Former NASA robotics scientist Munroe (Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, 2015, etc.), the genius behind the xkcd stick-figure webcomic, considers unlikely solutions to common problems.
Say you want to have a pool party. You plan one before realizing that, as Munroe writes, “you can’t shake the feeling that you’re missing something.” What you’re missing is a sine qua non: a pool. So you decide whether to build an in-ground pool or an aboveground pool, et voilà—problem solved. But how to get water into it? You can use a giant industrial shredder to grind up huge piles of plastic water bottles, squeezing out enough to fill the pool in a couple of hours but also generating a mountain of plastic waste. You can siphon it from an uphill neighbor’s pool using Archimedean principles. You can extract water from the air, as Matt Damon did in The Martian, maybe blowing yourself up in the process. And so forth. Munroe turns to a battery of juicy problems, some beyond improbable. How to jump really high? You can find a very tall mountain, maybe one that’s “upwind from where the Olympics are being held,” and catch a thermal updraft with a sailplane rig. How to make a friend? Use the principle of physics called the “mean free path,” which will instruct you that “if you want to physically run into people, you’ll have better luck in a packed football stadium than in the boreal forests of Canada.” Of course, a physical collision may earn you an enemy, or someone who avoids you, at any rate. Munroe’s madness has its method: His solutions tend to the daft and are definitely outside the box, but figuring out for yourself how to get something done, whether changing a light bulb or powering a house, “can be fun and informative and sometimes leads you to surprising places.”
An enjoyable treat for fans of logic puzzles, brain hacking, kaizen, mad science, and other forms of mental stimulation.