461: Google Maps

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Google Maps
Apparently Google assumes you're traveling during the ferry's normal operating hours. We lost two hours circling that damn lake (to say nothing of the Straw Man).
Title text: Apparently Google assumes you're traveling during the ferry's normal operating hours. We lost two hours circling that damn lake (to say nothing of the Straw Man).


Google Maps is a web mapping service application. Before smartphones with GPS mapping software were widespread and most people's printers hadn't yet run out of ink, it was common to print out directions to take with you on a trip. The web version of Google Maps has many features including a route planner. As sophisticated as early versions were, it occasionally gave suboptimal directions. For example, the directions may tell you to take an exit that, in reality, is unmarked. Directions also did not take time of day into account which would help in planning routes to avoid traffic or to make use of services such as a ferry.

The title text tells us that Cueball and his brother attempted to drive around the lake since they could not take the ferry and had an unfortunate run-in with the Straw Man.

Though no specific game or movie is referenced, steps 75 to 81 of the directions read like the plot of a horror film or role playing game. A straw man is another term for scarecrow, a common antagonist in both. Step 80 reads exactly like an old text adventure game's description of an area.

There are additional small jokes in the distance column of the directions:

  • Step 75 tells you to travel 1172 feet up, a direction that Google Maps doesn't normally take into account.
  • No distance is traveled in step 77, so Google instead tells you to be careful when talking to Charlie.
  • Pi is a ratio used in calculations involving circles, not measured distances.
  • Google doesn't know how far it is from the Spectral Wolf to your destination, so it gives you question marks as the distance.


My road trip with my brother ran into trouble around page three of the Google Maps printout
[Google Maps printout.]
← 70. Slight left at RT-22 - go 6.8 mi
→ 71. Turn right to stay on RT-22 - go 2.6 mi
← 72. Turn left at Lake Shore Rd - go 312 ft
→ 73. Turn right at Dock St - go 427 ft
[An icon of water] 74. Take the ferry across the lake. - go 2.8 mi
[A car is driving in the dark.]
Brother: Okay, now take Dock St toward the ferry.
Cueball: We're supposed to take a ferry? It's past midnight, and these woods are creepy.
Brother: Google Maps wouldn't steer us wrong.
[Cueball and his brother stand outside the car. The ferry has a sign on it reading CLOSED.]
[Cueball is standing next to his brother, who is holding a Google Maps printout.]
[Cueball motions towards his brother.]
Cueball: Let me see those directions.
[Google Maps printout.]
[An icon of water] 74. Take the ferry across the lake. - go 2.8 mi
↗ 75. Climb the HILL toward Hangman's Ridge, avoiding any mountain lions. - up 1,172 ft
↷ 76. When you reach an old barn, go around back, knock on the second door, and ask for Charlie. - go 52 ft
[An icon of a van] 77. Tell Charlie the Dancing Stones are restless. He will give you his van. - Careful
[An icon of a straw man] 78. Take Charlie's van down Old Mine Road. Do not wake the Straw Man. - go π mi
← 79. Turn left on Comstock. When you feel the blood chill in your veins, stop the van and get out. - go 3.2 mi
↓ 80. Stand very still. Exits are north, south, and east, but are block by a Spectral Wolf. - go 0 ft
[An icon of a menacing face] 81. The Spectral Wolf fears only fire. The Google Maps Team can no longer help you, but if you master the wolf, he will guide you. Godspeed. - go ?? mi

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By the end, it's really starting to sound like a text-based fantasy adventure game, or possibly a game of D&D. This adds an additional level of humour: using Google Maps to navigate around virtual worlds.

I particularly liked the "Go pi miles", and the "Careful" instructions in the Google Maps "Action" column on the right. --MisterSpike (talk) 18:58, 26 June 2013 (UTC)

Yes it is very much like old text games. 04:18, 7 July 2013 (UTC)
To me, it actually looks like a walkthrough for an adventure game of some sort. Or possibly a hint book considering the "official-sounding" last part. 06:38, 25 December 2013 (UTC)

The Spectral Wolf plays a role in World of Warcraft, but as I am not a WoW player, I don't feel qualified to update the explanation. Any WoWians want to add a paragraph on the Spectral Wolf?NikoNarf (talk) 19:17, 14 November 2013 (UTC)

I am one, but the Reins of the Spectral Wolf were not released until the Cataclysm expansion (December 2010). Thus a WoW-related explanation for the wolf would be anachronistic. Amurfalcon (talk) 21:07, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
I am one as well. There was a quest that Tauren did in their starting region, where they had to follow a spectral wolf. If I remember correctly, it was in Vanilla WoW. No anachronism here. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I'm not sure what is meant by the use of the term "Straw Man" instead of scarecrow or some other spooky or Halloween-themed equivalent. Perhaps it is a reference to the fallacy, but the fallacy is unassociated with "waking" unless maybe it's loosely related to the aggression that generally accompanies the attack of a straw man. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

"They also apparently woke the Straw Man."

I don't think there's more implied than that they lost time getting past, or detouring around, 'the Straw Man'. 14:13, 25 December 2013 (UTC)

Looks like "Zork" to me. Anyone remember Zork? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The Spectral Wolf would make all of this work so worthwhile. I mean... you would be getting a SPECTRAL WOLF! I wish I had a real one. Greyson (talk) 13:41, 3 January 2014 (UTC)

Does anyone know if the name Charlie means something? -- Dontknow (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Googles directions weren't just suboptimal in some cases they were crazy

IIRC I saw one set of directions that told the reader to "swim across the atlantic ocean" not once (well docuemnted easter egg) but twice as well as driving round most of europe to get to a destination in the same country they started in. -- plugwash 23:29, 28 April 2014 (UTC)

This comic describes a real place. Googling "rt-22 and lake shore road" will result in a ferry crossing in Essex, NY. Route-22 (Station ST) becomes Lake Shore road through a left turn near Pink Pig Cottage Antiques. About 300 feet from that T intersection is a small, unnamed, road on the right leading to the Essex-Charloette ferry route. 22:34, 13 November 2014 (UTC)

And thanks to Streetview we can see the ferry 21:22, 10 April 2015 (UTC).

There is the additional joke of going around the lake twice looking for a ferry. Wherever along the lake shores the ferry was going to go, they already passed by driving around the lake. Also, I think "godspeed" maybe another pun (meaning both "good luck," and implying you will travel at the speed of the gods). Mountain Hikes (talk) 11:29, 25 November 2015 (UTC)

"Godspeed" is a traditional term of farewell to someone about to take a possibly dangerous journey. 20:12, 6 October 2016 (UTC)

Although the title text says, "Google assumes you're traveling during the ferry's normal operating hours", at the time the printout was made the ferry may have been operating. 02:35, 11 July 2021 (UTC)