Interview with a man with a magnificent obsession

September 30, 2012 • 4:54 am

by Grania Spingies

I jumped at the chance to write something about this, as Randall Munroe’s xkcd cartoons have long been favorites of mine. Beginning with his early and endearing random musings, his site has become a great source of hilarious, insightful and thought-provoking drawings on a variety of subjects ranging from fantasy to world economics to physics and beyond.

One of my favorite ones is Spirit which chokes me up every time. Click on the link for the whole heartbreaking strip.

Recently he also captured headlines with his insanely enormous Click and Drag cartoon which had most of his fans clicking feverishly for hours through subterranean tunnels and oceans and seemingly endless sky searching for every last visual gag and nerdy reference. If you think you might have missed some, there is a handy zoomable map here.

A couple of months ago he also started his What If? series answering whimsical science-related questions. He bagan with what is still my favorite, The Relativistic Baseball. Here’s part of his answer to the question, “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?”

All of this is to let you know that The Atlantic has a new interview with Munroe where they chat about his earlier career, how he comes up with his ideas, and how he works. It’s essential reading if, like me, you enjoy his work.

h/t Chris (via Jerry)

20 thoughts on “Interview with a man with a magnificent obsession

      1. First thing I did when I realised how BIG it was – Google for the zoomable map. I knew one of xkcd’s disciplenerds would have created one! 😉

  1. Thanks for the zoomable map link. I catch up with xkcd once every few weeks and it just so happened that I had come across ‘Click and Drag’ last night – repetitive stress injury indeed! I think I followed most if not all of the subterranean tunnels, but there was no way I was going to launch myself blindly into the air.

  2. What’s really scary is how often somebody posts a surprisingly-relevant link to an XKCD cartoon in some random discussion.

    I don’t know what’s more frightening — that Randal has anticipated so many of these discussion points, or that there’re people who know XKDC so well that they’re always at hand with the perfect comic.


  3. My favorite xkcd comic is “A Bunch of Rocks” (, which still leaves me uneasy. I think that a simulation of a complete univere is in principle possible (but not practiable) – but I find no ultimate difference between using a modern computer or a bunch of rocks as depicted in the comic.
    And that worries me. 😀

    1. The comic assumes the existence of an infinitely-large* beach not subject to conservatorial and entropic limits. That’s one hell of an assumption — but, yes, the conclusion necessarily follows from that assumption.

      Don’t know why that should be worrisome, though.



      * Or, at least, something way bigger than the universe as we know it.

      1. Worry was the wrong expression. Its just that I haven’t found a satisfactory (philosophical) solution to the discrepancies between a sufficiently large computer and a sufficiently large beach.

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