96: Mail

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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I'm on the USPS no fly list
Title text: I'm on the USPS no fly list


Cueball's interlocutor is working their way through a list of increasingly impractical or impossible suggestions for things to send through postal mail. The pay-off is that they have already somehow sent a package of time through the mail, and this is taking a while to arrive, presumably because the amount of time it will take to reach the recipient is equal to the amount of time being sent. By the time it reaches Cueball, the time will have passed, and therefore not be of much use.

The reference to a 'package of time' could refer to quantizing time ("discrete packets of time") - a theory that time is not continuous as particles in the quantum mechanics. It could be one of the big mistakes in modern science, but feels as if there's more to it, in the world of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.

A no-fly list is a list of people who are not allowed to use commercial airlines for travel. In the United States, it is maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center. According to the title text, the person sending strange objects through mail is on a no-fly list for the United States Postal Service (USPS). While the USPS has a list of items banned from being shipped in the mail, which includes most consumer electronics with lithium batteries, it does not have such a list for people. This could suggest that this person has attempted to send so many strange items that USPS will no longer accept mail from him, or it could imply that they attempted, at one point, to send themselves via air mail, and have been banned from doing so again.

This comic might be related to W. Reginald Bray, an Englishman from the turn of the 20th century, who was famous for mailing unusual objects (including himself) to experiment with the postal system.

A list of the things:

  • A running chainsaw: While a chainsaw may be mailed with appropriate precautions, a running chainsaw would be very dangerous to mail, assuming there was a constant power source.[citation needed]
  • A baby's first word: This is a sound, and thus cannot be mailed. It could be recorded, and the recording mailed.
  • A blank stare: This is abstract, and the closest to mailing it would be a picture.
  • A dizzying height: Like the above, this is abstract. However, someone could conceivably package and mail a telescoping ladder, such that it would allow the recipient to reach a dizzying height.
  • Pi: This is a mathematical term close to 3.141592653589793238462643383..., but it is infinitely precise and thus cannot be mailed to the full extent of its precision. However, with a compass and ruler, someone could draw a graph that would represent a line of length pi. (It would be considerably easier to mail pie, which is a homophone of pi...though also a poor substitute.)


[Cueball is talking to someone through a phone.]
Phone: Do you think I could mail a running chainsaw to someone?
Cueball: I doubt it
Phone: What about a baby's first word?
Cueball: Look, your obsession with sending strange things through the mail is getting out of hand.
Phone: Can you mail a blank stare?
Phone: A dizzying height?
Phone: Pi?
Cueball: ...
Phone: Well, did you at least get that package of time I sent you?
Cueball: I... you... no, I didn't.
Phone: Well, there was a lot of it, so it will probably take a while

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How about a bobcat? 05:57, 30 December 2013 (UTC)

No, but live scorpions are: http://pe.usps.com/text/pub52/pub52c5_007.htm -- 15:36, 20 January 2014 (UTC)

526.5 explains when they're allowed and how to mail them: https://pe.usps.com/text/pub52/pub52c5_008.htm#ep184083 Solomon (talk) 06:15, 15 June 2023 (UTC)

I think it's black hat guy on the other end of the phone line. 20:47, 20 January 2014 (UTC)

If it were the black hat guy, he'd have something more snarky to say. This cueball's character is more in line with beret guy. 07:08, 26 February 2015 (UTC)BK201
Black hat does have an obsession about these things. see 325. This seems to be likely that it's him. But ill leave the desicion to someone else. 05:23, 7 June 2016 (UTC)

Did anyone else read it as him not being allowed to mail himself via USPS? --Pudder (talk) 17:12, 27 November 2014 (UTC)

A package of time, if it even made sense, would not require time not to be continuous. However I won't remove that paragraph from the explanation. 19:18, 5 September 2017 (UTC)

The second paragraph here is rather unclear and could use some rewriting. Unfortunately, I can't get a good enough grasp of what it's trying to say to do it.

  • The first sentence I think is trying to say something like "...time is not continuous - similar to particles in quantum mechanics", but I don't know enough about the subject to know if this makes sense.
  • The first part of the second sentence looks like it's trying to say "This is not a widely accepted theory..."
  • I don't know what the second part of the second sentence is getting at at all

Can anyone else have a go at it? 12:09, 17 January 2018 (UTC)

isn't pi either close to a number with a fixed number of decimals (as before the revision by M), or equal to a number with indefinite decimals (as indicated by the "...")? So that the combination of close to and the "..." makes it at least inaccurate? As I am not 100% familiar with English mathematical writing: Can someone please verify or contradict my statement? --Lupo (talk) 15:00, 12 March 2019 (UTC)

You can define a rational number that is arbitrarily close to pi (example: off by no more than 1 in 10 to the tenth power). You can never write down (or digitally store) the exact value of pi. Nitpicking (talk) 03:22, 16 August 2021 (UTC)

It could also be a literal no fly list, as in the insect fly. 12:12, 12 May 2022 (UTC)