Friday, April 30, 2010

Comic 733: Code Words

short post today as I am seriously going to try to catch up on all e-mails, comments, and that nearly forgotten contest I started.

This is a comic that asks you not to think too hard. As Sepia put it in a comment, the phrase used in this comic is really a) not all that similar to things biologists would actually say, and b) if it is ever said by biologists, is probably the only phrase for which this "hobby" would make any sense. Most of the time, you could just used the tried and true method of replacing the caption of any "my hobby" comic with "My Hobby: Being Annoying" and it would make just as much sense, or more.

I think that this actually points to a really big change xkcd has made over the years: This comic is only funny if you look at the concept within the very narrow field of "the eagle has left the nest" but few other phrases, in other words, the phrase used in the comic is one of the few points that lie in the intersection between "phrases biologists use" and "phrases cliched secret agents use." If there were more points in that intersection, and I would love to hear suggestions, the comic would be better. Because you would read the one example, laugh, maybe, and then think of other examples, and laugh more. But there are no other examples!

Compare this to one of the old My Hobby comics:
The example in this comic, "sweet ass-car" is actually not great. But the great thing about the comic as a whole is that this actually is funny for most examples. "Big-ass douchebag," "lame-ass umbrella," "dumb-ass job" etc. You keep thinking of examples - when people keep saying the right phrases - and it keeps being funny.

But today's comic does not. There will be no people in biology class laughing inadvertently as they realize that whatever sentence was just said could double as secret agent code.

I say i am going to write a short post but i am always lying.


  1. carl u gay

    generic first comment


  2. petition: rename yourself hotcarl

    Also this is actually good by XKCD standards even though it doesn't make much sense. Most people seem to think that things not making sense is funny in itself though. I think that's where part of the "humor is supposed to come from

  3. Most people seem to think that things not making sense is funny in itself though. I think that's where part of the "humor is supposed to come from

    chef brian says "fish monkey soup candle sock explosion wiener"

  4. My hobby: Captioning unfunny comics with "my hobby".

  5. Mal I know you're trying to make a point with constantly referencing Chef Brian but the sadder thing is that CAD followers apparently miss him (even though he hasn't had a strip since like 18 months ago) and the forums will have some kind of a "bring back Chef Brian" mention once a week.

    I'm not sure if that's bad taste or they just don't know of good "random" humour (well I don't either but I have a feeling I wouldn't like it either)

  6. My hobby: saying something stupid over and over, then drawing the only time it was funny.

  7. I dunno, maybe you're just expecting the "code words" to be super specific. You can turn any simple statement of fact into a "coded message" style. Sticking to biology theme:

    "The deer population is stable."
    "The geese have flown South for the Winter."
    "The dog's tooth is cracked."

    This is not to say that the joke is particularly funny (most of the statements won't be that funny), but it does work the way it's supposed to, just not for the reasons that Randall Munroe suggests.

  8. Well, at least alt text was funny, admittedly.


  10. That one's easy; anyone playing secret agent makes up the static noises by themselves. The problem is, they do that when they're eight or ten years old, not necessarily when they're in their twenties.

  11. "This comic is only funny if you look at the concept within the very narrow field of "the eagle has left the nest" but few other phrases, in other words, the phrase used in the comic is one of the few points that lie in the intersection between "phrases biologists use" and "phrases cliched secret agents use.""

    Which reminds me of that "music tags mashup" comic. The problem is that it just works once or twice, and doesn't sound spontaneous. Just like a staged TV prank.

    Also, you should have commented on the alt-text, which is stupid and makes no sense. What's the use of making animals do things agents can't report? Why would an agent report what an animal is doing anyway?

    On the newest comic, I got a little confused on what's the actual joke there(is it a subversion, or just Randall doing another unfunny "what if"?) so I'm gonna leave that for later.

    крот вне.

  12. I hate that whole 'My Hobby' setup.

    Because none of the things are hobbies. 'My quirks', or 'Things I do that people hate' or 'Uncontrollable Habit #53" would all make better titles and go a long way to making me more tolerant of the comic.

    If irritating people in petty ways is a hobby of yours - like model railways or vinyl collecting or carpentry - well man, then Randy, then just Fuck You.

    These 'My Hobby' jokes want to present being an annoying little douche as some kind of hip nerdy GOOMH thing to do, like all the bespectacled geography- & grammar-loving indie kids are supposed to laud the idea of consciously developing anti-social tics and alienating yourself from other people for the sake of some minute half-original sneer.


    * * * * *

    Zombie comic? It's not too great but there's a bit of an idea in there. But it needs 1) rewriting and reshaping, and 2) more examples of how to subvert standard film setups.

    Here's some:
    1. Bullied teenage boy witnesses glowing meteor fall to earth and as he approaches the site a small animal bites him - the rest of the film is a slow drama as he succumbs to a combo rabies/radiation poisoning illness and eventually dies.
    2. Maverick cop's gruff partner is one day away from retirement. They respond to a call about a shootout started by the cop's arch-nemesis - the rest of the film follows the retired partner tend to his gardening and relax at home.
    3. New girl arrives at school and initially makes friends with the cool kids but then is betrayed by them and only helped by the ugly loser girl - the rest of the film follows the class' attempts to buckle down and do some actual fucking schoolwork.
    4. Unconventional coach arrives to train a ragtag bunch of misfit kids (and their cute dog mascot) whose team lies at the bottom of the league - the rest of the film follows humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat, and eventually the coach blows his top and kicks the dog (Really fucking hard too. Right in the face) and loses his job.

    See? I've just done two Randy-working-days there. Or actually I've done eight since I had four examples to his one.
    Good work man. Life must be tough.

  13. "The finch has fetched its worm."
    "The hawk has captured its prey."
    "The pigeon sits on a branch."
    "The duck is in the pond."
    "The hatchling is seeking its mother."
    "The cat has slaughtered the flock."

    Now, I don't know whether or not field biologists make a habit of following birds about reciting their actions into a tape recorder, but if they do then there are a lot of things they would say in this format which could be interpreted as code phrases even if you just stick to birdwatching.

  14. Well anon 2:20 if sepia hadn't already told us a number of things field biologists DO say, along with the fact that taking notes with a tape recorder is retarded since your voice will probably alert your study subjects to your presence we... where was I going with this?

    Oh yeah... highly unlikely that a field biologist would say any of the above things and if they did... who are they saying it to, what context? Unless they're an Animal Planet narrator or something there's no real reason to say things that are blindingly obvious to yourself when you're the only person viewing it.

    Of course I guess we're assuming these field biologists are the ones that go out in the bush with an assistant and possibly a porter (or the assistant is the porter) and are alone and not field biologist professors that are leading classes in the bush.

  15. I think we're supposed to assume that she's cataloging the movements and habits of animals within an area. It seems more the sort of thing some sort of behavioral analyst would be doing rather than a biologist, but I don't really know what any of those people do.

    Animals taste good. That's all I need to know about them.

  16. Tall Comics

    i think this is funnier than both the SMBC and the XKCD, particularly panel four

  17. That was more like Twilight joke than "zombie story turns into romance story" joke. But as long as we're discussing zombie-romance-related Tall Comics, was also a comic about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

  18. @Tomical: That would have been awesome if the XKCD did that (though there would be STRONG claims of plagiarism). The problem was that it seemed to me that the XKCD version was basically a funky romantic comedy, not an epic prank.

    Unless that was your point, in which case, yeah; you have a point.


  20. @Anon at 11:48 - I think in this example, she is communicating with someone via radio. Maybe he is using a radio on the same frequency? So the static is from her incoming transmission?

    Or he didn't think it through, but I'm trying here.

  21. No, 5:14,I'm quite sure he's doing the thing children do when they're pretending to talk into a radio as described by Alsworth.

  22. @Tomical
    Thought the exact same thing.
    Bam indeed.

  23. Someone in a discussion about the TV show The IT Crowd completely nails it

  24. Meh, it could've worked. But it was executed poorly.

  25. That... that isn't what The IT Crowd is like AT ALL.

  26. This film has been edited for length and content.

    The woman's dialog in the second panel only serves to tell you what the (first) punchline will be; take it out.

    The fourth panel is an illustrated alt-text. Especially when you already have a double punchline, save one for the alt-text. (I suppose there is some irony in complaining that something called the alt-text only serves to summarize the contents of the image.)

  27. Some things that make absolutely no sense are amazing, though, like this Corn Pops ad.

    However, it's incredibly difficult to make something nonsensical be awesome enough. It takes a LOT of work to make a video like that...

  28. Hey. Newest CAD.
    Anyone else see it as a distinctly XKCD-esque joke? I mean, the whole "applying a nerd reference to a real-world situation"?
    Only, unlike regular XKCD, it's actually properly executed (well, as well as you can for such a type of joke).

    CAD is a better XKCD than XKCD!

  29. The worst thing about the bird-watching one is that it absolutely doesn't flow as one panel. The biologist is in a normal mood when she says her first line, then annoyed when she says the second. If it's all in one panel, you're stuck imagining her original expression (faceless, it must be said) and she doesn't seem as annoyed as she needs to be for the comic to have any shot at being funny.

  30. Plasma, I like to think that back when Randall had some form of ethics for what material to use (wait... I might be wrong there) he probably would've looked down on references like that buuuuuut... yeah despite the fact that that joke is still pretty lame at least the context works.

  31. That CAD one is just horrible too.

    There's so many other ways you could show someone trying to use a cheat or password like the Konami code in real life that would make far more sense (while still having the same dim potential for humor).

    For example: a mobile phone, or an ATM, or basically any "normal" computer program that isn't a game.

    Anything that involves some actual input instead of just SAYING the code, ugh.

  32. The CAD you posted is horribly executed. Ethan acting as a joke explainer, the shittiness of said joke and the fact that Konami Code is a super overused reference make this CAD very very bad. I don't read it on a regular basis, but I understand why this comic gets so much hate, if this is considered "a good CAD comic".

  33. Actually, Plasma... I think you might have stumbled upon a halfway clever strategy for the XKCD fans to try around here. (Not that you seem to be on that side of the fence or that it matters, just saying.) (Oh shit, I put my period inside the parentheses! Or was it the other way that Randall liked, I forget now)

    Instead of the standard dumb accusations of jealousy and sour grapes and so on, XKCD fans should just start posting more links to examples of shitty popular comics like CAD, wherever they can be believably worked into the discussion. (this part is key, or else it'll just be more "DURR WELL WHY DO U LIEK DINO COMIX THEN LOL!" spam)

    Cause while I think XKCD can often suck, CAD always sucks so much more. Just looking at the horror of B^U again after so long avoiding it makes stick figures look like heaven. I'm probably going to feel a lot more lenient towards Randall this week just cause my heart's not in it as much right now.

    Unless he drops another 631 on us, of course.

  34. also there is no C in the konami code, come on, that button wasn't around till the N64

  35. Carl, ABACABB is the Blood Mode code for Mortal Kombat. I'm... a little confused as to why you thought he misspelled "BA". With seven letters.

    But I do like the way you just implied no controller had a C button until the N64! Good show!

    That, and the N64 didn't have a C button. It had C[direction] buttons, but no C button.

  36. Crap. I go out of town for the weekend and my comment gets featured.

    Cam@6:13 nails it. On further reflection, I realized that Randall learned everything he knows about field biologists from TV shows.*** With a narrator, "code phrases" aren't so unlikely.

    Maybe this would have worked better if it was "My hobby: getting a job on a documentary film crew and pretending to be a secret agent". Although with the whole faking stuff to be involved in television, it ends up similar to "My hobby: pretending to be an economist to get on TV to rant about backslashes."

    Actually, tons of xkcds "work" (i.e. suck) as "My hobby"

    My hobby: pretending the floor is lava with destructive consequences
    My hobby: ridiculing my friends fascination with his new HDTV
    Megan's hobby: ridiculing my facination with my new IPad
    Crazy dude's hobby: stalking people who correct his grammar

    ***I want to rant about Randall's sophomoric "science rocks" attitude, the elitist posturing about xkcd being for smart people, and how it appears that most of Randall's post-collegiate science education comes from the Discovery Channel. The Discovery Channel isn't bad, but watching it doesn't make you one of the scientific elite. I think I need to save the full rant on that for another day.

  37. Plasma: Well come on, he's clearly starting with the Konami Code in panel 2. and fine, i was just thinking of nintendo controllers, because that's what the konami code was first associated with (and what I know best). I know what a C stick is on the N64, that's what I was talking about. How exactly was I wrong?

  38. OMG Carl you're so wrong there's no such thing as a C stick, it's the Z stick! wait, it was the Z trigger.

    Either way, the N64 controller is still weird and the CAD strip is still dumb.

    (Hah, my first funny captcha! "realife", which is what I should get back to now)