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Alphabet Soup Cans

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In Edutainment Games, there have to be obstacles that are... well, educational. And there are... whether it makes any sense within the context of the game or not. It isn't just a case of Solve the Soup Cans, they're Alphabet Soup Cans!

So, why does the Big Bad always challenge you with fifth grade math problems? Because you need to work on your long division! He's thoughtful that way. Still, you'd think that if he really wanted to outsmart people, he'd come up with something more difficult.

Often a result of Gameplay and Story Segregation. Not to be confused with Fun with Alphabet Soup, the trope for actual alphabet soup.


  • Agent USA consists of the eponymous character traveling to train stations in the U.S. fighting off a pseudo Zombie Apocalypse. However, you can only track the plague through various info booths, and those can only be found in...state capitals! How convenient!
  • Every character in Anachronox has a "world skill" that can be used to further the plot or score rare items; to use it, you have to play timed minigames. From Rho's Analyse (match pictures to form a domino chain) to Sly's Lockpick (figure out a series of numbers) to Democratus' Tractor Beam (prevent the rest of the council from filing too many votes against using the beam... by yelling at them).
  • In Baldur's Gate 2 and Throne of Bhaal, among the hack'n'slashing, spell-slinging fights, there's a few places where the only way to move forward is... solving math and logic problems. The Circus Tent quest on Waukeen's Promenade and the riddling imp in Watcher's Keep come to mind.
  • At least one dungeon in Boktai randomly includes math problems you have to solve. Though its challenge comes from the block pushing.
  • Justified in the earlier games of the Carmen Sandiego series. In these games, you had to chase globe-hopping crooks around the world by using clues to figure out where they went next. (With some rather bizarre hints that seem rather contrived.) Later games in the series, however, embraced Alphabet Soup Cans more fully.
    • Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? (1997) zig-zags this. Sometimes this is justifiable a bit in that you are doing something that the culture you are visiting did do, like keep track of all the surplus food and supplies for the Incans (using their accounting systems), and rehearsing the openings of Beethoven's symphonies because he is busy writing down the notes to the full ones in another room. A few times it seems a little more contrived, like how guards will not let you in a season themed room until Renee Sance's kimono matches the theme of the room. (Apparently they can't just ask the guards to adjust the mirror. Either way that's one strange duty they have.)
    • Carmen Sandiego: Word Detective Hand Waves the grammar, word search and spelling puzzles as decoding passwords. Carmen Sandiego: Math Detective does much the same with its mathematical puzzles.
    • In Carmen Sandiego's ThinkQuick Challenge, Carmen has created a fleet of KnowBots to steal various types of knowledge from the world. With that premise, it follows somewhat logically that you defeat the KnowBots by answering their educational questions. Still, the KnowBots seem, at times, more interested in teaching you than in outsmarting you.
  • This was more or less the plot of the PBS kids' show Cyberchase. The protagonists would usually end up using a simple math-related technique (like a Venn diagram, the principle of ratios, or the ability to measure things) to nab the villain and save the day.
  • These pop up on television, too. For instance, Dora the Explorer can't cross a bridge until she picks out the right planks to fill in the missing holes, and asks the viewer for help - however the gaps in the bridge are plenty small for even a stubby-legged explorer like Dora to step right over and move along.
  • Elroy Goes Bugzerk has a couple of doors that only open if the player answers a question about bugs.
  • English of the Dead. Translate words. Kill Zombies.
  • In Final Fantasy IV on the DS, Rydia's minigame for leveling up Whyt (a summon who can be used in battle and multiplayer mode) is to perform various mathematical operations on four numbers in order to get the end result to equal ten. Worse, you need to do this as many times as possible in one minute. Other Final Fantasy games have similar Easter Eggs, some of which are plot relevant.
  • FunBrain is a website with an "arcade" consisting of 100% alphabet soup cans that let the player, say, perform long division to get a freethrow in basketball, unlock an Egyptian tomb or even drag a dandelion seed onto a flower.
  • The Jump Start series.
  • In I. M. Meen, the player advances at certain points by... fixing grammatical mistakes in texts.
  • Almost half the puzzles in The Island of Dr Brain are Alphabet Soup Cans. It eventually gets pretty annoying especially since the first game had much more variety in its puzzles, and while they were all Solve the Soup Cans puzzles as well, they still made more sense in the context of the game.
  • These sorts of puzzles — specifically, math problems — were the entire point of the text adventure The Lantern of D'Gamma.
  • All of the activities in the Learning Voyage series of games. For example, in one activity, you need to find the predicate in a sentence in order to make a monkey climb a tree. Once you've figured them all out, the monkey will dive into a puddle of water.
  • In Math Dungeon you navigated a dungeon in which locked doors could be opened only by solving math problems, although there was no penalty for failing. However you only had one shot to get the answer right on the gems lying on the ground or else a spider would come down and steal it, and if you went too long without a gem, a dragon would eat you. Talk about Tough Love.
  • In the Math/Reading Blaster series, you fight intergalactic villains with mathematics and language arts.
    • Lampshaded at the end of Math Blaster: Ages 9-12 in which the main characters pretend to leave their Robot Buddy Spot behind and Spot, who isn't in on it, protests "But what about all those years of solving math problems together!"
  • The entire gameplay of Mario Is Missing!. You must return artifacts to their proper places by jumping on (literally) harmless Koopa Troopas, in the hopes that they will drop one of the three MacGuffins you're looking for in that area. Then, you have to answer trivia questions about the item to "prove" you have the real thing so they'll take it back. You also have to ask the locals various questions to try to figure out where you are so that, once you've returned all the artifacts, you can leave on Yoshi's back. Do this with three cities in each chamber, and you get to "fight" one of Bowser's kids. Do that whole mess three times, and you "fight" Bowser. Congrats. You win.
  • Mean City, a language-training game from the late nineties, features this in full force - and it would almost be justified considering the main antagonist is a former language teacher driven insane by her students, if not for the fact that you don't actually get most of your challenges from her at all, and instead you have to solve word problems just to exchange money at the bank.
  • Mega Man Legends 2 has a minigame where you can get various items by answering various questions related to history, science & other subjects (thankfully, this isn't necessary, as the one item you actually need can also be bought). What makes this a particularily glaring example of Gameplay and Story Segregation is that the Legends series is supposed to take place After the End, where most of humanity's history has been lost.
  • Many of the early Microzine Twistaplot and Twistadventure games had some form of Alphabet Soup Cans. They would later switch to more traditional puzzles.
  • Mischief Makers has a sports competition about halfway through the game in the form of a series of mini-games. Strangely the penultimate game is called "Mathfun," and involves rapidly solving simple math problems before your opponent can. No explanation as to given as to why this event was chosen over Skipping Rope, which was stated to not be in the festival this year.
  • The Konami game Monkey Academy had the player jump around platform levels and pull down numbers to find the solution to an elementary arithmetic problem.
  • The various Myst games force you to learn both a written language (at least in part) and a numerical system. Justified in that they are both needed to solve various puzzles.
    • The device that you can use to learn Riven's numerical system is justified by being in a classroom (although its importance is elsewhere).
    • Myst III: Exile justifies educational type puzzles with the fact that the setting was originally created as a training course for Atrus' sons. The age of J'nanin specifically is a course on the types of energy an age can draw on - Kinetic (Amateria), Natural (Edanna) and Mechanical (Voltaic) - culminating in a civilized age (Narayan) where all three forms of energy are being brought into balance. In Riven, that's not a puzzle so much as an in-universe version of Alphabet Soup Cans.
    • Myst IV: Revelation requires you to learn a few words in a primitive monkey language, and also recognize the tracks of various animals (there are guides for both of these elsewhere in the Age). Earlier, a puzzle requires you to transliterate the D'ni alphabet, using Yeesha's homework as a guide.
  • Number Maze Challenge was pretty much the same thing, except without gems, spiders, or dragons.
  • The Nancy Drew games are actually pretty good at averting this. You need to know some type of skill for each game, but more times than not, it was something a little more esoteric, like Braille or Morse Code.
    • They often justify this by having Nancy do an errand for someone that involves following directions that turn out to be a puzzle in order for them to help you. In one (Warnings at Waverly Academy) it's even more justified because you're asked to do some peoples' homework so they'll help you.
  • The Library Island Arc of Negima! Magister Negi Magi had the Baka Rangers running from a living statue, while their way kept being blocked by doors with math and english problems on them. Naturally, they're baffled as to why the hell these things are in their way. After the fact it's implied that the Headmaster set the whole thing up to get them to study for their finals.
  • In Parasite Eve, in the Museum stage, Aya has to answer several questions about prehistory and fossils. They're not needed to advance the plot, but by answering them right she can get much needed ammo and medicines.
  • The Professor Layton series. Puzzles can require anything from basic arithmetic all the way up to geometry. (Sometimes, however, these are subverted, when a puzzle that seems to involve math actually has a simpler answer. Awkward Zombie demonstrates here)
  • In a desperate measure to avoid actual programming minigames or the traditional Pipe Dream-style alternative and yet still have some kind of thematically fitting puzzle for computer cracking, KoTOR's developers inserted simple math quizzes using the dialog system.
  • Pokémon:
    • Fantina's Gym in Hearthome City in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl has to be navigated with math problems. Not only are the problems incredibly easy, but the game provides you with a working calculator. The problems are so easy that if you get any wrong, the trainers assume you're getting them wrong on purpose and will comment on it.
    • Blaine's Gym in Pokémon Red and Blue was doing the quiz-gym first, although the questions were related to Pokemon rather than anything educational. If you answered wrong, you had to defeat Blaine's employees before you could face Blaine. Of course, winning more battles meant getting more experience and money, so unless you were doing a speedrun, you had incentive not to skip the fights.
  • On Poptropica's Mythology Island, you need Aphrodite's magic mirror to travel around easier. She'll only give it to you if you solve a Hangman game involving the names of various Greek gods.
  • A game called "Quarter Mile Math" had you solving math problems to make your horse (or racecar) go faster, in what may be a unique example of an educational racing game.
  • The Reader Rabbit/The ClueFinders series.
    • Sometimes justifiable regarding The ClueFinders, in which some challenges simply have you doing somebody a favour to get a reward, such as cutting bolts of fabric into fractions, helping a barista put coffee on a tray, assembling proper data for a Librarian's book, or putting a fence around a pit so a monkey can't fall into it. But other times, they're simply just locked doors you have to answer word problems or hypothesize what the password is, or building bridges to cross pits. Either by spelling words, answering word problems, or linking tiles together to form a chain to the end. (In the latter, you're never told what the pattern is, usually beyond one of the characters saying "There's got to be a pattern here...")
      • One challenge actually forms a bit of Fridge Horror. The Biosphere chambers are a simple Predator-Prey simulation deal. But the aliens eat brains...the experiments are to tell them how many they need before going back. And considering the final tank has humans...
    • Parodied by Homestar Runner with "Rabbit Algebra." Solve for X!
  • The original Trope Namer puzzle for Solve the Soup Cans from The 7th Guest used literal Alphabet Soup Cans, which had to be rearranged to spell a message. The puzzle was made somewhat excruciating by the fact that there were no vowels. The trick: in English, the letter "Y" counts as a vowel if there are no other vowels in the syllable - think "shy" or "crypt" or "why". The player could also check the in-game hintbook, which offers a hint that makes the puzzle much easier to solve with a thesaurus.
  • In Silent Hill 3, when playing on the hard puzzle difficulty, one of the first puzzles you encounter tests your knowledge of William Shakespeare.
  • Many of the Super Solvers puzzles had actual context in the game.
    • Midnight Rescue! had Morty leave random notes lying around as clues, but many of the notes were related to Morty's backstory, the school that was being painted invisible and the students who attended there, as well as other things going on in the town of Shady Glen; the additional passages from novels are more in line with out-of-context.
    • OutNumbered! took place inside a television station, and puzzles were generally about how much one won during a game show or how many supplies there were in a closet, or how many minutes of footage were cut; the equation drilling with Telly to get the room code was less in context.
    • Spellbound! was made up of nothing but spelling practice drills because the whole plot revolved around Morty challenging the Super Solvers to a spelling bee.
    • Played straighter in Gizmos & Gadgets! and Mission: T.H.I.N.K., with the locked puzzle doors that made up the bulk of the game. The end challenges, vehicle races and strategy games respectively, were more in context as those were Morty's conditions of beating him.
    • The Super Seekers titles for younger players would play this straight. Treasure Mountain! and Treasure Cove! would give you clues on where to find treasure if you caught those who would ask you simple questions. Treasure MathStorm! and Treasure Galaxy! added to this by granting currency for solving various math-related tasks, but still retained the soup-can style problems for treasure retrieval.
    • The Dolled-Up Installment Operation Neptune focused on math problems, but each one given was themed in relation to your undersea salvage mission. Played straighter with the end-level resupply station locks.
  • Justified on some occasions when the cans are used as an interface (such as Typing of the Dead, where the player's typing makes them shoot the zombies rather than have the zombies being killed by typing words).
  • Sidescroller Word Rescue had literal alphabet soup cans, unsurprising since the entire aim of the game was to save words from being stolen by evil gruzzles. Something similar happened with its sister game, Math Rescue.


Video Example(s):


Trash Zapper

You can see how solving math equations gets you ammo, right?

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / AlphabetSoupCans

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