1391: Darkness

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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This was actually wish #406. Wish #2 was for him to lose the ability to remember that each new wish wasn't my first.
Title text: This was actually wish #406. Wish #2 was for him to lose the ability to remember that each new wish wasn't my first.


In the comic the news anchor Ponytail describes the sunset as though it were an unprecedented, newsworthy event, rather than something mundane that happens every day. They even have a reporter (Cueball) on the spot reporting from where the darkness has spread so far.

The sunset is a common event. Isaac Asimov based his short story Nightfall on a fictional civilization that doesn't know darkness because the planet is always illuminated by the six stars surrounding it. The story describes how people would react (mass insanity, fall of civilization) when the orbital motion of the planet eventually leads to five of the suns setting, plus one in eclipse.

Describing mundane occurrences in unusual detail, to show off how odd they really are, is something Randall has done before (for instance about dreaming in 203: Hallucinations). But the caption below the main panel adds another twist to the joke by showing that the news report wasn't a mere imagine spot, but something actually happening due to the interference of Randall's final wish to his genie, which caused all news reporters to forget the day-night cycle.

Another possible meaning is that this comic is a reference to the way the media often talk about global warming as if each weather occurrence had meaning outside of its context like in 1321: Cold. That take on the weather and the day/night cycle being denied because of a skewed point of view was also used on the Daily Show. The segment "Unusually Large Snowstorm" from February 10, 2010 used the same trope. Several Daily Show correspondents have different views on the weather based on where they are, ending with a correspondent who equates nighttime with everlasting darkness.

The caption references the fact that there is a limit to the number of wishes. It is a common rule, often used in fiction, that you get three wishes from a genie in a bottle. There usually is an added stipulation that no wish may be used to acquire more wishes. In the title text, however, it is stated that Randall has managed to bypass the three wish limit rule. This was accomplished by using his second (#2) wish to simply make the genie unable to remember granting the speaker any wishes. He have thus used the same trick on the genie as he used here on the media. The media wish turns out not to have been his last (i.e. #3), but rather #406. This shows just how far, "make someone forget something", can go by applying it to the genie.

It is interesting that it was his second wish that gave him unlimited wishes. What did he wish for on wish #1? Maybe he wasted the first wish, because he did not believe the genie was able to grant wishes - a common error [citation needed]. On the other hand, he may have used the first wish to learn a way where his second wish could circumvent the three rule limit. He did not wish for more wishes (a clear rule), but since the genie now always think the next wish is his first, it is not Randall who asks for more wishes, but the genie that forgets to stop at the limit.

There seem to be a conflict with the title text, and where the caption says Genie, for my last wish... Because if the genie thinks it is his first wish, he would be confused. It could, however, be to shock the reader, that he makes a point of him wasting a final wish on something this silly. Then in the title text, he makes it clear that it was only a wish he used, because he had an unlimited number of wishes at hand. And to the genie he would simply have said, ...for my first wish...

  • To have three wishes from a genie, but really only need one, was the joke in 152: Hamster Ball. Perhaps this genie is the same, and the first wish was for a human-sized hamster ball. Much later - inspired by the hamster ball? - he breaks the code to free, not only three, genie wishes.
  • The concept of having unlimited wishes has previously been explored in 1086: Eyelash Wish Log - one of the wishes is also related to news anchors - the wish is to control the direction they are looking.
  • Genies are also part of 532: Piano and 879: Lamp, although these two jokes are of a more juvenile character.


[Ponytail is a news anchor at a media desk and she reports:]
Ponytail: ...getting reports that the darkness has spread as far west as Texas. Let's go live to our reporter in Houston.
[From a breaking news window in the bottom right corner of the panel, a Cueball as a newscaster stands in darkness with two people walking behind him:]
Cueball: It's been thirty minutes since the sun vanished...
[There is a caption below the panel]:
Caption: "Genie, for my last wish, make everyone in the media forget about the day-night cycle."

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http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MundaneMadeAwesome --JakubNarebski (talk) 07:07, 7 July 2014 (UTC)

Ugghhh, you just HAD to link to TVTropes... Now I'm gonna get sucked into the vortex! 02:16, 8 July 2014 (UTC)

This narrative was actually the very first story I've read in The Onion back in 2006: [1] -- Xorg (talk) 08:28, 7 July 2014 (UTC)

Will Eno has a play, "TRAGEDY: a tragedy", which has a very similar set-up (reporters reporting on the fall of night as if they'd never known it before), but never explains how the situation came about --- now thanks to XKCD, we know how come! -- awhyzip, 7 July 2014

Isn't there a problem with the wish formulation? If the genie does not remember ever granting any wishes, how come the one in the comic is labelled as his "last wish". (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

"There usually is an added stipulation" ... really? Most time I read about genies, it's about someone using some clever way to overcome the limit on number of wishes, if there IS any limit to start with - but what I read may not be representative. This may require more research ... what is the most "traditional" genie story? -- Hkmaly (talk) 12:47, 7 July 2014 (UTC)

The most traditional would be the character simply carefully choosing all three wishes, using the last one at the very end of e story. Again, not representative either, but from what I've read the concept of "getting around the three-wish limit" seems to be a more recent take on the 'traditional' version. Zowayix (talk) 13:00, 7 July 2014 (UTC)
The most traditional would be the character simply carefully choosing all three wishes, using the last one at the very end of e story. Again, not representative either, but from what I've read the concept of "getting around the three-wish limit" seems to be a more recent take on the 'traditional' version. Zowayix (talk) 13:00, 7 July 2014 (UTC)
I'm pretty well-read in folklore. The three-wishes tale that I have seen come up most often involves a man getting three wishes, wishing for a sausage, his wife complaining, him wishing the sausage were on her nose and then wishing it were off her nose. There are several variants of that here.
I know that three-wishes tales are old and numerous. I was specifically asking for the traditional GENIE story - that is, if the traditional GENIE story is a three-wishes one (or if the traditional genie story is without limit). -- Hkmaly (talk) 10:35, 9 July 2014 (UTC)
Traditional 1,001 Nights genies, of which there are several, are more likely to grant one wish than three (and more likely to do something else than grant wishes, for that matter) but the most famous genies, from Aladin and the Magic Lamp would both grant unlimited wishes, but in a strictly hierarchical manner, where the genie of the ring could do much less than the genie of the lamp, and the former's magic could never interfere with the latter's. 10:10, 14 July 2014 (UTC)
I agree the ruse of getting more wishes is a modern device, not a folk one. In a Godel, Escher, Bach dialogue, for example, it is explained that genies only cast wishes, not metawishes (wishes about wishes). That requires a metagenie. Fewmet (talk) 03:03, 8 July 2014 (UTC)

Um... If the genie cannot remember that each wish was NOT his first, that does not preclude him from keeping track of or remembering how many wishes he has made. It doesn't keep him from remembering other wishes, he simply can't remember which one was NOT first. Perhaps I'm over-thinking this, but the genie would probably say, "I may remember your last wish was only your first, but I distinctly remember the 3 wishes you've made so far, especially the one to screw with my head. So... no more wishes for you." XP -naginalf 13:17, 7 July 2014 (UTC)

I was more wondering about the genie having pause for thought when (remembering no previous wishes) he hears "for my last wish...". But with genies generally being the 'manual workers' of the magical world, generally being unimaginative (except for those that tend to twist wishes into causing unintended consequences, possibly something that Wish #1 was used to explore the possibility of) and working to rule (perhaps "twist the wish" is one of the rules?), they don't notice. [i]Or[/i] they're so fed up with "bottled servitude" that they'd be quite happy to go along with this new guy with the new attempt at rules-lawyering, at least until they get bored... 14:07, 7 July 2014 (UTC)
Considering the alternative is to stay in bottle (which looks definitely more boring to me) I'm surprised there IS a limit at all - or more exactly, that it's the GENIE forcing that limit, as opposed to some outside force. -- Hkmaly (talk) 10:28, 9 July 2014 (UTC)

I took this to be a reference to news cycles. The wisher was irritated that news reporting is influenced by an artificial constraint like the 24 hour news cycle and wished the media would forget about it. In classic form, a poorly-worded wish is inconveniently interpreted. Fewmet (talk) 15:34, 7 July 2014 (UTC)

I think this is more about the media getting into a frenzy about things that are basic properties of living. (car accidents, breakins, starvation, murder, war, etc.) So they might as well get bent out of shape about something like the day/night cycle which is an absurd reduction of their usual retarded mannerisms. Chorb (talk) 21:51, 10 July 2014 (UTC)

This makes so much more sense than how I'd always read this comic before: that the sun literally disappeared, which would certainly upset the normal news cycle. 19:26, 26 August 2015 (UTC)

I thought that the first wish was the hamster ball wish (https://xkcd.com/152/). Phlaxyr (talk) 03:17, 4 June 2016 (UTC)

"Maybe he wasted the first wish, because he did not believe the genie was able to grant wishes - a common error[citation needed]." How is this a common error? If I was the one making that wish, I would ask for something worthwhile. I would not waste a wish just to check whether or not it really is a genie. 01:01, 12 July 2017 (UTC)

Reminds me of a George Carlin joke where a weatherman forcasts increasing darkness at night. 00:50, 23 September 2019 (UTC)