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The Up-Goer Five Thing, Where Learned People Explain Hard Stuff With Easy Words

Writing about really hard things using only a couple of words is much harder than you would think

The Up-Goer Five, by funny picture drawer Randall Munroe. Photo: xkcd

A few months ago, Randall Munroe, a man who is known for drawing funny pictures, came up with the Up-Goer Five. With his picture, Munroe tried to show how he could make sense of a really confusing thing using only the top 1,000 most-often used words.

After seeing Munroe’s drawing, Theo Sanderson thought it would be funny to make a thing that would let everyone try their hand at writing like Munroe. So, Sanderson came up with “The Up-Goer Five Text Editor.”

The other day, a group of really learned people tried to use Sander’s Up-Goer Five thing to try to explain their work. They tried to explain all sorts of things. Did you know that “ur home is changing because of some things we do, like burning stuff from the ground for power.”?

“One of the big changes is that we are warming up,” says Things Break. “What happens as we warm up is important!”

Some other attempts were:

  • “The things we use every day are made of very tiny bits. When we put lots of those bits together we get matter. Matter changes how it acts when it gets hot or cold, or when you press on it. We want to know what happens when you get some of the matter hot.” —Dan Gezelter.
  • “I find things that people take to get better when they are sick. These are hard to make, and take a lot of time and money. When we have a new idea, most of them don’t actually work, because we don’t know everything we need to about how people get sick in the first place. It’s like trying to fix something huge, in the dark, without a book to help.” —Derek Lowe
  • “I study what rocks tell us about how the ground moves and changes over many, many (more than a hundred times a hundred times a hundred) years. I can do this because little bits hidden inside a rock can remember where they were when they formed, and can give us their memories if we ask them in the right way.” —Chris Rowan

Writing about really hard things using a set number of words is much harder than you would think. If you want to give it a try, why not check out Sanderson’s thing for yourself?

More from Smithsonian.com:

What happens when you play ball with a ball that is going really, really, really fast

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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