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XKCD's creator shares the secrets of 'Time,' his 3,900-frame comic

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xkcd time
xkcd time

Randall Munroe's web comic XKCD has long been known for pushing boundaries in strange ways, but his latest experiment topped them all. Over the course of four months, "Time" grew as a frame was added every 30 minutes or so, ending up with over 3,000 individual frames by the time it wrapped up earlier this week. Now that the epic comic has finally wrapped up, Munroe is talking a bit about the backstory behind "Time" and some of the clues he dropped in the comic to help the passionate fanbase that grew up around it piece the story together. As reported by Wired, "Time" takes place not in the past, but 11,000 years in the future. "In my comic, our civilization is long gone," said Munroe. "Every civilization with written records has existed for less than 5,000 years; it seems optimistic to hope that the current one will last for 10,000 more."

As for the clues Munroe dropped in "Time" along the way, he said that he inserted specific plants and wildlife to put in the comic that would allude to its location in the basin between Europe and Africa — but of course, the cartoon started out at the bottom of the dried-up Mediterranean Sea. Again, not something most readers would pick up on, but Munroe says he modeled the setting of the comic after a geological event that took place some 5 million years ago that caused the sea to evaporate, leaving a dry basin two miles below sea level.

Perhaps one of Munroe's most clever tricks was the usage of astronomy to clue readers into the comic's timeframe. During a nighttime sequence, Munroe omitted the star Antares, which is expected to have reached its supernova phase and eventually vanish sometime before "Time" takes place. Of course, Munroe didn't give everything away in his interview, but there's little doubt that the community that has sprung up around "Time" since it began will continue to pull the cartoon apart. If you haven't checked out "Time" yet, you can watch the whole thing unfold frame-by-frame below.