In the article New York - style time machine, there is a drawing:

Cartoon with the text "Ah, an MC Esker"

What does M.C. Esker mean? The clue for this, as said by a redditor, is in the line

These deposits, which remain as ridges called eskers, crisscross the landscape in the woods outside my home in Boston.

Yet, I still have no idea. So what does it mean?

  • 5
    mcescher.com See the "Impossible Constructions" link there, especially. Oct 31 '16 at 10:39
  • @TRomano see my comment below
    – Ooker
    Oct 31 '16 at 10:56
  • 1
    I do not understand your comment below. The photo caption is a kind of pun, as Henning Makholm explains. Oct 31 '16 at 11:02
  • 6
    Just FYI - There's Explain XKCD for most of the comics.
    – BruceWayne
    Oct 31 '16 at 22:54
  • 2
    @BruceWayne Please notice that this image is not from xkcd comic but What If book and therefore it's not covered in Explain XKCD. It doesn't even appear in What If blog.
    – Pere
    Nov 1 '16 at 12:12

It is a pun on the name of the Dutch artist M. C. Escher (the initials stand for Maurits Cornelis, but the full names are almost never used), who is famous for mathematically precise prints of surreal spaces that seem to fold into themselves or "go around" where nothing ought to go around.

For example, look at Waterfall or Möbius Strip II.

An esker is particular kind of elongated gravelly hill formed by material deposited in meltwater tunnels at the bottom of glaciers during the Ice Ages. Since it follows the path of a meltwater stream, it always goes from somewhere to somewhere. A circular one makes no geological sense and would need to have been made by a meltwater stream that went round and round without any source or outlet -- like the water in the channel of Waterfall.

  • 4
    @Ooker: The Reddit comment is not particularly funny or remarkable in itself. The point of it is simply to remind the other participants in the discussion that "esker" is the name of a particular landform in geology. It's not all that common a word, but the hint is enough to convey to the readers that it's a real word and they should try looking it up. Some readers found that nudge helpful enough to upvote it. Oct 31 '16 at 11:01
  • 11
    @Ooker: Escher's estate maintains copyright on his works, and the general Stack Exchange policy is not to embed infringing images in posts. Oct 31 '16 at 11:02
  • 5
    Just because some Wikipedia editor somewhere decided, for his own unknowable reasons, that embedding the image would be fair use doesn't necessarily make it so -- and in particular I'm not prepared to import that judgment to my answer here. Oct 31 '16 at 11:08
  • 2
    In fact the Reddit comment is a direct quote from the article itself (which itself quotes it from Munroe's book), and therefore points to the part in the article where the explanation behind the cartoon is found. Oct 31 '16 at 11:15
  • 12
    @Ooker: Using an image for education use is fair use, when the image is the subject itself. It would be hard to teach about the works of M.C. Escher without actually showing a sample of them. It is not a general escape clause. In particular, diagrams in school books made for those schoolbooks are very intentionally for educational use, and yet you can't copy them into your own school books.
    – MSalters
    Oct 31 '16 at 12:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.