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XKCD cartoonist's new book: 'Thing Explainer'

Like his "Up Goer Five" explanation of Saturn V rockets, Randall Munroe's next book marries a highly constrained vocabulary with detailed diagrams to explain everything from planes to plate tectonics.

"Thing Explainer," due November 24, combines detailed diagrams with explanations in artificially basic words. Click to enlarge. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The average English-speaking adult has a vocabulary of 20,000 to 35,000 words. So imagine using only 1,000 of them to teach people the inner workings of plate tectonics, rocketry, microwave ovens and Mars rovers.

That's exactly what high-profile Web cartoonist and former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe is doing with a new book he announced today, "Thing Explainer." Munroe propelled himself to geek fame first with his XKCD Web comic; then cemented his position with his What If blog. In 2014, he expanded the blog into the ; this year it's the XKCD comic "Up Goer Five" that inspired a book.

The conceit is combining a basic, highly limited vocabulary with detailed diagrams to teach how things work. He spices it up with some of his trademark stick-figure characters.

"The diagrams in 'Thing Explainer' cover all kinds of neat stuff -- including computer buildings (data centers), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the stuff you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you're made of (cells)," Munroe said of the book, which goes on sale November 24.

Munroe exemplifies a new breed of authors who are a product of the self-publishing possibilities of the Internet. Among others in Randall's company are Allie Brosh with "Hyperbole and a Half," Matthew Inman of "The Oatmeal," Justin Valmassoi with "Animals Talking in All Caps," Benjamin Dewey with Tragedy Series and Justin Halpern with "S*** my Dad Says," which began as a Twitter account.