Created By: katiek on July 22, 2012 Last Edited By: katiek on March 8, 2013

Executive Ball Clicker

A.K.A. Newton's Cradle: Every Executive has one on his or her desk.

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Trope

This device, named after physicist Sir Isaac Newton, is a well-known science toy that operates on the principle of conservation of momentum and energy. If someone is an executive, they almost certainly have one on their desk. In fact, it nearly signifies "executive". There may be other executive office toys (Lava Lamps, Stress Balls, Rubic's Cubes), but there is something about the Newton's Cradle that especially reminds us of the executive's seat of power, influence and control.

Perhaps it is the fact that they have time to play with something useless, amusing and especially hypnotic (even for an executive toy), unlike everyone else, who is, nose-to-the-grindstone, focused on productivity. Maybe there is the fact that many models are Made of Shiny and are often chome-like, echoing the popular image of the sleek, Ascetic Aesthetic hypermodern office furniture that we have popularly associated with executive corner offices since the early 70s. Plus, it offers that oh-so-executive functioning of operating with a single swipe or stroke: even when operating useful objects, executives seemingly never do more than press a button or sweep their hands over a panel, or sign their names. We often think of this "single stroke of the hand" as synonymous with "executive" as well.

Perhaps it is they way the device symbolizes their power: over us, over the direction of the company, or over the world itself. This may be a Corrupt Corporate Executive. Especially if they are a technology executive or a media executive.

Another purpose for the cradle is for the executive to fiddle with it while somebody is talking, to signify their lack of respect for the speaker or short attention span. This may be a Pointy-Haired Boss. Especially if they are a technology executive or an entertainment executive.

Nevertheless, the ball clicker often shows up in fantasy sequences that involve the balls being substituted with helpless beings in some form. Having the balls be replaced with skulls or heads seems to be a common subtrope.

Maybe it is supposed to reflect a scientific, analytical mindset, or a love of balance and order (represented by the "every action has an equal and opposite reaction" science behind the toy)...

It may also just be a kind of sloppy shorthand. Sometimes it may signify something, but other times it just may be the props department saying, "Fancy chair, check. Fancy desk, check. Clicky thingy, check."

Interestingly, as MythBusters' Adam and Jamie showed, this actually only works as a desktop item. It does not work on a grand scale.

See also The Thing That Goes Doink.

Examples:

Comic Books
  • A Beano annual features The Numbskulls having been put into a Newton's cradle instead of the balls. They are not happy about being bashed about.
  • In Thorgal, an old scientist was seen working on one of these.

Film
  • The Kryptonians in Superman II are seen with one after they take over the Earth.
  • One of these is on the desk of Sidney J. Mussburger in The Hudsucker Proxy. One of the clickers actually stops mid-air when time stands still.
  • In the X-Men movies, Magneto isn't actually an executive, but being a villainous mastermind, the effect is mostly the same. Interestingly, the metal balls in his Newton's cradle aren't actually operating via inertia-- he's simulating the effect with his telekinesis, and they're actually floating in midair. When he leaves the room and is no longer paying attention to them, they fall to the floor.
  • The second Iron Man film has a one and a varation of one. First played straight with one serving as both Funny Background Event and Most Annoying Sound (Tony's trying to talk over the incessant tick-tick-tick) until he finally removes it. Later on when he gives control of the company over to Pepper, He tries to talk to her from across the desk but this perfectly balanced spinning doohickey that serves a similar aesthetic function is blocking his view. He finds it extremely annoying and asks if he can move it, but she says no.

Literature
  • At the end of "The Concrete Jungle," a short story in The Laundry Series, Bob enters his boss Angleton's office to find him messing with one. Two of the balls are the severed and shrunken heads of the story's Big Bad and Dragon.
  • In Discworld, Death, who has little grasp of why humans do things and tends to seize on the most peculiar things and then miss the point, has a toy on his desk with a single ball bearing and a large slab of metal. The bearing hits the metal and stops. That's it. (In the Animated Adaptation of Soul Music, this was replaced by the skulls version.)

Music Video
  • The Nine Inch Nails video for Only is based around executive office toys. One of these represents the percussion and there's one of those boards full of blunt pins that everyone sticks on their faces (ew).

Live-Action TV
  • I know there was a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where Joel (or was it Mike?) invents a hat that's a scaled-up Newton's cradle, with the wearer's head serving as the center ball. (I don't remember which episode this was. It may have been the sketch from The Brain That Wouldn't Die where everyone invents a Nice Hat for the film's recently-disembodied head.)
  • The MythBusters crew tried making a wrecking ball-sized Newton's Cradle, perhaps the largest one ever built, but found that scale matters: they could not achieve the energy transference of the smaller-scale models.

Western Animation
  • The Simpsons. When Homer starts his internet business he sets up a home office on the dining room table, including one of these. His "business" consists largely of him sitting at the table playing wih it.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants. When Patrick goes into one of his "office dreams", he has one of these.
  • In the animated Diskworld miniseries Soul Music, Death has one made of little skulls.
  • In Futurama, "The Day The Earth Stood Stupid", a dumbed-down Prof. Farnsworth sticks his head between the balls of a Newton's Cradle as they go back and forth on his skull. "Ow! Ow! I'm a genius. Ow!"
Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • July 22, 2012
    Omeganian
    The Kryptonians in Superman II are seen with one after they take over the Earth.
  • July 22, 2012
    triassicranger
    A Beano annual features The Numbskulls having been put into a Newton's cradle instead of the balls. They are not happy about being bashed about.
  • July 22, 2012
    IsaacSapphire
    In the animated Diskworld miniseries Soul Music, Death has one made of little skulls.
  • July 22, 2012
    randomsurfer
    IMO Newtons Cradle should be the name, with Executive Ball Clicker as a redirect. Newton's Cradle is the actual name.

    • The Simpsons: When Homer starts his internet business he sets up a home office on the dining room table, including one of these. His "business" consists largely of him sitting at the table playing wih it.
  • July 22, 2012
    giggles
    One of these is on the desk of Sidney J. Mussburger in The Hudsucker Proxy. One of the clickers actually stops mid-air when time stands still.
  • July 23, 2012
    PaulA
    randomsurfer, "Newton's Cradle" is the name of the object, but that doesn't mean it's the best name for the trope. The trope isn't just "there is this object", it's also "and it signifies this thing here", with "this thing here" in this case being that the character is an executive. So I think I prefer the trope name with "Executive" in it.
  • July 23, 2012
    orangejuicer
    • In the X-Men movies, Magneto isn't actually an executive, but being a villainous mastermind, the effect is mostly the same. Interestingly, the metal balls in his Newton's cradle aren't actually operating via inertia-- he's simulating the effect with his telekinesis, and they're actually floating in midair. When he leaves the room and is no longer paying attention to them, they fall to the floor.
  • July 23, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    The Nine Inch Nails video for Only is based around executive office toys. One of these represents the percussion and there's one of those boards full of blunt pins that everyone sticks on their faces (ew).

    I have no idea what it represents though, there's no office worker guy to play with it.
  • July 23, 2012
    Chabal2
    The second Iron Man film has one, serving as both Funny Background Event and Most Annoying Sound (Tony's trying to talk over the incessant tick-tick-tick) until he finally removes it.
  • July 23, 2012
    elwoz
    Having the balls be replaced with skulls or heads seems to be a common subtrope.
  • July 23, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    ^^^^^ Agree with Paul A's reply.
  • July 27, 2012
    katiek
    I will do some rolling updates soon.
  • July 27, 2012
    TonyG
    In Futurama, "The Day The Earth Stood Stupid", a dumbed-down Prof. Farnsworth sticks his head between the balls of a Newton's Cradle as they go back and forth on his skull. "Ow! Ow! I'm a genius. Ow!"
  • July 31, 2012
    Chabal2
    This version, for the rule-by-fear manager.
  • July 31, 2012
    PapercutChainsaw
    I think this could use a bit more explanation as to why this kind of device would be used. The skull versions are fairly obvious, but the standard version?

    Maybe it is supposed to reflect a scientific, analytical mindset, or a love of balance and order (represented by the "every action has an equal and opposite reaction" science behind the toy)...

    ...Or maybe it just looks cool.
  • July 31, 2012
    elwoz
    I think I've seen it used as symbolism for "this person has no sense of humor, and in fact, not much of a personality at all." I want to say that was in The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul, but this is probably my brain doing its brain thing.
  • July 31, 2012
    animeg3282
    Yea or 'this person follows stupid trends in things to put on their desk'.
  • August 2, 2012
    MetaFour
    I know there was a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where Joel (or was it Mike?) invents a hat that's a scaled-up Newton's cradle, with the wearer's head serving as the center ball. (I don't remember which episode this was. It may have been the sketch from The Brain That Wouldnt Die where everyone invents a Nice Hat for the film's recently-disembodied head.)
  • August 2, 2012
    nitrokitty
    Another purpose for the cradle is for the executive to fiddle with it while somebody is talking, to signify their lack of respect for the speaker or short attention span.
  • August 4, 2012
    Chabal2
    In Thorgal, an old scientist was seen working on one of these.
  • August 4, 2012
    DaibhidC
    • In Discworld, Death, who has little grasp of why humans do things and tends to seize on the most peculiar things and then miss the point, has a toy on his desk with a single ball bearing and a large slab of metal. The bearing hits the metal and stops. That's it. (In the Animated Adaptation of Soul Music, this was replaced by the skulls version.)
  • August 4, 2012
    Doxiedame
    I'm not quite sure if this is quite trope-ready. Sometimes it may signify something, but other times it just may be the props department saying, "Fancy chair, check. Fancy desk, check. Clicky thingy, check."
  • August 4, 2012
    abk0100
  • August 5, 2012
    katiek
    ^^ I do need to work on this some more. There are some great replies here.
  • February 28, 2013
    katiek
    bump
  • February 28, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Seriously guys? Three hats and there's one example in the actual description?

    Anyhoo, I do like the idea behind this. Just... hats are only supposed to be added when you think a trope is ready for launch. As in ready for you to click that little "Launch" button. Although I think it might be a good idea to expand it into a "Standard Executive Desk Items" trope, with things like a decanter of scotch, etc.
  • February 28, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    This isn't Newton's Cradle per se, however it conveys the same concept of Executive Plaything:

    Film
  • February 28, 2013
    StarSword
    Literature:
    • At the end of "The Concrete Jungle," a short story in The Laundry Series, Bob enters his boss Angleton's office to find him messing with one. Two of the balls are the severed and shrunken heads of the story's Big Bad and Dragon.
  • February 28, 2013
    katiek
    ^^ I agree this could be a sub-trope of Executive Thingamabobs or something like that, but I think this one has a specific meaning.
  • February 28, 2013
    billybobfred
    Paul A: "So I think I prefer the trope name with "Executive" in it."

    I've got good news for you, then! Animal Crossing refers to this device as an "executive toy". Does that sound like a good, descriptive title to anyone else, or just me?
  • February 28, 2013
    katiek
    I think it has to have "clicker" or something too. Toy could also be a stress ball... but I agree that it could be a sub trope of Executive Toy or Executive Items or something.
  • February 28, 2013
    katiek
    I put in some of the examples. It almost seems like there needs to be Executive Things as a separate trope. I am going to work more on the description.
  • February 28, 2013
    Arivne
    Namespaced and italicized all example work titles that didn't already have them.
  • March 1, 2013
    Noaqiyeum
    I was going to ask, too, what makes the Newton's Cradle more special? There are a bunch of kinds of office toys...

    Also, Executive Office Toys, maybe?
  • March 1, 2013
    katiek
    I think Executive Office Toys would be separate.
  • March 3, 2013
    katiek
    I can't right now think of a way to fit the Josie and the Pussycats example in, but it definitely helped me develop the intro.
  • March 3, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    No problem. I should have realized that only Newton's Cradle or a derivative of such counts here.

    If you want to expand to other Executive Office Toys, however, The Sharper Image Catalog is chock full of them. Apparently the more one is paid, the less useful work one does.
  • March 3, 2013
    katiek
    ^ so true!
  • March 3, 2013
    katiek
    I didn't mean to add extra "Needs Examples" tags...
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