"152. The following items do not exist: Keys to the Drop Zone, A box of grid squares, blinker fluid, winter air for tires, canopy lights, or Chem-Light ® batteries."note Note that in a bit of Technology Marches On, the last of these does exist now.
A common hazing ritual in real life, a Snipe Hunt consists of sending the Butt Monkey, Naïve Newcomer, or a Bumbling Sidekick out on an impossible or imaginary task to get them out of the way or humiliate them. Oftentimes used in comedy as a B-Plot to the main action, and a common ending involves the getter finding what they were sent out to get (even if it was, say, a unicorn) or finding the wrong thing and having hilarity ensue. Bonus points if the finder locates the imaginary item or accomplishes theImpossible Taskright away.
Named after a common practical joke that involves sending a newcomer out to catch a snipe, a real-life marsh-dwelling bird that riflemen find extremely difficult to get a piece of (hence the term "sniper", implying that the marksman has enough skill to consistently bring down that same tricky bird), in a bag. The victim is left there "holding the bag" as part of the humiliation. Also commonly referred to as a fool's errand, and may overlap with You, Get Me Coffee.
The fictional version of the snipe is often described as a rather horrific creature. Usually something akin to a werewolf, or mutant bird. Fictional snipes are usually described as being all black with glowing red eyes.
On occasion, someone who sends a new-hire on a Snipe Hunt will have dramatically underestimated his target's intelligence; one semi-famous example is that of a new Navy recruit being sent to the engine room to get a 'bucket of steam', only to return ten minutes later with a pail full of dry ice! If it was supposed to be a genuinely Impossible Task, such an act of We Do the Impossible can set a character up as either a genius, a badass, or at least a master of lateral thinking.
In a real-life work situation, Snipe Hunts are met with a variety of responses depending on the nature of the workplace — while a less 'formal' atmosphere, like your local FutureShop, might just shake their heads and bear the tradition, a lawyer's office is much more structured, and a Snipe Hunt means that you're holding up someone's (possibly time-critical) files in order to play a useless prank.
Oftentimes, the character returns only to be sent out again, to fulfill a more specific version of the demand, eg: "I wanted a red flower" Or, "Get me DIET Soda".
And sometimes, the person actually wasn't meant to go on a snipe hunt, but takes a joke literally. Akin to: "Go jump off a cliff." "Okay"!
The deadly version is The Uriah Gambit, when someone is sent on a dangerous mission by a "friendly" party who secretly wants them dead. See also Shaggy Dog Story.
Not to be confused with trying to find a sniper in a battlefield.
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Anime and Manga
Eureka Seven: The crew of the Gekko State did this to Renton in the episode "Absolute Defeat". Renton was sent to deliver a package of "highly-explosive" ramen noodles in a stupid costume and told that his contact would be a man bearing a tattoo of a "legendary and mythical beast". Moondoggie (the previous New Meat of the Gekko State) gets sent out to videotape Renton making a fool of himself, but suspects that he's actually on a meta-snipe hunt when Renton takes the job unnaturally seriously. When Moondoggie finally snaps and starts beating Renton up, the boy was saved by a man with a tattoo of Holland on his back; Renton immediately decides that he's found his contact. Hilarity Ensues — on both sides of the screen. The guys back on the Gekko watching it all were laughing their asses off, almost to the point of literally rolling on the floor.
Hajime No Ippo: When Sendo arrives to spar with Miyata, Ippo isn't allowed to go watch because the gym had officially cut all ties to the Miyata family. In order to give Ippo an excuse to go watch the fight anyway, his gymmates send him to buy them some nonexistent products, including Pokarimin C drink, Tsuchinoko drink, Arowana Cola, Doctor Pappy, and next month's issue of a magazine. Surprisingly, he does find a Tsuchinoko drink.
Naruto Shippuden: In the Six Tails filler arc, Utakata promises to accept Hotaru as a student if she fulfills tasks that he thinks are impossible for her (for example, mastering a water jutsu that is impossible to do without water-nature chakra), since he doesn't believe that he can truly give her what she wants. Contrary to what he expects, she manages to accomplish each task.
Accelerator sends Index to fetch replacement batteries for the collar that lets him use his powers. Accelerator then muses that there are no replacement batteries and he did that to keep her out of harm's way while he goes to rescue Last Order.
Motoharu somehow knocks Touma out and smuggles him into the girl's locker room. When Touma wakes up, Motoharu calls and tells him an evil wizard has sneaked into the women's dorms and will kill everyone if Touma doesn't stop him in time. Touma runs himself ragged trying to find the wizard and evade the enraged girls before he eventually realizes he's being tricked, then catches up to Motoharu in time to stop him from torturing and killing a guy.
In Thimble Theatre, during the storyline Popeye makes his debut, Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy are about to leave on another adventure, and in order to ditch Olive, who insists on coming along to keep an eye on her boyfriend (Ham), they tell her to fetch a 'dimes worth of longitude'. Olive naturally gets laughed at. When Popeye tells her what longitude is, she gives Castor a good thrashing.
In Retail, one of the pranks Cooper plays on new employees is asking for them to go and search around for a "wall stretcher".
In an early strip, Peter asks Jason if he wants to go on a snipe hunt. Jason refuses and says only an idiot wouldn't know what a snipe hunt is. Cut to them asking their dad if he wants to go on a snipe hunt.
Another strip had Peter and Paige again asking Jason if he wants to go on a snipe hunt.
Peter and Paige: Hey, Jason, wanna go on a snipe hunt?
Jason: Why? So you two can lead me out into the woods and ditch me? Where under a full moon every tree will look like a gnarly zombie reaching out to grab me and every shadow will look like Bigfoot moving in for the kill?
Peter and Paige: Um, maybe.
Jason: Cool. Can we wait 'til it gets a little darker out?
In Discworld fiction The Black Sheep, Balthazar Smith-Rhodes makes a living out of getting other people to finance his Snipe Hunts. Trading as "Howondaland Smith, Balgrog Hunter'', he makes a good living persuading other people that Balgrogs exist and getting them to pay his necessary hunting expenses.
Provides one of the few lighthearted moments in the war film Flags of Our Fathers. A higher-ranking soldier asks the others in his group if they have their Masturbation Papers in order, and when one soldier (presumably the one who isn't in on the joke) says he doesn't, he's told to run and ask for them, because if he doesn't get them he can't ship out.
The first Shrek movie contains an example where Donkey is sent off to find a blue flower with red thorns to keep him from distracting Fiona and Shrek while they dealt with the arrow in Shrek's behind. Not only does he find the flower, he wanders through a whole copse of them, complaining that his task would be infinitely easier if he wasn't colorblind, and he only brings back the right flower because he grabs one - any one - in a panic when he hears Shrek yell. The other characters don't even react weirdly, making it a relatively subtle sight gag.
In Ocean's 11, Rusty sends a detective out to "Go find Griggs," as a distraction while he's recruiting Basher in the guise of an FBI agent. This is also an example of the Bavarian Fire Drill, as Rusty brazenly walks into the police crime scene and walks off with their bombing suspect.
The premise of A Bug's Life. Princess Atta sends Flik out to find some bugs to fight Hopper, not expecting him to actually find anybody willing to defend an ant colony.
Up features a literal example. Carl sends Russell away on one to get him to stop annoying him. Eventually, he actually finds one, although it's a bit bigger than he expected. Alpha sent Dug away on a literal Snipe Hunt as well, due to the fact that Dug's foolishness was viewed a burden on the pack. True to this trope, he finds the bird. The bird becomes a principal character of the film!
What makes it even funnier is that Carl truly believed that it was impossible because he didn't know that there is such a bird as a snipe.
In The Three Stooges short "Tassels in the Air", the boys are painting a house. The kibbitzing owner makes a nuisance of himself, so Moe gets him out of their hair by sending him off to mix a batch of "spotted paint."
Invoked in America: The Book, in which a new hire at the EPA is told to save the North American Gutter Snipe.
Played with in A Song of Ice and Fire. Robert Baratheon sent his hapless squires off to Ser Aron Santagar for a (non-existent) "breastplate stretcher" when he discovered he'd gotten too fat to fit in his old armor. They hesitate, probably knowing there is no such thing, before scampering off at his insistent roaring. Robert laughs and hopes Ser Santagar will send them on to someone else. "We could keep them going all day."
A variation appears in a number of Watch novels. Nobby and Colon are sent on these by Vimes to prevent them from interfering with actual police work, but often stumble upon important clues which are vital to solving a case. Also played with in that Colon occasionally sends himself on such errands, such as making sure a bridge or the opera house isn't stolen, so he doesn't have to do any real work. No major landmark has yet been stolen — except the University, but that was a student prank. This is no mean feat, seeing as how many of the city's major landmarks are less than a foot tall, courtesy of "Bloody Stupid" Johnson's bloody stupidity.
In Maskerade, Mrs. Plinge mentions how other young men pick on her son Walter, including sending him out on Snipe Hunts to the market for non-existent things, e.g. transparent paint or a packet of holes.
Inverted in the Legacy of the Aldenata: when Thomas Sunday is sent to look for a tube of "Nannite Undercoating" as part of a newbie initiation routine, he returns with an entire case of KY Jelly. Having joined the 555th from another unit, he was already familiar with newbie initiations, so he turned the tables on his would-be tormentor.
Vorpal Blade: when an arrogant Marine non-com is sent looking for "ID Ten T" decontamination fluid (ID10T)
In Catherine Called Birdy, Catherine celebrates April Fools by asking three of the household servants to bring her pigeon's milk, striped paint, and hens' teeth. To her disappointment, the first two ignore her and the third reminds her that she tries the same trick every year and they haven't fallen for it yet. note Though, in fact, pigeon's milk does exist. It is a high-fat, high-protein secretion from the crop lining on which newly-hatched chicks are fed. It looks somewhat like pale yellow cottage cheese.
The protagonist of Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop is sent to buy a variety of non-existent items to prepare for a foreign journey. He's served by an extremely resentful shop assistant who has had the bad luck to always get stuck serving naifs on similar shopping excursions, and who believes that they're just pretending in order to waste his time.
Still More Tales for the Midnight Hour: A scouting troop does this to a disliked member. However, not only does the scout find 'the snipe', in the form of an unknown and extremely aggressive bird, said bird has lots of friends.
That was actually another story, The Gooney Birds. The Snipe Hunt had the same scouting troop discovering a nest of snipes, some form of rat-like creatures, that surround the campsite.
Matthew McGough's Batboy: Coming of Age with the New York Yankees reveals that a common hazing ritual for new batboys was to send them to get a bucket of steam, or the key to the batter's box, or a left-handed bat stretcher (a double whammy as there is no such thing as a bat stretcher, and if there was, it would likely be ambidextrous).
In the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan novelization, a junior engineer calls Admiral Kirk out on his condescending behavior by offering him a 'left-handed spanner'.
Referenced in the Aubrey-Maturin series of books, specifically The Far Side of the World: after rescuing the crew of a whaler and de facto recruiting them (mainly because there's nowhere else to put them), the crew of the Surprise start having a bit of good-natured fun with the whalers, like having them ask the gunner for "a length of firing line". Works nicely because the civilian whalers and the naval crewmembers operate by two sets of discipline and two sets of jargon.
Unsurprisingly, since Dresden is something of a Phillip Marlowe expy in the earlier books, the same trick gets pulled on him several times with villains setting up an intentional Red Herring or two to get him out of the way while they work. The first occurrence is Victor Sells pointing Harry at his daughter's case, but it happens two or three times in any given novel, being a staple of the genre.
Data: I was not successful, although I did hold the bag and call for the snipe exactly as Commander Riker had instructed me. Snipe appear to be exceptionally well evolved for remaining unseen. Even the ship's computer has no record of— (Riker bursts out laughing.) Captain? Riker: I'm sorry, Data. It's just that, well, there are no such things as snipe. Wesley: What? Data: Have you also hunted snipe, Wesley? Wesley: Geordi told me— Riker: Eyes on the board, Mr. Crusher! Wesley: Aye, sir. Data: At least that would explain why no one has ever seen one.
Variation in Stormdancer, first book of The Lotus War: Everyone except the Shogun thinks the hunt for the thunder tiger is one of these. Then the protagonists find one.
In a William Tenn's short story Errand Boy warehouse workers sent an overeager boy hanging around to fetch polka-dotted paint. He brought some — wrong colour, but polka-dotted. The boy turned out to be a naive 10-year-old time traveler with romantic ideas about 20th century businessmen, not unlike some modern depictions of pirates.
Live Action TV
The Bill: The repercussions of Snipe Hunts are seen when, to catch a serial graffiti artist, someone really does have to keep a wall under surveillance. Assuming it to be a joke, the policeman watching the wall wanders off.
In Boardwalk Empire, Eli Thompson tries to send his son to the neighbor on a snipe hunt, but the neighbor apparently didn't understand. The son returns right back home saying the neighbor had never heard of the item.
In an early episode of Carnivàle, Ben gets sent off to "clear out the baggage trailer" on his first day of work as a roustabout; naturally, there's no such thing. He finds it anyway. (It's that kind of show.)
An episode of Cheers revolved around Frasier being sent on a Snipe Hunt, though he later gets back at the others by agreeing to go on another and abandoning them in the cold.
In the Father Ted episode "Escape From Victory", Ted gives Dougal the task of guarding the corner flags from theft during a football game. Predictably, he struggles with this.
Game of Thrones: Robert Baratheon is too fat for his armor, so he sends Lancel Lannister to find the breastplate stretcher.
In iCarly, annoying fan Mandy is sent off to get "fladoodles," which, of course, don't exist. She comes back an hour later, claiming she had to go to some store in a different state, and then she is told "No, we wanted fat free". Guess what else is in the bag.
In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Fire Maidens of Outer Space, Joel and the robots imply that the monster wandering the woods was sent on a Snipe Hunt by his friends.
The Office: when the whole group is on an evening cruise, the captain assigns Dwight the task of piloting the ship, which Dwight eagerly accepts. Turns out Dwight is put in front of a prop steering wheel to get him out of the Captain's hair. Even Michael can tell it's fake.
The Wire: The detectives at Homicide make the newbie call the zoo about a "Methane Probe for Mr. Lyon".
In The Inbetweeners, the mechanics at Will's work experience try to send him on one. He sees through it and calls them out on it, which just reinforces their opinion that he's an annoying smartarse.
Leverage pulled a con based on this in "The Hot Potato Job". The idea was to fake a mole in a high-security company in order to trigger a lockdown. While Sophie and Eliot focused on hunting down the fake mole and distracting company heads, Parker would steal the potato while the security is lax. Turn out, there was a mole after all - the janitor has been stealing money for years and has an account in the Cayman Islands.
In a recent episode of Pawn Stars: the Old Man sent Chumlee out to find such non existing items as a bucket of steam and a left handed coffee cup. Chumlee manages to make this snipe hunt backfire by finding these two items.
In one episode of Blue Collar TV, an attractive model tells Jeff Foxworthy she's been invited on a snipe hunt, and that she hopes she can catch one. He's about to warn her about the ruse when she reveals they told her she needs to wear a bikini, after which he responds "y'know, those snipe are good eating, I think I'll join you".
The first episode of Rome had Vorenus and Pullo on a mission to search for the missing Caesar's eagle that could have been anywhere at that point. In reality, Caesar himself was pretty much banking on the eagle being stolen and missing and the mission existed only because it would be strange if nothing was done about the missing eagle. Vorenus himself was Genre Savvy enough about this that he decided to bring Pullo with him, knowing that they will fail and be disgraced, since Pullo is already disgraced.
In Cabin Pressure, Arthur the steward is sent up onto the roof of the (stationary) plane to "adjust the aerial" so that the First Officer can listen to the Six Nations rugby final on the radio. In reality he's getting him out of the way so he can steal a passenger's expensive whisky, while Arthur spends a rather long time getting increasingly mystified that he can't even find the aerial...
"On my first day on the building site, I was ready to be sent off on some stupid errand or other — for a bucket of "striped paint" or something — and sure enough, someone told me to go and get an "air ambulance". [*tuts and rolls eyes*] I showed him, though. Wandered around for a bit and then came back and said I couldn't find one anywhere. You should've seen his face! ...It was blue."
Dungeons & Dragons: A sourcebook called Relics mentions a very stupid ogre king who was told by a mage he will gain respect if he'll slay a dreaded weresnipe living in a nearby cave. The king was lucky enough to stumble upon an artifact which enhanced his mind.
Mentioned in one of the sample dragon entries from the Draconomicom - one particular green dragon gets his kicks by capturing adventuring parties and holding their equipment hostage until they bring him back some rare or hard-to-acquire item. Whenever they come back, they find that the chimera pelt or whatever is the wrong size or wrong color and get sent out again. The game ends when the adventurers wise up and don't return, or when the dragon grows bored and just eats them.
Vampire: The Requiem has the Carnival bloodline in Bloodlines: The Legendary, who send prospective initiates to go find "the key to the midway" (an actual carny tradition). This is generally to keep the fledgling off their backs while they assess the fellow's worth. If the fledgling refuses, they can never join the bloodline...but if the fledgling refuses because they saw through the trick, their odds of being allowed in shoot up. A similar trick is used to divert noisy vampires who might rat the Carnival out to the Prince.
A Legend of the Five Rings supplement had a story about a Lion husband and Scorpion wife. The wife sends him on a Snipe Hunt for a left-handed widdershin oatmeal stick, which he dutifully goes looking for, day after day. On the day she invites over the ex she would have preferred to marry, but her husband barred from the house, an unscrupulous merchant sells him a left-handed widdershin oatmeal stick at a ridiculous price and he triumphantly returns...to find the guy who was barred from his house sitting in the living room. Hilarity and romance ensued.
Fallout: The Glow Quest is little more than an extended Snipe Hunt — one that's expected to kill the questant, no less...Like many examples, the place is filled with great loot (and good info on the backstory) if you buff your radiation resist beforehand.
Heroes of Might and Magic 4 has a passing mention of a coming of age ritual called "Snark Hunting", which basically comes down to this. It's then subverted when it turns out the heroes' quest was not one of these.
In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind the Archmage will give you a task of finding out what happened to the dwarves, if you ask him for work after you've been accepted into the Mage Guild. This is a centuries old problem that no one has had any luck in solving; but the player becomes the first person to find the truth (which involves finding the only surviving dwarf).
Agatha is sent on one. She actually manages to get the Silverodeon working again, though they'd given her the task just to keep her busy and weren't expecting her to succeed.
At one point, an airship crewman gets told that he's now working for the heir to his boss; his reaction is to ask one of the others if he was just 'sent out for a crate of balloon juice'.
Agatha herself sent Aedith on such a hunt to keep her little clanks a secret.
When Agatha arrives at Castle Heterodyne, she isn't sent on a snipe hunt — but Wilhelm tells her that "people will have you fetching devil dog chow and left-handed trilobite tighteners soon enough."
The Order of the Stick has the main characters sent on a wild goose chase to find some "Star metal" to repair Roy's sword (which was shattered in the previous arc). There actually was some where they were headed at some point in time; however, the Linear Guild assumed that it would have been claimed by other adventurers by now, not to mention it wasn't even needed to repair the sword. They do find it, though; however, it turns out to be a chunk about the size of a pebble — but later, it turns out that that chunk is actually enough to reforge Roy's sword with a +5 bonus and undead slaying abilities.
Durkon has technically been in a Snipe Hunt since before the start of the comic: a prophecy foretold that Durkon's return to his home would cause the destruction of the dwarven homelands. Therefore, his superiors sent an unknowing Durkon to the human lands and told him not to return until they called him back. Another Oracle foretold that Durkon eventually WILL return...posthumously. Now that Durkon has become a vampire...
The "hatchet joke" in Lackadaisy Cats. The Savoys make Mordecai Heller chop some...compromising evidence up with a hatchet. He is not happy when they tell him it was a joke. Boss Asa Sweet later asks him if the rather OCD Mordecai put the pieces in alphabetical order. After a moment of silence, Mordecai snarks "A is for amygdala, Mr. Sweet.
Once, to get Fighter inside a room rather than outside, Black Mage uses an old trick: a paper with "There is a map to Swordtown on the other side of this note" on both sides. Somehow, he found it.
Or, for some of you who won't believe it, he got into the Real Light Warriors' supplies.
Also, when the Warriors wanted to take over the town Mafia, they got the well-meaning Fighter out of the way by sending him off to play in a Drownball tournament (a parody of Final Fantasy 10's Blitzball), where the rules are, apparently, that you have to drown in order to win. And it's unclear where the ball comes in.
Incidentally, Fighter won the tournament by default, since he was the only player who failed to drown, on account of his brain using less oxygen. That's perfectly logical.
In Nodwick, adventurers distract their naive cleric when they're about to abuse the henchman...by using him as an obvious distraction
Piffany: I didn't find the undead snipe you said was lurking in— where did Nodwick go?
In TwoKinds, exiled Basitins are allowed to return to the Basidian Islands on the condition that they complete an "impossible" task. Keith, for example, had to return with Trace, the ruler of the Humans at the time.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender , Zuko's task of finding the Avatar, who had been thought dead for a century, was essentially just this. All this is courtesy of his Evil Overlord father Ozai, who personally scarred and banished his own son. To drive the point home, Zhao, acting with the full authority of the Fire Nation, moves to keep Zuko from continuing his hunt when it becomes clear that the Avatar actually has returned
An episode of King of the Hill involves Bobby and his friends being sent out to hunt snipes and accidentally injuring an endangered whooping crane instead. Oops. Hank and his friends had it pulled on them in the backstory and don't seem to know even as adults that the snipe is a real bird and think it's some kind of imaginary animal.
The description is similar to the conventional fictitious description of a "snipe" for the purposes of snipe hunting. So that part is Truth in Television.
The use of the snipe hunt itself tends to lead people to believe that the snipe is a fictional creature, rather than an actual bird.
In an episode of Kim Possible, Drakken tells a brainwashed Shego to go out and accomplish various meaningless tasks to keep her occupied, including finding a dodo bird.
On Doug, the titular character's introduction to Bluffington involved being sent out to find the fictitious "Neematoad". He avoided any embarrassment when his dog, Porkchop, got covered in pond scum and the natives mistakenly believed he had succeeded in his impossible task.
The nematode is actually quite real, but nothing like the creature described in the episode.
In "The Son Also Draws", when Peter - after Lois gambles away their car at a Native American casino - claims he has Native American blood, management has him go on a vision quest to prove it. Subverted, as Peter has a vision (or at least an insightful hallucination), even though his claim to Native American ancestry was a con and none of the actual Native Americans figured he would have one—and immediately start whining that they want a vision quest now.
This actually plays off of the fact that vision quests and spirit guides are not exclusive to Native Americans. Tradition generally holds that everyone has a spirit guide and that anyone can go on a vision quest.
In the episode where Chris becomes an artist in New York, his manager decides that his family is an embarrassment and decides to get rid of them for the afternoon so they don't cause trouble at a party. When Chris asks where they are, he tells him that they decided they would rather wander around Soho for hours looking for an address that doesn't exist. Chris chuckles and fondly replies "That's my dad!"
In the SpongeBob SquarePants pilot, Mr. Krabs and Squidward send Spongebob on a fool's errand for "a hydrodynamic spatula with port and starboard attachments and turbo drive" to keep him from getting a job as fry cook at the Krusty Krab. Astoundingly enough, he shows up with one near the end of the episode ("Can you believe they only had one in stock?"). Lucky for Mr. Krabs and Squidward too, since Spongebob uses it to save them from a pack of unruly anchovy customers.
Squidward: I want something else to eat now. Something that’s very difficult to find.
Patrick: What do you hunger for, master?
Spongebob: Whatever you want, we'll find it, we'll find it!
Squidward: Cherry pie.
(Patrick holds pie)
Squidward: Where'd you get that?
Patrick: I found it.
Squidward: (throws pie off screen) Well, go find it again!
Camp Lazlo has all the campers on a literal snipe hunt, but the animal described sounds more like Bigfoot. Edward's brother's past hunts lead him to conclude Snipes aren't real. The others mistake Lumpus for a snipe. Then two real snipes hatch from eggs that had fallen into Lumpus's antlers at the end of the episode.
Stimpy of The Ren & Stimpy Show is sent on a snipe hunt in the woods to prove his worth after the duo joins a Girl Scouts offshoot. When a skeptical Ren opens Stimpy's bag, he gets mauled by the big, hairy, bug-eyed monster that emerges.
Phineas and Ferb: In the episode "Undercover Carl", Monogram sends Perry on a mission to find a goose that has gone missing for years. At the end of the episode, Perry finds the goose...while wearing a space suit.
Monogram didn't expect the goose to be ever found. He was just afraid Phineas and Ferb were working for Doofenshmirtz, so he got Perry out of the way during the investigations. The Moon was among the places Monogram told Perry to go while searching for Agent G.
The Simpsons: During a safety audit, Homer and two other less-gifted employees are put in a room out of the way and given the task of guarding a bee in a jar. The other two question it but Homer, thinking himself brighter than the other two, boasts of his position as "head bee guy".
In an episode of Codename: Kids Next Door, Numbah 4 is ordered by Numbuh 86 to guard a random flower in a garden, in order to prevent him from following her. 4 places the flower in a pot and takes it with him.
In "Operation F.A.S.T.F.O.O.D.", Numbah 3 wants to lead a mission for her birthday. Because 3 is The Ditz and a Cloudvuckoolander, Numbah 1 tasks her with the duty of...getting a kids meal from a fast food place. Things get out of hand when they learn that the restaurant's proprietor is an old enemy of the KND and its most frequent customers are sharks.
In an episode of South Park, Kyle wants to go to a rock concert. His parents agree to let him go only if he can accomplish a long list of tasks ending with "and bring democracy to Cuba". He actually manages to pull this off, only to be told he still can't go, as his parents admit they only made him the offer because they honestly didn't expect him to succeed.
In an episode of Zigby (a preschool-age series broadcast in Canada and Australia, but also available on DVD, about a zebra), Zigby stages a scavenger hunt to help people clean up. A group of monkeys, who are keen on ducking work, decide to a play a trick by pretending to be Zigby and telling a couple of Zigby's friends to go find a wild goose. Technically, that makes it a wild goose chase, but essentially, it's a snipe hunt.
One episode of Donkey Kong Country has multiple snipe hunts...all surrounding the same trinket.
In the pilot of Invader Zim, the Tallest assign Zim to a "mystery planet" on the edge of known space. In truth, they didn't even know if there was a planet out there (they pointed to a post-it note on the edge of their map that reads "Planet?"), and they just wanted to get rid of him. Unfortunately for them, Zim stumbled upon Earth and kept calling them up with annoying reports about his "mission".
In one episode of Timon & Pumbaa, a pair of cheetahs trick the hyena trio on a literal "wild goose chase" so they won't get in the way of the cheetahs' hunting. The hyenas figure everything out at the end and are all set to eat the cheetahs — now rotund and helpless after all of their feasting — when suddenly a real wild goose appears asking for directions. Cue everyone, hyenas and cheetahs alike, chasing after the bird.
The Cartoon Network short series, "The Talented Mr. Bixby" has the title character substituting for auto shop class. He gives the students an impossible essay, or they can go to the auto parts store and get a jug of blinker fluid. Most of the class dashes out, leaving Mr. Bixby alone with whom he thinks are the smart ones. They aren't.
Well, one was.
As the students leave the room, they actually pass a sign that says "There is no such thing as Blinker Fluid". They come across an identical sign at the auto parts store and stare blankly at it.
In episode 3 of Red vs. Blue, the Red team sent their rookie Pvt. Donut to go fetch some elbow grease and some headlight fluid from "the store". He returned with the Blue flag, thereby starting the plot proper.
Made even funnier by the fact that he instantly caught on that they were sending him on a Snipe Hunt with the elbow grease. He was completely fooled by headlight fluid though.
In Suburban Knights, The Nostalgia Critic prevents Ma-Ti from joining the quest with various snipe hunts. First, he tells Ma-Ti to stay back and guard the children and elderly...that don't exist (that's what makes the task so difficult). Then, when Nostalgia Chick "loses her contact lens", Ma-Ti must stay behind and search for it. He eventually finds someone's contact lens (exactly whose it is isn't made clear), but still can't join the group because Mickey has erectile dysfunction, which can only be cured by goat porn, which Ma-Ti must go forth and find.
KaleCo Auto is an entire website of these, presented in catalog form.
This is common in most fields of employment as a welcoming ritual (also commonly known as hazing) and a list on The Other Wiki catalogs the most common items involved, of which the "long stand" (not, as the hapless newbie eventually finds out, a supporting structure of greater than average length) is perhaps the most celebrated. This can be used to their own advantage by savvy employees who know the joke but pretend to fall for it, so they can head out for a coffee or a nap for a couple of hours on the company's nickel.
This is apparently very common in the military. Examples from The Other Wiki, at least for the US Navy, include:
DCA Horn (as in "blowing the DCA," who is the Damage Control Assistant, an officer)
On submarines Non-qualified individuals are sent on a variety of snipe hunts, from finding serial numbers on water shots (equivalent to dry-firing a firearm), to finding the ninth hose station (this one depends upon the class of sub as different classes have varying numbers of fire hoses).
B-1RD (pronounced "Bee-One-Romeo-Delta") or C-GU11 ("Charlie-Golf-Uniform-One-One")
PEN-15 or ID-10-T ("Eye-Dee-Ten-Tango") forms.
On a related note, there is a common school prank whereby the (admittedly quite gullible) victim will be offered an invitation to join the illustrious Pen Fifteen Club. To accept, they simply have to write "PEN15" prominently on their forehead.
Since the actual code for most batteries starts with "BA", a newer one is to send someone for a form to purchase a "Bravo-Alpha-Eleven Hundred-November" battery. (BA1100N, Balloon). The proper response if you know the joke is to ask if they want it blown up or not
Newbie mechanics in aircraft hangars in all branches may be asked to go and fetch a bucket of Propwash. For the uninformed, propwash is the term for turbulence behind an aircraft created by a propeller (or in the case of Jetwash, a jet engine).
A U.S.N. classic is to announce that a Sea Bat has been trapped on a weather or flight deck. Any green sailors arriving to see this rare specimen will find a group struggling to hold down a large box or basket. They are directed to get on their hands and knees, so that the edge of the box can be lifted for observation. Suffice it to say, there is a real bat involved, of the Louisville Slugger variety, applied vigorously to the victims posterior.
Other snipe hunts include being sent for sixty feet of waterline, or for batteries for a sound-powered phone.
The U.S. Navy’s Equator-crossing tradition involves – among many other jests – placing the uninitiated on a watch schedule with binoculars to look for the big red line...
To add insult to injury, when someone is sent on a Snipe Hunt in the military, everyone knows what is going on when he asks for one of the nonexistent items. The most common response it to tell him that they used to keep it here, but moved it to "building-on-the-other-side-of-base". When he makes it all the way there, he's informed that this is a mistake, and they moved them back to the first building a month ago.
In the aviation community, sending the new guy to take "exhaust samples" by way of holding a trash bag up to the exhaust vents of turning engines. Hilarity ensues. Or how about sending the new guy to Maintenance Control for the keys to the airplane?
Best real life subversion was when a fellow recently transferred from the Army to the Air Force was sent out to get "100 yards of flight line". Turns out that 1) he used to be a Combat Engineer, B) his former unit was based in the same town, and C) Combat Engineers love playing pranks. A quick phone call resulted in a big pile of busted up tarmac being delivered to his new unit's office.
The US military uses the PRC designation for radios, such as the PRC-77, pronounced "Prick Seventy-Seven". Thus, it is common to send the poor PFC or Lcpl to go find the "PRC-E7". Now, consider that E-7 is the rank designation for a Gunnery Sergeant, or Sargent First Class and the PFC or Lcpl will inevitably ask "the Gunny" where it is...
Another naval tradition was to go to the engine room to get a BT Punch...A BT being a Boiler Tech...
Fresh Finnish marines might be asked to fetch the key to the wake water tank.
US armored cavalry regiments sometimes send newbies to find the key for the turret lock on an Abrams tank. The lock exists, the key doesn't.
Sending them off to supply for a spool of "Bore Wire". There's no such thing as bore wire.
Not to mention the classic gag of giving them a hammer and some chalk to find and mark the soft spots in the armor.
And when the newbie finally begins to get wise, you ask him to check the windshield washer fluid. When he balks—thinking it to be another snipe hunt—you check the fluid levels yourself and berate him for not doing so. (Yes, Abrams tanks DO have windshield washer fluid.)
Instructing new soldiers to jump up and down on a 50+ ton armored vehicle to test the suspension.
Artillery units will often have a new soldier perform a "Boom Check" by placing their face against the muzzle of whatever cannon is available and yelling boom.
Send a new soldier away to find a container of coolant for a machine that is air cooled. (See the '71 Beetle example below).
A popular Marine prank involves asking a newbie to go somewhere where marines might congregate and ask the soldier in charge for a stack of 0311s, whereupon everyone in the room will dogpile him. 0311 is the USMC Military Occupational Specialty Designation for infantrymen (aka everyone).
A common snipe hunt is sending rookies looking for left-handed versions of naturally ambidextrous implements, like a left handed javelin or a left-handed screwdriver.
Left handed allen wrenches work especially well, as other things called wrenches often do have handedness.
Another famous one is sending them out to look for tartan paint.
In Spain, Portugal, and Cuba, the equivalent of a snipe hunt is hunting "gamusinos/gambuzinos", an even more jerkish version, since (unlike the snipe) the gamusino does not even exist. The term ultimately comes from the Provençal word gambozi, meaning "lie".
Many a new employee at Microsoft have been sent to a meeting at Building 7 (where all the important decisions are made).
It's an initiation ceremony in German military as well. Among weird stuff to find (like a key for the supply room which, in the German military, is a part of the battle field rather than an actual room), noobs are sent all about the base with an open container of 'highly dangerous battery fluid', which is usually simple juice consumed finally by some superior.
Another example of keeping children away while the grownups get down to business: in rural Sweden, back in the good old days, a child, deemed too young to witness the slaughtering of a large animal, would sometimes be sent to the neighbouring farm for some non-existent tool that the adults claimed to need before they could start. The neighbour, being, of course, in on the joke, would send the kid even further away, and so on until somebody decided that the poor kid had been running far enough and confesses that the tool isn't needed. When the child gets home, all the gory and icky stuff has already been taken care of.
Working in stores or grocers, powdered water (Just add water!) is a favorite item.
It used to be that strapping young electricians were sent to fetch one-farad capacitors, that being a ridiculously large value for the actual components. Nowadays, though, you can probably find one for under fifty bucks.
The Oil Patch is also full of these. From pipe stretchers and buckets of steam to "Push Slaps" (the Rig Manager is also known as a "Tool Push"), "Glasses for the Blind Rams" (blind rams are a set of hydraulic rams used to close off the well completely), or the "Key to the V-Door" (The V-Door on a rig is the metal slide that drill pipes ride on when brought up to the floor).
Newbies to shop classes and technical theatre work calls are sometimes sent to fetch a replacement level-bubble or a wood stretcher
In Israeli youth movements, the traditional "snipe" is "electricity powder".
This one works in the Israeli armed forces too. Another thing they ask you to get is a glow stick charger.
A radiator hose or water pump for a '72 VW Beetle.
For those readers not familiar with Beetles, the originals had air-cooled engines. No radiators.
Often, when Cub Scouts go to Boy Scout Open Houses, there will be a snipe hunt. This is the nice person kind, so the teenage Boy Scouts will pretend to have caught a snipe, and show up later with a glued shut box with a rock in it, claiming that the snipe is in there.
Elbow Grease is sometimes used for hapless rookies who are unaware of the term "put some elbow grease on it."
Even the fast food industry has some of these. New hires at the local McDonald's will often be asked to go get "more steam for the bun steamer".
A common prank in the sailing world is to send a raw hand to the marine supply shop for fifteen yards of shoreline.
New hires at baseball parks used to be asked to fetch the keys to the batter's box, a left-handed fungo bat, or 100 feet of foul line.
One traditional snipe hunt involves getting a newbie to go fetch a "box of curveballs." Can backfire if said newbie returns with wiffle balls.
In addition to left-handed tools, a popular snipe hunt among welders, machinists, and mechanics is a brass magnet or a put-on tool i.e. the opposite of a metal cutting tool.
In the film industry, it's a C-47. (A clothespin.) There will be clothespins on a film set because wood conducts heat poorly, so they're used to gel lights and that sort of thing. But it's fun watching the littlest production assistants run around with haunted looks in their eyes. There's also a practical purpose to using Insistent Terminology - if you want to get rid of someone, you can tell them to get a C-47, and if they don't know what it is, you can yell at them for not knowing how to do their job and fire them on the spot.
Can easily backfire though, if the victim is a history buff, and caught on to the plan (or was warned ahead of time by someone higher up), you might end up with an ACTUAL C-47 (WWII Era transport aircraft) showing up on the set.
Asking a newbie to wash the gels. For those who don't know, Gels are coloured films placed in front of lamps to provide coloured lighting effects. A gaffer or best boy would tell the newbie to wash the gels and give them some very complex and difficult to remember instruction on how to do so. Now a days they gels are coloured plastic, but back in the day they were made by adding food colouring to gelatine and letting it set in a thin film, hence the name. As a result they dissolved when washed, casing the newbie to think he had done something wrong and panic. Hilarity Ensues.
Another common one is a newbie, or a person in for work experience, to be sent to retrieve a 'long weight'. The person the newbie is sent to is often in on the joke and when asked for the item will usually, on the pretence of going to retrieve the item, clear off and leave the newbie standing, waiting for the person to return. The newbie can be left standing for as long as half-an-hour before they finally catch on.note It's a long wait, get it?
A common one at auto shops is to tell the newbie to find spark plugs for a diesel engine. For those who don't know, diesel engines don't have spark plugs.
Once in a great while, this sort of thing can backfire; for example, some adjustable wrenches have caliper-like measuring scales on them, meaning that a "left-handed metric Crescent wrench" is actually something that could exist, albeit not in any way meaningfully distinguishable from any other wrench.
On occassion, a creative, Genre Savvy sort might use this as an opportunity to prank his tormenters. One new soldier, sent by a Corporal to get some chem light batteries, went to the PX, bought a case of chem lights, went to his barracks, cut each one open and removed the glass bulb inside, and then returned to work (after spending several hours sitting around his barracks doing nothing, of course). Be cautious of doing this towards a superior who turns out not to have as much of a sense of humor as he thinks he does.
In the Russian army they would send a newbie for a bucket of liquid transmission.
German maths and physics freshmen are sometimes sent out to find the Minkowski- or Banach-Raum due to 'Raum' meaning 'room'.