Created By: nemui10pm on June 3, 2013 Last Edited By: StarSword on September 7, 2014
Troped

Fresh Clue

A clue that someone was here not too long ago.

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"The Hovitos are near." (tastes the poison dart, spits) "The poison is still fresh, three days. They're following us."

A Fresh Clue is a piece of evidence that reveals someone was at this location recently. This can range from just moments before to a few days ago. Once the evidence is found by someone, they can then deduce that whoever left it there must be nearby.

Warmth in any form is a big giveaway, and so is smoke - from a cigarette, a stamped-out campfire, or a gun.

Compare Signature Item Clue, which is about who was here instead of when they were here, although the two can overlap. Also compare Follow the Chaos. In Real Life, this is sometimes called "tracking and trailing".

Examples:

    Film - Animated 
  • When the trio of Sid, Manfred and Diego arrive at the human camp in Ice Age, Diego remarks upon a piece of kindling: "It's still green. They broke camp less than two hours ago."

    Film - Live Action 
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark. At the beginning of the movie Indiana is leading an archaeological expedition in the Peruvian jungle. They find a dart and one of the bearers, Satipo, tastes the tip and determines how close the local indigenous tribe is.
  • In Young Frankenstein, when the main trio follow mysterious violin music into a secret room, they find a cigar smoldering in an ashtray.
  • In Beethoven's 2nd, as the family is tracking their pet dogs, they happen to find some dog poo that likely belongs to one of the dogs. To find out when they left it there, the daughter sticks a finger in it to feel if it's still warm. It is.
  • In the film version of No Country for Old Men, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is investigating Llewelyn Moss' trailer and notices condensation on a bottle of milk. The killer they're tracking had left the milk there less than an hour ago. Unfortunately, this doesn't really help them find the killer now.
    Ed Tom Bell: Now that's aggravatin'.
    Wendell: Sheriff?
    Ed Tom Bell: [points to a bottle of milk] Still sweatin'.
    Wendell: Whoa, Sheriff! We just missed him! We gotta circulate this! On Radio!
    Ed Tom Bell: Alright. What do we circulate? "Lookin' for a man who has recently drunk milk?"
  • The Peacemaker: Colonel Devoe realizes their bomber just left because the breakfast eggs are still warm. In fact, the bomber went down one elevator just as his team was going up the other.
  • In Megamind, Megamind and Roxanne go into Metroman's hideout and find a glass of water with ice in it, which is proof that someone was there recently. Sure enough, they turn around to find Metroman still living there.

    Literature 
  • Inverted in an Encyclopedia Brown story. EC deduces that the perp had not just just pulled up after a hours-long drive (as he claims) because a baby sits on the car hood and doesn't get burned; therefore the car must have been sitting there long enough to cool down.
  • In The Three Investigators story "The Secret of Phantom Lake" Jupiter Jones likewise realizes that the perp hadn't just pulled up and tried to help because his car hood is cold and the ground underneath it is dry. (They're in the middle of a downpour.) This proves that the perp had been there for quite some time digging up a Buried Treasure.
  • Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride is an expert tracker, and manages to correctly interpret Wesley's adventures while rescuing Buttercup.
    Iocane. I'd bet my life on it. And there are the princess's footprints. She is alive, or was an hour ago. If she is otherwise when I find her, I shall be very put out.
  • In the fourth Protector of the Small book of Tortall Universe, Kel and her soldiers are able to tell how close they are to the Scanrans they're pursuing by the freshness of the horse manure they leave.
  • Used magically in Circle of Magic book Shatterglass. The more lightning in Keth's blown glass, the closer they are to the time of murder (unfortunately, that also means they can't see the location, murderer, or victim until it's too late). Dema, Tris, and Niko also have a significant amount of trouble talking the religious bureaucracy into letting them look for fresh clues before a site is magically cleansed of all evidence.
  • A children's book called The Good Spy's Guidebook included a section on Tracking and Trailing. A practice picture in the book asks you to decide which track out of three your quarry recently took. The correct path has three obvious clues.

    Live Action TV 
  • Invoked in "Suitable For Framing", an episode of Columbo. The killer puts an electric blanket over the body in an alibi trick, so that the body would still be warm when the police arrives.
  • The Twilight Zone episode "Where is Everybody?". A man finds himself all alone in a deserted town with a case of amnesia. While he's exploring a police station he finds a lit cigar smoldering in an ashtray. When he looks in a cell he finds a sink with the water running and shaving equipment (including a brush with wet shaving cream) sitting around. All of this is evidence that someone was there not too long ago. The Twilight Zone Twist is that he's actually in a hallucination caused by isolation. Watch it here.
  • A couple times on The X-Files, a still-burning Morley cigarette left on the ground or in an office ashtray indicates that the Cigarette-Smoking Man has been there recently. Since he's The Chessmaster who's far from careless, he most likely deliberately left these there.
  • In the very last shot of the last scene of the last episode of Now and Again, the government goons sent after Michael Wiseman and his family get there just in time to see the breakfast still on the table and the back door swaying.
  • In the Elementary episode "Snow Angels" a Federal Reserve cash processing facility is robbed during a blizzard. When they find the tracks left by the robbers' vehicle, Sherlock is not only able to determine how long ago they were there from the fact that they can still see the tracks when it's snowing two inches an hour, but what kind of vehicle they were driving.
  • In one episode of New Tricks, an "Old-School" detective states he knew someone was a suspect when he saw that a cat was sleeping on the still-warm hood of their car, disproving their account of not having driven it. Subverted when it turns out that was just bullshit he made up to justify his hunch, and that all the team knew that was a widely used justification in The Met during the 70s.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons module CM1 Test of the Warlords, adventure "The Ruins of Alinor". The PCs find a cave filled with the bodies of dead giants and wolves and a fire with venison cooking over it. From the condition of the bodies and the roasting meat, the PCs can deduce that the attack occurred within the last half hour and that the perpetrators are probably nearby.
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement, Terror Australis adventure "Old Fella that Bunyip". The Investigators may stumble upon the scene of one of the Bunyip's attacks. They find a picnic site with signs of a struggle and a tea kettle of water heating over a fire. The kettle is still whistling, which means they arrived minutes after the attack.

    Urban Legend 
  • A popular myth about the disappearance of Mary Celeste is that when she was discovered, there were cups of tea on a table, still steaming hot.

    Video Game 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Sharky And George, the two enter the local diner and find it deserted. In keeping with the show's Film Noir parody, they observe that a plate of food's still hot, so everyone must have left recently.
  • In the Gravity Falls episode "Into the Bunker", Dipper, Soos, Mabel, and Wendy go into the bunker of the author of the journal owned by Dipper. Soos notes that a can of beans in there was recently opened, so the author might still be alive in there.

Indices: Big Trope Huntin, Just in Time, Crime and Punishment Tropes

Community Feedback Replies: 52
  • June 3, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Film Animated
    • When the trio of Sid, Manfred and Diego arrive at the human camp in Ice Age, Diego remarks upon a piece of kindling: "It's still green. They broke camp less than two hours ago."
  • June 4, 2013
    Arivne
    Film
    • Raiders Of The Lost Ark. At the beginning of the movie Indiana is leading an archeological expedition in the Peruvian jungle. They find a dart and one of the bearers, Satipo, tastes the tip.
      Satipo: The Hovitos are near. The poison is still fresh, three days. They're following us.

    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons module CM1 Test of the Warlords, adventure "The Ruins of Alinor". The PCs find a cave filled with the bodies of dead giants and wolves and a fire with venison cooking over it. From the condition of the bodies and the roasting meat, the PCs can deduce that the attack occurred within the last half hour and that the perpetrators are probably nearby.
    • Call Of Cthulhu supplement, Terror Australis adventure "Old Fella that Bunyip". The Investigators may stumble upon the scene of one of the Bunyip's attacks. They find a picnic site with signs of a struggle and a tea kettle of water heating over a fire. The kettle is still whistling, which means they arrived minutes after the attack.
  • June 4, 2013
    Bisected8
    • In an episode of Sharky And George, the two enter the local diner and find it deserted. In keeping with the show's Film Noir parody, they observe that a plate of food's still hot, so everyone left recently.
  • June 4, 2013
    Melkior
    • In Real Life, this is sometimes called "tracking and trailing".
  • June 4, 2013
    Generality
    In Young Frankenstein, when the main trio follow mysterious violin music into a secret room, they find a cigar smoldering in an ashtray.
  • June 6, 2013
    Arivne
    Live Action TV
    • The Twilight Zone episode "Where is Everybody?". A man finds himself all alone in a deserted town with a case of amnesia. While he's exploring a police station he finds a lit cigar smoldering in an ashtray. When he looks in a cell he finds a sink with the water running and shaving equipment (including a brush with wet shaving cream) sitting around. All of this is evidence that someone was there not too long ago. The Twilight Zone Twist is that he's actually in a hallucination caused by isolation. Watch it here.
  • June 6, 2013
    Chernoskill
    Live-Action Film

    In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, as the family is tracking their pet dogs, they happen to find some dog poo that likely belongs to one of the dogs. To find out when they left it there, the daughter sticks a finger in it to feel if it's still warm. It is.

    Note: I am not 100% sure it was this move or some other family film with an escaped dog (Beethoven?)
  • June 7, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Live-Action TV

    A couple times on 'The X Files', a still-burning Morley cigarette left on the ground or in an office ashtray indicates that the Cigarette-Smoking Man has been there recently. Since he's The Chessmaster who's far from careless, he most likely deliberately left these there though, so it may not count.
  • June 7, 2013
    randomsurfer
    • In an Encyclopedia Brown story EC decuces that the perp had not just just pulled up after a hours-long drive (as he claims) because a baby sits on the car hood and doesn't get burned; therefore the car must have been sitting there long enough to cool down.
    • In The Three Investigators The Secret of Phantom Lake Jupiter Jones likewise realizes that the perp hadn't just pulled up and tried to help because his car hood is cold and the ground underneath it is dry. (They're in the middle of a downpour.) This proves that the perp had been there for quite some time digging up a Buried Treasure.
  • June 7, 2013
    MetaFour
    I know this is in the film version; haven't read the book so I can't compare:

    • In No Country For Old Men, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is investigating Llewelyn Moss' trailer and notices condensation on a bottle of milk. The killer they're tracking had left the milk there less than an hour ago. Unfortunately, this doesn't really help them find the killer now.
      Ed Tom Bell: Now that's aggravatin'.
      Wendell: Sheriff?
      Ed Tom Bell: [points to a bottle of milk] Still sweatin'.
      Wendell: Whoa, Sheriff! We just missed him! We gotta circulate this! On Radio!
      Ed Tom Bell: Alright. What we circulate? "Lookin' for a man who has recently drunk milk?"
  • June 8, 2013
    Bisected8
    As an alternative name, what about Fresh Evidence, Foods Still Warm or Still Smoking Gun?
  • June 8, 2013
    nemui10pm
    I think the last suggestion is the best one.

    Food isn't used very often, but "X is still warm" or its variation might work, so long as it doesn't sound like too much of a stock phrase.
  • June 8, 2013
    KingZeal
    Possible page quote from The Last Boy Scout:

    "Oh, that's right. Sometimes you forget I'm a detective. See, there's all this steam in the shower like somebody was just in there. Only your hair's dry. So it must be somebody else we're talkin' about. A male somebody, because the toilet seat's up. Since he's not under the bed I figure you must have stuck him in the closet when you heard my key hit the lock a day early. So... who's the guy in the closet?"
  • June 8, 2013
    Bisected8
  • June 8, 2013
    nemui10pm
    That's not very intuitive. How about Hot On The Trail? It's a pre-existing term, and has that "warmth" theme.
  • June 9, 2013
    Arivne
    Hot On The Trail would make most people think it was about someone in hot pursuit or trailing something.
  • June 9, 2013
    KingZeal
    How about Fresh Clue?
  • June 19, 2013
    robbulldog
    The Peacemaker, Colonel Devoe realizes their bomber just left because the breakfast eggs are still warm. (In fact, the bomber went down one elevator just as his team was going up the other.)
  • June 19, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In the very last shot of the last scene of the last episode of Now And Again the government goons sent after Michael Weisman & his family get there just in time to see the breakfast still on the table & the back door swaying as they just lift.
  • June 20, 2013
    UltramarineAlizarin
    To Chernoskill's Homeward Bound example: you're close in thinking it might have been Beethoven instead; the scene is from Beethoven's 2nd.
  • June 20, 2013
    Duncan
    Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride is an expert tracker, and manages to correctly interpret Wesley's adventures while rescuing Buttercup.
    Iocane. I'd bet my life on it. And there are the princess's footprints. She is alive, or was an hour ago. If she is otherwise when I find her, I shall be very put out.
  • June 28, 2013
    nemui10pm
    I've changed the name to Fresh Clue, but suggestions are still welcome.

    (For reference, because I often get confused by draft name debates with no indication of what the name used to be, the original title was Proximity Clue.)
  • June 29, 2013
    StarSword
    TV:
    • In the Elementary episode "Snow Angels" a Federal Reserve cash processing facility is robbed during a blizzard. When they find the tracks left by the robbers' vehicle, Sherlock is not only able to determine how long ago they were there from the fact that they can still see the tracks when it's snowing two inches an hour, but what kind of vehicle they were driving.
  • June 29, 2013
    eowynjedi
    Literature:
    • In the fourth Protector of the Small book, Kel and her soldiers are able to tell how close they are to the Scanrans they're pursuing by the freshness of the horse manure they leave.
    • Used magically in Shatterglass. The more lightning in Keth's blown glass, the closer they are to the time of murder (unfortunately, that also means they can't see the location, murderer, or victim until it's too late). Dema, Tris, and Niko also have a significant amount of trouble talking the religious bureaucracy into letting them look for fresh clues before a site is magically cleansed of all evidence.

    (This probably happens in other Tortall books too, but the Protector of the Small one is what I remember off the top of my head.)
  • June 29, 2013
    Chabal2
    Two common versions (brainteasers and such) consist of looking at a car: if the motor is hot, it's just been used recently, or if it's been raining but the underside is dry. Encyclopedia Brown uses those from time to time.
  • June 29, 2013
    TonyG
    In Megamind, Megamind and Roxanne go into Metroman's hideout and find a glass of water with ice in it, which is proof that someone was there recently. Sure enough, they turn around to find Metroman still living there.
  • June 29, 2013
    TwoGunAngel
    The Man With No Name's cigars act as this in The Good The Bad And The Ugly.
  • July 9, 2013
    Melkior
    Literature:
    • A children's book called The Good Spy's Guidebook included a section on Tracking and Trailing. A practice picture in the book asks you to decide which track out of three your quarry recently took. The correct path has three obvious clues.

    The trope name could be Hot On The Trail since that's a fairly common expression, but Fresh Clue also works.
  • July 28, 2013
    Arivne
    Edit: example deleted.
  • July 29, 2013
    StarSword
    hat
  • July 29, 2013
    DAN004
    I guess there's already a YKTTW called "Possession Clue Presence" which might be related to this one.
  • July 29, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Suggestion: Freshness Clue. "Fresh Clue" sounds like it's only about "this means someone was here recently, " while "Freshness Clue" sounds like "This clue tells me that someone was here X time ago," whether X is 5 minutes or 5 days.
  • July 30, 2013
    nemui10pm
    Updating.

    @TwoGunAngel: I've decided not to add this. It looks like it could very well be a valid example, but as it stands it's a bit of a Zero Context Example.

    @Arivne: I don't think that fits, since the figurine doesn't tell anything about when the character was there.

    @DAN004: Can you link to the draft?

    @randomsurfer: This trope covers both versions, though.
  • July 30, 2013
    randomsurfer
    ^Which is why Freshness is better (IMO obivously) than "Fresh". Fresh Clue leaves itself open for Stale Clue meaning "someone was here a long time ago."
  • July 30, 2013
    nemui10pm
    fair enough, I've changed it.
  • July 30, 2013
    DAN004
  • August 1, 2013
    nemui10pm
    Thanks, if/when it's launched I'll mention it in the description.
  • August 2, 2013
    nemui10pm
    bumping for votes.
  • August 2, 2013
    Melkior
    This could easily be just Fresh Clue since that seems to describe the trope well enough.
  • August 2, 2013
    KingZeal
    Yeah, this rename makes no sense to me at all. "Freshness" is a word that isn't typically used very much unless someone is talking about food or other expirable goods.
  • August 2, 2013
    nemui10pm
    Okay, so two-to-one for "Fresh Clue". I'll wait for at least one more vote before renaming, just to be sure.
  • August 2, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    Regardless of Freshness Clue or Fresh Clue, the current definition is a bit hazy on if the trope is in play when the Freshness indicates that the clue was left days ago. On a basic read-through I'd expect it didn't.
  • January 4, 2014
    Prfnoff
    Bump. I agree that Fresh Clue is the better proposed name.
  • January 5, 2014
    DAN004
  • February 26, 2014
    nemui10pm
    Updated and name changed to Fresh Clue.
  • March 1, 2014
    nemui10pm
    Bumping for hats and/or comments.
  • March 9, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    • In one episode of New Tricks an "Old-School" detective states he knew someone was a suspect when he saw that a cat was sleeping on the still-warm hood of their car, disproving their account of not having driven it. Subverted in that it turns out that was just bullshit he made up to justify his hunch, and that all the team knew that was a widely used justification in The Met during the 70s.
  • September 4, 2014
    StarSword
    Web Original:
  • September 4, 2014
    ZuTheSkunk
    In A Story About My Uncle, when you find the last abandoned campsite of Uncle Fred, the narrator points out that the fire is still smoldering and he can feel the distinct smell of Fred's aftershave.
  • September 4, 2014
    DAN004
  • September 4, 2014
    SWFMax
    In the episode Into the Bunker on Gravity Falls, Dipper, Soos, Mabel, and Wendy go into the bunker of the author of the journal owned by Dipper. Soos notes that a can of beans in there was recently opened, so the author might still be alive in there.
  • September 7, 2014
    StarSword
    Launching.
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