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Morton's Fork
"The king is having sex with his daughter, and to keep suitors from marrying her, he asks them to solve a riddle. If they don't solve it, he kills them. If they do solve it, he also kills them, since the answer is 'the king is having sex with his daughter.'"
Narrator, "Pericles, Prince of Tired Plots" by Francis Heaney

A character is presented two alternatives, A and B. If the character chooses A, then something bad happens. If he or she chooses B, a similar or identical bad thing happens — but for a different reason. The Many Questions Fallacy is often a form of this, where a loaded question ("Have you stopped beating your wife lately?") precludes a "safe" answer.

The name comes from the tax-collecting practices of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor under Henry VII. He reasoned that anyone who was living extravagantly was rich, and so could afford high taxes, while anyone who was living frugally had saved a lot, and so could afford high taxes. Bear in mind before you get too crazy that this was typically used to keep people well-known to be well-off anyways from trying to weasel their way into not paying; he wasn't exactly trying to collect from peasants in hovels. Instead, he was trying to get around a then-common excuse for not paying taxes (that is, not having any money to do so) by discounting the proofs used to support the excuse (actual profligacy and feigned poverty).

This is often confused with Hobson's choice. Thomas Hobson -— who lived about half a century after Morton —- leased horses, and having noticed that given a real choice his customers tended to pick the same horses over and over again, leaving them seriously over-used, while leaving others almost completely unexercised, he had customers automatically assigned the one nearest the door rather than let them pick, so all the horses would be used and exercised equally. The customer's choice was "Take it (the horse assigned) or leave it (don't get any horse)." A Hobson's choice is a false choice because there's only one real option if you're in need of the thing being offered. A Morton's Fork is a false choice because both options have the same or equally undesirable results.

Compare Xanatos Gambit, where this is weaponized in a specific type of plan and often used by The Chessmaster. See also Sadistic Choice, which similarly forces characters to choose between two untenable choices, except that it's Played for Drama. Characters often attempt to respond by Taking A Third Option, with varying degrees of success. They may instead pick one to Get It Over With. If the fork is deliberately placed into a test, this is Unwinnable Training Simulation.

Contrast Sweet and Sour Grapes, wherein a good outcome occurs regardless of the choice made. Not to be confused with But Thou Must, where you have only one choice forced upon you. Not interchangeable with Catch-22 Dilemma, where the problem is circular — to achieve one thing you must first do or acquire something else, but to do or acquire that you must have the first thing.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Episode 11 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica comes down to this. An incredibly powerful witch called Walpurgisnacht is coming, and Homura has three choices:
    1. Try to stop it without Madoka's help, fail and watch it destroy the city;
    2. Stop it with Madoka's help, but watch Madoka either die or become an even stronger witch in the aftermath and destroy the world; or...
    3. Essentially flee by going back in time and starting over, but knowing it will be worse next time because Madoka's magical potential will be even higher, causing her eventual witch form to be even more powerful.
  • In Chapter 697 of One Piece, Donquixote Doflamingo of all people finds himself in one of these thanks to Trafalgar Law and the Straw Hats kidnapping one of his important subordinates, who he'll only get back if he resigns from the Seven Warlords of the Sea. If he accepts, he'll be back to being a regular pirate and the admirals will hunt him down. If he doesn't accept, he'll have to answer to his business associate Kaido, one of the Four Emperors. The situation causes the Perpetual Smiler to show rage for the first time. After his attempt to Take a Third Option is foiled thanks to Kuzan, he reluctantly chooses to comply with Law's demands. About fifteen chapters later, we find out that he DID take a third option after all; he had the World Government falsely report to the whole world that he resigned just to fool Law and the Straw Hats, demonstrating that he has connections in the highest possible places. The plot thickens...
  • Saki, while playing mahjong with her family, had to choose between losing her New Year's money or candy if she lost or them getting mad at her if she won. She ended up choosing to end the game with the same amount of points she started with. These experiences and her parents' separation resulted in her disliking mahjong until the start of the series.
  • Code Geass employs this to brutal effect a few times. Near the end of the first season, Lelouch is on the verge of a breakthrough with Euphemia when his geass goes out of control when he remarks he could make her kill the Japanese, forcing her into a genocidal rampage. Lelouch has only one other option: kill her. In the aftermath, his choices are to permit the rioters who are basically the entire Japanese community of Area 11 to continue, and surely get slaughtered by the military, or rally them together by condemning Euphemia as a monster, then invading Tokyo and capturing Cornelia, in the hopes that the military will surrender to keep her safe which is not guaranteed to be possible. It fails, and almost all of them are captured or killed. Considering what happens in the second season, Schneizel and Charles probably wouldn't be too concerned by the threat, and invade with a significant force. Either way, it's chaos, with massive casualties involved. Almost one season later, the Black Knights end up betraying Lelouch, and even threaten Kallen when she attempts to step up to Lelouch's defense. Not much later does Lelouch spot Schneizel, who he knows always plots around all possible outcomes, leading to the realization that he's basically screwed. Cue Lelouch shooing Kallen away by lying to her and the other Black Knights to at least have her spared.
  • Fist of the North Star has Jyuza of the Clouds being beaten to death by Raoh to get him to reveal the identity of the last Nanto General. He ultimately dies without telling Raoh, but Raoh gets the information anyway when he figures out that Jyuza would only keep silent unto death to protect Yuria.
  • Cuticle Detective Inaba uses it in a more comedic example: Ogino's toddler daughter makes Valentine's day chocolate for Inaba and not him, so he gives Inaba two choices - refuse the chocolate and die, or kill Ogino and take it from his dying corpse. Either way, someone's gonna have to die, and considering the fact that Ogino's Made of Iron, Well...
  • Medaka Box ends with Medaka and Zenkichi having one last fight. If Zenkichi wins, Medaka has to accept his marriage proposal. If Medaka wins... Zenkichi has to accept her marriage proposal.
  • In X1999, the main character must choose between the Dragons of the Heaven and destroy the Earth, or the Dragons of the Earth and save the Earth. Not having much inclination one way or the other, he chooses the Dragons of the Earth, because his friend is the only thing he really cares about, and said friend would die if the Earth was destroyed. However, no matter what decision he made, his friend would become champion of the other set of dragons.

    Comic Books 
  • Two-Face:
    • He once declared that if his coin comes scarred side up he'll destroy half the city; if it comes clean side up, he'll save half the city. The coin comes clean side up ... and Two-Face promptly prepares to destroy the other half of the city.
    • Two-Face does this a lot, usually when both halves of his personality want somebody dead. On one occasion he had Batman tied to a giant penny and intended to flip it. If it landed heads, he'd be crushed (he was on the Tails side) and if it landed tails the shockwave would shatter his skeleton.
  • At one point in Ex Machina, Mayor Hundred is on a talk-radio show and has been asked whether he, in the eventuality that Osama bin Laden was captured and put on trial in the United States, would support or oppose his execution. Answering yes goes against the mayor's own political statements as a firmly anti-death-penalty politician, but answering no makes him sound like he is sympathetic to bin Laden. The mayor instead calls the interviewer a "motherfucker" and walks out, pointing out to his staff that there is absolutely no correct answer to that question.
  • In Lucifer, the Japanese pantheon attempts this on Lucifer, since they want to kill him but honor forbids they do so without a technical cause. The plan is to serve sacred meat to him at a banquet. If he eats the meat, this will be a deadly insult. If he does not eat it, this is an affront to their hospitality, another deadly insult. It doesn't work, of course. And as it turns out, Lucifer violated hospitality anyway by poisoning one of the gods during cocktail hour, but that isn't discovered until later.
  • Astérix: When a Corsican asks you with a Death Glare and a folding knife in his hand whether you like his attractive sister, both "yes" and "no" are wrong answers.
  • Gerry Conway says the death of Gwen Stacy in Spider-man was meant to be this. Since Spider-Man tried to catch her with his web, the whiplash effect caused her neck to snap, killing her. But he couldn't have swung down to save her in time, and if he did nothing, she would have died when she hit the water anyway.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Death Note fic 4 0 s e c o n d s when Light tells a hapless ignorant crook: "Write your name [in the notebook]... or I'll kill you."
  • From Death Note The Abridged Series (Kpts4tv) there's Kira's survey: "Do you think my hair is cute? "Yes" or "Hell yes! <3""
  • In My Immortal "Darth Valer" demands that Ebony "kill him or I shall kill him anyway."
    • If you live in Tara Land, you can either try to be goffic, in which case you're a poser and you suck, or not, in which case you're a prep and you suck. It seems to be that you can become a "real goff" if you're suicidally depressed and/or have suffered horrible traumas, as Draco "used to want to commit suicide all the time", Vampire Potter has "gone through horrible problems", B'loody Mary is traumatised by the loss of her real parents, and Jenny and Diabolo's dad "raped them and stuff".
  • In Poison Pen "Professor Snape has taken points for breathing too loudly, asking questions, not asking questions and tardiness even with a note."
  • In The Prayer Warriors, Thalia goes up to Jerry expressing a desire to repent. He kills her, reasoning that if she's telling the truth, she'll go to Heaven, meaning that her death is not a bad thing, and if she's lying, she deserves to die and go to Hell.
  • In A Sad Story, Harry gets beaten by Uncle Vernon because he didn't answer Vernon's question quickly enough. He then tries to answer, at which point Vernon beats him again for speaking without permission.
  • In Toy Hammer, Emma, a past incarnation of the God Emperor, reveals that this is ultimately why the Horus Heresy was allowed to happen: all of the other possible futures would have been much worse for mankind, some much sooner than later.
  • Shadowchasers Tournament Of Shadows briefly mentions a Riddling Sphinx who cheated because the answer to her riddle was "Kill me." If her target couldn't answer, she'd kill them. If her target answered, she'd kill them, claiming they had given her permission.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Monty Python's Life of Brian, Brian doesn't want to be the Messiah. Unfortunately:
    Brian: I'm not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
    Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
    Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!
    Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!
  • In Mystic River, Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn) confronts Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) about the murder of Markum's daughter. Markum is wrongfully convinced that Boyle killed her, so he tells him, "Admit it and I'll let you live." Boyle confesses to save his life, so Markum kills him.
  • While in the Saw series, most of the traps essentially did this, traps set by Amanda were inescapable. This left victims the choice of dying horribly from the trap or killing themselves horribly while trying to escape the trap with no option to survive.
  • Heads, You Die...Tails, I Kill You
  • In The Dark Knight Rises, the "sentencing hearing" that Jonathan Crane (the Scarecrow) gives to prisoners allows prisoners to take one of two options: death or exile. Exile means being forced to walk at gunpoint onto the thinly frozen river away from Gotham island, which meant almost certainly falling through the ice and drowning long before reaching the opposite shore. When Commissioner Gordon refuses the theatrics of such an obvious death sentence, Crane obligingly sentences him to death... by exile.
    • Also, Bane's hostage ploy: any outside attempt to interfere with his plan means the bomb in Gotham kills everyone. While presented as a legitimate choice (don't try to interfere so that the hostages may live), the fact that his plan ends with the bomb exploding after five months of no interference, killing everyone anyway, makes it a hidden Morton's choice.
  • According to the adult film version of Caligula, the tyrant leader of Rome would often use this tactic to brand someone he didn't like a traitor, no matter what they said to defend themselves from the accusation, or even if there was evidence to prove their innocence. Pretty much, if Emperor Crazypants didn't like you, or if he just felt like it, you were as good as dead.
  • In The Film of the Book Timeline, a group of 1999 History students travel to Hundred Years War France and are captured by English soldiers. A Blood Knight singles out the only French student and accuses him of being a spy; his pals claim that they are English pilgrims and he is their interpreter. The knight, who speaks French and English, gives the student the choice to prove this right by translating sentences of the knight's choosing aloud. If the student refuses, or translates wrongly, the knight warns, he will be proven to be a French spy and executed immediately. The last sentence the knight says is I am a spy. When the student painfully complies, the other English soldiers take it as a valid confession and kill him. It is later discovered that the knight is a time traveler himself and he knew from the beginning who the "pilgrims" were.
  • In Godzilla (2014), Elle Brody ends up trapped on a road with a group of other people with Godzilla on one side and the winged MUTO on the other.
  • In Would You Rather, a horror movie based on being forced to make bad choices, it should come as no surprise that there are a few of these in the movie. For example, when one character is given the option of sticking her head in a barrel for two minutes or following the instructions on a printed card in a sealed envelope, she chooses the envelope. When she refuses to barrel, she reads the card, which says she is to stick her head in the barrel for four minutes.

    Folklore 
  • A Chinese riddle: A pupil is brought before his master. The pupil sits across from him and the master places a bamboo cane and a cup of tea on the table. He says "If you do not drink this tea, I will beat you with this cane; if you do drink this tea, I will beat you with this cane." (The solution: The pupil takes away the cane.)
  • Quite a few riddles involve a rigged "choice" between a powerful person and a lesser person in the presence of an arbiter. It is a choice of two items (such as a pair of cards, one with a black spot, the other blank); one choice (in this case, the black spot) generally means death to the person, while the other means life. Unbeknownst to the arbiter, both cards are marked with the black spot. The lesser person, however, does know (or suspect) the trick, but the lesser person cannot simply abandon this choice because it would also result in death, and trying to call out the more powerful person would be no better. How does the lesser person survive? Choose a card, then immediately eat it before anyone else can see it. The remaining card will be a black spot, so the arbiter will assume that the lesser person consumed the blank. And if it turns out the powerful person was being fair after all, the lesser person would likely be no worse off than they would be if they'd simply showed their card.

    Literature 
  • The Lady or the Tiger, by Frank R. Stockton. A young man and a barbarian princess, the only daughter of the king, fall in love. Since this is Star-Crossed Lovers, specifically Forbidden Love, the young man is condemned to the possibility of gruesome death in the arena: He must choose between two doors. Behind one is a hungry tiger, and behind the other is a beautiful woman whom he must marry. When he looks to the barbarian princess (who knows which door holds which) for a hint, she faces a Morton's Fork, since whether her lover is killed or given to a hated rival, either way she will lose him. Although she chooses a door at the end of the story, we never find out what was behind it.
  • In Chalice by Robin McKinley, one of the main characters is a former priest of fire and has to concentrate before touching anyone to avoid magically burning them. In order to manufacture a grievance against him, his feudal lord deliberately trips in front of him. If he catches his lord, he'll burn him, which is an insult; if he doesn't, he's letting him fall, which is also an insult.
  • The Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson contains a somewhat fictionalized description of the British Double Cross System during the Second World War, which puts it explicitly in these terms. It's described as feeding "Strange Loops" to German intelligence—that is, bits of information which if believed lead to one false conclusion, and if disbelieved lead to a different false conclusion. The prototypical Strange Loop is said to be, "Most of your agents are working for us, and are feeding you Strange Loops."
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novel Brothers of the Snake, Khiron asks to be exposed to the sea serpents of their home world: if they eat him, he is acquitted and will be mourned, and if they refuse, his fellow Space Marines will know he is tainted and execute him. He wants to Get It Over With, as the evidence against him is very strong. Fortunately, new evidence turns up in time to rescue him. This is only Morton's Fork due to Values Dissonance. To the reader, the outcome is equally bad either way (death). The Adeptus Astartes, however, are extremely honor-conscious; a fatal acquittal is a FAR better fate in their eyes than being seen as tainted.
  • In the classic of Story of Robin Hood, Robin is given the choice of hunting the Prince's deer and being arrested for destruction of royal property, and going against a bet, with the penalty being his execution. Robin chooses to hunt the deer to prove his skill and runs away before he can be executed.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has the protagonists given the choice of dying in the vacuum of space for refusing to say something nice about Vogon Poetry or finding something nice to say about Vogon Poetry... and then dying in the vacuum of space. However, the Vogon Captain only reveals this additional clause to Option B after they've already tried to say something nice, so it's not clear whether he was going to do that all along or just felt offended by their pitiful attempt to compliment his work. Given the way Vogons are portrayed throughout the series, "was going to do that all along" sounds highly plausible.
    Jeltz: "Counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor..." Death's too good for them.
  • Lampshaded in Douglas AdamsDirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency:
    Lady Magna: How do you want me to treat you, as my son or as the editor of one of my magazines? (...)
    Michael Wenton-Weakes: (...) Well, I am your son, but I don’t see...
    Lady Magna tells her son he will stay on as editor for three issues and then the new owner can fire him.
    Michael Wenton-Weakes: What difference would it have made to all this if I’d said treat me as the editor of one of your magazines?
    Lady Magna: Why, dear, I would have called you Mr Wenton-Weakes, of course. And I wouldn’t now be telling you straighten your tie.
  • In Players of Gor Tarl Cabot is given one of these: he is about to have a hunting sleen (think man-eating tiger, only Gorean and therefore worse) set upon him from a hundred yards away, and he can either stand his ground and be killed by it quickly, or panic and run into a pack of urts (think giant rats, only... etc) where he will die from being eaten alive in hundreds of much smaller bites. His gleeful enemy informs him that many men think they will wait for the sleen, only for their nerve to fail them at the last moment and die of urt bites instead.
  • Candide, after unwittingly deserting and being caught, was given by the Bulgar army the choice between being beaten 36 times in succession by 2,000 soldiers or having 20 bullets put into his brain. His wish to Take a Third Option being impossible, he chose to run the gauntlet, but soon realized the second option was more merciful.
  • Dragonlance:
    • In the novel Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Raistlin refers to this as "the Ogre's Choice - 'die fast or die slow.'" The choice at this point being either entering a forest no one has ever come out of alive, or turning back into the pack of draconians hunting them.
    • The novel The Siege of Mount Nevermind offers another fork: leaders of the enemies of the dark knights are offered the chance to defect after being defeated. If they don't take the offer, they are summarily executed as enemies; if they do take the offer they are executed as traitors.
  • Soviet-era Lithuanian literature was quite fond of this. E.g., one well-known short story is about an old man who is brutally beaten and dragged away (possibly to be murdered) by the Nazis for speaking Lithuanian, which was prohibited during their occupation. Consequently, his daughter stops speaking Lithuanian and does whatever she can to please the occupiers-so they brutally rape her. In other words, whether or not you collaborate with the enemy, you're in for mind-shatteringly terrible physical violence!
  • A "Murphy's Laws of Parenting" book (don't remember the exact title) had a classic example, how to deal with the baby crying through the night. The book claims the wrong way is to comfort the baby every time he/she cries, which will reinforce the behavior, resulting in both parents getting little or no sleep. The right way is to ignore the crying until the baby stops on his/her own... resulting in both parents getting little or no sleep. (As most parents eventually learn, this sort of situation comes up very, very often).
  • When it all came down, if Charles Augustus Milverton of Sherlock Holmes had any dirt on you, he was going to ruin you late or soon. If you told him "publish and be damned", he'd make an example of you. If you capitulated to his Blackmail, then he would still ruin you when you no longer had the wherewithal to pay up.
  • 1408: "Even if you leave this room, you will never leave this room." In other words, if he stays in the room, the evil presence there will torture him forever until he's crazy; if he leaves the room, the evil presence will stay with him, torturing him forever until he's crazy.
  • A non-villainous example in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Harry asks Vernon to go to the Quidditch World Cup. Vernon is adamant that he can't, until Harry points out he's writing a letter to Sirius, his godfather (who the Dursleys still believe to be a murderous psychopath). Vernon realizes if he stops Harry going to the Quidditch World Cup, Harry will write and tell Sirius, who'll think he's being mistreated; if he stops Harry writing to Sirius, Sirius will notice and think Harry is being mistreated anyway. He's forced to Take a Third Option and allow Harry to go. The Third Option also qualifies. As the book put it:
    "Allowing Harry to go would make Harry happy, something Uncle Vernon had struggled against for thirteen years. On the other hand, allowing Harry to disappear to the Weasleys' for the rest of the summer would get rid of him two weeks earlier than anyone could have hoped, and Uncle Vernon hated having Harry in the house."
  • In Deltora Quest, Lief is challenged to make a single statement. If the guard judges it to be true, he throws Lief over a cliff. If it's false, the guard beheads him. Thanks to some quick thinking, he's able to beat the question by saying "My head will be cut off."
  • One of the stories in The Stinky Cheese Man has Jack the Narrator captured by the Giant. "Once upon a time, there was a giant. The giant squeezed Jack and said, 'Tell me a better story or I will grind your bones to make my bread. And when you're finished, I will grind your bones to make my bread anyway. Ho ho ho." Jack is able to get out of this by telling a Nested Story (Jack cleared his throat and began his story: "Once upon a time there was a giant...") until the giant falls asleep.
  • In Ender’s Game, one of the games given to him in Battle School had this going for it. In the game Ender meets a giant who places two glasses of liquid before Ender, saying one is poisoned and the other is not. He says he will take Ender to Fairyland if he guesses correctly. Ender plays this puzzle over and over again, always dying, even knowing it's clearly rigged. When he loses his shit over this, Ender decides to Take a Third Option: leaping into the giant's eye, clawing his way through, tunneling into his head, and killing the giant.
  • 1066 and All That describes the Trope Namer as one of Henry VII's clever advances in statecraft, with Morton extracting large sums of money from rich citizens by driving an actual fork into them if they claimed to be rich and doing the same thing if they claimed to be poor. This policy "always succeeded, except when Morton put the Fork in too far."
  • MAD Magazine issue #199 had a feature on real-life Morton's Forks. Example: If you don't pass all your classes in school, you will have to go to summer school (image of a glum-looking boy in a classroom while the sun shines outside). But if you do pass your classes, you will have to go to summer camp (image of a boy sewing a leather wallet in blistering heat while surrounded by mosquitoes).
  • At the end of The Hunger Games, the Head Gamemaker (Seneca Crane) can either let two tributes win, or let them commit suicide and have no victor at all. Either way, he basically sealed his fate when he introduced that "two tributes can win if from the same district" rule change in the first place.
  • In The Goblin Emperor, Idra uses this on his mother. He argues against her attempt to force Maia to abdicate, and her claims that Maia is unfit, and when she tells him he doesn't understand, he points out that makes him as unfit as Maia, if not more so.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Usually invoked Once an Episode on 'Allo 'Allo!, where René is constantly put in a position where he can help the resistance and be shot by the Nazis, or collaborate with the Nazis and get shot by the resistance. Rule of Funny keeps him alive.
    • One episode has this happen where he is forced to collaborate with the Nazis, the Resistance, and the Communist Resistance, all who will kill him if they find out he's been working with the other.
  • In the final episode of Blackadder II, Blackadder is given a choice: admit to being in love with Satan "and all his little wizards" and get his testicles chopped off with a scythe and roasted over a fire, or don't admit it and be held upside down in a vat of warm marmalade...and get his testicles chopped off with a scythe and roasted over a fire. Naturally he chooses the former, but is "rescued" before the threat can be carried out.
  • Played for comedy in How I Met Your Mother: Lily and Marshal have a bet to see who can collect 5 people's phone numbers first. If Marshall wins, they'll have sex in the bathroom; if Lily wins, they'll have sex in the bathroom. Lily comments that this is their standard wager.
  • In one episode of Important Things With Demetri Martin, a sketch has him choosing whether to sit next to a beautiful young woman or an old man at a wedding reception. Both scenarios end with the same savage beating by the same group of thugs.
  • In the penultimate episode of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, the senshi find themselves facing down Mamoru, who's been possessed and corrupted by Metallia. If they lose the battle, the world will be destroyed, but the only way to win the battle will also trigger the end of the world. They win the battle and the world does end, though a Heroic Sacrifice helps it get better.
  • In an episode of Stargate Atlantis, after everything goes predictably wrong, Rodney is asked what options they have. His response?
    Rodney: Let me see, we've got quick death; slow death; painful death; cold, lonely death...
  • In one episode of Scrubs, Dr. Cox realizes that Doug is listening to him and says to himself,
    Dr. Cox: "If this kid [Doug] doesn't leave I'm gonna kill him!"
    Doug: ... *begins to leave*
    Dr. Cox: "Hey, if you leave, I'm going to know that you were listening to me and just go ahead and kill you anyway!"
    • Arguably, My Butterfly qualifies as this. While it wasn't really a decision being made, either situation lead to the same results.
  • Stargate SG-1 had an example in the episode "Avatar". Teal'c got stuck in a training simulation. Under no circumstances would he ever give up... but subconsciously, he believed that the Goa'uld could not be defeated. The program sent waves after waves of unbeatable foes while shutting off Teal'c emergency exit.
  • Two examples from The Caesars:
    • In "Tiberius", popular general Germanicus has been poisoned by the governor of Syria, Piso, and his wife Plancina; Germanicus' widow, Agrippina, demands that Piso be tried for the crime. Tiberius is widely suspected of having ordered Germanicus' murder to remove a threat to his continued reign as Emperor, and he grimly acknowledges that if he does prosecute Piso, it will look as though he is letting him take the fall, whereas if he does not prosecute Piso, it will look as though he is protecting him for simply following orders. Either way, Tiberius knows he will be blamed for Germanicus' death.
    • In "Caligula", the eponymous Emperor has revived a tradition from the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius that wealthy Roman citizens should bequeath some of their fortune to the Emperor in their wills... but adds a condition that the size of their bequest will be taken as a sign of loyalty. Those who leave their entire estate to the Emperor will be deemed fully loyal, whereas those who bequeath only a small part of their estate will be deemed treasonous, and treason is punishable by death and seizure of the traitor's full estate. A Senator unwisely lampshades the Morton's Fork nature of this law, and is promptly executed for treason.
  • An episode of Frasier had the title character trying to decide between two ties at the beginning of the episode. The story plays out in an interesting way, alternating between the results of each choice. In one scenario, Frasier is alone and bitter on Valentine's Day; Niles and Daphne go away for a romantic weekend; and Martin goes off to the bar. In the other scenario, Frasier meets a beautiful woman and takes her to a Valentine's Day party, where she leaves him for another guy; Niles and Daphne stay home for a romantic weekend; and Martin goes off to the bar.
  • Stephen Colbert's survey: "George W. Bush—great president or the greatest president?"
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In the episode "Booby Trap", the Enterprise comes across an ancient starship inside an asteroid field, but finds itself trapped the same way that ship was. If they put all their energy into overcoming or destroying the lure, they'll just be wasting it, making them vulnerable to the radiation present. If they don't put any energy into overcoming the lure, their shields will eventually fail, also making them vulnerable. Or as Riker puts it, "If we resist, we'll die. If we don't resist, we'll die." Thankfully, Geordi finds a solution: a short burst from the impulse engines, along with minimal thruster use, would let them escape.
    • In "Unification: Part II", Picard, Data and Spock are captured by Sela, who tries to make Spock read a speech as a distraction for a Romulan invasion force, or they will die. Spock tells her "Since it is logical to conclude that you will kill us in any event, I choose not to cooperate." Sela, however, foresaw this possibility, and activates a holographic Spock which would deliver the speech.
    • In "The Measure of a Man", Riker gets assigned as a prosecutor to determine whether Data has rights as a sentient being. If he accepts, Data will be stripped of his rights if Riker wins. If he refuses to serve (or accepts, but does not perform his duty properly) Data will get denied the opportunity to defend himself, thereby getting stripped of his rights. Riker chooses the former (despite his misgivings), since at least that way Data would have a chance.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "I, Mudd", Harry Mudd explains why he broke out of jail and stole a spaceship:
    Mudd: Do you know what the penalty for fraud is on Deneb Five?
    Spock: The guilty party has his choice. Death by electrocution, death by gas, death by phaser, death by hanging . . .
    Mudd: The key word in your entire peroration, Mr. Spock, was "death".

    Music 
  • The Clash, "Should I Stay Or Should I Go":
    If I go there will be trouble
    If I stay it will be double
  • According to "Barbarism Begins At Home" by The Smiths:
    A crack on the head is what you'll get for not asking
    And a crack on the head is what you'll get for asking.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Cuchulain in Irish myth was under a geas whereby he would lose his strength if he refused hospitality or consumed dogflesh. His enemies learned this and promptly invited him to dine on dogflesh, meaning he'd lose his powers either way.
  • Older Than Feudalism example from the New Testament: The Pharisees tried this trick several times to try and turn Jesus' popularity against him. In Mark 12:13, they asked whether the Jews should pay the oppressive taxes imposed on them by their Caesar. If he said yes, then he was acknowledging that Caesar ruled over the Jews. If he said no, he was guilty of treason. He didn't let this trip him up. The phrase "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's" is familiar enough, but the subtext isn't quite obvious. He had first asked the Pharisees whose image was on the coin used to pay the tax (Caesar's). The meaning was therefore that one should give unto Caesar that which has his image on it (i.e. pay the tax, because it's just worldly money) but give unto God that which is made in his image (i.e. humans, i.e. devote your whole life to God, not just your money).
    • The Pharisees attempted to do this a second time in John 8:1-11, where they asked Him to judge a woman who was caught in adultery. If Jesus chose to let the woman free (instead of stoning her, as the Jewish law required), He'd be acting against the law of Moses; while if He did condemn her, He would be contradicting His own stated purpose to save sinners. His reply, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” does not deny the woman's guilt, yet at the same time allowing Him to demonstrate mercy, as He was the only one qualified to stone her.
  • Nasruddin Hodja acted as a Trickster, especially when people pestered him for a piece of wisdom. Once when he had to preach but wasn't in a mood for this, he talked his way out of it... three times in a row:
    Nasruddin: O people of Akshahir! Do you know and understand what I am about to say to you?
    The people: No, we don't.
    Nasruddin: What?! How can I speak to such ignorant people! (leaves)
    Nasruddin (one week later): O people of Akshahir! Do you know and understand what I am about to say to you?
    The people: (remembering what had happened the last time) Yes, we do.
    Nasruddin: Wonderful! Then there is no need for me to speak to you today.
    Nasruddin (one more week later): O people of Akshahir! Do you know and understand what I am about to say to you?
    The people: (Some shout "No", some "Yes")
    Nasruddin: Wonderful! Now let those who know tell those who do not know.
  • Buddha met his death this way when he was kindly offered a meal which unknowingly contained bad food. While Buddha knew the food wasn't safe to eat, the people offering it to him didn't. Either Buddha could have gone against his beliefs and refused hospitality or eaten the food and let his health suffer. He ate the food and died from it, but accepted his fate as his time to die.
  • The story of Procrustes in Classical Mythology includes an element of this. Procrustes, a blacksmith who kept a house on the road outside of Athens, had an iron bed, which he offered to weary passing travelers. However, he seemed to have this thing about his guests fitting exactly on the bed, so once they were asleep, he either "stretched them out" to fit the bed if they were too short, or "cut them down" to fit if they were too tall, inevitably killing them (which, besides making him a murderer, made him in gross violation of Sacred Hospitality). The bastard realised, however, that he risked the guest being the right size for the bed—which would be no fun at all. Hence a second layer of this trope: he secretly had two beds. Yeah. Theseus eventually "fit" Procrustes to his own bed (ordered by Zeus, the God of Hospitality among other things).

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Far Side once ran a panel where some poor guy is in Hell, standing in front of two doors, one marked "Damned if you do" and the other marked "Damned if you don't." If that wasn't bad enough, an impatient devil is standing off to the side, demanding that he make up his mind, implying that the guy can't Take a Third Option.
  • Mother Goose and Grimm had a sequence with Grimm at obedience school. Naturally, he didn't want to go, and he tried to get out of it by claiming that he didn't really need it. "I'll obey! Give me a command, anything, and I'll obey!" Mother Goose promptly gave the perfect command: "Go to obedience school!"
  • An unidentified comic strip that went about like this:
    Man: I'm going to start trimming my nasal hair.
    Woman: Ewww!
    Man: Okay, so I'm not going to trim my nasal hair.
    Woman: Ewww!
  • U.S. Acres: Orson asked Booker and Sheldon if they wanted him to read a book or if they wanted to watch TV. Booker eagerly replied "Television!" and Orson then got inside a TV and started reading a book inside it.

    Radio 
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Vogon leader tells his men that if he hears a word out of any of them, he'll shoot them all. Then he asks a question and tells them that if someone doesn't answer... well, guess.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One issue of Dragon Magazine has a list of riddles the gynosphinx might use, with the usual deal that if the PCs fail to answer them correctly, they're lunch. One of them, to be issued when the sphinx's hunger overcomes her fairness, has the solution "Kill me". The article does, however, state a way for the answer to be phrased so that it does ''not'' give the sphinx permission to attack, yet still answered correctly, in which case she will abide by the rules and let the intended victim live.
  • Paranoia is all about setting up situations where The Computer and your secret society both assign you dangerous, mutually contradictory goals, and have the means to punish you if you don't deliver. And then you have to deal with your fellow Troubleshooters and all of their contradictory goals.
    • One of the best examples is from the adventure module Me and My Warbot Mark IV, which includes a "debriefing questionnaire" to be completed at the end of the adventure. Instructions on the form include the line "Answer all questions fully, completely, correctly, and honestly. Failure to do so is treason!" And of course, Question #6 is "YOUR SECURITY CLEARANCE IS INSUFFICIENT TO VIEW THIS QUESTION. HAVE A NICE DAYCYCLE." But it still has a blank for the character to write in his answer...
    • A popular question is "Are you a happy Communist? Yes/No". As long as the player isn't allowed to elaborate, you either say you're a Communist (treason) or you're not happy (also treason). An even more insidious one, which will likely get you even if you elaborate, is "Are Communists happy? Explain why/why not". If you think Communists are happy, you imply Communism is a good way to live (Communist sympathiser!) If not, the Computer will ask why anyone would want to be a commie if it makes them unhappy (it doesn't make sense, and implies you're lying or hiding something).
  • There's a method of play in bridge called a Morton's Fork Coup, which gives the defender two options, both of which cost him a trick.
  • Certain articles on Warhammer 40,000 present this as the key to winning. If you have a squad of Devastators positioned to cover an objective, for instance, and your foe has troops sitting on that objective, then you have presented him with two bad options: sit where you are and get blasted to pieces, or abandon a key position to go chasing after the enemy. Another one courtesy of the Inquisition: a person accused of heresy is put in an arena with an unarmed, unarmored Grey Knight (Space Marines with God Emperor-given powers). If the Grey Knight kills the accused, obviously the Emperor willed it that one of His most faithful servants destroy an enemy. If the accused somehow wins, he is obviously in league with the Ruinous Powers, and is executed on the spot.
    • One mentioned in the background is the way a particular Inquisitor handles pleas in his court. If you plead guilty then you are (obviously) guilty. However if you plead not-guilty then you are automatically guilty of the crime wasting the Inquisitions time trying you and can be immediately sentenced for that crime (which given that this is 40K presumably means immediate execution).
  • A particularly infamous dilemma in Dungeons & Dragons was the paradox of a paladin being sent by his lord to kill a succubus and then finding out that the succubus had been summoned by a wizard, both of whom genuinely and mutually loved each other. A paladin is bound by an oath that requires him to, among other things, protect pure love and obey commands given by a legitimate authority. Whichever choice he makes, he's violated his oath.
    • Part of the Book of Exalted Deeds was dedicated to providing the paladin with a third option: when faced with this dilemma, protecting pure love is more important and takes precedence, and therefore you ignore the order. In fact, you are encouraged to figure out whether the "legitimate" authority might actually be corrupt, because a just leader wouldn't (knowingly) give you such an order. Stories and legends abound in D&D communities about sadistic Dungeon Masters who present paladin characters with similar scenarios with the sole intent of making paladins fall.
    • However, there is one way to get around one of the more common ones: namely, you can either kill a child of an Always Chaotic Evil race, which constitutes killing a child and will result in falling, or you can let the child live, which will result in a Chaotic Evil creature being unleashed upon the world and also cause the paladin to fall... or you can adopt the child, raise it, and get it to be a different alignment. This trick has been performed more than once, and the good people of 1d4chan have posted an article on how one guy did this with a lamia.note 
  • Pretty much the only strategy possible in Tic Tac Toe beyond "hope your opponent is an idiot". That or "Not to play."
  • In Chess, and all of the related games (Xiangqi, Janggi, Shogi, Sittuyin, Makruk), this is a common result of very good strategy on the part of the Morton's-Fork wielder (and/or very bad strategy on the part of the forked). If the player saves their cannon, the other bags their chariot. In fact, this comes up so often in chess, it has its own term: The German word zugzwang, a situation where all possible moves are approximately equally bad, and all of them are worse than not moving at all would be, but "not moving at all" is not an option (unless you resign or, under limited circumstances, claim a draw).
  • In Deadlands, the Agency and the Texas Rangers are both dedicated to suppressing all knowledge of the truly weird nature of the world since the Reckoning, having established that this would cause a panic, and since the Reckoners are strengthened by fear, this would just play right into their hands. Unfortunately, their efforts at suppressing this knowledge often cause as much paranoia and fear as the original monsters did, meaning they still strengthen the Reckoners. This is particularly a problem for the Agency, since they A: tend to be rather hamfisted about their coverups, and B: don't do themselves any favors by running around dressed up like the Wild West version of the Men In Black.

    Theater 
  • The page quote is a reasonably accurate summary of act I of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. The title character tries to Take a Third Option by stalling; this leads the king becoming suspicious of him and deciding to kill him anyway.
  • Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing is set in Jerusalem during a ceasefire in the course of the Crusades. Sultan Saladin asks the titular character, a rich Jew famed for his wisdom, which of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam is the true religion. If Nathan answered "Judaism", that would of course offend the devout Muslim Saladin, if he answered "Islam", he would reveal himself as a terrible hypocrite, and if he answered "Christianity" he would do both. He gets out of the dilemma by telling the Ring Parable (which Lessing took from Boccaccio), the gist of which is that it beyond human understanding to decide and that the correct answer - known only to God - may even be "none of the above".
  • Repeatedly played for laughs in The Merchant of Venice.
    • Launcelot, who wants to get out of working for Shylock, reasons that his master is a devil... but still, if he runs away and breaks his contract, he'll commit a sin, and then he'll be working for the devil anyway. He finally makes up his mind to run away, since he figures that the real devil is the lesser of two evils.
    • Later, Launcelot explains to Jessica that because the children suffer for the sins of the parents, she'll go to hell for being Shylock's daughter—the only way out is to turn out not to be his daughter. Jessica points out that, by that logic, she'd go to hell as punishment for her mother's unfaithfulness. Launcelot sums it up: "Truly then I fear you are damned both by father and mother; thus when I shun Scylla, your father, I fall into Charybdis, your mother; well, you are gone both ways."
  • In As You Like It, Touchstone tries to argue for unchastity in this manner. It doesn't work.
    Touchstone : No, truly, unless thou wert hard-favoured; for honesty coupled to beauty is to have honey a sauce to sugar.
    Jacques [Aside]: A material fool!
    Audrey: Well, I am not fair; and therefore I pray the gods make me honest.
    Touchstone : Truly, and to cast away honesty upon a foul slut were to put good meat into an unclean dish.
  • Jean Valjean's "I Am" Song "Who Am I" from Les Misérables - "If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent I am damned."
    • Similar is Javert's dilemma after Valjean spares him. His choice is to arrest Valjean for his past crimes (the lawful choice) or spare him in return (the moral choice). Either choice would mean Javert doing something wrong, and thus destroying his righteous self-image. The song's called "Javert's Suicide", in case you were wondering how that turned out.

    Video Games 
  • In the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance: In Mephisto's Realm, you are faced with the Sadistic Choice of letting either Nightcrawler or Jean Grey fall to their death (and it's impossible to save them both). At the end of the game, if you chose to save Nightcrawler, Jean comes back as the Dark Phoenix. On the other hand, if you chose to save Jean, Mystique (Nightcrawler's mother) murders Charles Xavier in revenge, and the X-Men consequently disband. Either way, the Watcher will tell you that "It was unfortunate..."
  • Deus Ex and its sequel.
    • None of the endings are outright happy endings. In two endings of the sequel, they are decidedly downbeat.
    • Also used throughout the game, a perfect example is Lebedev and Anna. If you want to save Lebedev, you have to kill Anna; if you don't do anything, Anna kills him and berates you (however, you can take a third option and knock Lebedev out, without killing either. Note that the dev team does not appear to have thought of everything in this case; the game will treat it as if you killed him in every respect).
    • After the mission to save Paul, if you investigated UNATCO, you know too much, so UNATCO turns against you. If not, you saved Paul, so UNATCO turns against you.
    • Should you consider Invisible War as canon, choosing one of the endings in the first game sets up a chain reaction in which every other ending takes place. This makes a good ending impossible because it won't mater what you picked; you'll always merge with Helios, guarantee the Illuminati's power over Area 51, and shut off global communications, presumably causing The Collapse. Which is as bad as it sounds.
  • In Star Trek: Borg, while on the Borg ship you are given two options: fight the Borg or try to access the computer. Either way gets you assimilated. However that give you the codes so when the next Snap Back happens you can access the computer properly.
  • All over the place in The Walking Dead. Even though many of the choices seem to be plot-defining moments, the outcome is nearly identical no matter what you choose.
  • The most infamous quest in Fallout 3, Tenpenny Tower, has no good resolution. If you side with the bigots inside the Tower, you go off and massacre the Ghouls (most of whom, aside from Roy Phillips himself, were actually pretty decent people). If you side with Roy Phillips and storm the Tower, all the Tenpenny residents get massacred (again, most of them other than Tenpenny and Burke were decent if snooty people). If you think you're clever and try to Take a Third Option by using diplomacy to convince both sides to live together inside the Tower peacefully, it initially seems like a happy ending, but after a couple weeks Phillips flips out and massacres all the humans anyway. Not to mention, the humans die even if you kill Phillips before he does so.
    • Likewise, the deliberately morally ambiguous DLC The Pitt has no completely good resolution. If you help Wernher overthrow Ashur, the slaves are freed, but without Ashur's scientific expertise and resources it's implied the cure for Trog Syndrome is highly unlikely to be discovered, and the slaves will either have to remain and face inevitable mutation or abandon their community for the hostile Wasteland. If you crush Wernher and let Ashur maintain the status quo, Ashur promises to free the slaves as soon as he discovers the cure, but until then they'll have to live under the inhumanly brutal repression of his raider lackeys, and it's also implied that Ashur lacks sufficient control over his raiders to completely liberate the slaves ever if the cure is released.
    • The DLC Point Lookout also has this: When you have to choose whether to kill Desmond or Calvert, Calvert in both options will kill you (or try to do so).
    • Fallout 3's karma system also presents one, though it isn't obvious: If you have good karma, Talon Company mercenaries will randomly attack you, if you have bad karma, Regulators will come after you. Either way, you're pissing somebody off, unless you manage to walk the razor's edge that is neutral karma.
  • This happens frequently in Fable I. For example, you are given the choice between sparing and killing the bandit leader Twinblade. If you spare him, he sends assassins after you shortly afterward. If you kill him, assassins come after you shortly after for revenge.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords:
    • A beggar asks you for money on your first visit to Nar Shaddaa. Whether or not you give him anything, something horrible happens, ending with someone getting stabbed. The only difference is if the beggar is the stabber (if you didn't give him money) or the stabbee (if you did give him money). Kreia uses this as evidence for her Ayn Rand-esque personal philosophy.
    • Whenever you make any choice that nets you light side or dark side points, Kriea will berate you for disturbing the balance of the universe. And for not choosing a side. Apathy is Death.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic:
    • Republic Trooper players get confronted with a classic halfway through the third chapter of their storyline - Havoc Squad respond to a distress call from Sergeant Ava Jaxo, a decidedly feisty young Special Forces soldier who is a non-companion romance option for male characters on Coruscant. Summoning them to a hidden Imperial prison facility currently containing more than three hundred important Republic personnel. Storming the prison goes smoothly at first but turns out to be a cunningly laid trap by Imperial General Rakton, who shows up with a fleet of destroyers and start shooting the station apart hard. The player is given the choice of A) diverting power from the maintenance levels where Sergeant Jaxo is hiding to the shields, which will kill her but buy enough time for all three hundred and fourteen prisoners to make it to the escape ship or B) rescuing Jaxo, who is begging for her life, but condemning half or more of the prisoners to die in the process and causing Jaxo to suffer from survivor's guilt and never forgive you.
  • In the ending of Grand Theft Auto IV, whether you choose to take the money or kill Dimitri in the penultimate mission, you will lose Kate. If you kill Dimitri, the mob boss you were working for gets pissed at you for souring the deal and kills Kate in a drive-by shooting. If you take the money, Kate will call you out on abandoning your morals and will leave you anyway.

    Taking the money also results in Dimitri betraying you for no reason and sending someone to kill you, which results in Roman getting killed.
  • The morality choices in Army Of Two: The 40th Day are infamous for being like this; picking the obviously "bad" choice has negative consequences, but the seemingly "good" choice usually also results in a similarly crappy outcome later on.
  • None of the three endings to Singularity are "good", two are obvious bad endings while the third, seeming Golden Ending is also revealed to have negative consequences in a twist at the very end. More specifically, the endgame gives you the choice of either killing The Obi-Wan Barisov and ruling the world alongside Evil Overlord Demichev, killing Demichev and Barisov, or killing Demichev then sacrificing yourself to restore history to its rightful course.
    • If you kill Demichev and Barisov, the world descends into chaos as the Soviet Union collapses while you rise as a ruthless dictator launching a campaign for world domination from the United States.
    • If you kill Barisov and side with Demichev, the two of you take over the world under a totalitarian dictatorship and ultimately start a new Cold War against each other.
    • If you kill Demichev and try to restore the original timeline by going to the past and stopping yourself from saving him in 1955, the world seems to return to normal and you're warped back to the beginning of the game, only this time your helicopter flies off into the sunset without incident instead of getting shot down by temporal distortion. However, The Reveal shows that it is not the original timeline, but rather one where Barisov took over the world himself under Soviet principles (although, given what you know of Barisov and your teammate's reaction to his statue, it's suggested his rule is at least possibly benevolent). The Achievement was called "Good of the Many" as the Soviet regime actually works.
  • This is basically the essence of being a l'Cie in Final Fantasy XIII. Fail your Focus or give up on it? You get turned into a nightmarish shambling monster called a Cie'th, that eventually degrades into a Living Statue, and suffers forever. Succeed in your Focus? You get turned into crystal statue forever, or until the fal'Cie decide to give you another Focus. Admittedly in the sequel a character that was decrystalized at the end of the first game notes having had pleasant dreams while in that state so it's not quite as bad as being a Cie'th, but it's still means you are pretty much going to lose everything and have no life other then being a slave for the fal'Cie, so you are still pretty much fucked whatever happens.
    • A much harsher example in the sequel, regardless of whether Caius succeeds in killing the goddess or dies trying, time/the world is still ultimately screwed, arguably making all of your efforts pointless.
  • Alpha Protocol's entire story up until the last level. Every world location gives you a Sadistic Choice at some point. No matter what you do, the outcome is practically the same, as the Evil Inc. behind it all set up careful Xanatos Gambits. Taipei? You let Ronald Sung get assassinated, which destabilizes the region and worsens Chinese-Taiwanese relations, or you let the Chinese plan to incite nationalist riots happen, which kills hundreds of people, destabilizes the region, and worsens Chinese-Taiwanese relations. Rome? Either you let the bomb explode, killing hundreds of people and tightening the EU's security policy, or you let Madison get killed, which renders her a martyr that, you guessed it, makes the EU tighten its security policy. Moscow? Almost no matter what you do, it's clear that Halbech won't have much problem finding another mafiya boss to smuggle weapons for them... Unless you go with Surkov, which means the rise of a Russian equivalent to Halbech under his leadership instead.
    • Although downplayed in Taipei and arguably Moscow in that intervening is the better option than just letting things be (Taipei: The original plan was to both assassinate Ronald Sung and incite nationalist riots, so at the very least you saved either Sung or hundreds of people's lives and kept Chinese-Taiwanese relations from becoming even worse than just one incident or the other. Moscow: Halbech may not have much problem finding another boss to smuggle weapons for them, but it will still cause delays — and that gives you more time to stop Halbech closer to the source.
      • Furthermore, intervening in each place allows you to break or subvert a tool that Halbech used to carry out each plan: Taipei puts you in contact with Ronald Sung's assassin, whom you can befriend, and whom can turn on Leland at a crucial moment, Rome puts you in contact with the mastermind of the bomb plot, whom you can either kill (with everything going exactly right) or befriend, who will then turn on Leland at a crucial moment, and Moscow puts you in contact with Halbech's weapons supplier, whom you can kill or befriend, either way becoming independent of Halbech. Not too shabby for a Spanner in the Works.
  • Alone In The Dark 2008: Let Sarah live, and she becomes a Tragic Monster. Kill her, and you become the monster.
  • If you try to skip Cosmo Canyon for the first time in Final Fantasy VII, you can either try to proceed on foot and discover that you need the buggy to cross the river, or try to proceed in the buggy and have it break down before you get to the river. Either way, you cannot progress past the river until you visit Cosmo Canyon.
  • Mass Effect 3 has three (or four if the Extended Cut content is downloaded) endings where No matter which choice you make, Commander Shepard perishes and galactic civilization is wrecked regardless of the decision made. Whether the Reapers are destroyed, controlled, or Shepard forces a synthetic fusion of biological and synthetic life forms. However, there is a small leeway for a miniscule Golden Ending for Shepard's survival if the player partakes in playing the Multiplayer portion of the game, or if the Extended Cut downloadable content is downloaded, just acquire every available war asset during the playthrough.
    • The first Mass Effect has a case when Shepard and Garrus confront Dr. Saleon. The player has the chance to either let Garrus kill him for his crimes, or arrest the doctor for them. However, if one goes for the latter option, Saleon will become enraged and attack you, thus leading to an immediate death anyway.
  • Portal 2 sets one up in-story for the protagonist, Chell. After the plot twist midway through, she's confronted with the dilemma of putting the old Big Bad back in charge of the facility, who would most likely kill her as soon as she does, or leaving the current one in charge, whose incompetence would cause the place to explode with her inside. Gameplay-wise, it’s still a But Thou Must.
  • Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels has two warp zones out of nine that actually send you back. If you didn't want to go back, the only other way was to jump into the pit. Of course, if you were playing for a high score, this would actually be beneficial.
    • In Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, there's the boss fight with Big Massif. Big Massif can, as a free action, summon fans to his side to help with his attacks. Your main two options are to defeat his fans (which enrages him and boosts his attack) or let him build up enough fans to perform his strongest attack.
  • In the "Dong Zhuo in Luo Yang" scenario in Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires, you get the option of participating in the Alliance Against Dong Zhuo after the first turn. If you take part and win, Dong Zhuo dies and his kingdom collapses. If you lose or don't take part, about a couple turns later Lu Bu kills Dong Zhuo and takes over his kingdom. No doubt a lot of DW5E players approved.
  • The second Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game (Justice for All), features a version of this that takes up the entire plot of the last case. Phoenix's friend and legal assistant Maya Fey is kidnapped by an assassin and is told she will be killed unless he gets Matt Engarde, a suspect in a murder, found innocent. Over time Phoenix finds out that his client is truly guilty (he hired the assassin holding Maya hostage to kill the victim) and that if his client gets off the hook, another suspect, a truly innocent young woman, will be charged and possibly executed for the murder. Therefore, Phoenix must choose between defending a killer to save a friend while an innocent person is killed as a murderer, or letting said friend die to see justice done as well as saving a innocent woman's life. That being said, with Phoenix being a morally upstanding attorney who fights for justice, this choice is not so simple for him. However in the end Phoenix manages to Take a Third Option and shows the assassin holding Maya hostage how much of a monster said assassin's client is, along with proof that Engarde was planning on selling out the assassin anyway. Since this assassin strongly believes that Even Evil Has Standards, he eventually drops his agreement with Engarde and lets Maya go, giving Engarde no leg to stand on. This twists the situation around so that Engarde is now the one facing a Morton's Fork: either he gets off as "not guilty" of the crime but the assassin will kill him for his act of betrayal, or he goes to jail to face the death penalty. No matter what Phoenix does at that point, Engarde snaps and screams in court that he's guilty.
  • One of the many sidequests in Xenoblade requires you to fetch a jewel used as an engagement present and give it to one of two corners of a love triangle. However, Shulk's precognition tells him that there's no happy ending. If you give it to the girl, she gives it to the Manipulative Bastard she's in love with, but the remaining part of the love triangle is heartbroken and furious — plus indication that the guy may end up leaving her, though it's not clear if that will actually happen once you go through with it. In the other case, the precognition warns you that the woman will be trapped in a loveless marriage, regretting impulsively doing what seemed right at the time instead of following her heart.
  • A small side quest in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind's Tribunal expansion deals with a down on his luck elf who asks you for some gold. If you give him gold, he'll demand more and more until he finally declares you're lying about having that much gold and are trying to mock him with your kindness. If you turn him down at any point, he declares you to be a heartless bastard. If you attack him, he vanishes. Either way, he reappears later as a Boss in Mook Clothing.
  • There's a really, really nasty one that forms part of the main villain's incredibly complex Evil Plan in the Kingdom Hearts series. To put it as briefly as possible: the Big Bad, the original one, 'died' and became two beings, said two beings being incredibly powerful and destructive evil psychopaths themselves (though weaker than the original man). Killing both of them, due to the cosmology of the verse, will result in the Big Bad coming Back from the Dead to resume his Omnicidal Maniac ways. But at the same time, neither can the two beings be left alive, otherwise their own evil schemes and plans will also result in Apocalypse How. Devilish little conundrum. If you're wondering how it's resolved, the answer is that so far in the series, it's not. taking a third option was unfortunately not possible due to the heroes not realizing what was going on with the 'dying' and the splitting due to other facets of The Plan, hence they killed both of the other evil beings before they realized that doing so would result in the Big Bad being resurrected. So it remains to be seen how the villain will finally be dealt with.
    • Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] reveals that the situation is just a little bit worse than that. The Big Bad is working towards the ultimate goal of gathering seven hearts of light, and thirteen hearts of darkness, and forcing them to merge into a keyblade that can open the true Kingdom Hearts. Now that he is whole again, he is actively working towards that goal. However, both of his composite beings were each working towards that same goal when they were active; one gathering the lights, and one gathering the darknesses. In short, the "choice" was "allow these two psychopaths to work towards their ultimate goal", or "kill them and let the psychopath that spawned them to work towards the same goal."
    • Oh, it goes even deeper than that. The current incarnation of his plan, as stated above, involves pitting seven hearts of light against thirteen hearts of darkness. While in KH3D, the protagonists manage to prevent Sora from becoming the thirteenth vessel of darkness, there is a strong implication that the big bad will still get his thirteenth one way or another. Once that is accomplished, he will set upon procuring the seven hearts of light. The obvious choice for this is the Princesses of Heart, seven maidens with hearts of pure light. The protags realize that defending the Princesses is of utmost importance, and that having seven defenders of light is the best way to do so, primarily because even in the best case scenario, seven is all they can manage. However, they realize that in doing so, they are gathering another potential group of candidates for the seven hearts the big bad is looking for. The choice here becomes to either let him gather the Princesses and forge the X-blade from them, or defend the Princesses, which has the potential to forge the X-blade when the two forces combat each other. Yen Sid even comments that due to the big bad's natural talent for Xanatos Gambits, he has already probably planned out everything the protags will due and sets it up to benefit him no matter what. At this point, the only possible way to beat him is to somehow act in a way he could not predict.
    • In Kingdom Hearts II Sora discovers halfway through that every time he kills a heartless he sends its heart back to Kingdom Hearts, increasing its power, which is exactly what Organization XIII wants. Of course, if he doesn't kill heartless they will keep rampaging through the multiverse. He ultimately decides to keep doing what he's been doing, knowing that he's helping the bad guys but thinking the alternative is even worse, and preferring to trust that he'll be able to fight his way through whatever they throw at him and beat them all in combat before they accomplish their goal.
  • Saints Row: The Third has a mission where your goal is to save a group of women from a traficking ring that forces them into prostitution. You are then presented with two options: sell them right back to the trafickers, or force them into prostitution yourself. Both options end with the girls in forced prostitution, and you making a lot of money off them.
  • At some point in Infamous you are given the choice to either save Trish or six doctors from being thrown from a tall building to their death. If you choose to save the doctors, Trish will die. If you choose to save Trish, you'll be tricked, as she will be among the doctors, so she will die either way.
  • The two endings of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. Either Kane leaves his men to die and saves his daughter, who will now hate him for the rest of his life; or saves his men, at the cost of his daughter's life. Lampshading this, the official names for the two endings are "Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't".
  • As noted by This guy, most of the "moral choice" moments in Spec Ops: The Line are anything but, and really moments where every choice the player makes will result in equally terrible consequences.
    • The final (or semifinal) two choices are an exception, since the first of the two is either massacring civilians with your own guns or just making them flee, and the second is essentially committing suicide.
    • One choice is rather egregious in this. At one point, Konrad forces you to choose between killing a civilian who stole water (the game takes place in the desert in the middle of a sandstorm; water is an extremely precious commodity) or a soldier who apprehended the civilian, but killed his family in the process. It doesn't matter which one you choose (even if you try to Take a Third Option and shoot the snipers who are forcing you to make the choice, where you fail to rescue both of them anyway) because at the end of the game, it's revealed the entire scene was a hallucination, which means your choice meant diddily squat.
  • Tactics Ogre: Denam really can't win if he becomes ruler of Valeria. Chaos frame too low? Someone assassinates him. Chaos frame high? Then Lodis invades and takes over Valeria.
  • One of the plot-changing decisions in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is this - Kravchenko is still alive and ends up captured and interrogated by Woods and Mason. Whichever way you play the scene, it ends with Kravchenko dead - either Mason shoots him during the interrogation, or Woods shoots him after it.
  • In The Feeble Files a freighter pilot is accused of transporting contraband material, and tries to talk his way out of it by claiming he was forced to transport the contraband by anti-government rebels. The security officer carrying out the interrogation decides that if he's telling the truth, he deserves death for knowingly conspiring with rebels; otherwise he's lying to a security officer to save your own skin, which is also an executable offence, and shoots the freighter pilot dead.
  • 50 Cent Blood On The Sand has the game's two endings. When 50 Cent invades the Big Bad's HQ, he has the option of going through a shutter that'll take him straight to him, or taking the long way around, but Leila warns him that the Big Bad has taken her family hostage and opening the shutter will trigger an alarm and will lead to their deaths. No matter what the player does, though, Leila turns out to have been working for the Big Bad all along, and might not have even been telling the truth about her family (it's never made clear). The only clear difference between the endings is whether Leila ends up alive but stranded in the middle of the desert (taking the long way) or killed off-screen in the Final Boss fight (opening the shutters).
  • In Pokémon X and Y in Lysandre Labs, Xerosic presents you with a red button and a blue button, which will respectively activate the Ultimate Weapon or leave it dormant. If you press the blue button Xerosic will remotely activate it anyway. When you go to their secret base in Geosenge Town later on Lysandre will apologize for the Ultimate Weapon being activated despite your choice.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, during the Gratitude Crystal sidequest, Cawlin has a crush on Karane but is too shy to say it to her face, and so asks you to deliver a love letter. Here the quest branches off in two directions: you can either give the love letter to Karane, in which case she ultimately ends up with another student and Cawlin is upset, or you can give it to the disembodied hand living in the knight school's bathroom, in which case Cawlin is upset and is later haunted by the appendage in his sleep.
  • The Star Trek Online mission "Acamar System Patrol" has the PC assigned to defuse an Acamarian clan dispute. While there are two ways to complete the mission, they both end violently. If you screw up the negotiations, the Acamarians attack you. If you succeed, the Romulan Tal Shiar who covertly caused the whole thing attack you.

    Web Animation 
  • In Friendship Is Magic Bitch, Celestia asks three of her subjects whether they like bananas and uses all of their answers to banish them to the moon and call them a bitch. Like bananas? Then you'll go bananas on the MOON! Don't like bananas? Good, because there aren't any bananas on the MOON! Don't know if you like bananas? Then you'll have plenty of time to decide on the MOON!
  • Ultra Fast Pony: In the opening scene of the episode "Winning", Apple Bloom needs help from Zecora, so she extorts her by threatening to tell the police that Zecora gave her drugs. Reluctantly, Zecora agrees. And how exactly does Apple Bloom need help? "I need you to give me drugs!"

    Webcomics 
  • This page by Luke Surl.
  • Moloch von Zinzer in Girl Genius has "a remarkably astute grasp of the situation" here. Either he follows Agatha on a suicide mission to save her Love Interest, or he parts ways with her, exposing himself to the castle's destructive sense of humour. His attempt to make her consider finding another boyfriend fails.
  • In xkcd:
    • The classic Knights and Knaves puzzle (one always tells the truth, the other always lies...) is parodied in this strip. What makes this a Morton's Fork is that there's a third guy who "stabs anyone who asks tricky questions", making a three-tined Fork. Answer incorrectly, you are lost forever. Stay silent, you are trapped. The only way to answer correctly is to ask a tricky question, at which point, the third guy would kill you. According to the alt-text, the maze goes nowhere. It's just a trap to kill cunning logicians.
    • This strip makes a similar point about DRM.
  • Oglaf pulls a version of this which starts out as a Sadistic Choice (Ivan is presented with either succumbing to poison or licking the antidote off of Sandoval's genitalia), but morphs into a proper Morton's Fork when the antidote turns out to be poison as well. The poor guy can't catch a break.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • The comic pokes at this trope when the paladin O-Chul is being interrogated by the goblin Redcloak. Redcloak is convinced that O-Chul knows something about the magical Gates the bad guys are after, and that he simply doesn't buck under torture. He presents him with the choice of either talking (thus violating his sworn oath to protect the Gates) or watch as the goblin forces execute a bunch of prisoners (violating both O-Chul's morals and the other part of his oath, which is to protect his people). When O-Chul still doesn't tell him anything, Redcloak angrily tells him that as a paladin, he is simply not allowed to let innocents die. Hearing O-Chul insist that he would spill the beans if he knew anything, and seeing that the gods do not strike O-Chul down for disobeying the Paladin's Oath, Redcloak is finally convinced that the paladin knows nothing, and even lets the prisoners go.
    • Elan is presented with a Morton's fork in strip #720; he's been mistaken for his Evil Twin Nale, who is wanted for treason against The Empire of Blood, and the Empress of Blood (a rather ditzy dragon) has expressed an interest in eating him. Elan he protests his innocence by claiming that Nale is his twin and was killed by an explosion in Azure City (which he believes to be true, although Nale actually survived). Malack points out that if he's lying, he is Nale and will be executed for treason, whereas if he's telling the truth, he's of no further use in their hunt for Nale and the Empress might as well devour him.
  • Bun-bun faces this at the top of this Sluggy Freelance strip.
  • Nip and Tuck take on headaches feminism can give even its most dedicated supporters.
  • Amazing Super Powers has this one.
  • Raven from Dark Wings gets a summons about a prospective job with a meeting at 10:00...with the summons deliberately arriving at 9:30. He has to either ignore it, thereby insulting the powerful nobles who sent it, or else be put at an instant bargaining disadvantage by the near-certainty of being late.
  • Sinfest had Monique's Fork.
  • In Three Jaguars, Artist fears both success and failure for the webcomic.
  • In Hiimdaisy's Persona 4 comics, there's no way to get a positive response from Dojima when he asks how you take your coffee:
    "Black?" Don't try to sound tough, you sissy.
    "Cream?" Oh, coming right up, madam.
    "Cream & sugar?" What are you, Nanako? (Nanako: daddy I want it black)
    "Surprise me?" Dojima splashes the whole scalding mug in your face.
  • In Digger, Boneclaw Mother threatens to fight Grim Eyes if the latter doesn't go help Digger and Murai on their journey. Grim Eyes explains that fighting Boneclaw Mother would have been this sort of situation: if she loses, she gets beat up by her ailing blind grandmother, loses honor with the tribe, and has to go on the quest anyway; if she wins, she's beating up her ailing blind grandmother, and loses honor with the tribe for that.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, during a therapy session, Reverend Theo suggests Elf might be putting herself in a Morton's Fork.
    Theo: Well, in fone of what you're going through is your fault, you're powerless. But if everything is your fault, you'll never be powerful enough, and it's hopeless.
Elf calls him on this not being helpful.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Lampshaded in one episode, when Bart and Lisa are being hazed by cadets at a military academy:
      Cadet: What's the matter? Don't girls like doing push-ups in the mud?
      Lisa: Is there any answer I can give that won't result in you making me do more push-ups?
      (Cadets talk amongst themselves for a few seconds)
      Cadet: No.
    • In a Treehouse of Horror segment set during the Salem witch trials, Marge was accused of witchcraft and sentenced to being thrown off a cliff. If she died, it would be an "honorable Christian death". If she survived, it'd be taken as proof that she's a witch, in which case she would be executed. The whole thing fell apart when she turned out to be a witch after all, and used her powers to escape punishment and exact revenge. The townsfolk were completely unprepared for this, since the witch trials were apparently less about finding actual witches and more about setting innocent people up as scapegoats for every little thing that went wrong.
    • When Homer goes to India and comes to believe himself a god, Lenny and Carl come to visit him and are met by a guard who offers them a choice between two doors, explaining that Homer Simpson is behind one and a Bengal tiger is behind the other. When it turns out that both doors have a tiger behind them, the guard explains "One of these tigers is named Homer Simpson."
  • In one of the last episodes of the Rocky and Bullwinkle series, Boris was caught in one where, after stealing a raft-load of goods, the award he received for the deed caused the raft to begin sinking. If the goods sank, Boris would be shot, and if he threw away the award to stop the raft from sinking, he'd still be shot. "Well, at least I have a choice," he says. Whichever one happened, a shot was heard offscreen by the heroes.
  • Used in an episode of ReBoot: a game cube lands on the Principal Office, resulting in the Office's core being transported out of the Office itself. Bob realizes that even if he wins, the power core will still leave with the game cube and Mainframe will undergo a System Crash. He manages to get out of it by Taking A Third Option. Bob says, "If the user wins, we're doomed! And if I win we're doomed!"
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic two-parter "The Return of Harmony", Discord gets five of the Mane Six into a Morton's Fork where they are meant to fall for his Hannibal Lecture and abandon their element due to his use of More Than Mind Control. In the lone case where one of the ponies (Fluttershy) doesn't fall for this, he just Mind Rapes her in order to rid her of all traces of her element by breaking her perforce.
    • Especially worth noting is the Sadistic Choice he gave to Rainbow Dash. Her element is loyalty, so he informed her that her hometown of Cloudsdale was about to be destroyed and that the only way for her to save it was to take her wings back and leave the maze (which means he wins). Whatever RD did at this point, she would either be turning her back on her friends or turning her back on her home town, meaning she would lose her element no matter what.
  • One episode of Timon & Pumbaa had the duo in one of these. A firefighting bear threatened to eat them if they brought fire into his forest. However, a lumberjack (whose fire they had put out after the initial encounter with the bear) threatened to chop them with his axe if they didn't bring him back replacement fire from a volcano in the woods. They managed to get out of it once they told the bear that the lumberjack was forcing them to bring fire into the woods. The bear then let them go and ate the lumberjack instead.
  • Freakazoid! was once sentenced to either spend a week in jail, or listen to Fan Boy ranting for one hour. He choose the week in jail, only to discover Fan Boy in his cell.
  • Dogbert bet Dilbert $20 that it didn't feel good to give and then asked Dilbert to give him $40. As Dilbert notes, either way he's out $20.
  • Hank in King of the Hill was asked a question by Peggy that would not have a good outcome no matter how he answered. He lampshades the trope by telling her that she's asking him a loaded question and that answering yes or no would get him into trouble either way.
  • In the Darkwing Duck episode "Let's Get Respectable", Negaduck catches Darkwing with a simple form of this by asking Darkwing if he had stopped digging potholes in Main Street.

    Other 
  • There's a well-known story that the Caliph Omar whose army sacked the Library of Alexandria said of its books that either they contradicted the Koran and thus were heretical and should be burned, or they agreed with the Koran and thus were superfluous and should be burned. Either way, they wound up on the bonfire. Though almost certainly false, this legend can be traced back at least to the 13th century.
  • A less known, but true story about Caliph Omar involves the time he wished to reprimand one of his generals, Khalid bin Walid. Khalid had spent a large sum of money on a poet to have a poem written about himself. Omar tasked a messenger, saying (paraphrased) 'Tie his hands in front of the congregation and ask him if he paid from his own pocket, or from the treasury. If he paid from the treasury, he is guilty of misappropriation; bind him, and send him to me. And if he paid from his own pocket, then he is guilty of extravagance; so bind him, and send him to me.'
  • There's a classic Jewish Mother joke that works like this: She gives her son two nice ties for his birthday. Next week he goes to dinner at her house wearing one of them. The mother says, "What's the matter, you didn't like the other one?" Some versions go further. On the following week the son brings the other tie, and the mother remarks "You used to like the other, why don't you like it anymore?". A week later, the son tries to play smart, wearing no tie (or both at once) to the desparation of the mother "Why I raised a son that can't dress himself properly!?".
  • A classic joke, which is told in many variations, is that two men are captured by a primitive tribe. The chief gives them a choice: death, or a mysterious punishment with a gibberish name. (Futurama uses, for example, "Snoo-Snoo.") The first man chooses the mysterious punishment, which turns out to be some horrific torture, but survives. The second man decides he'd rather die than undergo that treatment, so he chooses death. The chief proclaims, "Death... by Snoo-Snoo!"
  • Morton's fork is sometimes employed by Fan Dumb character bashers. For example, this HMS STFU entry for the Harry Potter fandom features someone who bashes Hermione for being studious and Ron for not being studious.
  • A classic Stock Lateral Thinking Puzzle is built around this idea. A man is to be executed, based on whatever he says next. If it is true, he will be shot. If it is false, he will be hanged. The trick is for him to Take a Third Option and say "I will be hanged" (or alternatively "This statement is a lie").
  • As the Chuck Norris Fact goes, if you can see Chuck Norris, then he can see you, and thus potentially kill you, but if you can't see Chuck Norris, then you may be only seconds away from death.
  • The statement, "Denial is the first sign of a problem." Thus, if you say you don't have a particular problem — such as a drug addiction — then you're just in denial about it; if you say you do, then, well, you just confessed to being a drug addict.
  • Some examples used in grade school or junior high:
    • Are you a homo? If yes, you are a homosexual; if no, you're not a member of species Homo sapiens.
    • Are you PT? If you say yes, you are a pregnant teenager; if no, you aren't potty-trained.
    • Are you a PLP? If so, you're a public leaning post *the bully barges into you* If not, you aren't a proper looking person.
    • {For a male target} "Are you a lesbian trapped inside a man's body?" If he says yes, he is a transsexual; if no, he doesn't like girls (i.e. is gay).
    • "Would you suck my cock if it was clean?"
      • If "yes" then you're a cocksucker.
      • If "no" then you're a dirty cocksucker.
  • A classic example of a "loaded question" is "Have you stopped beating your wife?" If you say no, then you beat your wife. If you say yes, then you admit to having beaten your wife. (The third option is to say "I have never beaten my wife" or point out that is a loaded question)
  • "Does this dress make my butt look big?"
  • There is a joke about a man who goes to Hell and must spend eternity in one of three rooms. The first room contains a room full of people standing on their heads on wood, the second room contains people doing the same on concrete, and the third contains people drinking coffee while standing in feces. The man chooses the third because it doesn't seem as bad as the first two. The Devil announces that break time is over, and the people have to go back to standing on their heads.
    • A variation used to make the punchline less obvious is to have the other two rooms contain punishments that don't involve standing on your head.
  • A commercial for the Twix candy bar plays the trope for laughs; a young couple are at home and the girlfriend is trying on a dress. She asks her boyfriend if the dress makes her look fat. The boyfriend knows he's been asked a loaded question, but rather than trying to answer, he stuffs his mouth with the Twix bar so that he can't answer properly.

     Real Life  
  • As mentioned above, Morton's Fork. The attempts to wring every penny out of the nobility proved so unpopular that immediately after his accession the young Henry VIII was forced to execute two of his father's advisorsnote  to prevent a revolt.
    • The historical circumstance of this are important. Henry VII had just finished a very expensive war to get hold of the Crown, and was nearly broke. The use of the Fork was to transfer a large portion of the wealth of the nobles to his own coffers. It worked, and he became the richest man in England by a substantial margin.
  • Joan of Arc's trial involved several in an attempt to ensure her condemnation.
    • She was asked if she believed she was "in God's Grace." If she said yes, her overconfidence would brand her as a dangerous fanatic, since no one but God is supposed to know who's in his grace or not. If she said no, however, then it would mean she had been masquerading as a religious figure for trivial ends. Joan, however, figured out the trap quickly enough to answer: "If I'm not, may God put me in it; If I am, may God keep me there." The wording was considered both humble and pious. Centuries later, this witty reply was actually considered as an argument in favor of her canonization.
    • Given only men's clothing to wear, she had a choice between wearing it (and being condemned for impropriety) or going naked (and being condemned for impropriety, as well as exposing herself to certain other dangers in the enemy prison that she was held in).
  • The medieval and early colonial practice of "dunking" those accused of witchcraft could very easily become this. The accused would have a rope tied to her waist and get thrown into a body of water. If she floated, pull her out and, depending on the region and era, either imprison, hang, or burn her at the stake. If she sank, pull her out and let her go... and if she happened to drown, at least she died innocent. This was actually mocked in one episode of The Fairly Oddparents, where Timmy undergoes it but when he survives and is accused of being a witch, he retorts "Or a kid who can swim!"
    • The Salem Witch Trials were also this. If you are accused of being a witch or being in league with the devil, you have two options: refuse to admit your guilt and be hanged, or wrongfully confess it, then accuse someone else of being a witch... in the process perjuring yourself and then get killed by that person's family in retribution. Giles Corey is famous for Taking A Third Option: as he was being crushed to death by stones, he refused to break down and admit his "guilt" or accuse anyone else. His last words were "More weight", and in doing this he managed to protect his family's well being. At that time, a trial could not start until a plea was given, and if found guilty, all property would confiscated by the court. Since the trial never started, he could not be found guilty, and his children would keep their inheritance.
  • The "Jonah Complex" in psychology, where if you fail something you beat yourself up over it because you're not skilled enough, yet if you succeed you attribute it to pure luck or cheating and still beat yourself up over it for not being skilled.
  • In the United States, taxpayers are required to report to the Internal Revenue Service any "illegal income." If you have any and don't report it, then you're evading taxes. Al Capone was famously caught using this tactic. If you do report it, the IRS is not supposed to turn you in, but there are loopholes that usually mean the IRS will tip off other agencies that will arrest you. One man tried to argue that the Fifth Amendment protected him from having to admit to illegal income, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the IRS can require you to divulge how much you made from illegal enterprises, as long as they don't require you to specify your criminal activity.
  • It either isn’t crunched up enough or you won't see it. Who said a Morton's Fork cannot be hilarious?
    "Sir, I can either charge you with stealing, or I can charge you with stalking and pedophilia, since this lady is obviously a minor. Which one is it going to be?"
  • In Nazi-occupied Poland, helping Jews (even selling them food) was a capital crime (typically for your whole family), and if you lived in a village hiding Jews, not turning in neighbors hiding Jews meant you and your male relatives would be fair game for execution if they were caught (if many villagers hid Jews, your whole village might be destroyed in reprisal). On the other hand, if you did decide to inform on Jews, it was considered treason by the Polish Underground State, and by extension the Polish Home Army and also punished by execution.
  • The communist Kurdish People's Party (PKK) operated out of the Kurd-controlled portion of northern Iraq, and primarily targeted Kurds living in neighboring Turkey who didn't support it. The Turkish military targeted Kurds who did support the PKK. Worse, both knew the policy of the other, which put you in the sights of one if the other didn't attack you.
  • An issue for US soldiers for quite some time in The Vietnam War - their M16 service rifle, in addition to firing bullets that tended to ricochet away from vegetation rather than plowing through it, was an example of Reliably Unreliable Guns at the time that frequently jammed and the stock of it easily broke which meant it didn't even made a good club, allowing their enemies to kill them while they were liable to be unable to fight back with their rifles. Soldiers that took the enemy's Type 56 rifles would be more able to fight, but the distinctive sound of the enemy's rifles firing made it likely they would be subject to issues of Friend or Foe and subsequent friendly-fire.
  • Some international lawyers have been appealing the Nuremberg defense on the grounds that its rejection places soldiers in a Morton's Fork situation: either follow the orders and be thrown in prison and possibly executed for war crimes by the other side later, or refuse to follow the orders and be thrown in prison and probably executed for insubordination by your own superiors now.
    • That's why nowadays there is a clause that allows the Nuremberg defence if the defendant did not have a moral choice. The Nuremberg Defence is named after the trials after WW II. In the German army at the time soldiers had the right (but not duty) to refuse to carry out any illegal orders. There were German soldiers who refused to carry out such orders with little consequences.
  • In the period leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq Saddam Hussein's regime was accused of manufacturing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Saddam responded to the accusations with a mixture of bluster and bluff, and in retrospect he was faced with an impossible situation. If he had explicitly denied possessing such weapons the international community would not have believed him, and furthermore he would have appeared weak in the face of other Middle Eastern powers and Iraq's majority Shia population, who were kept from overthrowing Saddam by fear. If he had admitted to producing such weapons - a tactic used later by the Syrian regime - he would have been compelled to publicly dispose of them, which was impossible, as he had none to dispose. In retrospect nothing short of voluntarily relinquishing power would have saved Saddam's Iraq from invasion and military occupation.
  • Saddam Hussein had a copy of the Quran written in his blood as a "tribute to Islam". However, writing a Quran in blood is actually considered blasphemous by most Islamic authorities (blood is considered unclean). The problem is that, now that it exists, destroying it would also be blasphemous. It sits in storage and no one is sure what to do with it.
  • A semi-example in animal husbandry: Because it is illegal to shoot endangered predators such as wolves or eagles, the US Government pays ranchers and farmers if their animals are killed by said predators. All the rancher has to do is present the animal's corpse as evidence. Since the predators kill livestock in order to eat it, there is almost never a recognizable corpse left to present, and since these animals are also scavengers there's no way to prove the animal didn't die of natural causes and merely get scavenged later, even if there's enough of the corpse to show teeth marks (even an eagle will leave nothing but bits of a sheep's spine after killing it). This has the sad consequence that many ranchers simply kill endangered animals on the sly because the losses can be financially crippling and it's nigh-impossible to get paid for them.
  • If you buy undeveloped land which you later find has an endangered species on it, you cannot build (without going through tons of red tape for a small chance that your building project might be approved) on the land because it is a habitat for an endangered species. You also can't sell it now because the land is totally worthless. This also results in a similar situation to the above of people just killing the animals and never telling a soul.
  • Robert Rauschenberg's Canyon is a grisly painting that is worthless because it cannot be legally sold, but worth enough for the IRS to demand over $29 million of inheritence tax on it. The reason it cannot be sold it that it incorporates a stuffed bald eagle, and trading in endangered species is illegal, dead or alive. The artist's heirs eventually reached an agreement with the IRS to donate the work to a museum for public exhibition and take no deduction for the donation. In return, the IRS dropped the tax assessment.
  • Ebay banned the practice of selling souls on its service with this line of reasoning: If the soul doesn't exist, then there would be nothing to buy. If souls do exist, then it would break their "no selling human parts or remains" policy.
  • When Visceral Games was advertising Dante's Inferno, they sent out a bunch of trick boxes pertaining to one of the Seven Deadly Sins, the one for greed was 100 dollars with a note that read "If you keep this, you're going to hell for the sin of hoarding, if you give it away, you're going to hell for the sin of wasting."
    • Yahtzee got one along similar lines; it was a noisemaking box that accused you of the deadly sin of wrath if you smashed it. So the options are live with the intentionally annoying noise or be called wrathful. Naturally, Yahtzee, being the wrathful guy that he is, smashed it.
  • In 2011, a twenty year old woman claimed that she had got knocked up by Justin Bieber the year before, and sued to be compensated. The problem was, if she lost her case she could easily be tried for fraud; if she won the case she could be tried for statutory rape, since Bieber would have been under the legal age of consent at the time of conception. Oops. Not surprisingly, the case quietly went away...
  • The classic bully's question is "Do you fancy my sister?" If yes, you get beaten up for having designs on her and so dishonoring her. If no, you get beaten up for thinking there's something wrong with her.
    • This is also a common source of humor in fiction that involves a Coming-Out Story, as that person's same-sex friends will be a bit weirded out and think maybe they're the subject of an unwanted crush. When they find out that no, their friend isn't crushing on them, they immediately ask "Why not?!"
  • One of the revelations from the recent crusade against school bullying is that many victims are punished the same as the bully even if they never throw a punch in returnnote , this is why there's a large crowd of parents who encourage their kids to fight back, if they'll be punished all the same, they may as well make an attempt at beating said bully up so maybe they'll stop.
    • This can be a real problem for people who consistently have problems with bullying. If they rise to any insults the bully throws at them, well, that's what the bully is trying to do. If they ignore the bully, though, it's highly likely that they'll just keep doing it anyway, either because they just don't like their target, or they know that if they have to keep putting up with it without doing anything, sooner or later they'll explode.
  • According to R. D. Laing, schizophrenia is, rather than a mental disorder, actually an attempt to fight this. The person who supposedly suffers from schizophrenia is actually being presented with an "unlivable situation" that is usually a Morton's Fork: if the person accepts the situation, they will suffer pain. If the person attempts to fight the situation, they will still be punished both for fighting the situation and even for identifying the unlivable situation as such. It is like being presented with two ends of a tunnel, but both ends lead to pain, so the person attempts to escape by "breaking through the roof of the tunnel" with crazy, insane, "schizophrenic" behavior that is the only way the person can make their situation livable. Needless to say, whether or not Laing's theory is correct is to be discussed elsewhere besides this article.
  • The US's threatened invasion of Syria over the issue of chemical weapons. If Syria didn't disarm itself, the US would invade and take their weapons away by force. As Syria had no realistic way to stop the US from doing just that, they were forced to give up their chemical weapons by their ally, Russia, who wouldn't defend them against the US in case of a war. So either the US got to remove the Syrian regime, or take away their weapons without a costly invasion.
  • For every student, in any school, ever, finding out late at night that you have homework due the next day. If you do it, your parents will yell at you for not doing it earlier. If you don't do it, you lose credit for the assignment.
  • In an interesting turn of events, the CTA in Chicago adopted the Ventra System, which was riddled with issues months after being announced and introduced. A journalist asked the then head of the CTA why he would adopt a system that was known to be problematic and insecure in every other major city it was used in; did he know about these problems? If the head of the CTA answered yes, then he had willingly instituted a faulty system for Chicago transit. However, if he answered no, then he would have been seen as irresponsible for not thoroughly researching an entirely new transit payment system.
  • Without discussing how reasonable the beliefs are, many opponents of the theories of modern feminism - rape culture, in particular - claim that any discourse regarding the issues would result in a Morton's Fork situation. If one does not believe rape culture exists, then he or she is considered to be contributing to a culture that encourages rape, whereas if he or she does, then the existence of rape culture is confirmed and he or she is considered to be contributing to a culture that encourages rape.


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alternative title(s): Zugzwang; Damned If You Do Damned If You Dont
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