D. B. Cooper

From BillR, who comments “Ok, I know who D.B. Cooper was, but the rest of it is beyond me.” Yep, me too.

For those who don’t know who D. B. Cooper is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._B._Cooper

I find the hovertext even more confusing than the cartoon itself: “The only other person to walk by was a linguist back in the ‘80s, but she just spent a while directing the phrase ‘help me down’ before getting distracted by a squirrel and wandering off.”

(Edit: the hovertext actually says “dissecting,” not “directing.” So that’s much less confusing.)


  1. D.B. Cooper landed on beret-guy’s land. Beret-guy refuses to help unless Cooper gives back the money, which Cooper refuses to do, so he has grown old in the tree (and acquired an old man cane for cartoon iconography reasons). If anything, this is uncharacteristically helpful for beret-guy, although he might just be trolling Cooper.

    The hovertext is an acknowledgement of the sort of people who live in this world.

  2. The thing is, xkcd is a surrealist comic. Not making sense is often the humor. Also, Beret Guy is a repeating character whose behavior often makes no sense, and reality warps to match his bizarre expectations (e. g. he hears about “vacuum energy” and is able to draw unlimited electricity from a vacuum cleaner).

    Also, Randall Munroe rips on linguists a lot, possibly because Dinosaur Comics creator Ryan North has a Masters in Computational Linguistics, and Randall likes to tease other webcartoonists.

  3. Carl Fink, thanks for those remarks, especially to clarify the add-on text. But a still mysterious element is “directing”. Any help with that?

  4. Jon Goranson — one general rule of thumb here is that, while we have the physical ability to look at ExplainXKCD, other wikis, read cartoonists’ blogs where they discuss their comics, or sometimes even just talk to the cartoonists because they are our friends, we don’t. That’s cheating. Like, if you are a cartoonist who is here, you aren’t allowed to comment on your own stuff. You can give opinions about other people’s stuff, and participate in any conversations that veer off the rails to other topics just like 100% of the conversations here do, but you’re not allowed to bring actual KNOWLEDGE to CDIU.

  5. That isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, of course. But, in general, bringing expertise to the game reduces the space for wild-ass ignorant speculation, which is part of the fun.

  6. DB Cooper disappeared after parachuting from a plane. What happened to him is unknown. Beret guy is weird. Strange things happen around him, and he never seems to notice. To him, DB Cooper in a tree is just moderately interesting, but not particularly unusual. Most of the beret guy strips are about him not caring about odd things.

    Cooper’s “old man cane” is the end of the branch he landed on.

    The hovertext is a callback to an earlier strip


  7. @Dana K, good catch! The word “directing” which was bothering you seems to be a misprint at CIDU. The original was she just spent a while dissecting the phrase 'help me down'

  8. I think expecting to understand any XKCD with beret-guy is misplaced… or at least, expecting it to not be just absurd…

    But basically, Beret-guy just treats Cooper as another interesting feature of the forest. Oh look! an owl nest!

  9. “If anything, this is uncharacteristically helpful for beret-guy,”

    I think you are confusing beret-guy with black-hat guy. Beret guy is well-meaning but lives with alternative logic.

  10. A side affect is that it is on the face of it a reasonable explanation of what happened to D.B. Cooper. No conspiracy or intricately executed scheme. He’s just temporarily stuck in a tree, at least for the next 24 hours. And beret-guy’s reaction has a kind child-like fairness to it; I’ll let you down if you promise to undo the bad thing you did. The fact that this can be at an impasse 18,250 times in a row is just a testament to beret-guy’s patience. (He seems to have quite a bit of it.)

  11. “He’s just temporarily stuck in a tree, at least for the next 24 hours.”

    That alludes to a question I have been pondering since seeing this comic here. I made an initial assumption that this is taking place in the present day, which in the real world, is of course impossible as D.B. Cooper has been stuck hanging in a tree without food and water for 50 years. But the above comment implying that he just got stuck doesn’t fly either. Beret guy’s dialogue certainly sounds like this visit has been ongoing.

  12. Okay, so should we chalk up the fact that no one could survive any where near that amount of time hanging from a branch to “cartoon physics”? I guess I can live with that.

  13. Mark M: ” I made an initial assumption that this is taking place in the present day, which in the real world, is of course impossible as D.B. Cooper has been stuck hanging in a tree without food and water for 50 years. ”

    In an episode of the early 1980s UK tv show THE YOUNG ONES, the guys move into a new house and discover Buddy Holly has been hanging trapped in a large spider web in one of the rooms for the past twenty-five or so years. He’s passed the time composing new songs. (Starts playing one of them on his guitar, snaps the web, lands on the floor and snaps his neck and dies.)

  14. Not “cartoon physics”…. “Beret guy physics”.

    It is, if anything, weirder.

    But in seriousness, chalk this up to surrealism. In real life something (first most likely will, second most likely nourishment and thirst) got to give but here…. we have both DB Cooper and Beret guy being very stubborn for over 50 years. It’s kind of funny isn’t it?

  15. I find ExplainXKCD drily funny in its own right, sometimes even more so than the original cartoons if I don’t get all the originals’ references or the technical background. I like Explain’s relentless drive to go into great detail and with some often obvious statements marked [citation needed]. With the more technical & mathematical explanations, I still don’t really understand. But it is a sort of education in its own right about various arcane matters, even if it doesn’t linger long in my own non-mathematical brain.

  16. ianosmond – Aha! That’s fair and fortunately didn’t stop the speculating, wild or otherwise.

    I like CIDU for two reasons, the answers or insights into the author and the WAGs. In this instance, I could contribute some insight, even if well known, but just in case someone new to the site didn’t know about explain xkcd.

    In any case, I will try and remember that next time! Thanks!

  17. I’m a horrible person and don’t care for wild speculating. I just want to know what the comics mean.

  18. ianosmond — you know that Randall has no connection to explainxkcd, right? So I’d consider it fair game: it’s just a focused version of CIDU, no?

  19. A barely, if at all related question based on ianosmond’s comment on cheating –

    If one knows the word in a crossword puzzle, but has to look up the spelling in a dictionary – is that cheating? I was never very good at seplling (as I used to spell it) – spell check is a life saver for me – and find that I often know the word to crossword puzzles, but cannot properly spell the word and end up looking the spelling. Crossword puzzles and Sudokus, which I have been doing for years, have been keeping my mind from going to oatmeal while stuck in the house for the pandemic. I have now branched out to the crossword puzzles in back issues of BBC History magazine (which may have the added problem of having to know the British spelling of a word) – recently misspelled Lusitania in one of those puzzles,, but figured it out on my own when the crossword needed the other letter which was in the wrong place.).

  20. Meryl: not to judge your style of doing crosswords, but we consider it cheating when we do crosswords to look up a word for spelling: if you’re not sure of some of the letters, the cross words will fill them in, which we feel is sort of the point of crossword puzzles. Also, if it turns out the word you had in mind is too long or too short when you look it up, you then know for sure it is the wrong word, so how is that not an unfair hint? In the end, sometimes we have to guess a letter, especially when a name crosses a name, and we find those unsatisfactory — you should be able to puzzle out the whole solution with no ambiguities in a fair puzzle, and some obscure weirdly spelled last name crossed with an equally obscure first name is just not fair.

  21. Exception: if the word is in “plain sight” in the newspaper, you can’t be expected not to check it, eg: if you weren’t sure how to spell “Sudoku”, you would not have to not look at the Sudoku puzzle right next to the crossword. So that certainly covers “horoscope” and “Aquarius”; not sure if it covers “obituaries” or “ombudsman” as you’d have to go looking for those… And sometimes I’ll read the Bridge or Dear Abbey columns (and especially the horoscope, because it is always right next to the crossword) next to the crossword, hoping for synchronicity that they’ll use a word that is on the tip of my tongue for a clue…

    (Is there anyone in the world who can read a Bridge column and make sense of it? Or is it just a straight forward place for spies to send codes to each other in plain sight? Yes, I don’t know how to play bridge, but would learning the rules of a game really enable me to inhabit this alternate universe?)

  22. Both of my parents were Bridge players. My mother was just contract (fun) player, but my father also did duplicate and entered tournaments. He achieved some level of Life Master. So he frequently tried to get the kids interested in the game, and would teach us. None of us pursued it, but I vaguely remember some of the basics of bidding. Bidding actually exists partially outside the rules, as a major part is to describe your hand so your partner can adjust their bids.

  23. Easley Blackwood (JR.) is a somewhat famous composer and music theorist (known for explorations in microtonal and unusual tunings) and an Emeritus Professor with the University of Chicago. Two questions we locals have often asked about him are (i) does his family have some connection to the old, large, elegant apartment building named The Blackwood; and (ii) does he have anything to do with the Blackwood Convention in Bridge bidding?

    Some kind of fancy camera work or processing in this shot, to make it look like it stands on a big empty plaza. But, you see that street going off to the right, with cars parked on both sides? There is just one traffic lane between those two parking lanes!

    The answer to (i) is “I don’t remember, can’t find that info now, but people did like to say his family developed it”; and to (ii) “Absolutely! His father, Easley Blackwood (SR.) was a bridge expert, and developed the system named for him!”

  24. I don’t play bridge, but I enjoy reading bridge problems. (But bidding conventions are mostly a mystery to me.)

    Some forty-five years ago I was living with a woman whose parents, fanatical bridge players, came to visit (and check me out). I explained carefully a couple of times that I didn’t play bridge, though I knew the rules of play, but they insisted they would not judge and we could just have a relaxing game, so I finally agreed. I did something Wrong and they passively-aggressively let me know how Wrong it was, and the next day they went out and bought and presented to me a “how to play bridge” book.

    I broke up with that woman soon thereafter; it wasn’t mostly because of her parents (with whom she was on so-so terms anyway) but I’m sure that it was in significant part because of them. (No, I did not tell her that.)

    As for self-imposed crossword puzzle rules, I have Lots. Paper and pen (not pencil) only; no lookups (unless I can do so without getting up from my chair because of something in line of sight); I don’t time myself (or feel any need to do it in one sitting); and, most importantly but apparently most weirdly to other folks, no “jumping around” — once I write down my first answer, all later answers have to cross an existing one. (I am of course allowing myself to work out distant answers in my head, so long as I don’t write any down until I can do a cross — and there some minor exceptions, such as two-separated-word clues which enable me to open up a second front elsewhere in the diagram.)

  25. When I was heavily into crosswords, I would sometimes play where only words in the upper-left box could be put in stand-alone. Everything else had to build off an existing words. In college, I was doing two puzzles a day, the Post-Dispatch carried their own and the NY Times. One day I decided I was tired of them and I have only played a handful since.

    Some of the guys in the lab at work back in the day would do the puzzles in the paper, but they weren’t very good at it. Occasionally I would come over and straighten out their mess and explain some things. They then would want me to join them, but it would just me doing the puzzle while they observed, and I didn’t want to do any puzzles.

  26. I’ve never felt the need to avoid opening additional fronts, but I don’t normally write things in anywhere until there’s a fair amount of supporting evidence.

    It’s been years since I last did a crossword I think…

  27. larK –

    I was never known for my seplling (not a typo, it was what I wrote on spelling papers in school) so it does remain a bit of problem even these days. It is very rare I look up the spelling of a word and the puzzles are mostly being done so my mind does not get fried from not doing anything to keep it busy these days.

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