950: Mystery Solved

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Mystery Solved
The Roanoke Lost Colonists founded Roanoke, the Franklin Expedition reached the Pacific in 2009 when the Northwest Passage opened, and Jimmy Hoffa currently heads the Teamsters Union--he just started going by 'James'.
Title text: The Roanoke Lost Colonists founded Roanoke, the Franklin Expedition reached the Pacific in 2009 when the Northwest Passage opened, and Jimmy Hoffa currently heads the Teamsters Union--he just started going by 'James'.


In this comic, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart's plane comes back to land after it went missing in 1937. It was presumed that Earhart was dead and that her plane went down into the ocean at some point during her journey, although various alternate theories have arisen since then, with no clear answer to the mystery. However, this comic proposes a much simpler explanation: there was no disappearance, it just took her 74 years to fly around the Earth. This explanation is simple, but impossible.

Earhart seems to think the person she is talking with is stupid for not comprehending such a simple answer, but in fact her explanation raises a multitude of other questions. Among them:

  • How did it take so long for her to land? (She answers that the world is big, but it isn't so big that it takes 74 years to fly around it, even with 1937 technology. Earhart had already completed the majority of her journey before disappearing, and had "only" to cross the Pacific Ocean -- with stops in Howland Island and Hawaii -- before returning to her point of origin in Oakland, California. Had her flight succeeded, she could have completed it within three days of when she was last seen.)
  • How did she survive that long, apparently without aging?
  • Why didn't her plane fall apart (as even one year of continuous flight would have induced considerable depreciation (wear and tear) on many of the plane's mechanical components, and Amelia Earhart could not have repaired the plane while flying it)[citation needed] or run out of fuel?
  • Why didn't anyone else see her on her journey or at least detect her with radar?
  • Why doesn't she know that a flight shouldn't take 74 years?

Another possibility is that she did not just fly around the earth, but flew very fast (near light speed) for 74 non-subjective years to return without having aged much. However, this would not explain why she thinks it is a long trip around the earth, and it raises the additional questions of how she would accomplish this feat in a twin-engine monoplane and how no one else noticed any signs of her plane traveling near light speed, such as a 74-year-long sonic boom.

Earhart's disappearance gave birth to many conspiracy theories. One of these, which was explored in the TV series Star Trek: Voyager, involves her being abducted to another part of the galaxy, where she was left in cryogenic stasis until found by the Voyager crew. Something similar could be the case here, having Earhart frozen by aliens until 2011.

The title text lists a few more deceptively mundane answers to long-unsolved mysteries that at first seem to dispel the questions with boring logic, but in fact raise more questions than they answer. The first is the lost colonists of Roanoke, who were one of the first groups to come to North America, but then suddenly disappeared, leaving their colony untouched. The comic suggests that they simply left to found Roanoke, Virginia. Like all the other explanations in this comic, this doesn't explain how this simple solution became lost to public knowledge. It also doesn't explain why they abandoned their original colony, or how they made it to Roanoke, Virginia, which is more than 300 miles away, or where they were between when their colony was found abandoned in 1590 and when the future Roanoke, Virginia, was established over 200 years later, in the nineteenth century.

The second mystery in the title text, the Franklin Expedition, was a British voyage in 1845 to study the Northwest Passage that also disappeared, somewhere in northern Canada. The text suggests that the expedition wasn't lost; it was still exploring and eventually found its way to the Pacific Ocean in 2009. This is impossible, because the men on the expedition would be long dead. As a side note, both of the Franklin Expedition ships were eventually found wrecked in the years after this comic was published: one in 2014, and the other in 2016.

The final mystery is Jimmy Hoffa, the famous Teamsters Union leader who went missing in 1975 and declared dead in 1982 (possibly murdered). The comic says Jimmy simply opted to switch to the more formal version of his name; again, this raises the question of how such a thing would be possible without anyone noticing. The current head of the Teamsters is in fact named James Hoffa (he is Jimmy Hoffa's son and goes by "James P. Hoffa" professionally); the comic could be implying that the senior Hoffa is not only alive but actually impersonating his own son, which would raise the question of why the supposed "son" doesn't look suspiciously older than he claims to be.


[A twin prop airplane flies high overhead.]
Off-screen person: What's that airplane?
[The plane has landed (shown in gray in the background), and the pilot, wearing an aviator hat and goggles, is walking towards the crowd waving.]
Off-screen person: Holy crap— Is that Amelia Earhart?
[A close up of Amelia Earhart waving.]
Amelia: Hey everyone! My flight was a success!
Off-screen person: But... Where were you!?
[A wide view of Amelia, she stops waving.]
Amelia: I flew around the world!
Off-screen person: But you disappeared in 1937!
[A close up of Amelia Earhart.]
Amelia: Right, to fly around the world.
Off-screen person: It's 2011!
Amelia: The world is big. It's a long flight.
[A wide view of Amelia]
Off-screen person:
But you...
It's not...
I -
Amelia: Can I talk to someone smarter?


This is the first xkcd comic featuring Amelia Earhart.

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The Northwest Passage is a sea route from the North Atlantic to the Pacific, north of the North American continent. It has not been "open" until very recent years; the icepack extends far enough south that it is not generally navigable. 16:12, 13 December 2012 (UTC)

Another possible explanation is that the world includes more than just Earth. Amelia might have had to travel at or over the speed of light, which would also explain the time effects. 21:23, 21 January 2014 (UTC)

Yeah... I'm pretty sure this can't be looked at with a logical eye. I find this explanation to be lacking and I will probably return to do some re-working. Lackadaisical (talk) 01:44, 19 April 2016 (UTC)

About impersonating your son - that's what all vampires and other long-lived people do. 18:20, 9 October 2021 (UTC)

If she flew at near lightspeed for 74 years, it wouldn't have taken her 74 years from our perspective. Maybe she's been living on some unknown island for 70 years? IJustWantToEditStuff (talk) 04:27, 10 October 2022 (UTC)

Added "objective" to that bit, to make it plain it wasn't her years but (within the most handy alternate frame of reference) ours. It has to fit with the non-aging aspect of the whole mystery, so the living-on-an-island answer doesn't replace the lightspeed one that way. (Unless the island had mystically soporific qualities, like Sleeping Beauty's castle!) 08:52, 10 October 2022 (UTC)
....someone undid that edit without any attempt at explanation (hello? did that person read this at all?). Possibly a metaphysical issue with there being no absolute objective frames of reference, as I had myself pondered during the insertion of that word, but I'm not sure it was quite so well thought out. So I put "non-subjective" in its place, instead, to perhaps better serve the same purpose but without (the same) problems. Hopefully that will satisfy both you (IJWTES) and them, this time. If not, I'll just let someone else work out the better way to mention/clarify it. 09:06, 11 October 2022 (UTC)

...noting, in passing, the current news story claiming to have found her plane. (Well, a plane, is the most I'd credit it at right now. But future editors will know more.) 13:25, 30 January 2024 (UTC)