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It Runs on Nonsensoleum
"This is my timey-wimey detector. It goes ding when there's stuff."
The Doctor, Doctor Who, "Blink"

There's "hard" science fiction, which adheres only to what is currently known or theorized. There's "soft" science fiction, which offers little to no explanation beyond "it's a time machine!/ray gun!/clone!, etc". There's Techno Babble, which throws gibberish at you and expects you to give it the benefit of the doubt that it's sound science. Then there's jokey science fiction which doesn't care if it's rubbish.

It may explain the scientific principles on which the phlebotinum works, but the principles are so outlandish and/or obviously not true that the audience has to shrug and say, "it's comedy". In a sense, this is research failure done deliberately. In this case, science exists as a means to get characters in a particular place at a particular time. It's a tool used in storytelling, not the story itself.

Oftentimes, Noodle Implements are needed to harness nonsensoleum. Other times, Achievements in Ignorance are the catalyst that allow nonsensoleum to work, and it will stop working once the characters realize that it shouldn't be possible. If they can still do it despite recognizing that what they're doing should be impossible then it's Beyond the Impossible.

Can be seen as an acknowledgement of the Rule of Funny. Compare Insane Troll Logic, which is logic that is not supposed to make sense.

Sometimes justified by The Spark of Genius or Psychic Powers.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  
  • Nearly everything that America in Axis Powers Hetalia invents depends on this trope - although, more often than not, nobody even tries to explain how a giant robot is going to go about stopping global warming, or how a ray gun makes people fall in love with each other.
  • In FLCL, "sushi-eyebrow" Amarao's explanation as to how and why robots are sprouting from main character Naota's forehead, apparently involving the thought processes of certain people's brains (particularly Naota's) creating hyperspace teleportation portals called "N.O. channels" when subjected to a good old smash from space officer Haruko's Rickenbacker bass guitar.
    • Ironically, that's the closest thing to a honest explanation Naoto is ever given in the series about anything.
  • In the One Piece manga, author Eiichiro Oda often gives joke reason for things in his question-and-answer column, like how Zoro can talk even when he has a sword in his mouth because his heart allows him to speak...
    • This is best illustrated by the explanation for Sanji's Diable Jambe move, which involves setting his leg on fire with friction. According to Oda, his leg isn't hurt because his heart is burning hotter. What an awesome power heart is, huh?
    • And Nami's Armor-piercing slaps bruise Luffy because "She hurts his spirit." Of course anyone with the ability to use haki would also be able to nullify Luffy's rubberness, but by the time this power was introduced, Nami had been slapping around Luffy for years.
      • When he was introduced (much later but still a good while before Haki), Luffy's grandfather Garp also displayed the ability to hurt Luffy, claiming he was able to because of The Power of Love. However, it was stated later that he had the ability to use Haki, so it doesn't really count.
    • Sanji appears to be picking up the explicit ability to kick people pretty. Literally. As in, during his fight with uber-Gonk Wanze, he kicks him in the face, turning him temporarily into a Bishounen, and later, does the same (seemingly permanent and much appreciated) to Duval. This means that if this pirate/cook thing doesn't work out for Sanji, he could always become a plastic surgeon. Y'know, without the scalpels and stuff.
    • Sometimes happens with things outside the question and answer panel. For example, the reason Brook kept his Funny Afro even after being reduced to a skeleton is because he had "strong roots".
      • He also claims that milk has healing properties for him because "Milk strengthens the bones", Usopp calls him out on this one.
    • All of Franky's robot powers run on carbonation from Cola. As do the special abilities of the Thousand Sunny, the Straw Hats' current ship. Everything from it's air-burst speed-boost to a Wave Motion Gun runs on cola.
    • Pappagg, the talking starfish? He can talk because - hear, hear - in Japanese "hito desu" is "I'm a human" and "hitode" is starfish. So, because of a pun, he spent his early years convinced he was a human; subsequently he learned to talk and walk around. Then he finally realized he was a starfish; but, oh well, it was too late.
    • The Marine Captains' Coat Capes, despite simply hanging on their shoulders are held in place by Justice. And justice will never fall!
    • It even shows in anime fillers. Twin villains Canpachino and Brindo have the ability to magnetically attract and repel each other. They specifically state that this power doesn't come from a Devil Fruit, but from their brotherly love.
    • Mr. 4 has a shapeshifting gun-dog that came from a gun eating a Devil Fruit (you heard that right.)
      • There's also a Sword-elephant with the same explanation. A gun might be excused by shoving the fruit down it's muzzle, but where do you put the fruit for a sword? Do you cut it and say it's bit into the fruit?
    • Anything that makes no sense in One Piece is often due to a very simple explanation. The supergenius (you can probably count on one hand the number of times his name ISN'T prefaced by that) Dr. Vegapunk did it.
  • The Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann dub gives us a great short example, with Simon wondering how Gurren Lagann's leg gets patched up and Kamina shouting "FIGHTING SPIRIT!" at the top of his lungs as a presumed explanation. He's right. They were repaired by Spiral Power, which comes from fighting spirit. In this case, Nonsensoleum is the most powerful force in the universe.
    • The most advanced technology. The Anti-Spirals can use temporal displacement to hide the Earth's moon from sight in place of an extermination system, launch attacks while joyriding through space and time at any random moment to make them virtually unpredictable, AND they discovered how to alter the laws of reality at will by observing the nature of the multiverse- in other words, they can bend the rules of existence as first-order beings parallel to GOD HIMSELF. However, they lacked a perfect, impervious body- the one weakness that did them in. Sadly, this drives the Grand Finale into Downer Ending territory when it's revealed Spiral Power won't restore the dead- as Yoko tells Gimmy, Simon isn't God. While he may be Crazy Awesome and have an unbreakable will, he's not truly almighty.
      • Alternatively, Spiral Power might restore the dead, but Simon refused to use it that way to avoid setting a bad precedent, lest everybody start abusing it.
  • In A Certain Magical Index nonsensical explanations are given out for how certain abilities work. You might think this is accidental and that the series is being serious. It is, in a way, but it's later lampshaded when the seventh Level 5 gives an explanation for how he does what he does. It sounds just like every other explanation for how abilities work, but then someone who knows what he's talking about pipes up and says that that makes no sense at all and it can't possibly work. Turns out the Level 5 has no idea how it works either. Moral of the story? Don't question the pseudoscience, of course it's rubbish. Enjoy your popcorn.
    • It's later explained that espers are basically Reality Warpers that unconsciously reject just enough of reality to give them superpowers, so their powers don't even have to make sense.

     Comic Books  
  • Even by comic book standards, the source of Marvel's Golden Age superhero The Whizzer's powers was pretty ludicrous: an injection of mongoose blood gave him the power to go really fast just like a mongoose does when it's killing a cobra.
  • The Fanservice-laden furry comic Tank Vixens achieved Faster-Than-Light Travel through the "Credulity Drive". The drive worked by playing a "hyperspace" light show followed by an image of the destination on all of a spaceship's screens, and the sheer gullibility of the crew would cause the ship to arrive. As long as nobody on board knew how the drive worked. This becomes important when the Big Bad loads a videocassette of enters the coordinates for Gone With the Wind...
  • "It runs on pure madness!" is a principle used quite often in Shade, the Changing Man. Things like Angel Catchers and Time Machines are built from unlikely whirlwinds of parts, arranged in implausible configurations, and powered by Shade's insane faith that they would work. For a time, even Shade's own body was formed and held together with madness.
  • According to Scott Pilgrim being a vegetarian vegan apparently gives you Psychic Powers. The explanation (humans only use 10% of their brains since the other 90% is full of curds and whey) for why this works makes less sense. And all the characters know this.

    Film 
  • In The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T, Bart Collins creates a sound absorbing device using all the items in his pockets combined with liquid odor eater and a hearing aid, on the theory that if odor eater removes odors, then combining it with a hearing aid (and marbles, and string, matches, a frog, etc.) will remove all sound from a room. Then it turns out to be Atomic and blows up. It is All Just a Dream, after all.
  • How does the FLDSMDFR (food creating machine) in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs work? By mutating water molecules. That's ridiculous, you say? Well, it's just a show. You should really just relax.
  • The Core, which is scientifically ridiculous from beginning to end, acknowledges this at one point when a character shamefacedly admits that he refers to his secret miracle substance, which not only gets stronger the harder you squeeze it and/or the more you heat it, but generates vast amounts of electricity while doing so, as "Unobtainium." This is based on an old engineer joke wherein an otherwise perfectly good design turns out to require some material whose tensile strength, melting point, or whatever is higher than that of any known substance, and the spec therefore calls for "Unobtainium."
    • The movie provides a detailed explanation of why it is impossible to travel to the Earth's core (heat, pressure, etc). This is followed by the line, "Yes, but... what if we could?" Yes, the movie says, in character-appropriate dialog, that the entire rest of the movie is scientific nonsense. It's a sign saying, "Suspend your disbelief here."
    • According to John Rogers, one of the writers for The Core, this isn't the point. The movie is done in the style of a 60's Science Hero movie; it's not realism that's important, it's verisimilitude. Rogers is a physics major; the writers were entirely aware that what they were proposing was ludicrously incorrect, just as it's also worth mentioning that there were dinosaurs in one of the original scripts. This would be a Shout-Out to Journey To The Center Of the Earth, which posited that there was a prehistoric landscape inside the Earth's center as well as windshields.
  • Pick a Godzilla movie, ANY Godzilla movie.
    • Jet Jaguar.
      "He reprogrammed himself to grow larger!"

    Literature 
  • The Thursday Next novel Lost in a Good Book features Nextian Geometry, which (for example) uses the "principle" that cylindrical objects such as cakes and scones look rectangular from the side, as the basis for a design of cookie cutter which doesn't leave those irregular bits of leftover dough. But only if the cutter is used with Nextian dough, which tastes like library paste.
    • First Among Sequels later reveals that the Chrono Guard can time-travel because of the reasoning that, in all the entire history of the universe, someone must have invented time machines. However, when they finally trace the future history of the universe to the end and find out that no one ever did, all their time machines vanish.
      • The method by which they hope time travel will be invented: A recipe for unscrambled eggs.note 
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy runs on a combination of this and Insane Troll Logic.
    • The Infinite Improbability Drive, which, in a nutshell, works against all probability precisely because someone went through the trouble of calculating precisely how improbable it is for it to work.
    • And the Infinite Improbability Drive's invention also used Nonsensoleum. They already had a Finite Improbability Generator, but needed an Infinite one to take in the whole universe for use as a drive, and frustrated scientists declared this "virtually impossible" - it took one of the lab cleaners to figure out that a "virtual impossibility" is also a "finite improbability", so he could use the Finite Improbability Generator to create the Infinite Improbability Drive or, in fact, teleport its core component, the Heart of Gold/Golden Bail, there from where it had been hidden from the Krikketers. Furthermore, the Finite Improbability Generator is powered by a "fresh cup of really hot tea", as it runs on the unpredictability of the Brownian motion of the water molecules. note 
    • In Life, the Universe and Everything, a new form of travel is devised based on "Bistromathics", the unnatural manner in which numbers behave when calculated on Italian restaurant bills.
    • Life also introduces the "Somebody Else's Problem Field", a cloaking device that takes advantage of people's natural tendency to ignore things they can't comprehend or don't want to deal with, and proposes that the secret to unassisted human flight is to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Which, while a gross over-simplification, is sort of how things maintain orbits... so it's not entirely false. It works, too.
    • There's also the drive that functions on the principle that bad news always reaches places before anything else. Too bad nobody would allow it to dock.
    • If you've done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with breakfast at Milliways - Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
    • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe also has an accidental application of nonsensoleum, when a rock band using cutting-edge high-tech amplifiers achieves such loud volumes that the tectonic plate on which the concert is taking place flips like a flapjack, converting a former blasted wasteland into a fertile field of volcanic soil which becomes the garden spot of that world in just a few short years.
      "It was a good gig," a spokesman for the band commented.
  • Discworld dabbles in this from time to time. For example, in The Truth, it's explained that the dried frog pills the Bursar takes to keep him apparently sane are actually hallucinogens, the idea being that a proper dose will cause him to hallucinate that he's sane (just like most people).
    • In Hogfather, when Hex (a non-electronic computer composed primarily of ants marching through glass tubes) becomes unstable, its rationality is restored by typing the words "dried frog pills" into it. (This may have been inspired by the Cookie Monster virus, one of the first computer viruses.)
    • Guards! Guards!! introduces the concept of L-Space, where large collections of books warp time and space based on the principle that knowledge is power, power is energy, energy is matter, matter has mass, and mass warps space-time. Thus, the reason why owners of independent book stores tend to be so eccentric is that they're from an alternate dimension.
    • Then there's the time in Sourcery the characters travel across the sea in a magic lantern. This works because one of them is holding the lantern, and they're all inside the lantern. The trick is to complete the journey before the universe catches on... oops, too late.
    • In a footnote in Mort, there's a passage regarding the philosopher Ly Tin Weedle's theory of kingons (or queons), the elemental particle of monarchy, that he believed traveled faster than light; there could only be one king at a time and there couldn't be a gap between kings, so monarchy must travel faster than anything else in the universe. His plans to use this discovery to send messages by carefully torturing a small king to modulate the signal never came to fruition because at that moment the bar closed.
    • In the fiction portion of The Science of Discworld, the thinking engine Hex increases his own processing abilities by reasoning that, in the future, he'll have already done so, then pulling the needed components out of probability phase space where they must therefore exist in potentia. It's Lampshaded that, while this train of thought is, for the most part, garbage, it isn't complete garbage.
      • This is closely related to the idea behind Invisible Writings, which is based on the fact that, because the books that currently exist influence the books that will be written in the future, it should be possible to deduce what the contents of as-yet unwritten books will be from a detailed study of existing books. This is mostly just a harmless way of occupying Wizards, but occasionally it works.
  • The novel The Holy Land claims that extraterrestrials are taller because of relativity. They've been flying in spaceships for generations, and since everything in the universe is shrinking (the real reason for the redshift), the time dilation means that they've shrunken less.
    • James Blaylock used the same premise in Land Of Dreams, mostly as an excuse to include time travelers' giant shoes and spectacles in his novel alongside little men disguised as mice.
  • This was the Word of God explanation (and heavily implied in the stories — although so much of history was lost to the characters that they never figured it out, there are clues for the reader that this is what is going on) for why Time Travel took the main character to a fantastic version of the past in Larry Niven's Svetz short stories — which would eventually lead to Rainbow Mars. They had managed to invent Time Travel... but since Time Travel was impossible and could only work in fiction, it took them to a fictionalized version of the past. Hence Svetz bringing back Moby Dick — complete with a dead Ahab — when he was sent to find a whale, after a close brush with the Leviathan.
  • In one Paul Bunyan story, he builds a sawmill that, simply by being set in reverse, can convert sawdust back into whole logs.
  • Although it's half-Techno Babble, half-Magi Babble, there has to be space here for Robert Rankin's Raiders of the Lost Car Park. The explanation for where The Fair Folk are hiding, which would boggle Ford Prefect: if you've ever tried to glue a rectangular map onto a globe of the same scale, you'll find it doesn't fit properly. The bits of the map that don't fit onto the globe are the regions in which they hide out. These are only accessible to humans by playing certain notes on an ocarina that has been reinvented with a power drill. And that's the part that, comparatively speaking, makes sense.
    • Knees Up Mother Earth features a motor vehicle fuelled by the ''rage' of its driver. Via a helmet built from Meccano.
  • In Tall Tale America the chapter on Jim Bridger and Febold Feboldson ("Western Scientists") is all about this. Petrified forests having petrified gravity, feeding fish iron rich food so you could harvest them with a magnet, literally cutting fog with a knife and burying it under ground; they've got it all.
    • The second chapter about Paul Bunyan, the one where he's a "scientific industrialist," has got some whoppers, too. He invents refrigerator cars when he packs some cows in with a bunch of popcorn; the cows think the popcorn's snow and freeze solid on the spot. Then there's how he finds oil wells by following dinosaur footprints, or how he carves one large hole into pieces to sell as small, individual holes for fence posts.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's tongue-in-cheek novel The Number of the Beast features, among other things, a dimensional transference drive that works by gyroscopic precession. Specifically, precession applied to a gyroscope in such a way as to make it do something geometrically impossible. Instead, it takes itself and anything touching it into in another universe.
  • Stanislaw Lem has sci-fi stories set after the Discovery of the Energetic Potential of Lemon Juice.
  • The universe of Dr Dimension heavily relies upon Heinz products for propulsion and energy generation, so much so that the number 57 is considered to be holy by a number of religions.
  • In the Wildcards books, some Aces are super inventors, but other scientists/engineers can't operate or maintain their devices because it's their own psychic power that makes them work.

     Live Action TV  
  • In Doctor Who, Techno Babble is perhaps the only trope used more often than Monster of the Week, so of course there are numerous instances of this trope, for example the Doctor's timey-wimey detector (it goes 'ding' when there's stuff).
    • Mocked in a fictional Doctor Who scene in Extras:
      David Tennant: He's hyper-podulating! He's using his moluscian glang-valves to internally vibrolate our DNA!
      • In fact, averting the above is precisely the reason why it's done the way it is. Russell T Davies wanted to avoid Star Trek-ish Techno Babble, where shows that take themselves more seriously would have the nonsensoleum described in great detail at great length in a dead-serious manner, as if you were a student and the writers were putting a lecture on the effects of neutrino flux on the phase-matrix of warp inducers in story form. As such, the Doctor will instead say "Think of X" and then tell you "It's nothing like X, but if it makes you feel better, think of it as an X," or come up with things like time being "great big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff." In-universe, this is given as or implied to be the Doctor basically being so much more advanced than humans that he's only capable of sharing so much of his knowledge - slowing his thought process down to explain things is hard for him, and sometimes there is simply no way to ever make a Muggle truly understand how something like a Weeping Angel works, and really, all you need to know is "Don't turn your back, don't look away, and don't blink. Good luck."note 
    • Even the Classic series, which usually played technobabble straight, sometimes had the Doctor give intentionally nonsensical explanations of things, usually for characterisation reasons. In "An Unearthly Child", the First Doctor's explanation to Ian about how the TARDIS is Bigger on the Inside is some absolute nonsense about how a television allows you to fit an entire building inside your living room, which displays the Doctor's total contempt for Ian's human intellect. When the Fourth Doctor attempts to explain it to Leela in "The Robots of Death", he gives her a lecture involving a pair of black cubes of different sizes and putting them so that the smaller one is much closer to her, saying that it makes it bigger - but it's apparent from his expressions that he's really just challenging her to call him out on his explanation being nonsense as a kind of Secret Test of her intelligence (she does).
  • El Chapulín Colorado, being a superhero satire, obviously runs on Grade-A Nonsensoleum to make the titular hero paralyze people with a bicycle horn, shrink to about 4 inches tall, and show up at Venus, ancient Japan or Nazi Germany.
  • Dr. Forrester from Mystery Science Theater 3000, his explanation for some of his more implausible inventions? "It would take a scientist to explain it, and I'm just too mad".
  • Red Dwarf has such gleefully unscientific phenomena as a mutated flu virus that makes the sufferer's hallucinations "solid" (When Lister objects that this doesn't make sense, Rimmer's second attempt at explaining it fails to be significantly different from the first) and a similarly affected photo developing fluid that not only brings photos to life but allows time travel through them when projected onto a screen.
    • Also creatures like the shape-shifting Genetic Mutant that gains sustenance and strength by sucking 'mental energy' - strong emotions/personality features - right out of the crew's heads (via some kind of sucking proboscis applied to the forehead, as I recall...)
  • One episode of Tales from the Crypt was about a sideshow man at a carnival who'd attained the power to be killed and resurrected from a mad doctor transferring a cat's nine lives over to him using some crazy machine. As part of this mad logic, he keeps count of how many times he's been killed to ensure he still has one extra life to spare. Then he realizes his count is short and the life he's about to lose really is the last one...
  • The Chronoskimmers from Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? run on "fact fuel" generated by crew members answering history questions.
  • In Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger, the Akibarangers are powered by delusions and their henshin call is Jūmōsō! ("Grand Delusion!"), thus their abilities literally run on nonsense!

     Newspaper Comics  
  • Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes invents devices that run on nonsensoleum, especially a cardboard box capable of traveling through time, transforming Calvin into an animal, or duplicating him. These are all the same box, the only changes being what direction the box's opening is facing and what's scribbled on its sidenote . Hobbes lampshades these inventions by saying, "It's amazing what they can do with corrugated cardboard these days."
    • Calvin himself took advantage of this at one point: after creating several duplicates of himself (whom he couldn't stand), he got rid of them by getting them to stand under the duplicator box, crossing out the label "Duplicator," and writing in the new label "Transmogrifier" so he could change them into worms.
    • When the transmogrifier was introduced, it was able to select between 4 forms: eel, baboon, bug, or dinosaur. When Hobbes asked what if he wanted to turn into something else, Calvin simply replies he left space to write more stuff on the dial.

    Radio 
  • There is no better description for The Goon Show. Well, except one: "Ying tong iddle i po."
  • One part of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series that was never adapted in other versions has a fifteen mile high statue of Arthur Dent Throwing the Nutrimatic Cup. The mile-long marble cup floats in mid-air "because it's artistically right."
  • Nebulous' inventions and scientific discoveries in Nebulous include things like 'the discovery of a sense between smell and touch called "smouch"' and Factor 1000000 sunblock ("if you wear it for more than an hour, you get rickets").

     Tabletop Games  
  • Warhammer 40,000 Orky "teknologie" runs, quite literally, because the Orks believe it should work that way.
    • This is typified in their most common upgrade to any vehicles' speed: they paint them red, because "da red wuns go fasta!" So while the real reason is that Orks have tremendous Psychic Powers, their explanations fit this trope perfectly.
    • This is used to hilarious effect when a group of Imperial engineers try to determine what it is that makes Orky weaponry so deadly. They dismantle it, put it back together, try everything they can to even get the gun to fire but nothing. This is because the gun is missing several vital components. When they put it in the hands of an ork, it fires with deadly power.
    • Ork spaceships have been reported to navigate through space for months despite having run completely out of fuel, just because the crew thought they should or simply didn't notice.
    • Ork stealth technology consists of painting things purple, because nobody's ever seen a purple army.
    • It should be noted that this varies wildly Depending on the Writer. For example, in one of the Gaunt's Ghosts novels, the eponymous commissar has no problems commandeering an ork buggy beyond the fact that it was designed for a significantly stronger being and as such lacks power steering. Another example is that of a unit of Ork-hunter Imperial Guard who will often loot Ork guns and use them, again with no problems. The general idea is that Ork technology works, and the Orks' psychic power simply makes it work better. This interpretation is supported by the rules for Rogue Trader, which presents stats for an Ork gun that is exceedingly unreliable and prone to jams, but runs far more smoothly than it ought to in the hands of an Ork.
  • One of the main problems with the mad science of Genius The Transgression — it runs entirely on the inventor's madness (sorry, Inspiration). Any attempt to pin down the underlying scientific principles involved (especially by a mundane observer) will fail, and any attempt by a mundane observer to closely examine or tinker usually results in the thing blowing up... or worse.

     Video Games  
  • The Adventure Game Sam and Max: Bright Side of the Moon has the characters drive off in their quite ordinary DeSoto with a screech of the tires, fades out, then fades back in on the moon just as they're getting out. Whether this is better or worse than the comic book "Bad Day On the Moon", with its offhand explanation of stuffing the muffler full of thousands upon thousands of match heads, is debatable. Best not to delve too deeply into it. In the cartoon, we get to see how it's done. They grenade jump there while inside the DeSoto.
    • This is Lamphaded in a later Sam and Max game, Chariots of the Dogs, in which Sam from the past asks present Sam "Max and I need to get to the Moon. How do we get there?" One of the conversation options is "Why don't you just drive there?" to which his past self replies "You can't just drive to the moon, bonehead." Past Max adds "Sheesh, Sam... our future selves have no respect for plausibility."
    • In the Jean-Luc Goddard film 'Alphaville,' which is definitely not comedy, the protagonist travels to a distant planet by driving a sedan on the freeways of Paris.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3, during an incredibly meta codec radio conversation between Sigint and Snake discussing the Patriot gun:
    Sigint: And it never runs out of ammo?
    Snake: Never.
    Sigint: Why's that?
    Snake: Because the internal feed mechanism is shaped like an infinity symbol.
    Sigint: Ah, I get it. Yep, that'll give you unlimited ammo.
    • Snake can also eat a bioluminescent mushroom to recharge his batteries. Para-Medic and Sigint agree to themselves that it must've just been a placebo effect.
    • Metal Gear Solid 2 did something similar towards the end, when Raiden asks Snake if he has enough ammo to lend him, and Snake replies, "Infinite ammo." while pointing to his bandana (a reference to the bandanna from Metal Gear Solid, which did indeed give Snake infinite ammo for the weapon he was holding).
  • In Super Paper Mario, the helmet that lets Mario breathe in outer space is a goldfish bowl; the only thing he has to do to change it into a space helmet is to let the fish out.
  • In Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, the eponymous protagonist makes a space suit out of a wetsuit, a fish bowl (leaving his fish in the kitchen) and copious amounts of duct tape. However, you also need an air tank or you will suffocate.
  • The Fallout series explicitly works based not on actual science, but Science! of the 1950s. Nuclear powered cars and radiation causing giant bugs to pop up is just how things are supposed to work.
    • The giant bugs and other oddly modified creatures could also have been a result of the FEV (Forced Evolutionary Virus), a failed Super Soldier Serum which created the super mutants. It got out and into the remaining animal life after the bombs dropped, making them larger and more aggressive. The nuclear cars still don't make sense.
      • FEV would be the inversion of Nonsensoleum, as a non-jokey though still vaguely enough defined Phlebotinum. The beginning of each game Hand Waves a lot to "Radiation did it!", but as each game progresses from comedic to a dramatic climax, more of the setting's backstory is filled in with FEV's involvement.
      • In fact, FEV is hardly a failed project. It works exactly as advertised, as super mutants are immortal, super-strong and resistant to radiation, and while most of them act like troglodytes, some (who e.g. got education after exposure) are show as at least as smart as normal humans.
    • Nuclear cars could work, but be too dangerous and expensive in real life. It's possible that cars switched to nuclear power due to the shortage of oil which triggered the resource wars. In Fallout universe no one really cared about danger from radiation and apparently there are more radioactive elements (both in number of kinds and amount) than we know about.
  • In Monday Night Combat bacon raises a character's attributes past their maximum limit until the end of their current life. The explanation? "Bacon makes you better at everything, just like in real life".
  • The whirligigs of Netstorm: "This device is lofted on its own impossibility and so it destroys by the power of negation." Whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. Oddly enough, they need to refuel every so often, which implies that they must be loaded with impossibility before each flight. Does impossibility have a physical form? One would assume not, but then why is their impossibility supply finite? More importantly, how do you power an object with impossibility in the first place, let alone destroy things with it? It seems that the Whirligig is something of a philosophical quandary, though it must be acknowledged that attempting to use logic on an example of this trope is futile.
  • In The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, the aliens have a machine that's somehow powered by purple objects. Making this even more ridiculous, the aliens change the power source of the machine each stage.
  • In Team Fortress 2, the Gray-aligned robots are powered by... money.
    • According to an early version of "Meet the Medic", the Medigun pack is apparently powered by an unknown red liquid, pain pills, blood, sandviches, and piss.
  • Merry Gear Solid offers a bunch of nonsensical reasons for why things work the way they do, usually powered by puns and synonyms. For instance, a moldy jam sandwich can be used to counteract radar jamming, because the mold in it absorbs jam.
  • The official reason why Metal Slug Recurring Boss Allen O'Neal is able to come back from the dead in every game, even when he's Eaten Alive by an orca and his bones spat out? He has a family he has to return to.
  • Grim Fandango, being set in "The Land of the Dead" and thus primarily inhabited by skeletons, frequently runs into this. For example, in keeping with the Film Noir tone, several characters smoke cigarettes or cigars despite lacking the respiratory system and circulatory system necessary to enjoy it; they even lack a tongue to taste it with, meaning it's an entirely trivial habit performed entirely because it's awesome.
    Surly Clown: (twisting balloons) My carpal tunnel syndrome is really acting up.
    Manny: But... you don't have any tendons.
    Surly Clown: (annoyed) Yeah, well you don't have a tongue, but that doesn't seem to shut you up, now, does it?

    Webcomics 
  • Scary-Go-Round's Tim Jones built a time machine that was a self-heating teapot with a clock on the side and an electronic eye in the lid. To use it, one simply had to set the clock to your desired time, then turn on the teapot; using the principle that "a watched pot never boils", the water would heat up but never boil. In the process, time would get confused, and reset itself to the nearest timepiece.
  • Starslip Crisis's Superlinear drive works on the principle that the fastest path between two points is a straight line. The superlinear drive finds the straight line, then it finds an even straighter one to travel, thus allowing Faster-Than-Light Travel.
    • The previous mode of locomotion, the Starslip Drive, worked by inputting the destination and flipping you into an alternate universe where you were already there.
  • The B-Movie Comic has a Transforming Mecha with a traditional air brake, the kind that turns a fall into a pleasant hover two feet above the ground. When its button is pressed, it works by triggering a small explosive charge that propels a massive tungsten bolt. Into what, you ask? Into Isaac Newton's memorial at Westminster Abbey.
  • The comic Absurd Notions has at its core, the testing of tabletop games (and general geekiness) as its plot device. One of the settings they test is the requisite outer space cliche-ridden junk. While the DM tries to set the stage for the players, he mentions how the space craft make interstellar travel through 'IJD' technology. One of the players replies, "I...DJ? Inter-dimensional jump?" where the DM responds, "Nope, IJD, It Just Does."
  • Sparky in Books Don't Work Here dosn't have enough education in Mad Scientist to give a logical explanation so he just wings it.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, almost everything runs on plot. Especially Riff's devices. And more especially, Schlock's devices. And MORE MORE especially, the devices they make together or with each other's technology.(Riff uses Schlock's inflatable technology to make inflatable guns that somehow shoot lasers without destroying themselves.)
    • Even better is that Schlock creates a balloon version of himself that inflates WHEN YOU PIERCE IT.
  • While not Sci-Fi, The Order of the Stick is openly plot-based. The characters are aware and use it for everything from fastforwarding in time to realizing what's about to happen.
  • Gorgeous Princess Creamy Beamy, in order to support the Fetish Fuel.
  • Mountain Time has a car that runs on hollandaise and emits shampoo, and another one that travels through dimensions when Billy Joel music plays on its tape deck.
  • Professor Zweistein of The-FAN attempts a rather nonsensical explanation regarding people turning into anime characters due to lengthy exposure to anime. This turns out to be a subversion as he later admits that he made it up on the spot.
  • In Tobias And Jube, the titular duo have a spaceship drive that allows it to cross vast distances really quickly. The way it works is: the crew suggests a place to go and decide to go there. The ship then arrives there solely because it would have to arrive there eventually.
  • In Girls in Space the girls travel space in a VW Camper Van. This was converted into a spaceship when the Universal Upgrader (a prototype made by an intergalactic electronics company) was fired at it.
  • Explanations like these pop up all the time in 8-Bit Theater, usually regarding Fighter and Black Belt's Achievements in Ignorance. For instance, how does Fighter use his Chainsaw Swords technique? By not realizing he can't do it!
    • Fighter also survives a freefall by using his Paladin abilities to block the ground. Fighter's "explanation" is that since he can block all sorts of elemental attacks, it's natural that he'd be able to block Earth.
    • As far as Red Mage is concerned, the less sense a plan makes, the greater its chance of success! He took this Up to Eleven when devising a plan that he claimed to be infallible. Why? It made no sense, therefore it couldn't be stopped. His reasoning for that run thusly: the more complex the plan, the more things can go wrong. Ergo, if the plan is completely insane and unworkable from the outset, there's no way for it to fall apart, so it's guaranteed to succeed! (Black Mage became so irritated by this explanation that he temporarily went blind.)
  • Most of Kim's inventions in Dresden Codak involve some form of nonsensoleum.
    • The Dark Science in particular arc is premium unleaded nonsensoleum: Kim hires a director friend to produce horrendous adaptations of literary classics, in order to convert "posthumous indignity" (i.e., the authors spinning in their graves) into clean energy. It would've worked, too, if anyone had gone to see the films.
    Kim: If sufficiently disgusted, an author's spinning corpse can produce over 400 megajoules per grievance.
  • Dragon Tails with Bluey's Science Explained.
  • The Life of Nob T. Mouse is built on this trope. Characters are not born, they just appear. There's a city built on a giant wodge of putty plugging a hole in the universe where the Big Bang happened. Waving a jelly on a stick with pink-icing buns stuck on it will summon a letterbox that lets you post yourself to another universe. The list goes on and on.
  • A whole lot of stuff in Regular Guy.
  • Girl Genius, being a comic about mad scientists lives and breathes this trope. A Spark in the "Madness Place" can build practically anything.
  • In Black Adventures, quantum physics cause Magical Girl Transformation Sequences and the Nimbasa subway is powered with Ingo and Emmett's "Bruderliebe".
  • Goats has a singularity that turns kittens into pop tarts, or vice versa. It turns out to be both a Running Gag and, eventually, a bit of Applied Phlebotinum.
  • The Cool Ship in Dubious Company runs on inebriation! No, not alcohol. Inebriation. The crew must be drunk to drive. Why yes, this is a comic about pirates.
  • In Voodoo Walrus A publishing house operates out of an underwater techno-volcano powered by a baby fueled furnace. Not to mention the tendency of explosions be at least partially comprised of live, unperturbed by being in explosions, cats.
  • Post-Scratch Bro Strider that is to say, Dave, in Homestuck invented a way of making JPEG artifacts in real life that obviously runs on this trope. Its quite profitable despite nobody wanting the products, because they have a negative cost to manufacture.
  • Ansem Retort: time travel is achieved through binge-drinking. Neither why nor how is ever coherently explained. Because everyone's too drunk to give a coherent explanation.
  • Mac Hall: Ian manages to turn applied theology into a jelly donut. The very best one ever.
  • Beeserker is all about a pair of Sciencemen who build a robot powered by bees. Even the author says he has no idea how that works.
  • In Allen The Alien, apparently, the English the aliens speak is translated Czech. It's entirely played for laughs.
  • In a No Fourth Wall strip of Arthur, King of Time and Space, Merlin, criticizing the literal use of Unobtanium in Avatar claims his time machine is powered by Runsoutatcriticalmomentsium.
  • XKCD does this in quite a few strips, like abusing the principle of explosion to get "Your Mom's phone number".
  • In Manly Guys Doing Manly Things Time Travel, according to Commander Badass, runs on bullshit. And if you think about it too hard, things happen.

     Web Original  
  • Devisors from the Whateley Universe run on this trope, although they sometimes get devices that are close to reasonable. This is annoying to those with both Gadgeteer and Devisor traits, since they don't know if what they built either obeys the rules of science or ignores the rules of science, in which case they can't patent and mass-manufacture it. The only test is if someone else can build it.
  • The troll science meme has lots of this, along with an amount of Insane Troll Logic.
  • The Freeeze Ray (it freezes time!) from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog runs on 'Wonderflonium'.
    • "Do Not Bounce"
  • In one of the more glorious cases of Off the Rails ever, a certain Crazy Awesome player builds a spaceship that runs on stupidity, and thus takes advantage of his GM's utterly vile and inane world to acquire unlimited power.
  • This is the premise of the SCP Foundation: The Foundation collects strange objects, creatures and people, lists the ways they contradict the known laws of the universe, and note that these things still function somehow.

     Western Animation  
  • Darkwing Duck hardly has any other kind of technology. For example, there's the completely fictional notion of all matter consisting of "trons", particles that come in good and evil flavours.
  • Much of Professor Farnsworth's science in Futurama is based on total nonsense. For instance, his theory of "reverse fossilisation" — that if fossilization turns organic matter to minerals, then one simply had to reverse the process to turn household appliances into animals. He also built a spaceship which moved by staying perfectly still by shifting the rest of the universe, whose engine's afterburners worked at two hundred percent efficiency. Ships can cross the universe in days even though you can't travel faster than the speed of light because the speed of light was increased six hundred years ago.
    • Lampshaded at least once:
      Cubert: That's impossible!
      Professor Farnsworth: Not at all! It's really quite simple.
      Cubert: Then explain it.
      Professor Farnsworth: Now that's impossible!
    • Lampshaded later in the same episode, but with love and idealism:
      Professor Farnsworth: Nothing is impossible if you can imagine it! That's what being a scientist is all about!
      Cubert: No, that's what being a magical elf is all about!
    • Inverted in "When Aliens Attack", with the Professor explaining, using perfectly sound science, how aliens could know about a show that hadn't aired in a thousand years:
      Professor: Well, Omicron Persei 8 is about a thousand light years away. So the electro-magnetic waves would just recently have gotten there. You see—
      Fry: Magic. Got it.
    • In "Mars University", the characters meet Gunter, Professor Farnsworth's talking monkey. Fry asks if Gunter can talk because he was genetically engineered, but the Professor laughs and tells him that genetic engineering is a bunch of science fiction mumbo jumbo. He then explains that Gunter's intelligence and ability to talk come from "his electronium hat, which harnesses the power of sunspots to produce cognitive radiation."
  • Phineas and Ferb, this show is made of nonsenseoleum. The very first episode has them escaping earth's gravity, in a rollercoaster, because the Effiel Tower flung them there like a slingshot.
    • Though interestingly, sometimes things will have a scientific basis, such as their plan to experience forty hours of sunlight by flying around the world in "Summer Belongs to You." Amusingly, this was the one time one of their friends decided to exhibit Arbitrary Skepticism—he may not understand their usual insane take on science, but he knows a day isn't that long!note 
  • Pinky and the Brain uses nonsense technobabble from time to time. But the show's favorite science to use in this manner is sociology: almost all of the Brain's schemes are satirical shots at trends in American culture, and treat human behavior with the same dignity that this trope usually treats science.
    • One example was during an episode where Brain was planning to sue a major company:
    Brain: In the office kitchen, I will simply stage an accident utilizing the microwave oven and the non-dairy powdered creamer. For no one really knows how a microwave works.
    Pinky: But, why the powdered creamer, Brain?
    Brain: No one really knows how that works, either.
    • The gag doesn't stop there. When it went to trial, someone is able to explain how the microwave works, but he's at a complete loss on the creamer.
  • Sheep in the Big City
    • There's had a robot called "the plot device", leading to conversations like:
      Woman: How did you get here so fast?
      Major Minor: I used a plot device!
      Plot Device:(sticks head into view) Hello.
    • And then there's the sheep-powered ray gun, for which the Secret Military Organization needs Sheep, despite the fact that the farm he escaped from was a sheep farm with at least 50 more. We don't know why, but the ray gun only works with one sheep and only if he's alive. There is Lampshade Hanging whenever anyone suggests to just make a ray gun with a power source other than sheep, but the idea always gets rejected.
  • Lampshaded at least once in Family Guy:
    Stewie: How can you have a thirteen-year-old son when you yourself are only seven?
    Brian: Well, those are dog years.
    Stewie: But that doesn't make any sense.
    Brian: Well, if you don't like it, go on the internet and complain.
  • In The Tick vs. the Big Nothing, an alien ship has a device that enables it to travel at the speed of lint. Which is faster than light, because it's one of the first things you find in your pockets after you do your laundry.
    Interpreter: And how does it get there?
    Tick: Uh, I don't know.
    Interpreter: It's that fast!

    Other 
  • Reportedly Isaac Asimov hated everything that Steven Spielberg ever made that used future tech because the explanations for how the tech worked didn't make scientific sense. Conversely, he loved the Star Wars series because it didn't end up resorting to this trope.
    • The Good Doctor himself is no stranger to nonsensoleum, or as he called it, thiotimoline. This substance was the subject of a series of mock scientific papers which were written as if they were actual chemistry papers, the only giveaway being that they're about a chemical so soluble that it dissolves before water is added and it only gets sillier from there. To wit:
      • The reason it does this? The molecules are so dense that some of its chemical bonds get crowded out of normal space and into the fourth dimension.
      • It can be used to diagnose dissociative identity disorder because the amount of time before water is added it dissolves is somehow connected to the willpower, or "willosity" of the person adding the water. Therefore if it dissolves unevenly the person must have more than one personality.
      • It has potential applications as a weapon of mass destruction via artificially inducing hurricanes. This is because if a person tries to create a paradox by preventing thiotimoline that has dissolved from ever contacting water by locking it in a container the universe will cause a hurricane to smash it open and preserve causality.
      • It can also make Faster-Than-Light Travel possible via "hypersteric hindrance" and pilots with high willosity.
  • The tongue-in-cheek idea of building an anti-gravity or perpetual motion device by attaching a piece of buttered toast to a cat's back and dropping them from a height. According to the buttered cat paradox, the cat must land feet first and the toast must land butter side down, but both can't hit the ground at the same time.
    • Alan Moore played with this in Tomorrow Stories, where kid supergenius Jack B. Quick buttered cats to create antigravity devices. His parents quickly reminded him, however, that the cat would eventually lick off the butter and fall, which they did just in time to fall on the mutated pigs who had had a Communist revolution.
    • One can elaborate this this idea by using a very expensive oriental rug, on the theory that the chance of the toast landing butter side down is directly proportional to the expense of the surface it's dropped over. Additionally, attaching two cats back to back to a driveshaft that falls freely and dropping the entire assembly should result in it spinning in midair indefinitely. Hooking this up to a generator would make The Bi-feline Dynamo.
  • Fantasy artist Robin Wood's "Theory of Cat Gravity": The sun has gravity in spades. Cats lie in the sun to absorb gravity. Cats then lie on their owners, using the stored gravity to pin them in place. This is why it's so hard to bring yourself to get up off the couch when a cat is lying on you.
    • In a corollary to this theory, dogs make people laugh so they can collect levity, which is the opposite of gravity. Then they use the stored levity to cancel out cats' gravity, so their owners will get off the couch and play with them.


Infinite CanvasWebcomic TropesMS Paint
Is It Always Like This?Absurdity AscendantMakes Just as Much Sense in Context
Instant GravestoneRule of Funny"Just Joking" Justification
It Is Pronounced Tro-PAYComedy TropesIt's a Costume Party, I Swear
Item AmplifierApplied PhlebotinumJack Up With Phlebotinum
Dude Looks Like a LadyImageSource/Web ComicsEars for Elves

alternative title(s): Fueled By Nonsensoleum; It Runs On Nonsensium; It Runs On Nonsenseoleum
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