Instant Mass Just Add Water
Dehydration is a wonderful thing in fiction! It can make anything from creatures to base elements shrink to a easily portable size, and all you need to do to return it to the way it was before is to put a drop of water on it!
Perhaps writers used to have a lot of those expansive sponges or they're very familiar with the factoid that a person is 70% water (a house is seventy percent bricks but try throwing some bricks at some concrete, metal poles and some roofing tiles). However the origin seems to be connected to Food Pills
and the idea of astronaut food. Sailors, soldiers and astronauts have needed easily transportable, highly nutritious and long lasting ways of cooking and storing food (and in the case of astronauts, something you can eat in zero gravity), when trying to think of what might be useful for life In Space!
, something like this trope turns up.
In a way it's connected to the tendency in sci-fi for large, complex objects to fold or retract into small ones, such as George Jetson's
car turning into a suitcase, those vanishing animal-head masks in Stargate SG-1
, or the capsule items in Dragon Ball
. In all of these cases, the shrunken item is easily carried, implying all that mass actually went somewhere else. At the very least, there's an overarching trope here- the idea that if you make an object smaller, it magically gets lighter too
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- The famous later series of Smash instant potato ads are on a related theme with robotic aliens mocking backwards humans for making mashed potato the normal way when they could just use Smash which is essentially the closest humanity gets to this trope- powder to which you add water to make mash potatoes.
Anime & Manga
- In the manga-only final story arc of Ranma 1/2 Akane grabs hold of a magical heat-producing staff which instantly boils all of the water out of her body, but rather than turning her into a desiccated mummy it turns her into a 6 inch tall doll. To bring her back to life (and normal size) Ranma has to soak the doll in some magical water.
- The Bash Street Kids of The Beano tried making food from dehydrated mash, sausages and gravy once. It went wrong when they used far too much water and the food was bursting out of the kitchen.
- Megamind's dehydration ray, which is impossibly harmless. If you get hit with it, you get turned into a small perfect cube (presumably equivalent to the mass of you that isn't water, although we never see what happens to the water), and then as soon as that cube gets slightly damp it transforms back into a perfect healthy human being.
- And he uses it on everything. Stray cats, bags of garbage, Minion, himself...
- The dehydrated pizza in Back To The Future Part II. We laugh when they say "Aw, grandma! Who's going to eat all that?" but then they add the water and you see this massive pizza.
- They also appear in the Back to the Future animated series, where Verne would would be bullied for lunch money, admit that he only had the pills, which the bullies then knocked out of his hand and when they hit the wet ground they popped into a full turkey dinner.
- The instant food in The Fifth Element, which has to be parodying this trope - Leloo shakes what looks like a little salt or pepper into a bowl, and after a few seconds in a microwave, it has become an entire roast chicken with vegetables.
- The 60's Batman: The Movie where all the diplomats got dehydrated. Each of them was reduced to a test tube of powder, which didn't appear to be abnormally heavy. They just added water to the powder to return them to normal (Unless you used heavy water... then the results were not so good...)
- The 60's Batman series also featured "instant costume capsules" in one episode. Drop the capsule into a cup of hot water, and it expands into a full sized Bat suit.
- Spy Kids had packets that expanded into Big Macs in a split second after being placed in a microwave-like "rehydrator".
- In Robert A. Heinlein's short story Magic, Inc.., based in a Magitek Alternate History, someone comes up with the idea of using magic to make a tiny raincoat you can keep in a pen sided holder that grows to full size when it gets wet. The protagonist realizes that you could create a huge industry of all kinds of camping supplies or just anything that you want to carry small that you can just add water to make it full sized.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, an alien race from the Andromeda galaxy (the Kelvans) had the ability to "distill" people by using a device on their belts, reducing them down to a porous, softball-sized cuboctahedron. (Water not needed for restoration.)
- Subverted in another episode, when an entire starship crew (except her captain) is dehydrated and crystallized by an unknown pathogen on a planet they visited. The process is shown to be very painful and irreversibly fatal.
- In the episode of Kenan & Kel set in the year 3000, the characters buy all of their food in tablet form. When they add water to the tablets, they turn into the actual food.
- Speed Bump featured a strip with "Powdered Water: Just Add Water".
Stand Up Comedy
- Employed in one of Carl Hurley's routines involving him going on a dehydrated food diet and losing three pounds... and then gaining five when it rained.
- Dungeons & Dragons. Dragon magazine #73 had the Pill of Plentiful Water. Just add a tiny amount of water to it and it would expand and become a gallon of water.
- Chaosium's Stormbringer supplement Stormbringer Companion. When placed in water, a waterhorse wafer will swell up and become a full sized waterhorse (a demon from the Plane of Probability.
- The original Space Quest game from Sierra On-Line, featured a canister of dehydrated water (hydrogen gas). Part of the game takes place on a desert planet; you actually have to drink the water to avoid dying. You could also throw the canister at the creature Orat. His belly would swell up and he would explode.