Randall Munroe Gives Us “How To” Advice

Take this quandary from Munroe’s latest book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems (Riverhead, Sept.): “How to Move.” On the surface, the problem is simple enough: transporting stuff from one place to another presents no immediately confounding issues, beyond the obvious. “At some point in the move,” Munroe writes, “many people take a look at all their possessions, realize how much work will be involved in moving, and realize that it would be easier to push everything into a hole and walk away, leaving it all behind. This is absolutely an option! Should you decide to take this route, turn to chapter 3: How to Dig a Hole.”

For those who want to keep what they own, Munroe has some ideas. “Let’s say you can walk while carrying about 40 pounds,” he writes. “As a general rule of thumb, all the furnishings and possessions in a typical 4-bedroom house will weigh around 10,000 pounds, which means you’ll need to take a total of 250 trips. If you have 3 people helping you, and you can walk 10 miles a day, it will take you 7 years to move.”

A better solution could be to forgo packing and just move the house. People do this every day, as anyone who has spent much time on the interstate can attest. To puzzle out this solution, Munroe spoke with a friend whose job happened to be issuing wide-load permits. It turns out they are highly restrictive. This could, he considers in the book, result in getting pulled over, which might lead to a dispute over warrantless searches, and the legal difference between a vehicle and a dwelling. “It’s just a huge headache that people don’t realize,” Munroe says. “And it got me thinking. Maybe you can bypass all that by just going up.”

Only Munroe would arrive at a solution to a simple problem that required dismantling a 787 Dreamliner. “Most jet engines produce their maximum thrust when they’re at standstill, so they work really well for hovering,” Munroe says, thrilled as a toddler with a new, noisy toy.

Best selling author and cartoonist/creator of the xkcd webcomic, Randall Munroe is profiled and interviewed by Publishers Weekly on the occasion of the imminent release of his new book How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems; in which Randall will impart advice on how to do things in Rube Goldbergian ways.

Entertainment Weekly also runs a short interview.