842: Mark

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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I'm a solipsistic conspiracy theorist. I'm sure I must be up to something, and I will not stop until I find out what.
Title text: I'm a solipsistic conspiracy theorist. I'm sure I must be up to something, and I will not stop until I find out what.


In this comic, Jill asks Cueball about a mark on his arm. He apparently believes he is part of a secret society, so secret that he doesn't know anything about the society. His belief in the existence of the society, and that he is a part of it, stem from one contact with an 'agent'. Most people would immediately dismiss the idea of such a secret society, especially with no evidence of its existence, and no knowledge of the goals or even whether it is inherently good or evil.

Six years after being 'chosen', Cueball finds a scrap of paper with an address on it, and a can of kerosene. Both of these events are not unlikely, and easily explained as simple coincidences, but Cueball somehow sees this as a command that he must burn down the house (maybe an example of ideas and delusions of reference). Cueball shows that he is willing to put other people's lives at risk, destroy property and possessions, and face the possibility of prison, all because of one event six years prior.

Cueball's belief in the society, his delusional linking of the address and kerosene, and his actions in burning down the house, show how badly he wants to be part of something bigger, and to find meaning in the "Chaos of Life".

The punchline refers to an old grade school/middle school prank (Urban Dictionary: pen 15 club, Pen 15.) You'd typically walk up to an unsuspecting schoolmate and ask them if he wants to join the Pen Fifteen Club. You'd tell them that to join, you merely have to write the club name on them. You'd then write "PEN15" on their hand or arm, and everyone would laugh at them because it looks like "PENIS". (In a common variant, it is simply called the Pen Club, 15 is the victim's "member number", and the pranksters write "PEN13" and "PEN14" on themselves.) In this case, Cueball fell victim to this prank as a child without ever figuring out the joke, and the ink somehow never got washed off by showers or baths or removed by shedding skin. In reality, it would be unlikely for such a mark to last for so long. While methods of marking someone's skin more permanently do exist, it is hard to imagine someone tattooing or branding "PEN15" on their friend's arm as a prank.

It is also possible, considering the recurrence of absurd and surrealist humor on xkcd, that this comic's PEN15 club is indeed a dark secret society working to further mysterious goals. The punchline only makes sense to the viewer, who lives in a reality where "the pen fifteen club" is a middle school prank and not an Illuminati-esque shadow organization.[citation needed] Humor of this type is an example of dramatic irony.

The comic's title may refer to the mark on Cueball's arm, or to the fact that he is the 'mark' (i.e. victim) of the prank, or to the owner of the house he burnt down as the 'mark' of his imagined secret society. As for the title text, solipsism is the philosophical idea that only your own mind is sure to exist while other minds can't be really known and so those other minds are not proved to be real. In this context it might mean that the only one who can conspire would be you, hiding the truth from yourself.


[Cueball and Jill are talking.]
Jill: What's that on your arm?
Cueball: The mark of a secret society.
Jill: If it's secret, why tell me-
Cueball: Because I know nothing. I can't betray them because I don't know who they are. I was chosen by an agent 20 years ago. That was my first and last direct contact.
Cueball: It's safer that way.
Six years later I found a piece of paper in the street with an address on it. The next day I found a can of kerosene in my garage that I'm sure I never bought.
[The panel represents these actions by highlighting the mentioned objects in a world of gray.]
I didn't know whose house it was. I just knew that I'd been given my orders. And I carried them out.
[A dark figure holding the kerosene is silhouetted against a flame.]
Cueball: I don't know who or what we're fighting.
Cueball: Maybe we're the bad guys.
Cueball: It doesn't matter to me.
Cueball: It's enough to know that there are forces working beneath the chaos of life, and I'm a part of them.
Cueball: That whatever this "Pen Fifteen" club is,
Cueball: I'm in it.

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The title "Mark" referring to both the mark on his arm, and the fact that he is a "mark" -- a victim of a prank or confidence scheme. 22:18, 13 December 2012 (UTC)

Hey, I'm part of this club too! Been burning down houses and killing people for years now. ~JFreund

I guess this gives us a pretty good approximation of Cueball's age. He's probably 30-33 years old. Jake (talk) 14:28, 8 August 2014 (UTC) 08:26, 6 February 2015 (UTC) In other words, never, ever let Cueball play Hotline Miami.

To the sane person this is absurd.[citation needed]

The explanation doesn't clearly say that the actual mark is simply: "Pen15" (even though it becomes clear after reading the explanation, for the record: this joke is new to me, I've never been invited to that club :-) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

This comic reminds me of the novel The Darkroom of Damocles, in which someone during WWII believes he is recruited into the resistance, and performs several missions, but his recruiter disappears after the war, and he is arrested for collaboration. One interpretation of the novel is that the main character has made everything up or is delusional, similar to how Cueball is delusional about having entered some secret organization. - Redmess (talk) 19:30, 7 November 2019 (UTC)

Is it possible that Cueball is pulling Science Girl's leg? This looks like the sort of response Calvin sometimes gets from his dad. Koro Neil (talk) 22:11, 21 June 2021 (UTC)

To me, the bit in the explanation about how the mark would have faded away could be explained by Cueball "renewing" it himself. Seems completely in character for him in this comic, given how badly he wants to believe in this. Or, I'm completely splitting hairs and it didn't matter to Randall when he made it or to the comic's meaning. Sihal3 (talk) 23:39, 30 December 2021 (UTC)