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EXCLUSIVE: Here’s Your First Look at XKCD’s WHAT IF?

Some of us can quote it. Having a ridiculous argument with an internet commenter? That’s 386. Others use it as a delightfully nerdy distraction, or even for hardcore data analysis. There is a whole community of people dedicated to just understanding the references, equations, and codes inside it.

The immensely popular webcomic xkcd is a unique case of social penetration where one incredibly talented former NASA roboticist has become a geeky institution based on stick figures. And on September 2nd, creator Randall Munroe is releasing a whole book comprised of his swift and skillful analyses of ridiculous hypothetical questions. It’s called What If? – based on the blog of the same name and Nerdist has the exclusive first look at the nerdiness hidden inside.

The cover, if you are wondering, is indeed a stick figure lowering a Tyrannosaurus rex into a sarlacc pit:

Jacket Final - WHAT_IF_hires copy

Remove the jacket, and you can see how that particular experiment worked out in Munroe’s mind:

Front Cover - WHAT IF copy

Not quite according to plan…

Back Cover - WHAT IF copy

But this is xkcd. There is geekiness crammed into every nook and cranny of this book.

Take another look at the jacket after you remove it from the book and you’ll find a hidden gem — one of Munroe’s amazing infographic feats: What the world after a portal to Mars opened at the bottom of the Marianas Trench would look like (click to right and enlarge!):

Map - WHAT IF copy 2Click to enlarge!

Being one of those people who can quote xkcd’s, I am thrilled to read Munroe’s book. The way he approaches and communicates solutions to odd problems is simply a joy to read. And the table of contents gets me even more excited. Here is just a small sample of the questions you can look forward to reading about in What If?:

If someone’s DNA suddenly vanished, how long would that person last?

If everyone on the planet stayed away from each other for a couple of weeks, wouldn’t the common cold be wiped out?

How long could a nuclear submarine last in orbit?

How many LEGO bricks would it take to build a bridge capable of carrying traffic from London to New York?

If two immortal people were placed on the opposite sides of an uninhabited Earthlike planet, how long would it take them to find each other?

What if everyone actually had only one soul mate, a random person somewhere in the world?

If every human somehow disappeared from the face of the Earth, how long would it take before the last artificial light went out?

How long would names have to be to give each star in the universe a unique one-word name?

What would happen if lightning struck a bullet in midair?

How much computing power could we achieve if the entire world stopped what they were doing and started doing calculations?

I can’t wait to find out.

Randall Munroe’s What If? is available on September 2nd.

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