The Window or the Stairs

The easy way is always mined.
— from Murphy's Laws of Combat

This occurs when a character is given two choices; one of which sounds much easier, safer or more pleasant than the other. When the "better" option is chosen, it is subsequently revealed that they've actually picked the worse option without realizing it until it's too late.

Named after a running gag in the film I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. Damon Wayans and Kadeem Hardison play Evil Minions who are always being told by other characters that they can leave the building via "the window or the stairs". Each time, they choose the stairs and each time they get thrown painfully down a long flight of stairs.

For people actually leaving via the window, see Destination Defenestration and Super Window Jump. See also The Easy Way or the Hard Way. Contrast Sadistic Choice. When someone is baited into this folly, it's usually Schmuck Bait. If the two bad options turn out to be the same, that's Morton's Fork. In video games, this is related to Path of Most Resistance.


  • I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, as described above. The trope is subverted at the end of the film when the protagonist says "There's two ways you can leave this place..." at which point Wayans screams and jumps out the window. This prompts one of the heroes to say, "Didn't he know about the elevator?"
  • This is part of Jedi philosophy. The Dark Side is the quick and easy path to power, but it will exact a terrible price from you and everyone you care about in the long run. Unless you're okay with that. And I am not okay with that.

  • There is a famous joke where three men have been caught by a tribe of natives and get to choose their sentences. The two options are "Death" and "Nugoba"note . The first man says "Nugoba", thinking that whatever it is has to be better than death. He is immediately raped by all of the men in the village, then released. The second man chooses the same fate, knowing he will at least live after it is over. The third man, too proud to subject himself to such treatment, chooses death. The chief then says " Nugoba!".
  • Many, many jokes about people going to Hell and getting to choose between a traditional torment or another that seems harmless or even desirable, only for the second choice turn out to be The Not So Harmless Punishment.

  • Played with in the Discworld novel Going Postal. Main character Moist von Lipwig is given a choice by Vetinari: He can take over the job of Postmaster General, or walk out a door in Vetinari's office, and Vetinari would never bother him again. Being a Genre Savvy sort of chap, Moist goes to the door, carefully peeks through it, and finds a deep pit where the floor should be. He drops a spoon into the pit, and it doesn't make a sound for a rather long time. He takes the job. At the end of the book, the Big Bad is offered the same choice with a job at the Mint. It isn't stated whether he walks straight out the door without pausing to look or purposefully did not consent to Vetinari's bargain, but it seems we will not be hearing from him again.
    Vetinari: You have to admire a man who really believes in freedom of choice. Sadly, he did not believe in angels.
    • Further played with in Making Money: Moist is given the same choice, and referred to the same door, on being offered a new job. Having ostentatiously repeated his previous actions he discovers the room now has a perfectly normal floor. When he asks what happened to it, Vetinari claims to have no idea what he's talking about. (Playing With Playing with a Trope? Where will it end?!!)
  • One of the Dragonology choose your adventure books subverts this trope. Choose the nice wide gentle path and you make it to the castle safely, choose the narrow twisty trail you make it to a cave and set of a trip wire and get crushed by a boulder.

Live Action TV
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Ribos Operation", the Doctor is given a mission by the White Guardian, and told that "nothing" would happen to him if he refused. The Doctor responds, "What? Nothing? You mean nothing will happen to me?", and the Guardian replies "Nothing at all. (pause) Ever."

Video Games
  • In many a 2D Adventure Game and Platform Game, the screen will have a set amount of space it can display. If there are 2 paths to take and one has more Mooks or Spikes, it will be much easier in the long run.
  • In Mitra's palace in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, there are several areas where you have three hallways to choose from. On the floor in front of them, you find a message saying, "Take the long road". The shorter hallways either have a trapdoor that will drop you to the floor below or are lined with damaging floors.
  • Episode 3 of The Walking Dead: Season Two ends with your group wandering through a horde of zombies, using the classic zombie disguise. However, some zombies see through it, and one woman in your gets bitten on the hand. You then have two choices; chop the zombies head in two with your hatchet, or chop the woman's arm off. Over 80% of players chopped it off, because they had recently found out that chopping off the infected area just after someone is bitten can stop the infection spreading. Unfortunately, doing so results in said woman Letting out a scream that attracted several zombies which killed her immediately.

Web Original
  • Used straight in a Diceman game comic - In one story if you chose to descend the stairs you'd meet a bunch of demons on the way up and get torn to pieces. The other option involved escaping through the window onto clotheslines.

Western Animation
  • In The Land Before Time, Cera and the other dinosaurs refuse to follow Littlefoot's instructions on where to go to find the Great Valley, instead taking an easier path. Their "easier path" winds up trapping them all in a deadly lava flow.
  • In Finding Nemo, our heroes come across a chasm. Dory was told that they had to go through it, and she tries to tell Marlin, who ignores her and then tricks her into swimming over it, since it seems much safer. They end up in a huge swarm of jellyfish, and they both almost die because of the stings.
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The King of Omashu", the eponymous King is putting Aang through a series of tests. For the last one, he tells Aang to choose one of two warriors to fight. Aang tries to Take a Third Option and choose the old, crazy King himself - but he was expecting this, informing Aang that he's an incredibly powerful earthbender and tougher opponent than both of the warriors presented. In fact, he's the strongest in the entire series until Toph comes along, and even then it's debatable.
    His Majesty: Heh heh, wrong choice!
  • This trope is subverted in the Adventure Time episode "Another Way". Throughout the episode, Finn keeps being presented with situations that seem to only have one (or two equally bad) options; he insists on finding another way each time, generally resulting in much more distress than necessary.