The Key Is Behind the Lock
Something important is locked. There is a key. However, this key is inside. You need the key to reach the key.
While this trope can be Played for Laughs
with trivial situations such as locking your car keys in the car, many works that use it choose to employ it in a far more dramatic manner. The hero is on a quest to find the key, eventually finding some other way to reach what he needed the key for - and then he finds out that his initial quest was futile; the key was inside all along.
If The Key Is Behind And In
The Lock, one possible solution is the Paper Key Retrieval Trick
Subtrope of the Catch-22 Dilemma
Anime and Manga
- In one episode of Cardcaptor Sakura, Tomoyo has been trapped in a classroom as Eriol messed with the floor plan as a test for Sakura. Sakura needs to find her, and Syaoran says he has a magical technique that can locate lost people, provided she has left an object behind. (Not unlike a dog using scent, except it works off auras/energy signatures.) Tomoyo did have an umbrella...but it's with her in the very classroom they're trying to locate.
Film — Animated
- In the Donald Duck story "Sagmore Springs Hotel", Donald, as a Hotel Manager, accidentally locks the combination to the hotel safe inside the safe. In his attempts to open it, he ends up devastating the entire hotel and destroying his uncle's important cheque.
Film — Live Action
- In The Simpsons Movie, Prof. Frink has invented a drill that could cut through the dome and free them all. "It's right there, out... side the dome."
- In Back to the Future, Marty is locked in a car trunk, along with the keys to the trunk.
- A similar moment happens in The Whole Ten Yards.
Lazlo: You locked my son in the trunk?
Oz: No! No, sir. He locked himself in the trunk.
Lazlo: [pause] This I believe.
- In the Hugga Bunch Made-for-TV Movie, the villainess, Queen Admira, stays young by eating young berries, which grow on a tree she keeps locked under a glass dome. When the heroine comes to take some young berries for her grandmother, Admira catches her in the act. In her hurry to leave, the heroine accidentally leaves the key for the dome on the ground by the tree, and as the dome descends, Admira lunges toward the key, but is too late.
- In Little Monsters the heroes are trapped in a locked room by the villain. After MacGyvering a way for Maurice to be reduced to a pile of clothes and slid under the door, once on the other side he says:
Maurice: Any of you freaks know how to pick a combination lock?
- Although he's simply joking and opens the door a second later.
- In Blå Tornet, the Guardian has been sleeping on the High Altar for over a thousand years. There are a lot of prophecies about how a chosen one will one day wake him. In the meantime, one of the worst blasphemy someone can do is to touch the Guardian's holy sleeping body. It turns out that they artifact needed to wake the Guardian is in fact inside the altar: Only a blasphemer can heal the horrible wrong that happened so long ago, and lead the civilization back on the quest the creators had originally intended.
- There's a recurring gag in the Discworld novel Thief of Time about "opening the box with the crowbar you will find inside".
- Also, in Jingo the Bursar has locked himself in the Unseen University safe and taken the key with him. "It's not even as if there's a keyhole on the inside".
- In Going Postal, Vetinari plays mind games with condemned criminals—if they use the spoon they get with their gruel to try and dig a stone block out of the wall as part of an escape attempt (ruining the spoon in the process), they finally pull the block out only to find a little alcove behind with a shiny new spoon in it.
- Guards! Guards! has an interesting example. Vetinari is locked in the dungeon by Wonse after the dragon becomes King, and when Vimes manages to break in and find him, he realizes that the dungeon has a complicated locking mechanism on the inside so that Vetinari is, at that moment, the safest person in the city. He also, of course, has a key to the dungeon, and promptly uses it once the dragon is defeated.
- A fairly standard situation in the Locked Room Mystery is for the police to have to break into the Locked Room, because the key is inside with the deceased.
- Subverted in a short story by Isaac Asimov, where people are searching for an uranium asteroid an illegal miner found, and due to the miners dying in an accident, all they have is a statement by a silicon based alien that the coordinates are "on the asteroid" (the alien died right after saying that). In the end it turns out that the alien wasn't particularly up to date in astronomy, and the coordinates were actually on the ship - hidden among the registration codes of the equipment.
- Two episodes of I Love Lucy - Lucy gets locked in a meat freezer and a steamer trunk.
- Happens in Corner Gas. Hank had a combination lock that stored the lock's combination.
- Then there was the time he locked his keys in his truck, and didn't notice that his passenger side window was down.
- That happens in an episode of Get Smart too, regarding the wall safe in the Chief's office.
Chief: Have you got the new combination, Max?
Max: New combination?
Chief: Yes, according to standard security procedures we changed the combination yesterday. Do you have it?
Max: Well, I didn't memorize it, but I had the usual three copies made.
Chief: Where are they?
Max: I burned them.
Chief: Oh, yes. Of course. Do you have the Master Copy?
Max: No I don't, Chief. But I put it in a place where no one will get it.
Chief: Where, Max?
Max looks at the wall safe.
- In an episode of Caroline In The City, Del and Charlie get trapped in Del's car due to a snow plow and Charlie accidentally locking the keys in the trunk instead of an ice scraper.
- One strip of The Far Side had a pair of aliens trapped on Earth. As a crowd of curious humans approaches them, one of them says to the other "Well, here they come. You locked the keys inside, you do the talking."
- This is basically what makes some deals of Solitaire unwinnable. If the cards onto which you'd need to move a face-up card all happen to be face down behind it, then they might as well be keys on the wrong side of a locked door.
- Likewise, unwinnable layouts in Mahjong Solitaire result when needed tiles are trapped between tiles that can't be accessed without them.
- Similarly, unwinnable games of Freecell, where the cards you need are locked underneath cards you can't move anywhere.
- Paranoia: It is almost inevitable that you can acquire an item at one clearance level... and the things that let you use it a few levels later. For example, you can acquire photographic film at a level two higher than the clearance at which you can get a camera. Happens a lot with instruction manuals, too.
- A common tool in metroidvania design, for colletible powerups (such as missile pack expansions): put the powerup behind the obstacle that requires that powerup to bypass. Rather than being used for comedy or drama, this has a more practical game-design purpose, which is to prevent the player-character from picking up an item too early but still being able to display it to the player. Basically, you can see it now, but you'll get it later, after you get the first pack of missiles from somewhere else.
- Invoked & defied in Quest for Glory V. Your room at the inn has a storage chest, and you can put your room key in it. However, you cannot keep the key there: The narrator will go on about how you "realize your mistake", and the game will automatically make you take your key back. This mechanism is still in place after you install the "mystic magnets" that will let you teleport into your room (without the key) whenever you want to.
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, there's one locked treasure chest whose only key, you are told, is inside the chest, and you can never open it. Fortunately you can drag it with you until you find a master lockpicker.
- An Unwinnable by Insanity example in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening's Angler Tunnel: the door one particular Interchangeable Antimatter Key was meant to be used on has another behind it, but by making a tricky jump it could be used on a different door that didn't have a replacement behind it.
- Played with in the Key Cavern of the same game, also averting Lost Forever. A hub room in one part of the dungeon had four locked doors. Three of them were dead ends that also contained a key (which could be used on one of the remaining locked doors), while the fourth allowed the player to proceed (but did not give the player a key, so the other doors accessible from the hub remained locked). Near the end of the dungeon, an extra key could be obtained to access any locked rooms the player hadn't entered.
- A similar unwinnable situation can occur in A Link to the Past's Dark Palace if you use keys on the wrong doors.
- In The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Malon lost the key to Lon Lon Ranch, and the spare key is inside the house. The solution is to shrink down to Minish size, enter the house through a small hole, pick up the key inside and bring it to him.
- In Adventure, on the hardest difficulty, the items were distributed in a kind-of-random manner, which occasionally resulted in the gold key being locked in the gold castle. Despite entering the gold castle being a necessary step in completing the game (the last step, in fact), this did not make the game unwinnable, as sooner or later the bat would fly in and take the key out.
- In Zork: Grand Inquisitor, there is a glass box ("In case of adventure, break glass") containing a spell scroll, a sword and a hammer. It can be easily opened, but the clamp holding the sword will not let go. The obvious solution is to open the box, take the hammer, close the box, break glass. Then the clamp lets go and you can take the sword.
- In the NES port of Metal Gear, the keycard required to enter Building No. 4 is inside the building itself. This requires Snake to get captured on purpose in order to get inside said building.
- A similar situation occurs in Snake's Revenge when the player reaches the entrance of the first enemy base. Only this time it's one of Snake's comrades who allows himself to get captured, so that Snake can sneak in undetected.
- The first level of Mystery Of Time And Space has the key in the keyhole on the other side of the locked door. To get it, you have to slide a poster underneath the door and then push something small enough through the keyhole to make the key drop onto the poster, which you can then retrieve.
- The Interactive Fiction game Savoir Faire has one locked door where you can see the key through the keyhole. The solution to unlocking this door is more creative than the usual ones, due to the game world's Functional Magic which lets you "link" similar things to each other so that doing something to one of them will similarly affect the other: link the key to your sword (it's ornate enough to allow the link) and then turn your sword in its sheath. Voila, an unlocked door!
- Starship Titanic has a circular version - in order to obtain a hammer, you need to press a button with a long stick. However, in order to obtain a long stick behind glass, you must break the glass with a hammer. Fortunately, there's a parrot perch that you can use in place of the long stick.
- Ratchet & Clank has a similar circular version in the second game. On one planet there is a wrench upgrade in a glass case with a 'use rock to break glass' note attached. Nearby in another glass case there is a rock with a 'use wrench to break glass' note. As Clank tries to figure out the puzzle, Ratchet just smashes the wrench's case with his current wrench and takes it.
- Zoë's first line in Sluggy Freelance is "Help! I need a phone! I locked my keys in the car with the engine running!" This is also referenced later when she temporarily moves to a place with normal people. (Oh, and Clem.)
- In Goblins, the Key of Darkness is inside the locked Well of Darkness because the adventurer who carried it in was killed by a trap.
- Parodied in the Family Guy episode "Petarded", where a cutaway shows one incident where Peter locked his keys out of the car, trapping himself inside... wait, what?!
- In one version of the backstory for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), Prince Adam was questing with Teela for what would later become his magic sword. Wielding this sword was the only way to enter Castle Grayskull. And yes, the sword was inside the castle.
- In a cartoon episode of Lucky Luke, the usual criminal Dalton Brothers were trying to be honest, and to have a honest work, they open their own bank. At one point Averell Dalton is commanded to open the safe, but he can't remember where the key is, so he opens the safe with dynamite. It turns out that the key is inside, and Averell closed it in there "for safety". Joe Dalton is not amused.
- In Whats With Andy episode "The Great American Lock-In", Andy reverses the locks in the front doors of his school, then lures in Lik and Leech. Unfortunately, he has dropped the keys outside of the school.
- The doors of many apartments and hotel rooms behave like most padlocks: The key isn't necessary to lock them (simply closing them is enough), making it very easy to lock the keys inside.
- Many cars avert this by making the front doors require the key to be locked from the outside (by disabling the "lock while open" feature). One can still lock self out using the back doors, but if the driver does this, then s/he deserved it.