September 24, 2022
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What If? 2 is here with even more serious answers to your weird questions

Read Time:5 Minute, 46 Second

From swing-set physics to riding a fire pole from the Earth to the Moon, Randall Munroe has got you covered.
Enlarge / From swing-set physics to driving a fireplace pole from the Earth to the Moon, Randall Munroe has acquired you coated.

Randall Munroe / Ars Technica

Neglect debating the airspeed velocity of an unladen African vs a European swallow. How many pigeons would it not take to raise an individual seated in a launch chair to the highest of the Q1 skyscraper in Australia? Reply: You might in all probability handle this with a number of tens of hundreds 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 certainly one of many desirable (and amusing) tidbits to be gleaned from What If? 2, the most recent e book from cartoonist and writer Randall Munroe and the sequel to 2014’s bestselling What If?

Common Ars readers probably want no introduction to Munroe, or his vastly profitable and influential webcomic xkcd. However we’ll provide you with a short rundown anyway. Munroe has a level in physics and labored for NASA’s Langley Analysis Middle as a contract programmer and roboticist. As a scholar, he usually drew charts and maps and “stick determine battles” in pocket book margins and determined to scan them and submit them to his private web site in 2005. The webcomic acquired 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 turn into a each day staple for scientists, engineers, and on-line nerds basically. 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 possible Velociraptor attacks. They spent hours with 2012’s “Click and Drag” and eagerly adopted the four-month-long journey of time-lapsed frames that comprised the experimental “Time,” which received the 2014 Hugo Award for Greatest 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 probably the most primary language attainable. Actually, Munroe ended up writing a complete e book, 2015’s Thing 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 bins.”)

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 together 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 sturdy, it will be arduous to sharpen, and it will shortly give your hand frost injury.”) Others get the multi-page remedy, reminiscent of whether or not you may fill a complete church with bananas.

Randall Munroe/xkcd

These are interspersed with “Bizarre and Worrying” questions, the place Munroe would not even reply them; he included them as a result of he thought the query itself was funnier than any reply he may give you. Living proof: 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 might calculate out the reply by counting all of the brick partitions within the practice station,” Munroe informed Ars. “However actually, I similar 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 critical solutions to seemingly foolish questions. “Even when the solutions aren’t helpful, figuring out 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: today’s xkcd is a enjoyable movement chart information for many who purchase a duplicate of What If? 2.

Ars Technica: In some way folks acquired into the behavior of asking you these actually bizarre, foolish, typically unattainable, implausible questions. And also you began answering them. How precisely did that occur?

Randall Munroe: After I began drawing comics, I used to be shocked to be taught there have been so many individuals who had been entertained by the identical area of interest science concepts or humorous functions of math to completely 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 undoubtedly did not count on that individuals would begin pondering of me because the particular person to settle arguments. I would get these emails: “Hey, me and my pal have been arguing about this for some time now, and we do not know find out how to reply the query. It feels prefer it’s not a adequate query to trouble an actual scientist with. However we each agreed you appeared like an incredible particular person to ship it to.”

Maybe I ought to have felt slightly bit miffed. Are you implying that I’ve nothing higher to do with my time, that an actual scientist has essential issues to do? However they had been additionally proper. I might get these questions, after which six hours later, I’d get up from a type of trance, as a result of I would gone down each analysis rabbit gap you’ll be able to think about. For me, seeing a very 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 folks would have these arguments, after which I would get sucked in. I would be like, I believe 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 attempting 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 folks. And that is how my What If? blog and e book acquired began.

An xkcd classic.
Enlarge / An xkcd basic.

Randall Munroe/xkcd

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