Losing Horns

Homer: (in Mr. Burns' yacht, outside the American seaboard) Help! Pirates!
Coast Guard Officer: (over loudspeakers, having not crossed out to international waters) Navy SEALs are on the way.
Homer: Oh, bless you!
Coast Guard Officer: How about a tactical nuclear strike?
Homer: Oh, that would be just... (Beat) Oh, you're just yanking my chain, aren't you?
Coast Guard Officer: Perhaps this foghorn will answer your question. (sounds the "wah-waaah" horn)
The Simpsons, "The Mansion Family"

A series of sad notes heard on some game shows whenever a contestant has lost (the Bonus Round, generally). These come in several flavors:

  • Type A: Seems to be the most common, as far as game shows are concerned; these usually take the form of a "mock fanfare" resembling a bar from the show's original Theme Tune, with the last note a "sad trombone" glissando. Some examples of this type have only the "sad trombone".
  • Type B: A series of goofy notes that form a descending "Wah-wah-wah-wahhhhhh" (a "stock" example can be found here). Does not always have to be four. Non-game show examples (especially in cartoons) are likely to fall under this type.
  • Type C: A mocking tune, such as the Mocking Sing-Song, played on some instrument.
  • Subversion: A random sound effect is used instead.

Generally associated with Epic Fail. Some can qualify as Nightmare Fuel to younger viewers. Compare Letting the Air Out of the Band, which can be used to similar effect in other media. Contrast with Big Win Sirens, which are the opposite reaction to the opposite outcome. Nothing to do with antlers falling off or the other kind of lost horn.

Type A Examples:

  • The CBS daytime version of The Price Is Right has one of the earliest examples and easily the most recognizable, used after double overbids in the Showcase end game and many pricing game losses (especially ones involving cars or large amounts of cash). These were also used on several other Goodson/Todman game shows. Heard on Double Dare and the original version of Card Sharks in truncated form, and the 1980s versions of Card Sharks in full. It consists of the first four notes of TPIR's main theme on a tuba, followed by a trombone "groan". Listen to it here.
  • The Alex Trebek version of Classic Concentration: One "groan" played on trombones, similar to Price but much more ominous, is heard after a bonus loss. Recycled on the 1989 revival of Now You See It.
  • The American runs of Blockbusters had a different one for each version, each resembling that version's theme song.
  • Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? uses a quick musical cue whenever someone answered a question correctly, and a sad inversion of said cue when someone's final answer was wrong. The fanfare heard when someone wins the million is definitely a Crowning Music of Awesome, but should you happen to be the unfortunate soul who misses the million-dollar question, then you're in for one hell of a noise. Ken Basin was the first person in the US version to experience this disastrous outcome, although it came after he bragged like a douche he would get the million. Unfortunately, the new music package used by the U.S. version after it switched to the shuffle format doesn't have one.
  • History IQ
  • Game shows produced by Jay Wolpert almost always have unique ones:
    • Blackout: A synthesized one that descends VERY quickly.
    • Rodeo Drive
    • Shopping Spree has a comical one that is broken up into pieces.
    • The Doug Davidson version of The Price Is Right replaced the original horns with a groan on an electric guitar... and glass breaking. The cut that didn't make it to the air also featured the first bar of the theme played Shopping Spree-style and had even more horns... possibly the most evil example of this trope ever produced.
    • The first cycle of Wait Til You Have Kids had three: a one-note horn for no one getting a question right in the main game, and a stock foghorn followed by a standard theme-tune variation (therefore Type B mixed with A) for a bonus loss. When the show took a more "serious" tone, the one from the upfront game was removed (as were most of the other sound effects), and the bonus loss sound was changed to a series of standard buzzers followed by a barely-audible effect of someone "sliding down the keys" on a piano, and even this was buried in the Theme Tune reprise.
  • Greed has these, usually heard after about 20 seconds of silent suspense. And when contestants reach the life-changing dollar figures and lose it all, it is painful to hear.
  • Fort Boyard, while not ending its lose cue in a falling off, plays a sad version of its theme tune if a team loses in the Treasure Room, whether by an incorrect password, or any team getting trapped inside by getting too greedy and staying in too long. (A bell rings when the gate is starting to close, so if you hear the bell and don't get out of Dodge, then it's a pretty well-deserved loss.)
  • The Japanese show Panel Quiz Attack 25 plays a few short jazzy notes, followed by a trumpet falling off if the day's winner doesn't identify the subject of the final short film within five seconds.
    • Also uses Type B for incorrect answers in the main game.
  • El gran juego de la oca used Type A in its original Italian incarnation as well as in its second and third seasons in Spain for failed challenges. The first season in Spain used Type B (although a Type A was used as a mock fanfare in that version when a Fan Disservice character was brought out for a challenge).
  • Catch Phrase - the UK version had one as its time's-up buzzer in the bonus round that could only be described as a cross between a fart and a slide whistle.
  • 1000 Heartbeats has a zap sound that sounds like a machine powering down combined with that long "beeeeeeeeeeeep" sound you get when a heart monitor flatlines. (Appropriate, since the contestant's overall time limit for their game is based on their own heart rate.)
  • Sonic Unleashed has The E-Rank music, where a horribly off-key version of the main theme plays when you get a E-Rank.
  • The first two Sonic the Hedgehog games used a sad saxophone version of the main theme for Game Over or time running out. The 8-bit versions played an off-key version of the theme whenever you lost a life.
  • Adventure Island's death jingle is the last bar of the main theme with a trombone-style trail-off.
  • In Festers Quest, the Game Over screen plays the main riff of The Addams Family theme ending with a sad trombone.

Type B Examples:

  • The Zonks on Let's Make a Deal, beginning with the 1976 Las Vegas season and, while with a different effect, continuing throughout the current version with Wayne Brady.
  • Losing the "nine keys" version of the Bonus Round on the Bergeron version of The Hollywood Squares.
  • The British version of Blockbusters used a three-note version as the Gold Run's time buzzer.
  • Heard on occasion when a challenge was lost on Nickelodeon's What Would You Do?
  • Bonus losses on MTV's Idiot Savants.
  • A two-note synth "fog horn"-like sound played whenever anyone hit the Whammy on Press Your Luck. Though it was no different with the fourth Whammy that eliminated a player, there were specialized Whammy animations for those situations (most notably the umpire Whammy).
  • On the Spanish version of Wipeout (called "Alta Tension", literally, "High Tension"), if the round ends by having all of the incorrect answers selected, or if the player loses the Bonus Round, several low-pitched "wah-wah" notes played, ending in a "falling off." Unusually, it's a fusion of two types of losing horns (A and B).
  • The Australian Wheel of Fortune had this when a contestant landed on Bankrupt.
  • The original version of The Gong Show had the whole band play one of these whenever someone got gonged.
  • BOOM! features these when a contestant detonates a bomb.

This type shows up outside the realm of game shows as well:
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel and the Bots imitate this sound to riff on the line "It stinks!" in Pod People.
  • The Nostalgia Critic uses this as a gag a few times, in response to the the bad jokes in movies like Mortal Kombat. Lost in Space however is so bad that instead of playing the horns he makes the noise himself (increasing the volume with every gag).
    • At one point he used the sound so often that it broke.
    • He has also used the ones from The Price Is Right at least twice.
  • In an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Swarm of the Century", Ponyville gets overrun with locust-like creatures called parasprites. The parasprites are eventually led back to the Everfree Forest, but by that point the town has been thoroughly ransacked, and Pinkie Pie literally plays a sad trombone to close out the episode. Considering it's the first instrument she said she had to find, but she doesn't use it for her One-Pony Band, the trope is borderline Parodied since she apparently saw it coming.
  • At the end of the The Powerpuff Girls episode "Geshundfight", the Amoeba Boys lament how they're still not getting taken seriously as criminals, despite having just been indirectly responsible for a crippling plague. When Boss tells his comrades "I told you we shoulda taken the orange!", the narrator produces this sound and gently mocks the Amoeba Boys for their incompetence.
  • On the SpongeBobSquarePants episode "I'm Your Biggest Fanatic", one of the Jellyspotters goes "Wah-wah-waaah!" every time their leader Kevin was humiliated, and at one point Kevin tells him to cut it out.
  • In the kung-fu movie Drunken Master, one of these sounds after the villain falls face-first into a pile of manure during a fight.
  • In Banjo-Kazooie, the "failfare" for when you fail a mini-game or task is a slow, low "wooop, wooop, woooooooh" sound.
  • In Fancy Pants Adventures, low, almost cello-like tones descend upon the loss of a life. It can be quite disconcerting compared to the upbeat tunes of the rest of the game.
  • Storage Wars plays this for laughs when someone is expecting a big haul on an item and it's worth considerably less.
  • Artemus Gordon plays this on the violin in "The Night of the Casual Killer" when, for once, his partner Jim West does not end up with the girl-of-the-week.
  • Featured prominently in the Debbie Downer sketches in Saturday Night Live.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Heard when the result of Ralph and Vanellope's endeavors in the go-kart factory produce a very messy-looking but still functional kart. Subverted, since Vanellope loves the resulting kart (and it works perfectly, too!)
  • Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf plays them every time Ralph the Wolf runs into a wall.
  • How about Lupin III (Pink Jacket)? In episode 3, a girl clings to Lupin and forces him to take her home with him. When he tries to scare her away, she tells him his plan isn't going to work...cue the four-note horn motif.
  • On the Community episode "App Development and Condiments", dystopian chaos ensues over a student-developed mobile app where users rate each other on a scale of 1 to 5 "MeowMeowBeenz". When someone is given a rating of 1, a meowing Type B tune plays.
  • Sesame Street hasn't exactly Type B (sequence isn't entirely falling) but also the familiar wah-wah-wah-waaaaaah trombone.
  • The PlayStation 4, Xbox One & PC versions of Grand Theft Auto V allow you to put on the Type B losing horn as a car horn in Los Santos Customs.
  • Toontown Online plays this in too many places. Even going sad results in this.
  • In Undertale, if you visit Papyrus's house and look under the sink, the Annoying Dog will run off with part of Papyrus's bone stash. Sans will then mock his brother by sticking his head out of his room for the sole purpose of playing the losing horns on a trombone.
  • A Running Gag in the Wander over Yonder episode "The Good Deed" has a banjo version of the losing horns playing whenever Wander and Sylvia find one of their good deeds has gone awry.
  • One of the many Running Gags on Archer involves a spoken version: the phrase "womp womp" is used in place of a trombone by several characters when someone else loses out on something.
  • North and South plays something like this when a player fails to take a fort before running out of time.
  • In the Homestar Runner cartoon "Cool Things", Homestar makes a "wah-wah-wah" sound after Marzipan orders him to help clean up the words "Cool Tapes" he painted on her living room wall.
  • Early PowerPC-based Macintosh Performas (all within the 5000 and 6000 series) often played a dramatic three-note descending brass fanfare followed by a Rim Shot whenever they crashed or failed to start up.
  • The cry of Magikarp, a Pokémon stereotyped as being weak and utterly useless, almost sounds like a mocking sound.
  • SimCity's SNES port had a four-note descending horn fanfare when a disaster struck, alongside the obligatory emergency siren.
  • In Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers, the "Ms. Astro Chicken" arcade minigame plays a classic sad trombone when you lose a life. The main game uses Type A on the Game Over screen, as well as if you enter an invalid code in the Time Pod.
  • Used frequently in Dingo Pictures films.

Type C Examples:

  • Both Just Men! and the Davidson version of The Hollywood Squares used an electronic version of the Mocking Sing-Song if the champion's car didn't start.
  • Cram also played a Mocking Sing Song as soon as the clock hit zero at the end of the Bonus Round.
  • The Latinoamerican game show Sábado Gigante (Giant Saturday) has an actual character, El Chacal (The Jackal), a masked man whose purpose was to play a mock bugle call on-camera, in a setup similar to The Gong Show.
  • Mega Man 3 has a very jolly song playing over its "Game Over!" screen. Brentalfloss' "What if X Had Lyrics?" series added hilariously over-the-top mocking as well.
  • Salamander/Life Force's Game Over screen plays a cheery tune similar to "Unchained Melody".
  • Super Mario Kart plays the first eight notes of "Entrance of the Gladiators" if you fail to place on the podium.
  • Some versions of The Oregon Trail play a mockingly upbeat version of Taps when the last party member dies and their tombstone is displayed.


Alternative Title(s): Sad Trombone