2607: Geiger Counter

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Geiger Counter
At first I didn't get why they were warning me about all those birds sitting on the wire, but then I understood.
Title text: At first I didn't get why they were warning me about all those birds sitting on the wire, but then I understood.


This comic is a simple pun. Cueball and Ponytail are standing in what looks to be a desert, and Cueball is holding a Geiger counter in his hand. Cueball remarks that he did not understand why he was asked to carry a Geiger counter, but that it then "clicked" with him.

Geiger counters are devices used to measure the amount of radiation in an area. When a particle of ionizing radiation hits the sensor of a Geiger counter, it will give off a distinct "clicking" noise. "Click" can also be a slang term for the Eureka effect, a sudden moment of understanding. The pun in this comic insinuates that Cueball realized why he was asked to bring the Geiger counter when it clicked, indicating radiation nearby. In radioactive areas, it is usually a good idea to carry around some sort of radiation detector for safety reasons.[citation needed]

This is likely a parody of a fairly well-known pun that takes advantage of a similar double meaning: "I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me." Just as that pun uses "hit me" to mean both the action of the ball and to understand, this comic uses the "clicking" to mean both the action of the Geiger counter and to understand. A related variety of pun, told in the third person, is the Tom Swifty.

The title text is also a pun, with the implication being the narrator "understood" once they "stood under" the birds that were perched on the wire (who may have then pooped on the narrator to bring them to their understanding [in the "realization" sense]).


[Cueball and Ponytail are wearing hard hats and standing in what looks to be some sort of desert or rocky area. Cueball is holding a Geiger counter in his hands. Ponytail is holding a clipboard.]
Cueball: At first I was confused about why they wanted me to carry a Geiger counter here, but then it clicked.

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Vanilla joke, but funny. Nafedalbi (talk) 18:41, 15 April 2022 (UTC)Nafedalbi

It's Randall's "dad joke". Barmar (talk) 19:23, 15 April 2022 (UTC)
Honestly, yeah. I impulsively went "wow... Randall's really jumped the stick figure shark." -- 06:32, 16 April 2022 (UTC)
Not me. After plumbing the depths of Unicode and trying to describe a Taylor series expansion from square one, this is a welcome relief. 07:34, 16 April 2022 (UTC)
When does an ordinary joke become a dad joke? When it becomes apparent. 10:31, 16 April 2022 (UTC)
When does it become apparent? After the delivery. 17:30, 16 April 2022 (UTC)
When is the best time for delivery? After a pregnant pause. 15:19, 17 April 2022 (UTC)
Many dad jokes will not become apparent until they are full groan. 15:03, 18 April 2022 (UTC)

Randall, come here. Yes, right there. Stand still. THWACK! THWACK THWACK THWACK THWACK THWACK! That is all, you may go now. 20:41, 15 April 2022 (UTC)

The explanation makes clear the side of the pun regarding the Geiger counting clicking, but for non-native English speakers, the phrase "it clicked" meaning "I understood" may need clarification. 21:17, 15 April 2022 (UTC)

Also possibly related to this news story https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/unprotected-russian-soldiers-disturbed-radioactive-dust-chernobyls-red-forest-2022-03-28/

Calling the pun a parody of another joke is weird. Jokes aren’t parodied. Parodies aren’t made of general things people say. It can be a play on that other joke, but not a parody of it. It’s not making fun of the other joke. 11:24, 16 April 2022 (UTC)

I somewhat agree with you. It's a 'type of' pun related to the Tom Swifty, which I edited in just now. I didn't actually remove the claim of parody. Perhaps someone else should also do that without hesitation... (...says I, unerringly!) 15:06, 16 April 2022 (UTC)

Dates for the Trinity Site Open House are April 2 and October 15 for 2022. Bring your own geiger counter. TCMits (talk) 14:15, 16 April 2022 (UTC)

...and possibly a time-machine? ;) 15:06, 16 April 2022 (UTC)

Title text: birds sitting on the wire[edit]

"Sitting/standing on the wire" is a German idiom ("Auf der Leitung sitzen/stehen"), translated to English literally. It means to not understand something, and is used primarily with concepts that supposedly are easy to understand. For example, not getting a joke. The birds are not part of the German idiom itself. Birds were chosen because they can sit on wires literally (think: Alfred Hichcocks' movie), yet also understand (or not understand) something and thus be subject of the idiom. It's quirky but somewhat works for the joke. If you want to carry on with the idea of literally-translated German idioms, the word "birds" can refer to "funny/strange people". The title text then translates to: "At first I didn't get why they were warning me about all those funny people who didn't get it, but then I understood." 22:10, 3 June 2022 (UTC)

I do not understand the joke in the title text, so if somebody could please write an explanation, that would be great. Also, this is my first ever full comic description! Yay! I don't know what categories this fits in, if somebody could also put those in that would be great. MrYellow04 (talk) 19:58, 15 April 2022 (UTC)

I suggest you stand under a wire with lots of birds on it for a while. It will hit you. Barmar (talk) 20:32, 15 April 2022 (UTC)
Dirty birdy in the sky, why you do that in my eye? Boy I'm glad that cows can't fly! TCMits (talk) 14:15, 16 April 2022 (UTC)

I thought it meant the birds were dangerously mutated because of the radioactivity, but now I understand. 22:00, 15 April 2022 (UTC)

Just make sure you don't open your mouth and tilt your head back. 22:59, 15 April 2022 (UTC)

The title text joke may be understood more easily by reading "stood under" in place of "understood". 19:37, 15 April 2022 (UTC)

Living in Manhattan, you learn to notice when an area is full of bird droppings and avoid standing there. You also need to pay attention when parking your car. Certain lamp posts (where the lamp is cantilevered over the street) near Central Park often tend to have a large accumulation under them. 19:47, 15 April 2022 (UTC)

I added telegraph wires (UK-only term, possibly, and anachronistic as they are telephone cables, so feel free to change to be US-centric) and birds seem happy to sit on pole-suspended POTS cables as much as power-lines, so the linked heat-effect thing is definitely a minority necessity. I think it's just a perch. Though we probably have more signal-wires. Most(?) streets more than a few decades old have telegraph poles feeding wires to established properties (even if cable/FTTP has been dug into trenches) but mains electricity tends to have been subsurface for much longer, with only HV national/rural-area transmission grids up on pylons/poles. Obviously there are a lot more perching birds out in the countryside, where they may dominate (but still the 'telegraph' may follow road or rail routes to service the villages and isolated inhabitations along them) but you don't tend to see birds atop the larger lines at all... Too high up? Too hot? I've seen rooks/etc happily doing a Hitchcock upon a pylon itself, apparently enjoying the communal view. 18:54, 15 April 2022 (UTC)

Leonard Cohen reference?[edit]

It seems to me that the title text has to be somehow referencing one of Leonard Cohen’s better known songs, “Bird on the Wire”, from the very specific phrasing there. 11:21, 16 April 2022 (UTC)

It's a fairly common phrase. Including the 1990 Goldie Hawn / Mel Gibson film. Iggynelix (talk) 16:23, 16 April 2022 (UTC)
I think it more likely there's some reference meant to birds not getting electrocuted while sitting on power cables-perhaps this is even in a "What If" book? I don't think very likely, but more likely than any Leonard Cohen reference. It's because "both the bird's feet are on the same potential, so electricity does not flow through the bird. The bird also offers greater resistance than the power cable, so the electricity continues to flow through the power cable." I figured this "explanation" fits here as well as anywhere. Cuvtixo (talk) 21:06, 16 April 2022 (UTC)
I think it's a red-herring that the nature of the wire has anything to do with it. Birds will perch on handy things, whether electrical cables (hopefully with spacings between separate phase-wires/across the insulator 'hangers' significantly more than an idle wing-stretch!), telephonic, washing line, zip-line, etc, etc. A wire just gives more chance for 'mostly open space, beneath which an unaware human is particularly (but not obviously) susceptible to birds voiding their systems' than with a street-lamp arm, a high ledge on a tall building, tree branches or the underside frames of girder-based bridges.
Birds do indeed escape (trivial) electrocution on power-lines, but that doesn't help the joke because they can crap on you from anything that you under-stand (or just by chance, by dint of being birds and occasionally finding they need to let go whilst already in flight... or by direct malice in the case of nest-guarding skuas/etc).
Not to disect the comedy frog, or anything, because that would be cold-blooded. 00:00, 17 April 2022 (UTC)

"Pretty sure eggrolled was just a typo", as corrected with this edit... No, I think not. I've just undone a whole host of (repeated) vandalisms, some of which were to put "eggroll" in as replacements... the rest were equally stupid (or greater). Check edit log for just before now to see what pages I reverted/etc. Because someone is apparently clever enough to edit wiki pages (oh boy, what a smart person, I'm sure nobody of lesser intellect could ever have accomplished such a thing(!)...). Anyway, good work recorrecting it, whoever you are. 00:15, 17 April 2022 (UTC)

At first I didn't understand why they were warning me about the boomerang, but then it hit me... (Yes, I may have stolen that joke from Milton Jones.) --IByte (talk) 09:02, 17 April 2022 (UTC)

I swear I've seen this exact comic before, why was it reposted? IJustWantToEditStuff (talk) 20:43, 23 January 2023 (UTC)