Created By: LarkmarnDecember 13, 2012 Last Edited By: StarSwordDecember 18, 2012
Troped

Arkham's Razor

When given multiple explanations, the oddest possibility is the most likely one.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
A trope mostly in comedic works where, when given multiple explanations for an event, the oddest one is most likely is going to be true. The inverse of Occams Razor. As such, it can be summarized as "When you hear hoofbeats, think zebras, not horses." The name is a take off of Occams Razor, combined with Arkham, the fictional city from the works of HP Lovecraft (which is closely tied to the idea of madness or surprise).

Often used as a form of Bait And Switch. The audience, expecting Occams Razor, writes off the wacky explanations as not possible only to be surprised that the outlandish possibility was correct. Genre Savvy viewers will have expected the Arkhams Razor to be in effect from the get go and expect the unexpected, so to speak.

See also: Infallible Babble, Cassandra Truth. Often overlaps with The Cuckoolander Was Right or Refuge In Audacity. Compare Impossibly Mundane Explanation, where an explanation floated by a character is dismissed for being too mundane.

Examples:

Comic Books
  • Thanks to a related trope, Bat Deduction, some of the Riddler's riddles work this way. For a relatively grounded example, his first-ever crime used the clue "banquet," sending Batman and the police to a charity dinner. The real, and much less conventional meaning of the clue was that the Riddler had flooded a bank vault -- gotten a "bank wet" -- to defeat its pressure-sensitive locking mechanism and was looting it in scuba gear.

Live Action Television
  • In an episode of How I Met Your Mother the gang is arguing about who was the most "badass" as a kid. All of their tales of youthful rebellion are eventually proven false, except for Team Mom (and literal mom) and kindergarten teacher Lily, who painted a picture of herself as basically an Expy of Omar. Naturally, at the end of the episode this is proven true.
  • Double-subverted in Community when the study group cannot work out what happened to Annie's missing pen. Unwilling to believe any of the group stole it, they agree to believe Troy's manufactured story that a ghost took it. In fact, it was Troy's escaped pet monkey, Annie's Boobs.
  • Interestingly used as part of how the Weirdness Censor is justified on early seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, where the police (who know the truth about the town's vampire problem) have little trouble convincing most people that the vampires are just PCP addicts. As Oz points out when he's told the real story, the vampire explanation actually makes more sense.
  • Often played non-comedically in House. In medical jargon, an unexpected diagnosis is referred to a "zebra," and this occurs so frequently in the show that it even has a page on the House Wiki. At one point the title character says "I look for zebras because the other doctors already ruled out all the horses."

Webcomics
  • In one comic of Questionable Content, Marten and his girlfriend Dora take a long lunch, and return with Marten wearing some of Dora's clothes. Their friends immediately assume that they had done something naughty, but Marten claimed that they had been ambushed by Shaolin Monks and spilled spaghetti sauce on his clothes and needed to change at Dora's. Everyone laughs it off, but a few strips later he is proven correct when a battered monk arrives at the coffeeshop and recognizes Marten.
    • Also occurs in the explanation for Steve's infrequent appearances for a long stretch of the comic. The two possible explanations were "he got drunk and dicked around for a while" or "he became a secret agent and blew up an island," and it was implied that not even he knew for sure which was true. Until later, when he ran across The Baroness from his story.

Western Animation
  • Used in almost every episode of A Pup Named Scooby Doo. During The Summation, every suspect is listed... and the one character who isn't listed for whatever reason (too unlikely, had an alibi, or just plain the writers didn't feel like including them) is invariably the culprit.
Community Feedback Replies: 26
  • December 13, 2012
    Larkmarn
  • December 13, 2012
    Larkmarn
    • Often played non-comedically in House. In medical jargon, an unexpected diagnosis is referred to a "zebra," and this occurs so frequently in the show that it even has a page on the House Wiki. At one point the title character says "I look for zebras because the other doctors already ruled out all the horses."
  • December 13, 2012
    Larkmarn
    • In one comic of Questionable Content, Marten and his girlfriend Dora take a long lunch, and return with Marten wearing some of Dora's clothes. Their friends immediately assume that they had done something naughty, but Marten claimed that they had been ambushed by Shaolin Monks and spilled spaghetti sauce on his clothes and needed to change at Dora's. Everyone laughs it off, but a few strips later he is proven correct when a battered monk arrives at the coffeeshop and recognizes Marten.
  • December 13, 2012
    StarSword
    That's one of the best punny trope names I've seen in a while. You get a hat purely for coming up with it.
  • December 13, 2012
    Larkmarn
    Haha, I wish I could take credit but that goes solely to Azaram from the Lost and Found page.
  • December 13, 2012
    Stratadrake
    The name is meant as a pun on Occams Razor? I thought it was just another half-baked attempt at coining a new Trope Namer.
  • December 13, 2012
    Larkmarn
    I believe it is. What Trope Namer are you referring to, HP Lovecraft?

    Anyway, I'll clarify. I'm open to new names, though I think Star Sword will disagree.
  • December 13, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    I kind of like it, honestly. It fits with the existing real-life term Hanlons Razor.
  • December 13, 2012
    OmarKarindu
    Comic Books
    • Thanks to a related trope, Bat Deduction, some of the Riddler's riddles work this way. For a relatively grounded example, his first-ever crime used the clue "banquet," sending Batman and the police to a charity dinner. The real, and much less conventional meaning of the clue was that the Riddler had flooded a bank vault -- gotten a "bank wet" -- to defeat its pressure-sensitive locking mechanism and was looting it in scuba gear.

    Live-Action TV
    • Double-subverted in Series/Community when the study group cannot work out what happened to Annie's missing pen. Unwilling to believe any of the group stole it, they agree to believe Troy's manufactured story that a ghost took it. In fact, it was Troy's escaped pet monkey, Annie's Boobs.
    • Interestingly used as part of how the Weirdness Censor is justified on early seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, where the police (who know the truth about the town's vampire problem) have little trouble convincing most people that the vampires are just PCP addicts. As Oz points out when he's told the real story, the vampire explanation actually makes more sense.
  • December 13, 2012
    StarSword
    @Larkmarn: No, it's a play on Arkham Asylum from the Batman franchise.

    I didn't say I wouldn't disagree with a different name, but I do really like this one.

    Fixed a minor spelling mistake in the description.
  • December 13, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    ^ Actually, it's both... since IIRC Arkham from Batman was named after the Arkham from Lovecraft. (Basically, Arkham Asylum is Older Than They Think.)
  • December 13, 2012
    Larkmarn
    Updated with Omar's entries.
  • December 14, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    Related to Refuge In Audacity.
  • December 14, 2012
    shimaspawn
    Keep the title. It's awesome if it's referring to Lovecraft or Batman.

    Even Fast Eddie likes it.
  • December 14, 2012
    FastEddie
    Name work really well. Has the funny, the brevity and a big dollop of the clarity that makes a winner.

  • December 14, 2012
    Stratadrake
    What clarity? If I may play devil's advocate, this is precisely the kind of snowcloning that we want to avoid -- where the only way to "get" the title is by relation to the phrase it's derived from.

    I agree there's a certain balance between Clear Concise Witty that we should be aiming for, but all I can see in this title is basically a "Trope Namer's [X]".
  • December 14, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    ^ Well, yes, it's derived from Occam's Razor because it's an inversion of Occam's Razor. And it refers to it being "the craziest explanation" by referring to something well known for representing craziness.

    I'm not seeing how that's not clear, or how snowcloning isn't actually appropriate. Only possibly Bedlam's Razor would be any clearer.
  • December 14, 2012
    robinjohnson
    Another vote of confidence in Arkham's Razor as a title, here.
  • December 14, 2012
    StarSword
  • December 14, 2012
    StarSword
    "Compare Impossibly Mundane Situation, where a situation you would expect a bizarre explanation has an oddly simple one."

    If you were trying to add "Compare Impossibly Mundane Explanation", wrong. IME is when an explanation is dismissed out of hand because it's too simple and/or out of character. The classic example from Stargate SG 1:
    Jack: How did I [know what you were going to say]?
    Sam: Maybe you read my report.
    Daniel: "Maybe he read your report???"
  • December 14, 2012
    Larkmarn
    Sorry, misinterpreted. You want to fix it for me?
  • December 14, 2012
    StarSword
    Sure thing.
  • December 14, 2012
    Larkmarn
    Danke.
  • December 16, 2012
    Larkmarn
    We've got Five Hats, it seems like we're pretty much in agreement with the name, and it's been three days... shall we launch?
  • December 16, 2012
    StarSword
    Looks good to me.
  • December 18, 2012
    Azaram
    Yikes, that was quick. I do have to mention that I didn't come up with Arkham's Razor myself; I saw it somewhere I now cant' remember. There is a t-shirt with the name but a different phrase "The simplest answer is usually Cthulhu", but that's not where I'd read it. I wasn't expecting it to be taken seriously, and couldn't remember the source or exact quote, so I didn't attribute it.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable