692: Dirty Harry

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Dirty Harry
Sci-fi has energy weapons because otherwise the people like me who watch it get distracted counting shots.
Title text: Sci-fi has energy weapons because otherwise the people like me who watch it get distracted counting shots.


The comic references Dirty Harry and Rain Man, two classic American films, from very different genres.

Dirty Harry is an action thriller about a police officer named "Dirty" Harry Callahan, who's notorious for being aggressive with criminals and quick to resort to lethal force. His weapon of choice is a .44 magnum revolver (which holds six rounds of ammunition). The comic references one of the most famous scenes in the film, in which Harry has a criminal at gunpoint, following a fire-fight. As the criminal considers reaching for the weapon he had dropped, Harry claims to have lost track of how many bullets he's fired, meaning that there may or may not be one round left in his gun, and coldly tells his opponent "you must ask yourself one question: do I feel lucky?". The implication being Harry will definitely fire if the man reaches for his gun, and his life will depend on whether there are any bullets left. In the original scene, the suspect surrenders himself rather than risk being killed. It's then revealed that Harry had emptied his gun, meaning that the other man could have 'won' the stand-off, had he managed to keep track of the shots fired.

Rain Man is a comedy-drama about the relationship between two brothers. One of the brothers, Raymond (AKA "Rain Man"), is autistic and has an eidetic memory. Several times in the film he encounters a number of objects that would be difficult for most people to count (such as toothpicks spilled from a box) and immediately knows how many there are.

The comic portrays a mash-up between the two films, in which Dirty Harry faces Rain Man, instead of a less numerically gifted adversary. Rain Man accurately tracks every bullet fired, and knows that Harry's gun is now empty (with the implication that he can safely grab his own gun and kill Harry).

The title text implies that Randall tends to obsess about tracking quantities, even while watching action films, and thus gets 'distracted' keeping track of how many rounds each person fires. There's a long history in film and television in which scenes involving shoot-outs will have little rigor as to shots fired: characters will routinely fire more rounds that could realistically be contained in the gun, without ever reloading, to the annoyance of mathematically-minded viewers. Science fiction shows will frequently invent various forms of "energy weapons", which don't fire traditional projectiles, and therefore aren't limited to a specific number of shots (at least, not an identifiable number). Randall jokes that these energy weapons exist solely because "people like me" would otherwise get distracted counting shots (instead of the various other reasons, such as showing off a writer's or artist's creativity). The implication is that science fiction fans have a high percentage of people with obsessive, numerically rigorous tendencies who find such inconsistencies to be a distraction from enjoying the shows.


[Detective "Dirty" Harry Callahan stands near a wall, pointing a revolver at another figure, presumably a suspect, reclined on the ground. A shotgun is on the ground next to the reclined figure.]
Harry Callahan: I know what you're thinking--"Did he fire six shots or only five?" In all this excitement, I-
Suspect: Six. Definitely six.
Harry Callahan: Shit.
Dirty Harry Meets Rain Man

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


This could be (or share) the inspiration for a running joke in Archer where the title character has this same partial savantism for counting bullets (see S04E08 for an example) -- 21:31, 27 July 2018 (UTC)

There's "instantly" twice in a sentence. Because I'm not a native english speaker, I don't know if this is acceptable, and for the same reason I'll not edit it. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

You were correct, it isn't. Actually that whole sentence bothers me, but I suppose it gets the point across well enough. 07:23, 25 January 2014 (UTC)
  • Technically even directed-energy weapons would run out of shots eventually, since they tend to have batteries, and batteries don't last forever. I suppose you could get around this by using solar power or something, but you would need solar panels larger than the gun itself, most likely. Jake (talk) 15:27, 11 May 2015 (UTC)
It's not that it would have an unlimited amount of shots, it's that they wouldn't be limited in the same way that conventional existing firearms are. Most guns you can find out how many bullets are in them, even with made up firearms you can make an educated guess, based on the size of various things about the gun. With an energy weapon you could hypothetically have a gun with five shots or five hundred shots in the same size battery, depending on whatever factors your sci-fi bothers with (although pretty much all guns in media have [plot] number of shots regardless). -Pennpenn 06:49, 20 July 2015 (UTC)
Plus, rather than firing individual bullets, it would shoot a steady beam. That way there's nothing to count. 17:03, 6 May 2017 (UTC)

Nice try, title text; clearly you have yet to meet The Borg. Bonus points for shields annoying Rainman by adapting to plot velocity instead of total count. Elvenivle (talk) 03:46, 1 December 2015 (UTC)

I removed the sentence, "It should be noted that revolvers don't actually use the 6th slot for reasons of safety" because it's funny but people might think it's true when as far as I can tell it's completely silly. 5 & 7 round capacity revolvers exist, but they're designed that way from the get go-- 18:07, 27 July 2018 (UTC)

People actually do do that. Because many revolvers are not built with a safety, often people carry with the chamber empty, so that any accidents cannot set off the weapon. Some people do this with handguns as well, though this is somewhat less popular. 20:46, 2 February 2022 (UTC)