1620: Christmas Settings

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Christmas Settings


The first of two Christmas comics in a row, as it was followed by 1621: Fixion.

In this comic Ponytail is showing Megan around a facility where they are now reaching the "Universe Control Panel", and Ponytail points out the first panel and tells that these dials control Christmas.

Presumably the control panel is a set of panels with several dials each to control the entire universe, and anyone having access to a room with these controls would from our point of view be in a Godlike position. If such a room did exist, it would most likely be situated outside our universe. Here it would be easy for Randall to use the panel to make physics references, with dials to control the specific size of fundamental constants of the universe such as the speed of light in vacuum or the Planck constant. Instead he chooses a more comedic angle in the spirit of Christmas (as he usually does in comics released close to said holiday, this one being released on December 23rd).

We are shown only one of the dials on the Christmas control panel, the one that controls how Santa Claus enters people’s houses. The Santa enters houses through-dial has ten different possible settings. The one it's set to at this point of the comic is the traditional chimney. Among the other nine there is only one even more logical option, open window, but surprisingly there is no option called door. The other eight options, however, are increasingly weird or even impossible (though of course not for Santa, who can deliver a billion presents in one night and fly in a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer). These options ranges from the feasible like mail slot, heating vents or cat flap, to the impossible/ridiculous (some even disgusting) such as kitchen faucet, shower drain, or toilet, to the truly magical bathroom mirror, to the downright unpleasant pores of your skin. (See 555: Two Mirrors regarding the mirror version.)

In a quite unfortunate turn of events, Megan trips and catches herself on the Santa dial, messing it up by clicking it twice (if one click equals changing to the next adjacent option, in any initial direction, then now it must be set either be "kitchen faucet" or "mail slot"). To make matters worse, when Megan asks what it was set to before so as to undo the mishap, Ponytail tells that she has forgotten. So they cannot put it back right.

The dial is shown in the comic only for the reader's benefit, because as Megan tripped up before reaching it, she thus never looked at it, and as Ponytail is showing her around, it must have been Megan's first visit here. The reason why Ponytail cannot remember to which option the dial was set before is most likely because she is not part of our universe (the control panel is located outside), and also she is probably not the creator of the control panel. She is clearly disturbed when the dial is turned (she holds up her hand to her mouth), and she would probably like not to have to tell her boss about this mess up. Another explanation is that by changing the dial, Megan and Ponytail's memories of Santa's entry methods are altered, and so whatever position the dial now rests at would seem normal to them. (This could mean that history has no effect outside the universe, so the single dial controls past, present, and future Santa methods. Perhaps the dial was formerly something more logical than a chimney, like "open window," and indeed we are the ones who now live in the altered universe.)

Then, as so often seen with human behaviors (if they are indeed human beings at all?), Megan says she will simply take a wild guess and hope she get it right. As the only thing she really knows is that it is not on the right setting now, there is only 1/9 chance that she will get it right, assuming she will at least change it away from the setting it ended up on.

As we can see in the comic, the dial clicks twice, implying it has moved two positions; Megan has thus most likely changed the dial to either "kitchen faucet" or "mail slot". Or the dial was moved one click away and one click back to the original position. As we do not know which of these she will now change away from, it is impossible to guess from the comic where she ends up putting it, and all ten options are possible.

Since the comic was released just before Christmas, here a prank is played on the reader/children who believe in Santa Claus. Now that the dial setting is probably changed, one can expect Santa to enter the house in a different way. So the believer could stay up and try to find out what way it would be.

The title text continues the idea of a universe control panel by showing another possible dial, Sound dogs make, ranging from normal (barking) to cat sounds (hissing, very embarrassing for a dog), "lightsaber noises", and speech to swearing. This dial would thus give the same option of changing the expected vocal response of the dog away from (our norm of) barking, as with the other dial for the way Santa enters the house. In popular culture, talking dogs are a commonly used trope; in contrast, swearing dogs are few, the most famous being Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, a puppet created by Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel and performed by the latter.

The comic might also be a joke on real-life controls, physical or virtual, often having no clear "default" value.

The Universe Control Panel is also referenced in 1763: Catcalling.

Options for Santa

  • Below is a table with the ten possible settings for Santa enters houses through...; starting with the originally chosen standard option and going clockwise through the rest:
Option Normal Entry/Exit for...
Chimney Santa Claus typically comes in this way (see him here in a Victorian roof-top song and dance number). Also big bad wolves use this entrance in Disney’s cartoon.
Shower drain Dirty shower water. Evil clowns.
Mail slot Letters, post cards and small presents delivered by the mailman.
Heating vents Hot air used for central heating, but it is a common trope for the hero of an action film to climb through such a vent.
Bathroom mirror See Candyman, or Bloody Mary (the latter has been used in 555: Two Mirrors).
Pores of your skin Sweat leaving the body.
Toilet Human waste and life-term prisoners (at least through the sewer).
Cat flap Domesticated cats and dogs.
Kitchen faucet Water.
Open window Burglars and other criminals, or anyone in an emergency such as a fire. Also often used as an exit by teenagers in movies and other film media, or by people who have locked themselves out of their own house.

Options for dogs

  • Below is a table with the five possible settings for Sound dogs make; starting with the current and continuing with the order in the title text:
Option Normal sound for...
Barking Dogs current standard sound in our universe...
Hissing Typically a sound attributed to snakes, but also sometimes cats are said to hiss, for instance as a reaction against a barking dog. It would thus be very frustrating for dogs if their noise was changed into that of their arch enemies.
Lightsaber noises A lightsaber makes a unique sound, and as they are one of the most known props from the Star Wars universe, it is very relevant as the newest Star Wars movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released a week before this comic. Star Wars was also a major theme a month ago in the comic 1608: Hoverboard, the coin collecting game that celebrated Randall's new book.
Fluent English Speaking dogs are a common trope as are talking animals in general. A person who is native to a country where they speak English will usually be fluent in speaking English.
Swearing It would be unpleasant for people who dislike swearing, and a big problems for movies such as Lassie where most of the soundtrack would have to be replaced by bleeps. Swearing "dogs" are few, the most famous being Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, a puppet created by Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel and performed by the latter.


[Megan and Ponytail are walking over to a console, Ponytail points towards it. They are drawn in a panel that is only half the width of the next panel below]
Ponytail: Over here we have the universe control panel.
Ponytail: These dials, for example, control Christmas.
[A dial is shown. There is a label at the top and then there are ten settings, five symmetrically on the left and right side, but no setting straight up or down. It looks allot like the dial on a washing machine with different programs. The dial points towards the top left setting. All settings are labeled and there is a small line going to the point on the dial connected with each setting. The line at 3 and 9 o'clock are straight the other 8 are divided in two, where the first part goes horizontally and then bends either up or down, to end in the right position. Here the labele at the top and then the setting labels clockwise from top right, thus ending with the one the dial is set to:]
Santa enters houses through...
Shower Drain
Mail Slot
Heating Vents
Bathroom Mirror
Pores of Your Skin
Cat Flap
Kitchen Faucet
Open Window
[Ponytail is passing by this control panel looking back at Megan who trips and falls towards the console.]
Megan: Whoops!
Megans legs: Trip
[Megan catches herself on the dial of the control panel and accidentally turns the dial. Ponytail has taken her hands to her mouth.]
Dial: Click Click
[Megan is standing in front of the console looking at the dial, Ponytail is standing behind it.]
Megan: What was the Santa dial set to before?
Ponytail: I forget.
Megan: I'll just guess.


  • In the original version of the comic Ponytail erroneously said: These dials, for example, controls Christmas.
    • This was soon changed to the current (and grammatically correct) version without the "s" at the end of controls These dials, for example, control Christmas.
    • Thus proving that it was intended that there were more than one dial, we just see the one that Megan later changed by mistake for the sake of the joke of the comic.
  • The "Universe Control Panel" is later featured in 1763: Catcalling, but is referred to as the "Universe Control Console" instead.
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That's how Little Johnny killed Christmas, he left the tap running all night. --Jarfil (talk) 05:32, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

Pores of your skin?! As utterly horrifying as it sounds, it's probably the most effective of the bunch, considering that all the others might not exist/be blocked in some manner and in some houses. Bon (talk) 06:27, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

It actually shows how powerful Santa is: he is able to enter through chimney even into houses which do NOT have a chimney. (For example, see The Santa Clause, where Santa enters the chimney, then the central heating transforms to fireplace and Santa enters that way.) -- Hkmaly (talk) 19:22, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
The pores option is actually impossible to reach, as two clicks + two clicks will only get one as far as "toilet" or "bathroom mirror". 15:44, 23 November 2016 (UTC)

Swearing dogs are definitely a thing. 05:59, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

How'd I do for my first explanation on this site? VectorLightning (talk) 07:47, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

It was a great start. Keep it coming. Of course there will be many changes later, but I can see that some of yours original explain have survived the first edits since then ;-) --Kynde (talk) 15:57, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

"These dials, for example, controls..." - is this a mistake? "This dial, for example, controls..." or "These dials, for example, control" would make more grammatical sense. 09:35, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

I think that there is more than one dail controlling Christmas. sirKitKat (talk) 09:53, 23 December 2015 (UTC)
Then surely it should be "These dials, for example, control"? 10:13, 23 December 2015 (UTC)
You are correct and Randall has agreed and changed it to "These dials, for example, control Christmas" in the updated version. Good spotted. --Kynde (talk) 15:59, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

Probably could do with a table of the options and associations. Better than the following that I just drew up (and actually formatted as a table!):

Chimney - traditional (but not always practical) to our universe; also usable (to varying degrees of success) by Big Bad Wolves, adventurous burglars and adverse atmospheric/weather conditions;
Shower Drain - typical horror movie (supernatural or natural creature invasion), as well as back-flooding;
Open Window - more like a mundane burglar, or Hitchcock's 'The Birds';
Mail slot - 'mundane' magical alternative to fitting down the chimney, where there is no usable chimney (or horror movie, of various kinds); but raises the question of where the "with a special key that can open any door" option is, also, for Santa...
Kitchen Faucet - another horror movie (supernatural) or a technothriller plot (contaminated water supply);
Heating vents - another common alternative already given for those without a chimney/chimneyplace (or horror/technothriller fodder);
Cat Flap - another 'normal' alternative (which, again, does not exclude entry by various threats... or non-resident cats/non-cat pets/wildlife);
Bathroom Mirror - supernatural (especially 'bad magic');
Toilet - more traditionally rats or sewer-snakes, with reactions from "argh!" to "ewww...", depending on whether anybody is 'enthroned' at the time;
Pores Of Your Skin - very much... ewww... (as for (techno)horror threats, it's almost always someone else's skin and/or sweat that's dangerous, so your skin

(where you aren't the 'patient-zero' or revenant already) would be something pretty novel)

Great minds think alike, I've just gone ahead and done that Kev (talk) 12:16, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

Genre examples would be good. ...also, there is of course a direct reference to how our universe seems to have certain universal physical values (e.g. 'speed of light') that might well be different in alternate universes. Whether or not the 'physical constants' we currently know are the fundemental physical constants (rather than derivative of the actual constant(s) the universe started with), it appears that this control room has access to rather less fundemental 'fundementals' to it. Or assumes that Christmas and Santa (and also probably the various entryways, even when not used by Santa) are universals to the universe that always exist in some form, but perhaps differently configured, in alternate universes. 10:28, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

Someone thought these links were funny: {{W|Kitchen Faucet}} {{w|Bathroom Mirror}}. I removed the {{w}} template. 12:51, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

I was going to have a go with the table and make "normal use" and "irregular/fictional uses" columns, alongside the label items, but wikilinks on the items themselves would have made the first column less necessary, and wouldn't hurt (if done across the board). e.g. are cat-flaps as commonly known and understood outside of temperate areas (where a house isn't already handily perforated against the build-up of heat, but also need not be so sealed against the cold as to make a cat-flap a potentially harmful vent in the door that keeps the cold weather out) that we can be sure that future readers automatically know what one is? 13:47, 23 December 2015 (UTC)
I think in a table it is OK to have wiki links to all items, so as not to judge which are necessary. I will put them back. --Kynde (talk) 18:18, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

Could the title text refer to the (in)famous barking "Jingle Bells"? The Dining Logician (talk) 16:17, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

I do not think so as they still bark? I guess it is this you refer to though? (Trained Dogs Bark Jingle Bells Together. --Kynde (talk) 19:01, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

I would propose a different explanation of the comic. I believe Randall is suggesting that the default American explanation to children of how Santa is able to enter locked houses is logically unsatisfying and seemingly arbitrary, and that the universe would be able to function just as smoothly were that explanation to change without warning. Ponytail is unconcerned about the setting because she knows that it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. This is in line with 1268, where Randall implies that he would be more comfortable in an alternate universe in which lobsters were perceived as inedible instead of a delicacy. 16:37, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

I disagree, she is flustered when it happens as shown by Ponytail taking both hands up to her mouth. I would say she is distraught that she cannot remember. Probably her boss would be mad (the one who have made this control panel, and who would know the setting) if he found out. We do not see her response to Megan's suggestion that she will just guess... But I agree that it could be Randall's intention and also that it could be relevant to reference 1268: Alternate Universe --Kynde (talk) 18:18, 23 December 2015 (UTC)
That's a good point, but the tension is gone from Ponytail's body in the final panel and she doesn't say "I forget!". One might argue that she is momentarily concerned that Megan had injured herself, and that she relaxed when she realized that merely one of the constants of the universe had been changed. 18:32, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

Dail shifted two clicks, so now it is either on "Kitchen faucet" or "mail slot". Could be worse... If she gives it another 2 clicks in an attempt to put it back, it will end up on either "Chimney", "Toilet" or "bathroom mirror". Maybe it's best not to mess with it any further... -- 18:03, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

I feel the "two clicks" don't necessarily imply the dial has been moved two positions. It could simply mean the dial has been moved twice, making it even harder to guess where it was before the first move. It's also possible, in either event, that the dial has been set back to the original position - in which case, moving it again will definitely set it to something wrong! --Andrew Williams, 23:30, 23 December 2015 (GMT)

Maybe it's also a joke on real-life controls often having no clear "default" value (which, by the way, is sometimes the case for virtual controls as well)? 18:56, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

I think the real joke here is the title "christmas settings", a play on the word "settings". Ordinarily this would imply how one sets up the Christmas dinner, but here it is taken as computer term to tune how Christmas actually works in our universe. -- 21:14, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

It should be pointed out that if the change of the dial, as per the second option, changes the past of the universe to match, that there's nothing to indicate that the comic was not also affected. In fact, this makes sense as the gap at the top between options is indicative of dial styles that block the dial (such as with dials that have a maximum and minimum)because, as such, it makes sense that if ponytail slipped and pushed it, it would go as far as it could in the direction she fell into. This would indicate, with the two clicks, that the dial was originally on kitchen faucet. --Joshupetersen (talk) 19:25, 23 December 2015 (UTC)

I added to the 'speed of light' universal constant explanation, because it's "the speed that things like light go", and thus acts as an effectively unobtainable speed limit to everything not like light, rather than light's own specific speed-limit. Having a lower 'c' would not allow any more faster-than-c travel than we might already discover is possible. Also I find 'absolute zero' to be a wholey dubious candidate as a constant. Kelvin (and Rankine) gets set at a 'zero' that seems to be the point of absence of temperature/heat/energy (yes, I know they're not strictly the same, with temperature being the most incorrect term of them all, but I'm grouping them as common equivalent terms to a layperson) and, like Celsius (and Fahrenheit), has a unit spread according to an anthropocentricly decided 'range' and subdivisions. Other constants that affect the behaviour of water (or brine+ice/body temperature), including the atmospheric pressure we live under, would change the absolute value of the non-absulute measures but not change the zero value of the absolute measures. IYSWIM... 03:55, 24 December 2015 (UTC)

Technically, zero is ALSO constant. But universe where lowest possible heat energy is different from zero would likely be weirder than universe where the highest possible speed is finite - oh wait.
Note that universe constant is the triple point of water. The temperature of boiling water, freezing water or body temperature are properties of Earth, but triple point only depends on structure of water molecule. -- Hkmaly (talk) 19:22, 2 January 2016 (UTC)

The second explanation for why they cannot remember will make sense if you keep in mind that they would probably remember the ACTION of changing the dial. Even if they believe the dial is now in the correct position according to what they know (Considering that the universe has changed), they can still remember changing it, as indicated by them asking "what was the dial set to before?" Bon (talk) 06:35, 24 December 2015 (UTC)

You guys are missing something. If the universe was altered, then the dial was changed to Santa going down the chimney. So either the clicks changed it back, the universe was altered to where it was always pointing the chimney, or she guessed chimney as being the right one. Trlkly (talk) 22:01, 24 December 2015 (UTC)

I'm not sure I'm posting this in the right place, so please correct it if it's wrong. I think the title 'SOUNDS DOG MAKE' and the list of options between square brackets is evoking a config file from Dwarf Fortress, in which things are describe just like so... -- 14:17, 6 January 2016 (UTC)