Title text: Instead of bobcat, package contained chair.
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This comic is a reference to the six-word short story For sale: baby shoes, never worn, which has been commonly attributed to famous author Ernest Hemingway; however, Randall Munroe explicitly states that this might not be the case at all. The comic plays on the fact that the original story takes the form of a short advertisement that might have been seen in a newspaper, and for these examples uses various modern 'standards' that did not exist in Hemingway's time. In keeping with the original, each example remains six words long. The title text obeys this rule, too.
In short: It is urban legend that Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn.") and allegedly called it his best work.
The various drafts offered in the comic are:
- "For Sale: This gullible baby's shoes": This suggests the seller somehow tricked the baby out of its shoes. This pokes fun at the tragedy that the original story suggests. With the original (For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn), readers could infer that the baby who would have worn the shoes must have died. Randall tries to make the reader infer other, more absurd things instead.
- "Baby shoes for sale by owner": This suggests that a very intelligent baby is somehow selling its own shoes, or that someone is selling an old pair of shoes they had as a baby.
- "Free shoes, provided you overpower baby": This suggests the person posting the ad doesn't in fact own the shoes, but rather is asking people to forcibly steal shoes from a baby wearing them.
- "For Sale: Weird baby's toe shoes: This might be a reference to 1065: Shoes, where shoes with toes were considered "creepy".
- "For Sale: Baby shoes / Prime eligible": This is a reference to Amazon, which offers Prime as a paid service to expedite shipping of items ordered on its website.
- "This weird trick covers baby feet!": This is modeled after common 'click bait' wording designed to get users to visit web pages, typically using words such as "This weird trick" or "secrets they don't want you to know" to artificially increase its apparent appeal. XKCD has previously parodied click bait in 1283: Headlines.
- "For Sale: Baby shoes, just hatched": This plays on the meaning of the phrase "baby shoes", reframing it to mean a newly-born shoe (similar to "baby bird"), rather than its typical meaning of footwear designed for babies.
- "Sale: Seven-league boots (expedited shipping)": Seven-league boots are mythical boots that allow their user to move seven leagues (about 25 miles) per step. The "expedited shipping" part suggests that the boots will be shipped to the customer on the feet of a walking person, thus allowing the boots to be shipped much faster than if by airplane (except, of course, if the boots had to be shipped overseas).
- "Complete this survey for free shoes": This is another reference to common internet marketing campaigns, where users are incentivized to take surveys in exchange for small compensation such as free samples or coupons.
- "Shoes, by Ernest Hemingway [Citation needed]": This is a reference to Wikipedia. "Citation needed" is used to mark claims that require additional evidence to justify as true. In this case, Randall is using this to question whether the short story was really written by Hemingway.
- "This is my greatest short story": This is a completely different style that could also have been used to write a short story in six words. Rather than telling a story about shoes, this is more "meta" by referencing itself and being a self-fulfilling (or self-defeating) prophecy. (The sequel was titled "Don't bother reading my other stories").
- "For Sale: Baby shoes (-1) [Cursed]": This is written like a description of a virtual item typically found in Roguelike games or MMOs. "-1" and "Cursed" are attributes of the item, which usually produce negative consequences that reduce its wearer's stats or abilities.
- "<Blink><Marquee>Baby shoes!</Marquee></Blink>": This is reminiscent of the style of HTML widely used in the 1990s. Both the <Blink> and <Marquee> tags make the text content ("Baby shoes!") appear more prominent and attention-grabbing. The normally invisible-and-rendered tag elements can be seen and are part of the six words count. This could have been due to 'sanitising' of uploaded text where HTML tags (other than any that are specifically allowed, like it appears Strikethrough formatting might be) are deliberately deactivated by the server. An interesting note: When this comic was first posted to xkcd.com, the '/' in the </Blink> tag was missing. This was fixed between the 19th and 20th of June, 2015, showing that this was, indeed, unintentional.
- "For Sale: Baby-sized saddle, bobcat": This is a reference to 325: A-Minus-Minus in which Cueball says: 'Instead of office chair, package contained bobcat'. The 'Baby-sized saddle', a very small saddle, is an item only usable if one was to try to ride a small animal such as a bobcat, and was a baby.
- "Hemingway busted for Craigslist shoe scam": This is written like a news headline where Hemingway supposedly wrote about shoes in order to perpetrate a scam. Craigslist is a website where users can advertise and seek goods and services.
The title text continues the reference to 325: A-Minus-Minus, but inverts the situation. Rather than unexpectedly receiving a bobcat by package, this time the package contains a regular item instead of the expected bobcat.
- [Caption above comic]
- Hemingway's Rough Drafts
- [A list of rough draft stories]
- For sale: This Gullible Baby's Shoes
- Baby Shoes For Sale By Owner
Actually, There's no evidence Hemingway wrote
- Free Shoes, Provided You Overpower Baby
- For Sale: Weird Baby's Toe Shoes
- For Sale: Baby Shoes ✓ Prime eligible
Though popularly attributed to Hemingway, the
- This Weird Trick Covers Baby Feet!
- For Sale: Baby Shoes, Just Hatched
- Sale: Seven-League Boots (Expedited Shipping)
- Complete this survey for free shoes!
- Shoes, by Ernest Hemingway 
- This is my greatest short story.
- For sale: Baby shoes (-1) [cursed]
- <blink><marquee>Baby Shoes!</marquee></blink>
- For Sale: Baby-sized Saddle, Bobcat
- Hemingway Busted for Craigslist Shoe Scam
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