Book tour announcement!

My new book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, is coming out on September 3rd, and I’ll be going on a short book tour! (Full information for each stop is included at the bottom of this post.)

HowToTour-image-FINAL

How to invite me to your town

Don’t see your city on the list? You can invite me! I’ll be adding one more US stop to my tour based on the results of a challenge.

The challenge: Write the best story using nothing but book covers.

Arrange the titles of your favorite books into sentences that tell a story, assemble a single continuous line of people holding up the covers, and take a photo or video documenting your feat. You can make the story as long as you want, but each book needs to be held by a different human.

Example 2

Creative grammar is fine, and you’ll get extra credit for including as many books and people as possible.

Example 1

Once your photo or video entry is ready, share it in one of two ways:

Submit your entry between June 10 and July 31. Make sure to include your location (city/state, US only) so we know where to find you! The winner will be announced in August.

Questions? Email howtoxkcd@gmail.com with QUESTION in the subject line!

Full tour information

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3
CAMBRIDGE, MA
7:00 PM | HARVARD SCIENCE CENTER presented by HARVARD BOOKSTORE
Sanders Theater, 45 Quincy St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Tickets and information

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 4
WASHINGTON, DC
7:00 PM | SIDWELL FRIENDS SCHOOL presented by POLITICS & PROSE
Meeting House, 3825 Wisconsin Ave, Washington, DC 20016
Tickets and information

THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 5
NEW YORK, NY
7:00 PM | COOPER UNION presented by STRAND BOOK STORE
E 7th St, New York, NY 10003
Tickets and information

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 6
ANN ARBOR, MI
7:00 PM | RACKHAM AUDITORIUM presented by LITERATI BOOKSTORE
915 E Washington St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Tickets and information

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 8
PORTLAND, OR
7:30 PM | POWELL’S CITY OF BOOKS
1005 W Burnside St, Portland, OR 97209
Event information coming soon! Click here to pre-order the book with Powell’s.

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 9
SEATTLE, WA
7:00 PM | THIRD PLACE BOOKS
17171 Bothell Way NE, #A101, Lake Forest Park, WA 98155
Tickets and information

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 10
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
7:30 PM | FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH OF BERKELEY presented by KPFA and PEGASUS BOOKS
2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA 94704
Tickets and information

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 11
SANTA CRUZ, CA
7:00 PM | SANTA CRUZ BIBLE CHURCH presented by BOOKSHOP SANTA CRUZ
440 Frederick St, Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Tickets and information

THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 12
LOS ANGELES, CA
8:00 PM | ARATANI THEATER presented by LIVE TALKS LA
244 S. San Pedro Street, Downtown Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tickets and information

SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 14
SALT LAKE CITY, UT
7:00 PM | LIBBY GARDNER HALL @ UNIVERSITY OF UTAH presented by WELLER BOOK WORKS & UTAH TRIANGLE FRATERNITY
1375 Presidents’ Cir, Salt Lake City, UT 84112
Tickets and information

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 16
KANSAS CITY, MO
7:00 PM | UNITY TEMPLE ON THE PLAZA presented by RAINY DAY BOOKS
707 W 47th St, Kansas City, MO 64112
Tickets and information

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 17
CINCINNATI, OH
7:00 PM | JOSEPH-BETH BOOKSELLERS
2692 Madison Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45208
Tickets and information

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 18
LOUISVILLE, KY
7:00 PM | LOUISVILLE FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY presented by CARMICHAEL’S BOOKSTORE
301 York Street, Louisville, KY 40203
RSVP/more information

THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 19
RALEIGH, NC
7:00 PM | HUNT LIBRARY @ NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY presented by QUAILRIDGE BOOKS
1070 Partners Way, Raleigh, NC 27606
Tickets and information

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

I’m excited to announce that I have a new book coming out! It’s titled How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, and it’s an extremely unhelpful guide to solving everyday problems.

how-to-blog

How To is an instruction manual for taking everyday problems and using science and creative thinking to turn them into much bigger and more exciting problems. It teaches you how to cross a river by boiling it, outlines some of the many uses for lava around the home, and walks you through how to use experimental military research to ensure that your friends will never again ask you to help them move. 

From changing a lightbulb to throwing a pool party, it describes unusual ways to accomplish common tasks, and analyzes what would happen to you if you tried them. In addition to being a profoundly unhelpful self-help book, it’s an exercise in applying math, science, and research to ordinary problems, and a tour through some of the strange and fun science underlying the world around us.

How To will be released on September 3rd, but you can preorder it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Indie Bound, and Apple Books.

For more, you can check out my Q&A with Entertainment Weekly about the book, and you can find details about foreign editions at xkcd.com/how-to.

A puzzle for the UK

Sadly, my current Thing Explainer book tour doesn’t stop in the UK (although you can come see me at London’s Royal Institution via live videolink on December 7th—tickets here).

However, in lieu of an in-person visit, my publisher and I have put together a special puzzle for UK readers to solve.

The puzzle has two steps. Step one is to find out where step two is.

For step one, you can pick any one of five cities. Here’s a helpful map, followed by some interesting facts about each city.

uk-map-80.png

Bristol: 2.72km
A major port, built on seven very steep hills, Bristol has long been home to explorers and inventors – and the UK’s oldest dinosaur. In 1497 John Cabot sailed out of Bristol to try to find a better route to Asia and discovered Newfoundland instead. Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed this tall road in 1830. It took another 34 years to finish, and he lived only to see the towers built (one in the suburb the road is named after).

London: 0.44km
A city famous (in song) for its bridges falling down and (in stories) for its streets not being paved with gold.  A fifth of all the pieces everything is made of were discovered in London, including hydrogen (originally called ‘inflammable air’) in Clapham, and ten by Humphrey Davy here. There’s even a red world space car in the Science Museum.

Oxford: 0.51km
Inaccurately described by writers as ‘a city of dreaming spires’, Oxford is obsessed with thing explaining. Oxford professors CS Lewis, Tolkien and Lewis Carroll turned Christianity, Anglo Saxon and mathematics into successful works of fiction. This college lays claim to William of Ockham who came up with the principle of Ockham’s razor, that the most straightforward answer is usually the right one. They would all agree that the writing stick is mightier than the sword.

Edinburgh: 1.85km
Built on an extinct volcano, this city is famous for its body snatchers, for Peter Higgs (big tiny thing hitter) and for Dolly the sheep. Alexander Graham Bell was educated here, and missed it so much when he moved across the Atlantic that he invented the telephone, precursor to the hand computer.

Cambridge: 0.05km
The university was founded in 1209 by students on the run from the Oxford police. Home to Isaac Newton, famous for working out colours of light and for understanding how dangerous sitting under an apple tree could be; a descendant of that tree remains near his room.  Also home to Stephen Hawking and 89 Nobel prizewinners (31 more than Oxford), and the Mathematical bridge.

Good luck!

Prizes will include signed copies of Thing Explainer and limited-edition posters and mobiles. There will also be one very special first prize.

Those who’ve solved the clue but are unable to get there in person should get in touch at thingexplainer@johnmurrays.co.uk. For updates on the results see @johnmurrays. The results and winners will be announced on www.johnmurraybeagle.co.uk on 7th December 2015.

A Thing Explainer word checker

Want to try writing using only simple words? Here’s a writing checker you can use: xkcd.com/simplewriter.

To help me write the words in my Up Goer Five picture, I taught my computer to watch my writing and tell me when one of the words I used wasn’t in the top ten hundred. After I put up my Up Goer picture, other people made things to check writing, too (like this one).

When I decided to write Thing Explainer, I went back to the writing checker I had used and made it better. Now, I’m happy to be able to share it with everyone!

To use it, just touch here and start writing. If you use a word that’s not in Thing Explainer’s set of the ten hundred, the word will turn red. (I usually count all forms of a word, like “kick” and “kicked,” together as one word, although there are a few special cases where I don’t.)

Have fun explaining things!

A note on the words: Some words are used more often in certain kinds of writing and talking than in others, which means different ways of counting words will give different answers for which ones we use the most. The set of ten hundred words in Thing Explainer comes from putting together many ways of counting how much people use a word to come up with a single set of ten hundred words that should sound familiar and simple to lots of people. 

Thank you to James Zetlen, who helped make the word checker work on other people’s computers and not just mine.

I’m going on a book trip!

I made a book that explains things. It’s called Thing Explainer. It will be out soon! It’s a big flat book full of pictures of things with lots of parts. There are also little words that tell you what all the parts do. You can read more about it here!

When my book comes out in two months, I’m going to visit a lot of places with it! I’m going to New York, Seattle and Portland, San Francisco and Berkeley, Houston, Chicago and Naperville, and Toronto. If you live near one of those cities, maybe you can come see me!

In each city I visit, I’ll be standing in a big room and talking to people. I’ll also be writing my name in people’s books, but only if they want me to.

blag_words

Here’s how you can come see me in each city. (This part doesn’t use simple words, but that’s because I like the people whose buildings I’m visiting and don’t want to make problems by using different words from the ones on their signs and stuff.)

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 24
NEW YORK, NY
BARNES & NOBLE UNION SQUARE | 6:00pm
33 E 17th Street
Note: A limited number of wristbands and seats will be available to those who provide proof of purchase of Thing Explainer from a Barnes & Noble retail location or BN.COM. For details, click here.

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30
SEATTLE, WA
TOWN HALL SEATTLE AT THE GREAT HALL | 7:30pm
In Conversation with Hank Green
1119 8th Avenue
Tickets: $5 includes admission. Seating is limited. A portion of proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Zeno: Math Powered. To purchase tickets and for details, click here.

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1
BEAVERTON, OR
POWELL’S BOOKS AT CEDAR HILLS CROSSING | 5:00pm
3415 SW Cedar Hills Boulevard
Note: Book signing only. Purchase of Thing Explainer from Powell’s is required for admission. Space is limited. For details, click here.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
THE BOOKSMITH AT THE RICKSHAW STOP | 7:00pm
155 Fell Street
Tickets: $35 includes one book and admission. Seating is limited. To purchase tickets and for details, click here.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3
BERKELEY, CA
BERKELEY ARTS & LETTERS | 7:00pm
First Congregational Church
2345 Channing Way
Tickets: $35 includes one book and admission. Seating is limited. To purchase tickets and for details, click here.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 7
HOUSTON, TX
SPACE CENTER HOUSTON | 11:00am
1601 NASA Parkway
Tickets: Free with the price of admission to Space Center Houston. Seating is limited to those who RSVP here. To purchase tickets and for more information about Space Center Houston, click here.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 9
NAPERVILLE, IL
NAPERVILLE READS | 7:00pm
North Central College at Pfeiffer Hall
310 E Benton Avenue
Tickets: Free, but required for admission. Seating is limited. To get tickets and details from Anderson’s Bookshop, click here.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10
CHICAGO, IL
ILLINOIS SCIENCE COUNCIL AT 1871 | 6:00pm
222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza
Tickets: $43 includes one book and admission. Seating is limited. To purchase tickets and for details, click here.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11
TORONTO, ON
INDIGO BOOKS & MUSIC AT THE ISABEL BADER THEATER | 6:30pm
In Conversation with Ryan North
93 Charles Street W
Tickets: $40 includes one book and admission. Seating is limited. To purchase tickets and for details, click here.

Other places

Can’t make any of these events, but still want a signed copy? A limited quantity of signed Thing Explainers are available to pre-order from Harvard Bookstore, Porter Square Books, and Brookline Booksmith.

Already pre-ordered your copy? Email your proof of pre-order for the print edition of Thing Explainer—either a copy of your e-receipt or photo of print receipt—and mailing address to trademarketing@hmhco.com by November 15, 2015 and you’ll be entered to win one of 300 signed bookplates, which look like this:

TE bookplate

Winners will be chosen at random. Winners will be notified and bookplates will ship the week of November 23, 2015. (U.S. participants only—sorry!)

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.

What If book tour!

My book, What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, comes out September 2nd (Pre-order: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound), and I’m excited to announce that I’ll be going on a book tour!

Here’s the event list:


Tuesday, September 2

CAMBRIDGE, MA
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre
40 Brattle St.
6:00pm (Seating is limited) – Note: this event is now sold out! But, you can still pre-order a signed copy (link below).
Tickets: $26 tickets on sale August 12 at 9am ET, includes one book, one seat.
More details: http://www.harvard.com/event/randall_munroe/
Pre-order a limited number of signed copies of What If? from Harvard Book Store.

Friday, September 5
NEW YORK, NY
Barnes & Noble – Union Square
33 E 17th St.
7:00pm
Open event, seating is first come first serve.
More details: http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/event/84245

Tuesday, September 9
SEATTLE, WA
Town Hall Seattle
1119 8th Ave.
7:30pm
Seating is limited – Note: this event is now sold out!
Tickets: $5, one seat
More details: http://www.townhallseattle.org/randall-munroe-answering-what-if/

Wednesday, September 10
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
The Booksmith at Public Works
161 Erie St.
7:30pm
Seating is limited – Note: this event is now sold out!
Tickets: $34 includes one book, general admission; $20 general admission
The bar at Public Works will be serving drinks before, during, and after the program. This event is necessarily limited to people 21 and older.
More details: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/772183

Thursday, September 11
BERKELEY, CA
Berkeley Arts & Lectures at the Hillside Club
2286 Cedar St.
7:30pm
Seating is limited – Note: this event is now sold out!
Tickets: $10 with student ID; $15 general admission
More details: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/772197

Friday, September 12
Google+ Hangout On Air moderated by Hank Green
Location: Online/Various
3:30pm PT/ 6:30pm ET
Note: Anyone can view the Hangout live on YouTube (Friday, 9/12, 3:30pm PT), but only 4-6 xkcd readers will be selected using this form  to participate and ask questions within the Hangout itself. Apply for a chance to participate in the Hangout by Monday, August 25.

Sunday, September 14
LOS ANGELES, CA
Live Talks LA
An afternoon with Randall Munroe
The Aero Theatre
1328 Montana Avenue
Santa Monica
4:30pm
Seating is limited
Tickets: $43 includes one book, one reserved seat; $20 general admission
More details: http://livetalksla.org/blog/2014/07/13/september-14-randall-munroe/

Hope to see you there!

ISEE-3

Back in early March, I posted comic #1337, Hack, about a wayward spacecraft. ISEE-3/ICE was returning to fly past Earth after many decades of wandering through space. It was still operational, and could potentially be sent on a new mission, but NASA no longer had the equipment to talk to it—and announced that reconstructing the equipment would be too difficult and expensive.

ISEE-3 is just a machine, but it’s a machine we sent on an incredible journey; to have it return home to find our door closed seemed sad to me. In my comic, I imagined a group of internet space enthusiasts banding together to find a way to take control of the probe—although I figured this was just a hopeful fantasy.

I wasn’t the only one who liked the idea of “rescuing” ISEE-3. In April, Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing put up a crowdfunding project on RocketHub to try to learn how the lost communications systems worked, reconstruct working versions of them, obtain use of a powerful enough antenna, and commandeer the spacecraft. It seemed like an awfully long shot, but I contributed anyway.

Well, yesterday, Cowing and his team announced, from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, that they are now in command of the ISEE-3 spacecraft.

Congratulations to the team, and good luck with your new spaceship! Watch out for hackers.

What if I wrote a book?

For the last couple years, I’ve been answering your science questions on What If.

Today, I’m excited to announce that the What If? book is coming!

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions will be published September 2nd by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Starting today you can pre-order it from your favorite bookseller (Barnes & NobleAmazonIndie Bound).  There are also foreign editions, including a UK and Commonwealth edition and a German edition.

As I’ve sifted through the letters submitted to What If every week, I’ve occasionally set aside particularly neat questions that I wanted to spend a little more time on. This book features my answers to those questions, along with revised and updated versions of some of my favorite articles from the site. (I’m also including my personal list of the weirdest questions people have submitted.)

Preorder today to get a copy as soon as it comes out!

The Baby Name Wizard

The OKCupid statistics blog, by Christian Rudder, is amazing. Sadly, it hasn’t updated since 2011, around when OKCupid was bought by Match.com. (Rudder says the timing was a coincidence—he took time off for another project, and the blog may return soon!)

In the meantime, I’d like to recommend another unexpectedly engrossing blog: The Baby Name Wizard blog, by Laura Wattenberg (creator of the amazing Name Voyager graphing tool).

I find the Baby Name Wizard blog fascinating because, like the OK Cupid Blog, it combines two key ingredients:

  • Access to rich data about something that comes up all the time in our lives
  • The ability to find and tell the stories in that data

The reason I like the blog has nothing to do with naming babies. (I’m not allowed to name babies, anyway.)

I like it because we all encounter names every day, all the time, in every part of our life. We all have feelings and opinions about what names mean, but if you’re like me, they were mostly unconscious, unquestioned, and never subject to any statistical rigor. (Freakonomics has a well-known chapter about naming trends, which Wattenberg takes issue with).

Nevaeh (“Heaven” backward) is currently a more popular baby name than Sarah.  Brooklyn is more popular than either, and Sophia is more popular than all three combined. In 20 years, those names will conjure up images of college kids, and Brandon and Sarah will sound as much like Mom and Dad names as Gary and Debby do to my generation.

If you’re like most people, you probably had some opinions when you read the names in the last paragraph. But maybe the biggest thing I’ve learned from reading this blog is that the reactions and stereotypes that names provoke often reveal more interesting stories than the names themselves.

For example, you may have heard the urban legend about a mother who named her daughter Le-a, pronounced “Ledasha”. Wattenberg dissects this urban legend in an insightful essay (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), which explains how apocryphal names like Le-a serve, across a wide variety of communities, as proxies for talking about race.

Here are a few of the other things I’ve learned from the blog:

That’s just a tiny sampling; if you think any of it sounds interesting, I recommend browsing through the blog’s extensive archives.