809: Los Alamos

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Los Alamos
The test didn't (spoiler alert) destroy the world, but the fact that they were even doing those calculations makes theirs the coolest jobs ever.
Title text: The test didn't (spoiler alert) destroy the world, but the fact that they were even doing those calculations makes theirs the coolest jobs ever.


This comic refers to the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico, where in 1945 their development of the first nuclear weapon had progressed to the point that they were going to explode "The Gadget" at Trinity Site. There was genuine concern that some unexpected result was possible, including the scenario about the atmosphere igniting. The scientists were almost certain that it would either work as expected, or just be a dud, but were unable to rule out several other scenarios. The test proceeded, and it worked as expected.

The joke part at the end is a reference to a common mnemonic device for basic trigonometric functions, namely identifying the relationships of sine, cosine, and tangent with respect to the lengths of a right triangle's edges: sine = opposite over hypotenuse, cosine = adjacent over hypotenuse, and tangent = opposite over adjacent (in other words, SOH CAH TOA.) "Steve" becomes concerned by the seriousness of the situation, and wants to make sure that he has not made a mistake on stuff that should be very elementary to a scientist in his position.

The title text mentions that there are very few jobs where one can say that with seriousness, as normal jobs do not involve technology capable of destroying worlds.[citation needed]

A Steve is referred to in a similar situation in comic 1532: New Horizons, where his miscalculations screw up the trajectory of the New Horizons space probe, sending it to Earth instead of Pluto. He would be at least 90 years old if it was to be the same Steve, though. A person named Steve also comes up with an inappropriate suggestion in 1672: Women on 20s.


[Cueball raising a hand points to Steve (see later) drawn as another shorter Cueball-like guy, and behind Cueball stand Hairy also looking at Steve. Partly behind Steve's head is a piece of paper on the wall with a circle around a central dot and four arrows pointing in towards the circle from each corner of the paper. Behind Hairy's head is another paper with a graph that looks like a positive third degree polynomial with three non-zero solutions. Between Cueball and Hairy at the level of their hands is a small square with two small dots at the two top corners. Seems like a part of the wall rather than a paper. During the next images the two on either side of Cueball moves their head in front or away from these papers so at least once the hole drawing can be seen. Over the panels top frame there is a frame with a caption:]
Los Alamos, 1945...
Cueball: We have a decision. If we've done our math right, this test will unleash heaven's fire and make us as gods.
[Cueball turns towards Hairy holding his arms out.]
Cueball: But it's possible we made a mistake, and the heat will ignite the atmosphere, destroying the planet in a cleansing conflagration.
[In a frame-less panel Steven takes a hand to his chin, while the other two turns towards him.]
Steve: Wow. Um. Question: Just to double-check— although I'm 99% sure—
[Cueball, still facing Steve, face-palms himself while Hairy turns away from Steve.]
Steve: Is it "SOH CAH TOA" or "COH SAH TOA"?
Cueball: Oh, for the love of... can someone redo Steve's work?
Hairy: I don't want to do the test anymore.

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How does trigonometry come into it?

I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 00:40, 26 January 2015 (UTC)

This is a really good question. If someone wanted to dive the paper I'd be about 99% sure they'd find some underlying physics that relied on trig, though. It tends to show up a lot through physics and chemistry. Singlelinelabyrinth (talk)

I think the joke of the title text lies in the word "spoiler alert".-- 02:32, 6 March 2015 (UTC)

Removed the following sentence from the explanation. Also, Steve says that he is 99% sure that it is "SOH CAH TOA, or COH SAH TOA," he is asking a question that doesn't work, since you can't be 99% sure that it is SOH CAH TOH or COH SAH TOA. It seems to stem from the explainer not understanding the comic. The "Although I'm 99% sure" is not a part of the question that follows, although it is part of the same sentence. Dashes are used to insert one sentence into another--like this--without changing the original sentence's meaning. Steve's comment could be rephrased as "I have a question, although I'm 99% certain that I know the answer. Is it SOH CAH TOA, or COH SAH TOA? 08:29, 28 May 2015 (UTC)

The comic also might be referencing a legend about how Trinity scientists came to Oppenheimer with their concern that the bomb might explode the world. He told them to run the math and if probability of destruction was under 1% they should still do the test (it was.) The comic implies then that the 1% probability has nothing to do with physics and is simply based on Steve's certainty about what Sine is. 12:57, 1 June 2015 (UTC)

I feel that the comment is both about Steve being "99% sure" of the SOHCAHTOA, and the test being "99% sure" of not destroying the world, since Steve seems to be a mathematician behind the explosion size and effects of "The Gadget". Drcrazy102 (talk) 00:09, 3 June 2015 (UTC)

I'd say that destroying the world is more of a 'make us as god' action than just making a big bomb. Mountain Hikes (talk) 23:10, 1 January 2016 (UTC)

This comic really made me think that "soh cah toa" is a bad mnemonic, since "coh sah toa" sounds just as natural and is a mistake. 13:22, 14 April 2017 (UTC)

I always think "Soccer toe," but needing a mnemonic to remember another mnemonic to remember something is weird. -- 23:54, 4 September 2019 (UTC)

I always used an individual mnemonic for each function, so cosine is rendered 'cos-adj-hyp'; sine as 'sin-opp-hyp'; and tangent as 'tan-opp-adj'. I haven't done any trigonometry for about 30 years, and nor have I checked the mnemonics are correct, so if they are, they've worked pretty well.

Achoo hats 23:48, 12 July 2020 (UTC)

The mnemonic I always used was "Sir Oliver's Horse Came Ambling Home To Oliver's Arms", which is just silly enough to be unforgettable.