The Big-ish Idea


We all know about the largest things. They’re those structures extending through the cosmos, made of trillions of super-galaxies, themselves made of trillions of galaxies, themselves made of so many stars that it all seems vaguely sinister. Try not to think about it. A super-galaxy is a pretty big thing, but we have almost no responsibility for it. “Hey, super-galaxy, call if you need help,” we might say to it, trusting that it’ll never really call. We just want credit for being nice enough to offer.

But what about the generally-largest-thing? That is, not the biggest thing, but the biggest thing you could expect to have to deal with? The question is inspired by many needs. For example, what’s the largest amount of wrapping paper we might need at any time? Or if we needed to get something through a door, how big should that door be? And there’s definitely thousands of other problems that could be solved if we had a generally-largest-thing to run experiments on. “Is this,” for example, “enough thing to deal with the generally-largest-thing?” If it turns out not to be enough, we can get more of the thing. Or we can decide we don’t need to do the thing at all. It’s important that we have a process for figuring out what to do with this kind of thing.

Oh, I know what skeptics will say. “Even if you have a generally-largest-thing,” they’ll start, “by wrapping it, you’ve made an even generally-largerest-thing. And then you have to deal with that!” The skeptics really think they’ve got me on this one. Not so. Why, for example, would you take a generally-largest-thing that you’ve already wrapped and go and wrap it again? The premise makes no sense. I’m not going to waste my time addressing it. And I won’t even hear about wrapping up a generally-largest-thing and then trying to fit it through the door. Obviously you would only wrap it once it was set in place. You’d tear the wrapping paper trying to move it afterwards.

And hey, I thought of some more applications. Grant me that we’ve got a generally-largest-thing. Then we’d pretty quickly know just how much paper it took to wrap the generally-largest-thing. Still with me? If not, please go back to the start of this paragraph. I’ll wait. Okay, so. If we had the paper to wrap up this generally-largest-thing, then we’d have a solution to the problem of wrapping smaller things. We would make the smaller things larger until they fit the size of wrapping we had already.

It would also offer great prospects for roadside tourist attractions. The roadside tourist attraction industry has been hurting lately, since nobody has gone out driving just for the fun of it since 2003. It’s all been commuting, shopping trips, and people trying to finish listening to their podcasts since then. Going nowhere particular, and stopping because you figure you could take a picture of a thing? It’d be terrible if we lost that entirely. Having an exact idea of the generally-largest-thing would let us set the thing up, for photographs. And set up a backdrop picture of the thing, for pictures when the crowds around the original thing are too big. Maybe a counter where they sell those strange candies you don’t ever see in real stores. It’d be great.

It just remains to say what the generally-largest-thing is. I want to say that it’s a parallelepiped. This is because I trained as a mathematician, and it’s so much fun to say. The rhombohedron just can’t compare. But I do seriously propose that it’s a roughly rectangular-box-shaped thing, maybe five feet front to back, six feet side to side, and about eight feet tall. And there’s maybe a bit of a blobby part on one side. It looks like you could tamp it down, but if you try it just ends up looking worse somehow. Better to let it be. I would be interested to hear about the results of others’ research.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

2 thoughts on “The Big-ish Idea”

    1. Thank you for the heads up! I’m … a little surprised how close that comes to when the next Sunday Phantom recap is slated to run. But I have a lot of advantages in having these recaps almost line up with story strip beginnings and endings.

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