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Planning with Props
"Colonel Mustard will lead the frontal assault."

Cyrus: Considering my audience, I'm going to make this very quick, very simple. This is the boneyard, this is the hangar, this is our plane.
Thug: What's that?
Cyrus: That's a rock. *pushes the rock aside with a stick*
Con Air

A character is trying to outline a battle plan, a game plan or A Simple Plan. They will always use the first items that come to hand, and these will nearly always be salt and pepper shakers, a bottle of mustard or other condiments, and possibly tableware like spoons and napkins.

Hilarity Ensues, resulting in:
  • Everyone forgetting who is what:
    • "So Alice is the pepper?"
    • "No, the salt is Alice, the pepper is Bob, and the mustard is the safe they're trying to break into."
  • Everyone getting confused between the item and what it represents:
    • "Um, I don't think we could all fit in there... and none of us can breathe mustard anyway."
  • The plan descending into silliness as more and more condiments get roped into the plan:
    • ""OK, so the ketchup, the napkins and the salt and pepper shakers ride in on the napkin dispenser and take out the forks with the coffee gun, then..."
  • And the inevitable Punch Line:
    • "And the coffee cup is...?" "Huh? Oh, that's just my coffee"

Can turn into a physical Metaphorgotten. See Exposition Diagram, The Big Board, Model Planning for when something more suited to the task at hand is used.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Comic Books  
  • A British comic book, possibly The Beano or Dandy, once had a strip in which two old soldiers were discussing old battles using condiment pots in a cafe. After a while one of the other diners came over and said "I think you forgot something," and poured tomato ketchup over the table.
  • Chaos ensues when the Knights attempt to use snack foods instead of minatures when enacting large scale battles in Knights of the Dinner Table. It eventually gets so bad they agree to dip into the club treasury to buy proper minatures.
  • Appears in a restaurant flashback in Quantum and Woody, when Woody is discussing Eric's plans to court Amy Fishbein:note 
    Woody: (Picks up pepper shaker) "This is you."
    (Picks up salt shaker) "This is Amy Fishbein."
    (Picks up ketchup bottle) "This is her cousin, you know the one with the eye."
    (Grabs a handful of fries) "This is the angry mob of her relatives. This is the judge who looks the other way..."

     Fan Fic  

  • One chapter of Bag Enders had Aragorn drunkenly describing a battle in a trope-perfect version of this.
    "An, an, if this beer boll is me, being all kingy," Aragorn attempted to crown the bottle with an upturned bottle cap but failed. Aragorn looked round for more props "An if this toaster is the army of orcs."
    "Dead people. Were dead people." Legolas managed to make a vaguely pertinent comment.
    Boromir looked confused. "Dead people lying on groun' or dead people stanin' up and fightin'?"
    "Fighty dead people," said Aragorn. "This, this packet o' Doritos, is dead people."
    "Can I have some Doritos?" asked Boromir.
    "No! Are fighty dead people, can't eat them. Now need Eowyn." Aragorn looked for another prop. "An this, this," Aragorn tried to squint at what he was holding.
    Boromir helped him out "Unconscious hobbit."
  • Hivefleds Eridan uses salt and pepper shakers to demonstrate his story about losing his eye in a fight with a dragon.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Meet the Robinsons, Wilbur outlines his plan to get Lewis to fix the time machine using finely crafted miniatures. When Carl notes that he used an acorn for the time machine, Wilbur tells him that he didn't have time to make everything.
  • In Over the Hedge, R.J. uses Monopoly pieces to outline a plan to infiltrate a home. This leads to a discussion over who gets to be the car.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bend It Like Beckham: Keira Knightley's dad is trying to teach her mum the offside rule. She comes to the conclusion that it means the mustard has to be between the sea salt and the balsamic vinegar.
  • In Con Air, Cyrus demonstrates the plan to surround the police convoy using soda cans, rocks, engine parts and debris. The rock doesn't mean anything, though.
  • The Disney made-for-TV movie Little Spies. The group of preteens has assembled a LEGO model of the target (think Doc Brown's models in Back to the Future.) Too bad there are only a few pieces available that are actually of people, everyone else must use toy animals. Squabbling ensues. Finally the leader must ask The Chick (and his Toy Ship love interest) if she would settle for being the cow (use a cow as her piece, that is). Priceless moment and meaningful glare before she acquiesces.
  • Done in The Spanish Inn: A neurosurgeon represents the different parts of the brain using food items.
  • Parodied in Top Secret! when the props become more and more realistic and detailed.
  • Played with jokingly in Eurotrip when the guy who has no concept of geography lays out their travel plans using the table and food as a map. The film keeps harking back to this metaphor when the group travels, showing where on the table (or over on the neighboring table) they are headed.
  • The surprisingly passable Uwe Boll movie Postal had a scene like this. The Protagonists plot to steal Krotchy dolls using a makeshift map of the Little germany compound, and using random action figures to represent themselves and anyone else in the compound. Apparently they couldn't find any figures on the same scale.
  • In Wagons East, the wagon master uses kitchen utensils to lay out a map of his proposed course (while drunk), then proceeds to get lost on his own map.
    "And if this the badlands then... wait, the Snake River shouldn't be here. Oh, the Oklahoma panhandle, now I know where I am."
  • Twice in Iron Eagle. Chappie initially plans the raid by rearranging the food on his plate. Whenever he mentions a target that should be destroyed, he eats the associated prop.
    • Later, a larger model is produced, using various things found in Chappie's garage. After much finicky adjusting of items so they accurately represent what they will see on the mission, Chappie's lunchbox is revealed to represent... Chappie's lunchbox.
  • In Ni pour, ni contre (bien au contraire), a robbery is planned in a fast food restaurant.

     Literature  

  • More Murderous Maths features a scene where the stereotypical Italian-American gangsters are trying to suss out the location of a lost treasure using breadsticks to measure distance and various items to represent landmarks. Once their chief discovers it's located at the sugar bowl, everyone tries to grab it.
  • In the Aubrey-Maturin series, Captain Aubrey meets up under truce with a Worthy Opponent who once captured him. They pass the time by refighting the battle in question with pieces of bread.
  • Played completely straight and non-comedic in Crown of Slaves, in which Victor Cachat tries to explain a set of local stellar relationships in this manner. It works, but also reminds his companion that she hasn't eaten yet.
  • In Winds of Fate of the Heralds of Valdemar series, Elspeth, Darkwind, Skif, Nyara, and the gryphons plan an elaborate ambush for the Big Bad, Mornelithe Falconsbane, using twigs, pinecones, flowers, and other natural items as props. Their plan falls apart when Falconsbane, upon arriving on the scene, notices their props and figures it out.
  • A variation—in that it's a historical reenactment rather than planning for an upcoming battle—takes place in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga novel The Warrior's Apprentice.
    Pieces of fruit became planets and satellites; various shaped protein bits became cruisers, couriers, smart bombs and troop carriers. Defeated ships were eaten.
  • In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Ford tries to explain why they won't die when the universe ends this way.
    Ford: Look, imagine this napkin, right, as the temporal Universe, right? And this spoon as a transductional mode in the matter curve....

     Live Action TV  

  • Yes, Minister: Prime Minister Hacker's political adviser makes a case for being returned to her usual office (which she has been unceremoniously removed from due to the machinations of Sir Humphrey) by using some objects on the table, including a teacup, an ash-tray and a saucer, to construct a rough map of the interior of 10 Downing Street to prove its strategic worth. Hacker agrees, and summons Bernard to have the adviser moved to her office "between the tea-cup, the ash-tray and the saucer." Bernard, who was not present during the initial metaphor, is as confused as you'd expect.
  • In one episode of Better Off Ted, Those Two Guys, Lem and Phil, are asking which one of them is the salt and which one the pepper. Phil is white and Lem is black, so Ted gets a nervous look on his face before Phil says that he must be the pepper because he's "spicy."
  • There was a long sketch on The Benny Hill Show where Benny et al. were German POWs during WWII. They were planning an escape and Benny had used various food items - mostly pastry - to make a model of the camp. During his explanation of how they were going to escape, one of the other prisoners picked up the slice of pound cake which represented the gate and started eating it.
  • In the episode "The Bardwell's Caper" of Laverne and Shirley, the girls have to get back an insulting letter they wrote to their boss — which is in his locked office protected by a state-of-the-art security system. Laverne comes up with a plan to break in and get past the system and explains it to Shirley, with the following props: an apple and an onion to represent them (Shirley: "Make me the apple, I don't want to be the onion anymore!"), a cucumber to represent the air shaft they crawl through to break into the office, a carrot for the flagpole they have to slide down, a banana for the sofa in the office, and a pretzel for the letter. Naturally, things don't go quite as planned.
  • This occurs in Psych in "Weekend Warriors" and "Shawn Gets the Yips" when Shawn reconstructs crimes using household objects.
    • Shawn: "I'm the salt. And you're the-" Gus: "Let me guess, the pepper."
  • Occurs in the Monk episode "Happy Birthday, Mr. Monk," except with people as the props. Randy would rather play somebody other than himself because "it's a bigger part."
  • Prof. Brian Cox is very fond of using nearby rocks, sticks, piles of dirt to describe orbiting celestial bodies in his astronomy documentaries. At least once he's done the diner-table-full-of-condiments version, including the mandatory "ignore that, that's just my coffee."
    • Parodied in an episode of The Now Show in which Jon Holmes takes exception to the Brian Cox impressionist's attempt to explain Newton's law of universal gravitation using a packet of Smints.
  • In White Collar, Mozzie outlines a plan to surreptitiously wipe a tape of incriminating evidence that's being sent by courier, using a bunch of toys that are lying around.
    Mozzie: Now, you go into the office as the courier and pick up the tape. Then you use this. (holds up a refrigerator magnet)
    Neal: What's the refrigerator magnet supposed to be?
    Mozzie: A refrigerator magnet.
  • A staple on Good Eats, as Alton often uses props to explain biochemical concepts that relate to food and cooking.
  • On My Name Is Earl, Joy wants to get pregnant (for the sole purpose of gaining sympathy from a jury), and her half-sister Liberty wants to pursue her dreams of becoming a wrestler. Meanwhile, Darnell doesn't want to get Joy pregnant just to win sympathy from a jury, and Ray-Ray wants to be a dad. So Earl does some research, and comes up with the idea of surrogacy, so Liberty and Ray-Ray can have the child they want without Liberty being pregnant (and Joy can become pregnant, and do something nice for her half-sister that she wronged along with Earl by stealing from). He explains the procedure to the couples using mayonnaise, an egg, an egg-beater, a turkey baster, a turkey, and a Cornish game hen.
    Earl: "It turns out, explaining a highly-complicated medical procedure using mayonnaise and an egg-beater was the easy part!"
  • In an episode of Young Indiana Jones, a French soldier explains to Indy the complicated web of alliances and old grudges that ultimately resulted in World War One breaking out this way. One notable moment was demonstrating Austria (Salt shaker) sending diplomatic threats to Serbia (Plate of meatballs) by salting the meatballs.
  • Dexter "Hop A Freighter" Dexter and Lumen are cuddling on the floor while planning how to abduct and kill Jordan Chase. They use Harrison's various stuffed animals and toys to represent Chase, bodyguards, etc. It manages to be both very sweet, and more than a little creepy.

     Standup Comedy  

  • Bill Cosby, describing playing football on the streets of Philadelphia as a kid, attributes this to his quarterback:
    Bill: (narrating) He'd always get down on one knee and draw things. He'd take a Coke bottle top—
    Quarterback: Now Shorty, this is you, this is a Coke bottle top—
    Shorty: I don't want to be a Coke bottle top.
    Quarterback: Okay, what do you want to be?
    Shorty: I want to be a piece of glass.

     Video Games  

  • Averted noodle-incidentally in Fallout: New Vegas; Chance's Map is marked with various objects representing major features of the New Vegas area. There are no in-game clues as to it's origin, other than the name of the map-maker. The companion graphic novel All Roads reveals that props weren't included in the original map, leaving the player to imagine who had been prop-planning on the engraved outlines.
  • World in Conflict: In the intro to the final mission, Col. Sawyer briefs his officers inside a small diner, and resorts to using various condiments and a radio to illustrate his battle plans.

     Webcomics  

  • The Last Days of FOXHOUND: Psycho Mantis outlines the plan to fight Solid Snake using painted Clue pieces.
    Mantis: You wanna wait while I go buy the complete FOXHOUND action figure set?
  • In The Order of the Stick, Azure City's leaders have to make their battle plan out with miniatures monsters because they don't have any toy soldiers. The last panel shows monsters dumping out a bunch of little Azurite action figures confusedly.

     Web Original  

  • Late in Kickassia, most of the cast uses a Risk board to plan an uprising against the Nostalgia Critic. This becomes complicated when they get confused about how movement works, to the point that Board James cameos to explain the rules and they almost start playing a normal game.

     Western Animation  

  • There was an episode of The Simpsons, naturally, which had Moe explain to Homer how he was going to steal his car. With an olive representing Homer and a model car to represent the car. Homer eats the olive, which forces Moe to use the car to represent Homer and a model man to represent the car, he gives up after that point.
    • In another episode, Marge is in the restaurant, contemplating an affair with bowling master Jacques. In order to cover the fact that a married woman is having brunch with a single man (gasp!), he uses the pepper and salt shakers to represent bowling pins and pretends to give a bowling lesson.
    • Another episode, where the kids plan a strategy with the gun shop owner to defeat the bullies with water balloons, has a tabletop map with salt shakers and stones used to represent each faction.
  • In a Sponge Bob Square Pants episode, Squidward attempted to use the people-as-props version to explain a snow fight to SpongeBob and Patrick. Squidward forgets that he cast himself as Spongebob and gets upset when Patrick hits him with a snowball.
  • Archer has the group use the sexual harassment dolls to plan out how to get the sale of ISIS to ODIN stopped. Archer eventually points out how odd it is they have so many on-hand.
    Pam: Not if there's ever a gang-rape! *Cheryl crosses her fingers behind Pam's back*

     Real Life  

  • Anyone doing any sort of planning will often resort to this. It is most common with members of the military, or people doing military simulation of any kind, to just grab sticks, rocks, anything they can find to create their plan. The military also takes this a step further when creating sand-tables of the battle area by using children's toys (typically plastic army men) to represent everything the soldiers will see in the field, and then use strings or sticks to show directions.


Plank GagComedy TropesPlaying a Tree
World in ConflictImageSource/Video GamesWorld of Mana

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