New book: Thing Explainer

A while ago, I posted the comic Up Goer Five, an annotated blueprint of the Saturn V rocket with all the parts described using only the thousand most common English words.

Today, I’m excited to announce that I’m publishing a collection of large-format (9″x13″) Up Goer Five-style blueprints. The book is full of detailed diagrams of interesting objects, along with explanations of what all the parts are and how they work.

The titles, labels, and descriptions are all written using only the thousand most common English words. Since this book explains things, I’ve called it Thing Explainer.

cover-web

The diagrams in Thing Explainer cover all kinds of neat stuff—including computer buildings (datacenters), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the stuff you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you’re made of (cells).

Thing Explainer will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on November 24th. You can preorder it now (AmazonBarnes & Noble, Indie Bound, Hudson); click here for links to more information and options.

Or, in the spirit of the book:

I had a good time drawing Up Goer Five, so I decided to draw more pictures like that and make a book of them. The book explains things, so it’s called Thing Explainer.

You can’t have Thing Explainer yet, but if you want, you can order it now, and you’ll get it about a month before the end of the year.

Touch these blue words to learn how to get Thing Explainer.

121 thoughts on “New book: Thing Explainer

    • I’m sure it does. What-Ifs began going up days late or not at all last year around the time that he announced the What-If book, so he must be spending all his time working on explaining things in basic terms and drawing pictures. I can’t wait!

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      • The specific time that What If Updates resume also indicates that it is to do with New Horizons approaching Pluto

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      • Randall’s probably on the New Horizons go-far-space-traveller and he can’t work on writing words because he’s happy about Disney-dog-space-rock!

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      • So, was Thing Explainer written with the editing tool inspired by the original Up-Goer Five comic? Recursion joke goes here.

        (This comment edited using the Up-Goer Five Text Editor http://splasho.com/upgoer5/ )

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      • Oh, dear. If I actually let NoScript [NOT ALLOWED WORD] allow javascript [NOT ALLOWED WORD] on the Up-Goer Five Text [NOT ALLOWED WORD] Editor [NOT ALLOWED WORD] site [NOT ALLOWED WORD], it needs to look like this:

        So, was Thing Explainer [NOT ALLOWED WORD] written with the computer word writing thing http://splasho.com/upgoer5/ [NOT ALLOWED WORD] written because of the Up-Goer Five picture? ‘Computer work thing that works by using work from same computer work thing ‘ joke goes here.

        (This comment written using the Up-Goer Five Text [NOT ALLOWED WORD] Editor [NOT ALLOWED WORD] http://splasho.com/upgoer5/ [NOT ALLOWED WORD] )

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      • I checked and that spellchecker/dictionary doesn’t like “Explainer” Is there an exception for derived words? i.e. does only the root word have to appear on the list? If so, a simple dictionary check is not sufficient.

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      • the supertitle does specify that the title is in “big words.” they might be an exception.

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  1. Definitely worth the lack of new What If? entries as of late. Looking forward to learning all sorts of interesting things/puzzling out what Randall is actually trying to say.

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  2. Sounds Great although I’d second the question, How appropriate will it be for kids?

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    • The Amazon description says it’s for ages ‘5 to 105,’ and the What If? book is clean, so I imagine it will be fine.

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    • I think it will be most suited to old nerds like us actually (no offense😉 Like in the original strip, the language joke aspect will actually make comprehension much harder in places…

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    • All deep puzzles are appropriate for kids. If the jokes are subtle and the reasoning hard, work it out with them. Or…. let them work it out.

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      • The deepest and most important puzzles are easy to state, although they are also given two-dollar names.

        Is this real? [Ontology]

        Is this true? [Epistemology]

        Should I do this? [Ethics]

        Every infant has to come up with a comprehensive set of answers, and change many of them over time.

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  3. Hmm … attempting to “Reblog”, but the dialog is off screen to the right on my iPad. ???

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  4. Now if Mr Munroe would kindly create a webpage that converts legal and financial gibberish into 1000-common-words plain English, we could all find out what our banks, economists and politicians have been talking about all these years.

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    • “what our banks, economists and politicians have been talking about all these years”. Call me cynical [a hurt dog that has lost all trust of his “masters”], but what they have been saying is: “give us more money and more power, because we always promise you things we will never give you but you still believe us”.

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  5. I wonder: How many things are explained / how many pages will the book have, approx.?

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  6. Would you be okay if the editors at simple wikipedia used your book’s explanations for a few articles?

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  7. My child self is confused by the idea that I had this version back when I might have had legitimate problems with words. Survived nonetheless.

    Jokes aside, nice work🙂 I wonder whether an italian translation will ever be made…

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    • Spanish, Chinese, whatever. I wonder whether Randall would give permission for a Lojban translation. Lojban is an artificial language originally designed to make mathematical logic speakable. It is based on relations, and has no nouns (except for names), verbs, or adjectives as they are understood in almost every other language.

      Klingon would also be of interest. They use a lot of up-goer things, along with changing shape of space to go fast things and hiding from seeing them things and making things into many smaller things things.

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  8. I am so so so excited about this because I’m a foreign language teacher, and for that reason Up Goer Five has long been my favorite xkcd comic. I use it to teach kids about circumlocution, which is a really important skill. It’s the ability to ‘talk around’ words you don’t know, and find other easier ways to get the same point across. So I always show them Up Goer Five to demonstrate that you can explain something really complicated by using only simple words that they already know in the language. So I’m excited to get a copy of this book to show my kids!

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  9. I just can’t resist posting these gems that http://splasho.com/upgoer5/ helped me create:

    If you have a line and draw another line that shows the area under it and then draw a third line that shows how fast the second line changes, the third line is the same as the first line.

    Take a field and make a group out of all of the ways you can move the field onto it self where two ways make a new way by doing both one after the other.
    You can look at any smaller group in your group to find a matching smaller field in your field that is moved onto it self by all the things in your smaller group.
    Also, if you take any smaller field of your field there will always be a smaller group of your group that has all the ways you can move that field onto it self.

    On one hand, the second one is cheating by using extremely technical definitions for common word on the other hand, it’s pretty great how many simple words are used in complex ways. Ok, and I also cheated by splitting up “itself”, but it still communicates the idea. Figured it was better than attributing gender to fields and groups since “himself” and “herself” were on the list.

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  10. I am not able to wait for this book now. Why did you have to talk about how it’s going to be on those things books are placed on so long before it is set free to be bought?🙂

    I really enjoyed reading What-if and read it often because I am not able to read it without laughing.

    This book may even be more fun to read because it will take a longer time to understand some of the jokes and mention of the thing that is an area of study and also a (thing that is on trees with leaves on) of knowing things.

    I must say, you have set yourself a very hard job to complete and I wish you the best of (that thing that some people believe in when they throw away their money in a place where they place a (money down on table to be returned if the person was right about their point of thinking)). Not that you need it.

    I hope there will be group of people who set this book free in the place next to that larger place and across a large area of water from that place that has a place with a tall thing that many people take a picture of themselves in front of and believe to be the most loving place in the world. However, my place where I live that is across the large area of water is known for its bad water that falls from the sky even during summer and has a person who wears a high number of money to buy thing worn on head who has people outside with tall black soft things on their heads and red things they wear. The place is also known for drinking a lot of drink made from leaves that are grown in a different place and are thought to be able to be read to tell a person about what their time ahead of now will be like.

    If the above words I used were not clear enough, I am sorry.

    Your book is going to be great. I really am not able to wait but I will because I know that the longer you spend making it, the better it will be.

    Thank you, and this was much harder than I thought it would be so I think you are great to try it as long as you enjoy it.

    Hope to buy it soon.

    (This was all written using only the ten hundred most used words which should explain the bad order of words used and sense of not being clear to understand🙂 )

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  11. I want to read Thing that Explains Things and it sounds interesting! One time a place on the computers talking to computers thing that I like called Less Wrong did something using Up Goer 5 and I talked in the talking at the end of the story place using the ten hundred most used words and it was a fun hard thing. I talked about the ways that letters look and how the letters in the story did not look like the letters in the other parts of the place on the computers talking to computers thing and it was fun. The person who wrote the story fixed the letters and made them look like the other letters in the place so I could tell they understood me. Thank you for making Up Goer 5 which led someone to make this! (Also, did you see Space Rock? It also came from Up Goer 5 and it was nice.)

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  12. i loved your previous book (it was one of those i couldn’t put down) and i am happy that there will be a german edition again😀

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  13. Will the translated version also only use the thousand most common words in that language?

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    • I was wondering that too. That seems like a LOT of additional work. Much harder than a normal translation.

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  14. Number 16 in Amazon UK bestseller list 6 months prior to release! Go Randall!

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  15. Too bad, but I guess in that size it would not fit on my Kindle, I enjoyed your last book very much😉

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  16. This is so excellent. What If? was such a great way to introduce people to critical thinking and science in general. I imagine this book will be the same. Please keep writing them – my mom will keep giggling as she reads them🙂

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  17. I’m sorry I’m missing it, but out of curiosity, does the book also include the Up Goer Five?
    Thansk!

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  18. Can you answer this question ASAP:
    I need to know by Friday:
    What is the font you use for your xkcd comics and What If? diagrams?
    Do you write it that way or is it a font?

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  19. Why is there a volcano on the most unlikely place (thickest place unter earth) on the picture?

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    • As I understand it, that is (somewhat counter-intuitively) where they form along subduction faults. I believe the plate being subducted into the upper mantle melts and creates a lot of pressure and magma. While there’s pressure along the whole distance, volcanoes only form above the point where the plate is actually melting. That’s what I remember from elementary school. That being said, they also misinformed me about airplane flight a la https://xkcd.com/803/

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    • It’s still too early for that, but you should be able to order it via Hive (hive.co.uk) nearer to release.

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  20. The flaw with this is it gives you information to facilitate understanding but you end up sounding like an idiot because you don’t know the names of the things being explained. “The thing that stays on the other world” could be anything. Knowing it is the lander module at least allows you to look it up to learn more about it. I certainly hope the book labels the picture with both the real names of things and the “what are they” explanations to maximize the value of the book for actual learning.

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  21. I will be happy when I get this book for explaining things.The writer is good at telling smart jokes. I like his other book talking about things that don’t happen. I also like his funny drawings.

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  22. Cooool! And great that there will be a German translation – I’d prefer the original for myself, but my 9-year old loved the “What if” (in translation), and this could be a great book to look through over christmas holidays…🙂

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  23. My kid and I are psyched for this! She’s nine and we play a game where we can’t use words of more than one sound—no, more than one beat, if you know what I mean (yes, like in this note here). It’s fun, and it’s a bit hard!

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  24. currently #41 on amazn best seller list…we can do better than that, on a side note What If is at 36! two books on the top 100, go Randall!!!

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  25. Oh, another book, I can’t wait! Can I buy it for book-without-paper*?

    *book-without-paper: a book, which has no paper in it, but makes the words appear on a small white window.

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