It's a riddle. "Speak friend
and enter." What's the Elvish word for friend? Gandalf: Mellon
. (door opens)
In any story, there are problems. Characters need to solve those problems. Usually, they do so in the most straightforward way. But sometimes, they create an extremely complex and convoluted plan
for what should be a simple solution
. They may just plan it, or they may actually go through with it, but often before, during, or after, some other character points out how complicated The Plan
is, or what the simplest solution would be.
Compare with Zany Scheme
, which is what happens in a Sitcom
when people go through with a complicated scheme (and often, either no one knows or realizes that there was a simpler solution, or there wasn't one).
Compare with There Was a Door
, a specific subtrope where rather than simply opening a door, someone smashes through the door or wall note
. Also compare Cutting the Knot
. May overlap with We Have the Keys
if the "key" is found before the more violent solution is tried (or after the more violent solution has failed).
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Anime & Manga
- In Ranma ½, Ranma gets a cursed spatula attached to his hand (don't ask). It will only come off when it is "used properly". Every attempt to use it to cook results in disaster and magic energy bolts flying all over the place. Then someone realizes that the Japanese phrases "use properly" and "use fish flakes" sound identical. They sprinkle on some fish flakes and the spatula falls right off.
- Pokémon uses a variant of this trope, amazingly enough, in the second movie: "And the world will turn to Ash." (This was a Woolseyism; the Japanese version simply referred to "a trainer".)
- In Working, there's a brief subplot where Inami tells everyone at Wagnaria that she mentioned she had a friend named Takanashi to her mother, who mentioned it to her father. Her father doesn't want her to have any male friends, so Inami begs Takanashi to cover up for it by crossdressing. Only after he's reluctantly agreed to do it does Yachiyo point out that they could have just had a girl like her pretend to be Takanashi when her father came to meet him. Souma thought of it, but didn't feel like bringing it up. Because it's funnier that way.
- A variant occurs in Astérix and the Cauldron. Asterix and Obelix are planning a Bank Robbery, and Obelix is sent to spy on the guards. As soon as he approaches the bank, the guard stops him, says that he looks suspiciously like a potential robber, and informs him that the bank's security is way too strong for a robbery—and emphasizes this by describing the guard patrol routes and security systems in detail! Of course, Obelix being Obelix, he comes back to Asterix and claims to have learned nothing, forcing them to spend several tiresome days watching the guards.
- Parodied in Le Collège Invisible: The door that leads to the magic part of the school if opened a certain way (and somewhere innocuous otherwise, like a broom closet) bears the inscription "Say 'friend' and enter" visible only to magic sight. The real "password" is kicking the door open.
- In issue #4 of the IDW My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic comic, to open a door, Chrysalis poses a riddle to the mane 6 - "How is a pegasus like a writing desk...can you answer this riddle?". While the rest of the mane 6 try to answer how a pegasus is like a writing desk, Pinkie opens the door with the correct answer - "No, I can't answer it".
- Robotman And Monty: After a week-long story in the comic strip where Monty thinks he locked himself out and tries all sorts of ways to coerce his cat to give him the keys (the cat gives him peas) or get the keys himself, he eventually gets stuck in the cat door. His friend Moondog walks up to him, and when Monty asks how he got inside, Moondog says the front door was open.
- FoxTrot: After trying and failing for a week to get some treasure in a video game by beating a very tough boss, Jason takes a break and comes back to find that his non-gamer sister Paige had somehow done it. He begs and pleads with her to tell how she did it, and she eventually reveals that she... just walked up and took the treasure. Don't provoke the enemy and he won't kill you.
- In With Strings Attached, the Hunter, with twenty years of nonstop adventure behind him, begins to plot out a long, difficult slog into the Misery Mountains, citing lurking undead and other nasty things lying in wait along the cold, windy, miles-long path. George stops him and basically says, “Hey, I'll just turn into a dragon and fly us up there.” End of problem.
Films — Animation
- The Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Quasimodo and Phoebus find the entrance to the Hall of Miracles (the Gypsies' secret hideout) using the amulet Esmeralda gave Quasimodo. The amulet leads them to a large grave with mysterious writing on the lid. While Phoebus tries to decipher the writing, Quasi simply lifts it open, uncovering a staircase.
Films — Live-Action
- Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Near the end, they realize the spell they were looking for was in the child's book all along. This make a large part of the movie somewhat of a Shaggy Dog Story in retrospect.
- In The Bourne Identity, Jason and Marie are trying to obtain some information from a hotel's files. Jason comes up with an absurdly complicated scheme for acquiring this information, and instructs Marie at length about the precise timing and attention to detail required before sending her in. She returns thirty seconds later, having decided to simply walk up and ask the clerk for the files after claiming to be Bourne's personal assistant.
- The Fellowship of the Ring is the Trope Namer.
- Gandalf spends hours casting opening spells and trying passwords on the door into Moria. He finally realizes that he mistranslated the inscription on the door: instead of "Speak, friend, and enter", it was "Say 'friend' and enter" All he had to do was say the elven word for "friend" and the door opened. Gandalf read the inscription aloud before, but in the common tongue, not in Elvish.
- In the movie version, however, Frodo deducing it makes a lot less sense. In the books Frodo is stated to know some Sindarin: the fact that he quotes Gandalf's translation implies that in the movie he doesn't. By framing it as his knowledge of Riddles (which he'd come by honestly enough), it does make more sense.
- In The Lord of the Rings parody novel Bored of the Rings, Goodgulf tries many passwords before realizing that the door has a knob.
- Muse magazine's Affectionate Parody of The Lord of the Rings had the inscription on the door read, "I give up my secret". Naturally, the door opens when the "Gandalf" character (played by Chad) exhausts all his ideas and says, "I give up!"
- In the Dinotopia book The Lost City two boys have to race to the end of a room containing an obstacle course. One begins making his way through the obstacles. The other, after taking a moment to think, just runs straight through the middle of the lanes, avoiding all the obstacles, and wins. The dinos think this solution quite clever, and praise the boy, although his friend accuses him of cheating.
- The children's series Literature/The Peterkin Papers runs on this. The Peterkins are a very intelligent family—so intelligent that they have no common sense. For every problem that has both a simple solution and a complex one, they'll inevitably go for the complex one, and get themselves entangled. They need to go to their neighbor the "Old Lady from Philadelphia", who always presents the simple solution—and is praised for her wisdom.
- In the Red Dwarf episode "Rimmerworld":
Lister: Why don't we scrape away this mortar here, slide one of these bricks out, then using a rope weaved from strands of this hessian, rig up a kind of a pulley system so that when a guard comes in, using it as a trip wire, gets laid out, and we put Rimmer in the guard's uniform, he leads us out, we steal some swords, and fight our way back to the bug.
Kryten: Or we could use the teleporter.
- Head of the Class: Dr. Samuels gives the class an assignment: how do you measure the height of a building using a barometer? After several explanations, he asks the new sub Mr. Moore how he would do it. Mr. Moore says to the super, "If you tell me how tall this building is I'll give you this neat barometer.". This is a reference to a tale of similar smartassery on the part of Niels Bohr (in his university days).
- In the Sherlock episode The Blind Banker, John finds a wall covered in graffiti that's actually the code that will allow them to solve the case. He runs to fetch Sherlock, but by the time they get back, the entire thing's been painted over. Sherlock then spends the next minute or so pressing John to remember the code, waxing lyrical about the fallibilities of the average human mind's memory capacities, all the while ignoring John's protests and attempts to get to his camera phone, on which is stored a picture of the entire wall before it was painted over.
- The Men from the Ministry: The protagonists are faced with an infestation of mice. One character suggests using high tech methods to get rid of them such as laser beams or ultrasonics. His secretary suggests a cat.
- In the Paranoia adventure "Send in the Clones", the PC's encounter a door with a panel of buttons nearby. If they push the buttons and succeed in a difficult skill roll, the door opens. If the skill roll fails, the door stays closed. If they just push on the door, they find that it was open all along.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- In the tournament module C2 "Ghost Tower of Inverness", the PC's get extra points if they enter the castle ruins by climbing through large holes in the wall rather than wasting time opening the gate.
- Module I7 "Baltron's Beacon" has a Shout-Out to The Lord of the Rings example. A door has the inscription "Sayez Chi, Passant Avantre" ("To pass through, say who"). If the party uses magic to read the inscription they may think they need to say "who" in Common: they actually need to say "Chi", which is the word for "who" in the language the message is written in.
- First rule of lockpicking: check that the locked door is actually locked.
- Rolemaster Shadow World supplement Emer. Inside the Ahrenthrok, a door made of frosted green laen has a silver rune inlaid on it. It will open if the Iruaric word "I Ken" ("open") is spoken.
- Zork: Grand Inquisitor
- In Hades, the player is tasked with answering a bunch of questions on the Hades Hotline telephone before he/she can call a shuttle. It's made especially confusing (the Hotline strives for "customer dissatisfaction") by the fact that, for example to press 6, you need to press 2, and to press 4, you need to press 0. The puzzle is doable, and there are only 5 questions, but it can also all be overriden if the player casts "Kendall" to simplify the instructions.
- Another example presents a puzzle board with several moving pieces activating a lock that opens a small cage holding a skull that the player needs. The player, who at this moment is controlling a rather dim-witted troll-like creature, simply smashes the cage open with a club to proceed.
- Bureaucracy: this Interactive Fiction game, written by Douglas Adams, has a puzzle that consists of a locked door in an apartment complex. The way to get the door open is to do something no experienced adventure game player would ever think of trying, but someone faced with the same situation in Real Life would probably have no trouble finding the answer. Simply knock on the door, and the person inside lets you in. It's that kind of game.
- In the third Metal Gear Solid, knocking on the door is also the solution, contrary to anything your support team suggests, to getting through a random locked door in the enemy base.
- In Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning tries almost everything to get a certain door open. Then, for some reason, she gives the door a hug, and says: "I'm sorry. Please open." The door pops open, and every other door of that type opens without a fuss from then on. This happens because the doors are fal'Cie, and thus living creatures who don't respond well to being punched and knocked on.
- Leather Goddesses Of Phobos: The player is captured by aliens and thrown into a cell. The way to escape is simply to open the door — it's not locked. Many players were stuck for weeks on this point. Lampshaded in-game as well — the other prisoner admits he never thought to try it.
- In the Infocom game Journey, the characters find a gate with an inscription reading "Please only say 'gate open' to enter storage-room." Clues allow the player to read this correctly as "Storage-room entrance. To open gate, say only 'Please'."
- In Knights of the Old Republic, to choose your Jedi class, you are asked a series of questions, one of them being "You are at a locked door. What do you do?" One of the choices is "knock".
- In Battlefield: Bad Company 2, the squad captures a Russian soldier and intends to interrogate him for information. While The Sarge goes off to talk to him, the other soldiers start talking about how effective he is at torture and betting on how long it will take the guy to break. Sarge comes back in seconds, having simply asked the guy straight-up. Apparently, he was just a Russian conscript with family in Houston, and wanted no part of the whole thing.
- The very first Dawn of War has a mission where an unholy artifact is at the center of an old cathedral, whose massive doors require a great concentration of firepower (lascannons and missiles) to destroy. Or, you could just go through the hole in the wall that's actually closer to the artifact, isn't guarded by entrenched Chaos Space Marines, and wide enough to admit four Land Raiders inside the cathedral and shoot down the doors from inside.
- In Professor Layton and the Last Specter, "You can't do anything to solve this puzzle." Or, in other words, "To solve this puzzle, you can't do anything."
- In Scribblenauts, puzzle level 10-11, the player is given the clue "Write the answer!". "To beat the level, you actually have to write Answer in the notebook."
- In Star Wars: The Old Republic, towards the beginning of the Sith Inquisitor story, you come across a holocron that Sith Lords and apprentices have been trying to open for years. Your character can attempt to meditate and recite the Sith Code, but the solution is actually to simply shoot it with lightning, one of the most iconic abilities of the Sith.
- DM of the Rings has its own take on the trope namer in this strip; the players are working out how to construct a battering ram by the time the exasperated GM gives in and just tells them the solution.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja has this in the chapter "Death Volley". The entrance of the Inocktek temple has an inscription of a riddle, explaining that anyone who wishes to enter must answer the riddle "loudly and with pride". Doc sees all the prior, failed answers to the riddle, and realizes what's up. He just walks into the temple without saying anything. The riddle was just a trick to make attempted temple raiders give themselves away to the sound-activated laser guarding the entrance.
- In Goblins, the goblins encounter a wall covered in a series of blocks depicting various items accompanied by the words "To open the door, Take the key, It will be yours if under the tree." Thaco and Complains assume it's a sliding-block puzzle and try to move the block with a tree above the block with a key. Fumbles simply pulls the tree block off the wall, revealing the key to the door underneath it.
- In The Fairly Oddparents, Timmy, Chester, and AJ are sent to a military school, where they are forced to conquer an obstacle course. One obstacle is a sixty-foot climbing wall covered in spikes. While Timmy and Chester are in awe of what they seemingly have to climb, AJ comes up with a simpler solution — walk around it.
- Xiaolin Showdown: There's this huge obstacle course covering the area that loops around to a pedestal with the goal. After the others have failed to get through the course, Clay asks if all he has to do is get the object at the goal. When told he does, he simply walks over to the pedestal and picks the goal up, completely ignoring the obstacle course.
- Happens in one episode of Timon and Pumbaa where the duo are enlisted in a Survival of the Fittest training camp to get fit and healthy by a wolverine who secretly plans to eat them afterwards because he favors lean food. While Pumbaa faithfully follows his fitness guidelines, Timon lazes around and does absolutely nothing. After a pumped up Pumbaa surpasses a gruesome maze of challenges, when it's Timon's turn all he does is walk across the white starting line, erase the "start" etched on the ground next to it, walk back to the front of the starting line and then write down the words "Finish" on the ground, completely ignoring the maze of challenges.