2578: Sword Pull

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Sword Pull
Merlin really shouldn't leave his dirt bike lying around.
Title text: Merlin really shouldn't leave his dirt bike lying around.


A surprised Cueball walks up to a stone where apparently a sword is stuck in almost to the hilt, embedded in a stone much like a particularly well-known fable in the legends of King Arthur. This may mean this sword is called Excalibur. Usually, the narrative is that the one who can free the significant sword becomes king of England (or, technically, Britain), see for instance Disney's The Sword in the Stone — or the scene as featured in 1521: Sword in the Stone, where Megan decides to return the sword back into the stone after reading about England on Wikipedia. (It has been commented that the one who managed to embed the sword in the stone in the first place may have had the greater skill and/or strength.)

Cueball rises to the challenge and stands atop the stone, for leverage, and pulls hard to yank it almost out of the stone. With a surprise even greater than before, he finds that the pulling of the sword merely starts a motor within the stone and, almost immediately, the whole assemblage starts moving to the right with Cueball still standing upon it. Having failed to fully remove the sword from the stone, after he releases it the sword is retracted back to its original position inside the now moving stone.

The title text implies that the sword is actually the rope starter for Merlin's dirt bike. Merlin, a wizard, is typically known as King Arthur's mystical advisor. The title text mentions that Merlin really should not just let his dirt bike lie around, indicating that this is a common occurrence and has caused problems before. Since rocks are usually not dirt bikes in disguise,[citation needed] Randall may be describing this literally, as in a stone-bike that travels through the dirt, as it appears to represent in the last panel.

Some similarly-sized stones, namely sailing stones, do move spontaneously with up to 0.3 km/h in precise conditions. However, the stone in the comic appears to be moving at a higher speed, and sailing stones require no rope starting.[citation needed]


[Cueball walks towards a large stone on the ground from which the hilt of a sword is protruding. The ground he walks on is uneven, with small plants growing and small stones lying on the ground.]
Cueball: ??
[Cueball stands on the stone and attempts to pull the sword out of the stone using both hands and leaning a bit back away from the sword.]
[Cueball manages to pull the sword partially out of the stone, still using both hands, and now he is almost standing in full height, but still leaning a bit back. Both he and the sword is vibrating from the effort, as indicated by several sets of two lines around the sword and Cueball's arms. The pull gives off a loud sound, and also a buzzing sound comes because of the pull. And three small lines above the right part of the stone indicated that other sounds are coming from the stone]
Pull: Yank!
Sword: Zzzzz
Stone: Put put put
Stone: Brrrrrrr
[Cueball is still holding on to the sword, with the tip still inside the stone. But he is not pulling anymore and is now looking down on the stone beneath him. There are now several lines from both sides of the stone indicating noises coming from the stone, which now is written on both sides of Cueball on the stone.]
Cueball: ?? ??
[Cueball has released the sword which has then returned to the original position deep in the stone. The stone is now clearly moving to the right of the panel, with Cueball on top of it. He is looking behind him and holding his arms out to the side to keep his balance. The patch where the stone lay to start is dark. Four large lines behind the stone indicates how it is moving. The stone is already partially outside the right edge of the panel. The sound from the stone is floating behind the stone as it moves to the right]
Stone: Rrrrrrrrrrrrr

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I was going to opine that the title text should have said "mini bike" instead of "dirt bike" since the former is usually started by a recoil pull rope and the latter by a kick start. But I guess technically neither one is started by a magic sword so kind of a toss up. 22:48, 7 February 2022 (UTC)Pat

I know nothing of these machines but a quick google search brought me to this page with three items listed as "Dirt Bike Pull Start" so seems that is a thing? --Kynde (talk) 07:56, 8 February 2022 (UTC)
I just thought it was a motor boat. Those pull start, and are partially submerged in the substrate. 09:57, 9 February 2022 (UTC)

There is a pun with dirt mound / mount.

Hope u like my explanation (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I though the sword belongs to Lady of the Lake ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:29, 7 February 2022 (UTC)

The sword from the stone (proof of lineage/fate) really should be considered differently from the one from the lake ("strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government (Citation)", but they do tend to be conflated by some versions of the storytelling. The various myths were already that confused/contradictory/clashing centuries ago. (Some versions have Excalibur drawn from the stone to start his destiny, but ultimately then have him (...have a trusted but reluctant knight to) 'return' it to the Lady Of The Lake, from whence it presumably came (before being set in the stone), at the end of his life.)
But I choose to go with the strand of canon that says that the 'kingmaker' sword was separate, got broken in a personal combat he should not rightfully have fought, and that only after reparations for the incident was he directed to go receive Excalibur, as its replacement, from its watery source.
Really though, it probably is all a mistelling (and probably very Freudian, in every way!) of what never quite happened anyway. Except for the version where the time-traveller does the setting up of the contest with tidally-powered electromagnets and possibly an unintended recipient of the legend made true... ;) 00:34, 8 February 2022 (UTC)
I thought Lancelot (possibly one of the others?) received Excalibur as a proof of valor, and chose to pass it on to his king as a sign of respect; no longer the knight whose pride in his own virtue stops him bowing to a higher authority. Guess there's more versions than I know. Returning the sword I remember; but I thought he originally obtained it second hand, so the Lady accepting the sword back was the final proof that he had been worthy to have it. Angel (talk) 02:03, 8 February 2022 (UTC)
Honestly, there are so many versions of the story, and so many unrelated stories merged into it, that it's probably impossible to identify the "canonical" version. Monty Python's version is no less valid than Geoffrey of Monmouth's. 16:02, 8 February 2022 (UTC)

Merlin is a brand of motorcycle produced in Spain from 1980-1984. KingPenguin (talk) 01:36, 8 February 2022 (UTC)

Wow, I heard of them but didn't realise the brand was so short-lived. Angel (talk) 02:03, 8 February 2022 (UTC)

"Dirt bike" could also be interpreted as an -apparently motorized- bike made of dirt. Condor70 (talk) 16:25, 8 February 2022 (UTC)

Anyone else reminded of the weird moving rocks in Chronicles of Amber? The ones Random rode out of Chaos? I mean, the comic is probably not a reference to that (doesn't need to be in the explanation or anything), but still, similar vibe. 21:47, 8 February 2022 (UTC)

I was reminded instead of the moving rocks in Death Valley, which further reminded me of 505:_A_Bunch_of_Rocks. There aren't many xkcd comics that contain stones as a focus object. (I forgot to sign my comment, 23:25, 9 February 2022 (UTC).)
I was actually reminded of a clip from Spongebob Squarepants. "It's not just a boulder, it's a Rock! Pioneers used to ride these babies for miles!"-- 11:10, 11 February 2022 (UTC)
I don't think it was Chaos. Well, not Court of Chaos. Obviously, there are lot of different places under control of Court of Chaos, so it could be one of them, but if I remember correctly we never got full explanation of who was behind what, and even if we did, it's not like we could trust it. In fact, I don't think we can trust Corwin to not alter the story before telling Roger. -- Hkmaly (talk) 22:18, 12 February 2022 (UTC)

Did the title change? I see "Sword Pull" now, Feb 11. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I don't know if I'm missing something, but please explain what you thought it was before. 19:30, 11 February 2022 (UTC)