The brain is like a muscle. Lack of exercise leads to atrophy. But congratulations are in order; you're reading, which means you're already well on your way to exercising it.

If you’ve never read the webcomic xkcd, you should. In some ways, it’s like the Farside. I grew up reading Farside comics and I understood some of them. Not all of them (read: not nearly enough of them, but to be fair I was young). Sometimes not understanding was part of the fun because you had to try and puzzle out the meaning. xkcd is like this. Sometimes I come across one that seems inscrutable to me but there are enough clues to go out and find the answer. Research and investigation go a step or two beyond passive reading.

Author and artist Randall Munroe describes xkcd as a “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” And sometimes, it's just sort of pretty (see cover image above and here).

Not all of the strips are funny. Sometimes they’re interesting, thought-provoking, or melancholy. Sometimes they’re a little mean.

 I don't know what it says about me that this is my favorite.

I don't know what it says about me that this is my favorite.

Sometimes they are a better version of Terminator than the latest Terminator movie.

Sometimes they’re hard-hitting questions that everyone can understand.

Sometimes they’re too real.

The point is, there’s something for everyone.

Then Randall Munroe wrote What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. Full disclosure, I didn’t actually read this book. I bought the audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton. If you like audiobooks at all, I highly recommend it. You’ll have to look up the strips mentioned on your own, but Wil Wheaton narrates the book with such glee. But I digress.

What If? is AMAZING. For example, it starts with this:

Disclaimer: Do not try any of this at home. The author of this book is an Internet cartoonist, not a health or safety expert. He likes it when things catch fire or explode, which means he does not have your best interests in mind. The publisher and the author disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects resulting, directly or indirectly, from information contained in this book.
— Munroe, Randall (2014-09-02). What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

He answers such questions as:

  • What would happen if a hair dryer with continuous power were turned on and put in an airtight 1 x 1 x 1-meter box?
  • What if everyone actually had only one soul mate, a random person somewhere in the world?
  • What if a glass of water was, all of a sudden, literally half empty?
  • How much Force power can Yoda output?
  • This may be a bit gruesome, but… if someone’s DNA suddenly vanished, how long would that person last?

The answers are wildly entertaining. They are also educational and insightful. My favorite question is, “What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?” That question goes right off the rails in a wonderful and unexpected way.

So if you want to exercise your brain and have fun at the same time, you could do worse than visiting www.xkcd.com and/or getting What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.

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