Created By: fluffything on July 31, 2011 Last Edited By: fluffything on April 29, 2012

Drowning A Fish

A seemingly impossible task can be done.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Do We Have This One??

Someone gives a character a task to do. The problem is that the task seems impossible. Maybe it appears to be illogical. Maybe it requires insane amounts of precision. Or, maybe it requires the most obscure knowledge known to mankind. Whatever the reason, the general public thinks it simply cannot be done.

Turns out, it can be done.

In other words, this is when a task that seems impossible to do turns out to be quite doable. This both occurs in fiction as well as Real Life.

Compare Impossible Task.

Examples-

  • The potential Trope Namer comes from the belief that it's impossible to drown a fish because fish breathe underwater. In reality, if a fish is unable to obtain oxygen in the water, they will be unable to breathe and will technically drown.
  • One famous Urban Legend tells of a teacher who wrote down a math problem on the chalkboard that was considered to be unsolvable. A student who had arrived late wrote the problem in his notes thinking it was homework and ended up solving it without realizing no one had done so before.
  • May be posed as a challenge, requiring Exact Words or some other kind of unusual interpretation. In Real Life, such seemingly paradoxical challenges are used for tests in the military, in businesses and in other organisations to confirm a candidate's ability to think outside the box.
Community Feedback Replies: 17
  • July 31, 2011
    Stratadrake
    The latter example is already covered by Achievements In Ignorance, meaning the person solving it didn't know it was believed impossible.
  • August 1, 2011
    fluffything
    Does it really matter? It would still count since other people deemed it impossible to solve much like how other people believe it's impossible to drown a fish.

    The point isn't whether or not the guy was ignorant of it being impossible. The point is that he did it despite people believing it to be impossible.
  • August 1, 2011
    MrInitialMan
    I believe if a shark is unable to move, it will suffocate.

    Can overlap with Achievments In Ignorance, yes. But this looks like a supertrope of Achievements In Ignorance, since having a bit of extra knowledge also allows for this.

    Another "impossible" math problem solved was Fermat's Last Theorem. Long believed unprovable (and undisprovable), Andrew Wiles applied a recent branch of mathematics (modularity conjecture for elliptic curves, if you want the actual term) and finally proved the theorem. This, however, was not an achievment in ignorance--Wiles knew exactly what he was doing.

    That Fermat's own proof has never been found is beside the point.
  • August 1, 2011
    Bisected8
    Technically suffocating a fish underwater isn't drowning, since they don't have any lungs to flood.
  • August 1, 2011
    fluffything
    ^ Lungfish. They have lungs. You can drown 'em.

    Also, there's no need to nitpick the title. To the general public, something dying because it can't breathe underwater is still drowning.
  • August 1, 2011
    Micah
    This looks extremely similar to Impossible Task.
  • August 1, 2011
    Stratadrake
    ^ Ditto. An Impossible Task is given because it is believed to be impossible (or at least, under the particular circumstances).
  • August 1, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    So this is a sister trope then, namely solving the impossible task?
  • August 1, 2011
    Aielyn
    Bisected8 - strictly speaking, "drowning" just means "suffocating in a liquid".
  • August 1, 2011
    fluffything
    Impossible Task seems more like for tasks that are literally impossible but the hero manages to somehow do it through either magic, improbable problem-solving skills, or through dumb luck. This is more for things that people generally believe to be impossible, but turn out to be perfectly doable.

    Counting each and every individual grain of sand on a beach would be an Impossible Task.

    Drowning a fish, however, is possible, though not easy to do (Again, lungfish).
  • August 3, 2011
    NetMonster
    May be posed as a challenge, requiring Exact Words or some other kind of unusual interpretation. In Real Life, such seemingly paradoxical challenges are used for tests in the military, in businesses and in other organisations to confirm a candidate's ability to think outside the box.
  • August 4, 2011
    superluser
    The urban legend in question really did happen at least once, to George Dantzig, though it frequently gets exaggerated.

    As to Fermat's Last Theorem, I don't know if anyone ever thought it was unsolvable (many proofs of the theorem had existed for specific exponents), but it was commonly believed up until it was proven (at which point it was pretty much universally believed) that Fermat's assertion that he had "discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain" was a Blatant Lie. The general proof takes over 100 pages.
  • August 5, 2011
    Stratadrake
    I'm still not seeing how this is much different from Impossible Task. The method of solving it isn't particularly important, and a trope that sounds like Things Everyone Believes Impossible But Real Nerds Know Better is not going to fare well on the tropability meter. (The last time something like this came up I think was from "Critical Research Success", meaning something believed to be a Critical Research Failure actually isn't, but it was quickly cut because at best, it wasn't written like an actual trope, at worse it was just CRF But Subverted!.)
  • August 5, 2011
    Fearmonger
    This seems like it would largely overlap with Impossible Task Instantly Accomplished.
  • April 29, 2012
    HaggisMcCrablice
    Older Than Feudalism: The Gordian Knot.
  • April 29, 2012
    peccantis
    ^ That's an example of Taking A Third Option, not solving the impossible task.
  • April 29, 2012
    TBTabby
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=dt60jsdy6ve4a3ru5qf36w4b