One-Armed Carl Frequently Asked Questions

So what's the point of this thing?

Fun. The arrangement of random panels creates unlikely juxtapositions, and odd stories are extrapolated.

But he's got two arms!

That's not really a question, that's a statement. The title is a reference to one-armed bandit, a nickname for gambling slot machines. Originally, I was going to design this to look like one of those machines, with spinning wheels and a big graphic frame, but my personal tendency toward simplicity and clarity won out.

How many different panels are there?

150. Ninety-eight are from Choose Your Own Carl, fifty are from original Carl, and then there are the two end panels (which can pop up in the center as well) which are common to all forms of Carl. (It should be noted that two of the panels from Choose Your Own Carl are identical, and others are vary only slightly.)

How many different possible strips are there?

A little over 500 million... 506,250,000, to be precise. Some are dull, some are hilarious, some are just weird (and no, I wont calculate how many fall into each category.)

Wow... all those possibilities, and I just got a strip where all the panels came from the same Carl source. Pretty unlikely, eh?

No, actually it's quite common. After all, there's a 2/3 chance that any given panel is from Choose Your Own Carl, so the odds of 4 panels in a row coming from there is 16 in 81, or about 1 in 5. Having all the panels come from original Carl is about 1 in 69. (And before the mathematicians out there get on my case: remember, there are 2 panels that could count as coming from either project.)

What about the odds of getting more than one of the same panel?

About 1 out of every 25 strips will have a duplicate panel (not counting the end panels). The odds of getting 3 of the same panels is roughly 1 in 5663. Getting all four the same will happen once every 3,375,000 pulls... so don't count on it.

Why does my mind work so hard to make a story out of these random panels?

While the repeating character and theme make it easier to form a story from them, I suspect it's the fixed opening and closing panels that make are mind want to do this. They form such clear ends to a story that they just have to connect. If this thing were just a series of random panels with no endpoint, you might get some amusing results, but it wouldn't have the same effect.

So how does this thing work?

Pretty simply, actually. A Perl program picks four random numbers between 001 and 150, and puts out an HTML document that uses those numbers as the names for image files. I don't have much Perl experience, and it was still pretty easy to write. (Admittedly, I have decades of programming experience in other languages.)

That long number at the end of the URL when I spin again... that number has a code that tells you what panels are showing, so that you can recreate any combination that comes up, right?

'fraid not. That is simply a random number. Why is it there? Because if it weren't, every time you tried to spin again, your browser would say "hey, I already got that page!" and would show you the same spin results that you'd already gotten. The random number added to the end fools your browser into thinking that this is a different page. If you want to be able to recreate a link, use this Save This Carl link.

So you just programmed this project up, all the actual comics work is Scott McCloud's, right?

Actually, I was one of the many people who proposed panels for Choose Your Own Carl, and a couple of the panels are based on my suggestions. (And for you comics freaks out there: one of the panels is written by Sandman's own Neil Gaiman!)

Who is this Scott McCloud guy, anyway?

Scott is the comic book field's leading theoretician. He is best known for Understanding Comics, a book which uses the comics form to explain how our minds turn a series of pictures into a story. (His follow-up book on the possible future of the medium, Reinventing Comics, is less vital but still interesting.) Scott first made his mark telling unique superhero stories in Zot! (I prefer the later black-and-white issues, which dealt more with personal drama, to the early color ones, which focused on rolicking adventure.) He's done a number of one-off printed projects, often experimental or with some novelty aspect (personal favorite: the minicomic Some Words Albert Likes.) The only other serial work he did in print is writing (but not drawing) fine tales for most of the first year of Superman Adventures, some of which are reprinted in this book. He's been doing a number of original on-line comics, which you can see at I recommend checking out Ninety-Five and My Obsession with Chess.

Does Scott know what you're doing with his work?

Yup! I wouldn't have done it without his permission. I ran the idea by him before I programmed it, and showed it to him while it was being done. He was supportive and even enthusiastic about this. On his website, he called it "a truly mind-blowing random story-generator!" and said "That's right, Carl fans -- Run, don't walk, to Nat's wonderful authorized new Carl invention at the above url. It's way cool!"

Do you really get asked these questions frequently?

Actually, I wrote up this list before opening the site to the public, so I just made up a bunch of questions that I thught might be frequent! Like most FAQs, this one is a lie!