What If? 2 is right here with much more severe solutions to your bizarre questions


Enlarge / From swing-set physics to using a hearth pole from the Earth to the Moon, Randall Munroe has received you lined.

Randall Munroe / Ars Technica

Overlook debating the airspeed velocity of an unladen African versus a European swallow. What number of pigeons would it not take to carry an individual seated in a launch chair to the highest of the Q1 skyscraper in Australia? Reply: You may in all probability handle this with just a few tens of 1000’s of pigeons, so long as they do not get spooked by a passing falcon or distracted by somebody with a bag of seeds. That is simply considered one of many desirable (and amusing) tidbits to be gleaned from What If? 2, the most recent e-book from cartoonist and creator Randall Munroe and the sequel to 2014’s bestselling What If?

Common Ars readers doubtless want no introduction to Munroe, or his vastly profitable and influential webcomic xkcd. However we’ll offer you a short rundown anyway. Munroe has a level in physics and labored for NASA’s Langley Analysis Heart as a contract programmer and roboticist. As a scholar, he typically drew charts and maps and “stick determine battles” in pocket book margins and determined to scan them and publish them to his private web site in 2005. The webcomic received its personal web site in 2006, when Munroe left NASA to jot down xkcd full time.

It did not take lengthy for xkcd, with its distinctive stick figures, to change into a day by day staple for scientists, engineers, and on-line nerds on the whole. There’s nothing fairly like them. Longtime followers know all in regards to the tooltip with the hidden secondary punchline for every cartoon and Munroe’s obsession with attainable velociraptor assaults. They spent hours with 2012’s “Click on and Drag” and eagerly adopted the four-month-long journey of time-lapsed frames that comprised the experimental “Time,” which gained the 2014 Hugo Award for Finest Graphic Story.

Munroe’s 2012 tribute to the Saturn V rocket impressed scientists to take the “Up-Goer 5 Problem”: explaining their analysis papers in essentially the most primary language attainable. In reality, Munroe ended up writing a whole e-book, 2015’s Factor Explainer, utilizing solely the 1,000 mostly used phrases within the English language. (As an example, pencils had been “writing sticks,” airplane engines had been “sky boat pushers,” and microwave ovens had been “food-heating radio packing containers.”)

What If? 2 follows the identical format as its 2014 predecessor. Munroe selects absurd-sounding reader-submitted questions and makes an attempt to reply them, illustrated along with his trademark drawings. Some have comparatively quick solutions, like whether or not it is attainable to construct a sword of strong air. (Reply: Technically, sure, however “it would not be very robust, it might be exhausting to sharpen, and it might shortly give your hand frost harm.”) Others get the multi-page remedy, comparable to whether or not you possibly can fill a whole church with bananas.

Randall Munroe/xkcd

These are interspersed with “Bizarre and Worrying” questions, the place Munroe does not even reply them; he included them as a result of he thought the query itself was funnier than any reply he may provide you with. Working example: if Harry Potter forgot the placement of the invisible entrance to Platform 9-3/4, how lengthy would he need to crash into partitions earlier than discovering it? “You may calculate out the reply by counting all of the brick partitions within the prepare station,” Munroe advised Ars. “However actually, I identical to the psychological picture of Harry Potter being, like, ‘All proper, it wasn’t the final 5, I am going to do this one now.'”

Briefly, the e-book is chock stuffed with much more severe solutions to seemingly foolish questions. “Even when the solutions aren’t helpful, understanding them is enjoyable,” Munroe writes in his introduction. What If? 2, for instance (the bodily e-book), “weighs as a lot because the electrons in two dolphins. That data in all probability is not helpful for something, however I hope you take pleasure in it anyway.”

Ars sat down with Munroe to be taught extra. Bonus: in the present day’s xkcd is a enjoyable movement chart information for many who purchase a replica of What If? 2.

Ars Technica: By some means individuals received into the behavior of asking you these actually bizarre, foolish, typically inconceivable, implausible questions. And also you began answering them. How precisely did that occur?

Randall Munroe: After I began drawing comics, I used to be stunned to be taught there have been so many individuals who had been entertained by the identical area of interest science concepts or humorous purposes of math to totally different issues—stuff I laughed at however I did not count on anybody else to. Then I put up these comics and located there are an entire bunch of individuals on the market who take into consideration stuff the best way I do. That was actually cool. However I positively did not count on that individuals would begin considering of me because the particular person to settle arguments. I would get these emails: “Hey, me and my good friend have been arguing about this for some time now, and we do not know methods to reply the query. It feels prefer it’s not a adequate query to hassle an actual scientist with. However we each agreed you appeared like an awesome particular person to ship it to.”

Maybe I ought to have felt somewhat bit miffed. Are you implying that I’ve nothing higher to do with my time, that an actual scientist has necessary issues to do? However they had been additionally proper. I’d get these questions, after which six hours later, I’d get up from a sort of trance, as a result of I would gone down each analysis rabbit gap you possibly can think about. For me, seeing a extremely attention-grabbing query, the place you do not know the reply however you assume it could be solvable—it may be like getting a music caught in your head. You simply cannot fairly drop it till you work it out.

So individuals would have these arguments, after which I would get sucked in. I would be like, I feel the reply is that this, however I am unable to show it. I’ll attempt to show it. So it began off as me simply making an attempt to show that I used to be proper about one thing to a random particular person on the Web. However then I discovered that I discovered a lot cool stuff whereas I used to be doing it that I assumed, man, I ought to save these solutions someplace and share them with individuals. And that is how my What If? weblog and e-book received began.

An xkcd classic.
Enlarge / An xkcd traditional.

Randall Munroe/xkcd



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