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- In an issue of Young Justice, where a mysterious new girl helps the team out during a fight, then disappears. When trying to figure out who she is, this exchange occurs:
Robin: Her name's "Empress".
Superboy: Wha...? How'd you figure that one out?
Robin: It was through a series of clues and observations, with a few inferences thrown in for good measure. Oh, and there was also that... (points to the word "Empress" burned into the ground)
Film - Live Action
- Used in Miss Congeniality 2.
Joel: And, may I say, I also recently went through a breakup.Gracie: I didn't go through a breakup.Joel: Puffy eyes, no sleep, irritable. And some of the other agents told me about it.
- The Naked Gun 2 1/2 has the lab break down the fibres, prints, DNA and dirt particles of the footprint and start to take a geological breakdown of the city. When the detective says they don't have that much time, they mention that the criminal also dropped his wallet by the curb and they may be able to use that as well. They have a habit of this, in the third movie they break down the origin and composition of the paper in a letter to find out who sent it and when that fails they mention that the letterhead says "Statesville Prison" on it.
- Parodied in Bullshot. Bullshot Crummond does a Sherlock Scan on a blade of grass and works out the kidnapping that's just occurred. One of his companions than points out the getaway vehicle left abandoned in the ditch nearby.
- Parodied in Van Helsing.
Van Helsing: Whatever it is, it appears to be human. I'd say he's a size 17. Around 360 pounds. 8.5 to 9 feet tall. He has a bad gimp in his right leg and three copper teeth.Anna Valerious: How do you know he has copper teeth?Van Helsing: Because he's standing right behind you.
- In Quidditch Through the Ages, the fictional author describes the discovery of round metal balls believed to be bludgers, and not cannonballs, based on very subtle indents made by beaters' bats, the perfect symmetry only achievable by magic, and the fact that the balls started flying around trying to hit the discoverer when removed from their case.
- The Martian: Mark identifies a type of battery by a set of "subtle clues", the last of which is the label printed on it.
- In Thud!, the Lemony Narrator describes the architectural features that tell a visitor they've entered Ankh-Morpork's dwarf district, before adding that all the short people with beards and axes is a bit of a clue as well.
Live Action TV
- Parodied on the 1960s spy spoof Get Smart, where Max would begin to list a series of utterly nonsensical clues to the solution of an obvious mystery, and 99 would supply the smoking gun...which Max would then hastily claim was the last clue in his list.
- The joke is done in the movie Get Smart Again, but with Max listing off actual clues before providing the smoking gun himself.
- In the season 2 Community episode "Paradigms of Human Memory" (the non-recycling clip show), Abed deduces that Britta and Jeff are sleeping together from several subtle indications, and lastly: Abed saw them getting dressed together in a dormitory.
- In "The Great Game", the third episode of Sherlock, Holmes deduces that Molly's new boyfriend Jim is gay because of vague traces of make-up, subtle hints in his clothing, and slipping Sherlock his phone number. Jim helpfully provides the Smoking Gun so that Sherlock will miss the fact that his last name is Moriarty.
- Surprisingly infrequent in Castle, where a complex series of deductions and circumstantial speculations lead to the killer. Since the police require proof beyond reasonable doubt, a last-minute smoking gun (or, sometimes, a cleverly extracted confession) is produced that seals the deal. But typically, solving the mystery points to an unexpected suspect or provides the clues necessary to establish probable cause so the police can get the evidence.
- In "A Deadly Game", Castle and Beckett get the victim's lover, a Long Island housewife, to confess that she was having an affair. However, while a dramatic scene, the confession is unnecessary: they already have both the murder weapon and physical evidence putting the killer at the scene of the crime.
- In "A Chill Runs Through Her Veins", Castle and Beckett identify the killer based on a chance conversation with a witness. They don't have any physical evidence or witnesses, so to close the case the authors nicely have the killer volunteer a hypothetical confession so the viewer can feel satisfied that C&B have their man.
- In "Famous Last Words", Castle must unravel the meaning of the lyrics for victim's final hit single to solve the murder. Only then can he and Beckett confront the killer and clear the name of the innocent suspect. Except... the key physical evidence was texts sent on the innocent suspect's phone, which were far more explicit about what actually happened than the song, and which the police were already going through. This evidence on its own identified and proved who the killer was, so the business with the song was only important because Castle and Beckett hadn't read the texts yet.
- Castle even mentions "It's a good thing we subpoenaed your phone records when I had this crazy lyric idea," even though the lyrics had nothing to do with getting the phone records in the first place. It was mentioned that they were coming before he started combing through lyrics.
- Dollhouse had a light, comical version. When Caroline first meets Bennett in college, she guessed Bennett is a neuroscience major. Bennett is shocked she guessed that so easily and asks how she figured it out. Caroline says it's because Bennett is eating a tuna sandwich, and fish is brain food.... and also because Bennett is carrying a large stack of neuroscience textbooks.
- Used in the "Veep" season 2 episode "The Vic Allen Dinner":
Sue: You think I had a job interview?Dan: I know you had a job interview.Sue: How, Sherlock?Dan: Simple makeup, higher neckline. Flats don't go with that dress, which means you probably have heels in your bag. Coffee from corner bakery implying you were at one of the lobbying shops on 18th.Mike: I love this stuff.Dan: That and somebody called your extension to make sure you had the right address.
- Barney Miller played with this trope in one episode where Dietrich was investigating someone sending threatening letters to the Mayor of New York:
Barney: So what do we have?
Dietrich: So far...similar paper stock, the ink's the same...same return address.
Barney: Why didn't you tell me that first?
Dietrich: Dramatic effect.
Barney: He left his wallet in one of the bags!
- In another episode, Harris had caught a serial killer who was leaving bodies in garbage bags. He tells Barney how exhilarating it was following the clues, and "getting into the killer's mind."
Harris: Yeah, but I had to reach in and get it.
- There's a short The Two Ronnies sketch in which Ronnie Barker plays a detective. He is given a pound note and proclaims that it's a counterfeit. When asked how he knew, he gives a series of very subtle clues that only someone with a trained eye would have been able to spot (like the letters being just a fraction of an inch lower than they should be, or the shading getting dark too fast)... then turns it over and points out that it says "Bank of Toyland" on the back.
- In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, Adventurer Archaeologist Beckett manages to pinpoint the local headquarters of a secret society of vampire hunters by examining the hue and texture of a pinch of beach sand, the distinct yet subtle aroma of a whiff of incense ...and the testimony of a vampire hunter dangled over a balcony by his ankle.
- Used in The Simpsons episode "Homer the Vigilante":
Abe: He was right under my nose the whole time. He lives in my retirement home. His name is Malloy.Lisa: Wow! How'd you track him down, Grampa?Abe: Good question! On one of my frequent trips to the ground, I noticed Malloy wore sneakers...for sneaking. My next clue came yesterday at the museum. We felt slighted by your age-bashing, and started home. Malloy said, "I'll catch up with you." [Malloy throws a grappling hook at the museum roof and starts climbing] I couldn't quite put my finger on it. There was something strange about the way he walked -- much more vertical than usual. And finally, Malloy, unlike most retired people, has the world's largest cubic zirconia on his coffee table.
- The South Park episode "Not Without My Anus" opens with Terrance on trial for the murder of a Dr O'Dwyer. The prosecutor, Scott, provides as evidence a piece of Terrance's shirt, the hammer used in the murder, and a haiku Terrance penned:
Dr O'DwyerTime to have your head smashed inwith my new hammer.
- Despite this evidence, Terrance walks, because of Phillip's statement that he "likes puppies and hates mean things".
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Mikey asks Donatello how he knew a Kraang substance was explosive. Donny gives a technobabble explanation about its molecular structure, which goes in one ear and out the other, before concluding by pointing to a Danger: Explosive sign on it.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Rarity Investigates", Rarity accuses Wind Rider of framing Rainbow Dash based mostly on circumstantial evidence. Rarity admits later that she didn't have much of a case until she revealed the Smoking Gun, which was a stain linking him to a Delicious Distraction.
- In the "Take My Life Please" episode of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, after June relinquishes her title to Ashley:
Cletus: June! We got big trouble!Gus: A Racatan is barbecuing his way through the trolls' tree farm!June: Ah, Ashley will take care of it.Cletus:: A fifth level incubus is about to release a demon from an interdimensional portal!June: Oh, that will take a week, she'll get to it. It's not a problem.Gus: And then there's the fuster troll.June: Okay, okay, now you guys are just acting girlie. All they do is eat dandelions.Cletus: Ashley fed it a cookie.June: SHE FED IT A COOKIE?! You can't feed fuster trolls human food, or they -Gus: - grow thirty feet tall and everything they touch turns to stone?June: Uh! You guys could have mentioned that first!!
- From the Grand Finale of Codename: Kids Next Door; the organization is taking part in a global scavenger hunt, and Numbuh One is being interviewed by a pair of rather snarky kid-reporters:
First Reporter: Numbuh One, your team is in dead last. You've been spanked by Spankulot, yelled at by Numbuh 362, and embarrassed by her little brother.Numbuh One (annoyed): Is there a question in there?First Reporter: Indeed there is. The world is dying to know, will you go to Numbuh 363's funeral?Numbuh One: Wha, what do you mean?Second Reporter: Oh, haven't you heard? Numbuh 363 is going after the item worth the most points ever!
- In El Goonish Shive, Susan figures out that the girl they saw in an earlier comic was actually a transformed Elliot by only two clues, a wrinkled shirt (and the fact the girl from earlier was wearing boy's clothes) and the fact the Elliot came from the auditorium from the same direction the girl went in. He's a bit shocked.
- The Order of the Stick
- Used in this strip when Tarquin explains the reasons why he is sure Nale is still present in the palace: because Nale is a cautious planner and thus wouldn't leave the city without replacements for the men he lost, because Nale has a massive ego and thus wouldn't leave until he knew what Elan and Tarquin had to say about his stunt...and because Tarquin is wearing a ring of True Seeing and thus can see the invisible Nale standing right next to them. Cue massive Oh, Crap!.
- This is one of the few examples not just played for laughs. It's easily inferred that Tarquin was using this time while talking, and feeding Nale's need to hear more about himself, to position himself to make a grab at Nale without Nale having an opportunity to run away. In other words he was intentionally stalling with the earlier comments while moving into position. And perhaps also giving Nale a bit of a lecture on his egotism — it wouldn't be at all out of character for Tarquin to be doing two things at once.
- An early Leftover Soup page has Jamie deducing Ellen is a Tauren World of Warcraft player.
- There is a quite famous anecdote about Doctor Joseph Bell who was supposedly the real life inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. When presented with a patient in front of his students he asked them to use deduction for finding the patients problem. When nobody found out he explained the process thus: use clues to make an assumption (red nose and pimples that would suggest alcoholism) and then support that theory with hard evidence (whereas he pointed at a bottle of brandy in the patients pocket)