Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Comic 724: Hell, No


Let's all say it together: it's not the worst "hell" comic he's ever done.

Before I get to what I want to say, a being named Doomerang sent me some complaints about this comic, which i've edited down here:

The problem all lies in the title. It gives away the joke. The thing about a joke is that you are supposed to give a set-up, then a punch-line. Compare the following:
“A horse walks into the bar. The barman sees him and asks ‘Why the long face?’”
“‘Why the long face?’ said the barman to the person who had just walked in and was a horse.”
The latest comic is basically the latter. Imagine, if you will, reading the comic without having seen the title. You see a picture of a Tetris game, you scroll down and what is this? The bottom is curved, it is all wrong! Then you see the caption “HELL.” And you realize that Randall is saying a nerd’s definition of Hell is an unbeatable game. It sounds crap written out like that I know, but come on work with me here. Kind of funny.

What you actually get with this comic is you see the word Hell, then see Tetris and think why is Tetris hell? Then you scroll down and see oh okay the bottom is curved. Huh. And it says Hell again. OK.

This travesty of composition could so easily have been avoided! He could have just called the comic ‘Tetris’ or ‘Blocks’ or something like that. Boring, I know, but the purpose of the title is surely just so people can find the comic when they are looking through the archives? They say “I want to see the comic where Tetris is unbeatable… ah this one is called ‘Tetris’, that’ll be it”. You don’t need to put the joke there. Seriously.

I guess this is why you guys are always going on about Randall getting himself an editor!

It's true! Having the title and the caption be the same just looks silly. Get rid of the title! It's been a long, long time since an xkcd title was worth anything and wasn't just ultra-bland.

Really, the problem is that jokes about tetris are laaaame. First off, there already exist variants of tetris which try to fuck you up, much like this proposal. In terms of sheer frustration expressed purely as a screenshot of a tetris game, there is always this shirt. [incidentally, Randall, when your joke is already basically the same as a shirt on busted tees, you have failed so hard.] There's even Roast Beef's depression+anxiety represented through horrifying tetris pieces.

In fact, on the Achewood thing, one comment on the latter strip wrote: "Nobody else in the universe would think to represent a man's thoughts by using an overly complex, never-gonna-fit Tetris shape dropping inexorably into an area where it will screw everything up." Well, what that guy didn't count on was Randall Munroe! Who, as we know, has never read Achewood.
But the best fucked-up-tetris comedy out there has GOT to be this video, from the magical fantasy land known as "Japan." Not only is it basically the same crazy frustration related to tetris (I mean, the spirit of this video is exactly the same as that of the comic), but it includes the lines "so many bathrooms!" and "why soybean??" How could you go wrong with that, I ask? Seriously you should watch that video, it's so dumb and silly yet it makes me laugh so hard.

Lastly, the alt-text is clearly designed to pander to as broad an audience as possible (mario) while still making nerds think he is referencing their "obscure" game (katamari).

well, that was obvious Update: As expected, someone's made a playable version of this comic. (thanks to Dragon2041 for the link, and sorry that i did not post the guest writing you sent me!) Go play the game. It's made wonderfully; the physics for the most part feel exactly right and I actually laughed playing it, which is not something I did when reading the original comic. There's something about seeing the futility of the whole pursuit, that no matter what you cannot make any progress and yet the game keeps giving you more shit to deal with. If i were an overworked factory person i might consider it a good metaphor for my life. Anyway - especially when my screen was totally full of mishmashed pieces, i kept thinking to myself "why did Randall just draw two pieces? This screencap is way funnier than his comic." Anyway, play it out, see what you think. To me it just confirms that this is a funny idea (if not that new) but poorly executed as a comic.


  1. Dang Carl, posting the exact same links I did, before mine go through? That's downright devious.


  2. 725 may be literally the worst comic i've ever read.

    (someone had to get the joke out of the way. on to analysis?)

  3. The punchline is that the bottom is curved, not that it's Hell. Hell is the setup. You are bad at humor.

  4. Yet another very boring and unfunny comic.

    At least Randal's consistent.

  5. Made me chuckle

    also, dicks

  6. @Anon 10:08 - Hell is the setup, and then the punchline. If Hell is only the setup, why is the word "Hell" after the comic? I don't think this is some SMBC achronological setup where you get the punchline, then an EARLIER: panel showing the setup. Instead, we have Randall using Hell as the setup in the title: We are reading a comic that is a depiction of Hell! Then we get the punchline: The bottom is curved! Then we get the caption: This is Hell. Randall is overcommunicating, here. Really severely. He tells us that his comic is about hell, and then he shows us something irritating, and then his caption says "This irritating thing is hell", and then his alt-text is "Irritating things in games are hell". Randall Munroe tells us, over and over again, what is going on here. He even uses the word "Hell" for both title and caption! Thank you, wasn't sure I got that.

    Remember this? From the Comic Doctor's article on recontextualization, itself very interesting. His critique of that particular Garfield is that the first panel sets up the visual joke, the third panel shows the visual joke, and the third panel also explains the visual joke with words. Davis remorselessly beats us over the head making sure we understand that this is funny because Garfield threw the ball so hard that the ball deformed Odie.

    Similarly, Randall beats us over the head with "Tetris with a curved bottom is hell" and I beat you over the head with "Randall overcommunicates."

  7. Isn't the final use of literally incorrect as well? "You are the craziest person I have ever met" is already a literal statement, so stating it is literally is just using it for emphasis.

  8. Someone on the previous entry said that the reason there is a redundant caption is that if Randall didn't put "Hell" at the bottom, when someone linked to it on another site, it would just be the Tetris board with the curved bottom and no context (since the title wouldn't appear if the image alone was linked).

    That makes sense, but okay, if that's the case, why didn't Randall just make the title something other than "Hell"? Because he is lazy I guess.

    Maybe the alt-text could have done something like make a joke about why you can't just turn it off and quit, or how non-gamers would think this was Hell, or something, but nah. He just decided to make the same joke again. And again.

    I refuse to say "GOOMH" but I did have a conversation with a few friends of mine about the misuse of the word "literally," although it's not like that's an uncommon subject.

    Also I can't help but see the one stick figure guy as being Alan Moore. That actually makes the last panel kind of funny if I think of it as him because Alan Moore is one crazy bastard.

  9. I thought it was better than usual. I didn't find it funny as I don't find pedantry amusing, but it was fairly interesting.

    What's fairly funny is the image of the Goatkcd. He finds the stretchy man himself!

    captcha: Diela. Diela pizza? "Die, La"?

  10. Anon 10:26 - The problem is a lack of punchline. It was decent, but it needed an over-the-top ending. I'm not entirely sure what.

    Otherwise, the use of 'literally' works within the comic's context.

  11. So where's the punchline in the latest comic? And who says "Unless he physically burst, you mean figuratively" in 7th grade? Also the joke is that both charactersare pedantic about language, only one of them is crazy enough to wait eighteen years? Holy shit that's some comedy gold right there.

  12. Friday's would have been less unfunny if it turned out the first guy actually WAS glued to his seat.

  13. Fred -

    The setup was that in 7th grade, one person acted juvenile and pedantic about grammar, which profoundly impacted Hobo Man to the extent that he waited 18 years for his revenge. You're right, though, that there is no punchline.

  14. Fred, I don't think the point is "who says that in the 7th grade?" but more of a "what kind of a pretentious twat would actually point that out and rudely interrupt someone like that?" because yeah that is a dick move of the highest degree.

  15. Cam: In grade 7, everyone is.

  16. @Fluffy

    Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking. It might have been moderately amusing if, in the last panel, the guy had just silently turned around and it turned out that there was a chair glued to his butt, or something along those lines. Probably wouldn't work with stick figure art, though...

  17. To be honest I think this was the first decent XKCD in a long time.

    Mind you, just decent, nothing more. @Anonymous above me: That would've been a much funnier joke.

  18. Charles Augustus FortescueApril 9, 2010 at 3:57 AM

    The various references to classical conceptions of Hell in this comic have already been pointed out in the comments to other posts, but should be noted here as well.

    The strongest links are Mario reaching for the star recalling Tantalus, and Tetris itself being close to Tartarus, the Greek name for Hell. I haven't heard of Katamari before but apparently it involves pushing a rock around, like Sysyphus in the Greek mythos.

    Clever comic.

  19. It's literally impossible to tell who's who in panel 3 comic 725.

  20. Anon and Fluffy, that would, indeed, be a much better joke. Subversion of expectation, man, that's good comedy!

    Anyway, this newest comic bothers me because it shows clearly the problem with Randall's "style". Namely, you can't tell who's who if you don't put accessories on them! And Angular Circles, if you're out there reading this(and I believe you are), notice in panel 2 the two stickmen's heads are the exact same shape! Take that, Mr. "Facial Strcutures"!

    Where was I? Oh, yes, the punchline is drowned in PPD, and he did the better joke in the alt-text instead of, you know, in the comic itself.

    But I'll give him credit, it's a comic about LANGUAGE! Finally, damn it!

    And with that, Mole out!

  21. Yeah, the title/caption thing is a boner on Randy's part. But minus that, I think 724 is really one of the better comics he's done recently -- it's efficient, reasonably clever and nerdy without pandering.

    Honestly, I think this is a standout among the recent comics -- if it was surrounded by better ones, it wouldn't really stand out except for the unfortunate title.

    725, though, is a steaming pile of horse shit.

  22. "I think 724 is really one of the better comics he's done recently"

    "725, though, is a steaming pile of horse shit."

    Couldn't have summed up my thoughts better. The latest comic resumes perfectly the kind of unhumorous (sic?) shit xkcd passes off as comedy. The alt text was much more clever than the actual comic.

  23. 725 isn't meant to be funny.
    Well, it has a punchline, but I believe that to be entirely of an afterthought. No, I believe the comic was Randall trying to, once again, do nothing but pander to the fanbase; this time with "Grammar Nazis are crazy!"

    He's done something like this three times in the last five comics now. "Flatland" was nothing but referencing a book and a game, and "Seismic Waves" was just a clever pictoblog thought. They both had lame jokes, largely unrelated to the actual preface, tagged onto the last panel.

    Actually, I'd really like to see a "Repeat Offenders" category for strips that do this!

  24. 725 is a decent enough joke, it's just bogged down in prolixity. Some people feel that absurd behaviour doesn't count as humour, but those people are more pretentious than XKCD is supposed to be.

  25. I think one of the reasons that 725 pisses me off so much is that the situation seems like a hyperbolic version of that asshole everyone knows who gleefully criticizes everyone around them on some minute technicalities and then, when you criticize them back on the same criteria, goes, "Uh, so?" I feel like Randall maybe is this person, and is trying to justify it by saying, "Yeah, well, those people who correct me are SO CRAZY--look, here's one I invented who waited 18 years for me to screw up!"

  26. Someone on the previous entry said that the reason there is a redundant caption is that if Randall didn't put "Hell" at the bottom, when someone linked to it on another site, it would just be the Tetris board with the curved bottom and no context (since the title wouldn't appear if the image alone was linked).

    I don't buy that. As if seeing a curved Tetris would not make sense unless it was pointed out that such a situation would be annoying.

    The Achewood examples prove the opposite. Tetris is so readily understood that - with no explanation or "this is what is going on" text - it is used to represent a character's mental state. And it works.

    The "Hell" line pisses me off. It's patronising; it shows a lack of confidence in the reader's ability to deduce the humour instead of just being dumbly fed it.

  27. "you are literally the craziest person I've met"
    "you did it again"

    people do not talk like this

  28. First decent XKCD in a while. The idea that someone would follow someone else around for 18 years for revenge over something so stupid is funny because he took something we all have seen (revenge over something blown out of proportion) and exaggerated it without getting surreal.

    Then the last panel killed it. RanDULL, do yourself a favor and hunt up a copy of an early Bill Cosby routine called "Revenge". That's how you literally do a denoument.

  29. "people do not talk like this"

    Crazy people do.

  30. "Crazy people do"

    No, crazy people talk like this.

  31. I pretty much gave up on 725 when I couldn't figure out who was who. My first instinct was that the only male with hair in the third panel must be the only character with hair in the other panels, but that didn't seem to work.

    Also, subverting his final triumph really is a better idea. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang shows how it's done:

    Harry: Umm, clearly I'm interrupting. I feel badly. Let me... What are you drinking?
    Harmony: Bad. [...] Badly is an adverb. So to say you feel badly would be saying that the machanism which allows you to feel is broken.

    Then, later in the movie:

    Perry: Go. Sleep badly. Any questions, hesitate to call.
    Harry: Bad.
    Perry: Excuse me?
    Harry: Sleep bad. Otherwise it makes it seem like the mechanism that allows you to sleep...
    Perry: What, fuckhead? Who taught you grammar? Badly's an adverb. Get out. Vanish.

    Of course, it probably helped that the two were separated in time, which xkcd can't really do without making the setup a throw-away gag in an earlier comic.

  32. Do you think Randy has been watching some old Seinfeld reruns recently? I haven't heard anyone make this joke in over a decade.

    This is literally the worst comic since that fucking brain worm dream one.


  34. @

  35. The real hell of that game is that the controls on the blocks are really weird. You lose control as soon as they contact another block, or the floor--but they don't stick, they keep floating around. That was a lot more frustrating to me than the curved floor.

  36. "Well, it has a punchline, but I believe that to be entirely of an afterthought. No, I believe the comic was Randall trying to, once again, do nothing but pander to the fanbase; this time with "Grammar Nazis are crazy!"

    It's ambiguous enough that it could appeal to both grammar nazis and anti-grammar nazis.

    "The strongest links are Mario reaching for the star recalling Tantalus, and Tetris itself being close to Tartarus, the Greek name for Hell. I haven't heard of Katamari before but apparently it involves pushing a rock around, like Sysyphus in the Greek mythos.

    Clever comic."

    I don't think Randall intended Tartarus to sound like Tetris, or if he did, it would be too contrived to put in as an actual joke.

  37. Aw, dang, someone was quicker than me!

    It appeared in my Twitter timeline just now. This game is hell, yes, but because the physics is messed up. The blocks merely touch by the side and they're already uncontrollably flying over the screen as if I had hit them with a baseball bat.

  38. 1: Tartarus does not sound like Tetris. At all. Aside from that they have some letters in common.

    2: The relation between "a star being out of reach" and "a fruit tree that sways away from the person if they try to reach for it, and water that receded whenever you bent down to drink from it" are, quite obviously, non-existent.

    You numbnuts.

  39. No, Femalethoth, those links are just thoughtless nonsense. I also didn't mean that absurd behaviour is ALWAYS good humour, I meant that humour isn't necessarily absent just because it is hinged on absurd behaviour.

    In this case the joke is there and it's obvious, but its impact is lost in convoluted execution.

  40. Anon, absurd is only funny in an universe that does not accept the absurd so easily. And I heard at least one xkcd fan claiming we should stop whining about things not happening as they should, because it's not realistic anyway.

    So I hope you can make the connection yourself. I'm out.

  41. LOL, check this out!
    someone actually made it, and it's kind of neat.

  42. Whoever made this is a stupid. Why do the blocks accelerate downwards? Because whoever made it is a stupid. Why is everything bouncy? Because whoever made it is a stupid.

    The strip isn't "The floor is curved, so it's hell! Also: the programming is really badly done. And the arena is bouncy for some reason? Hey, I'm sure you'll figure it out." That game = worse than the strip, and that's saying something.

  43. fucking hell get over yourselve's it's a _comic_ for crying out loud

  44. ok anonymous, like we haven't heard that a thousand times before

  45. fucking hell get over yoursef it's a _blog_ for crying out loud

    Also, "yourselve's" is a crime against nature. Just like your face.

  46. "Why do the blocks accelerate downwards?"

    Like, there's something that's constantly FORCING us towards the ground. Some kind of... GRAVITY... or something. It exists across all mediums, and permeates through all time and space around us. Just a theory though.

    Haha, mocking the question aside, I couldn't play the game so I wouldn't know.

    The timestamp I have on this pic is from 2006, and it's probably older than that, not to mention the idea of "Tetris pieces that don't line up right" is even older than that; not to mention this is just an awful execution of the joke regardless of the fact that it's years old.

  48. Mesosade, it's not that they're falling, it's that they're get quicker with time, very unlike what tetris pieces actually do.

  49. That Achewood parody comic was so fucking bad.

  50. The Achewood comic itself was pretty bad, but Roast Beef's line about subtlety being Ray's first, middle, and last name was chuckle-inducing. Alas, the rest of the dialogue fails to capture Chris Onstad's wonderfully surreal rambling style.

    It's funny--at the time, his jab at Megatokyo and its filler art seemed incisive and funny. Now that uninteresting stick figures are all he does, though, it rings a little hollow--"it's NOT funny, because it's true."

    It's a sad thing that his "art," which could have at one point been called ironic in its simplicity, has become a symbol of laziness rather than one of Dadaist mockery.

    (I sincerely hope that nothing I just wrote constitutes a repetition of something someone else has said on this blog or its comments.)

  51. Anonymous 10:11:
    "it's not that they're falling, it's that they're get quicker with time"

    Ahaha, don't you see, things that are falling ARE GETTING quicker with time. This is what gravity DOES. It's hard to notice on Earth, because the acceleration is fast enough for us to think that it's a constant velocity. But trust me, if you drop a penny off a bride, by the time it hits the water it will be moving over 30m/s quicker than when it left. (Dear people who know high school physics, yes I know there is air resistance on Earth.)

    It's just that a constant downward acceleration can most often be described as gravity, and was actually likely used in whatever program the gamemaker used. (Some game making programs (Gamemaker 8) actually make an option to include gravity, for simplicity's sake).

    Yes I did actually get the game to work, and it is not spectacularly fun. The gravity, or downward acceleration, isn't nearly as annoying to me as the bounce factor of the blocks. However, this is hell, what do you expect?

  52. "Ahaha, don't you see, things that are falling ARE GETTING quicker with time."

    But things that get quicker with time are not necessarily falling.

    I would have been much more effective if the pieces moved downward at a constant speed and just tilted gently once they touched the ground. But either way, it would STILL be a Flash game based on an xkcd comic, so it wouldn't matter anyway.

  53. Mesosade, stop playing dumb and at least quote with context:

    "(...)very unlike what tetris pieces actually do."

  54. Look, if it's hell for there to be a curved floor, surely it's even more hellish for the physics to be completely goddamn wonky. Pieces bounce all over the place, pieces NEVER STOP MOVING, et cetera. Also for some reason you lose control as soon as your piece touches another piece, unlike virtually every Tetris game since the third iteration or so.

    So I guess Hell isn't just Tetris with a curved floor, but an incredibly shitty version of Tetris...with a curved floor.

  55. Bah, fine. In context, you're right, tetris pieces aren't supposed to accelerate unless you tell them too.

    The argument that we're creating here is ridiculous. We're arguing that this game sucks because the physics are terrible and make the game exceedingly hard. Was that not the point of the game?

  56. As someone pointed out earlier on.

    The joke isn't "Shitty tetris game!", the joke is "Tetris with a curved floor, you can't win!"

  57. it should be more Sisyphean.

  58. Also the pieces bounce in slow motion for some reason

  59. The argument that we're creating here is ridiculous. We're arguing that this game sucks because the physics are terrible and make the game exceedingly hard. Was that not the point of the game?

    The question is which physics. You can have curved floor physics without fucking bouncing everywhere physics. How are the two related at all? By programmer incompetence, presumably.

    Essentially, the game is obnoxious because it has totally wonky physics that is both unrelated to actual Tetris and unrelated to the idea of curved-floor Tetris.

    Keep acting like you don't understand what we dislike about it, and pretending that it's just "OMG you guys don't even get that the WHOLE POINT of a Tetris game with physics is that it would be hellish!"

  60. i laughed my ass off 20 seconds as i saw this one...

    what i can't stand about you ppl is that you are not able to just say "ok this is a gread comic"

  61. just because you laugh at something doesn't make it great.

    it's an unoriginal idea shown in an unoriginal way that has been done much better before.

  62. Anon12:15: The exact same criticisms can be used to show why the Japanese tetris skit linked is terrible, and yet Carl says it's hilarious.

    The worst part about the Japanese skit is that they do the exact same joke repeatedly, the second worst thing about that skit being that most of the apparently "hilarious" bits that Carl sites are just non-sequitur...

    Non-sequitur is a joke now? I guess if Randall did a comic where the last panel was, for absolutely no thinkable reason, a picture of a soybean that would be hilarious right?


  63. I am pretty sure the anon above me didn't attempt to watch the video and instead just decided he knew enough from Carl's description of it to be a cunt.
    I say this because "so many bathrooms" and "why soybean?" weren't non-sequiters, you cunt.
    captcha: dhookerr. Wat a captcha

  64. Found a version of Hell Tetris with the bounce physics fixed. Still crap, though. It honestly feels like it was made in about 10 minutes by someone with only the vaguest knowledge of actionscript and an XKCD fetish.

  65. Non-sequitur is a joke now? I guess if Randall did a comic where the last panel was, for absolutely no thinkable reason, a picture of a soybean that would be hilarious right?

    Looks like somebody hasn't heard of

  66. the japanese tetris was bad because the guy feels the need to explain how the game is fucking him over even though the game screen is being projected on a massive wall.

  67. @anon 5:43 (im anon 12:15)

    I didn't watch the japanese tetris. And so what if its terrible? It doesn't make XKCD any less terrible.

    It just might mean Carl sometimes likes things that suck. Doesn't everyone?

  68. A few weeks or so ago I saw a CollegeHumor video with the Tetris God.

    This seems like Randy saw this and thought Religion? Tetris? I can do that too!

    The CH video was shit too btw.

  69. Stop posting about goatkcd.
    Seriously there's like two people that constantly talk about it in every comment thread. It's a guy's asshole. It's not all that funny.

  70. You wouldn't think so, but it really is.

  71. Anon 2:03, it's all about the context. Goatse, by itself, isn't funny. In the context of Goatkcd, it IS funny.

    It's kind of like if I said "A horse walked into a bar," just by itself, it wouldn't be a joke. However, if I then add "The bartender asks 'Why the long face?'" it is a joke. Context has now changed it completely.

  72. A horse walks into a bar, "Why the long face?" says the barman.

    "I've got aids."

  73. Panel 1: A horse walks into a bar.
    Panel 2: The bartender says, "Why the long face?"
    Panel 3: Goatse.

  74. Panel 1: A horse walks into a bar.
    Panel 2: Goatse.

  75. Panel 1: Goatse.

  76. I literally found nothing funny about today's comic.

  77. wow, this blog is stupid.

  78. ScottMcTony, obviously you have no idea what a non-sequitur is. I did watch the video.

    You think a Soybean randomly falling down instead of a normal block is not a non-sequitur? It has no relation to anything that is happening and has absolutely no setup, it's just a Soybean falling down as a block. Same with the baths etc. It was just random shit falling down.

    And no, goatkcd is not funny at all, has no joke, and even if it did have a joke in it still presents the same "joke" over and over. Sadly goatkcd is slightly more fail than xkcd.

    But you guys seem to ignore how generally applicable your criticism are to essentially everything (including the stuff you claim is good) which is pretty sad when you think about it. Try to be consistent at least.

  79. you are asking an entire community of people to share identical beliefs.

  80. Charles Augustus FortescueApril 12, 2010 at 4:00 AM

    Tetris does sound like Tartarus. A cleverer name for this comic would have been "Tetaris".

  81. But that would be offensive to Tatars.

  82. speaking of tetris jokes:

  83. Hell, you simply didn't get it - tats ol.