be very bad".

As the caption below the comic notes, Cueball (probably Randall) has spent the previous night reading the Simple English Wikipedia, a simplified version of Wikipedia intended to be easier to understand, and now he finds himself using similarly simple syntax. For example, the article for a particle accelerator describes it as "a machine that makes really tiny things called particles travel at very high speeds." This is similar to the simple response given by the responding Cueball. In the actual comic, Cueball was able to effectively communicate the dangers of using a broken F.E.L. using simple syntax similar to the style of the Simple English Wikipedia.

From the title text, Randall believes that if people teaching advanced mathematics followed this style, their subject would be more accessible. The implication is that more people would be drawn to studying mathematics and that (naturally) the world would be a better place because of this, ironically most likely true!

This concept was later revisited in 722: Computer Problems, 1133: Up Goer Five, Thing Explainer (probably most notably), 1322: Winter and 1436: Orb Hammer.


[Three Cueball-like guys stand in front of a sketch. The middle Cueball is the protagonist of the comic and will be called Cueball.]
Left Cueball-like guy: Do you have any thoughts regarding the particle accelerator's tertiary F.E.L. Guidance System?
Cueball: We can't put the broken part in the machine. It wouldn't smash the right tiny things together. Then the machine might break.
Cueball: That would be very bad.
[Caption below the frame:]
I spent all night reading simple.wikipedia.org, and now I can't stop talking like this.

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This is possibly even another take by xkcd at conspiracy theories such as the one in 966

In this comic too he presents conspiracy theories against each other, the black hole with the guidance system.

The fact that the reference of something bad happening is to the Black hole theories comes from the fact that the comic was drawn the same time the theories were most predominant.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_of_high_energy_particle_collision_experiments#Micro_black_holes Mr Andersom (talk) 13:40, 13 April 2013 (UTC)

I don't think there's a joke here regarding "particle accelerators not having a guidance system" (paraphrasing the first paragraph of explanation, currently). Maybe there's a confusion about the phrase "the particle accelerator's tertiary F.E.L. Guidance System"? The FEL (Free Electron Laser, IIRC) itself is a tunable lasing 'cavity' for electrons that is magnetic, not optical, in nature, but (again, IIRC) is supplied with electrons at relativistic speeds by way of a particle accelerator (depending on which FEL, sometimes dedicated to the FEL and sometimes "from a main multipurpose ring", such as the LHC might be). Particle acceleration requires that the particles being accelerated be constrained within the ring (when being brung up to speed or collided within the ring's in-line experiment zones) or redirected out of the ring (or allowed to depart it, but still in a controlled manner) if being used for an out-of-ring experiment. It's true that particles being smashed are thrown together rather haphazardly (when compared, say, with collisions at the scale of vehicle crash tests), but there's actually quite a lot of sophisticated detection equipment used to work out the path of the particles so that guidance can be applied by magnetic fields (separately from the 'corner turning' ones and/or including those). I think I would consider such systems (including the ones that 'extract' particles for use in off-ring experiments) worthy of the title "guidance systems", albeit external to the particle as opposed to on-board like on a smart missile... And so if (and I haven't checked, so colour me wrong if I turn out to be so) the complex has at least three FELs attached, it's reasonable to assume that the third of these (hierarchically speaking) has, like its brethren, a particle guidance system involved at some point to ensure the electron supply is suitably contained and piped into it... Or it refers to the third of (at least three) beam-guiding systems for the lone FEL. Maybe even this means something active within the magnetic "wiggler" assembly of the FEL itself, or even (if this is what they do) on the output to the FEL leading into the LHC itself... But whichever it is, it the relevent FEL Guidance System surely exists in some form or other.

...TL;DR; - I'm pretty much sure the joke is more of an "Up-goer 5" nature... I also don't see any reference to Black Holes/conspiracy theories... It's just doing an "If this part is broken, you will not go to space collide any particles today" thing, surely? 22:05, 27 May 2013 (UTC)

Sorry, but I have no time to read this comment. Keep short! --Dgbrt (talk) 22:18, 27 May 2013 (UTC)
I agree with There's nothing about conspiracy theories, even indirectly. I've removed that part. I also don't see anything criticizing Simple English Wikipedia, or two versions. To the contrary, he praises it (albeit somewhat exaggeratedly) in the title text. I left it for now, though. Mattflaschen (talk) 08:44, 13 October 2013 (UTC)

There is a community portal discussion of what to call Cueball and what to do in case with more than one Cueball. I have added this comic to the new Category:Multiple Cueballs. Since there is clearly one Cueball that is the protagonist and do most of the "talking" he should probably be listed as Cueball. Just made a note that the other guys also looks like Cueball. --Kynde (talk) 21:19, 7 June 2015 (UTC)

Maybe it would be worth adding a reference to Randall's new book "Thing Explainer", which follows the same concept.-- 00:12, 6 December 2015 (UTC)

Nah, it's fine without it, since the comic doesn't directly refer to it (for obvious reasons) and because it's not based on the concept of the limited vocabulary that Thing Explainer and Up Goer Five, it's just simplistic. -Pennpenn 02:40, 22 January 2016 (UTC)

I looked at the Simple English Wikipedia and there's actually quite a lot of math in it. Maybe the 1st step of the solution would be to add all that stuff to the top of the regular wikipedia pages and shove all the heavy abstraction further down the page. It's advantageous for the 'average' reader to encounter something legible to them first, and it might remind the math professors how to talk to the less-initiated. A good example: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graph_theory - savetheoxygen.org

This is your first contribution, and I'm not sure what the domain-name/username thing is abou, but I'll give you benefit of the doubt without actually seeing where I'd land if I tried it... But just FYI, use ~~~~ to sign your (Talk/Discussion) edits. If you're serious about sending people off to another place, put something in your User: pages and/or adjust your signature.
Your comment is fairly good, BTW, but I have nothing to add. I just can't create the User:Talk page to mention all this there, so maybe you'll eventually see this instead. Welcome to the site, if you're still wishing to be active and helpfully contributing. (I'm just a random IP guy, my opinions/etc are my own. But if we argue about anything here it's more about grammar/relativity/what-a-given-drawn-line-represents than personality or first impressions!) 12:57, 2 March 2022 (UTC)