Will I be impressed by an xkcd comic in 2024?
resolved Apr 19

I’m a big xkcd fan, but I feel like it hasn’t really been that clever/interesting/funny in years. Will I be impressed with one of this year’s comics, to the degree that I question my controversial assertion that it’s degraded?

(No offense to people who still enjoy xkcd, which seems to be everyone besides me! I think you should keep enjoying them; don’t let me steal your happiness.)

The last truly classic xkcd I can think of is https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/2501:_Average_Familiarity, from Aug 2021. Unless I’m forgetting some big ones, this market would’ve resolved NO for 2022 and 2023.

In the comments I put a detailed description of why I didn’t think a particular recent xkcd was very funny.

General policy for my markets: In the rare event of a conflict between my resolution criteria and the agreed-upon common-sense spirit of the market, I may resolve it according to the market's spirit or N/A, probably after discussion.

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Ok fine I liked today's! I bet this will be thought of as a classic.


This one ("Treasure Chests") was kinda clever, and I thought about resolving the market, but it ultimately didn't meet my threshold.

@Conflux today’s was also pretty funny but it’s still kind of one-trick-pony. idk maybe if there are a few more like this….

wow, you have high standards! I have a lot of nostalgia for the good old days of xkcd, but I feel like the past few years have been an improvement--still plenty of mediocre comics, but an increasing rate of good ones.

Clicking through the past several months, there are a bunch that make me giggle a bit, which I think was not true for years. And I contend that https://xkcd.com/2867/ is a classic!

@jcb That comic is actually a good microcosm of a lazy style of xkcd I think has been getting more prevalent. (First of all, I guess I should say that if you enjoy this comic, that’s perfectly legitimate and I don’t want to take that away from you.)

What I mean is, in this comic, the intended humor is based on the fact that date/time interval calculations are hard, but there’s no joke beyond that. It’s just an observation of a difficult thing, blended with a grandiose fantasy style. You could make this xkcd about any counterintuitive problem, where someone’s like “I’m a travelling salesman, how do I get to all these nodes the fastest!” and it says “Normal Person: Just keep visiting the closest node!” above and “It is impossible to know and a sin to ask!” below. I contend that this is approximately equally funny.

There’s also no insight into the ways that it’s problematic. Whereas classic comics like Standards or Purity or Significant observe funny relatable things about the nerd world, but they also sort of shine light on how they arise, or at least it feels like the wit in them is more thematic. They feel like you couldn’t just staple them onto other issues like a Mad Libs the way I did for the comic you mentioned.

@Conflux interesting! I don't agree that the travelling salesman problem fits the xkcd just as well; it's certainly possible to know the answer, "just" computationally expensive. The complexity and subtlety of time handling are at another level, spanning issues from "are the timestamps from different clocks? do they agree?" to "where is the time from? what was the timezone policy there?" to leap seconds and time dilation and so on. When talking about times in the future, the answer can depend on future timezone policy and be literally unknowable (for now). And so I find "It is impossible to know and a sin to ask!" to be a surprising, amusingly worded, yet accurate, and therefore very humorous, punchline!

I struggle to think of another subject that would fit this comic's structure so perfectly. Maybe "what is the position and velocity of this particle"? Though I don't see a setup for a normal person answer like "t_2 minus t_1". Probably you could find something from quantum mechanics that fits well enough. But also, I think the weirdness of quantum mechanics is enough in the zeitgeist that you might expect a normal person to be aware of this.

Maybe I find surprise more important to humor than you do. Of the three comics you mentioned, if you covered up the ending, I think I could basically guess the hidden content. (Though certainly Standards is a classic!) Clicking through a few other older comics, I found https://xkcd.com/862/ and https://xkcd.com/865/ to be pretty funny--again, punchlines that I would not have guessed!

@jcb I guess that's a good point about predictable endings - I agree that the ones you sent, with more unpredictable endings, are also pretty funny. (I was reminded of xkcd.com/58 as well.)

I don't see how finding the difference between two times is literally impossible to know as opposed to expensive (it seems to me like you could just hardcode all the weird time zone exemptions and info about the data sources...I guess there are a few cases where it's undecidable if you're looking at Pacific Time, since there are two 2:30ams on Daylight Savings - Fall Back, but I don't think that's super relevant)... and the "sin to ask" part definitely just feels like hamming it up to me.

@jcb I feel like https://xkcd.com/2867/ is just a worse version of https://xkcd.com/1883/.