The Meetup

xkcd readers successfully overran a park in Cambridge a week ago, and it’s taken me this long to fully recover. But boy, was it fun. Here’s a wrap-up:

Back in the spring, when I lived in Virginia, I drew this comic. The date was in the future, the coordinates were a park in Cambridge. When the date came last weekend, hundreds of people showed up.

How it went:

People were camped out there starting the night before. Without any obvious organization, they brought altered signs for the park, raptor costumes, signs, red spiders, and a tent full of xkcd-related memorabilia. They climbed the octahedral structure in the middle of the park and did their best to collapse it. Afterward, at the nearby Danahey Park, there was a trebouchet.

I had made a point of staying quiet about my plans for the coordinates. I just directed people back to the comic, which suggested that no one showed up. And, indeed, when I have dreams like that and go to the place or look for the person, there’s no one there. Dreams don’t work like that. So if they’re just your own desires whispering to you, of what use are they? As Haroun would ask, what’s the use of stories that aren’t even true? The answer was obvious. Dreams are where messages start, not where they arrive.

I realized roughly what would happen if I drew up the coordinates in a comic. And people came. It couldn’t happen exactly like it did in the comic, obviously, but it was a gathering of lovely people all brought together by their shared interest in adventure, puzzles, and people, and dreams. And it was a wonderful party.

I hung out nearby, with some friends and relatives, and put together my contribution to the gathering. Since the comic had created a counter to its own conclusion, clearly it needed to be corrected. I got 40 feet of whiteboard in 4×8 segments. I drew up the Dream Girl comic on the first one, but left out the concluding line. Instead, I left the next 35 feet for people to fill in what had happened.

I said a few words explaining this, passed out Sharpies, and then was swept to the center of a crowd of autograph-seekers. For a couple hours, I signed every blank surface anyone showed to me. This included playpen balls, shirts, breasts, a mattress, a picture of two monkeys having sex, and, at one point, the side of a Mobius strip. Afterward, we went to a trebouchet demonstration, had food, and (in a complicated string of events) reenacted the couch affair from Dirk Gently. After hanging out with some folks from Kansas and having a lovely hour-long conversation about the Animorphs, I fell asleep at 6:00 AM and slept for a full day — 25 hours — waking up briefly to eat.

Here’s an article in the Phoenix about the meetup.

Click here for a page with high-res images of all five whiteboards:

A few selections:

There were far too many pictures taken for me to wade through them all, but here are a few I pulled from the Flickr pool:

Goodness, there were a lot of people.

All the park signs were helpfully rewritten.

There were several gallant protesters insisting that all assertions be fully backed-up.

There are no words that can improve this picture.

I have not forgotten about the red spiders, by the way. The final two episodes will appear eventually.

There’s a giant structure in the middle of the park — an octahedron with a network of ropes inside. It was covered with people for the entire day, and — for no clear reason — they crowd-surfed a mattress to the top.

The structure, enveloped in people.

Isn’t CD Cambodia?

There was a mighty trebouchet.

Buckles were swashed.

Love was sought.

And thank you to all the people who picked up trash.

This was fun. Let’s do it again next year. Keep an eye out for coordinates.

221 replies on “The Meetup”

  1. (BC)^2 is Wellesley’s Biology and Bio Chem club thing. The letters were made of a phospholipid bilayer…


  2. Here Here, to the Central Park notion!

    And I’m gonna get grammar-nazied over “here” vs. “hear”, aren’t I?


  3. Wow, that sounds/looks like awesome fun. If only I was anywhere near there. Alas.
    Hour-long convos about Animorphs rock muchly. As does the person with the raptor mask.


  4. This looks like the single most awsome thing that has ever happened
    (to qoute: “traded in-jokes about velociraptors, engaged in spontaneous foam-sword duels, and hauled a mattress to the top of a jungle gym they had overtaken.”) To bad it’s on the other side of the world (Netherlands)
    Lets just hope its in Europe (England perhaps?) next time.


  5. “Johnny Jizz”, may your eyelids be lacerated for your gratuitous spamming.

    Randall, mad props on your massive fanclub. It’s rather shocking that such a large number of people would disrupt their lives for such a thing, but that’s what fanclubs are for. I didn’t go, but Anonymous made an appearance in my stead (see bottom-center of board #5). Keep on rockin’ in the free world!


  6. Just awesomeness. I’m at a loss for words and proud of the power of nerds to organize themselves into such displays of fandom. Now, how is it that you are allowed to change the signs?


  7. wow , just wow, i`t is refreshing to see that in this age of decadence there are some truly good things , people alike brought together almost spontaneously , just great 🙂


  8. I was right across the river! How foolish of me.

    I wonder what the chances are of having it in the Boston area again next year…


  9. I KNEW IT, I just knew there would be a huge group of people. I even used my newly acquired mapping skills to find the location but seeing as how I live in Oregon, it just wasn’t possible to go. Let’s do west coast next time.


  10. Awesome!
    First thing I did was to enter those numbers in Google Earth. Found the park and thought: ‘Well maybe there will be a few people at this spot at this time. Would be interesting to be there and to see who comes by’.

    Sometimes I wish I lived in the US =)


  11. My world, (Yes, MY world…Yours too.) I am dreadfully sad I missed it. I’m in a new school system and have been overwhelmed with work 😦

    I remember, twas many a months ago I vowed to come.

    I failed.

    What am I to be?


  12. The comic with the coordinates that you drew while in Virginia has an eerie resemblance to many DMT (dimethyltryptamine) experiences. Or _maybe_ salvia divinorum. Can you elaborate on the circumstances in which this dream occurred?


  13. Im so JEALOUS! Next time, come to New Zealand! Have it in a really big park! Like Tongariro National Park! There are mountains!

    Or I vote for the suggestion of having on the moon.


  14. a couple months or a year ago, interspersed with the nerdery were heavy doses of romance. The dream girl and coordinates is a good example. These days all the romance seems to have been replaced with heavy doses of lust, that seems to border on misogyny (whereas the old stuff exuded reverence, fantasy and passion).


  15. Son of a bitch. I just sold my entire collection of Animorphs books like two months ago… (Animorphs 1-54, Megamorphs 1-4, Andalite Chronicles, Hork-Bajir Chronicles, Ellimist Chronicles, Visser, Alternamorphs #1 [didn’t have #2]…. i think that was it). Now I’m sad. I read most of them again before I sold them, of course I read the Chronicles and megamorhs. I remember thinking, after having not read them for a while, that they weren’t terribly deep, and I would still argue that while some character development was lacking, but after having read them again, I was very impressed… *sigh* I got two hundred bucks for the set, and that was supposed to go to an Xbox 360 (which it did not.) Hopefully someone will put them on the internet in 85 years when their copyright runs out, and hopefully I will still be alive… I hope whoever has them isn’t just some collector, they better enjoy them…

    At least I can lament with people who would care and/or understand


  16. Damn, I should have taken more time when writing that, it’s not very grammatically accurate… c’est la vie blogosphoir (dude, did I just make up an awesome new idiom?)


  17. Haha that just made me feel really, really happy for some reason. People are wonderful. I hadn’t even thought of something like this happening. Aaaauuuuuoooorgh so cool so cool soooo coooool


  18. Ah, well.

    I just started reading XKCD a few months ago and had just reached this panel in the comic archives today. After looking it up and finding it literally 15 blocks from my house, I was really disappointed that the datetime had just passed a month before. And now that I see how mind-blowing the event was, I’m kicking myself for not calling in sick for two days and reading all 335 of them at once!


  19. Haha.. this is the most brilliant thing. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Europe next year. There’s plenty of us to fill up space and act like children, too. I’ll be keeping an eye out for those coordinates.


  20. “There are no words that can improve this picture.”

    I have words to improve upon it. Because the song was stuck in my head just before I saw the image…

    “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus..but he..talks like a gentileman.”

    It was glorious…


  21. Wow. I, also, am very sad that I didn’t think to go to the coordinates in the comic. But, there is next year and a location has yet to be chosen. There have been a few good suggestions, but none seem too fair for everyone. The middle of the fan base is probably the center of the Earth, in the ocean, or Nebraska (which is an awesome place, by the way). I know you will probably come up with some over-my-head equation for finding a place, but I believe the best place would present itself through a dream.

    Also, expect many many more people and half of them in raptor suits.


  22. I read the article, some comments and looked at the pictures.

    I cried.

    So, so beautiful. I wish I could have been there.


  23. Not a meetup, but a mashup.

    As I’m not as genius as you are, I didn’t get a better idea to realise my thought of hacking fingerprints for XSS.
    Of course feel free to get inspired by this if you want, all my thoughts on this are public domain. 🙂


  24. Herm … Is there any chance that this year’s meet-up will take place on the European continent (or in the Uk) ? Raptors haven’t been around here a lot since … whenever.
    One of your many faithful french readers (AND also a fan of NG’s The Sandman, in case you were wondering. Loved your quote. And also a Firefly fan, even thought I found it too short, but didn’t we all ? Well, we actually have a lot of references in common, and I’d love to keep on but I gotta go. Linear algebra doesn’t wait. Plus I just ran across comic 16. I guess I’ll see you’round.)

    PS: I love n°24. Sorry. Couldn’t help it. And what’s the ‘your mom/sister’ stuff about anyway ? Sorry. I’m leaving you alone now. I swear.


  25. You probably realize with this unholy power you hold over us all, the government is basically yours for the taking?

    …Randall Munroe in ’08.


  26. Okay, so I’m late. Whatever. :]

    BUT YES. There is a HUUUUGE park in my city (dear ol’ Louisville, KY) named Seneca Park. It also happens to connect to Cherokee park (osio Samantha dawado) which is cool. It has tons of grass, playgrounds, things to climb, hills, and other assorted epic things. It would be perfect for another gathering. Big Rock would be something like that octahedron, except Big Rock is in the middle of the creek and you can jump off of it to go swimming in the creek. Just throwin’ that out there, in case you’re still looking for places :]

    And to the people too far away to go: It may not be much, but I’d be willing to help pay for a plane ticket or someone’s gas. I’m sure if everyone sponsored someone else for like, ten or twenty bucks, more people would be happier. And more people could come! And it would be awesome.


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