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Genius Bonus
E=MC Hammer not good enough for you? Twilight Sparkle does time dilation.

"And here we go, another reference no one gets but you. Consider your audience once in a while, huh?"
Daru, Steins;Gate

A joke or tidbit meant for people knowledgeable in a certain field. The rest of the audience doesn't get it, but it's usually subtle enough for them not to care. This is the non-age-related counterpart to Parental Bonus.

Genius Bonuses are most often seen in series with a Direct Debmographic, especially New Media, as they can expect their audiences to be sufficiently focused that most of them will recognize an in-joke.

If this goes too far, it falls into Viewers Are Geniuses, so it has to be applied carefully. If it seems to be a byproduct of necessary research into the story, setting or plot, then the author is showing their work. Understanding one of these may lead to Fridge Brilliance.

Whenever a series of Zeroes and Ones or two-digit hex codes are shown, chances are they'll spell out something when translated to ASCII.

A Super Trope to Lampshaded the Obscure Reference.

Can overlap with Reference Overdosed.

Contrast with Small Reference Pools.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • Billy Bat is chock full of references to American, animation and film culture and history. So are 20th Century Boys and Master Keaton. Perhaps historical references is Urasawa Naoki's Author Appeal.
  • The opening of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya depicts positronium, Lambda baryons, benzene ring, cyclohexanes, infinite number, Titius-Bode law, Planck's constant, Drake equation, time-dependent Schrödinger equation, Hubble's law, infinite product, definition of information entropy, large numbers, stationary Schrödinger equation, the theory of relativity, probability axioms, definition of Laplace operator, the wave equation in one space dimension, and small numbers. In case you haven't noticed, the author likes math.
    • The Second Season (kind of...) continues this tradition, with Millennium Prize Problems, photons, quarks, electrons, tau neutrinos, gluons, M-theory, supersymmetric GUT, Tsuchinoko, and oddly enough some Nietzsche (Gott ist tot, ha-ah).
    • The books are even worse. In addition to the advanced mathematics and science references mentioned above, Kyon's narrative contains allusions to obscure science fiction novels, classical mythology, medieval Japanese history, and other highly esoteric topics. Also doubles as making him come across as, contrarily enough, a Book Dumb First-Person Smartass.
    • The later novels and the incredibly complicated Time Travel plot take the advanced mathematics from "Extra Credit" to "Required Courses".
    • In the Deep-Immersion Gaming episode, Kyon makes reference to the philosopher Lacan when musing about being special because he's a completely normal person who's been able to cope with some pretty odd things.
    • Aside from the confusingly vast amount of scientific and mathemathic references, there are also a few philosophical and mythological ones. In the earlier parts Kyon compares his life to Sisyphus' task in such a way that evokes Albert Camus.
    • In later novels, we see Sasaki, who talk about quantum physics with Kyon in middle schools.
    • In The Day of Sagittarius, Nagato is seen to be wielding syntactically correct C Language and Windows command line arguments. note 
    • Nagato Yuki's alien incantations are shown in the anime as seemingly random high-speed gibberish. In the first light novel during her confrontation with Asakura Ryoko it's SQL code.
      • And if you slow down the corresponding clip from the anime and play it in reverse, it is, in fact, SQL code (although, between the audio quality and the voice actor's accent, it's just barely identifiable as such).
  • Hunter × Hunter often contains very minor and obscure details that can actually completely change the perception one has of a character of event if one does get the reference. The most notable case is a dialog scene in issue 10, chapter 84, between Feitan and Shalnark, where an attentive reader will notice that Feitan is reading a book from Trevor Brown, a Real Life, underground illustrator who specialized in such family friendly subjects as bondage, rape, torture, dismemberment, and pedophilia, all of this with a voluntarily uncanny style of drawing (his characters often look like puppets). So not only Feitan is a Psycho for Hire who completely lacks any kind of patience and uses torture on a regular basis, but he is also apparently a sick and sadistic pervert.
  • There are some Genius Bonuses in Neon Genesis Evangelion, like Central Dogma coming from biology, or the Pribnow Box where the Simulation Bodies are kept coming from a sequence of base pairs in a section of DNA.
    • Numerous other scientific, philosophical, mythological, psychological and even political allusions, shout-outs to works of film, music and literature, and of course, obscure religious references that may or may not possess a deep symbolic meaning.
    • But the really obscure parts of Evangelion? The ones drawn on from real life. It's the one and only topic there hasn't been a flame war-igniting argument over, at least in English. Which is weird considering it involves the only Japanese animator most of us can name.
  • In the Kingdom Hearts manga adaptation of Chain of Memories, the female Nobody Larxene is seen in a library reading a book about the infamous French writer Marquis De Sade, the namesake of sadism, which is clearly related to her sadistic nature.
  • Lucky Star likes to hang lampshades on this trope, mainly in regards to otaku culture, which most of the characters don't get, but the minority understand all too well (* cough* Konata * cough* ).
  • Fullmetal Alchemist uses a large amount of alchemic symbolism with decent accuracy, for anyone who has ever studied that period of Western history in which alchemy was a legitimate form of science/mysticism. Accurate symbols for aspects of each element, the 'elements' known at the time (Edward in particular refers to Saltpetre and Ammonia in his list of the elements making up a human, compounds which were thought to be elements at the time) the 12 processes of alchemy, and various alchemic artworks. In particular, each alchemist's Gate of Truth has a different piece of real-life alchemic art on it, which can be related to aspects of their personality.
    • Large portions of random English seen in various books in the first anime are copypasted from third edition Dungeons & Dragons books (or online reviews of the same). The selection is completely meaningless, however, so its appropriateness to this trope is debatable.
    • Another surprising thing is OST in Russian. There is a song performed by boys chorus in a second episode of first FMA series which has meaningful text and perfect language.
    • Also, a joke for those who know Chinese - Ran Fan enjoys using explosives. "ran fang" is Chinese for "to light/set off (as firecrackers)"
    • One combined with a Woolseyism: The English term for Xingese Alchemy is Alkahestry, which is named for a substance called the Alkahest, that was supposedly discovered by Paracelsus. Paracelsus' real name was Von Hohenheim, and in the series, Von Hohenheim is the inventor of Alkhahestry.
  • Black Lagoon includes loads of these. To name a few, several European/Asian dialects are used (from Russian to Romanian), quite a few old movie references are made ("This looks like a remake of the movie "The Last Command") as well as several obscure gun comments ("I mean he's Jewish, right? Of course he'd have an Israeli-made gun!"). References to various philosophers and their view on consequence ethics, like Kierkegaard and Sartre, are made by several of the characters.
  • When Minatsu teaches math in Seitokai no Ichizon, a proof of Euler's identity can be seen on the whiteboard behind her.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima! has tons of these in the Omake in the collected volumes; one needs a decent understanding of physics to understand the explanations of how the spells function. There are also a number of visual Shout Outs to famous architecture, such as the bell tower at Mahora being the bell tower on the Florence Cathedral, and the background of this page contains the Suleymaniye Mosque. It's strikingly realistic when compared to the actual landscape.
    • Not to mention that the spell incantations actually make a lot of sense if one has a familiarity with ancient Greek, Latin, and Greco-Roman Mythology.
    • Chisame's Deep Immersion Magical Hacker Battle in the Festival Arc displays realistic hacking techniques... visualized in bizarre ways (a SYN flood as a giant swarm of tuna fish, for example). When she incants "spells", she's actually reciting iptable syntax.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX features references to alchemy, tarot cards, and various other subjects.
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei ladles these on thick, primarily in the form of random scribbles on the ever-changing blackboard. Topics range from writer/illustrator Edward Gorey to philosophy to prominent (and obscure) works of Japanese and English literature. Even character names are not exempt ("Kafuka", anyone?).
  • On the surface, the concept of Strike Witches is just a shallow excuse for underage Fanservice, with storytelling chock full of moe cliches. And yet it's littered with references to WWII events, figures, and especially technology down the the obscure, unimplemented aircraft designs. Basically, it inverts Getting Crap Past the Radar.
  • In Toward the Terra, when the first Mu baby is born by sexual reproduction, the mother is given a wreath of pea flowers. Gregor Mendel discovered heritability and genetics of sexual reproduction through his experiments with pollinating pea plants.
  • Poor Eureka Seven. Since the show is a massive sea of pop culture references with Fauxlosophic Narration, its surprisingly well-applied Buddhist elements are written off as equally shallow Faux Symbolism.
  • In Anime/Xam'dLostMemories, at the the climatic moment of she show (Nakiami reversing the Hiruken emperor's zone of darkness), the animation is a visual depiction of the solution to a (until it was solved) long standing topology problem: how to turn a sphere inside out without making any cusps, tears, or holes. A video of this can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_w4HYXuo9M.
  • Surprisingly, Princess Tutu is rife with these. Naturally they're all ballet references, but it's still saying something when the translators compiled a list of notable references several pages long and it's likely they missed quite a few.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena has the student council's speech in the elevator. It sounds like it's just some wordy nonsense, but it's actually a shout out to Herman Hesse's novel, Demian. The rest of the show benefits tremendously from knowledge of fairy tale tropes.
  • Fun game: try to recognize all of the Real Life people/events/spacecraft shown in the Planetes opening.
  • With Tears to Tiara, barring the obvious Arthur, Morgan, and Gaius, a lot of names and characters harken back to Welsh Mythology like Arawn, Rhiannon, Epona, Annwn, Pwyll, etc. Especially clever is the Sword in the Stone being named 'Durnwyn' rather than the generic Excalibur.
    • Myrddin is more of an Expy of Greek Titan Prometheus and has nothing in common with his Welsh namesake. The villains feel like a Gnostic Demiurge committee, being tasked by an aloof deity to create the world but failing at making it `perfect`... and not happy about it
    • Taliesin is named after a poet who supposedly lived during the time of King Arthur and wrote a bunch of poems about him.
  • Akagi is about a guy who plays mahjong, anyone can watch and enjoy it even if they haven't the slightest clue of how to play mahjong, however the autor manages to make the games realistic and the point of view changes from time to time so at one round you can see the main character's tiles and next round you can only see his oponent's tiles, this obviously means nothing if you know nothing about mahjong and can be easily ignored, however if you learn to play mahjong even to the most basic level it instantly becomes way better because you understand what's going on, and you can finally understand why is Washizu in love with his 1-pin.
  • Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is both the title of a story, and the incantation that Vamdemon uses to open the gate from the Digital World (where everything is made of computer data) to the Real world. One of the main themes of the story is that ideas (or data) ultimately manifest themselves in the physical world.
  • Heartcatch Precure is filled with stuff about flowers and just about every episode has Tsubomi (sometimes the other girls pitch in) talking about what their Heart Flower means in The Language of Flowers.
  • Asobi ni Iku yo! has quite a few references to obscure artistic films only a handful of film students and hardcore film enthusiasts will know.
  • Viewers of Puella Magi Madoka Magica with a knowledge of physics will be amused when they realize that Kyubey is Maxwell's demon. There's also the scene of Madoka's ascension to godhood and her wish being granted. Upon firing straight up to the sky, the pattern that forms for a split second is a map of the trail particles took in a particle accelerator.
  • A character in Problem Children are Coming from Another World, aren't they? is confident about the accuracy of a certain prophecy because it was made by the source of all prophecies: the Demon of Laplace.
  • Berserk has one of these in Meaningful Name form. Cute Witch Schierke may just have a random Germanic sounding name. Nope. Schierke is a mountain village in Germany right next to the Brocken - the mountain of witches.
  • The beginning of Galilei Donna shows workers harvesting methane hydrates, a real potential future energy source that Japan plans to begin mining a few years after the show's air date.
  • Code Geass usually gets its chess horrendously wrong. The first episode demonstrates this with the line "If a king doesn't lead, how can he expect his subordinates to follow?" Good leadership; terrible chess. Usually. But in the game featured in the first episode, the fastest win is in fact with the king, which forces mate in three more moves.

    Comedy 

    Comic Books 
  • Brazilian comic book Monica's Gang has Chauvinist as a character's pet pig name
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore. Just try to catch all the references in it to Victorian literature, politics, and events.
  • Moore's V for Vendetta. Nearly every other sentence V utters is a quote from some famous writer. Lampshaded near the end.
  • Although the Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison can be enjoyed as a psychological horror story with drool-worthy art, readers with a knowledge of Jungian psychology and symbolism (or who own a copy of the fifteenth anniversary edition with Morrison's annotated script) will get much more out of it.
  • As a Fantasy Kitchen Sink series, Finder is overflowing with obscure and unusual references. The author wisely chooses to weave most of them into the background and leave the most complex and unwieldy connections in the (substantial) footnotes.
  • Body Bags. The city where all the action takes place is Terminus, Georgia. A little research reveals that Terminus was the original name of the city of Atlanta. By this the reader can assume that Terminus is just Future Atlanta.
  • In Knight & Squire #3, Britain is under threat from the Bad Kings of England, superpowered clones of the originals. Each of them attempts to conquer a different area of the country; Edward I takes the north, and his superpower is a massive energy-mallet. If you know the real Edward was called the Hammer of the Scots...
  • De cape et de crocs pretty much runs on this trope, and still manages to avoid Viewers Are Geniuses.
  • You sure have to have read a lot to catch all the mythological and literary references in The Sandman. Just to throw in a few:
    • World's End has many parallels with The Decameron.
    • William Shakespeare plays a significant secondary role during the whole series. Bonus points if you are familiar with the relevance of The Tempest in Shakespearean studies.
    • Lucifer quotes Satan from Paradise Lost and immediately claims having borrowed the quote from Milton.
    • There are characters a-plenty from different traditions: Morpheus, Orpheus, Calliope (Greek Mythology); Odin, Loki (Norse Mythology); God, Lucifer, Azazel (Christianity); Ra, Bastet (Egyptian mythology); the Three (found in multiple traditions as the embodiment of femininity); and many, many more.
    • Why and how does abusing a woman named Calliope make you a bestseller author? If you're familiar with the concept of Muses you will get it: not everyone is, nowadays.
    • The Fair Folk sent to parlay with Morpheus in Season of Mists say that they want an end to the tithe they've been paying to Hell. If you're familiar with the 400-year-old Child Ballad "Tam Lin", this will make perfect sense. If not, well...
  • An Italian Donald Duck comic story had Daisy Duck and her friends eating madeleine cookies. One of the friends remarked "The memories they awaken..." If you're a fan of Marcel Proust, a writer most adults consider too "heavy" to read, you recognize this reference to classic, deep French literature. In a children's comic. Never let it be said that the Walt Disney company underestimate the smarts of their readers.
  • In the first issue of Seven Soldiers: The Shining Knight, all the stuff about King Arthur plundering the realm of the Sheeda with three ships, and only seven men returning, but they did get the Cauldron of Rebirth out of it? Straight from the less-well-known Arthurian epic The Spoils of Annwn, supposedly by Taliesin. "Revolving Castle" is one of many possible translations of the Welsh Caer Sidi; others being "Castle of the Mound" and "Castle of the Zodiac".

     Fan Works 
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged has a few examples, usually spouted by Gohan (to which Piccolo retorts "neeeeerrrddd"). But one of the more subtle ones was Piccolo's "Damn you, Pavlov" moment, which was followed by an interrupted explanation of who Pavlov was.
    • The Namekians all speak in Klingon as well.
  • Among the topics discussed/mentioned in one episode of Calvin & Hobbes: The Series include squat lobsters that perform chemosynthesis, as well as acromegaly.
    • Then there's "SouthWest Pacific", which is about Calvin performing in a school play. What does the title mean, then? Well, during World War II there was an area entitled South West Pacific, where many important things happened. The wartime definition for this? A theater.
  • Subverted in You Got HaruhiRolled!. It includes a parody of Eliezer Yudkowsky's "AI in a Box" thought experiment, with Kuyou as the AI and Kyon's sister as the gatekeeper, but the narration right out tells the readers of the experiment beforehand.
  • In The Powers Of Harmony, much of the backstory mythology is tied into a group called the Order of the Zodiac, whose members had the names of the Zodiac constellations. Bearing that in mind, also take into account Ophiuchus (an Energy Being whose existence is crucial to the plot) and Cetus (the Big Bad) — Ophiuchus and Cetus are also the names of constellations (the Snake and the Whale, respectfully) considered in some circles to be the unofficial thirteenth and fourteenth Zodiac symbols.
  • The Original Character Trent's name is this from the Resident Evil novelizations. There are a number of placeholder names in Cryptography for archetypal characters. Alice and Bob are communicators, Eve is an eavesdropper, Mallory is a malicious hacker, and Trent is a neutral third party who's role whose exact role varies from protocol to protocol.
  • Bait and Switch has a bit character named S'bek, a Gorn who is the skipper of an independent freighter. The author mentions in the author's notes on deviantART that the name is a play on Sobek, an ancient Egyptian river god depicted with the head of a crocodile.
  • In Jeconais' Harry Potter fanfic Happily Ever After, a knowledge of psychology will let the reader suspect the main plot twist well ahead of its reveal in-story. No reputable or competent psychologist would give a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder for a six-year-old child. The diagnostic criteria specifically requires that the patient be at least 18 years of age to be diagnosed, as several of the possible symptoms are not atypical behavior for small children and are only alarming if they persist unchanged through adolescence and into adulthood. Of course, Gabrielle's psychologist is actually the Big Bad and misleading her parents for his own Svengali-esque agenda, which is exactly why he did it.

    Film 
  • As is Takashi Miike film Sukiyaki Western Django. It helps if you have full understanding on Medieval Japanese history, history of Wars of the Roses, Western movies and Shakespeare Henry VI
  • The Amazing Bobinsky from Coraline wears a Liquidator's Medal on his chest, which was given to the clean-up crew of the Chernobyl Disaster. This turns his baldness and odd color scheme from a funny quirk to a Dark and Troubled Past, when you think about it.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
    • In the first movie, during the attack on Port Royal, two of Jack's former crew visit him in the stockade (they originally thought it was the armory). After one of them taunts Jack about his "fortunes", Jack replies "Worry about your own fortunes, gentlemen. The deepest circle of Hell is reserved for betrayers and mutineers." To the general audience, this seems like a standard retort. For those familiar with classical poetry however, this is a reference to Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, which indeed depicts Hell's ninth and final circle as reserved for traitors (such as Mordred and Judas Iscariot).
    • In the second movie, Jack shows the crew of the Black Pearl a scroll with an image of the key that will become a major plot point. A pirate exclaims "A key?" in puzzlement and is told that it is not a key, but a drawing of a key, which seems to be a reference to this painting by Magritte.
    • When Barbossa tells the story about how he lost his leg in the fourth movie, he paraphrases the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley ("I am the master of my fate ... I am the captain of my ship ..."). Henley wrote the poem in response to losing his leg to tuberculosis and his maimed-yet-powerful figure was one of his friend Robert Louis Stevenson's inspirations for Long John Silver.
    • In the third film, when characters on both fleets' flagships remark that the wind is with them, anyone with sailing and/or meteorological expertise could probably guess that Calypso had something worse in mind than just departing in a huff....
    • Anyone who has ever read Lovecraft knows what Davy Jones' beard was based on.
  • Mighty Aphrodite is much funnier if the viewer is familiar with classical Greek dramas.
  • Muppets Most Wanted has several references to films and the film-making process, such as Gone with the Wind and The Godfather III, but the greatest reference is when the Muppets are suggesting film plots, The Swedish Chef turns up playing chess with death; a reference that would go over the head of anyone without a degree in Film Studies or an expert on obscure Swedish cinema.
  • Real Genius is chock full of these (not surprising given the decidedly highbrow nature of the film). One of the best though would be this scene:
    Mitch: What are you doing?
    Chris Knight: Self-realization. I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, "... I drank what?"
  • Sideways
    • The lousy vineyard in wine country is called Frass Vineyards. "Frass" is bug poop.
    • features an incredibly subtle ironic joke in its last few minutes: The hero finally opens his prized possession of a classic vintage of wine which experts will know is made from merlot and cabernet franc grapes, both of which he had disparaged earlier in the film.
  • The scene in the Master and Commander movie in which Jack describes Lord Nelson as "A man of singular vision."
  • In Kill Bill, the Bride questions how long she'll have to train with Pai Mei. Bill responds "That's the title of my favorite soul song from the '70s," without elaborating further. If one pays attention to the dialogue at all, they would note that the exact words she uses are "when will I see you again?" Which means that the song referred to is most definitely... When Will I See You Again.
  • Toward the end of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the "sonic transducer" probably gets more laughs from those who recognize the phrase as meaning "speaker or microphone."
  • In The Dark Knight, part of the plot requires Batman to use an experimental form of sonar to track the Joker's location. Whilst often criticised as being a sci-fi concept jammed into a movie which had not used much of that, it contains two little notes that the informed will appreciate: (a) bats track movement and location through using a form of sonar; and (b) the sonar device make the eyes in Batman's cowl glow white with energy. In the comics, Batman's eyes are never seen when he is wearing the cowl - they merely appear as two white slits.
  • The film Malice features an ornate ballerina statue that Bill Pulman's wife (played by Nicole Kidman) supposedly made for him, but he finds another one in her mother's house. She tells him that you can buy those statues in any store. Of course, if you already knew that the statue was a replica of "Little Dancer at Fourteen Years" by Edgar Degas, you wouldn't have been surprised by the twist...
  • Shakespeare in Love
    • Basically, the whole movie isn't half as funny if the viewer isn't familiar with Romeo and Juliet. Knowing the other works of Will doesn't hurt either.
    • An early scene featured Will listening, horrified, to a young boy who's a huge fan of all the gorier elements in his work (he specifically praises Titus Andronicus, which was so horrifying that scholars used to believe that it couldn't have been Shakespeare's). While funny on its own, it's even funnier if you know the Historical In-Joke - this is a young John Webster, who will grow up to write even more violent tragedies himself.
    • Also, when Shakespeare is asked his name by an enemy and he blurts out "Christopher Marlowe!" Although Marlowe appears in the film and this becomes a plot point (as Shakespeare thinks this led to his death), at first it looks like a Historical In-Joke about how some scholars believe Shakespeare's plays were written by Marlowe.
    • And another scene, when Viola asks Will, "Are you the author of the plays of William Shakespeare?" is probably also a reference to those same conspiracy theories.
    • Another example from close to the start of the movie: when Shakespeare is practising his signature and tossing all of them into the bin is a huge joke if you know that there are very very few examples of the Great Bard's signature to be found in the wild, AND no two of them are spelled the same way.
  • Almost all of Theatre of Blood is way funnier if you've read the Shakespeare plays that are the core of the story (hack actor who did a list of Shakespeare plays is killing off his critics via deaths from the plays).
  • Many a snarky historical comment was made in Gangs of New York, especially when a character, Boss Tweed, can be heard making a comment about his plans for the Tweed Courthouse being both "modest" and "economical," which, as history buffs will know, is completely untrue.
  • There are some Fan Bonuses in The Lord of the Rings:
    • In The Return of the King, at the Gray Havens, Bilbo is wearing the outfit that Tolkien was most commonly photographed in during his old age.
    • The lines "riddles in the dark" and "shortcut to mushrooms" are both taken from chapter titles in The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring.
    • Don't forget "A long expected party," a line from Gandalf and the title of the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, itself a reference to the first chapter of the Hobbit, "An Unexpected Party."
  • Evan Almighty
    • When God shows up in the back of Evan's car and scares the pants off him, God replies "Let it out, son. It's the beginning of wisdom." Proverbs 1:7 states "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom".
    • In another example from the same film when God tells Evan his mission Evan replies with "But I have plans!" which makes God laugh. This is reference to an old Jewish proverb that "When Man plans, God Laughs".
  • One from Young Frankenstein: a book is found by Doctor Frankenstein entitled How I Did It. In Mary Shelley's original novel, the method of monster-creation is never described and Victor Frankenstein specifically says that he will never reveal how it's done. The "lightning" method dates from the film version in 1931, although this reflects early-19th century ideas contemporary with the book that electricity might be the "vital force" causing life.
  • In Spaceballs, immediately after the order is given to prepare Spaceball One "for metamorphosis", we get the line "Ready, Kafka?" This is a reference to Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. In the DVD commentary, Mel Brooks admits to being ashamed of that joke.
  • In the original The Producers, Max Bialystock looks through a pile of scripts for the worst one and reads the first line from one of them: "Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover that he was transformed into a giant cockroach. (beat) Nah, it's too good."
  • Blazing Saddles:
    • Hedley and Taggart consider plans to terrorize the town of Rock Ridge.
    Taggart: I got it! I know how we can run everyone out of Rock Ridge.
    Hedley Lamarr: How?
    Taggart: We'll kill the first born male child in every household!
    Hedley Lamarr: [after some consideration] Too Jewish.
  • Tampopo is a very funny movie in its own right, but it becomes drop dead hilarious once you've seen a couple of westerns.
  • Watchmen: the inscription on the pedestal "Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!!" just after the Diabolus ex Machina Ending Reveal. Even if you heard of the poem and assume it is a mere Shout-Out, bonus points only come from remembering how the poem ends. Basically, it's a Take That implying no tyrant's rule ever lasts.
  • The film version of The Paper Chase has a fair number for lawyers/law students—the cases discussed are real and some are recognizable even from shots a few seconds long. One of the more obscure references comes when Hart looks up Professor Kingsfield's notes from when he was a student. The camera shows that Professor Kingsfield took Contracts from Professor Williston—who really did teach Contracts at Harvard in the early part of the 20th century and is one of the most important Contracts scholars, and whose treatise will be familiar to many law students.
  • Hairspray, amazingly enough, has a Genius Bonus, and even more surprisingly it's a very subtle one. It comes in the scene where the main characters visit the beatniks' apartment. One of the residents is playing the bongo drums and reciting some poetry, when he glances at the African-American character and suddenly stops. If you recognize that he is reciting the 1950s classic poem Howl then you'll realize why he stops so suddenly: he was about to get to the line about "dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix."
  • The source code running on the background of the camera in Until The End Of The World looks like feasible matrix functions to process graphics data, like the ones a real camera would use.
  • Southland Tales includes a number of references to literature. It's seeping with quotes from Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot. A more oblique and obscure reference comes when a cop (played by Jon Lovitz) mutters "Flow my tears," in one scene. You would have to be a fan of Sci-Fi author Philip K. Dick to realize it's a reference to his novel Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.
  • If you're familiar with Minnesota, Juno has many great jokes others won't get. One great example is when Juno and Paulie get the bickering lab partners, of which the guy says "You've been like this ever since I got back from my brother's in Mankato, I already told you nothing happened." Mankato is a college town with a reputation for STDs and riots and disruptive behavior by drunks.
  • Easy A: The various movies that Olive sees throughout the films are adaptations of The Scarlet Letter, including a German one. The film is a modernized retelling of that story.
  • TRON: Legacy has many bonuses for unix users. And one for Go players.
  • Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, surprisingly enough, has a William Shakespeare reference. The characters Rosenberg and Goldstein are a based on Hamlet's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
  • Sunshine Cleaning, set and filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, uses an old yellow brick building as a location for several scenes. Viewers familiar with Albuquerque (or In Plain Sight) could recognize it as the historical Sunshine Building.
  • The Social Network included a scene rife with hacker-sounding jargon and cool techno-like music playing in the background as the Mark Zuckerberg character "hacked" the Harvard University computer network to gather photographs of as many students as possible. The informed viewer will notice that all the jargon in this "hacking" scene is actually completely accurate, and quite feasible if you were to understand what it meant and try it yourself in real life (but only in that one scene, and on computer systems of that era). The screenplay writers say they adapted to the film an actual interview with Zuckerberg on how he created the website that was depicted in that scene in the movie.
  • In one of the funniest scenes of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, Gil tells a young Luis Buńuel he has an idea for a movie about a group of rich upper class bourgeoisie who go to a dinner party at a mansion and find themselves unable to leave as they slowly turn into the very animals that they're dining on. Gil quickly exits as Buńuel repeatedly and fruitlessly asks what is keeping the group from leaving the room. It would take about 40 years for him to finally get it. Actually, Midnight in Paris basically runs on this trope since getting at least half the jokes depends on if you know who the characters are.
  • Unsurprisingly, the Iron Man movies get a few. In Iron Man, the Vanity Fair reporter at the beginning of the film refers to Tony being nicknamed "The Merchant of Death." That's actually the phrase used in the obituary for Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, which was accidentally published before his actual death, and was what inspired Nobel to use his fortune to create the Nobel prizes for people, so as to try and make the world better. Similar to what happens to Tony during the events of the movie.
  • In Iron Man 2
    • Howard Stark's notebook shows him discovering the Stark effect.
    • During Hammer's description of "the Ex-Wife" he mentions it has a "cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine RDX burst". That's the same term being said twice, one's the chemical name, the other's the initialism. In other words, Hammer is simply reciting the spec sheet, and doesn't have a clue how it's supposed to work. Quite a subtle way to foreshadow that the weapon isn't all it's hyped to be.
    • During that same scene, Hammer says that if the "Ex-Wife" were any smarter, it would write a book that made Ulysses look like it was written in crayon. Ulysses actually was written in crayon: James Joyce's eyesight was failing, so he used crayons and large sheets of paper to make it easier for him to write.
    • In one of the notebooks from his father Tony looks through, a drawing of a hypercube, also known as a "tesseract", can be seen, foreshadowing Howard's work with the Tesseract after the events of Captain America and that the arc reactor is based on his studies of it.
  • There was a fight to keep a line in Diamonds Are Forever: when Bond is asked by Felix Leiter where the diamonds are hidden in a dead body coming into the country (the stomach), he replies "alimentary, my dear Leiter." Cubby thought it far too esoteric, but it got a couple hearty laughs from some doctors during a preview, and stayed in.
  • Inception
    • The architect of the team is "Ariadne". The architect designs the mazes of the dream world. Any Greek mythology buff will clue in the reference to the Princess Ariadne who helped Theseus find his way out of the labyrinth.
    • Additionally, "Cobb" is an old English word meaning "spider" (hence "cobweb"). Christopher Nolan had previously named a twisty villain Cobb in his first film, Following.
    • And "Eames" is also the surname of Charles and Ray, a pair of famous graphic designers and architects; pretty much every major character in the movie was named for a very specific reason or reference.
    • The characters' names create the acronym : D R E A M S.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter had occasion in the past to be around patients in insane asylums. In that era, most depression would have been treated with MAO inhibitors, which have a terrible reaction if the patient eats foods containing tyramine. Thus, access to foods containing tyramine would have been strictly forbidden to any patients in the asylum who were on MAO inhibitors. Now, name three foods that contain tyramine.... Liver, fava beans, and chianti.
  • The schlocky DTV slasher film .Com for Murder includes a surprising number of references to The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
  • Serenity has a very subtle one: the planet where the government used mind-control drugs to make the public complacent is called Miranda. Miranda is the character in The Tempest whose famous line inspired the title of the novel Brave New World, in which the government uses mind-control drugs to make the public complacent. In addition, the drug used to sedate the population is called "Pax", Latin for "peace"... or "serenity".
  • In This Is 40, a music journalist for a Jewish magazine asks a musician, "What makes this album different from all other albums?" This is a reference to one of the traditional Four Questions of a Passover seder: "What makes this night different from all other nights?" It's pretty much an inside joke for the Jews in the audience.
  • Gladiator has a couple for history buffs.
    • Before the battle with the Germanic tribes at the beginning of the movie, Quintus' remark that "a people should know when they're conquered," is very ironic to anyone who knows that Rome never ultimately DID manage to completely conquer Germania.
    • When he first meets him in the arena (before realizing who he is), Commodus tells Maximus that his nephew "insists you are Hector reborn...or was it Hercules?" The real-life Commodus believed HE was the reincarnation of Hercules.
  • The 2012 film The Raven ends with a hint that its Poe-obsessed psychopath intends to stalk and murder Jules Verne next. This provides bonus chills for viewers familiar with Verne's life, as he actually was (non-fatally) shot by a madman at one point.
  • Pacific Rim: To understand all the entries on the web page for the Jaeger blueprints you need to be able to understand English, French, Latin American Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Japanese. The last three use their native writing systems.
  • In Pitch Black, Riddick-o-vision is in anaglyph 3d. Go get those red/blue 3d glasses. It's simply purple and blurred at the edges in all the other installments of the franchise, though.
  • Here Comes The Boom includes a lot of references and inside jokes regarding Mixed Martial Arts. For example, Chael Sonnen plays a fighter who gets submitted and immediately protests, "I didn't tap! I was just playing!" This is a reference to Sonnen's infamous stoppage loss to Paulo Filho in which he denied tapping. The final fight with Dietrich also references quite a few famous MMA bouts, which Joe Rogan helpfully name-checks.
  • Pan's Labyrinth is made up of nearly 100% folklore that has been adapted to the film's setting and re-arranged almost vignette style within a framework story based on even more folklore. Almost every event and even the little superstitions shown in the film can be traced back to existing lore from multiple countries.
  • In Doom Dr Carmack mentions the name of his research : Project Olduvai . Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world and has been instrumental in furthering the understanding of early human evolution.
  • The training sequence in Kung Fu Panda is a useful tool for illustrating the concept of subconscious learning.
    aqulia2sax: The analogy with language acquisition is this: The language center is a thinking part of the brain, that is located in the subconscious, its thinking processes hidden away from conscious awareness. Thus, it bears some resemblance to Kungfu Panda's budding kungfu skills, which lurked beneath his awareness.

    Literature 
  • A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh has many jokes that will go straight over your average five-year-old's head.
  • The works of Neal Stephenson can be read and enjoyed without advanced knowledge of computer science, meme theory, classical and ancient mythology, international finance, particle physics or the geopolitical dynamics or history; however, readers who are familiar with those topics have a massive head start when it comes to figuring out what the hell is going on.
  • In Julian Comstock, while Adam is assisting a doctor with amputations during the Goose Bay campaign, a soldier who is posing as a priest uses parts of a Walt Whitman poem as an impromptu prayer for the wounded. During the American Civil War, Whitman volunteered as an army nurse and did much to publicize the experiences of medical personnel and wounded.
  • The Michael Crichton novel Sphere involves a cryptogram. A plot point is that a character deliberately errs in solving it, changing its meaning by changing one letter. The deception is not revealed until much later in the novel, but if the reader solves the cryptogram himself, he discovers it right away.
  • The Discworld series is plenty accessible, and damn funny even if you're not a genius, but there are hundreds of subtle jokes and references in the books that are easy to miss if you're not well versed in a number of subjects. The Terry Pratchett L-Space wiki has compiled annotations and references.
  • Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man features a code key of various business phrases in its first chapter. There are so many listed that readers will likely just skip over them. However, if you actually apply the key to the messages sent and received in the chapter, you'll see that the message a character claims is a rejection of a merger request is actually an approval of the merger. This becomes very important toward the end of the book.
  • House of Leaves is stuffed with references both to entirely fictitious and real works, mixing them up for maximum confusion. Astute readers, however, will start noticing the references to Jorge Luis Borges, author of "The House of Asterion" and "The Library of Babel"... including a multiple-paragraph quote from Pierre Menard: Author of the Quixote.
    • The novel also contains numerous references to philosophers like Derrida and Heidegger, who are known for their theories on language and textuality. Heidegger specifically is known for his notion of 'Unheimlichkeit', meaning both creepy (uncanny) and unhomely. Also, and according to him, "language is the house of Being."
  • There's comparatively easy Pynchon, and then there's stupefyingly intimidating Door Stopper Pynchon. The former would include The Crying of Lot 49, his "Whatever happened to the 1960s?" novel Vineland, a few short stories like "The Secret Integration" and his recent book, Inherent Vice. These offer a healthy dose of Genius Bonuses, while V, Gravity's Rainbow, Mason & Dixon and Against the Day head over into Viewers Are Geniuses territory.
  • A lot of jokes and references in John Hodgman's Complete World Knowledge series will fly over readers' heads unless they have enough historical, geological, or pop cultural knowledge to understand why they're funny.
  • Neil Gaiman's American Gods is, not surprisingly, rife with references to religions around the world, so much so that the forums on his official website are filled with guessing games as to the identities of many of the more obscure ones. Anyone who knows the origins of the English days of the week will know who Mr. Wednesday as soon as he's introduced Wednesday is named for Woden, a Germanic name for the Norse god Odin. He even drops a big hint when he mentions that today is his day (meaning that Shadow is meeting him on a Wednesday), but because of the stormy weather, it might as well be Thursday. Thursday is named for Thor, Odin's son and the Thunder god.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold tosses an easter egg for classicists in her SF novel The Warrior's Apprentice by piling Pelian on Oseran.
  • T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land contains so many obscure references to different works that it makes the reader wonder if they are reading a poem with footnotes or footnotes with a poem.
  • Kim Newman's Anno Dracula is filled with a massive cast of historical figures, 19th century fictional characters, and more recent vampire horror characters, all swanning around in a London where Dracula survived and married Queen Victoria. You pretty much need an encyclopedia to catch all the historical references and literary in-jokes.
  • The Artemis Fowl books have some fun wordplay, the notable example being in Eternity Code.
    • Try saying the names of the rival telecommunications companies out loud. They are "Phonetix" (think three syllables) and "Fission Chips" (perhaps less erudite, but still amusing).
    • Doctor F. Roy Dean Schlippe anyobody?
    • All of his pseudonyms. Emmesey Squire probably knows quite a lot about Einstein. Dr. C. Nial DeMencha is mentioned to be a psychologist. Sir E. Brum is named after part of the brain. The Other Wiki lists them all in his article/profile.
  • The Dalziel and Pascoe series of novels has any number of literary references that erudite readers can pick up on.
  • Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files:
    • Ghost Story: It starts on May 9th, which was the first day of the Roman festival of Lemuralia, which was when people would banish the Lemures, vengeful angry ghosts.
    • Cold Days: People familiar with their mythology will recognize the names Harry uses for Mother Winter as one of the Fates and one of the Norns. The revelation that Santa is an aspect of Odin will also make a lot more sense to a reader who knows about the history of the mythological figures involved.
    • Attempted, but failed, in Fool Moon. When talking about a type of super-werewolf called the loup-garou, Bob mentions that the last one was seen in Gevaudan and killed a lot of people very quickly. It's meant to be a reference to the Beast of Gévaudan, but every single detail involved is wrong, from the number of attacks to the number of deaths to the resilience of the Beast to the time the attacks took place to the duration of the attacks to etc. It's a borderline Critical Research Failure.
  • Dr. Seuss indulged in these now and again. One particular example is when a character is charged with having "a flugelhorn ge-busted." Flugelhorns are real instruments, even if the word does sound like a Seuss invention.
    • Better yet, the Flugelhorn is a German instrument with a German name. Adding "ge-" to the beginning of (some) verbs in the past tense is a feature of the German language.
  • In Brian Clevinger's Nuklear Age, Dr. Genius mentions that her company does testing on various animals to make sure that they aren't just using humans for slave labor. However, they're having trouble with cats, as they can't seem to prove that they're actually in the testing box.
  • Surprisingly, Harry Potter is far more meaningful to those who have a working knowledge of Latin, are well-versed in European mythology, or happen to be religious scholars.
  • Letters Back to Ancient China has many details about Munich, where the story is set.
  • Isaac Asimov wanted to call his short story "Flies" (in which a manufacturer of flyspray is worshiped by flies as a vengeful god) "King Lear Act IV, scene i, lines 36-37", but his editor said no-one would get the reference. (It's the "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods..." line.)
  • The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel has some. Machiavelli's passwords are the best examples, being titles of his lesser-known works. In Italian, so it doubles as a Bilingual Bonus.
  • The Lord of the Rings contains several major shout outs to Macbeth, all taken from Act IV, Scene i, when the Witches tell Macbeth their prophecies of his death. First of all, the phrase "Crack of Doom" was coined by Shakespeare in this scene. And, bordering on Take That, the Ents' besiegement of Isengard and the Witch-King's defeat by Éowyn are references to two of the three prophecies: namely, that it will not happen until "Great Birnam Wood... shall come against him" and that "none of woman born shall harm" him. In Macbeth, the trees do come to the castle when Macduff's army uses their branches as camouflage, and Macbeth is killed by a man who was not born, but removed from his mother's womb. Tolkien thought both Prophecy Twists were huge cop-outs—as such, in Lord of the Rings, when Fangorn Forest comes against Saruman it damn well is the forest doing it, and the Witch-King who no man can kill is slain by a woman, with help from a hobbit. Denethor's Take That to "other places of less royalty" where it takes only a few years for a steward to become king is also directed at the House of Stuart, whom Macbeth was written to flatter.
  • While you don't need to be familiar with ancient/medieval Middle Eastern art and Islamic theology to enjoy My Name Is Red, it doesn't hurt. On the other hand, the neophyte reader gets several college courses worth of information on the subjects, wrapped up in a fascinating set of narratives.
  • Lovely Assistant by Geoph Essex. The few Angels of Death whose names we learn (besides Jenny) are Caravel, Ketch, Curach, Pauzok, and Voitas. If you know boats or the right languages, the shout out to The Ferryman guiding the dead to the afterlife is a fun bonus.
  • Geoph Essex does this again in Jackrabbit Messiah:
    • If you know the etymology behind the name of Chicago, then the description of the city mentioned by a more knowledgeable character (actually Ketch from Lovely Assistant!) earlier in the book makes perfect sense. The place inside the Prince/Princess of Chicago's head is subtly described to full of wild onions, there's some play with metaphors of certain people having "layers within layers", and there's the less subtle pun in the name of the place where the heroes first find the Prince of Chicago.
    • And readers who understand the Hindi word Indra uses to refer to Caleb O'Connor (right after meeting him) have a little head start on Caleb's backstory, assuming Indra isn't just insulting Caleb like he does everyone else. He's not. The word ties up a Meaningful Name triple play, too, if you also know how both Caleb's first and last names are derived - it's very unlikely that Essex didn't do that deliberately.
  • The main character of the obscure children's book Sleepers, Wake by Paul Samuel Jacobs states that his favorite organ piece is Bach's Sleepers, Wake, an alternate name of the chorale prelude Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645). Obviously, the intended audience of the book would not know what Jacobs is talking about. Even most parents wouldn't know about the piece because of how obscure Bach's chorale preludes are to the general public.
  • The Genius Bonuses are practically nonstop in Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales. Valente was a medievalist scholar, and a little research into monsters and mythology of the medieval period will reveal how many creatures she borrowed from pre-existing stories. Like African cyclops that are at war with griffins, dog-headed men, people with one giant foot, goldfish that can turn into dragons if they swim over a waterfall (Japanese myth, along with polite kappas and fox-women), even huldras. Yes, one-third girl, one-third cow, one-third tree? Authentic Germanic myth!
    • The "eaten" people of Marrow might be a reference to The Faerie Queene. Marrow was cursed for its gluttony, and all of its people devoured by a hunger-spirit. Once they have been eaten, the people stop looking human and instead grow long necks and fat bellies. This happens to sound a lot like the description of the incarnation of Gluttony according to Spenser.
  • Simona Ahrnstedt has put a lot of research into her historical love novels. Överenskommelser has a mention of the royal wedding, that really took place in Sweden in 1881, and also name-drops celebrities like Claude Monet, Charles Darwin and Henrik Ibsen. Betvingade features three real historical personages: King Magnus, Queen Blanche and Saint Birgitta. De skandalösa name-drops Niccoló Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei and features king Carl XI.
  • Two alien races in The Osmerian Conflict the titular Osmerians and the Silicians are primarily made of Osmium and Silicon respectively. Their physical appearance and chemical make up reflect this and are used as defining traits.

    Live Action TV 
  • Frasier is as much a master of this trope as Ada Lovelace was a master of mathematics.
    • That's Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace to you!
    • According to the producers, sitcoms generally run on "the 70% joke", where 70% of the TV-watching audience will get the joke and laugh, while Frasier often had "the 20% joke". It didn't seem to hurt them, though.
    • Sort of parodied when Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce guest-starred on The Simpsons:
      Cecil: But I suppose I should thank you. After all, it led me to my true calling.
      Bob: Cecil, no civilization in history has ever considered "chief hydrological engineer" a calling.
      Cecil: *clears throat meaningfully*
      Bob: Yes, yes, the Cappadocians. Fine.
      • Cappadocia was one of the only civilizations in Western history small enough to exist entirely within an arid region as it was too elevated for rivers to run through it.
      Cecil: I have the '82 Chateau Latour and a rather indifferent Rausan-Segle.
      Bob: I've been in prison, Cecil. I'll be happy just as long it doesn't taste like orange drink fermented under a radiator.
      Cecil: That would be the Latour, then.
      • Chateau Rausan-Segle was not a successful winery until it was taken over by winemakers from Chateau Latour.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus included many of these. In the words of Trey Parker, "They'll do that joke that they know only 20% of the audience is gonna get, so you know that 80% is not gonna be with you, but you know that 20% is gonna follow you to the grave."
  • The West Wing:
    • In one episode, Toby tells the president, "Your favorite movie was on last night." They then spend a few minutes (mis)quoting and discussing it, and Toby eventually applies An Aesop from the movie to their current situation. But neither of them ever actually says the name of the movie. (It's The Lion in Winter.)
    • In another episode, Bartlet learns that his daughter Ellie, who seemed to be manipulating him by appearing to express confidence in him, was simply, honestly, expressing confidence in him. He just says, "My God, King Lear is a good play" (in that play, the daughter Lear thinks is the least loyal is the most).
    • The West Wing is simply crammed with this. The sheer number of subtle puns and jokes that would take a rather high level of knowledge about American history and politics to understand makes watching any given episode five times funnier for a political wonk than for a regular viewer. And the genius bonuses aren't limited to history and politics - there's a lot of literary, religious, scientific, sports-related, and pop-culture references slipped into the dialogue as well.
      • Leo goes on a long rant comparing Pro-Wrestling to politics (Which happens a few times) and concludes with: "But at the end of the day you don't vote for them." To which Josh replies: "Except for in Minnesota."
  • In a much less genius of a bonus, over the course of several episodes NewsRadio had a running gag concerning every time a character goes to a movie theater, the same terrible movie is playing, though its name is never mentioned. Astute viewers will pick up that the crappy movie is John Travolta's Michael.
  • LOST contains constant references to philosophy, religion, literature, and science. Is the casual viewer really expected to understand the significance of someone named John Locke, or their using the alias Jeremy Bentham? Plus, the plot became increasingly complicated as the show has gone on, with innumerable callbacks to previous episodes, making it extremely hard for new viewers to understand what is going on.
    • When Hurley wonders what could be inside the hatch. Locke responds that he believes hope is inside, referencing Pandora's Box.
    • Another episode had John Locke asking Desmond David Hume how he knew something. Answer: "Experience."
  • The Doctor Who story Dragonfire had a sequence in which the Doctor distracts a guard by discussing semiotics with him. The real joke... the dialogue came verbatim from a semiotics text examining Doctor Who. Particularly impressive for a story which came out way back in 1987, before such post-modern humor appeared everywhere.
    • The real real joke: Apparently, the Doctor's line is semiotics-jargon for something like "The less relevant an in-joke is to the story, the greater its cultural significance".
  • The episode "QPid" of Star Trek: The Next Generation is a lot funnier to anyone who's seen The Adventures of Robin Hood, as it's basically a Whole Plot Reference, down to several shots and some of the background music cues. It also makes Vash's complete inversion of the Marian character all the more hilarious.
    • NextGen is rife with references to Japanese anime (the Nausicaans, the USS Yamato, etc.).
  • A lot of Blackadder. For instance, when Edmund tells the newly-solvent Prince Regent to "take out the plans for the beach house at Brighton" he's referring to the Royal Pavilion, which was indeed paid for and occupied by the Regent.
    • In the same episode, Blackadder, explaining why purchasing a "tuppenny ha'penny" tract of land will cost a thousand pounds, lists a string of spurious expenses, including "window tax". While it seems to fit in with the other expenses, like "swamp insurance", the window tax was a real thing in Georgian Britain; an attempt at progressive taxation on the basis that rich people had bigger houses, and therefore more windows. (Which is why in some parts of Britain you can still see historic houses with bricked-up windows.)
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000. Annotations circle the Internet... You have to have a wide knowledge of a lot of things to get many of the jokes on the show, a lot like The Simpsons.
    • Other references can be chalked up to over-obscuring the comedy, forcing the viewer to laugh not because they get the joke but that it's so random there's no way it can't be funny. A backstage motto of the writers was "The right people will get it."
      • The right people could occasionally just be the writers though. One of the robots quipping "There goes Mike's keyboard!" was absolutely meaningless to everyone who was unaware that Mike's ex-girlfriend had taken his keyboard with her when she moved out the previous week.
    • The episode featuring The Rebel Set nicely worked in an obscure reference that was still funny if you didn't know the source: As the camera pans past a man in a suit with slicked back hair playing a vibraphone, Crow quips "...And looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler on vibes". This is a direct quote from The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band's "The Intro And The Outro", but if you've never even heard of that group, it's just funny because of the actor's vague resemblance to Hitler.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The station's head of security is named Michael Garibaldi. The most famous real-life Garibaldi is probably Giuseppe Garibaldi, a major figure in the struggle for Italian unification and independence. Giuseppe's followers were dubbed Redshirts.
    • Ironically, Sheridan is probably the real Garibaldi expy: Crazy Awesome general specialized in coming Back from the Brink and who wins battles even when his side has already lost the war? Check, Check and re-Check. Plus the events described in Severed Dreams resemble a lot the events of the siege of Montevideo.
  • The Seinfeld episode "The Betrayal" is based on Harold Pinter's Betrayal and is far funnier if you've seen the play first.
    • In one episode Elaine's boyfriend takes Jerry's parents to the art museum and his father spends the rest of the episode obsessing about how Claude Monet must have been nearsighted to paint waterlilies like that. This parallels the Jewish scholar Max Nordau's theory of Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), the belief that the oddities of 20th Century modern art reflected various disorders on the part of the artists, such as impressionism being symptomatic of a diseased visual cortex. This idea was famously (and somewhat ironically, considering Nordau's background) co-opted by the Nazis as justification for their censorship of the art world.
  • The Big Bang Theory. Oh... where do we even start?
    • How about with Cylon toast? To the general public, funny because Sheldon is making toast with scifi characters on it. To nerds, funnier because Cylons are often called toasters.
    • Also, the equations on the whiteboard are always real and recognisable to physicists. They have a physics professor helping them out.
    • In fact, the equations on the boards change throughout each season in a logical manner as the characters work on and solve the problems depicted.
    • Sheldon comparing himself to Richard Feynman becomes a complete joke if you read up on the man. Feynman was endlessly sociable; life of many parties, he loved the company of women and was somewhat of a The Casanova. He was married three times and had several children. He was an artist and musician. Most importantly, he had great respect for all branches of science. He insisted that divisions between sciences are only for convenience and no one is better or more important than any other. Now compare all that to Sheldon.
  • 30 Rock had an episode which parodied Amadeus.
    • They also centered a storyline around a birthday party thrown for a Hapsburg. If you knew who the Habsburgs were, there's a chance you could know where things were going at the start of the episode when the name Hapsburg is first mentioned, but either way, the Habsburg in question is so ridiculously inbred to cause everyone to laugh on sight.
    • At one point, Liz went out to a club and was questioned on it. She responded "I'm saying yes! to life."
    • Cerie showed up to a Halloween party dressed in a bikini. When asked what her costume was, she replied "I'm an Italian senator!"
  • An episode of Supernatural: Sam and Dean meet an author who has been inexplicably writing sci-fi novels about characters named "Sam and Dean" whose monster-fighting adventures are exact retellings of their own story. When confronted, the author has a moment of realization when he admits that his still-unfinished new novel is kind of inspired by Kurt Vonnegut. Dean asks "Slaughterhouse-Five Vonnegut or Cat's Cradle Vonnegut?" and he replies "Kilgore Trout Vonnegut." The references are not elaborated upon, it's just assumed that the viewers understand what that means. Doubles as a Hidden Depths moment for Dean, since that kind of question would generally be in Sam's arena.
  • In The Office (US) episode "Trivia," Robert California, while discussing the various unpleasantries of living in Florida, remarks, "Alligators are dinosaurs, Dwight. You know that, right?" Dwight makes a pained face and replies, "Mmm... it's complicated."
  • The IT Crowd is so chock full of real technology in-jokes and references that people who work in IT would go Squee in recognition at almost every scene.
    • The decor of their basement office was a clutter of old computers, classic videogame posters and other nerdy reference, with the occasional ThinkGeek t-shirt.
  • Glee: In an episode introducing two show choirs, one of them was from a ghetto school that had a member named Aphasia, while the other was from a deaf school. Heh.
  • It's not excessively intelligent, but one brilliant visual joke in the "Manny's First Day" episode of Black Books depends on the viewer recognizing a physical similarity to Beethoven.
  • When he learns that a possible "recruit" was a dance teacher when Mitchell knew her, Being Human's William Herrick offers a wonderfully subtle Shout-Out to Emma Goldman:
    "Come the revolution, we'll all need to know how to dance."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: While sneaking into the Initiative during the fourth season, the Scooby Gang are surrounded by enemy soldiers. Buffy quickly grabs their leader as a hostage with a crossbow to his head:
    Buffy: "Stay back, or I'll pull a William Burroughs on your leader here."
    Xander: "You'll bore him to death with free prose?"
    Buffy: "Was I the only one awake in English class that day?"
    • The exchange is funny even if you know nothing about William S. Burroughs, a famous author from the 50's who's probably best known for writing the book Naked Lunch. However, Buffy's original threat only makes sense if you know that William Burroughs drunkenly shot his own wife to death.
    • In "Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered" there's an example that's either this or Critical Reasearch Failure on the writers' part. Amy casts her love spell by invoking "Diana, goddess of love and the hunt". Anyone who's savvy on their Roman mythology knows the spell is going to backfire because Diana was NOT the goddess of love, Venus was. It's probably why the spell had the opposite effect and enchanted every woman except the intended target (Cordelia).
    • While to the vast majority of the show's audience the Greek letters Willow writes on Tara's Back in "Restless" will be undecipherable, the inscription is an invocation to Aphrodite, which is responded to by the goddess's promise to make whoever the poet desires love her back in return "if she does not love, soon she shall love - even unwilling". The particular verse has special meaning for the pair - Sappho and Aphrodite as representative of their being lesbian and witches respectively, but also on another level because Willow in the future will indeed use magic to sustain her love with Tara
    • The human/demon cyborg hybrid created by the Initiative named Adam, one could be forgiven for thinking the name is refrence to the first man in the bible given that the human/demon cyborg hybrid was meant to be the first of it's kind, until you start to research another story with a creature created from bits and peices of dead people by a mad scientist playing god and realise that said creature was also named Adam (or at least refers to himself as Adam when speaking to Victor Frankenstein as an allusion to the Adam of the bible)
  • Dollhouse. Oh, so many... The biggest (and most obvious) is the name of the Dollhouse's parent corporation: Rossum, which comes from Karel Capek's play R.U.R.. The basic premise of the play is very similar to that of the Dollhouse- a company that produces humanoid slaves.
    • "The Target" features a psychopathic (and possibly cannibalistic) hunter calling himself "Richard Connell". Richard Connell wrote a short story called The Most Dangerous Game, in which the protagonist is hunted by a psychopath, as sport, and winds up killing him in a plot deliberately echoed by the episode.
    • Wondered why the D.C. House uses Active codes from Greco-Roman mythology? Thank Bennett Halverson. The cabinet in her office contains a small statue of Romulus and Remus, suckled by a wolf.
  • In the Jim Hensons The Storyteller episode "The Soldier And Death", the soldier plays cards against a troupe of devils in an abandoned castle. The game they play isn't specified, but based on the fact they're using three cards in a hand it appears to be three-card brag (a predecessor of modern-day poker) that would fit in with the medieval setting of the show.
  • When one thinks about it, anything in Sesame Street could be considered this. Don't forget what kind of show it is, and what its purpose is. For example, during a promo with Entertainment Weekly, Grover and Cookie Monster manage to work in a reference to stage door Johnnies of all things- a term which would probably be a GRANDparental bonus for modern kids. (They also manage to rhyme dystopia and cookie-copia.)
  • The Vampire Diaries has one that most in the target audience will probably get: During an emotional scene between Damon and Elena, there's some piano music playing in the background. This could simply be because there's a funeral going on, or it could be background music. Someone who knows the song, however, may remember the lyrics.
    You tore me to pieces...You tore me to pieces...
    • And in a sort of combination of this trope and Funny Background Event, the Salvatores' house is full of famous paintings that a viewer with both keen eyesight and a knowledge of art will spot. This includes a Manet that shows up in almost every living room scene.
    • Similarly the paintings in Klaus's bedroom are reproductions of actual paintings that have been stolen from various museums throughout the years.
  • In Sliders, Quinn's cat was always named Schroedinger. Interestingly, in different Alternate Universes the cat was visibly different.
    • But always alive, so...y'know...that answers that.
  • A number of signoffs for Bill Nye the Science Guy, while relevant to the episode's topic, are much more advanced in that field than the target demographic has likely studied.
    "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some strike-slip-shear modulae to compute. See ya!
  • During one episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun Dick comments that Easter Island was a practical joke that got out of hand. Many listeners will simply associate this joke with the massive stone heads and laugh, but a person who has read about the ecological and societal collapse resulting from overuse of natural resources due to moai construction will understand the "got out of hand" differently.
  • Hilariously done by the Mythbusters editors in a combination with Censored for Comedy. Adam tests out a curse-proof tool in the "No Pain, No Gain" episode. If you know Morse Code, the beeps spell out HELLO.
  • Criminal Minds
    • The two-parter "The Fisher King" has the team trying to find a kidnapped girl. We're shown her locked in a basement bedroom, coughing hard and apparently ill, having been taken some time ago by a kidnapper who acts as though he cares for her. At this point viewers who've read John Fowles' The Collector may have spotted that this plot is somewhat familiar; and then the clues the kidnapper sent to the FBI turn out to be centred around... John Fowles' The Collector. It's never mentioned in the episode what the novel's about.note 
    • The fifth season episode Slave of Duty refers not only to the action of the episode but is also an alternate title for Pirates of Penzance, which is referenced a few times in that episode and a couple of first season episodes. The high school production of the play was when Hotch met Haley (who got murdered in the previous episode).
    • The UnSub in "I Love You, Tommy Brown" defends her relationship with a teenage boy who was a student of hers by arguing that Henry VIII's first wife was twenty years older than himnote , and that Romeo and Juliet were teenagers as well. Now that might sound all very intelligent and cultured, but think about how both those relationships turned out...
  • Stargate SG-1 features a cat called Schrodinger. That is, until said alien mentioned that yes, they know about that superstition and disproved it a while back. Cue Carter becoming very surprised at how such a basic theorem of physics can be false (note that Schrödinger's original point was how ridiculous the Copenhagen interpretation could be). The most amusing part is that it took only three episodes for humans to reach a high enough level of understanding about the universe to be able prove that "superstition" false on their own. This is because the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is only one possible way of understanding the weirdness that happens on the quantum level of reality. One of the other possible ways? The many-worlds interpretation. Visit a parallel universe, and you prove the Copenhagen interpretation (and the concept of Schrödinger's cat) incorrect. And a parallel universe is visited exactly three episodes later.
  • Stargate Atlantis introduces a character named Janus in an episode featuring time travel into the distant past and stasis. In myth Janus was The God Of Memory And Sleep; seems more than a little suitble to me.
    • Knowledge of myth, history, physics, and millitary strategy, while rarely unexplained, can occassionally make moments in Stargate more fun.
  • Lexx might be extremely perverted, but it also has some very obscure jokes. One is the Higgs Boson apparently can't be measured without causing a planet to implode into a stranglet. Another involves a big crunch and the corresponding theory for the effect on time it has.
  • Max Headroom, a show ripe with social commentary, features a trailer for the wacky show "Lumpy's Proletariat". Aimed at the lower classes, no less.
  • On The Wire, Brother Mouzone is a Cultured Badass who tasks his assistant with collecting his issues of Harper's while researching hits. The Bonus is that the actor and character are a dead ringer for the original composite sketch of the man who allegedly murdered Notorious BIG.
  • Sometimes on JAG, the meaning of military acronyms are at times never explained to the viewers, and upon even rarer occasion are references made to federal case law without explaining in detail what that case means to the viewers.
  • Better Off Ted loves working this into background gags. For example, Rose, Ted's daughter and moral compass, attends Eugene Debs Elementary.
  • In Community, an evil German man says, "I wish there were a word to describe the pleasure I feel in seeing misfortune!" In fact, the German word "schadenfreude" has this exact definition. It's sometimes used as a loanword in English.
  • The final episode of Firefly has a tense game of cat-and-mouse between the crew of Serenity and the incredibly creepy bounty hunter Jubal Early. It's a testament to the strength of the writing that the episode is compelling to those without a degree in philosophy; as the dialogue contains so many references to existentialist thought, it's borderline-impenetrable to the average viewer.
  • In the Warehouse 13 episode "Secret Santa", Claudia offhandedly asks how many piano tuners there could be in the Philadelphia area. This is a reference to the archetypical example of a Fermi problem, a form of estimation based on multiplying estimates to obtain a close approximation of an otherwise incomputible answer. The classic Fermi problem is 'How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?'.

    Music 
  • They Might Be Giants features a variety of songs about semi-obscure characters such as James Ensor and James K. Polk.
    • And four key figures from Mesopotamian history (one of whom is probably fictional, but still...).
      • Another one from the Mesopotamians: "Hey, man, I thought that you were dead, I thought you crashed your car." "No, man, I've been right here this whole time playing bass guitar." Only people who know their Beatles trivia will get this one.
    • Another example is the song "She Thinks She's Edith Head," which references Edith Head and Helen Gurley Brown, both "cultural figures we don't know a lot about."
    • "No One Knows My Plan" has a verse referring to "the allegory of the people in the cave by the Greek guy".
  • Bastille not only references the myth of Icarus, but more impressively, crafts an entire song alluding to The Rime of The Ancient Mariner.
  • The Smiths developed a reputation of using quotes from various literary works (particularly Shelagh Delaney's plays and other "kitchen sink"-era works) for their lyrics that would fly over the average listener until someone else points them out. This led to the band being accused of plagiarism and "Cemetry Gates" being written in response.
  • The Manic Street Preachers often reference obscure historical figures and artistic works. For example, historical dictators Miklós Horthy and Jozef Tiso in "Of Walking Abortion".
  • Pet Shop Boys songs regularly reference various European (especially Russian - Neil Tennant is a fan) history and culture, for example in "Jack the Lad," "Don Juan," "My October Symphony," etc.
    • One of their more famous songs, "West End Girls", includes the line "from Lake Geneva to the Finland station". This refers to the railroad route Lenin took when returning from his exile in Switzerland to Russia near the end of first World War.
  • Mr. Bungle's songs, specifically those on their album California, are chock-full of esoteric name drops. The track "None Of Them Knew They Were Robots" alone is a six minute long wall of doctrinal and scientific references.
  • Frank Zappa. Not only do his lyrics contain many obscure references, but the music itself is often quite complex, featuring odd time signatures and "quotes" from other songs. Ironically, he's most famous for his fairly straightforward comedy-rock songs.
  • Bob Dylan, once he stopped being a protest singer, pretty much referenced everything from Shakespeare to pop culture in his songs
  • Bands like Augie March, Okkervil River and The Decemberists often get lumped into "lit pop" because of their insane number of literary references - like Decemberists songs featuring exact quotes from William Blake.
  • John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats has written songs about everything from HP Lovecraft to obscure boxers to minor Greek political events
  • The Hold Steady sound like just another bar band - until you realize they're singing about John Berrymen, Jack Kerouac, and other authors you feel guilty for not having read.
    • Not to mention references to obscure locations, songs, and people, plus the thick internally consistent narrative. Enjoying "First Night" from Boys and Girls in America is almost entirely dependent on having listened to the previous album, Separation Sunday.
    • Furthermore, if you live in and/or are very familiar with the layout of the Twin Cities, it's not at all confusing to hear about Lyndale, 494, or the Grain Belt Bridge.
  • Secret Chiefs 3 (not coincidentally led by Trey Spruance, who was responsible for some of the more esoteric Mr Bungle lyrics) manage to do a lot of this despite primarily playing instrumental music. Their song titles include references to Zoroastrianism, alchemy, the unfinished Philip K. Dick novel The Owl In Daylight, and illuminationist philosophy, and even their name is a reference to a group of occult figures.
  • Jonathan Coulton does a hell of a lot of songs on various nerdy topics, ranging from DNA structure to Evil Supervillains to one on the mathematical Mandelbrot set. Smart listeners will realise that, despite everything else in the song, JoCo is actually singing about the Julia set (something he freely admits).
  • Mikhail Scherbakov. Pretty much Russian Coulton, only Scherbakov's more of a philology nerd. Get ready for references and allusions to Xenophon, Gogol, Tolkien and so on.
  • Tool is very fond of this trope. For instance, the syllable count to the lyrics and the time signature of "Lateralus" is based upon the Fibonacci Sequence. "Lost Keys (Blame Hoffmann)" is a shout out to the father of LSD. The whole album Ćnima is a reference to both the "Anima" (or the soul) and "Enema" (a cleansing of the bowels by flushing them with liquid). Jungian references abound; "Forty Six & 2" references a theory that human evolution will continue by adding another chromosome pair (46+2 instead of 44+2); and "Lateralus" (again) references a landmark study by Berlin and Kay about the universal pinnings of color naming in its opening lyrics before moving on to Hermetic mysticism.
  • British Sea Power have written songs filled with all manner of obscure references. The Open Season album features a song called Oh Larsen B, for example.
  • There's a song by anNina called "Rothschild Rh-" (the B-side to Higurashi no Koro ni Kai's ending theme, "Object a"). "Rh-" would be an anion of rhodium; not possible. The lyrics are basically about realizing when something's not possible and moving on.
    • It's far more likely to be a reference to the Rhesus-negative blood type.
  • Fugazi lyrics are often in this territory. Then they wrote a song about John Cassavetes.
    Cassavetes: Crush my calm, oh you Cassavetes... That's something from someone / and Gena Rowlands!
  • Composer Peter Schickele has made a career as the musicologist irresponsible enough to "discover" the forgotten works of one P.D.Q Bach, last and least of Johann Sebastian's grandchildren. P.D.Q. Bach's "works" include obvious riffs on well-known classical works, such as the "Short-Tempered Clavier" and the "1712 Overture," as well as less well-known pieces. In addition, he does things like describing one of his sopranos as an "off-coloratura," or specifying tempo for movements as "andante alighieri" or "presto changio." Sometimes you need to be familiar with the original piece being parodied; sometimes you need a cursory knowledge of Italian, German, or Latin.
  • Steely Dan does this from time to time.
  • Half Man Half Biscuit. Everything from obscure biblical references to Leadbelly songs and the history of Blackpool Town Football Club, with a healthy does of Britsih 80's / 90's pop culture thrown in too.
  • Joaquin Sabina is very fond of these. He has songs that are fully comprehensible only by having vast knowledge of Spanish, Mexican and Argentinian culture and history, like "Mas de cien mentiras".
  • The more lyrical rappers tend to reference their own areas of interest in their lines.
    • Kanye West tends to reference movies (which he seems to have a questionable taste in), artwork, fashion, celebrities, other music, and of all things, anime.
    • Jay-Z will reference expensive alcohol, fashion, celebrities and, as of Watch the Throne artwork.
    • Lupe Fiasco - where to begin.
    • Eminem reeferences lots of popular culture, such as movies, celebrities, comic books etc. (the man did a video where he and Dr. Dre were Batman and Robin)
    • Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole both tend to reference (understandably) movies, games, TV shows, music and celebrities that were popular during their teenage years (late 1990s-early 2000s).
    • Lil Wayne slips in words into his lines that he'd know due to being a sports fan, slang that is twisted and played into metaphors and One Liners that rely on word play.
    One life to live, never ask for a mulligan.note 
    • Drake seems to rely on referencing various different movies, TV shows and music - in particular Aaliyah.
    • The Game name-drops everybody, especially his idol, Dr. Dre.
    • Nicki Minaj's name-drops tend to come very much out of left field, and from almost anywhere.
  • As you might have guessed by the content of the song itself, "Weird Al" Yankovic Yankovic's "White & Nerdy" has some. The biggest one is him and Donny Osmond dancing in front of the Schrodinger equation for a hydrogen atom.
    • It has an error, though.
  • Clutch peppers their lyrics heavily with mythological and folklore references that sound cool even when too obscure to be comprehensible.
  • The songs on the Fall Of Troy album Doppleganger are most, if not all, obscure pop culture references that have nothing to do with the music itself. Two are references to House of Leaves ("You Got A Death Wish, Johnny Truant?" and "The Hol[ ]y Tape"), one references Ace Ventura ("Laces, Out Dan"), etc.
  • Queen's "'39" appears to only be about an astronaut traveling on a ship traveling at significant-fraction-of-C speeds, and the effects of time-dilation on him and those he left behind; however, Brian May has stated it has a second, more-personal, meaning: It's about how a musician feels about having to be out touring all the time — coming back a year later to find his kids had grown, the neighborhood had changed, someone he knew is dead, and so on.
  • The Divine Comedy's "Woman of the World" works as a song in its own right, whether or not you know that the title character is Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany's (she's not named, and it isn't made explicit, but it's obvious once you spot it).
  • And Then There Was Silence by Blind Guardian has various lines that are only really meaningful to someone who knows their Greek mythology and/or Homer; for example, "the coin's been placed beneath my tongue".
  • The Rush song "YYZ" begins with Neil tapping a rhythm in Morse code. Specifically, he's tapping the code for "YYZ"note .
  • The Barenaked Ladies song Aluminum describes various properties of the title element, a few of which are somewhat obscure. For example, "but just below where you shine you burn" references the fact that it's used to make thermite and "every time you're here I forget" comes from various medical studies that have shown a possible connection between excessive aluminum exposure and Alzheimer's Disease.
  • Thrice's lyrics are full of literary, religious, philosophical, and historical references. Friedrich Nietzsche, René Descartes, and Aristotle all get name-dropped in various songs, and the works of C.S. Lewis, George Orwell, Thomas Pynchon, and Edgar Allan Poe are all referenced via Literary Allusion Titles (as well as in the lyrics themselves).
    • There's also the The Alchemy Index. It's a Concept Album in which each disc embodies a different alchemical element (fire, water, air, and earth). The Fire tracks are mostly metal and hard rock, Water is electronic and post-rock, Air is a variety of "airy" styles, and Earth is gritty folk. In addition to this, the last track on each disc is a sonnet from the perspective of that disc's element, and the last two lines of each have the same melody. The songs all sound great on their own, but the listener doesn't get the full effect unless he or she hears it all together.
    • "Image of the Invisible" on Vheissu has a morse code intro that spells out the album's title (which is itself a reference to Thomas Pynchon's novel V.).
    • "The Red Death" is mostly based on Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," but the end is also a Shout-Out to Romeo and Juliet. A line in the play reads, "With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls/For stony limits cannot hold love out." The song quotes this line almost verbatim (aside from a couple word swaps to make it fit the song's theme).
  • Most of Sabaton's music is about history, so the more history you know, the more references you'll get from their songs.
  • The Duran Duran song "Last Chance on the Stairway" definitely qualifies. First off, if you're British you should be able to get the gist of what the song is about by looking at the song title and letting it remind you of "l'esprit d'escalier". Secondly, there's a lyric that says that the song's scenario is "just like a scene out of Voltaire/twisting out of sight". Someone who's read Candide, say, might understand what Simon Le Bon was getting at there. As for Simon, knowing that he spent time as a tree surgeon in an Israeli kibbutz will help you understand why the haunting instrumental on the band's debut album was called "Tel Aviv".
  • Pink Floyd: the outer and inner sleeve of the Wish You Were Here album has photographs depicting a man on fire, a scarf blowing in the wind, a diver frozen in mid-plunge into water, and a mannequin on desert sand. You know, references to the classical elements.
  • The Lonely Island: "Lazy Sunday" contains the line "You could call us Aaron Burr from the way we're dropping Hamiltons" in reference to Burr's killing of Alexander Hamilton in a duel. A lot of the jokes in "Ras Trent" rely on the listener having some knowledge about the Rastafari movement, along with terms from its associated dialect, Iyaric. While it's pretty easy to get the overall humor of the narrator being a clueless middle class white college student trying to emulate Rastafarian culture, a lot of the lyrics involve him using references to the movement in a way that makes it clear that he doesn't quite understand it. For instance, the very first two words in the song are "Jah! Rastafarianism!"; Most Rastafari would consider the term "Rastafarianism" offensive and would never use it themselves.
  • Jason Derulo does this with references to Katy Perry, Coldplay and Kanye West in Trumpets. However, he doesn't identify the songs in question...

    Newspaper Comics 
  • FoxTrot author Bill Amend sometimes puts challenging math puzzles in his strips, where only the genius or patient would ever try and solve them. The rest just scratch their heads. Amend also has a real-life degree in physics, so all of the formulas in the series are perfectly accurate.
  • Frazz has one in this strip for climatologists. See Snow Means Cold for details.
  • The Far Side was full of these.
  • Calvin and Hobbes, beginning with the names of the two main characters referencing philosophers John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes.

    Pinball 
  • Invoked as a gameplay mechanic in the AC/DC pinball. During the Album and Tour Multiball modes, scoring a multiball jackpot shows either an album or a tour ticket, in Real Life chronological order. If the player's current song first appeared on that album or was first played live on that tour, the player also gets the Song Jackpot as a bonus. Folks who know their AC/DC history have used this to strategically increase their scores.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Little Egypt's Gratuitous Rap in GLOW is surprisingly well-researched.
    • "Even though I may be little, I'm the answer to the Sphinx's riddle" - technically she's right as she is a human after all.
    • "Here's one wrestler who never fails, there's action behind my seven veils" - the dance of the seven veils performed by Salome for her father King Herod's birthday. As a reward she asked for John the Baptist's head on a platter.
      • The character herself is a Genius Bonus as she is a Hot Gypsy Woman when you consider that Gypsies were mistaken as Egyptians by medieval Europeans.
  • Kane. He's the treacherous brother of The Undertaker, and he's the treacherous brother of Abel. The only difference is Xtreme Kool Letterz.
  • In the mid-2000s, WWE fans were treated to a (Kayfabe) mentally-challenged wrestler named Eugene. Ironically, "Eugene" is from a Greek phrase meaning "well-born" (or, less literally, "genetically superior"), which WWE's Eugene definitely was not.
  • Matt Striker is notorious for these. He seems to have a vast knowledge of professional wrestling history and movesets that could constitute an entire encyclopaedia.

    Radio 
  • BBC Radio 4 quiz show The 3rd Degree. Steve Punt's introductions to the specialist rounds usually incorporate some highly esoteric reference to the subject in question. Although this is Played for Laughs, the references do (usually) make sense... if you're an expert.
  • In Dragnet, the idea was to present police work as realistically as possible. So, the characters used accurate police terminology and codes without providing explanations for the audience. In most cases, listeners caught onto what was being said in context. This was carried over into the TV series.

    Toys 
  • Cabbage Patch Kids is a well known line of dolls that's been around since 1978. However, what some people may not know is that the name is a reference to one of the myths surrounding "where babies come from". One of those myths is that they're "found in the cabbage patch", inspiring the name of the toyline.
  • One of the dolls in the Lala Loopsy line is Patch Treasurechest, a living doll who likes to play at being a pirate. He's said to have been sewn into life on September 19th... but how many grade-school girls are going to recognize that as International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day?

    Theater 
  • In Evita, the musical based on the life of Argentine First Lady Eva Perón, mourners at Eva's state funeral sing a Latin chant based on the real-life Roman Catholic prayer, the Salve Regina. The original prayer references the Biblical Eve, known in Latin as Eva, meaning that the chant can be read as a prayer to Eva Perón herself.
  • At the very end of Urinetown, the Narrator, Officer Lockstock, concludes the tale of the eventual decay and collapse of the town's society when people are allowed to use water without restraint by shouting "Hail Malthus!" This is a reference to a Malthusian Catastrophe, which is exactly what Urinetown illustrates.
  • In Irma Vep, stage directions indicate that the innocent-young-girl character is to play a few bars of "The Last Rose of Summer" on the dulcimer. Although "The Last Rose of Summer" is perfect for this gothicky play, being a sentimental Victorian song that's really pretty morbid, few people in the audience will know the words, even if the tune sounds vaguely familiar to them.
  • In Noises Off, Lloyd the director mentions in the second act that another play he is directing is having many problems, including the actor playing Richard III suffering a back injury. This becomes funnier when you remember that Richard III the character has back problems, too.
  • In Company, Joanne says that smoking is the best, saying that it's "better than Librium". Librium was the precursor to Valium and is a sedative/muscle relaxant/anti-anxiety/anti-convulsant drug, mostly prescribed in the short term to treat anxiety. You know what else it's prescribed for? Acute alcohol withdrawal.

     Theme Parks 
  • The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Walt Disney World features a scene in the queue area where you see skeletons of pirates playing chess. The average person would think nothing of the way its arranged, but apparently, Imagineer Marc Davis set up the pieces specifically so that it would result in a neverending game- justifying why the pirates were playing up to their deaths!

    Video Games 
  • General Pepper from the Star Fox series. Think about it. If you don't get it, here's another clue for you all: in the Star Fox comic in Nintendo Power, Fara asks why Pepper didn't do something. His answer? "I was only a sergeant then..."
    • Ghost Recon: Future Soldier has similar - the Master Sergeant of your squad has the codename "Pepper".
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the last health upgrade is described as the batsuit being soaked in a secret formula. While the description is pretty vague, it sounds very much like a dilatant.
  • In The World Ends with You, the math jokes that Sho Minamimoto makes vary from simple to comparatively advanced.
    • To give a notable example: Level i Flare, which is lightly foreshadowed by the mentioning of imaginary numbers. The "Level x" spells in the Final Fantasy games hit all enemies whose level is divisible by the number placed in x. i is the square root of negative 1, and negative 1 is a square root of 1. In addition, i is the most basic imaginary number, meaning Level i Flare is a powerful attack that will hit more than a Level 1 Flare would.
  • As with Discworld, these jokes are all over the place in Kingdom of Loathing.
    • These include jokes about J. R. R. Tolkien's "Cellar door" idea, and a parody of the rats' song from the novel version of Coraline.
  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's "What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets!" won't be immediately recognizable (if at all) by most gamers unless they know André Malraux.
  • Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness: Episode One has the first robot you meet ask you "01100110 01110101 0110001101101011?" "01100110 01110101 0110001101101011!". 01100110 01110101 0110001101101011 is binary for "Fuck". The robots want to rape you.
  • The opening of Persona 3 is full of philosophy, including a whole paragraph of Descartes that gets flashed on screen for a couple seconds. The PSP remake prefers Nietzsche, and it throws in some complex math too.
    • The Shin Megami Tensei metaseries, which includes the Persona games, is also generally chock full of very obscure mythology references. The tameable/fusable "demons" include Greek and Roman gods, Judeo-Christian angels, both Eastern and Western dragons, Japanese mythological creatures and even Aztec deities.
    • The entire Persona series is rooted in Jungian psychology, mainly the titular personae and the shadows the characters fight regularly. Persona 4 also utilizes some Nietzsche in it's underlying themes as well, both in the stereotypical Nietzsche Wannabe sense and Nietzsche's actual philosophy.
    • In Persona 4, Izanami may come right out of left field when introduced as the ultimate mastermind behind the game's events, unless you know that Izanami is the wife of Izanagi - the Protagonist's initial persona - in Japanese mythology. In fact, the The Very Definitely Final Dungeon is named after the Japanese underworld where Izanagi went to see Izanami after she died.
    • Certain games in the series like to focus on a particular mythology or religion, offering little moments like these to people who know a lot about them. Persona 3 had Greek mythology, Persona 4 had Japanese mythology, and the Digital Devil Saga duology focused on Hindu mythology and Buddhism.
  • Dmitri and Jorge of Backyard Sports throw in a lot of references to computer programming.
  • Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal contains a pair of of planetoids named 'Obani Gemini'. Both planetoids have their own name - one is 'Castor', the other is 'Pollux'. Castor and Pollux are the two main stars of the Gemini constellation.
    • And when The Dragon tries to create an artifical third planetoid, she names it 'Obani Draco', after a huge constellation (the fact that she and the constellation are The Dragon is a coincidence, but brilliantly fridgy).
  • Starsiege: Tribes and its sequel Tribes 2 featured a number of maps with obscure names that would seem meaningless to most people, but brilliant to those who know something about archaeology (Skara Brae), meteorology (Katabatic), history (Masada), metallurgy (Recalescence), et cetera.
  • The Neverhood has a few bizarre jokes that only make sense if you've read The Bible.
    • "Hang me from a tree by my hoop and we can play Absalom!"
    • And then there's that one story in the Hall of Records that parodies Gnosticism...
    • Well, the entire Hall of Records is a parody of the Old Testament.
  • In Team Fortress 2, The Sniper has an apricot air freshener. The "apricot" is a real-world sniper slang for the medulla oblongata, a popular "sweet spot" to aim for. The team has confirmed this was an intentional reference.
    • Likewise only those that play a lot of FPSes are likely to get the fact he drives a camper.
    • In the "Meet the Spy" trailer, one of the many signs on the board at the beginning reads "defenestrated". Defenestration is the act of being thrown out of a window, which actually happens to the Sniper later on.
    • Another example from "Meet the Sniper". The line "be polite, be efficient, have a plan to kill everyone you meet" is a popular quote amongst United States Marine Corps soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • World of Warcraft is so chock full of references to other things that even the smartest player is bound to miss on a few. On the websites that collect data about the game, discussions about new items frequently flare up concerning whether or not the name of an item or an NPC references something or not.
    I can't wait till this quest is done and I can look for another Garibaldi artifact.
  • Everywhere in Touhou, especially in the spellcards and music. By far the most famous is the title of U.N. Owen Was Her?, referencing the Agatha Christie story And Then There Were None, in which the characters are invited by someone calling themselves U.N. Owen (i.e. Unknown).
    • The boss to whom the aforementioned song belongs also has her second to last spell card named Secret Barrage "And Then Will There Be None?". The same boss also has some other spell cards with terms such as Starbow Break and Catadioptric.
    • The Komeiji sisters have many of these: their costumes are negati or specifying tempo for movements as ves of one another, Koishi's theme sounds the same played backward or forward, and many of Koishi's spell cards have Psychology related themes such like Instinct "Release of the Id", Suppression "Super-ego", Subconscious "Rorschach in Danmaku" and of course, the one that Dr. Freud would be proud of Rekindled "The Embers of Love", which is basically a barrage of danmaku phalluses. And yes, MOST of the attack patterns used by these bosses and others do reflect the meaning in their names. Also, from the wiki:
    Koishi's musical theme, Hartmann's Youkai Girl, may refer to Eduard von Hartmann (whose most famous work is entitled The Philosophy of the Unconscious) or Heinz Hartmann (as many of Koishi's spellcards seem to make references to ego psychology.)
  • Classic example in Grand Theft Auto III, a series of levels labeled "The Crook", "The Thieves", "The Wife" and "Her Lover".
  • In Super Robot Wars, this and Bilingual Bonus crop up occassionally in the names of mecha and their attacks. This is only notable because almost all of the games are Japan-exclusive, making this the primary method of figuring out the correct way to say the names. One notable example is the "Ley Buster" attack, which was called "Ray Buster" until fans made the connection between Ley Lines and another character's "Akashic Buster" attack.
  • The Subject 16 puzzles in Assassin's Creed II contain all sorts of references, typically about various cultures' versions of The End of the World as We Know It. The "radar" puzzles in particular will contain hidden text, often in binary or other languages, that further expands on what Subject 16 is trying to tell you.
  • The Half-Life series is full of these, mainly regarding physics, and quantum mechanics in cosmology. This is where most people hear about Dark Energy and The Calabi-Yau Model for the first time.
  • In one of the sidequests in Mass Effect you are sent to eliminate a rogue VI, which is an advanced computer intelligence that doesn't have the self-awareness to become true AI. When you destroy the VI, it sends out a signal that your helmet displays as binary. It translates as "help", so the people who translate it know the VI actually did become self aware.
    • In another sidequest, Shepard will quote Crime and Punishment.
    • Several of the location names in the first game are references to the history of space travel, ranging from the commonplace to the obscure.
      • The Tereshkova system is named for Valentina Tereshkova, first woman and first civilian in space.
      • The Gagarin system is named for Yuri Gagarin, first man in space.
      • The Grissom system and Grissom Academy are named for an in-universe character named John Grissom, likely a reference to John Glenn/Gus Grissom, the first and second Americans in space.
      • The planet Benda is named for a minor planet in the solar system's asteroid belt.
  • Mass Effect 2, in one of Shepard's favorite shops on the Citadel, charming the clerk results in Shepard saying:
    "You wouldn't believe how often I hear 'Why is the ship turning around? We're only halfway there!"
    • When Legion hacks a rocket turret during their loyalty mission, one of the possible random comments is "Executing sudo command." 'Sudo,' short for 'superuser do,' is a Linux command that allows an admin to give certain users temporary admin privileges. (Even more hilariously, in the early stages of that mission, Legion informs us "Geth do not use windows.")
    • One star cluster has systems named after physicists (Chandrasekhar, for example), and one system has all the planets named after biologists - Darwin, Wallace, Franklin, Watson, Crick and so on.
    • In the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, the last lines of Jack's rejected submission to Galactic Poetry Monthly are part of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility warning message.
    • A vending machine in the game announces proudly that its product will "bring your ancestors back from the dead". Hilarious on its own, even funnier if you know the source. This is a reference to an urban legend about the famous Pepsi slogan "Come Alive with Pepsi!" was mistakenly translated into "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead".
  • Mother 3 had a few, but by far the most egregious example is the naming of the Magypsies (Ionia, Doria, Phrygia, Lydia, Mixolydia, Aeolia, and Locria) after the names of the modal scales.
  • Tales of the Abyss uses the modal scales as well, though not as explicitly. Tear is a "Locrian" Sergeant and Van is a "Dorian" General. It's easy to assume these are indications of the hierarchy in Daath, especially when you consider who's at the top - Ion, who's named after the first modal scale.
    • There are other music bonuses in Abyss on top of that. In Tales Series games you're normally limited to carrying around fifteen of each healing item. In Abyss it's extended to sixteen. Why? In everyday life, we like things rounded into fives and tens. But in music, it's (usually) simplest when things are in four - 4/4 time, for example. So the game rounds it to a multiple of four instead of a multiple of five. Another one occurs when you open the menu and realize it's decorated with musical staves.
    • You also get bonuses for having knowledge of the Kabbalah - that's where the names Sephiroth, Qliphoth, Daath, Keterburg, St. Binah, Grand Chokmah, Hod and Malkuth originate from. It's especially fun when they give places a double meaning. "Keter", the term from which Keterburg originates, represents the divine will of the God to create - appropriate, since Keterburg is where Jade decided to play God and create the first replica.
    • And there's a little literary one - you can find a Vorpal Sword in the same area in which you encounter an enemy called the "Jabberwocky."
  • The English translator for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl is also a writer for Something Awful. So for fun, he subtly slipped in a few references that a meme-savvy gamer might catch, such as the line "My Pokemon is fight!".
    • Also there are tons of weird, out-there Pokemon that are based on obscure animals.
  • The Thief series has a few of these:
    • Thief: Gold features a mission with several obscure nods to Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. First, the protagonist encounters a man named Raoul living in the caverns under the opera house (albeit in the musical, Raoul is not the one who resides there, but the Phantom's real name - Erik - is not mentioned in the musical). Further allusions include a ballet dancer named Christine being mocked for her lower-class upbringing (the protagonist of the musical, Christine, was orphaned and raised in the opera house) and a haughty soprano storming out of a rehearsal telling the manager to "find a new leading lady" (a central plot point in the musical).
    • The phrase "Bunch of taffers in this city" is used in multiple missions in Thief 2. Since "taffer" is the all purpose curse word in the series, and the city is always referred to as "The City", this hearkens strongly to the oft-repeated "Bunch of savages in this town" line from Clerks.
    • Also in the second installment, there is a book titled "Hunting of the Frumious Bandersnatch".
  • The graphics for bard songs in Forsaken World use correct musical notation. (For those who aren't musically inclined, the description lists the notes in text.)
  • Twelve in Street Fighter III, whose speaking is half understandable in battle, but has his victory quotes (as in after the battle) are all in binary code. One of the funniest is 00101 01101 00001 01111, meaning "LMAO". note 
  • The music for one of the nastier dungeons in Final Fantasy IX uses a slowed-down version of the opening of "Dies irae," the best-known of Gregorian chants, as its bass line. Since it's an ominous chant about the Day of Judgment, it's rather appropriate.
    • Some secondary villains on the first disk are called The Black Waltzes. Zidane guesses there are only three of them because of the name. The Waltz is performed at three beats to the measure.
  • Dragon Age: Origins includes a banter in which Leliana is praising Wynne for doing good for its own sake rather than for show, and comparing her favorably to women in her homeland, who will make boasts such as "Today I washed the feet of forty lepers." This is a reference to a common practice in Real Life history; medieval women would wash the feet of lepers (considered unclean, the lowest of the low) as a means of showing their charity and humility.
    • And in the Leliana's Song DLC, which tells the story of her Heel-Faith Turn, there is a scene where she is escaping from jail. One of the fellow prisoners she rescues (who joins the party) is named Silas. This is likely a reference to the Biblical apostle Paul, who, like Leliana, got religion and repented of his previous life of sin and was imprisoned with his future helper Silas.
  • In The Legend of Zelda series, the most obvious nod is to a certain Celtic goddess of horses. However, one can drive oneself mad with what appear to be this, such as noting that the Koroks in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker look suspiciously similar to how kodama are depicted in Princess Mononoke.
  • Silent Hill: Homecoming has an unusual one. The original series was developed in Japan, and would have lots of forgivable errors regarding American culture. Homecoming was developed in the United States, and the devs had Shown Their Work regarding background details about the US Army. If you understood military culture at all, and you remembered that the devs were in the States and had done their homework, you had a good chance to guess The Reveal right about the time you finished the tutorial level. There's no way Alex could be mistaken for anything except someone trying to impersonate a troop, even if it is because of psychiatric disease.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Sabre Cats have bodies more similar to bears than cats, with many a player probably thinking this was some fantasy take on saber-toothed cats. Well, the genus Smilodon had bear-like bodies stockier than modern day cats, with the most accepted theory being that it was an adaptation to take down large prey such as mammoths. Mammoths also live in Skyrim.
  • All over the place in Marathon, which contains numerous references to philosophy and mythology (the name "Durandal" was not picked out of a hat). Many of the terminals also contain gibberish characters... some of which are actually hex values that contain meaningful messages if one knows how to decipher them. The developers even went so far as to hide the code for an entire multiplayer level in two terminals that, to the average user, contained nothing but a long string of nonsense.
  • In one mission in Modern Warfare 2, a corkboard in a terrorist safehouse holds a diagram of the chemical structure of RDX, a military-grade high explosive.
    • While gamers are an audience expected to understand a lot of military jargon, Modern Warfare basically requires the player to sit down with a book of U.S Military code phrases to get a full idea as to what is going on around them. "Oscar Mike" is just the start. For instance, anyone familiar with the phrase "Broken Arrow" will undoubtedly have an additional Oh Crap moment at the start of "Wolverines!", whereas the rest will probably wonder what the hell that Christian Slater movie has to do with a Russian invasion.
    • During the Chernobyl mission's sniping section in Call of Duty 4, Captain MacMillan tells the player to compensate for the Coriolis effect.
  • Dungeon Overlord:
    • On the Mission screen, a Warlock is teaching a goblin about the golden ratio.
    • The illustrations for Primordial Elements contain Platonic Solids corresponding to the element in question.
  • Resident Evil: Revelations. Ever read the The Divine Comedy? Play this game and count the references. It may take a while.
  • Diablo II: The first game featured a type of high-level demonic enemy called the Balrog. That is, there were several palette swapped variants, and the most powerful ones were called Balrogs, but the type they all belonged to were also called Balrogs. That's just an obvious J. R. R. Tolkien reference. But in the next game, while some enemies are still called Balrogs, the broader type they belong to is now "Megademon". Since "bal" in Sindarin means something like "might" (Quenya: "vala", cf. the Valar, Tolkien's "gods"), and "rog" means demon, "Megademon" is a stylistically odd but pretty much direct translation of "Balrog".
  • The Sims Medieval: in a quest you get the screenshot of a tablet with writing in Runes. The transliterated message is: nom donuts are so good like them lots
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer on XBOX contains a plot where The Master takes over Angel's body. David Boreanaz; who plays Angel, cameoed as The Master in the season two premier after the character was killed off.
  • Similar to a reference further down, Professor Layton happens to have a colleague called Dr. Avogadro. If you're a mathematician, this instantly becomes hilarious.
  • It's never mentioned or noticed by any of the characters in Resident Evil 2, but Ada Wong fires her weapon on a 45 degree angle and uses the edge of the slide to aim. This is actually a tactic used by Chinese Special Forces, and it basically screams out loud that she's a spy to anyone playing the game who knew it.
  • Similar to the above example, Bruce McGivern's awkward way of carrying a handgun in Resident Evil: Dead Aim is a real life technique. It's used in two kinds of situations: when one is alone and could easily be ambushed from behind as it allows one to cover their rear very quickly, and when one is going to be carrying the weapon for a long time as it keeps one's arms from getting tired. Both are situations Bruce is in.
  • In Resident Evil 5, the player encounters Reapers, which are mutant cockroaches with praying mantis-like arms. These mutated arms are likely a reference to the fact that cockroaches and mantises are—as unlikely as it seems—evolutionary relatives.
  • In Dominions 3, each playable nation is based on real-world mythology and history. Many unit and commander types, and almost all national hero units, are based on specific people. The game is still fun if you don't know the references, but there are a lot of historical in-jokes and tie-ins to get.
  • In De Blob 2, the intro text for the Soda Cannery level has one of the characters drinking Blanc Cola and remarking, "Yuck! What's in this? Waxed Tadpoles?"
  • RayStorm is actually a reference to the Roman Empire and its fall. For starters, the bosses are named after enemies of the Roman Empire and are even fought in the places where said enemies came from. This gives more insight to the story.
  • In Mega Man 8, Search Man's two-headed design is nothing but a silly quirk to a casual player, but it's actually a nod to the fact that snipers usually work in pairs in real life: One shooter and one spotter.
  • The combined form of Bit and Byte in Mega Man X3 is known as Godkarmachine O Inary, which is basically a big old mish-mash of Shinto and Buddhist references. Bit and Byte's Japanese names (Vajurila FF and Mandarela BB) are also Buddhist references.
  • In Metro Last Light, protagonist Artyom visits an underground theatre that has survived through the nuclear fallout, and his friend Pavel jokingly refers to him as Stanislavski. To deconstruct the reference, the developers of a video game about 21st century nuclear war expect you to catch a reference about a 19th century theatre director responsible for Method Acting.
  • While the species of most of your neighbors in Animal Crossing are fairly easy to recognize, Dr. Shrunk (an NPC who first appeared in Wild World to teach you new expressions) is actually a fairly obscure species of salamander, the axolotl.
    • Starting with New Leaf, the counterfeit paintings and sculptures Crazy Redd sells are a lot less frustrating if you can find a reference pic of the original art, because the fakes are slightly (or in some cases, blatantly) different from the original. For example, the fake Nike of Samothrace has bat wings unlike the feathered wings of the original, and in the fake version of Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" her headband is red instead of blue.
  • Archeops, a Pokémon with both a base stat total and National Pokédex number of 567 (as an aside, this is the only Pokémon whose Pokédex number matches its base stat total), is based on the Archaeopteryx, considered to be a transitional fossil between feathered dinosaurs and birds. If you're looking for a book on feathered dinosaurs at the library, you'll find it at 567.9 in the Dewey Decimal system.
  • In Jet Set Go the award for performing forty dance steps in the Galapagos is called "Do the Darwin."
  • One of the Adjab Dunes puzzles in Scribblenauts Unlimited is a reference to Zeno of Elea's "Achilles and the Tortoise" paradox.
  • One early puzzle in Hidden Expedition 6: Smithsonian Hope Diamond involves putting the correct heads on a collection of "American Legend" bobblehead dolls. Alongside such better-known figures as Washington, Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt, we have one Harriet Quimby.
  • The Wolf Among Us, par for the course, contains a lot of references to obscure European folklore and fairy tales. The average gamer might get a few of the more well-known ones, but many will likely elude you.

    Webcomics 
  • Irregular Webcomic! does this a lot. DM Maus tends to explain the references for those who don't get them in The Rant, though. Even then, they can be a bit brain-breaking and tough to understand.
  • Schlock Mercenary does a cool arc where the villains use command injection to force a CCTV system to sleep for ten minutes. When a QR code is held up to a security camera, the system reads the commands contained in the code and executes them because the administrators never changed the system's admin username and password from their defaults. The QR code in question is displayed to the reader, so what happens when you use your smartphone's bar code scanner to read the QR code the character is holding up? Your phone returns the following data:
    • UID='ADMIN'
    • PASS='DEFAULT'
    • CMD='sleep, 600sec, noprompt, fnord'
  • Gunnerkrigg Court makes some obscure references without stopping to explain: Though Reynardine's character is more based on Reynard the Fox, his first meeting with Antimony references the seduction from the English folk song "Reynardine". Similarly, Winsbury and Janet's secret relationship is a reference to the song "Willie O'Winsbury". The First Treatise copies poses and Latin from the Mutus Liber, a 17th-century Hugenot alchemy text. And Chapter 17 references Medieval German master swordsman Johann Liechtenauer.
    • Tom Siddell seems to be particularly fond of song references. Mr. Eglamore's name contains yet another one.
  • Listening To 11.975 MHz, if you understand every obscure literary, mathematical, and radio reference, you need to get out more often.
  • As a comic that bounces around between physics, psychology, math, philosophy, and general geekery jokes, you need to be fairly cosmopolitan in your background to enjoy Dresden Codak. It's worth it though.
    • The author mentions at one point that the comic probably wouldn't work in another medium but the web, where readers don't have near-instantaneous access to obscure information.
  • The entire cast (and most of the dead bodies) in Weapon Brown comes from various syndicated comic strips. Identifying all of them and picking up all the references and in-jokes would take someone who's a talking encyclopedia of the hundred year history of comic strips.
  • This Bob and George:
    Ran: The way I see it, we've broken every law of physics except the third law of thermodynamics.
    Dr. Light: Aha! Negative two Kelvin!
    Ran: Nevermind.
  • xkcd is loaded with these, to the extent that some have called xkcd a series of obscure references that occasionally involve jokes, rather than the other way around.
  • Cyanide and Happiness actually had a week's worth of strips called "90% Of The General Public Won't Understand Week".
  • In a filler comic of El Goonish Shive, the Demonic Duck informs Dan that he's going to Australia to discover his roots. There is fossil evidence of a large, prehistoric bird that lived in Australia which has come to be known as the "Demon Duck of Doom".
  • No Black Plume does this from time to time.
  • Homestuck is chock-full of references to video games, pop culture and bad movies, but its biggest bonuses are probably in astrology. People who study the astrological signs will often find the corresponding trolls to be either spot-on representations of their supposed traits... or humorous subversions. (Such as the tradionally rational, serious Capricorn being deployed as their friendly neighborhood stoner.)
    • Don't forget all the biology bonuses. While Hussie is a bit artistic with the trolls, the fact that the handle abbreviations are genetic code pairs (GCAT), and the fact that Bslick's "cancer" is caused by an error in his genetic code are completely sound.
      • Especially if you consider that the "cancer" was caused by Karkat, whose chum handle (carcinoGeneticist) practically means "creator of Cancer". He's also the Cancer troll, and John changed his handle from valid genetics to "EB", (a mutation) after Karkat messed with Jade, who brought it up, causing John to decide to change his handle. And his Weapon of Choice is a sickle- this initially appears to just be because it resembles a crab's claw, until we find out Karkat is a mutant himself, with the only other troll sharing his blood color being his ancestor. Let's see, sickles and genetic blood disorders caused by a mutation...
    • Also don't forget the first three kids' sylladexes. Those three are commonly used data structures in computer science. Extra Genius Bonus Points goes to Rose's Tree Module, specifically an AVL tree, which mandates that the two subtrees of a binary tree must not have a height that differs by more than 1 (and consequently all the subtrees must follow this rule). As such, the auto-balance is a perfect double rotation that would be used in an AVL tree. Shame it doesn't handle the deletion of the root element very well, like a real AVL tree.
  • The Packrat already expects the reader to be a synth geek, but still, spotting the many unmentioned but accurately drawn synthesizers and other electronic devices is a nice bonus.
  • The Illustrated Guide To Law does this every now and then. In its section on Duress, for example, the members of the outlaw biker gang engage in discussions of physics and philosophy and multiple dimensions while brawling. In its section on Entrapment, the physicist has real equations on the blackboard behind her.
  • Chasing the Sunset plays with this a lot. In one notable instance a broken automaton lets out a stream of plusses and other symbols which, when compiled with a brainf*ck compiler (it's a programming language) spells out "beep".
  • Narbonic is chock full of refs on literature and manga and comics, many of which are not apparent even to the aficionado without reading the "Director's Cut" version.
  • Spinnerette nails it with the engineering crowd by one super hero claiming to fly via the 'Left Hand Rule'.
  • Ursula Vernon, author of Digger, has a degree in antropology and an interest in the more obscure mythologies (South American, Balkian). This shows up frequently in her works.
  • One of the "About" pages for Comments on a Postcard reads "According to an analysis of your IP address, you access this site from a computer located in the Langerhans Islets. In accordance with Langerhans Islets pornography laws, individual pictures will not be displayed." The Islets of Langerhans are groups of hormone-secreting cells in the pancreas.

    Web Original 
  • The magical young children of the Global Guardians PBEM Universe attend Martha Corey Memorial High School in Nowhere, Ohio. Martha Corey being the first woman convicted of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.
    • British Flying Brick heroine Samsonite, from the same setting, took her name from the indestructible brand of luggage of the same name. Most people assume its a variation on "Samson".
  • AMV Hell, despite being mostly lowbrow humor, has a degree of this in that you need a lot of knowledge about a lot of different shows to get all the jokes.
  • Maddox, owner of The Best Page In The Universe, occasionally interjects these in his pages:
    "In fact, this book can be expressed mathematically by the following theorem: lim(manliness -> â) Books = The Alphabet of Manliness"
    "36 NEW PAGES! 8 FULL-COLOR INSERTS! NEW ISBN NUMBER! HOLY SHIT!"
  • One of Open Blue's mods is Kukulu, a Captain Ersatz of Cthulhu. If you look at his profile, his country section says he's from "Pitcairn", which is the name of one of the three Real Life countries nearest to the canon location of R'lyeh.
  • Darwin's Soldiers is laden with little references that are not necessary to the plot but are quite interesting to know about nonetheless. The catch is that one must be fairly well versed in science to understand them.
  • In the Whateley Universe, Phase is almost as snarky as Daria, with refs covering everything from Shakespeare and Sinclair Lewis to Umberto Eco and Spenser. Also doubles as "Showing off the Research".
    • When Chaka is deciding on her codename ('chaka' means 'leopard'), she mentions some old book by some Belgian guy who said that pound for pound, the leopard is tougher than the lion. Most readers won't know this is supposed to be Congo Kitabu by Jean-Pierre Hallet.
  • Freeman's Mind (a narrative playthrough of Half Life "voiced" by Gordon Freeman himself) does this a lot. Sophisticated jokes about quantum physics pop up from time to time (Gordon is supposed to be a physicist, after all) and the episode where Gordon does nothing but talk like a pirate is full of archaic English and historically accurate nautical terms. Fortunately the show is still very approachable from a lowbrow perspective.
  • Homestar Runner once recites Coulomb's Law, though he mistakes it for the sum of two and two.
    • A Strong Bad email featured a jumbled spam message to which Strong Bad says, "Did the quadratic formula explode?".
    • In "Ballad of The Sneak", the eponymous creature is referred to as "The Strong Bad's Leporello".
  • Of a sort: Sears.com had a zombie-themed page for Halloween with the text almost entirely in Zamgrh, one of the user-created languages of Urban Dead.
  • Chaos Fighters shows the constituents of various alloys and composites which can be understand better if one has the periodic table of elements.
  • The Nekci Menij Show is fueled by Genius Bonus, particularly in regards to the modern music industry. No bit of Billboard chart knowledge or tidbit about an artist's personal life is too obscure to be joked about.
  • The first impression show Continue? follows these with SMART JOKE vibrating in big red letters appearing onscreen.
  • Mr. Mendo's review of a racially insensitive propaganda cartoon ends with a lengthy soliloquy about how the animators must have been "sulky and dissatisfied". With some slight re-purposing, this is a word-for-word quote from an actual medical journal from over 150 years ago.
  • In Demo Reel, Uncle Yo compares Donnie to Sisyphus. Sisyphus was punished for his lies by having to walk a rock up a steep hill over and over. Donnie has told nobody about his tragic past by this point, and his punishment is self-loathing.
  • The Finnish-made science fiction parody Star Wreck is full of this trope.

    Western Animation 
  • Half of the comments made by Brain in Pinky and the Brain.
  • Half of the comments made by Brian in Family Guy.
    • And a great many Non-sequiturs that leave a majority of the audience going, "huh?", while a handful are laughing with tears streaming down their cheeks.
      • Some of those moments would require a pretty big knowledge of musicals
      • Family Guy is nowhere near as funny unless you have a good knowledge in 80s and early 90s pop-culture.
    • Back in the earlier seasons particularly, there was an extra layer of funny for those who live or have lived in Rhode Island. Lately, however, they seemed to have abandoned that.
    • Lampshaded early in the episode ''One if by Clam, Two if by Sea'':
    Louis: Nigel's charming! All British men are!
    Peter: Yeah, right...that's what they said about Benjamin Disraeli.
    (Cut to Benjamin Disraeli at a writing desk)
    Disraeli (scornfully addressing the camera): You don't even know who I am.
    • Another episode noted that Jesus's actual last name is Hong.
  • Futurama contained a large amount of jokes relating to scientific concepts. For example, a dating agency had a sign reading "discreet and discrete", a joke which would make more sense to mathematicians. (Although, Word of God says that it is a reference to discrete electronics, not mathematics.) Other jokes included binary, and not one but two bilingual bonuses in the form of "languages" (actually encrypted text) which the viewers were left to translate/decrypt for themselves.
    • There are so many mathematical jokes in Futurama that the writers did a special for the first movie's DVD with a real Mathematician dedicated to explaining them.
    • Math isn't the only topic they do this with. How many people will get all the jokes about decades-old politics in "A Head In The Polls", for example? And not just the Nixon stuff, but the Bull Space Moose Party, which is a joke almost a century old.
      • Or the obscure webcomic joke, to boot.
    • "Wow, I love symposia"
    • They note several of these jokes during the Creator Commentary. Following the explanation for the 'Aleph-Nought'-plex theater as "infinity, but a small form of infinitynote ", the voice actor for Fry chimed in:
    Billy West: "That is the nerdiest thing in the universe. However, it's only the fifteenth nerdiest thing in Futurama..."
    • "It's so cold, my processor is running at peak efficiency!" -Bender, Bender's Big Score
    • It's probably the only TV show, ever, to include a homage to Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, the Holophonor.
    • And the Professor bemoaning how a horse race was so close that it came to a "Quantum Finish", but they changed the outcome by measuring it.
    • Or the beer in Klein bottles, on display next to St. Pauli Exclusion Principle Girl beer.
    • In "The Honking," Bender sees a string of zeros and ones on the wall, and tells Fry and Leela it's gibberish, then sees it in a mirror and panics. The creators are very coy about the significance on the commentary, but anyone who bothers to check will find the backwards string, 1010011010, is the base-2 representation of 666.
    • "The Prisoner Of Benda" is full of these. The Couch Gag is "What happens in Cygnus X-1, stays in Cygnus X-1" — a fact that's almost certainly true, since Cygnus X-1 is the most famous observed black hole candidate. Then Bender proves he's a robot through a reverse Turing test. Finally, at the end of the episode, the Globetrotters use abstract algebra to sort everyone back into their proper bodies. Naturally, the math checks out. And they said math has no practical applications!
      • It should be noted that the theorem and proof used by the Globetrotters were developed specifically for the show - in this case the practical application was "resolve a cartoon plot twist in a mathematically valid manner." The creator of this theorem is writer Ken Keeler, who holds a PhD in applied mathematics.
    • In "Fry and the Slurm Factory" the chip in Bender's head reads "6502", the model number of the 8-bit 6502 microprocessor.
    • "The Why of Fry" appears to take its name from "The Why of Y".note 
    • In "Hell Is Other Robots" we encounter the Church of Robotology, whose logo is a jagged line, the schematic symbol for a resistor in electronics. I.e. "Resisting temptation".
    • In one episode, they go to a dance club called "Studio 1^2 2^1 3^3," the math adding up to "Studio 54."
    • In “Law & Oracle” there is a reference to Erwin Schrödinger and the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment:
    URL: Erwin Schrödinger, huh? What's in the box, Schrödinger?
    Schrödinger : Um... A cat, some poison, und a cesium atom.
    Fry: The cat! Is it alive or dead? Alive or dead?!
    URL: Answer him, fool.
    Schrödinger : It's a superposition of both states until you open it and collapse the wave function.
    (Fry enter the car)
    Fry: Says you.
    (Fry opens the box and a cat jumps out of it, attacking him. Fry screams. URL takes a close look at the box.)
    URL: There's also a lotta drugs in there.
  • On Rocko's Modern Life, the guys are making a cartoon and have some problem taking the film out of the camera with the lights off. When Heffer asks to turn the lights on to see what they are doing, Filburt says, "That'll expose the film, Eisenstein!" To most viewers, this will sound like a mispronunciation of Einstein; those familiar with film history will recognize it as a reference to Soviet silent film director Sergei Eisenstein.
  • Fillmore! contained a surprising number of these, in a addition to the regularly spoofed cop show tropes; including a quick, but legitimate discussion of whether Judy Blume has subtext, and shout outs to Charles Laskey, Miles Davis, Arthur Schopenhauer, and others.
  • Garfield and Friends:
    • The name Federico Fettuccine (the director character in "Lights! Action! Garfield!) is probably to many people an Italian-sounding name with a food reference. But to those with the right knowledge of film history, it's an obvious reference to Federico Fellini.
  • Daria, being the genius that she was, often made quips at her family's expense in relation to literature she enjoyed. Odd for a teen animated show, most of the titles she referenced averted Small Reference Pools of teenage life.
    Jake: "Why do they make sewing needles so damn SMALL?"
  • An episode of The Simpsons brought this exchange between Homer and Lisa: "He's nailing something to our door!" "Hmm, I wonder if it's theses?"
    • Which, surprisingly, wasn't even close to the first "Martin Luther nails something to a cathedral door" joke in The Simpsons:
    Lisa: I've created Lutherans!
    • In "Much Apu About Nothing", Chief Wiggum prepares his men to deport illegal immigrants:
    "Allright men, here is the order of deportations. First we'll be rounding up your tired, then your poor, then your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
    Sounds familiar?
    • The Simpsons is full of obscure — and accurate — mathematical references. You may be surprised to know that many of the writers possess advanced degrees in physics, mathematics and astronomy, among others. Many of the same writers moved on to to work on Futurama. Given the futuristic bent of the latter show, it's even more packed with scientific references.
      • This fact lends itself to a Genius Bonus from Arrested Development in which Michael refers to the child of Harvard alumni as "Probably some geek Simpsons writer's kid."
    • The "Homer 3D" episode was full of references to mathematical equations, physics and 3D graphics once he enters the 3D realm.
      • The UtahTeapot can be seen in the 3D world, as well as many 3D graphics primitives used as standard building blocks in 3D modeling, such as spheres, cubes and pyramids.
      • One of the equations in the background (1782^12 + 1841^12 = 1922^12) is very obscure. It 'almost' disproves Fermat's Last Theorem, which states that such an equation should not be true. If you do it on your calculator, it seems to be correct - the error is in the eleventh decimal place, which is more than most calculators will display.
      • Not to mention that the place he's in is an Einsteinian representation of space-time and the vortex he creates is therefore a black hole which leads to an alternate universe.
      • The library from Myst also shows up, along with the music that plays when you are infront of it.
      • The chalk lines drawn on the wall where Homer vanished are a reference to the Twilight Zone episode "Little Girl Lost".
    • The rhyme scheme that the Jonah Jameson Captain Ersatz rambles is the pattern for a Petrarchian sonnet.
    • In the episode "Thank God, It's Doomsday", God reverts everything back to normal and shouts 'DEUS EX MACHINA!', which means in Latin "god out of the machine", as well as meaning 'excuse to make everything suddenly go well for the protagonist'.
    • In the episode "Mountain of Madness", Mr. Burns say that "there's more organization in a Marx Brothers film", which nowadays wouldn't be that known. Now, the true Genius Bonus is in the Latin American translation. Burn's phrase turns into "Hay más orden y cordura en película de Buńuel! (There's more order and sanity in a Buńuel's film!)" Those familiar with the name know that the famous Luis Buńuel is one of the masters of surrealist film, and that along notable and famous surrealist artist, Salvador Dalí­, made the film 'Un Chien Andalou'. The Latin American translations of the Simpsons episodes are famous for translating jokes and phrases that are not much known in the United States, instead they mention events and characters that are known through Mexico, South America and Spain.
    • Actually, (and I could be wrong, but I don't think I am)...Burns says "Ritz Brothers", which many would know as a cheap Marx Bros. knockoff. Something akin to Ritz Bros=Go Bots to Marx Bros=Transformers....
    • Not to mention referencing H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness in the title.
    • In one of the "Treehouse of Horror XIII", several historical criminals come back as zombies including the most evil German, Kaiser Wilhelm ( Hitler was Austrian). This isn't as much a genius bonus as a "paid attention in 9th grade history" bonus.
    • In "Black Widower", Sideshow Bob is prisoner 24601.
    • In one episode, Lisa is trying to complete a cryptic crossword with the clue "Yentl singer" (13). This is too short to be Barbra Streisand and Lisa is stuck until she triumphantly cries Isaac Bashevis.note 
    • The show also has some not-so-well hidden science jokes
    Homer (about Lisa's perpetual motion machine): In this house, we obey the Laws of Thermodynamics!
    • The villains in the episode "The Crepes of Wrath" are named César and Ugolin, which were the names of the antagonists in a pair of french Novels, Jean de Florette, and Manon des Sources.
    • "The Homer They Fall" had Homer practicing a "technique" of just taking blows and letting his opponent tire out before fighting back. It sounds laughable to a casual viewer, but any real life boxer will instantly recognize it as being based on the Rope-a-dope: an actual (and effective) technique that was notably used by Muhammad Ali to defeat George Foreman in 1974, and has been used to great effect in numerous other fights.
  • In The Venture Bros. episode "The Lepidopterists," two OSI agents claim to be amateur lepidopterists as an excuse for helping him fight the monarch. A lepidoperist is, of course, someone who watches butterflies.
    • more specifically, someone who COLLECTS butterflies... as in impaling them on pins in little display cases.
    • In "Self Medication", Sgt. Hatred makes a reference to Henry Darger. This while at a movie that is obviously LOTR inspired... double genius bonus since Darger was kind of a darker, damaged-goods version of Tolkien.
    • In the episode "Return to Malice", 21 names his revenge scheme for 24's death "An Eye for an I." Go look up Exodus 21:24.
    • Brock has just bisected an assassin, vertically. As he drags the body away, he tells Dean to get a phone number from his coat and call "The Cleaner" and tell him "we've got a 'Damien Hirst' in room 204." Hirst is a controversial conceptual artist who is known for, among other things, creating anatomical sculptures of humans with various layers of skin and muscle peeled back.
    • The episode "ORB" is positively dripping with this trope. A scene set in the late 19th century chronicles the precursors of The Guild and the OSI. Most people could probably recognize the references to Twain, Tesla, Wilde, and maybe even Crowley. But there probably weren't that many who knew that Fantomas was a character from a series of French novellas, or that Sandow was a real-life strongman and the father of body-building. To take this trope to rediculously meta levels, the characters attempt to solve a series of riddles using Wikipedia and end up entirely in the wrong place. The Alchemist calls them out on this, pointing out that the meaning of words change over time. He uses an old dictionary to prove his point and find the location of the final clue.
      • The show is PACKED with references of all sorts. There are at LEAST 30 an episode. You don't have to have an eclectic knowledge of art, literature, television, music, film, philosophy, religion, etc. to enjoy the show, but it certainly helps!
  • Animaniacs. Particularly for the supposed target audience, but even amongst adult viewers there were some references that were quite obscure... enough so that there's a Cultural Reference Guide circulating the Internet.
  • There's even an example in VeggieTales - in Silly Songs with Larry, no less! During the song "I Love My Lips", while Archibald is showing Larry a series of Rorschach Test cards, near the end of the cards, if you pause just about 1:41, you see the number 6.023 x 10^23. For the average child, this is nonsense, which fits the song's theme. For people in chemistry, this is Avogadro's Number.
    • There was a stand-up comedian who had a joke that, while in college at Lehigh, their basketball team once lost a game by Avogadro's Number. He then thanked the people who got that and laughed.
      • And another who, when performing in Fairfax, Virginia, said something about needing sunscreen that was SPF 6.022*10^23. One person laughed, but he laughed extremely hard.
  • In one episode of Arthur, Binky is frustrated because he wants to write a poem on a birthday card for his mother, but he can't rhyme. He goes to sleep and dreams that he ends up in a magical land called Verseburg, where "it's a crime not to rhyme," and Verseburg's authorities throw him in jail for his inability to rhyme. Binky ends up sharing a cell with William Carlos Williams, a 20th-century poet famous for his use of "free verse" (poetry that doesn't rhyme), and Binky asks, "So you can't rhyme, either?" Williams answers, "Oh, I can rhyme—I just choose not to. FREE VERSE! FREE VERSE! I'm a political prisoner." Williams then shows him a secret passageway out of the cell and gives him a rhyming dictionary. A few minutes later, the episode mentions Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda without any further explanation.
    • Additionally, Williams and Binky escape jail in a Red Wheelbarrow, and the people of Verseburg give him a large tuna caught by Pablo Neruda.
    • When Binky complains while wheeling Williams out of the cell, Williams quips that Binky's "lucky you weren't imprisoned with Sylvia Plath - now she's a heavy poet!"
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In one scene in "Squidward the Unfriendly Ghost", Squidward has tricked Spongebob and Patrick into doing his every whim, and has them carry him around in a litter to various locations, which he dismisses as "Too hot" and "Too wet" They then stop in front of a background that looks like a fish-y version of a Moulin Rouge poster, which Squidward dismisses as "Too-louse Lautrec!" Cue rimshot.
    • A Valentine's Day episode had Patrick look at paramecium under a microscope. Made all the funnier by how Patrick is most of the time an idiot.
    • In Sandy's debut episode Patrick tells Spongebob putting your pinkie up when drinking is fancy. It's not an incredibly known fact that doing so has the opposite effect and is impolite. It just shows Patrick's ignorance
  • Horton Hears a Who!- It's pretty well-known that Jim Carrey likes to insert little impressions in all of his movies. In this kid's movie, as he (who's voicing the titular character) is being chased by the Wickersham Brothers, he randomly does an impersonation of... Henry Kissinger, of all people.
  • During a talent show in ReBoot, one comedian cracks a joke in binary, which is promptly derided for not being child-friendly. For those patient enough to translate it (or google it), turns out to mean "Take my wife, please!".
    • That's just the tip of the iceberg. Any episode of ReBoot can basically be described as "24 minutes of computer jokes", some of which require intimate knowledge of computer hardware from the 80s and early 90s to understand.
    • There were also references that one wouldn't get unless one was very familiar with the show creators' previous work. In that same episode about the talent show, a more crudely-rendered handyman and younger man appear, who are promptly booed off-stage. This is a reference to the ReBoot creators' work on the (at the time) very cutting-edge CG in the 1985 music video for Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing."
    • Many characters and jokes are based off of actual CGI development terminology. In the case of Phong and Ray Tracer their namesakes were actual rendering tools that were important in their visual look (Phong is a gradual shading composition tool that is evident in his metallic head and Ray Tracing is about layers of opaque surface reflections that can be seen in his crystal-like body suit). Also in the "Talent Show" episode, one group of musicians called "The Primitives" consisted of a sphere, a cone and a cube, which are the basic shapes of CGI called the primitives.
  • In the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command episode "Ancient Evil", the Sealed Evil in a Can is a "living mummy" (found on a planet with all Ancient Egypt motifs the artists could imagine) called Natron the First. In Real Life, natron is a mineral that was widely used in the mummification process in Ancient Egypt.
  • Archer frequently goes from jokes about anal and drunkenness to jokes about Indira Gandhi, Eugene V. Debs, and Herman Melville. "I would prefer not to." * click* "Bartleby the Scrivener? What, not many Melville fans here, huh?"
    • Archer gives a gun, branded "Chekhov", to Cyril and adds that it tends to go off for no reason. Later on... nothing happens with the Chekhov gun, but the unreliable pen he also gave him does become important. So let's see, that's subversion, aversion, lampshading and playing it straight?
      Archer: "God, I SAID the cap slips off the poison pen for no reason, didn't I?!"
      Cyril: "I know, I know, but I just assumed that if anything bad happened it-it would've been-"
      Archer: "No, do NOT say the Chekhov gun Cyril! THAT, sir, is a facile argument!"
      Woodhouse: "Also woefully esoteric."
    • Archer also tends to make obscure psychology jokes. At one point Lana tells Cyril that his sexual addiction is not a real thing. Cyril responds "Just wait until the new DSM comes out."
  • In the second Strawberry Shortcake special, The Purple Pieman tries to enter the bake off in "Big Apple City" by making "kohrabi" cookies. "Kohlrabi" is a type of cabbage, hence why they taste so awful.
  • Quite a few of the details of Avatar: The Last Airbender would go completely over the head of anyone not familiar with written Chinese, or various intricate details of Asian cultures and history. They are detailed exquisitely here.
    • There's more linguistic jokes: in the episode Bitter Work, Sokka promises to give up meat and sarcasm. The word sarcasm comes from the Greek word for meat/flesh: sarx.
  • The Boondocks is rarely a subtle show. Some viewers might have missed the Wunclers parodying Bush's family and administration, since their actions work as jokes on their own and it's never stated outright. The comics became famous almost entirely for the author's stance on them, though.
    • Not to mention that "Wuncler" sounds exactly the same as "Once-ler", a man who—in Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax"—used business to drive out everything that was natural to the land and make it a desolate wasteland. Take notice in the episode where Mr. Wuncler tricks Robert Freeman into opening a soul food restaurant which drives the crime rate up so that he can buy the park next to it.
  • My Gym Partners A Monkey contains a surprising number, usually delivered by Windsor the gorilla, such as when he explains what would otherwise be a fairly lame gag about an owl answering "Who?" to every question asked of it is, in fact, an illustration of the Socratic dialogue.
  • Dexter's Laboratory - Dexter's Joke. It's about the professor's wife being a pain.
    • One comment on the video explains:
    "I feel like there can be two meanings:
    1) As many commenters have stated, hydroxyl ions are abbreviated as OH- or, in this case, HO-. So, the punchline will read: "That's no HO, that's my wife!"
    2) He talks about the professor trying to "liberate" negatively charged hydroxyl ions (HO-). After the punchline, it could mean that the professor is trying to figure out how to "liberate" himself from his wife.
    Either way, it is a GREAT joke, which definitely went over my head when I was younger!"
  • In Ratatouille, Anton's food-induced flashback hails from Marcel Proust's concept of "involuntary memory". Quoth In Search of Lost Time:
    No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory â this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. ... Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ... And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.
    • Additionally, if you look at the movie from Chef Skinner's perspective, it starts to look a whole lot like a fantastique story, a genre in which the French excelled in the nineteenth century. Your typical fantastique story is about an ordinary man who grows increasingly obsessed with some supernatural phenomenon, until it destroys his life, but it's never exactly clear if the supernatural phenomenon is real, if it's a conspiracy by persons unknown, or if it's all a delusion in the ordinary man's head. See Skinner's rant about "Is there a rat?" "No! But he wants me to think there's a rat!"
  • In the X-Men: Evolution episode "Middleverse", one of the devices created by mutant Forge is said to run on CP/M, a pre-DOS computer OS.
  • Batman: The Animated Series is *thick* with these, but one standout example is "Carl Rossum," a brilliant cyberneticist named for the author Karel Čapek and the main character of his best known play, R.U.R., a.k.a. Rossum's Universal Robots.
  • In Fireman Sam, the Welsh wannabe rockstar being named Elvis Cridlington is funny for obvious reasons. It's even funnier if you know the popular but discredited theory that Elvis's name is of Welsh origin (Elfys Preseli).
  • Phineas and Ferb: In The Movie, Candace wonders out loud why the mysterious force of the universe help her brothers so much. Buford says, "Well, why don't you ask it, Kierkegaard?" He gets weird looks from the others, to which he responds, "Existentialist trading cards. It came with the gum."
    Baljeet: Would you like to trade two Sartre for a Nietzsche?
    Buford: Alright.
    Baljeet: Sucker...
    • In the episode where they're at the endangered species benefit...
    Scientist 1: I bet I'll have more species named after me than you. Care to make a wager?
    Scientist 2: No.
    Scientist 1: Why not?
    Scientist 2: Because your last name is "Pithecus."
    • The song writing staff are clearly familiar with Marxist economic theory, because they keep referencing it.
    Doofensmirtz: And at the end of the day, there's more for me/'cause everyone else is the proletariat/ and baby I'm the bourgeoisie- Look it up, Joe!
    • Heck, half of the humor on Phineas and Ferb is this.
  • The goofy astronauts in Tom and Jerry Blast Off To Mars spout an extensive Joseph Campbell quote while wondering if humanity is alone in the universe:
    Astronaut 1: The universe? An inconceivable immensity of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and clusters of clusters of galaxies, speeding apart into expanding distance. And humanity? A kind of recently developed scurf on the epidermis of one of the lesser satellites of a minor star in the outer arm of an average galaxy, amidst one of the lesser clusters among the thousands, catapulting apart, which took form some fifteen billion years ago as a consequence of an inconceivable preternatural event.
    Astronaut 2: Well, I don't see anything.
    Astronaut 1: Guess that answers that. Let's hit it.
  • In My Life as a Teenage Robot, when faced with the proposition of building a dream chip for Jenny, Dr. Wakeman posits, "What do androids dream of? Electric sheep?"
  • In the Doug episode "Doug's Brainy Buddy", Doug has a hard time believing that Skeeter could be a genius after the latter gets a perfect score on an intelligence test... until he notices Skeeter's collection of books includes Immanuel Kant's A Critique of Pure Reason, among other heavy science and philosophy texts.
  • In one episode of MAD, a young time traveler knocks out his father with a "Titor" brand aluminum bat. John Titor was the name used by someone who posted on various internet forums claiming to be a time traveler.
  • Shows up in a couple episodes of Adventure Time:
    • In "Daddy's Little Monster", while Jake is recording Finn's fight with the amulet-possessed Marceline, Finn gets thrown at Jake and Jake shouts "Ow, my hippocampus!" Present!Jake says "That explains why we got amnesia", and he's right: the hippocampus is the part of the brain that supports formation of long-term memory.
    • The objects used to summon Bella Noche in "Betty" are a sword, a orb, a staff, and a goblet. These represent the suits in Minor Arcana Tarot (Swords, Pentacles, Wands, and Cups).
  • "Chip Off The Old Smurfs" from The Smurfs. Handy Smurf and Painter Smurf are arguing over Baby Smurf's future when Poet Smurf walks in to find Baby Smurf singing a song to himself, in baby talk, and rhyming the last syllable as he sings. Poet's response? "Why, listen to that, free verse!"
  • In "Helga on the Couch", from Hey Arnold!, one of the paintings on psychiatrist Dr. Bliss's wall is by Andrew Wyeth. Wyeth was involved in a complex, semisecret relationship with a model named Helga, whom the show's character in fact somewhat resembles.
  • Mission Hill had a few, but one as a Running Gag. The gay couple Gus and Wally are huge fans of David Niven and Broderick Crawford. Anyone familiar with movies from the 50's will instantly recognize Gus and Wally as looking like Broderick Crawford and David Niven, respectively.
  • Finding Nemo has a Stealth Pun in the title that requires knowledge of Latin to understand. Nemo is Latin for "no one", so the title means "Finding No One". It's also a Shout-Out to Captain Nemo, whose name was itself a genius bonus; Nemo is the Latin equivalent of the Greek Outis, which is the name Odysseus used when blinding the cyclops Polyphemus in The Odyssey.
  • The Secret Saturdays features very obscure cryptids that only cryptozoologists can recognize.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball has, as one of Gumball's classmates, a giant named Hector Jotunheim. Jotunheim is one of the nine worlds of Norse Mythology, specifically the home of the giants.
  • How many kids watching Rocky and Bullwinkle do you think realized that Boris Badenov is named for the man who ruled Russia from 1585 to 1605?
  • The Schoolhouse Rock song "Unpack Your Adjectives" features a part where the protagonist labels two characters "dumb" and "brainy", initially incorrectly due to intelligence stereotypes like Fat Idiot, Dumb Muscle and Smart People Wear Glasses. The bulky guy proves he's actually the brainy one by rattling off a definite integral, a type of formula people wouldn't see until after several weeks of calculus. It's completely accurate, right down to simplifying the answer. What makes this better is that it's a Grammar Rock song and this series' main contributions to mathematical knowledge are the much more rudimentary multiplication tables. Doubles as a Freeze-Frame Bonus.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • The ponies give Princess Luna a flower necklace as a sign of forgiveness. The flowers are red and white roses, together, symbolizing reconciliation within the royal family, just as the red and white rose of the Tudor house in real life symbolized the reconciliation between Lancaster and York at the end of the War of the Roses.
    • "Luna Eclipsed" has one that doubles as a Stealth Pun: Twilight Sparkle dresses for Nightmare Night as "Star Swirl the Bearded", a unicorn wizard from ancient times who was "father of the amniomorphic spell", according to Twilight. "Amniomorphic" means "bowl-shaped" in Greek, which means Star Swirl was a bearded shaper of bowls, or a hairy potter. In addition, the "amnion" is the term for the membrane that forms around the fetus of reptiles, birds, and mammals, meaning this may also be a Call Back to the spell Twilight cast in "Cutie Mark Chronicles" to hatch Spike's egg. This episode also has a far more subtle case when Princess Luna doesn't understand what "fun" means. It's not the concept of fun that baffles her; it's the word itself. The word "fun" is less than 1000 years old, which is how long Luna spent banished to the moon.
    • In "The Cutie Pox", Apple Bloom all of a sudden gets a cutie mark shaped like a Fleur de Lis. Immediately, she begins speaking in French. The average American child watching the show is unlikely to be aware of the connection between a Fleur de Lis and the French language. And of course, if the viewer does not speak French, he or she will not know what Apple Bloom is saying.
    • In the episode "Bridle Gossip", Zecora shows a number of strange habits or possessions that cause the ponies to conclude that she's evil. All of these are explained away in the episode as actually being entirely innocuous... except for her habit of pawing at the ground and digging small holes. This is something zebras actually do to find water — by pawing at the ground of dry river beds and the like, they can draw out water that's seeped into the ground. Also, while zebras scrape their hooves on the ground to find water, in horses and ponies (in-show and in real life) it is a display of aggression.
    • In "Read it and Weep" and "Daring Don't", the villain is Ahuitzotl, who is based on a real creature of the same name from Aztec mythology.
    • Big Macintosh's discorded form where he acts like a dog that burrows in the ground makes little sense to most people who assume that's the idea given who's responsible. Anyone from the central United States or Canada will instantly recognize it as a both a pun and a reference to Prairie Dogs: small burrowing creatures that are a nuisance to farmers.
    • A lot of the creatures in the show take inspiration from actual mythological creatures. Most everyone knows about the Hydra and Cerberus, but Orthrus the two-headed dog, Jackalopes, and Windigos are much lesser known references.
    • In "It's About Time", Twilight Sparkle is seen working at a chalkboard full of equations while trying to figure out the supposed disaster that her future self traveled through time to warn her is due to happen by Tuesday morning, and how she might prevent it. The equations in question describe the effects of time dilationnote .
    • In "A Canterlot Wedding - Part 1", we get a musical foreshadowing bonus in the form of "B.B.B.F.F", as explained here and verified here. Long story short: a certain sequence of tones ending in a major chord is called an "authentic cadence". If it instead ends in a minor chord, it's called a "deceptive cadence".

    Other 
  • Though the (alleged) historical incident it refers to is relatively well-known, one suspects that the pun in the title of the Nero Burning ROM software package still went over many people's heads.
  • There's a commercial for an Allentown, Pennsylvania dental clinic in which a little cartoon girl uses a hand mirror to count her own teeth. It's actually an in-joke for dental care professionals: she's too young to have adult teeth yet, yet keeps counting even after reaching 20 — the total number of baby teeth in human kids — indicating she must've lost count somewhere along the line.
  • The former Universal ride for Back to the Future: When Doc Brown goes back in time and meets Albert Einstein, he doesn't look ecstatic or happy like the other scientists that the Doc saw. During the press shoot, there is a man standing next to Einstein; that man is Oppenheimer. The press shot that Doc went to was about the atomic bomb during/after World War II!

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