1515: Basketball Earth

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 09:17, 22 April 2015 by (talk) (Explanation: typo fox)
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Basketball Earth
How many points do you get for dunking every basketball in existence at once?
Title text: How many points do you get for dunking every basketball in existence at once?


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Could definitely use review (or reversion to the first, simpler, explanation) and probably some handy hyperlinking for concepts.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

In this comic Cueball is repeatedly attempting to make the comparison that for the Earth-Moon system, the Moon would be about the size of a baseball for an Earth the size of a basketball.

He handily illustrates this with two balls of those sizes that looks like the Earth and the Moon. They are invisibly suspended, or as seems clear from the first row of panels, are actually the real ones shrunk to the relevant size. But before he can finish with this common type of comparison he is being repeatedly interrupted and must begin all over again. Maybe he even have to start with a new Earth-Moon system, since they look the same every time independent of the catastrophe occurring to Earth each time. Each of the four attempt has it's own row of four panels in the comic.

Here is a similar example where someone has made a comparison of the sizes of the Solar system based on a Sun the size of a Basketball.

It is common to describe the relationship of very large (and very small) objects to common objects on a more human scale. In the other end for small items, it might be something along the lines of if a certain single atom were expanded to a visible size then for a particular sports stadium the electrons cloud would be on the perimeter of the complex. In this case the nucleus would still be something surprisingly small, by human standards, located upon the central-spot.

In the first interruption, Black Hat comes in and is amazed by this cool floating globe. Of course, being Black Hat, he has to make a digital prodding of this nice globe. But by putting his finger into one of the oceans of this "real" Earth, without a second thought, he thus generates a megatsunami of epic proportions, that rolls in over a large city, dwarfed at the foot of the wave.

In the second interruption, Megan comes in and pours water from a half-liter bottle onto the Earthball, seemingly flooding its entire surface. This would make an even worse tsunami, almost certainly extinguishing all land-dwelling life.

In the third interruption, a cat enters and playfully attacks the 'Earth'. But it will result in forces far greater than those exerted by Black Hat's digital prodding, and may have even taken the Earth out of its (representative) orbit. One way or another, that will have resulted in (for us unseen) disasters of far greater proportion.

The fourth interruption involves Ponytail taking the 'basketball' comparison at face value and actually trying to dunk the 'Earth' as a basketball. This would not be good for any residents of Earthball who have yet to succumb to the events so far. This simile-callback is continued in the title text with the idea that "every basketball in existence" (i.e. every basketball upon the Earthball, as well as the Earthball itself) is counted towards the score from a single dunking. (Randall may or may not know exactly how many basketballs there are, perhaps through research for some What-If question or other, but almost certainly assumes that there are no basketballs not on Earthball, even without allowing for recursion. But there might be some question about whether the Earthball's own sub-scale basketballs are within code.)

Coincidentally (or not), 22 April is Earth Day.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[Cueball is standing next to a floating basketball-sized Earth with his hand near it.]
Cueball: If the Earth were the size of a basketball,
[Cueball is now holding a baseball-sized moon. The basketball-sized Earth is still there. Black hat is in panel.]
Cueball: The Moon would be -
Black Hat: Hey, cool!
[Black Hat is touching the Earth ball.]
Cueball: Um.
[Unclear scene, possibly a tsunami caused by Black Hat touching the Earth.]
[Back to Cueball standing with the basketball-sized Earth.]
Cueball: Let's try that again. If the Earth were the size of a basketball,
[Cueball holding baseball-sized moon, with Megan in frame holding a sports water bottle.]
Cueball: The Moon would be -
[Megan squirts the earth with her water bottle and then walks away. The continents have disappeared from the flooded Earth ball.]
Cueball: If the Earth were the size of a basketball,
Cueball: The Moon- would...
Cat: MROWL! [Cat jumps at Earth.]
Cat: RRRRR! [Cat on the ground wrestling with the Earth.]
[Back to Cueball standing with the basketball-sized Earth.]
Cueball: If the Earth were the size of a basketball,
[Cueball with Moon and Earth balls. Ponytail has entered, running.]
Cueball: The Moon would, uh...
[Ponytail has grabbed the Earth ball and is holding or dribbling it, still running.]
[Ponytail reaches a basketball basket and shoots the Earth ball towards it.]

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Apologies to the first editor, who made a snappier version of what I wrote. For the record, whilst fighting a dodgy internet connection I eventually ended up replacing the following...

 Cueball is seen trying to explain the relative sizes of the earth and moon by comparing the earth to a basketball and the moon to what looks like a golf ball. This explanation is constantly thwarted by passerby interacting with the basketball while Cueball is explaining it.
 For the title text, the answer is zero, since it is against basketball rules.

...with what I tried to keep short during my own writing from scratch. I also ommited several other concepts of my own thought: The fact that Blackhat must have used a very light-touch to only generate a megatsunami (albeit already unimaginably large, at Earthball's scale); The possibility of recursion (including something like the Men In Black 'cat collar' allusion); and that in the universe of the comic strip there is only one actual basketball (the Earthball itsself), although I like how we both had the idea that the basketballs upon Earthball would not have counted in a game of basketball with an Earthball-scaled hoop, due to quite obvious interpretations of the sport's regulations. 05:11, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

Oh yeah, and reversion is invited, if deemed preferable. As is amalgamation, and refinement and re-replacement by something even better, of course. As per the standard Wiki creed. Much as I am cringing at having upset the original contributor, I'm quite happy to be gazumped in turn. 05:14, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

If you look at the third frame of the Blackhat sequence and compare it to the frames underneath, you can see that he didn't just touch the Earth or an ocean--he actually rotated it 90 degrees. 09:38, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

Well spotted! Edit that in! (Do it quickly with a pre-prepared edit. I kept getting hit by edit-conflicts, which I set about to resolve amicably without reversing anybody else's input; only to get hit by further edit-conflicts by the next person to come along and improve overlapping pieces, whom I also strived not to disregard.) 09:57, 22 April 2015 (UTC)
No he didn't. the Earth always rotates from the first panel to the next. So that it is in a different position when Black Hat touches it, to where it was the panel before does not imply that he rotated the Earth. If anything he only rotated it a few degrees, as it had already rotated most of those 90 degree from panel 1 to panel 2 before Black Hat reaches the Earth. As far as I can see there has not been any change to include this yet. So that is good. --Kynde (talk) 10:41, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

I really love this comic. It is great fun. Thanks Randall, happy Earth day. --Kynde (talk) 10:42, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

... a tennis ball an average 7.2 metres away, while the Sun would be 26 metres across and 2.8 km away. 13:25, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

It's 13:23 right now, but the clock of explainxkcd.com says it's 13:37. 13:37, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

If we assume 9,000,000 basketballs sold every year (bbs.ClutchFans.net), one basketball lasts about 10,000 bounces (SoTrueFacts.com), and there's between 2,500 and 3,000 bounces per game (Answers.com) we can extrapolate that on average a basketball doesn't live for more than a year, and the number of basketballs sold replace those which have lifed-out. Let's build in a 10% slush factor and say there 10m basketballs produced in the world last year. Let's further say that there's an extra 1m basketballs sold every year which don't get regular use and are in some kid's room and those have been accumulating for about ten years (different kids get basketballs every year which end up in their bedrooms). Dunking a basketball gives two points, and at 20 million basketballs, that gives 40 million points – and a safe bet you're going to make it to the playoffs that year. Jarod997 (talk) 13:51, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

Is it possible that the megatsunami is actually caused by the gravity of the scale Moon (it being way too close to the scale Earth)? This is a major problem that most children's books (or adult's books or websites) have. They scale the planets/moons/stars but not the distance. As the comment above, to get normal tides, the tennis ball should be 7.2m away at this scale. --Gravitron (talk) 14:06, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

I find it interesting that Randall makes the same mistake a lot of people make reguarding the distance between the earth and moon at that scale. I was watching Veritasium (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz9D6xba9Og) on Youtube a while back and the guy there was asking people how far away a tennis ball sized moon would be from a basketball sized Earth. Most people made the distance way too small, very similar to how far away they appear in the comic. In reality they would be something like 10 times that distance. Usually Randall is more accurate than this. 14:09, 22 April 2015 (UTC)Agent0013

Unless he was simply trying to compare the relative sizes. It's possible after that he would get in to the relative distance between the two - but good point. Jarod997 (talk) 14:12, 22 April 2015 (UTC)
It seemingly got lost when trying to resolve edits, but I'd calculated and intended to add that (for the size of a baseball, so a tennis ball would slightly different) 110 Moonball diameters separation between the two. Of course no human has (personally) seen that from a proper perspective, i.e. far enough away to get both bodies in the same convenient vision at the same time whilst off to the side. (Even the Apollo astronauts only got to look at one over the top of the other, at various times, or by panning between the two whilst in the midst of their trans-lunar trajectories.) But there's surely been a space probe or two with a suitable imager been tasked towards such a shot whilst off mostly perpendicular to the Earth-Moon and a decent distance away to get both in the same shot without distortion... 17:52, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

I don't agree with the claim (at a couple points in the article) that *all* life would be extinguished by any of these manipulations. 2-4 may kill off most or all macroscopic life, but microbes would survive all of them (unless Megan has bleach in that sports bottle). If 3 or 4 shattered the earth, that might extinguish all microbes, but even that I doubt. The only case I can imagine would be if 3 or 4 caused it to spiral into the sun. Djbrasier (talk) 14:10, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

Title text might be reference to HHGTG: “ Ford Prefect: I read of one planet in the seventh dimension got used as a ball in a game of intergalactic bar billiards. Got potted straight into a black hole, killed ten billion people. Arthur Dent: Madness. Total madness. Ford Prefect: Yeah. Only scored thirty points too. ” 14:23, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

I admit that I'm super-confused by the structure of the comic. The explanation here describes possible consequences for the actions, but as depicted, only the first has any "real world" effect. I too would expect the water bottle to cause a deluge, but it doesn't seem to. What's going on? Mattdm (talk) 15:40, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

The hoop in panel 16 seems too high, unless both Cueball and Megan are under 5 feet tall. --PsyMar (talk) 17:11, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

It could be perspective...17jiangz1 (talk) 12:58, 23 April 2015 (UTC)

Happy Earth Day everyone. Today is the day we regret everything we do to the earth, and the next is the day we forget all that. The Goyim speaks (talk) 17:59, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

I just noticed that if 1511 (Spice Girl) had had been released on the following Friday, i.e. the slot actually given to comic 1513 (Code Quality), it would have coincided with Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham's 41st birthday. So, that would probably not have been an intentional direct reference, but soooo close to ending up being an accidental one. While I'm happy to go along with Earth Day as a deliberate reference... it makes you think, eh? (Although I'd be happy if people thought about Earth Day itself more than the synchronicity. It's a good cause, and pause for thought.) 19:55, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

Why the whole paragraph about it being a baseball? We have no indication of what it is, so why not just say "if it's a tennis ball..." 18:35, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

Might be my fault. I assumed it was a basketball/baseball comparison in my original endeavour, and this has persisted through other edits, even after the rather logical "...a tennis ball's proportions". Over-compensated for Randall being Leftpondian, probably, even though I've never played Baseball myself (only Rounders). 19:55, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

The title is almost certainly a reference to the movie "Battlefield Earth" 23:57, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

The points acquired for simultaneously dunking all basketballs in existence, or further out -- EVER made, would be at most 2 points (0 if any of the Referees deemed this an illegal/foreign object or an attempt at cheating). Introducing more basketballs onto the court would not result in more points being scored. Furthermore, the basketball earth, while 'containing' all other basketballs, is still itself a single object. -- Dulock (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Does anybody else find it odd that black hat is actually the one causing the LEAST destruction? 03:09, 23 April 2015 (UTC)

Except, in a way, he is causing the most harm. Scenario 2, 3, and 4 do cause everyone to die, but they would be relatively quick, and what black hat does has painful consequences. The megatsunami would cause huge-scale devastation, worst near the sea he poked, but still bad. This would, among other things, require major rebuilding efforts and include crop failures, leading to famines and the like. In addition, it would have scientists trying to explain it, which would lead to confusion, something black hat likes causing. 07:04, 25 March 2016 (UTC)

A useful comparison from the Canadian comedy troupe, "The Frantics": "If we could shrink the sun to the size of a basketball, and the earth to the size of a pea . . . we'd be magic!" (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Just re-reading old pages...this discussion reminds me of one of my favourite pieces of public art. In Melbourne Australia, there's a scale model of the solar system along the beach. The sun is a ball around 2m across, mercury is pea sized and around 50m away (dimensions approx, long time since I've visited) and the rest scaled to match. Pluto (old sculpture) is around 5kms away, and a tiny speck on its plinth. And not far away from the sun is Alpha Centauri, apparently to scale if you walk the other way around the earth... 14:41, 19 June 2018 (UTC)

It looks like in the Black Hat part, the Earth is actually skewing in its rotation (it starts out in the first panel with the Americas and Africa, the second panel looks like it's skewed about 45 degrees counter-clockwise, and the third panel definitely looks like Earth has rotated on what would be its side to our standard North Pole-oriented map a whole 90 degrees and therefore, Black Hat's hand (or the tip of his arm as stick figures are often thus undetailed) has landed on Antarctica. Of course, the physical damage to the polar ice cap and its subsequent dispersal into the Southern Ocean would definitely affect sea levels, but a tsunami striking any heavily-populated coastal town is out of the question.