"I cannae change the laws of physics! I've got to have thirty minutes!"
— Scotty, eight minutes before the Enterprise might be destroyed.
Related to Magic Countdown
, the piece of dialogue where a harried subordinate needs to fire up the engines, activate a forcefield or solve the big case. It always goes something like this...
Harried Subordinate: I can have it running in 20 minutes.
Boss: You've got five!
Inevitably, they pull it out of the bag.
Extra points when the original estimate is in a given time unit and they're told they have the same number of a smaller time unit. ("I need five hours!" "You've got five minutes
Named, of course, for Scotty from Star Trek
Anime & Manga
Films — Animated
- Eureka Seven: In the E7 manga, Dewey is using Anemone deliver a cancer-like virus to the scub coral in order to kill it. Woz manages to get a copy of the virus and says he'll need an hour to reverse-engineer it to make an antidote, but then adds he can do it in 15 minutes.
Films — Live-Action
- In Titan A.E., while the eponymous ship is under attack, Kale tells his gunners he needs time to adjust its reactors. He asks for them to buy him a few hours. Stith replies with "What can you do with a few minutes?" Eventually rendered moot: rather than fix it his way, they wind up taking a third option.
- Star Trek:
- In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Scotty tells Kirk that refit will take "eight weeks, sir. But you don't have eight weeks, so I'll do it for you in two." Kirk asks if he multiplies all estimates by four. Scott says he has to, "how else would I keep up my reputation as a miracle worker?"
- When Scotty visits the Enterprise in The Next Generation and hears Geordi give an estimate to the Captain, Scotty then asks Geordi the real amount of time it would take. Geordi is confused until Scotty explains that if you tell the Captain an amount longer than you think it will take, then when you finish early you are a "miracle worker."
- Inverted in "Yesterday's Enterprise," when the Enterprise of a Bad Future gets shot to pieces by Klingons. Geordi shouts, "I estimate two minutes to a warp core breach!"... whereupon the panel behind him immediately explodes. Scotty would be so proud. note
- This scene was actually mirrored in Generations, where the same panel explodes and coolant leaks out. Geordi estimates five minutes to a warp core breach, and that's about how long it takes.
- Played with in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Scotty says he needs two weeks to get the Enterprise operational and Kirk gives him three. The Enterprise ends up being a disaster and Scotty's reply is "I think you gave me too much time."
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has this variation, where Spock informs Kirk, "If we go by the book as Saavik suggests, hours will seem like days,'' before stating that repairs on the Enterprise will take two days to complete. Turns out that "By the book" is meant as a clue that Spock's message is in code (according to Starfleet Regulations, all communications over monitored lines must be encoded), and when he said two days, he meant two hours.
- Dramatically done in the 'Genesis Countdown' scene.
Kirk: Scotty, I need warp speed in four minutes or we're all dead. (no answer) Scotty?! Sulu, get us out of here!
- In the 2009 Star Trek film, when a black hole threatened to swallow the Enterprise, Scotty didn't give Kirk any lip.
"YOU BET YOUR ASS, CAPTAIN!!"
- In Star Trek Into Darkness, Scotty's response to Kirk once again making impossible demands;
Scotty: It's not easy, just give me two seconds alright? Yer mad bastard!
- Real life, and the film of Apollo 13:
Lovell: Freddo, how long does it take to power up the LEM?
Haise: Three hours, by the checklist.
Lovell: We don't have that much time.
- Justified in that the checklist for anything on a spacecraft is a several-hundred-step list of things to do from start to finish. By cutting corners and turning on just the essential pieces, you can shave a fair margin off. With the understanding that you may forget to turn on, say, the fans that keep air moving and prevent you from choking on your own carbon dioxide. Or forget to power on the attitude thrusters in the LEM before you shut down the thrusters in the CSM....Doubly justified. Half the checklist steps in a spacecraft (or any kind of vehicle you have to run through a checklist for, including a commuter bus if your job is bus driver) consist of making sure each and every switch is set in the only way it could possibly be set already, just to make sure it really is. For example, those fans that keep air moving are most likely ALREADY on, but the checklist will have you double-check that.
Gene: I want whatever you guys got on these power-up procedures. I don't want the whole damn Bible. Just gimme a couple chapters. We gotta get somethin' up to these guys.
Deke: They're workin' on it now.
Man: I'll call over to the simulator and get an estimate.
I don't WANT another estimate. I want the procedures. Now!
- In Iron Man, Stark and Yinsen activate the Mark I, but realize that it'll never power up before the terrorists find them. Without needing to be told it's Scotty Time, Yinsen decides to channel Spock instead and initiates a Heroic Sacrifice.
- Also justified: They're at the part where, essentially, there IS no room to cut.
- Invoked in Crimson Tide - Vogler the electrical engineer has been trying (and failing) to fix the radio for half the movie. Denzel Washington gives him a big motivation speech and says "it's just like in Star Trek, the captain says "I need more warp speed" and Scotty finds a way. Well you're my Scotty and I need warp speed NOW". Of course it works.
- Swordfish: "The best hackers in the world can do it in sixty minutes. Unfortunately, I need somebody who can do it in sixty seconds..." The hacker in question manages it, despite a gun to his head and some significant... distraction elsewhere...
- Invoked by The Wolf in Pulp Fiction: "That's in the valley, thirty minutes away... I'll be there in ten."
- The clacks system needs a renovation in Going Postal that would cost two hundred thousand dollars (and take at least nine months). The chief engineer is offered $50,000 instead. This is another sign of the incompetence of the cutthroat board of directors.
- As well as Reacher Gilt's skills as a B.S. artist; he had the engineer so wound up by that point that it didn't even occur to him that he was being given only a quarter of what he'd asked for. Fortunately for said engineer, he kept a hell of a paper trail through the whole thing.
- In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Umbridge asked Snape for some Veritaserum to interrogate Harry, whom she had just caught using her fireplace for an illegal chat. He told her that, unfortunately, she had used it all up in the previous interrogation, and brewing more would take a month.note She responds to this by declaring him "deliberately unhelpful" and putting him on probation. It's the start of her Villainous Breakdown. Given revelations in Deathly Hallows, he may have been lying about being out. Certainly Umbridge's accusation that he was being deliberately unhelpful, though poorly thought out, was correct—even if he wasn't lying, he could have conveniently run out earlier, and/or conveniently forgot to restock.
- In the X-Wing novel Solo Command, Zsinj's engineer is trying to repair the hyperdrive after Kirney sabotaged it. His estimate is "Pessimistically, an hour. Optimistically, less. I'm not sure how much less." Zsinj's reply is simply: "As much less as possible." The task ends up taking the engineer 40 minutes. Zsinj makes a note to give him a bonus.
- In the Prince Roger series, the unit armorer is asked to build a half-size model of a tall sailing ship. Conversation paraphrased:
Roger: How much time do you need?
Poertena: Two months should do it.
Roger: Can you do it in six weeks?
Poertena: I can try, but the only reason I said two months is that I knew I wasn't getting three.
- Originated in Star Trek: The Original Series, of course.
- The page quote comes from the first-ever invocation of Scotty Time: The episode "The Naked Time". He does it in less, of course—though in this case, he had to resort to a completely new (and untested) method of cold-starting a warp engine; one that only existed in theory until that point, and he needed Spock's help. Given that the alternative was crashing into the planet below (in eight minutes), the untested procedure was pretty much the only option.
- Lampshaded and then subverted in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Relics" when Scotty tells Geordi that he always overstated how much time it would take to fix something because the captain would always give him less time than he said he would need.
LaForge: I told the captain I'd have it done in an hour.
Scotty: How long will it really take you?
LaForge: An hour!
Scotty: [flabbergasted] You dinnae tell him how long it would really take?!!
- It's worth noting that since Scotty literally wrote the book, something that they are still following a century later, this raises the possibility that the Starfleet engineers have been treating his flubbed figures as Gospel and thus unaware they've been unintentionally nerfing their own ships! Given how they repeatedly manage to get more engine power, it's entirely possible that all of their ships are twice as powerful than they think, but no-one has ever noticed!
- Subverted in an early Voyager episode. When Captain Janeway told her new chief engineer B'Elanna Torres to get a job done in less time than she estimated, B'Elanna proudly told her that she wasn't the kind of engineer who artificially inflated her estimates to make herself look good.
- In a later episode, there's the following conversation. A straight example, but far more reasonable than most:
Janeway: How much time do you need?
Kim: How does 96 hours sound?
Janeway: Like 24 too many.
- Enterprise episode "A Mirror, Darkly". Trip, who's just been tortured, is ordered to get the engine of a starship a hundred years more advanced than anything he's ever seen before working. When he says he can fix it in an hour, Archer demands he does it in 15 minutes. This had less to do with Tucker's competence than it did with Mirror Archer being an asshole.
- The Deep Space Nine episode "Shattered Mirror" has a fairly standard version of this, except that the normal roles are reversed: Sisko is the one who says he can have the Defiant overhauled in two weeks, and Mirror O'Brien is the one who tells him he only has four days.
- "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River" saw the harried O'Brien trying to acquire a graviton stabilizer for Sisko. In enlisting Nog's help, he accidentally barters away the Captain's desk in a ludicrously-long Chain of Deals. O'Brien's ready to face the music when, suddenly, the desk reappears along with Nog, who has allegedly been polishing it. The stabilzer is on hand, too, and a relieved O'Brien promises to install it in six hours; Sisko tells him to make it two.
- J. Michael Straczynski couldn't resist a jab at this. During a firefight on Babylon 5, Sheridan calls for "full power; give me everything you've got", to which Lennier replies, "If I were holding anything back, I'd tell you."
- Gibbs of NCIS does this to his team often.
- Stargate SG-1:
- Sam often has to MacGyver some technology or Daniel has to translate some lost language in far less time than they need but this is not always the case.
- Deconstructed with this exchange:
Hammond: Just tell me the minute we can send a probe through.
Siler : That'll be 24 hours General, minimum.
Hammond : I'll give you half that.
Siler: No Sir, it doesn't work that way. 24 hours is the best I can do.
- Stargate Atlantis:
- In the episode "Every Picture Tells a Story" of The Pretender, Miss Parker corners Broots the tech guy right after he enters the Centre. She asks him how long it'll take him to do something. He says 24 hours, she gives him 12, and after she leaves, he says to himself that he coulda done it in 8.
- In Leverage:
Nathan: Sophie, how long would it take you to stage a musical?
Sophie: Six weeks.
Nathan: You have two days.
- On The West Wing, sometime in season 3 (4?), Christian Slater's character gets this when he is asked how long it will take to prepare a report. He answers "3 hours." The Secretary of Defense, several generals, and the White House chief of staff laugh at him, and then the latter says, "you have twenty minutes."
- In the first season finale of the revived Doctor Who, the Doctor is scrabbling for a way to take out an entire Dalek fleet using a massive transmitter array. He can rig the satellite to hit them with a brain-frying "delta wave", but...
Doctor: Trouble is, wave this size, building this big, brain as clever as mine, should take about, oooh, three days? How long til the fleet arrive?
Davitch: Thirty-two minutes.
Doctor: The security protocols are still online and there's no way to override them. It's impossible.
River: How impossible?
The Doctor: Two minutes.
- Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has Willow tasking herself with restoring Angel's soul before Acathla awakens, but she doesn't do it in time.
- LOST had one during The Great Repair of the Ajira plane in the Grand Finale:
Miles: Hey, how much longer 'til we get this thing in the air?
Frank: I still have to check the electrical and the hydraulics. Five hours, maybe six.
Richard: You've got maybe one.
- Similarly subverted in this Dilbert comic. It involves money rather than time, but it's the same principle.
- In his business book The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams suggests that when asking for budget money, to ask for several times more than what you need in case your boss invokes this (like something along the lines of a hundred billion dollars to upgrade all the computers). That way, what you do get is still enough or a little more.
- One strip features a terrible piece of software that does nothing but erase disk drives and use the computer's sound card to swear at people. Why? Because Dilbert and his team said they would need six months to create a new software product, but the PHB only gave them one month.
- In Freefall, an executive sends out a requisition for 14 satellites, expecting that this trope will come into play and it will be cut down to 10, which is the number he actually needs. Instead, because the department needs to use up its money in order to avoid budget cuts in the next quarter, he ends up with 20.
- The Muppets did this in MuppetVision 3D with the final number right before it started.
Sam: It is a glorious three-hour finale.
Kermit: You got a minute and a half!
- Parodied by Eddie Izzard when he talks Star Trek:
Kirk: Scotty, we need warp 5 in ten minutes or we're toast!
Scott: I can give you thirty-five miles an hour in a week.
- Referenced in Mass Effect 2 when EDI rats out Joker for padding time estimates in order to make himself look good for coming in under them. Shepard can either tell Joker to stop it, or EDI to leave him alone.
- In Real Life, the USS Yorktown was nearly destroyed and it was estimated that it would take months to repair. They did it in a few days in time for Midway, for sufficiently vague values of "repaired". Thus, at Midway, the Japanese commander Nagumo (reasonably) assumed he was at most facing two American carriers with his own four carriers, as the Yorktown couldn't possibly have been repaired so quickly. The Yorktown was struck partway through the battle, doing damage that should have sunk her or at least taken her out of commission for the rest of the battle, but her repair teams were so effective that about an hour later, when a second wave of Japanese aircraft arrived, they assumed the Yorktown had sunk and they were now attacking a second carrier. The Yorktown was again struck, and this time taken out of the battle. Again, repair teams went to work, but during post-battle repair a Japanese submarine finally finished her off. The rapid repair of the Yorktown caused Nagumo to repeatedly underestimate the size of the force he was facing.
- By USN standard procedures in 1941, a post-dreadnought battleship (i.e. USS Tennessee) took about four hours to go from moored in harbor to underway. When the Imperial Japanese Navy sneak-attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec, the USS Nevada got underway in 45 minutes, thus gaining the full attention of every attacking plane before intentionally running aground (to avoid sinking in the harbor channel, thus blocking it). It is worth noting that much of the 4 hours is to get the boilers fired up so the ship can have enough steam pressure to move. In Nevada's case, she already happened to have two boilers running that morning before the attack started.
- If you've ever worked in the field of IT, you are probably deeply and intimately familiar with this trope and encounter it on a regular basis. To clarify for those not in IT: The engineer figures out how much time it should take, then adds time to account for errors and other emergencies, interruptions, and testing. The supervisor, having seen that most of the time nothing goes wrong and the job is usually done well before the estimated time, then cuts it down. With a Benevolent Boss, the reasons for the padding are acknowledged and accepted (and the engineer isn't a "miracle worker", but simply a good planner). In cases where the supervisor knows of the padding, but doesn't acknowledge the need for accounting for problems, this can quickly become a game of chicken peppered with I Know You Know I Know. To avoid that, as well as missing the estimates, modern management-level training materials outright tell supervisors to multiply IT's estimates by whatever number greater than one they feel like using that day.
- This is an important part of real world time management in general. Most people underestimate how long it will take them to do a task, and very often you need to build in a safety margin to make sure you get finished on time (at least most of the time). This is a problem with budgeting as well - if you come in under budget, it looks like you asked for too much, but you may have needed the extra margin and just got lucky.
- Registrars and judges often give "procedural directions" to lawyers. These are binding court orders and not following them is technically contempt. Registrars and judges often ask the lawyers how much time they will realistically need to comply with a direction. Lawyers know well enough to ask for at least twice as much time as they will actually need.
- There is a story that Stalin once ordered someone to design and build a new plane in three months. When the designer objected that the Americans needed two years, Stalin interrupted with "Are you an American?" The plane was ready in time, but there seem to have been some shortcomings.
- In the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet authorities tried to pull this on the cleanup crews (paraphrased translations):
Soviet Minister of Energy: It gives me great pleasure to announce that Chernobyl Unit 4note will be back online by the end of the year.
Civil Defense General: Uh, guys, we're looking at something like seven years to clean up the fallout from the site.
Soviet Deputy General Secretary: You've got seven months. If you're not done by then, we'll relieve you of your [Communist Party membership] card.
Civil Defense General: If that's the way it is, don't bother to wait seven months. Take my card now.
- Actually, there are several stories (some confirmed, some urban legends) circulating around the former Eastern Bloc. Here's one confirmed story of a subversion of this trope by Hungarian writer István Örkény: in the early 1950s, there were big heavy industry projects and buildings all across Hungary note , and he went to visit one of the building sites in Dunaújváros (then called Sztálinváros) where an iron furnace was supposedly under construction. He found the lead engineer sitting in the middle of a meadow and after a few minutes of talking, the following exchange took place (roughly translated):
Örkény: ...and when will you be done with the furnace?
Engineer: Be calm, comrade. Molten steel will be flowing here by 20th of August this year. By the way, did I hear correctly? Your family name is "Örkény"?
Engineer: The son of the pharmacist? note
Engineer: I see. Then I will tell you, sir: piss will be flowing here, not steel.
- Fuel gauges on every modern automobile are like this. When you get to the lowest measurement/ out of range message you'll still have at least another ten miles worth of driving. In the past this was due to difficulty in measuring fuel remaining and engine performance accurately (and engineers padding it a little to make sure no one ran out too soon and creating a PR problem), these days with digital fuel measurement and engine management computers it is done mainly for the PR value and of course older motorists automatically counting that little bit of reserve.