915: Connoisseur

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Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.
Title text: Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.


White Hat is fond of good wine, and he can probably distinguish slight differences in different types of wine, perhaps being the type that attends wine tasting parties. He doesn't like the cheap wine that Cueball has served for him (implying a cheap wine cannot be a good one, an opinion held by stereotypical wine snobs), looking with disgust at the label of the offending bottle. On the other hand, Cueball doesn't have a preference; all of them taste the same for him, so presumably he gets the cheaper ones. White Hat tells Cueball that if he just tried some really good wine and paid more attention he would discover a whole new world.

Cueball's answer is the main message of the comic. He says that you can spend enough time focusing on the details of anything and develop an appreciation for the nuances. He lists a number of random categories that this is true of: house music, fonts, ants, ending with Wikipedia signatures and Canadian surrealist porn. He claims that, if you spend enough time focusing on any one subject, then you'll become a snobby connoisseur on that topic. This implies that wine drinking is simply a random hobby, no more valuable than any other.

White Hat does not seem to like this implication, and claims that some things have "more depth" than others. In many western societies, wine appreciation is a class signifier, and is treated as a mark of culture and education. White Hat appears to embrace this mindset, implying that there's an inherent quality in learning to distinguish "good" from "bad" wines, and that failing to do so means missing out on valuable experiences. Cueball counters this, maintaining that that same level of appreciation could be taken from any experience. As an extreme example, he chooses something as obscure as 500 pictures of Joe Biden, then Vice President of the United States under Barack Obama, eating a sandwich. He claims that if people were locked up in a box with those pictures for a year (therefore being forced to focus on them, for want of other stimulation), they would end up being connoisseurs with the same vehemence regarding which pictures are good (and what makes a picture good) as any wine connoisseur.

White Hat claims that this is an exaggeration, but Cueball takes this as a challenge so in the last panel, apparently White Hat and Cueball are actually running this experiment. The final panel shows a box containing at least two people arguing over the relative qualities of what appear to be the photos Cueball referenced earlier. The argument sounds very much like a pair of wine aficionados debating which vintages are best, displaying strong opinions about minute details and invented categories. Specialized interests and the people involved in them are used again, with ants being the subject of 1610: Fire Ants, typefaces in 590: Papyrus and 736: Cemetery, plastic straws in 1095: Crazy Straws, porn-video quality in 598: Porn, and common colds in 2535: Common Cold Viruses. In 1534: Beer, Cueball also argue slight differences in alcohol brands don't make much difference (in 915 "Wine all tastes the same to me."; in 1534, "maybe we should just admit that all beer tastes kind of bad and everyone's just pretending?") and people just pretend due to social pressure.

The title text presents the same idea in a different wording. Our brains scale the quality of all things the same way, with a subjective impression of the difference between best and worst largely the same, regardless of what is being evaluated. Things with a narrow dynamic range, like the Wikipedia signatures or pictures of Biden mentioned the comic, have their negligible differences in quality expanded so that the best are as good as the best of anything, and inversely for the worst.


[White Hat is holding a wine glass down in one hand and holding a bottle of wine up in front of him with the other hand. He is looking at the label and talking with Cueball standing next to him with his own filled wine glass in one hand. He is looking down at the glass.]
White Hat: How do you stand this cheap wine?
Cueball: Wine all tastes the same to me.
[Close-up of White Hat.]
White Hat: You've just never had good wine. If you paid more attention, you'd realize there's a whole world here.
[Close-up on Cueball, who spreads his arms out, resulting in the wine in the glass sloshing so much that part of the wine is above the rim of the glass, some even hanging over the edge and a spray droplet hanging above the sloshing liquid.]
Cueball: But that's true of anything! Wine, house music, fonts, ants, Wikipedia signatures, Canadian surrealist porn—
Cueball: Spend enough time with any of them and you'll become a snobby connoisseur.
[This panel has no border (aka a 'frameless panel') and is next to but aligned further down than the first three panels. It shows a zoom out of both White Hat and Cueball again. White Hat now has both glass and bottle held down at his side. Cueball holds his glass down, but tilted away from him. A small puddle of wine is on the floor next to Cueball.]
White Hat: But some things do have more depth than others.
Cueball: If you locked people in a box for a year with 500 still frames of Joe Biden eating a sandwich, by the end they'd be adamant that some were great and some terrible.
White Hat: You're exaggerating.
Cueball: Oh, really?
[This panel is below the feet of the two characters from the previous panel. It goes further to the left than those two, and is wider than the previous panels, but it does not go much past the middle, so there is a blank white space to the left of this panel, below the first and most of the second panel. It shows a box, with two star burst on the surface from where two voices emanate from the inside. Over the top left of the panels frame is a small frame with a caption:]
A year later:
[The voice from left side of the box:]
Sure, most closed-mouth frames are boring, but in #415, the way the man's jaw frames the mayo on his hand is pure perfection, and—
[The voice from right side of the box:]
What a surprise- you praising a mayo frame. Listening to you, I'd think there was nothing else in The Sandwich.
[The voice from right side of the box:]
Frankly, the light hitting J.B.'s collar through the lettuce would put #242 in my top ten even if he had no mayo on his hand at all.


This is the first xkcd comic featuring Joe Biden.

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Well he's right about fonts. I am hooked on Operator Mono, which costs like $200-300 if you purchase it legitimately 😗 ... -- 08:51, 3 December 2018 (UTC)

Let's face it: every wine connoisseur is an alcoholic. You have to drink a lot of wine over a long period of time to begin distinguishing all wine-types, flavors etc. Rule of nature. No discussion. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I hope you were drunk at least when you said this 🍻 -- 08:51, 3 December 2018 (UTC)
This is (I think) the second and third time I have seen emojis on this site, and I have obsessively used and edited this site for months. Not a thing to be proud of.
Actually, serious wine tasters spit out their drinks for exactly that reason. Amateurs... not so much. 22:00, 29 October 2021 (UTC)
Spitters are quitters. If you can't handle a little bit of alcohol, why even bother at all? 10:09, 4 December 2023 (UTC)

Beanie (talk) 11:11, 4 May 2021 (UTC) This is one of those xkcd comics that I'm just constantly linking back to as an image retort. I love Randall. Davidy²²[talk] 01:28, 17 April 2013 (UTC)

I expanded the explanation and removed the incomplete tag. 14:47, 5 December 2013 (UTC)

The current incomplete tag asks why voice 1 calls Joe Biden "the man" and voice 2 calls him J.B. As far as I can see, there is no deeper/cryptic meaning to the choice of these words, other than possible space saving. Both 'J.B.' and 'the man' are shorter than 'Joe Biden'. I personally don't believe that this requires any further explanation, but I will leave the incomplete tag for now. If there are no updates to the page or additional discussion here, I will remove the incomplete tag in due course. --Pudder (talk) 13:06, 30 July 2015 (UTC)

The stars are named Joe Biden, though. Hmmmm... RedHatGuy68 (talk) 05:20, 23 January 2016 (UTC)

This could be another 242 reference; the explanation to 903: Extended Mind describes Randall's use of 242 as an old inside joke, ãnd 242 also appears in 688: Self-Description. Pelosujamo (talk) 20:07, 5 February 2017 (UTC)

How can it be a reference to 1051 if it came before 1051162.158.63.106

I don't see how there is a reference between these to comics anyway. especially regarding canadian surealist porn. Closest thing in there is Autoerotic Asphyxiation... I'm gonna delete that there is this reference Lupo (talk) 18:48, 4 January 2018 (UTC)
Upon looking at it again to reread it, I notice, that the reference is not in the comic, but the explanation, as canadian surrealist porn is not a wikipedia link, but 3 of them for canada, surrealism and porn, which is basically the title text from 1051. Gonna delete it anyway, as it has no relevance. Lupo (talk) 18:50, 4 January 2018 (UTC)

All of us are connoisseurs of Randall Monroe eating a sandwich while drawing more comics.

That's what I was thinking as well. Us two connoisseurs have similar tastes. :P 02:47, 20 October 2021 (UTC)

canadian surrealist porn ughghghghg https://xkcd.com/1051/ title text

Me too... it's three separate links... Wilh3lm (talk) 15:17, 6 December 2023 (UTC)

Should change "a statement most wine enthusiasts passionately agree with" to "an opinion held by stereotypical wine snobs" because most wine enthusiasts know you can find joy in the right $20 bottle. 00:37, 8 April 2020 (UTC)

Go ahead and do it then? QoopyQoopy (talk) 00:59, 13 September 2020 (UTC)

Doing blind taste tests even the most expert wine connoisseurs can't tell the difference between red wine and white wine, never mind slight differences between different cultivars. It's all just a performance. -- The Cat Lady (talk) 13:05, 22 August 2021 (UTC)

This isn't quite true, actually---what the well-known study actually found is that people with moderate wine-tasting experience, when given white wine dyed to appear red and asked to describe it using words picked from a list, were more likely to pick words usually applied to red wine (compared to when they were given undyed white wine). (This essay has a nice discussion.) This seems to me like at best very slight evidence for wine tasting being "a performance"---senses interact in weird ways, especially in bizarre setups like this one.-- 06:57, 11 May 2023 (UTC)
There ought to be a follow-up study. I want to know what happens if you dye red wine white! 09:57, 11 May 2023 (UTC)

Just curious: did anyone not immediately do a web search to see if Canadian Surrealist Porn is a thing? (It doesn't seem to be, all the hits are either to this comic or to references to this comic.) Nitpicking (talk) 22:50, 12 September 2021 (UTC)

I do take a funny sense of satisfaction in Joe Biden being VP at the time of this comic's publishing and now being President. I don't know why; I don't even like the man's politics. I suppose I just like an XKCD comic suddenly becoming extra relevant beyond its initial circumstances. 02:47, 20 October 2021 (UTC)

Just you wait until he makes the sandwich America's national food... --Account (talk) 23:05, 29 October 2021 (UTC)

It looks like Cueball spilled his drink in the last panel Firestar233 (talk) 05:33, 31 October 2023 (UTC)