Morton's Fork

"Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

A character is presented two alternatives, A and B. If the character chooses A, then something bad happens. If they choose 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" answernote  (since, in this case, by denying to answer the question, you are essentially admitting that suspicions about you beating your wife are legitimate).

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, whereas 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).note 

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 each leads to a different undesirable outcome. Characters often attempt to Take a Third Option in response, 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.

Remember, it's only a Morton's Fork if both choices lead to basically the same outcome. It isn't enough just to be given a choice between two bad options. If you're offered a choice between a bad option and a worse one, that's probably The Easy Way or the Hard Way. If the choice is deceptive—and the option that seems less bad is actually worse—that's The Window or the Stairs. Subtrope of Failure Is the Only Option.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Attack on Titan:
    • After Eren is exposed as a Titan Shifter, Weilman gives him a choice at cannonpoint: admit he's a traitor or say he's human. Eren, naturally, says he's human, and Weilman just fires the cannon anyway, pointing out that he can't prove it. Armin finds a way to prove it.
    • Much, much later, an all-out war for Shiganshina is being waged and the human side is suffocating under threat after threat. You can either be inside the wall with the Armored Titan, or on top of or outside it, which is being barraged by the Beast Titan's missiles. It doesn't get better, as the Armored Titan is eventually replaced with the Colossal Titan, who on top of being virtually infallible, starts setting the city on fire. Then the Armored Titan gets back in the fight. Essentially, the heroes' only choice is to pick how they want to die, and eventually they are forced to do exactly that.
  • 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...
    • During Thriller Bark, the Straw Hats minus Luffy are fighting Oars, a giant-giant zombie animated by their captain's shadow. At one point Moria, the one who took the shadow and planted into Oars, shows a cockpit built into Oars' chest. Now the crew has a dilemma; If they defeat Moria, Luffy's shadow will leave Oars, but the only way to get to Moria is to defeat Oars! (Of course, Zoro thinks the problem just got simplified- both targets are now in one place.)
    • In the Zou Arc Sanji finds out he has been forced into an arranged marriage with one of Big Mom's daughters, and he leaves without much of a fight because you can't refuse an invitation by Big Mom. As Pekoms later tells the other Straw Hat pirates, this is because these aren't so much of an invitation, as they are an order, because if you refuse you'll be mailed a "present" with the head of a friend or loved one inside for disrespecting Big Mom. There's no excuse either, because much later, we see a man who couldn't attend one of Big Mom's parties because he had to be at his mother's funeral, and despite having explained the situation to Big Mom in a letter, he still got sent the head of his father. Even if you do attend, there's a good chance you might get killed anyway, such as in the case of Sanji's Arranged Marriage, because it's actually a plot by Big Mom and her family to assassinate the Vinsmokes to gain political power.
  • 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.
  • Hunter × Hunter includes one of these as the protagonists are beginning their journey towards the Hunter Exams. As they walk through a shady alley, an old woman pops up and asks a couple different examples, often asking you to choose whether to help one person you care for or the other. Leorio eventually tries to attack her in frustration before it is explained that the only correct answer is that there IS no answer. Before they continue, she explains that all Hunters need to understand that sometimes, you must face issues that you can never get right.
  • 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. A win-win situation in this case.
  • In X/1999, Kamui must choose between the Dragons of the Earth and destroy the Earth to cleanse it, or the Dragons of the Heaven and save the Earth to preserve humanity. That is, between "saving the earth" and "saving humanity." Not having much inclination one way or the other, he chooses the Dragons of Heaven, because his two friends (Fuuma and Kotori) are the only ones he really cares about, and these two would die if the Earth was destroyed. However, no matter what decision he made, Fuuma would become champion of the other set of dragons and Kotori would die, which is what happens. Leading to ANOTHER Morton's Fork as he has to decide between killing his remaining friend Fuuma to fulfill his purpose...or get killed by Fuuma instead. In the movie he chooses the Earth over Fuuma and kills him, in the TV series he chooses to let Fuuma kill him to deploy a Thanatos Gambit that ultimately saves Fuuma and the planet, and in the manga no one knows what will happen.
  • Just before the final match at the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai in Dragon Ball, Piccolo has trapped Kami in a tiny jar and swallowed it. If Goku wants to release Kami, he'd need to rip Piccolo's body open to get it...but if Piccolo dies, so does Kami. Luckily, Piccolo himself provides a third solution - During the fight, he makes himself so big that Goku is able to leap down his throat and pull the jar out!
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • The climax of the preliminaries in the Battle City arc is a deathmatch between Yugi and a mind-controlled Jounouchi. The match has been set up so that both players are chained to an anchor that will fall after a set time. The only way to win is to defeat the other person first, in which case the winner gets a key that can unlock the chains. Either Yugi loses and dies, Yugi wins and his best friend Jounouchi dies, or Yugi runs out the clock and they both die. Eventually, they manage to force a draw. And as an extra measure, a mind-controlled Anzu was going to ingest a cyanide pill, or get crushed by a giant block, depending on if it's the manga or anime.
    • The Grand Finale of Battle City had something similar. Yami Marik had both Yugi and the true Marik's souls hostage; if Yami lost, Yugi would cease to exist (as would Yami, due to his bond with Yugi) while if Yami won, the same thing would happen to the true Marik. Even worse, Yami Marik does not have such a bond with his host, and will actually benefit if the true Marik is gone. While no third option is initially presented, one comes up when Rashid appears, giving the true Marik a way to fight back, and eventually regain control after Yami reduces his Life Points to only 1. Once in control, the true Marik surrenders, and since their roles have been switched, it's Yami Marik who ceases to exist.
    • In Duelist Kingdom, Yugi manages to use one Morton's Fork to counter an enemy's: faced with two doors guarded by the Paradox Brothers, and having determined that their Knights and Knaves puzzle was fake, Yugi still had to figure out which door led to the exit and which was a trap. Eventually he showed the brothers two coins, each apparently marked with one of the brothers' symbols, and said that, after closing his hands over both of them, he'd open one hand and whichever coin was in the closed hand was his choice. Revealing the symbol on one coin, the brothers indicated that he'd chosen wrongly- only for Yugi to open the other hand and reveal the same symbol, as he'd figured out that the brothers were just going to say he'd picked the wrong one no matter what, and thus he'd put a different symbol on each side of the second coin. Defeated, the brothers were forced to let Yugi and his group go (whereupon they discovered that both doors actually led to the exit all along).
    • In the first match of the Battle City Finals, Bakura tried to pull one of these on Yugi. His strategy involved using Dark Sanctuary which can possess a monster, negate its attack, and damage Yugi's life points while restoring his own. He used The Dark Door in conjunction with this, limiting Yugi to only one attack per turn. But he also had Destiny Board, a card that after so many turns, creates an Instant-Win Condition, meaning Yugi couldn't just waste his turns not attacking, but couldn't risk using his only attack with a possessed monster. During the last turn, Bakura was one letter away from completing Destiny Board, but he also had the trap card Dark Spirit of the Silent on his field, which lets him negate an attack and force another monster to attack in its place, meaning Yugi would've lost from either Destiny Board's Instant-Win Condition, or from the effect of Dark Sanctuary. The only reason Yugi manages to win is because he manages to draw his God Card Slifer/Osiris, which the ghost of Dark Sanctuary couldn't possess.
  • In Anatolia Story, one arc has Nakia frame Yuri for poisoning Kail's eldest brother aka the King and sends the army to hunt her down. Her allies try to figure out how to save her, but their options boil down to (A) proving who the real murderer was (virtually impossible, since there's no evidence), (B) lying that one of them was the murderer (a guaranteed death sentence, considering that they'd be confessing to regicide), (C) Kail himself goes to rescue Yuri (which would pretty much ruin his vision of becoming King and saving the land, since he'd be foiling the arrest of someone accused of regicide), or (D) send word to Yuri to kill herself (which would prevent Nakia from sacrificing Yuri to curse Kail, as she plans to, but also would mean that Yuri ends up dead). The group is unable to decide what exactly to do, but the matter is resolved when one of Yuri's ladies in waiting, Ursula, willingly takes the second option: she confesses to the crime herself and allows 'self to be imprisoned and executed, leaving Kail open to save Yuri without issue. Some time later, after Nakia's ally Urhi Shalma confesses to the King's murder (and is executed right there) and then Nakia is completely defeated, Ursula is officially exonerated.
  • In Assassination Classroom, this is how Takaoko intended to destroy Karasuma's reputation as a teacher for Class E. Karasuma had the option of either sending one of his under-trained students into a hopeless knife duel against Takaoko or refuse the challenge and let Takaoko remain as Class E's barbaric P.E. teacher. Karasuma takes a third option and sends the one student that has a horrifying potential in close-combat assassination. It works.
  • As a character, Shinji Ikari is an example across the continuities of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Rebuild of Evangelion. He starts out as an insecure, socially awkward Nice Guy who has trouble dealing with people, but also has plenty of untapped strength and potential. Once he becomes an EVA pilot, though, he experiences serious psychological trauma fighting the Angels. By the end, after Kaworu's death, he's become a self-loathing wreck, lost all hope and begs for others to help him. He's about ready to allow Third Impact and instrumentality to happen, just so he can stop dealing with all the misery and loneliness in his life. Rebuild has Shinji become much more assertive and powerful than his anime counterpart. What happens here? In trying to kill Zeruel, he ends up triggering Third Impact through his sheer determination, killing most of what was left of humanity and damaging the Earth's biosphere even more severely. Poor kid just can't catch a break.
  • The situation in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's was originally set up as "The Wolkenritter betray Hayate's trust and fill the Book of Darkness or she dies", though later episodes show that it didn't matter if they filled it or not. If they didn't fill it, Hayate's paralysis would spread to her organs and she'd die. If they did fill it, the Book would activate, kill Hayate, and blow up the planet (or Graham would freeze it and her in a pocket dimension for all eternity). It's only thanks to Nanoha and Fate's intervention that they were able to Take a Third Option.
  • The situation involving Dragon Shiryu's self-inflicted blindness in Saint Seiya was a consequence of one of these. He was fighting the very powerful Perseus Algol, who had the Gorgon Shield that let him transform people in stone statues and had already petrified Seiya and Shun. Shiryu tried to close his eyes and fight that way, but it didn't work and his body began to petrify. Later he tried to blindfold himself, and it still didn't work and half his body was petrified (And in the anime, the Steel Saints were about to suffer the same destiny). So the only option he had left was plucking his own eyes and THEN finish the fight and kill Algol, which is what worked. So Seiya and Shiryu (and the Steel boys) were saved, but in exchange Shiryu was left blind from then on (temporarily in the anime, definitely in the manga).
  • The Irregular at Magic High School, after their Perfectly Arranged Marriage, Miyuki and Tatsuya's relationship reaches a stalemate because of this trope. The former constantly makes romantic advances towards the latter, yet also freezes up in embarrassment when he reciprocates those advances. Basically, no matter what anyone does, someone is going to feel uncomfortable about it.
  • Nou Come, the protagonist is offered absurd choices throughout most of the series, usually all of them are equally as bad.

    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 the tails side of a giant penny and intended to flip it. If it landed heads, he'd be crushed, 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. A What If? story has him Take a Third Option by jumping off the bridge, catching her, and swinging them both to safety. As is typical of What If?, bad things still result, but Gwen survives.
  • Marvel Year In Review 1993 observes:
    You know, it's kind of a waste of time to create new characters for The Punisher's books. If they're Frank's enemies, they get shot dead after an appearance or two. If they're Frank's friends, they get shot dead after an appearance or two.
  • A particularly cruel case of this causes Snare's Heel–Face Turn in The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers. Overlord would force his prisoners into pit fights for his own amusement. Once a pit fighter wins/survives about ten fights, Overlord takes them back to his quarters and gives them a choice; commit suicide or fight Overlord in hand-to-hand combat. As Snare points out, Overlord is an Implacable Man and Super Soldier built expressly for killing and has fought entire battalions single-handed, so there's really no difference between the two choices.
  • Age of Ultron: Ultron's drones maraud about yelling "surrender or perish!" The problem is, Ultron's a mass-murdering machine with a specific hatred for mankind, so surrendering just gets a person killed anyway (not that Ultron's drones usually give anyone a chance to try surrendering in the first place).
  • A Superman Family issue has Supergirl depowered and trapped by Lex Luthor in a cell. The only way out are two doors. One of them leads to a pit whose bottom is a bed of steel spikes. The other door opens onto a blast-furnace.
    Supergirl: Just the kind of duplicity I'd expect from Luthor. Both doors spell disaster! And either way, I lose... unless I go back the way I came!

    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."
  • In Harry Potter story Cruciamentum Eternus, Voldemort tells Lucius to torture Draco, with the implied Sadistic Choice being that if he doesn't Voldemort will do it. Lucius does it, but it turns out to have been no choice at all; Voldemort was going to kill Draco either way.
  • 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 Gensokyo 20XX, this is played with in two instances. To keep her safe, Yukari leaves Reimu behind but, as can be seen, the latter almost died of starvation and hypothermia, as lighting a fire to cook and keep warm with could have made smoke could have caused someone to take notice (and cause someone to look into it). The second instance, is where Ran wanted to take her to hospital but acknowledges that she could die on the way, as she was going to die from starvation, along with the fact that they could be captured and possibly killed for being a youkai with a human, in which case it would lead to death for any of them, so the former decides to Take a Third Option, which places Reimu under a hibernation spell.
  • In Kill la Kill AU, this is mentioned in Room 002108, where it is brought up that, if the test results came back and if Ryuuko had not shown signs of improvement before then, she would either be dead, as the disease will have killed her, or, if her condition was cancer, the disease will have hit terminal, in both cases, it will have been too late.
  • In Kitsune no Ken: Fist of the Fox, Danzo employs this at the very end of a question-and-answer session he subjects Naruto to, ostensibly to determine Naruto's worthiness to take Konoha High School's end-of-term exams. Naruto is asked if he was one of the Kyuushingai during the 365 days of regional terror; if Naruto says yes, that will give Danzo, the school's principal, enough grounds to expel the boy since Naruto will have effectively confessed to being a criminal; but if Naruto says no, Danzo will be able to catch him in a lie by utilizing witness testimony previously gleaned from Tenten, who knows the truth about Naruto. Furthermore, according to the rules of the question-and-answer session, Naruto cannot opt to simply keep silent, or else he'll automatically lose 15 points from the session's point-scoring arrangement, and at that moment he needs to get that amount to achieve the total number of points he needs so as to be eligible to take his official school exams. Naruto answers in the affirmative, but manages to stay at the school anyway after he points out that, if he's expelled for being a former Kyuushingai despite not having broken any laws since his arrival in Konoha Town, Danzo will open himself to questions about why he's never expelled other students whose criminal actions were much more open and blatant, such as Suigetsu, Arashi and Aoi.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Swinging Pendulum, when Ichigo is running away from Kukaku who is trying to drag him to the Shiba compound for dinner, he runs into Kaien who hides him. When she leaves, Kaien tells Ichigo he can pay him back by...coming home to the compound for dinner.
  • 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.
  • The Greatest Generation: Whichever way Admiral Shimada chose, he would have been screwed since he didn't know that Yvonne is Enterprise. Stay and fight? His ship girls get overwhelmed by the vastly superior Abyssal numbers and die in a Senseless Sacrifice. Some of the civilians might - and that's a pretty big might - succeed in evacuating, but most would probably still get slaughtered by the Abyssals. The way to the home islands is left wide open. Retreat? His ship girls might survive, but the civilians would be done for. Either way, lots of people would die and someone would be calling for his political if not literal crucifixion.
  • In This Bites!, Self-Inserted character Jeremiah Cross faces this in regards to his knowledge that the crew's navigator Nami is meant to fall prey to the prehistoric Kestia tick. He has two choices: either suffer Nami to come within an inch of death with the payoff of getting to meet and recruit their crew's doctor Chopper, which is much harder to face now that she's his friend, or save her from the Kestia at the cost of, in all likelihood, never meeting Chopper and, worse still, dooming Chopper's home of Drum Kingdom to Wapol's tyranny. In the end, he chooses the second option…only for a different prehistoric bacterium to infect him instead, setting the crew en route to Drum anyway.
    • Cross faces this again when their encounter with Mr. 2 draws nearer. On the one hand, letting him go would mean a town burning down and a lot of trouble for everyone. On the other hand, if they got rid of him, the Straw Hats would never escape Hina at the end of the Alabasta arc nor, much later, would Luffy succeed in his jailbreak from Impel Down. Unlike the above, Cross has no difficulty making up his mind and taking the first option, though he still hates it.
  • Later in Sonic X: Dark Chaos, Maledict eventually realizes that the entire conflict has become this. Either he ends the stalemate by destroying the Milky Way Galaxy himself with the Galaxy Crusher, or the Shroud are going to eat the entire galaxy and destroy it instead. He decides on the former, rationalizing it as a Mercy Kill compared to letting the Shroud get more powerful.
  • Thousand Shinji: Shinji warned Asuka that if she listened to Rei, she was screwed... and if she ignored Rei, she was also screwed anyways.
    Shinji: (to Asuka) Ever since I converted her to Nurgle, Rei has shown great joy in causing things to break down. Ignore her or she will gain immense satisfaction from your annoyance.
    Rei: (smiling) Ignore me and it will come back to bite you.
    Shinji: Okay, I’ll amend that. Listen to her at your own risk, but ignore her at your risk as well.

    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.
  • 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.
    • 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 The 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.
  • 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.
    • When Ford Brody asks the MONARCH folks why they didn't just kill the MUTO while it was dormant in the ruins of Janjira, Drs. Serizawa and Graham explain that the MUTO was absorbing the radiation that would have flooded the city otherwise. They ultimately concluded that having a Kaiju getting nutrition and possibly becoming a physical threat to people years later was a lesser threat than having millions die from radiation poisoning.
  • 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 the barrel, she reads the card, which says she is to stick her head in the barrel for four minutes.
  • The "interactive" movie Fast Lane to Malibu was full of this out of necessity. When it originally ran on the Playboy Channel, the gimmick was that certain scenes could go one of two ways, viewers had a certain time to call one of two numbers to vote for which one they preferred, and the one with more votes got shown. However, since the plot had to keep going in the same direction lest it sprawl out of control and seriously overwork everyone involved, and the viewers obviously didn't want to miss out on the sex no matter what, these choices had virtually no real effect. In order:
    • Monica hires a call girl, and Brian can either have sex with her or watch Monica have sex with her. Whichever he chooses, Monica takes it badly for some stupid reason, and the two bicker before Monica leaves in disgust. This is the only choice with two separate sex scenes, of which the viewers could see only one. The VHS adaptation went with the former scene, then put the other in as a Fantasy Sequence much later in the story.
    • Brian and Zack can take either Brian's crummy Jeep or a snazzy Porsche belonging to Brian's (never named or seen) brother. Both choices lead to them taking the Jeep. The only difference is that the latter precedes this with them heading down the freeway a short distance before a security measure causes the Porsche to shut down (which sets up a Brick Joke at the end of the movie).
    • The travelling buddies have a coin flip to decide whether to pick up a hitchhiker. Both outcomes lead to the same sex scene (one "real", one a Fantasy Sequence), followed by the buddies discovering that the hitchhiker robbed them.
    • Zack decides whether to finish pleasuring the mechanic's girlfriend or leave her unsatisfied. Either way, the mechanic finds out and gets furious (for slightly different reasons), and the buddies steal his car and make a break for it.
    • The buddies get arrested for the theft and have to decide whether to break out of jail and become fugitives or stay, miss out on the party, and go to prison. The first option leads to Brian, seconds after the breakout, changing his mind completely out of the blue and both of them locking themselves back up. And either way they manage to get off scot-free (and get some action to boot).
    • Monica decides whether she wants to compete in the wet t-shirt competition. She ends up doing it either way; the only difference is that if she initially turns it down, Ashley also takes part.
    • Weird subversion near the end: Brian and Zack finally get to the party, but see Monica and Ashley in the distance. A couple phone calls later, Monica pleads for Brian to forget about the party and come home. There actually was a vote here, but it didn't matter since Playboy only had one scene for this part: Brian initially decides to go home with Monica, then changes his mind, says that he's "vetoing the decision", and goes to the party. The DVD release doesn't present any choice here; the scene just proceeds normally.
  • And the sequel, Fast Lane to Vegas, continued in the same vein:
    • Brian and Zack can pick up either the homecoming queen or the stripper. Whichever they choose, a little later the other shows up literally out of nowhere (in identical fashion), and they both have a three-way with Brian.
    • Zack decides whether to watch his old college flame get it on with her current boyfriend. Both choices lead to 1. the same sex scene (one real, one fantasy), 2. the boyfriend finding out, and 3. Brian and Zack fleeing for their lives as the boyfriend shoots at them.
    • The buddies decide whether to assist the two mysterious women in suits. Both choices end up with them narrowly avoiding being mind-controlled and fleeing.
    • Zack decides whether to hit up the daughter of a tavernkeeper. Completely inconsequential decision; either way Zack simply learns that hitting her up is a bad idea.
    • The buddies decide whether to use up one of their wishes (long story...) to become invisible so they can peep on the tavernkeeper's daughter while she's bathing. If they do, they get to see her but get found out when the invisibility wears off at the worst possible time. If they don't, the wish gets wasted on nothing, they get to peep on her anyway after finding a back door to the bathroom, and they get found out after accidentally knocking over a screen.
    • Monica decides whether to have sex with a stripper or watch Ashley have sex with him. Both choices, of course, quickly lead to both of them getting in the act.
  • Two occasions, one in each half, of Full Metal Jacket:
    • Lampshaded and subverted in the first half. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman asks Private Joker whether he believes in the Virgin Mary. When Joker says no, the drill sergeant slaps him and then asks him again whether he now believes in the Virgin Mary. Joker still answers no, explaining that he believes the drill sergeant will only punish him harder for reversing himself. The sergeant responds by promoting Joker to squad leader, stating that though "Private Joker is silly and ignorant, he's got guts, and guts is enough."
    • In the second half, during a helicopter ride, the door gunner is shooting his machine gun at anyone who passes by, despite them being civilians. After a minute of this he turns to the other passengers and explains that "anyone who runs, is a VC. Anyone who stands still, is a well-disciplined VC."
  • Discussed in Serenity. The Operative attempts to appeal to Mal's morality to get him to hand over River, to which Mal demands money. The Operative says Mal's just being difficult.
    Operative: That is a trap. If I offer you money, you'll play the man of honor and take umbrage.
  • In Muppets from Space, Rizzo ends up becoming a lab rat. One of the tests he's subjected to is that he's given a choice of a wedge of cheese and a container of rat poison with a straw; when he goes for the cheese, he gets hit by an Extendo Boxing Glove, and when he goes for the poison later he gets hit by it again.
  • In National Treasure, when the main character (Nicholas Cage) is being interrogated by a federal agent (Harvey Keitel), the agent responds with "Refuse to cooperate with us, and you go to jail for a very long time. Cooperate with us, and you still go to jail for a very long time, but you feel better about yourself." The main character asks if there's any option that doesn't land him in jail and gets the response "Somebody's got to go to jail."
  • In the backstory of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the titular emperor presents Zi Yuan with General Ming prepared to be quartered by horses. He tells her "Become my queen, and I'll let [General Ming] live." Zi Yuan responds with that it's this trope, as he'll kill Ming anyway. The Dragon Emperor tells her she's right and has Ming quartered.
  • Tell Me How I Die: One of the characters gives himself a dose of the drug tested at the remote facility so he will have the same future visions as his friends and can anticipate the next move of the (equally prescient, though far more advanced) killer stalking the premises. At one point he has two alternatives on what to do next: he can either try to hide in a parked car but then sees the killer attacking him from behind, or try to hide in a nearby garage where he sees the killer also attacking him. There's no third option: he can't re-enter the rest of the building because the doors are all mechanically locked, and if he tries to flee on foot then the snow storm will undoubtedly kill him. It turns out both visions were true: the first attack at the garage causes him to flee to the car instead, but he forgot about the rear door he left open to grab a blanket previously so the killer can sneak up behind him and stab him to death.

  • 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.
  • One Anansi the Spider story involves this. Some bugs are caught by him and he proposes a liar's contest; everyone will tell an outrageous story and the winner is the first one to make the others say "That's not true!" When it gets to Anansi's turn, the tale he tells is about how all the bugs hatched from his garden are his property to do with as he pleases. Well, the bugs can't say "That's true," because they would be admitting they're Anansi's property, and be eaten. But they can't say "That's not true" either because they would be declaring Anansi the winner (and be eaten). They fly away instead, and that's why spiders are always hunting moths and mosquitoes.

  • 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.
  • In The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, we learn that Gavriel's Big Brother Bully put him into this situation by showing up drunk to the duel Gavriel challenged him to to restore his and his fiance's stolen honor (after his brother seduced and scorned her For the Evulz). He can shoot his defenseless brother, gain an honorless victory and be racked with guilt for the rest of his life. Or he can forfeit his honor by walking away and Never Live It Down. Gavriel figured since he was damned either way, he might as well Kick the Son of a Bitch.
  • In The Fall, by Albert Camus, the narrator describes an example of Morton's Fork with regard to a Russian landowner he once knew and admired: "He would have a beating administered both to his peasants who bowed to him and to those who didn't bow to him in order to punish a boldness he considered equally impudent in both cases."
  • 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." And in Deltora Quest 3, the Four Sisters are revealed to be this. If they're left alive, the lands would die slowly of famine. If they're destroyed, some thing even worse, the Grey Tide, poisons and covers the land, making it a dead plain. Fortunately, the dragons are able to destroy the Grey Tide.
  • 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 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. And the rule in question itself was created as a Bait-and-Switch to set up another Morton's Fork. By tricking Katniss and Peeta into thinking they could both win, then changing the rules back at the last minute, each of them has to choose between dying or living with the guilt of murdering a friend for the entertainment of the bastard who put them up to it. Katniss figures out how to Take a Third Option.
  • 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.
  • Discworld
    • In Guards! Guards! several religions in Ankh-Morpork practice human sacrifice, although the laws of the city hold that they can only sacrifice volunteers or those guilty of crimes against the religion. Such as refusing to volunteer.
    • Moist discovers that Vetinari has trapped him in one in Going Postal. He is rescued from being hanged, and offered the job of refurbishing the city's post office. If he refuses the job, he dies (the door he's told to leave by has no floor beyond). If he flees, he will die as a Golem is his parole officer, and will bring him back to face justice. If he reveals his identity he will die, as that man was supposed to be hanged. So just do the job, right? Well, the last few people assigned to it have all died under mysterious circumstances, and the reason Moist is given it is that he's expendable. Luckily he's also good at finding all the angles...
  • This crops up a few times in A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • Ned Stark (and his whole family) was always going to get screwed by the start of a civil war, whatever move he made: too many other parties were wanting to spark one off, and he was a handy trigger on legs. Had he tried to turn Robert's offer down to stay North, Robert would have been faced with a rebellion in Court if he didn't try to take "the traitor in the North" down a few pegs. Yet, leaving the North to do the King's bidding still wound up making "traitors" out of the Starks. And, had Catelyn stayed behind with Bran and Rickon with convincing excuses, war would still have found her, with the others very likely dead, captured and/or married in unions disadvantageous to House Stark.
    • Daenarys Targaryen can try being The High Queen all she likes, but being a foreign conqueror with it was always going to alienate a significant portion of the places she tried to rule, whatever tricks she was willing to try. The only thing that could differ would be which particular bits of the population.
    • It's easy to blame Robb's naivete for the various betrayals that happened to him. But, the reality was that the ever-"trustworthy" Freys could have easily found a way to have him over a contractual barrel whatever he'd done, depending on which direction they judged the political wind was blowing. He was effectively screwed the minute he needed to cross the aptly-named Green Fork. He just handed them the simplest way to get into bed with Tywin Lannister, not the only one.
    • Note to anybody either defending or besieging Winterfell at any point: win, lose or draw... it's going to suck (almost all sieges are depicted as miserable to suffer through, but Winterfell adds "large to guard, solidly built, a tricky possition and a horribly unforgiving climate" into the mix). Your plans won't work as planned. Almost everybody involved is doomed to suffer, no matter what moves you try to make. And, if you're not a Stark, the North won't take kindly to you trying to either rule from there or hold up in it, however nice or nasty you try to play it. To the North, Winterfell is of the Starks, and the Starks are of it — and, nothing but the end of both will change that attitude. It's explicitly not your usual "take the capital; rule the region" scenario, however tempting it is to make that assumption.
  • The Dresden Files: Summer Knight: Harry is forced into a deal with the Faerie Queen Mab, where he must complete three favors for her to settle a debt. However, the terms of the arrangement dictate he gets to choose which three favors, and if he declines to do something, she can't attempt to coerce him into doing it by hurting him or people he cares about. They both agree, and Mab asks for her first favor. Harry declines it. She immediately attacks him with magic, mostly just to show that she still can. She only agreed not to hurt him because he declined the favor. Hurting him for other reasons, such as spite, is still perfectly valid.
  • Although the actual fork doesn't appear, the original scenario crops up in The Redemption of Althalus by David Eddings. In his early days as a thief, Althalus visits an unfamiliar city, but is disappointed when his chosen target, thought to be very rich, turns out to have nothing but bare walls and run down furniture in his house. He only finds out later than all the rich people pretend to have nothing in order to avoid taxes, and there was actually a large pile of money hidden under the floor. It's mentioned that there's a sort of escalating game where the people get better at hiding their money and the collectors get better at finding it (the target actually made his fortune as a carpenter building secret compartments for other people), but it seems this world hasn't had it's equivalent of Morton show up yet.
  • A case that only becomes clear later in Line of Delirium. While on the run from Imperial Security, Kay and Arthur board a cruise liner that is supposed to take them to Epsilon Volantis. However, they know that, in all likelihood, there will be ISS ships waiting for them, when the ship exits hyperspace. Arthur finds out that some of the passengers are getting off the ship early via a shuttle, as the ship is passing by the Dogar System. Kay manager to convince a woman to give up her seat on the shuttle to him by painting a pretty picture of Volantis and paying her a small fortune. As it turns out, the shuttle is captured by Darlock spies, who plan to turn all passengers into sleeper agents (effectively destroying the original personalities). It seems that the woman lucked out, right? Wrong. What Kay doesn't know is that a cult has become very popular on Volantis, and the woman ends up being sacrificed to the sun on her second day there.
  • In Rudyard Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi, the cobra Nagaina has the boy Teddy cornered at the breakfast table with his parents. As the family is frozen in terror, she hisses, "If you move, I strike. If you do not move, I strike."
  • In the fifth book of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaires are placed under the ward of Prufrock Preparatory School, and Count Olaf follows them and is hired by the school as "Coach Genghis". He then uses this position to force the Baudelaires to run laps at night, exhausting them to the point where they're failing their classes (or job in Sunny's case). The sadistic Vice Principal then threatens to expell them if they can't pass a comprehensive test (or staple all of Nero's paperwork with no staples provided), which would then allow "Coach Genghis" to gain custody of the kids as a homeschool teacher. However, they have running exercises the night before the test, and not showing up would also result in Nero expelling the orphans. They get around this by having their new friends, the Quagmires, and a sack of flour go to their exercises in their place while they study for the test/make homemade staples. The Baudelaires pass, but Olaf catches on and exposes the deception, Nero expells the kids and Olaf makes off with the Quagmires.
  • William Tenn's "Of All Possible Worlds" is about two catastrophic futures in which time-travel is invented, and a guy (essentially the same one) sent back from each to the moment when an ICBM test with a live nuclear warhead is carried out. The traveller's task is to change the position of the critical switch on the control panel. If in the correct position, the missile detonates in the middle of the Pacific as intended, leading to an epidemic which almost totally destroys human fertility; if in the only other possible position, it detonates in the Brazilian jungle, leading to a blight which wipes out the world's food crops.
  • The climax of the first Honor Harrington novel, On Basilisk Station involves a battle to the death between Harrington's light cruiser and a vastly heavier-gunned Havenite Q-Ship that results because of this. The Havenite captain is running to call the planned invasion of the system off, but Harrington, who has figured out that the plan involves having the ship run for "help" doesn't realize this as she's assuming he's running to trigger the invasion. Although both ships want the exact same thing—to prevent the invasion—the Havenite captain realizes he can't simply tell Harrington what he wants to do; if he told her the truth, he'd have confirmed Haven's operation and the only way she'd believe him would be to stop and be boarded, which would reveal that the ship was secretly armed, which could cause a war. On the other hand, if he continued to play dumb and keep running, she wouldn't stop pursuing and when her ship got close enough to fire to force him to stop, he'd either have to surrender (and the weapons be found) or fire back, revealing the weapons.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • King Robert explains how a Dothraki invasion would put him in a Morton's Fork. If he faces the Dothraki horsemen in open battle, he'll be defeated. If he barricades himself in his castles, the Dothraki will rape and pillage the countryside so badly that he'll lose his kingdom anyway.
    • Six seasons later, Daenerys uses the Dothraki in conjunction with her dragon in a devastating, two-pronged assault, averting Hollywood Tactics in the process. A shield wall bristling with spears provides excellent defense against light cavalry such as the Dothraki, but the tightly-clustered men are vulnerable to aerial strafing runs with Drogon's fire breath. Scattering, on the other hand, renders the aerial assault ineffective, but leaves the individual men easy pickings for the Dothraki. Daenerys' opponents are left with the choice of staying in formation and burning to death, or breaking formation and being cut to ribbons.
    • At the end of Season 7, Cersei faces this with her decision to not honour her word to help Jon and Daenerys fight against the Night King, actively hoping the two will wipe each other out while she reinforces her position with the Golden Company in Essos. Jaime points out that this presents two scenarios: a) the Night King wins, Jon and Dany's forces are brought into his fold and they easily overwhelm and crush the much weaker Lannister forces, or b) Jon and Dany win and then turn on Cersei when they realise she betrayed them, where their larger forces will crush the muck weaker Lannister forces. Not that she actually listens to him.
  • Long, long before the Heads I Win, Tails You Lose trope applied to video games, Ralph did that to trick Norton in an actual coin toss on The Honeymooners. (And when Alice called him out on it, he claimed it was a trick he learned from her.)
  • Usually invoked Once per 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.
  • The A-Team, "Chopping Spree". Friendly orders the team (minus Murdock) to tell him who they are and who their bosses are before he kills them. Hannibal refuses. When the guy persists, Hannibal points out that they're going to get shot anyway.
    Sam Friendly: I said talk!
    Hannibal: Or what? You'll kill us?
  • 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...
  • Scrubs:
    • Early on, Cox gives J.D. some advice, and says that if he doesn't follow it, "well, you're not gonna make it as a doctor, that's all." At the end of the same episode, after J.D. admits that he followed Cox's advice, Cox rebukes him again, saying, "if you can't stick to your convictions, you'll never make it as a doctor." At which point J.D.'s head explodes.
      Cox: I can't believe your head exploded. If your head explodes, you'll never make it as a doctor. I mean, come on, you look ridiculous.
    • Dr. Cox realizes that Doug is (unintentionally) eavesdropping on him and warns him against it. Then he says to himself;
      Dr. Cox: "If this kid [Doug] doesn't leave I'm gonna kill him!"
      Doug: ... *begins to leave*
      Dr. Cox: "... Now, if you leave, I'm going to know that you were listening to me and just go ahead and kill you anyway!"
  • 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, so the program shut off his emergency exit. The only other thing to do was to win, but it sent waves after waves of unbeatable foes. Fortunately, it turned out he just needed to do some very precise things to beat it.
  • 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.
  • Frasier:
    • An episode focused on Frasier choosing between a suit or a sweater for a date. When he chooses the suit, he meets a woman and begins dating her. When he chooses the sweater, the woman just misses him and runs into a new radio station employee. The Morton's Fork element comes in when the suit storyline plays out: Frasier becomes overly attached and smothers the woman with gifts. She ends up leaving him. Both storylines end with Frasier sitting alone in his car, listening to a re-run of his show.
  • 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 third option: instead of forcing their way out, they'll use a quick burst of impulse power and careful use of the thrusters to ease their way out.
    • 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".
  • In M*A*S*H:
    • Colonel Potter deliberately invokes this when the doctors suggest he bring Frank Burns to Tokyo with him on leave instead of having him become temporary commander:
    Potter: Look, what it boils down to is who gets stuck with Burns. If you were in command, what would you do?
    Hawkeye: I'd bring him to Tokyo.
    Potter: That's why you're not in command. Dismissed.
    • In another episode a racist officer is disproportionately assigning black soldiers to the most dangerous assignments. His reasoning is that they get more rotation points which gets them shipped home sooner, or they get wounded and he can push for their discharge on medical grounds. When the main characters reveal that he just confessed his entire racist attitude in front of a legal officer they present him with this trope. Either resign his commission or they bring him up on charges. When he complains that either choice puts him out of the Army he gets no sympathy.
  • The crux of the "Film Producer" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus. A movie producer pitches a terrible idea to a cabal of sycophantic writers then asks them what they think of it. The first one says he likes it and is immediately fired for being a Yes-Man. The next one says he doesn't like it and is fired for criticizing the producer's brilliant idea. The third bounces between Yes and No while trying to find a satisfactory response and is fired for being indecisive. The fourth one briefly saves himself by answering "splunge", which he claims means exactly what the producer wants to hearnote , but when he tries it again later he gets fired for being stupid.
  • Red Dwarf
    • In the three-parter "Back in the Red", the crew members wind up in a nanite-reconstructed Red Dwarf and are promptly accused of stealing and crashing a Starbug and bringing stowaways on board, which will earn them two years in the brig. By the end, they have proven themselves innocent, but in the process gained a charge of using confidential information for their own ends. The punishment is two years in the brig.
    • In "Quarantine", when Rimmer puts the rest of the crew in quarantine, only to turn out to have caught a holo-virus himself which has driven him insane, Lister realises that arguing with him will only make him more irrational, so carefully doesn't react to him wearing a gingham dress and army boots Consulting Mister Puppet, and explaining that he can't release them because the King of the Potato People won't let him. Rimmer then says that if other Dwarfers don't see anything odd about this, they're clearly completely mad, and he therefore shuts off the oxygen in the quarantine chamber. "That'll teach you to be breadbaskets!"
  • Carry On Laughing!: In "The Sobbing Cavalier", which is set in the English Civil War, the opening scene shows Sir Jethro reading messages sent by both the Cavaliers and the Roundheads, which both threaten death to anyone who supports the opposition.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Tempest", in order to save a space colony, a man who is switching between two worlds must figure out which one is real and which one is a Lotus-Eater Machine. After making his choice, it turns out that both worlds are Lotus Eater Machines, so no matter which one he chose, he (and everyone on the colony) were screwed.
  • In the Season 3 premiere of Son of the Beach "Penetration Island", after the Bulimic terrorists take over the show and start killing everyone, in one of the games they have the contestants do, the winner gets a luxury prize, while the loser gets death. While the loser of course is killed, it's revealed soon after that the "luxury prize" the winner got was death, her having been killed offscreen.
  • The Drew Carey Show: Mr. Wick pulled this off in one episode. "Johnson, pick a hand!" (They both said YOU'RE FIRED!)
  • A self-inflicted one in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Serendipity". A doctor murders a pregnant woman and inserts a tube with the blood sample of another man into his arm, so that his DNA sample doesn't match the DNA evidence at the crime scene. It turns out that the man he took the blood sample from is a pedophile who is being pursued by the NYPD. Either he keeps quiet and gets framed for child molestation, or he gives up his DNA and proves that he murdered the pregnant woman.

  • 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 
  • The Calvinist concept of predestination leads into both Hobson's Choice and Morton's Fork. The predestination doctrine (God decrees every human being to either Heaven or Hell before he or she has been born and there is absolutely nothing he/she can do on behalf of his/her fate). A sinner therefore is not doomed to Hell because of his sins, but he commits sins because he has already been doomed to Hell. While this doctrine is Biblical, it also makes God the source of all sin and evil in the world. The Calvinists avert this dilemma by the total depravity doctrine: as the human nature is totally depraved, they choose by their own free will any of the sins available, but they cannot choose from not sinning. Likewise, the total depravity of human nature enables humans to refuse God's call (by their own free will), but not answering it.
  • Cú Chulainn 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).
    • Taxes are rendered unto Caesar since it is Caesars government which mints the money, insures its value, and provides the means of earning it, (maintaining markets, building and guarding roads, police protection etc.) symbolized by the image of Caesar.
    • 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. The Pharisees were themselves violating the Law of Moses by bringing only the guilty woman, not the guilty man as well, despite them both being caught "in the act." If Jesus condemned her, he'd have shared in the Pharisees' sin. So he replied, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Realizing they have failed, they all leave. Jesus asks the woman if anyone is condemning her, and she answers no, since all her accusers had left. He says "neither do I condemn you," which was also according to the Law, as at least two witnesses were required for a capital crime. But he never denied her guilt, for he says "Go, and sin no more."
    • In the page quote Jesus attempts one himself against the Pharisees. John was too a popular figure just like Jesus and he was executed prior this event so he tries to discredit them asking if they thought John's baptism was of heavenly or mundane origin. If they answered "from heaven" they would get discredited by not becoming their followers. If they answered "of human origin" they would get discredited because the people believed that John was legit AND risked being stoned to death by them.
  • Nasruddin Hodja, the Sufi Muslim Trickster (known as Juha or Goha in the Arab World), 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 Fridays 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.
  • This trope is one of the two theories about how Gautama Buddha met his deathnote . As the story goes, Buddha was kindly offered a meal which unknowingly contained bad food. While Buddha recognized 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).
  • In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the goddess Ishtar tried to seduce Gilgamesh. This put Gilgamesh in a bad situation since sleeping with Ishtar would lead to Death by Sex, and refusing her would earn her ire. He refused her, and Ishtar responded by whining to her dad to unleash the Bull of Heaven on Gilgamesh's kingdom. And showing its status as an Unbuilt Trope, Gilgamesh pretty much calls Ishtar out on this. He spends a page or so listing all the previous lovers she had and what happened to them. And then he goes on to say that if he refuses her it would lead to her unleashing the bull of heaven. He then said she could Take a Third Option and just take rejection gracefully. Gilgamesh also did this knowing it would lead to another Mortons Fork. He either allows the bull destroy his kingdom, or he kills the bull and the Gods would destroy his kingdom. He killed the bull as at least that way he would deserve it and keep his pride.
  • When Paris is asked to choose, among Aphrodite, Athena and Hera, who is the most beautiful, it is not considered, but given what happens when he chooses Aphrodite, it is clear that, no matter who he chooses, he will anger two powerful Goddesses.
  • As Paris' choice kicks off the Trojan War, poor Orestes is forced to bear with its final aftermath. Orestes' father, Agamemnon, returns home successful from the siege of Troy - only to be murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra (who was herself avenging their daughter, Iphigenia, whom Agamemnon slew in sacrifice). Orestes, as his father's heir, had to avenge his murder, or else the Furies would pursue him to the ends of the earth. However, because matricide is a sin, the Furies were bound to torment Orestes even if he did kill Clytemnestra. In the end, Orestes chose to kill his mother.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Far Side:
    • The strip 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.
    • Another panel plays with the trope, albeit in the same location. A clerical worker in the pit asks a new arrival, "Would you like inferno or non-inferno? Ha! Just kidding. It's all inferno, of course. I just get a kick out of saying that."
  • 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.
  • In an arc of Peanuts strips, Charlie Brown and his family are going on vacation, and Snoopy can either stay in a kennel, or with Lucy. Snoopy's reaction to both suggestions is "AUUGHH!". (Eventually, he takes the latter.)
  • In the 2015 reboot of Bloom County, Opus is conscripted into being a Presidential candidate, which he does not want. In the strip seen here, a government official tells him he can't withdraw his candidacy, except by reason of insanity. When Opus tries that, the guy makes him swear he does not want to be President - which means he's clearly sane, and thus cannot withdraw. (The joke being, Opus has to be insane to withdraw from his candidacy for a position he'd clearly have to be insane to even want.)

  • 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.
  • In the radio adaptation of Eric, the Demon King Astfgl asks one of his minions if it knows why Astfgl is so angry. "Is it, perhaps, because I'm Surrounded by Idiots?" The junior demon stutters a reply, realising that it can either deny its lord's evident anger, or admit that Astfgl is, in fact, surrounded by idiots.
  • In the Big Finish Doctor Who drama "The Crimes of Thomas Brewster", the Doctor is kidnapped by a crime boss whose idiot henchman has mistaken him for a rival crime boss who happens to go by "the Doctor".
    Mr Gallagher: If you were the Doctor I was after, I'd let Mick take you outside and indulge his ... homicidal tendencies.
    Mick: Hur hur hur.
    Gallagher: Shut it!
    Doctor: But as I'm clearly the victim of a case of mistaken identity...
    Gallagher: You give me something of a problem. A problem with one very ... obvious solution.
    Doctor: A solution which involves Mick taking me outside...
    Gallagher: Well done, you've read me mind.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • From Gilbert Gottfried, "Death or Ugu" (NSFW): Two people are captured by the Hollywood Natives of Darkest Africa and get to choose their fate: Death or ugu. The first guy figures that whatever ugu is, it has to be better than death, so he chooses ugu, and is promptly gang-raped by the entire tribe for several days straight. The second guy, now that he has seen what ugu is, immediately chooses death. The tribal leader obliges, "Death it is! ...But first, ugu."

    Tabletop Games 
  • One issue of Dragon 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. (The relatively common elimination play that also gives the defender such a choice is not considered the Morton's Fork Coup.)
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Certain articles 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 of wasting the Inquisitions time trying you and can be immediately sentenced for that crime (which given that this is 40K presumably means immediate execution).
    • Commander Kubrik Chenkov is well-known for sending vast amounts of troops into fortified citadels and other similar Suicide Missions...and shooting those who understandably have reservations about such orders. Your odds are slim working under him regardless of your decision.
    • Eversor Assassins, when used as a distraction tactic, tend to work out more like this due to their sheer volume of damage that, even with their considerable drug-granted bulk, they still count as a sort of Glass Cannon. If a regular army is plopped into the battlefield along with an Eversor, the enemy must decide whether to take out the Eversor first, which will leave the army time to approach and start pelting them with heavy fire, or concentrate on the army, which will lead to the Eversor getting into range and shredding everything from infantry to giant armored tanks by his own damn self.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • A particularly infamous dilemma 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 
  • 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 fact, "forking" is a term in Chess, which closely resembles Morton's Fork: a situation where two pieces are being attacked; the defender has no choice but to give up a piece.
  • 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.
  • Magic: The Gathering
    • Many blue-colored cards are meant to create this for your opponent. Notable examples include Fact or Fiction and Gifts Ungiven — when played correctly, no matter how your opponent chooses the cards, they're screwed anyway.
    • Conversely, many red and black cards tend to do the opposite; let the opponent choose the way they're screwed. While on paper this sounds like a win-win situation for you, it actually results in the opponent choosing the Lesser of Two Evils. The most famous example is Vexing Devil, a card that either lets the opponent take 4 damage to the face or let you have a 4/3 creature for a measly 1 mana. The highest direct damage card at 1 mana can only deal 3 damage, and no creature exists at 4/3 for 1 mana without some crippling upkeep costs, so it seems like either result is good for you. However, the issue comes in when the opponent may simply have an answer for the devil, and thus allows you to summon it to avoid the damage. Conversely, if he's not going to lose immediately from the life loss, he'll just take the 4 damage because it saves him from wasting a card on killing a 4/3 creature that could be very problematic, especially if the Devil's owner has no other cards in his/her hand or is completely tapped out of mana.
  • In Exalted, the laws of Cecelyne are written on blue tablets. It is illegal for serfs to look at the color blue. It's also illegal to not know the laws, so they are always violating the law somehow. Cecelyne's laws are deliberately full of such traps, because she believes that the law is merely another tool for the strong to control the weak.
  • There is a version of this in the Clan Ravnos rule book from the revised edition of Vampire: The Masquerade. It's a character concept for a Ravnos vampire who offers a choice to their enemy by pointing to one of the two guns the Ravnos is holding, whereupon the Ravnos will fire it at him. One of them is an illusion, and the other is a real gun, so it's a fifty-fifty chance. Then the quote ends with this: "Good choice. Unfortunately for you, however, the fake gun was hiding a very real knife."

  • In Arthur Miller's The Crucible;:
    • Those accused of witchcraft face two choices; confess to being a witch (and be burned as a result) or hang for denial. This is even lampshaded:
    Hale: I have myself examined Tituba, Sarah Good, and numerous others that have confessed to dealing with the Devil. They have confessed it.
    Proctor: And why not, if they must hang for denyin’ it? There are them that will swear to anything before they’ll hang; have you thought of that?
    • Giles Corey manages to Take a Third Option by refusing to confess or deny it either way. They try to force him to talk by trapping him between two wooden boards and putting more and more rocks on the top board, gradually crushing him. His last words were "more weight". While all three options ended in his death, he managed to use a very unpleasant loophole, because if he confessed or denied, his land would be seized by the authorities, but the way he did it, his family inherited his property instead.
  • The first act 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.
  • In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney uses this when explaining his new mindset as an Omnicidal Maniac: "The lives of the wicked should be made brief! For the rest of us, death will be a relief!"
  • In Doubt, Sister Aloysius finds herself in this position at the end. If she is correct about Father Flynn's guilt (she believes him to be a child molester who was either grooming or abusing a student at the school), all she's done is gotten him Kicked Upstairs into a position where he can do even greater harm. If she is wrong, her own petty prejudices led her to persecute a completely innocent man, and deprived a vulnerable student of his only protection.

  • Transformers: The Quintessons operate their Kangaroo Court thus. If the accused is found guilty, they're dunked into a Sharkticon pool and devoured. If they're innocent... they're still dunked in the pool and devoured. The trial's just for fun.

    Video Games 
  • In Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, there is a point where Admiral Tolwyn is captured by your marines and you have the choice to release him or hold him as a prisoner of war. This turns out to be meaningless since he'll get released no matter which choice you pick.
  • 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).note  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..."
  • Telltale's Game of Thrones
    • In Episode One, Ethan is forced to make a choice whether to try to rescue his sister from Ramsay Bolton. If Ethan tries to rescue his sister from Ramsey Bolton Ramsay says Ethan is too brave and stabs him in the throat, killing him, but if Ethan does not try to save his sister from Ramsay Ramsay says Ethan is too weak and stabs him in the throat, killing him.
    • In Episode Six, Mira is forced to either accept blame for stealing some of the Queen's wine or admit that Sera took it. If Mira accepts the blame, Margaery dismisses Mira from her service and without Margaery's protection, Mira is thrown into prison. If Mira blames Sera, Margaery keeps Mira in her service, but distances herself. Without Margery's protection, Mira is thrown into prison.
  • Deus Ex
    • It doesn't matter if you kill Anna instead of Lebedev. You'll end up fighting UNATCO anyway and Lebedev will be hunted down and killed by Majestic 12 later.
    • 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.
  • 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 gives 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. For example:
    • In episode 2, the gang ends up locked in a room while Larry is apparently dying from a heart attack; keep in mind they had just learned that you become a zombie no matter what your cause of death, and Larry is over 300 pounds of ex-military trouble. Lee has the choice of either helping his daughter Lilly administer CPR, or restraining her while Kenny smashes Larry's head with a salt lick to prevent him from reanimating. Even if you don't take the second choice, Kenny kills Larry anyway; the only real choice is which character you want to take a hit in Relationship Values with. And since Lilly ends up leaving the group in the next episode while Kenny stays until the end, about half of the fandom considers helping her to be pointless.
    • At the end of Episode 2, the group comes across an abandoned vehicle, full of supplies they will need to survive. Some players may wish to do the moral thing and not steal from it, in which case the rest of the group takes it while they do nothing.
    • While fleeing a herd of walkers by train, the group encounters a couple of survivors named Christa and Omid; Lee and Omid end up having to jump onto the train from above, but Omid is hesitant. Whether Lee pushes Omid, encourages him to jump, or just remains silent, Omid ends up falling off the roof of the train and hurting his leg.
    • Inverted when you have to get onboard the train: Lee has a choice between helping the injured Omid or Christa (who is tougher, but heavily implied to be pregnant) onto the train. He gets briefly chewed out no matter his choice, but the one you don't rescue catches up anyway.
    • In Episode 1 of Season 2, Clementine has the option of sharing some beans with a stray dog. If she doesn't, the dog attacks her for denying her food. If she does, the dog will grab the whole can, and attack Clem when she tries to stop him eating all of it.
    • Later in season 2, at the end of episode 3, the player has a choice with Sarita, whether to either cut off her arm or kill the walker attacking her. No matter what, Kenny blames Clementine for letting it happen. Either way, Sarita dies from the attack; cutting off her arm gets her killed immediately, while killing the walker still gets her infected, and she dies early into episode 4.
    • Also, in episode 4, Clementine has to choose between trying to save Sarah or Jane. No matter what, Sarah ends up trapped under rubble and gets savagely torn apart by walkers, even if Clem convinces Jane to try and help her.
  • 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.
    • The DLC Point Lookout also has this: When you have to choose whether to kill Desmond or Calvert, in both options Calvert 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.
    • On Dantooine, the Sullustan shopkeeper has been stealing droid parts to pay for a relative's medical treatment. Give him money to pay for the treatment and Kreia will yell at you. Murder him in cold blood and Kreia will yell at you. She is the only character who loses influence from both light-side and dark-side actions (only once each, fortunately).
  • 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. Though if you do take the Deal option, after Roman is killed, you get a phone call from Kate and she reconciles with you.
  • 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 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.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • 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 a 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 than being a slave for the fal'Cie, so you are still pretty much screwed whatever happens.
    • A much harsher example in Final Fantasy XIII-2, regardless of whether Caius succeeds in killing the goddess or dies trying, time/the world is still ultimately screwed, making all of your efforts pointless. In specific, after the final battle, much is made of a "choice" one has (whether to kill Caius or spare him), and the revelation that being killed was actually his goal all along. But whether you choose to kill or spare him, he dies anyway: choose mercy, and he grabs Noel's sword and impales himself on it, with the exact same results. Which raises the question, "in what sense was it accurate to say 'only Noel could kill him', if we aren't talking about Noel's volition but rather Noel's sword?" Note that throughout the plot no mention is ever made of Noel's sword having any special property vis-a-vis killing Caius; the reference is always to Noel himself, as if there is some mystical quality to him as a person that allows him to kill Caius. And yet, if the player chooses mercy, Caius is able to kill himself with Noel's sword.
    • In Final Fantasy VI, the Show Within a Show Opera has the main character Maria stuck between those. If she chooses her lover Draco, he will be killed by her fiancé Raul. If she chooses Raul, then Draco will kill himself out of heartbreak. She takes a third option and loudly laments that she can't choose, resulting in the men dueling, Draco winning and the two lovers leaving as Raul laments that he had truly loved Maria.
    • The Ishgardians in Final Fantasy XIV deal with suspected heretics in a manner reminiscent of historical witch trials from Real Life. The accused heretic is flung into a ravine at Witchdrop. If they're innocent, they'll die, and be considered to have died with honor. Those who actually consort with dragons, it is believed, will sprout wings or call upon their draconic allies to save them, and will then be killed by the Inquisitors. This of course gets even worse when one of those same Inquisitors is revealed to be a dragon in disguise, murdering innocent Ishgardians by planting false evidence of heresy, and anyone who points out this fact is of course accused of heresy.
  • 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 Moscow in that intervening is the better option than just letting things be. Taipei: the original plan was to 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.
  • In Freedom Wars, when Hourai launches an all-out assault on your Panopticon, you have to choose between either an enemy elimination operation or an Abductor liquidation operation. If you choose the former, Ann will be killed in action. Conversely, if you choose the latter, her older brother Hal will die instead. This is subverted in the endgame, when you can wish for the one who died to be brought back by Simeon.
  • Mass Effect:
    • The game 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 him dying anyway.
    • There is a choice at the end of game to either fight Saren or convince him he is under mind control and to kill himself. No matter which you choose, you end up fighting his cybernetic skeleton as a final boss.
    • The choice between Ashley and Kaidan is a very hard one. You can only save one of them before the bomb goes off, and they both insist you save the other. There's no way to save both, and the decision will haunt you not only for the rest of the game (especially if one was your lover), but the series as a whole if you chose to transfer saved data to another game,.
    • Mass Effect 3 has three (or four if the Extended Cut content is downloaded) endings, but if measures are not taken, they count as this: no matter which choice you make, Commander Shepard perishes (except in the second option, where Shepard might survive) and galactic civilization is wrecked regardless of the decision made. The state of the Earth and Shepard's crewmates depend on which choice Shepard takes (whether the Reapers are destroyed, controlled, or Shepard forces a synthetic fusion of biological and synthetic life forms) and how much Effective Military Strength Shepard has (the more, the better; if enough war assets are acquired through the playthrough, the situation after the choice improves).
  • Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels has two warp zones out of nine that actually send you back. If you don't want to go back, the only other way is to jump into the pit. Of course, if you are playing for a high score, this is actually 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. Even if you defeat his fans, at low heath, he may simply summon enough fans to use his strongest attack anyway, only enraged.
  • 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. Given Dong Zhuo's moral outlook, no doubt a lot of players approved.
  • In L.A. Noire, the protagonist tries hard to maintain the image of a By-the-Book Cop in a city full of Dirty Cops, so the Golden Butterfly Case presents a challenge. You have two suspects, the victim's abusive husband and a suspected pedophile. While most of the evidence points to the first, it's clear that the other is far more hated, and not arresting him will make everyone mad at you. Unfortunately, neither of them is the killer, meaning both choices will result in an innocent man spending some time in jail. (Well, innocent of the murder; both are rotten people, so it's hard to feel bad.
  • 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.
  • The Civil War in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is this, to the point that neither side has a completely happy ending for the province should they win: If the Empire wins, they have consolidated their power in the region and can now focus on rebuilding their military strength against the Thalmor, but at the cost of deeply dividing the province along political lines and dealing a massive blow to Nord traditions and independence. If the Stormcloak Rebellion wins, they have won Skyrim's independence from the Empire and Thalmor, but now they are ruled by nationalists who see nothing but contempt for non-Nords, especially non-humans, and doom them to a lifetime of persecution, if they're not executed or run out of the country by the Stormcloaks themselves first, and have further fractured the already-struggling Empire, which would make a war to rid Tamriel of Thalmor all the more difficult.
  • There's a really, really nasty one that forms part of the main villain's incredibly complex Evil Plan in the Kingdom Hearts series.
    • 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."
    • 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 protagonists 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 protagonists will do 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 trafficking ring that forces them into prostitution. You are then presented with two options: sell them right back to the traffickers, 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".
  • 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 II is one of these, for the most part - 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. There is a difference in that, if the entire scene is played, Woods and Mason learn of a potential mole within the CIA, but other events later on that that info would logically be connected to don't change based on whether you know that.
  • 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. Going through the shutter, however, will trip an alarm that leads to Leila getting swarmed by Mooks and outnumbered. No matter which one you choose, though Leila turns out to have been working for the Big Bad all along. The only clear difference between the endings is that if you take the long way, Leila escapes with the diamond-encrusted skull, living through to the end of the game but left stranded in the middle of the desert; if you open the shutters, she gets into the helicopter the Final Boss fight puts you up against (thus dying with the Big Bad when you destroy it) and you still have to have the final chase sequence, this time chasing another generic mook.
  • Pokémon:
    • 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 the weapon anyway. When you go to Team Flare's secret base in Geosenge Town later on, Lysandre will apologize for the Ultimate Weapon being activated despite your choice.
    • Played for Laughs in Pokémon Sun and Moon. Kiawe's trial requires you to watch a trio of Alolan Marowak dance twice and identify what was different between them three times in a a row. The third time the Marowaks and Hiker pose like they're taking a photo, one of the Marowaks is even pantomiming a camera, the outlier in the second dance is... the Totem Salazzle. ALL of the possible options are only hernote , and then you fight her.
  • 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 druid in the first Simon the Sorcerer game explaining how to determine whether someone is a demon. The only surefire way is to thrust a silver dagger through its heart. If the creature dies, it is a demon. If the creature lives, its heart is pure, and so it needs to be sacrificed.
  • 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.
  • Chrono Trigger has the trial scene where Crono is falsely accused of kidnapping Marle. Either he's found guilty and sentenced to death, or he's found which point the Evil Chancellor tries to have him executed in secret anyway. Either scenario ends with Crono in a cell awaiting his execution and having to make his escape, although getting found innocent earns you some rare and valuable items (at least for that point in the game).
  • Undertale:
    • Shortly into Waterfall, you're presented with Schrodinger's Fork. If you spared and befriended Papyrus, you'll see him meeting with Undyne, the head of the Royal Guard, about you, then later he'll call you asking you if you're wearing [armor you're currently wearing], because "a friend of his" wants to know. If you lie to him or tell the truth then change afterwards, he'll cover for you and lie to Undyne that you're wearing something else... which just happens to be whatever armor you're actually wearing/switched to. If you were honest, told him the truth and kept that armor equipped, however, then Papyrus will also tell the truth, reasoning that, because his motives were blatantly obvious, you would have been smart and lied/changed clothes. Either way, he'll give Undyne an accurate report of what you end up wearing when you encounter her a few screens later, despite having absolutely no idea of what you did and no intention of betraying you.
    • Finish a Genocide Run, and The Fallen Child will offer you a chance to destroy the universe. Regardless of your decision, they kill you and do it anyway.
    • After you restart the game when completing a No Mercy run, The Fallen Child will ask you if you think are above consequences. If you answer yes, all they'll say is, "Exactly." If you choose no, they'll ask what you're doing here. Either way, they'll still try to make a deal with you to bring the game back.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Knights of the Fallen Empire: Emperor Valkorion will offer you A Taste of Power throughout the game. Whether or not you give in to your short-sighted ambition changes nothing:
    • Chapter 1: Valkorion offers you half the galaxy. If you reject him, Arcann will help you kill him (then screw you over shortly after). If you accept him, Arcann will backstab him (and claim that you did it).
    • Chapter 4: Accepting help to save Lana means you save her with a dark force pulse, while Koth catches up moments later, then she later admonishes you for using Valkorion's power even if it was to protect her. If you reject the temptation and leave Lana to fend for herself, she'll be injured and Koth will save her for you.
    • Chapter 8: You battle Arcann and are given the choice of either accepting Valkorion's help, which will result in his power ravaging your body, or you can turn him down, which will result in Arcann impaling you on his lightsaber.
  • The fate of the Starter Villain General Lionwhyte in Brütal Legend. When a giant falling mirror is about to crush him to death, he "saves" himself by shattering the mirror with his voice... and is Impaled with Extreme Prejudice by one of the giant glass shards instead.
  • The Forerunners in Halo, and Bornstellar/IsoDidact in particular, face this at the climax of the Flood War. Ultimately they only have two options: to fight the Flood in more conventional, but ultimately futile methods (allowing the Flood to destroy all life in the galaxy), or fire the Halo Array and destroy all life themselves (but which gives them the chance to reseed everything back afterwards). Whatever the choice, the IsoDidact must face the crushing guilt that ultimately, it was the Forerunners who brought about the horrific events that came to pass, and regardless of the outcome, the Flood will take delicious pleasure in knowing the Forerunners must face it. In the end the Halos are fired and the Flood is defeated, but billions of years' worth of knowledge is lost as the Precursor structures containing them are destroyed, and by no means was every life-bearing planet cataloged: Halo: Silentium makes it clear that many unknown sentient species were been wiped out with no trace of having ever existed.
  • A non-negative version occurs in King's Quest (2015) Chapter 3: King Graham goes to rescue a princess from a tower and ends up finding two: one level-headed and serious and the other cheerful and adventurous. There is no "wrong" choice; whomever the player chooses will turn out to be Valanice, Graham's wife from the original King's Quest games.
  • In Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Mewt suffers one relating to bullying, similar to what's described in the Real Life section. During the snowball fight, the three bullies almost exclusively target him, relentlessly pelting him with snowballs. When Marche and Ritz protest, Mewt says he's fine. The bullies claim that Mewt saying this proof that there's nothing wrong with what they're doing, but Ritz points out that Mewt knows that they'd only make it worse if he complained.
  • Dark Souls II shows that the Multiple Endings from Dark Souls I are one of these in practice; No matter whether you choose to Link the Fire or let it fade and become a Dark Lord, you're only perpetuating the Cycle of the Curse that was started by Gwyn's initial linking of the fire that will eventually lead to the option you didn't take. Vendrick and Aldia realized this and tried to Take a Third Option that required harnessing the First Flame and the Dark Soul in tandem to conclusively break the Cycle entirely, but Aldia slowly went mad trying and Vendrick was stymied by Nashandra and wound up contracting the Undead Curse himself for his trouble. Scholar of the First Sin reveals that Aldia did manage to break the Cycle for himself, but to do so is another fork in and of itself; do you stay within the Cycle and risk Hollowing trying to find a better solution, or do you do what Aldia did and leave your humanity behind to become an immortal, soulless Eldritch Abomination, sacrificing that which defines you in order to stick it to fate?
  • In the Portal 2 Game Mod, Portal Stories: Mel, this is Played for Laughs as you're presented with an elevator with stairs spiraling around it in an unstable salt mine shaft.
    Take the elevator: The place is exploding, rocks are falling everywhere, and you're taking the elevator?! What if the power went out?! You'd be trapped!
    Take the stairs: Your life is at stake, and you're going to walk up the stairs?! With falling rocks everywhere?! I get that you're an Olympian track runner and all, but what's wrong with you?!
    • "Morton's Fork" is also the title of the level/map immediately preceeding the final boss fight of the main game, because you're presented with the option of either jumping into a masher at the end of a fast conveyor belt, or solving the puzzle and continuing onward to the boss battle.
  • Arc Style: Baseball!! 3D:
    • When you line out hard to the pitcher and there is someone at first base, you'll have to decide whether to let the game handle the baserunning for you or to tag up as soon as you see the ball approaching the pitcher. What's the best choice? You never know, because if you tag up and the ball isn't caught, both runners may get out at first base; and if you don't tag up and the ball is caught, the pitcher will have an easy time throwing you out for the double play as well. However, taking the tag up attitude will save you from rundowns between second and first where your non-batter runner would otherwise get involved, so it might be a little bit wiser to retreat immediately and hope that the ball is caught and nothing else happens.
    • Man on first, less than two outs. A fly ball falls behind second base or nearby. If you tag up, two things can happen: either the ball is caught, which gets the batter out and the runner safe, or the ball touches the ground, which means the batter is safe and the runner is thrown out at second base. One out, like it or not. If you decide to Take a Third Option and not tag up, you will be risking a double play at first base.
  • In Dishonored, the Big Bad and his henchman do this to Corvo via the methods of witch trials. They torture him for months, saying he can either confess he killed the empress (which he didn't) or die while staying silent. Averted, they don't plan on killing him since they need his confession to have a scapegoat and claim unchallenged innocence themselves.
  • Minecraft: Story Mode
    • Once you recruit either Magnus or Ellegaard, and whoever you didn't choose was recruited by whoever you left behind, whoever you recruited will want to get moving to find Soren right away to avoid the Wither Storm catching up, while the other will want to wait until morning to avoid monsters. However, if you wait until morning, the Wither Storm will appear and block the sun, making it dark enough for monsters to spawn and forcing you to fight them anyway.
    • During the endgame of Episode 3, regardless of whether you choose to take Ellegaard's or Magnus's armor, whoever you took the armor of will get killed by the Wither Storm swatting them into a tree.
    • In Episode 6, you can choose to either accuse Stampy of being the White Pumpkin or not. If he's accused, then Dan TDM will be killed by either a group of Spiders or the White Pumpkin. If he's not accused, then LD Shadow Lady will be killed by either a group of Spiders or the White Pumpkin.
  • Batman: The Telltale Series does this at the end of Episode Two. During the ending, you're given the choice of either saving either Catwoman or Harvey Dent, with the one you don't help out getting injured but still surviving. If you save Catwoman, Harvey receives his trademark Facial Horror and develops the Two-Face Split Personality. If you save Harvey, he still develops the Two-Face personality, which is arguably made creepier by his face being perfectly intact.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, there are several examples. One of the biggest happens in the first act, when the Inquisition must decide whether to recruit the mages or the Templars to help close the Breach. Whichever faction is not recruited is basically destroyed, as its members either die or become enslaved by the Big Bad.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Plumbers Don't Wear Ties, no matter what choice you make, the narrator will complain about it. If you have Jane get hired, the narrator will scold you for letting her work for a misogynistic pervert. If you have Jane get rejected, the narrator will complain about you screwing up John and Jane's relationship. If you have the boss take advantage of the situation, the narrator will complain about the direction that you're taking the story, even though it's the only option that allows you to advance.
  • In Sunrider Mask of Arcadius, the Sunrider comes out of warp to find itself surrounded by a PACT fleet. Veniczar Cullen, the fleet’s commander, demands that Kayto Shields hand over an ancient Ryuvian artefact that can be used to track down the Big Bad’s runaway bride-to-be. If Kayto refuses, Cullen’s fleet will open fire. If Kayto agrees to hand it over on the condition that they spare his crew, Cullen will open fire anyway once he has the artefact. Either way, the Sunrider only escapes destruction because Asaga, the aforementioned bride-to-be, gives herself up to Cullen in order to save her friends.
  • In Doki Doki Literature Club! you're eventually given an extremely difficult choice, confess your love to Sayori (abandoning whatever other girl you were pursuing at the time right when your relationship is starting to get serious) or essentially friendzone her. By the way, this happens the day after she confesses that's she's been suffering from serious depression all her life, she's been slowly distancing herself from you for the last couple of days, and now comes to you admitting that she has romantic feelings for you and has no idea how to process them, and is even implying that she's considering suicide. No matter what choice you make, Sayori hangs herself the next day, and you don't even get the chance to go back and attempt the other, equally doomed option because your save files mysteriously become corrupted as the game takes a turn for the meta. After that, the game eventually provides an even darker fork: accept Yuri's confession of love, or reject her. Yuri, by the way, has gone full Yandere at this point after her personality was rewritten, and no matter which choice you make, she finally goes Laughing Mad and stabs herself to death right in front of you.
  • At one point in Episode 3 of A Clockwork Ley Line: Borderline of Dusk, when Michiru and Neko are within a strange world, you have three options of where to head to next. If you chose a tower-like structure, strange monsters force the two to retreat. If you chose a brightly lit area, an invisible wall of sorts prevents further exploration. If you chose the darkened area, zombies make the two turn back. Unlike other examples of this trope, you have to select each place once, then Michiru and Neko end up going on a completely different route elsewhere.

    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!"
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged has Yajirobe fall afoul of this coupled with Hypocritical Heartwarming after damaging Vegeta's armour. Armour that he apparently got from his father.
    Yajirobe: I'm sorry! I'm sure your father was a great man!
    Vegeta: I hated my father!
    Yajirobe: Oh, then I'm sure your father was a prick.
    Vegeta: How dare you talk about my father like that!
  • Smashtasm has the scene where Grant and Gront are reporting to Girem6. Gront keeps pissing off Girem6, which leads said Big Bad to order another mook to inflict pain on Grant. After a few hits, and asking why he's the one being punished, Grant is told that "Hitting the partner of the offender encourages discipline." Grant tries to get even by insulting his boss, who orders him to be punished anyway, "Because I blame your friend for that comment."

  • 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.note 
  • 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 then 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.
  • 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. Elf calls him on this not being helpful.
    Theo: Well, if none 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.
  • This Robot Hugs strip discusses some of the many difficulties of being a "Perfect Rape Victim", including multiple Morton's Forks, both explicit and implied, and sadly Truth in Television.
    • A rape victim who fights back is accused of provoking the rapist and blamed for their injuries, but NOT fighting back is treated as a sign that it wasn't really rape.
    • A rape victim who acts emotional gets accused of overacting and thus lying, but NOT acting emotional is treated as proof that they're making it up.
    • If you were raped by a stranger in a dark alley (which is actually pretty rare), people are more likely to believe your story, but then they question why you were in a dark alley.
    • Any confusion in the victim's story is treated as proof they're lying, but perfect recall is difficult enough under normal circumstances, and even harder if an emotionally traumatized person is trying to remember events that happened in the dark and involved them being beaten in the head.
    • Anyone taking any psychiatric medications is considered unreliable. But so is anyone with an untreated mental illness. And anyone who's seeing a therapist for any reason. Also, if you speak to a counselor or a friend before reporting the rape to the police, or delay at all to calm down you're obviously lying because you didn't report it immediately. But if you DON'T take time to calm down, you're dismissed as too emotional.
  • In Freefall, this trope is the reason why Three-Laws Compliant robots didn't work well; since humans have self-destructive tendencies, being programmed both to protect humanity and to serve humanity leaves the robots no tenable option.
  • In Tales of the Questor, the duchy of Grymalkin puts the neighboring duchy of Fenwyck in this position, by claiming that the dragon attacking them came from/was provoked by Fenwyck.
    Duke Fenwyck: If I do not remove the dragon from my neighbor's back yard—something I surely do not have the soldiers to do—said hostile neighbor will invade in retaliation. Yet if I take the time to hire enough soldiers for such an endeavor, he will claim it as proof of my 'belligerence' and invade anyway.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Lampshaded in "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson", 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 the Treehouse of Horror VIII segment "Easy Bake Coven", 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.
    • In "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore", 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 those tigers is named Homer Simpson."
    • From The Simpsons Movie:
    Nelson: [winding up a punch] Say global warming's a myth!
    Milhouse: [cowering] It's a myth! Further study is needed!
    Nelson: [punches him in the stomach] That's for selling out your beliefs!
    • In "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes", Homer goes to the Springfield Police Department's homepage, and it asks him to choose whether or not he's committed a crime and wants to turn himself in. Picking "no" leads to the site assuming he committed a crime but is denying that he did it.
  • 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. As Bob says: "If the user wins, we're doomed! And if I win we're doomed!" He manages to get out of it by taking a third option.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic
    • In the 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 breaking speech trick 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 brainwashes 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 betray her element no matter what.
    • "The Crystal Empire" gives us several, courtesy of King Sombra. Celestia and Luna were forced to seal him away in order to prevent him from using the Empire's special powers to become an uber-Fisher King over all of Equestria, but the sealing inadvertently triggered his backup curse to make the Empire vanish until his return. Shining Armor must hold him off long enough for Twilight's group to make it to safety, but Shining Armor's efforts only earn him a Power Nullifier curse and uselessness for nearly the rest of the episodes. Cadance is absolutely exhausting herself in trying to maintain her Deflector Shields to keep Sombra at bay, but her taking a breather will only allow him to return to the Empire that much sooner. Twilight and Spike must find the Crystal Heart — the only surefire way to stop Sombra — before Cadance's time runs out, but the Heart is guarded by several Booby Traps that only a rare few can pass... and even when Twilight and Spike find it anyway, they trigger a backup curse that not only imprisons her but prevents her from using her magic to escape as well (effectively putting her in Shining Armor's predicament). Either way, Sombra ultimately returns to the Empire, and the only ones capable of stopping him are now incapacitated while he remains fresh due to all of his waiting. Only some very desperate last-second actions by Spike, Shining Armor, and Cadance manage to avert a Downer Ending.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In King of the Hill:
    • Peggy asks Hank "Does This Make Me Look Fat?" and he responds it's a loaded question; "No matter how I answer, there's a bullet in every chamber designed to blow my brains out", so the only correct answer is to keep his mouth shut.
    • In the episode "Après Hank, le Deluge", when he sees they aren't being attended, Hank has to monitor the weakened Arlen flood gates during heavy rain to make sure they don't give way. There are several big cracks, and if they appear to be worsening, he can flush out some of the water by opening the gates a bit and sacrifice a few homes in the process, but if he doesn't, the gates will completely burst and the majority South Arlen will flood. The cracks continue to grow and Hank is forced to open the gates to relieve pressure. As a result, a lot of people hate him for it, but it's mostly undue and the flak is from unreasonable and rather stupid citizens who think Hank was just a paranoid idiot.
  • 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.
  • In "Man's Best Friend" from The Ren & Stimpy Show, George Liquor explains to the duo that he would get angry with them if he caught them on the couch, then tells them to get on it for a demonstration, or he'll get angry regardless. Note that this only applies to Stimpy, since George considers Ren too soft for punishment.
  • In Pasila, one episode demonstrates that talking to the protagonist Kyösti Pöysti can be like this: Someone states an opinion, he disagrees with it, someone else agrees with him, and he disagrees with that as well because he's so keen to state things aren't black and white either way and because it lets him act superior towards everyone.
  • In an episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast Space Ghost hosts a game show with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross as the contestants. He tells them if they get a trivia question wrong, they'll get blasted by him, but they'll still get blasted by him if they get it right instead. Zorak initially likes the idea, until he learns he's also a contestant. Cue his Oh, Crap! face.
  • Futurama: After an inspection is sabotaged thanks to Bender's antics, Hermes is driven to the brink of suicide. However, his superior points out that if he commits suicide without filling in the requisite forms, he'll be demoted posthumously.
    Hermes: Life... death. Either way, I'm demoted to a tiny cubicle!
  • Batman: The Animated Series, "Almost Got 'im":
    Two-Face: Half of me wants to strangle you.
    Poison Ivy: And what does the other half want?
    Two-Face: To hit you with a truck!
  • In an episode of Inch High, Private Eye, the titular character (who has George Jetson Job Security) is told by his boss if he doesn't find a stolen robotic flea he's fired. Inch High asks him what if he does find it, with his boss telling him that if he does get it back he's still fired, Inch High lamenting that he gets fired either way.
  • Adventure Time had Finn and Jake in the Nightosphere, trying to find Marceline twisted into an abomination. They find her giving all the demons a three-pronged Morton's fork, asking "What do you want? Pain? Pleasure? Or a weird punishment?". The first demon choose "pleasure" leading him to say "No, weird punishment!" and causing the demon to start vomiting bananas. The second demon choose "pain" and his body is zapped in half. The third demon tries to Take a Third Option and leave without asking for anything. But before he leaves, he's asked if he would like to have abs. He happily accepts and has his face turned into abs.
  • In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "Interfection" the Aqua Teens' house is invaded by giant pop-up ads because Shake signed up for a 30-day trial for an extravagant internet service. When Frylock declines being offered a full subscription, he finds that clicking no just means that the trial is extended by another 90 days before they're signed up anyway.
  • An episode of Rugrats is about Angelica believing Chuckie to be an alien in disguise and trying to prove it. When Chuckie naturally says he's not an alien, Angelica says that an alien would of course deny that they're one, but a regular kid would play along and say that he was an alien. Going by that, Chuckie says that he's an alien, and Angelica decides to take that as a confession to being one.
  • In The Fairly OddParents! episode "Wish Fixers", Timmy goes to a "Wish Fixing" office run by the pixies HP and Sanderson in order to make more sensible wishes. Cosmo and Wanda have shock collars attached to them that zap them whenever Timmy makes an insensible wish, and they can only be zapped up to five times. Eventually, when Timmy decides to ask the pixies what wishes he's allowed to make, he's presented with a so-called list of sensible wishes, which has only one wish listed; "Wish Fairy World in control of the pixies." [sic] If Timmy makes the only "sensible" wish on the list, the pixies get Fairy World and Timmy loses Cosmo and Wanda in place of pixies. If he makes one more "insensible" wish, Cosmo and Wanda become dust and they get replaced by pixies. If he refuses to make a wish, Timmy has Cosmo and Wanda taken from him and replaced by pixies. Timmy manages to save Cosmo and Wanda by wishing they were made of rubber, thus preventing them from being zapped.
  • In the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog episode "Hero of the Year", Robotnik traps Sonic's friends aboard Wes Weasley's yacht and tells Sonic that if he doesn't come quietly, then he'll sink the yacht. After Sonic complies and is put into a bathysphere, Robotnik tells him that in order to prevent any of Sonic's friends from rescuing him, he'll sink the yacht.

  • 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 certainly false, this legend can be traced back at least to the 13th century. It's generally accepted to be a Christian fable, reissued in modern times as it suited the aims of Western Imperialist propaganda.
  • 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 desperation 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 (often involving Black Comedy Rape), 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!"
  • 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").note 
  • 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 transgender; 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, you're a 'dirty cocksucker'. The way around this is to say "Sorry, I don't swing that way," "Are you hitting on me?" or "I didn't know you HAD a cock!"
    • Do your parents know you're gay? If yes, then you're gay and your parents know it already; if no, then you're gay and you haven't told your parents yet.note 
    • Someone will give you something unpleasant to eat, eg chilli chocolate or a Black Death (a sweet so sour it burns the skin off the roof of your mouth). If you eat it, you are ridiculed for being gullible, if you don’t eat it, you are ridiculed for a) being a bad sport, b) not trusting the person who gave it to you. The way out is to eat it, and then ask for another one, until you have eaten all of their Black Deaths/chilli chocolate etc. That way you are a good sport, trusting, proved you weren’t gullible and got one over whoever gave it to you. (Be careful when doing this though, particularly with Black Deaths, since your mouth will hurt for days afterwards)
    • "Do you have HIV?" No. "Are you positive?" If you say yes, you're "positive" in the sense of being "HIV positive"; if you say no, you're "not positive" in the sense of "not positive that you don't have HIV".
  • Some classic examples of "loaded questions" are:
    • "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 only way to escape is to say that you have never beaten your wife (or that you aren’t married).
    • "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. Unlike the above, you can’t Take a Third Option and get out of this one.
    • "Are you a [derogatory noun] in a cage?" If yes, it's admitting to be one. If not, then the response you get is "[Derogatory noun] on the loose!"
    • "Are you embarrassed that you wet your pants today?" If yes, you admit to wetting your pants. If no, you're a weirdo who doesn't see anything embarrassing about pants-wetting.
  • 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?!"
  • "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.
  • This is the Sci Fi Ghetto is a nutshell; snobs, True Art critics, and executives look down on genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, comics, video games, etc.) claiming they're childish and lowbrow while at the same time accusing them of being too dense and complicated for general audiences.
  • According to one anecdote told about and verified by chronic Malaproper and Cloud Cuckoolander Yogi Berra, when he was giving directions how to get from point A to point B there was a fork in the road. Since either direction would get the person to his destination Berra simply said, "when you get to a fork in the road, take it."
  • Trying to prove the existence of the supernatural by science can result in this. If science cannot prove it, then it doesn't exist. But if science can prove it, then it is just a natural phenomenon as science is about reproducibility and something that is readily reproduced is hardly supernote  natural.

     Real Life  
  • The trope namer, 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 circumstances 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.
  • In 1858, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott had no right to sue for his freedom because he was a slave, Abraham Lincoln engaged in a series of debates with Stephen Douglas for a seat to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. At Freeport, Illinois, Lincoln posed the question of whether the people of a territory could exclude slavery. If Douglas answered yes, he would appear to support the Supreme Court's Dred Scott ruling and popular sovereignty note ; he would stand a better chance of gaining the senatorial seat, but lose Southern support in the presidential election; if he answered no, Douglas would appear to turn his back on popular sovereignty, which would be welcomed by the Southerners, but could cost him support for the Senate. Douglas took a third option and came up with the Freeport Doctrine, in which he accepted the Dred Scott ruling, and suggested that slavery might be discouraged if the voters failed to pass laws to keep slaves under control. This response, which passively allowed a territory to nullify the Dred Scott decision, allowed Douglas to gain the Senate seat, but cost him the Southerners' support in the 1860 presidential election against Lincoln.
  • 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. Perfectionists and sufferers of "impostor syndrome"note  frequently have this mindset. Surveys indicate that between 50% and 70% of people in the US feel like this at times, so this is much more common than you might think.
  • 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? From the same site is a more traditional version, when someone tries to steal a girl's camera, which happens to contain some provocative selfies, and is found out via You Just Told Me. As the security guard puts it:
    "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 Workers' 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 make 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 WWII. 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 ancient Rome, Marcus Licinius Crassus set up the world's first organised fire brigade in response to the high risk of fire. But it was entirely privately owned and not really a blessing for the victims; Whenever a fire broke out, Crassus would move out and give the burning house's owner the choice: He could sell Crassus his house for a ridiculously cheap price, and Crassus would then put out the fire, or not, in which case Crassus would just let it burn to the ground. Neither option was, of course, in any way favourable for the (former) owner.
  • Erwin Rommel, Field Marshal of Nazi Germany, was faced with one of these upon being implicated as a supporter of the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Rommel was given the option of committing suicide, and receiving a hero's state funeralnote , or choosing to stand trial and be executed anyway. In the latter case, his family would have been included in being punished as well. Logically, he chose the former, killing himself with a Cyanide Pill.
  • 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. As Islam has no priesthood class, no one actually has the authority to make such a decision.
  • 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.
  • 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." This was an even more impressive Morton's Fork even outside of the one presented in the box. Anyone who received the box was put into the situation where either they mentioned that they had received the money and turned it down, thus giving Visceral Games free publicity, or alternatively stay quiet about it, and thus when other journalists revealed that they had been sent money, it looked like the ones who had stayed quiet about it had pocketed the cash.
  • 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...
  • One of the revelations from a 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. A similar situation can occur when a child's parents punish their kid for "fighting" even if they never hit back, but are simply roughed up/suspended by the bully's fault entirely.
  • This trope can be a real problem for people who consistently have problems with bullying. If they rise to any insults the bully throws at them, that might be what the bully is trying to do, usually because said victim's reaction is amusing to them. If they ignore the bully then it's highly likely that they'll just keep doing it anyway (or even escalate the bullying), 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, even if they don't explode, said victim makes a lovely verbal (or physical) punching bag for stress relief, or will break down from all the hate they've received, ensuring the bully has power over them.
  • R. D. Laing, as a member of the "anti-psychiatry" movement within psychology, proposed a hypothesis note that schizophrenia is, rather than a mental disorder, a form of Morton's Fork. The schizophrenic attempts to reject an unlivable condition or else face the pain of that unlivable condition. This is not accepted by the current psychiatric community. note 
  • 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 to 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.
  • Every school student's worst nightmare: remembering late at night that you forgot to do your homework. If you stay up late to do it, your parents will yell at you for not doing it earlier, and you will potentially lose sleep, making it more difficult to focus in school the next day. If you don't do it, you lose credit for the assignment, possibly fail the course, and still get yelled at.
  • 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.
  • In the run-up to the 2015 UK election, Labour's Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls went on record stating that if he became full Chancellor, he would leave the Conservative party's ideological austerity policy intact, and praising the current Chancellor for its implementation. This backfired when large percentages of the voting public spoke out against the policy: if Ed Balls was voted in and changed nothing, the public would continue to suffer under the same policy, but if he spoke out against austerity to court public favour, he would be seen as 'flip-flopping' and incompetent for endorsing it in the first place.
  • Some real life examples of the Education Mama can result in a no-win scenario. If one gets a perfect score on a test, they get yelled at that they had better keep it up or not to get arrogant. If one doesn't get a perfect score, they get yelled at and punished. If they fail, they get yelled at AND punished severely.
  • In his last season as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, Brady Hoke got into a heap of trouble during a game. The quarterback took a nasty hit and exhibited very visible signs of being concussed. The signs were so obvious that even the crowd booed for him to be taken off the field. However, Hoke kept him in for several more plays. After the game, Hoke was asked if he saw that his QB was concussed. This was a question that Hoke could not answer without looking bad: Either he saw that his QB was concussed and irresponsibly decided to leave him in the game, or he was not paying enough attention to see that his QB was concussed. Hoke was let go at the end of the season.
  • Abuse-related examples:
    • Victims of Abusive Parents can end up in this kind of situation. Either they keep taking the abuse, leading to emotional/physical/mental injury or worse, death or suicide. Or, they try to get help, leading to being taken away to a sometimes horrible foster home, or being brought back after the police believe the offending parents have been rehabilitated, resulting in some serious punishment on the child who got them in trouble. Lastly, if they try to fight back in defense, usually the law will blame the child for harming their own parents regardless of why, placing them in jail where they'll suffer severe harassment once again.
    • Abusers have been known to sabotage birth control (often secretly) in order to trick their victims into having a child with them. This can lead to such things as blaming the victim for a failure of birth control that the abuser caused and beating a (female) victim severely enough to induce a miscarriage then blaming her for it. If the pregnancy goes wrong, the victim is blamed and punished for it, but if it goes right it's even harder for them to get away and there's a new victim.
  • In a meta example, when Douglas Adams adapted The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from radio to a novel he had some people do the same things as in the original script, some people do different things, and some do the same thing for different reasons "which works out to the same thing but it saved having to rewrite the dialog."
  • New Zealand Rugby Union player Grant Fox said of England, "The English know no humility in victory or defeat. If you beat them, it's because you cheat. If they beat you, it's because they've overcome your cheating."
  • The ILO was faced with the prospect of something akin to this towards the end of World War II: their charter defined them as an autonomous organization under the League of Nations. That autonomy stretched to almost every aspect of their work and organization except changing the charter itself, which required League approval. If the League ceased to function (or even exist), then the legal identity of the ILO would be in question unless the charter was altered — which couldn't legally be done since there was no League to ask approval to change the charter from. Pragmatism won out — ILO's internal discussions came to the conclusion that external circumstances invalidating the ordinary procedure was reason enough to allow bypassing it, and when the League was formally dissolved, ILO's charter was altered to make them an autonomous organization under the United Nations.
  • A version was played For the Evulz by guards in Nazi concentration camps: a guard approached a prisoner, grabbed his cap and threw it on the grass by the fence, ordering the prisoner to pick it up. If the guy refused, he was shot for disobedience; if he followed the order, he was shot for an escape attempt.
  • Transsexuals have three cases:
    • Either they keep their transexuality hidden and try to comform to what society believes they are and consequentially highly risk severe depression, borderline behaviour, gender dysphoria and even suicide. If they reveal themselves, not only does the risk for hate crimes increase a lot, but they are at risk of exactly the same issues due to the high chance that they will be abandoned by friends and disowned (or even abused) by their family.
    • Trans women who act too feminine are accused of fetishing femininity and acting like a parody of a woman, not the real thing. Trans women who act too masculine will have their masculinity used as proof that they're actually men. Either way, you'll be seen just as a man pretending to be a woman.
    • Trans men with the desire for full body transformation are stuck in one. They can decide to not get the genital surgeries and not only feel horrible in their body, but also be viewed as a Ladyboy or similar, are forced to always out themselves towards new partners and are limited in accessing places such as pools, saunas, etc. If they proceed with the surgeries, they are at incredibly high risk of severe health issues as most surgeries have a 5-60% chance for fistulas and stenosis, a 10-20 out of 100 risk for necrosis and a 5 out of 100 risk for straight up losing the penoid (which is usually the modificated clitoris which will have to be amputated, if the penoid is lost, making a second attempt impossible). Quite a few trans men currently hope for a third option by looking at the improvement of organ transplantation, though that is currently nothing the scientific community seriously looks into.
    • Trans minors have a bigger issue, assuming discrimination isn't a (major) issue in itself; Their minds and biology are still developing, so going through with surgery too soon can cause severe damage, but waiting too long could lead to the aforementioned depression, gender dysphoria and suicide. If the latter is before the former, damage is inevitable.
  • Creators whose works have a Broken Base may find themselves in one. Making any changes at all will attract the ire of the They Changed It, Now It Sucks fans or prompt requests for even more extravagant changes. And not making any changes will irritate the It's the Same, Now It Sucks fans. This is why some creators don't directly communicate with fans. This turns into a four-pronged fork for creators who are already communicating with their fans, especially for the community relations team of large video games since this is their job. If changes are made, they get yelled at. If no changes are made, they get yelled at. If they don't talk about changes, they get yelled at. If they stop posting altogether, they get yelled at.
  • The history of early psychiatric theory tended towards this. A (demonstrably false) truism is that if one genuinely worries about one's mental health, one's probably not crazy - and that one sign of a mentally unhinged person is that they're absolutely certain they're sane, it's just the world around them that's gone mad. Worse yet were the states of asylums in those days. As Nellie Bly wrote in an 1887 exposé where she voluntarily committed herself, the conditions in sanitariums of those times were sufficient to drive anyone not already insane completely mad. So for those concerned about their state of mind, there was no good choice, and is part of why Madwoman in the Attic exists as a trope - it was genuinely considered more humane than the asylums.
  • In some cases of workplace harassment, letting the authorities know about it can lead to more harassment by fellow employees if they don't agree with your argument against the offending coworker(s).
  • If students get bullied in school, but not injured, then telling the teacher will usually result in a minor punishment (if at all) for the bully and more severe bullying for the victim. Not saying anything is equally bad, of course.
  • Chavs often use such a tactic to start fights. For example, "Did you look at my girlfriend?". If you say yes, you get accused of ogling her. If you say no, you get accused of thinking she's ugly. It is a catch-22 situation; the chav wants to fight regardless, he just wants an excuse.
  • Sweden had conscription for most of the 20th century. Most recruits tried to avoid deployment at the army base in Boden, because of the cold, darkness, and long distance from home. One story told that they had little chance to being sent somewhere else:
    Officer: Can you ski?
    Recruit #1: Yes, sir!
    Officer: You will be sent to Boden. Next! Can you ski?
    Recruit #2: No, sir!
    Officer: You will be sent to Boden, for ski training. Next!
  • "Resign or be fired" ultimatums. When given these options, the employee knows that he or she will inevitably be out of the company's map in the future.note 
  • The Innocent Prisoner's Dilemma. If you admit that you are guilty of wrongdoing, you get a lighter punishment and the possibility of early (conditional) release. If you proclaim your innocence (real or not), you can be punished more severely and then some as you'll be seen as not owning up to your wrongdoing. Zigzagged because research shows those who admit guilt are more likely to offend again and those who pled guilty to avoid serious punishment have been called out, being told if they didn't do it, they shouldn't have pled guilty.
  • Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale faced this in the early 80s as they tried to pitch Back to the Future to various studios. Disney turned them down because they thought the film was too risque for them (primarily, the subplot with Lorraine becoming infatuated with Marty); Other studios turned them down because they thought it wasn't risque enough, since at the time, the most popular movies were raunchy teen-sex comedies, e.g. Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds (and even after being made, many trailers used the line "Are you telling me that my mom has got the hots for me!?" as a selling point).
  • In the US legal system, death vs. life imprisonment without parole. If you are sentenced to death, then you are executed for your crimes. If you sentenced to life in prison without parole, then you don't die initially but you are required to be incarcerated until you die. The law does not consider you to have paid for your crimes until the moment you are dead. Nothing else short of escape, pardon or exoneration (assuming you are innocent in the latter two) can get you out of prison.
    • In States that have abolished capital punishment, the fork becomes "what do you do with a criminal, sentenced to life without parole, who kills an inmate or prison guard?". Sentence them to life again isn't helpful, since they can only die once, and you cannot sentence them to death, because you are legally barred and you cannot let the crime go unpunished. This doesn't typically work in the reverse, as death Row inmates are kept apart from general populations. The general answer is putting them in isolation, but this has the common side of effect of slowly making them nuts, leaving you with a mentally ill lifer on yours hands.
    • Cross jurisdiction of crimes when the death penalty is in play can also be a factor. Between two jurisdictions that have the death penalty, who gets to kill the guy is a big deal. Between a jurisdiction that does not have a death penalty and one that does, the deference to the pro-death penalty is a big issue in the one that does not (to those with fiscal concerns, letting a death penalty state have first go means they don't have to go to trial which saves the taxpayers money BUT does not give the victims of the crime their day in court.)
  • Without mentioning any specific examples, politicians believed to have engaged in chicanery get a three-prong fork: if an investigation shows wrongdoing, this is obviously an indication of wrongdoing; if an investigation clears the person, this indicates they "got to" those doing the investigating and/or were able to effectively cover their tracks; if there is no investigation, they are protected by their power and/or intimidated anyone who is in a position to investigate.
  • During his tenure as Governor of New York, Thomas E. Dewey was faced with this trope regarding crime boss Lucky Luciano, who helped prevent enemy sabotage on the waterfront during World War II with Mafia-controlled lockdowns in exchange for a shortened sentence and a promising bid for parole. If he didn't release Luciano, the Navy would've continued and continued to pressure him. If he did do what he was asked, not only would his presidential prospects be severely damaged, he also would be remembered by many as "the man who successfully prosecuted Lucky Luciano, but also the same man who released Lucky Luciano." So he deported him to Italy, as Luciano was from Italy.
  • In law enforcement contexts in the U.S., the question "Am I being detained?" presents a big one for police officers. When asked that question, an officer can't answer "Yes" unless they have reasonable suspicion to detain their suspect that would actually hold up in court. But if they answer "No", it's essentially an admission that the suspect is free to go whenever they wish, and that the officer can't do anything to stop them. If they try to Take a Third Option by not answering "Yes" or "No", it's a red flag that the officer wants to detain them, but doesn't have sufficient evidence to do so—and can thus be used as evidence of unlawful harassment. For that reason, "Am I being detained?" is often recommended as an Armor-Piercing Question for situations when a citizen suspects that an officer may be violating their rights by trying to detain them without cause. Again, this applies in the U.S.; in other countries, the question may not be such a problem. Furthermore, discussing the possibility of unlawful harassment with the officer who wants to detain you, makes you liable to be accused of lawyering.
  • This can be said for former LAPD officer Mark Fuhrman, key witness for the prosecution in the murder-trial against OJ Simpson. When mounting evidence of him being racially abusive toward African Americans surfaced, he could've admitted fault but that would ended up ruining his credibility in-and-out of the courtroom, infuriating the racially-mixed jury into siding with Simpson's defense team and turning the murder trial into a "race card" extravaganza. But when he instead lied in his testimony, a few months later, the defense played audio tapes of Fuhrman, (aptly known as the "Fuhrman tapes"), repeatedly using the N-word a total of 41 times, not only did he get charged with perjury, which he pleaded no contest to, he still ended up ruining said credibility in-and-out of the courtroom, infuriating said racially-mixed jury into siding with Simpson's defense team and turning said murder trial into said "race card" extravaganza.
  • Disney was faced with this when deciding the race of Prince Naveen in The Princess and the Frog. If they made him black, like Tiana, people would have cried "Disney hates interracial relationships!" If they made him another race, it would have been "All the other ones had princes of their own race! Disney hates black men!" They decided to make him Ambiguously Brown and from a fictional Mediterranean country, but this only led to them being hit with both accusations depending on how the viewers saw the character.
  • Happens a lot in battles where one side has combined arms and the other doesn't. For example, at the Battle of Falkirk, the Scottish support troops were driven off early in the fighting. This gave the spearmen, the bulk of the Scottish force, the choice of remaining in tight formation and being shot to pieces by the Welsh archers, or scattering and being ridden down by the English cavalry.
  • eBay has done this to legally back up their ban on people trying to sell their souls on the website: if the soul does not exist, then nothing is being sold and the transaction is fraudulent; if the soul does exist, then it is a part of the human body, and eBay does not permit the sale of human bodies (or pieces thereof) on their website.
  • This trope is a major reason why electoral reform in the American Political System is such a frustratingly complicated issue to tackle. One of the strongest arguments against the proposed abolition of the Electoral College is that such a system would give a disproportionate amount of voting power to the most populous states in the Union, while rendering votes in smaller states effectively worthless, and implicitly encouraging Presidential candidates to ignore states with populations too small to affect election results. But one of the strongest arguments for abolishing the Electoral College is that most of those flaws are already present under the current system: so-called "swing states" (like Ohio and Florida) already have a highly disproportionate amount of voting power, while a huge portion of votes in solidly Democratic or Republican states are already effectively worthless, and candidates are already implicitly encouraged to ignore states that they have no realistic chance of winning; because of the realities of the "winner-take-all" system, all of a state's electoral votes go to the candidate with the majority of popular votes (no matter how slim their majority is), while votes for the opposing candidate are not factored into the count of electoral votes at all, and many states with solid track records of voting Democratic or Republican are virtually guaranteed to go to that party's nominee. The electoral college has also been criticized for every instance of an electoral split having the Democrat take the popular vote and the Republican win the presidency (where the Republican narrowly took the swing states but the Democrat won landslides in states like California and New York, while the red states were either won very closely or were too small to make a difference). In a nutshell: whether the United States chooses its Presidents through electoral vote or popular vote, some states will always hold more power than others, and some votes will have minimal or even negligible effect on the overall results.
    • Funnily enough, Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign logo went through a little of this. When it was first released, it was mocked in some circles because the arrow (in the logo for a left-wing candidate) points to the right. Obviously it was intended to be pointing "forwards", i.e. the direction people read, thus implying a progressive candidate. If they had pointed it to the left, it likely would have been mocked for pointing "backwards" (thus implying regressive ideas). Either way, the logo concept was a little flawed.
  • A common criticism of 24 hour news networks: the prize of any news network is to get the story first to air. While breaking news is a big ratings draw, it may be a few hours between knowing something is happening and knowing what is happening. In this time, the news has to rely on what eyewitness and unnamed sources close to the story to get something to air, all of which can be unreliable due to being a partial part of the story or the source wanting his or her 15 minutes of fame, which can shape the story into something it is not in the public mindset. The resulting fork becomes get it to air first and correct later, or get it right first but hold the story. The former will have the public cry foul of news bias for trying to fit the story to a narrative. The latter will have the public cry foul of news bias because you weren't interested in the story until after it was over.
  • Ottoman Sultan Murad II was told by his son, Mehmed II, to come out of retirement. Murad refused. Mehmed replied, "If you are the Sultan, come and lead your armies. If I am the Sultan, I order you to lead my armies."
  • 20th Century Fox found themselves in this situation regarding the Fantastic Four film rights: the main reason why they produced the 2015 film was to prevent the character rights from reverting back to Marvel Studios. When the movie came out, it flopped critically and commercially, effectively killing off the possibility of a sequel or another reboot, leaving Fox with the only option of giving back the rights to Marvel. Here is where this trope comes into play: if Fox churns out another Fantastic Four movie within the next few years, they would likely lose money on it, forcing them to give up the rights. If they sit on the rights for too long, they would lose them (and any money as a result). In the end, the whole thing was rendered moot when Disney bought Fox's film assets, thus acquiring the Fantastic Four rights.
  • This trope is how the term "white elephant" came into being: according to legend, the King of Siam would give an obnoxious courtier a white elephant as a punishment. Since white elephants were (and are) considered sacred and symbols of royalty, the courtier could not use them in a practical use. For the same reason, the courtier could not return it or give it away. Hence, their only option would be keep the animal as a drain on their resources.
  • This is often a situation for boys who end up in fights with girls, particularly when young. Due to the unsaid rule that a proper man Wouldn't Hit a Girl, you find yourself in a situation where you can either lose to your female combatant and be made fun of for it, or end up with horrified reactions that you beat up someone who, going by average strength statistics, could be weaker than you. Obviously, this is kicked when older folks know that this demeans both genders in different ways, but many men still attest to never readily fighting women as to not get caught up in this dichotomy (not that you should go readily looking for fights to pick in the first place, mind you).
  • Voting literacy tests were (and are) notorious for this, as they were designed to be vague and entirely up to the examiner whether the answer was correct, who could then proceed to pass or fail it entirely based on their opinion of the person taking the test (i.e. if they were black, failing them). For instance, one test might offer the question "draw a line around the shortest word in this line." If a person drew a line around "a", the examiner could fail them for not drawing one around "the shortest word in this line", or declaring that "a" is a letter and not a word, and they should have drawn one around "in." Conversely, if they did do either of the above, the examiner could fail them for not drawing one around "a." If they circled all three, the examiner could fail them for trying to give three wrong answers. The examiner could also declare that, since they drew a circle and not a line, they failed the question (of course, never elaborating what else they were supposed to draw). And if they asked the examiner for clarification, then they were wasting precious time (the tests were usually thirty questions in ten minutes) and were bound to fail at least two more questions even if the examiner did give a good answer.
  • The "Have You Ever Been Convicted of a Felony?" question on job and renters' applications, assuming you actually have been convicted. Check that box, and you'll be denied the job/apartment/loan/whatever, no matter what sort of felony you were convicted for. Lie and get found out when the prospective employer/landlord/lender/etc. does the background check, and you'll still be denied anyway. Some want to "ban the box" for that very reason.
  • As a child, Tokugawa Ieyasu was taken captive by Oda Nobuhide and a ransom was sent to his father, Hirotaka, demanding that he break a crucial alliance or else his son would be killed. Hirotaka responding by refusing, as he observed that, whether or not Ieyasu was killed, simply refusing to cave to their demands would make him the most trusted man in Japan (quite an asset during the hugely divided Warring States period) by showing that he was willing to sacrifice even the lives of his family to uphold an alliance. Nobuhide had no answer to this and kept Ieyasu as a useless hostage for three years.

Alternative Title(s): Zugzwang, Damned If You Do Damned If You Dont