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Arthur Dent, the main character in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, once lamented that when he landed on a planet that was less advanced that Earth, he wasn’t able to explain even the mechanics of a pen. We as a society use an insane amount of products and inventions that, individually, most of us have no clue how to explain.  How does an elevator work, or a helicopter?  What’s the deal with microwaves, or even our own organs?

We’d all like to know how these things work, but sometimes the explanations themselves are so bogged down with jargon that we come out more confused that we started.

But Randall Munroe, a fomer NASA roboticist and current comic creator, found a solution–in Thing Explainer, he…well…explains things.  But he limits himself to using only the 1,000 most-used words in our language.  The result?  Easily understood explanations and inevitably laughs.


Munroe explains writing sticks (pens), bending computers (laptops), sky boats with turning wings (helicopters), and more using limited vocabulary and, of course, illustrations.  He walks the reader through simple lessons in astronomy, physics, and chemistry, all with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and simple but accurate explanations.  Even rocket science is made easy.

If you like Munroe’s work, you can also check out his New York Times bestseller What If?where he answers absurd hypothetical questions with science.  Or you can check out his website for more illustrations.  If you want to try your hand at writing with only the most common words in the English language, check this out.

Thanks for reading! -Autumn

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