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Catch-22 Dilemma

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Artwork by Pablo Stanley. Used with permission.
"Wait a second. We knock out the turret to get the fighters. But to get the turret, we've gotta get through the fighters. We're dead."
Alex Rogan, The Last Starfighter

You have two chests that you need to open. The key to chest one is in chest two, and the key to chest two is in chest one. Now what?

A Catch-22 Dilemma is a situation that a character cannot resolve or get out of because they have nowhere to start working on it. Each step they must take relies on completing the step before it but starting the first step requires already having completed the last one.

It generally appears in one of two types: either each of the objectives they must complete to progress rely on some other objective already having been completed first, or at least two of the objectives they need to complete are mutually forbidden.

Both types leave the character frustrated and with nowhere to start in solving the problem or escaping the situation.

Often, the solution lies in taking a third choice or Cutting the Knot. In games, finding the Dungeon Bypass the designer or GM overlooked is also an option. When time travel is possible, you can sometimes pull this off with a Stable Time Loop.

The form of "You must submit Document A with your application for Document B, but you have to present Document B to get Document A" is a favorite tool of Obstructive Bureaucrats. Rules Lawyers or people attempting to cause problems by Bothering by the Book also use it, since in virtually any bureaucracy or set of rules, there's at least one set of rules or regulations that are interlocked or contradictory, and can be exploited this way.

In common usage, a Catch-22 Dilemma is also known as simply a "Catch-22", after the book of that name by Joseph Heller. We have a page for the book at Catch-22, which is why this trope page doesn't use that exact name. Other names for this kind of dilemma are a "Closed Logical Loop" or a "Circular Bind"; in engineering and programming, it's called "The Deadly Embrace"; another term in programming is a "Deadlock".

The term covers two similar but not identical situations. In one, two things are conditions precedent to each other. The Key Is Behind the Lock is a subtrope of this situation, where an item or door is locked, and the key to the lock is in the item or behind the door. You need to unlock the lock to get the key to unlock the lock. It is most often solved by finding some way to open the item without the key. In the other situation, a desired outcome has two conditions precedent, one of which rules out the other.

Related tropes include:

  • Chain of Deals: A character trades Item A to get Item B, trades that to get Item C, and so on. A Chain of Deals may become a Catch-22 Dilemma if the last item is needed to get the first item ("There's a hole in my bucket...").
  • Chicken-and-Egg Paradox: A similar situation where a cyclical situation already in progress has no obvious start point or endpoint. In Aristotle's Trope Namer, the chicken lays the egg, but also hatches from it, so which came first?
  • Logic Bombs are sometimes built on Catch-22 Dilemmas (the image on this page is one such example, albeit a mundane one).
  • Morton's Fork: The same bad result occurs no matter what you do. The reason it occurs is different with each option, though.
  • Unstable Equilibrium: A subtrope where a losing character needs more resources to adequately match their opponents, but the only way to get those resources is to take them from opponents...whom they can't match with their current level of resources, and are the very reason they need more resources.


    open/close all folders 

  • A man calls up what he thinks is the customer service number for his bank (an unspecified large, national bank) because he can't get in the bank's website. The man on the other end tells him to call customer service. The customer says that he thought he did call customer service, but the man tells him that he didn't and to just call customer service. He asks if there's anything else he can do for him and the customer asks for the number for customer service. He tells him it's on the website and hangs up. The ad is for Ally Bank, the thrust being that if you bank with them, they won't do petty stuff like this make you feel small.
  • A commercial for Sondermind, online therapy sessions, mention this as why it's hard for people with mental help issues to get help. They need therapy to deal with their issues burnout, depression, anxiety, etc, but these exact problems is what keeps them from reaching out or trying to get help.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Kaguya-sama: Love Is War Ishigami wants to quit the student council because Kaguya terrifies him, but he can't... because Kaguya terrifies him.
  • In Little Witch Academia (2017), this is the main obstacle faced by Atsuko "Akko" Kagari in her quest to become a witch. While the witch school of Luna Nova accepts students from non-magical families, like Akko, it assumes that students have a bare minimum of magical knowledge before attending. But since witch society is highly elitist and isolationist, there is no way for Akko to actually gain that knowledge (there is literature on the subject available, but even after reading it, Akko was woefully unprepared), leaving her unable to follow along on the more advanced lessons because she lacks the basic knowledge to understand it. A microcosm of this is seen in the first episode; To reach Luna Nova at all, Akko needs to travel through a Leyline. Leylines are only accessible via broom. Akko can't learn how to fly a broom without attending Luna Nova. She only makes it to her first day because of the charity of bystanders sympathetic to her plight.
  • One Piece:
    • Discussed in the Fishman Island arc, during a flashback: Vander Decken is talking about marrying Princess Shirahoshi for her latent powers, who was still 6 at the time. His subordinate then tells him about a national treasure, a kind of drug that can age up whoever consumes it, and it might solve the age problem. The problem is, as said subordinate points out, the treasure is tightly guarded by the royal palace and the only legal way to obtain it is... marrying the royalty (the princess, in this case). In the end, though, Decken just decides to wait until she's aged normally.
    • In the Thriller Bark arc, Gecko Moria steals Luffy's shadow, uses it to animate a giant zombie called Oars and sets it on the rest of the crew. One way to return the stolen shadows is to defeat Moria, and as the battle goes on it seems like that the only way to defeat Oars is to remove Luffy's shadow. At one point Moria appears in a special cockpit in Oars' chest, giving the crew this dilemma; They need to get to Moria to stop Oars, but in order to get to Moria, they need to beat Oars. Eventually, the crew gets around this by breaking Oars' spine so that that the zombie can't move, even with Luffy's shadow.

    Comic Books 
  • A Sturmtruppen story arc inspired by the Trope Namer focused on the efforts of a soldier to be declared insane, so he'll be able to ask for discharge on those grounds. After volunteering for a chore you had to be insane to volunteer for (namely, disposing of avariated nitroglycerine, more prone to explode than normal nitroglycerine. When he does volunteer, the sergeant actually asks him if he's insane), the sergeant is finally convinced he's insane, so he asks for a discharge... And the doctor points at the catch-22 in the rules, stating that if you ask for discharge on grounds of insanity you're not insane. The soldier is promptly stuck with the mission, goes actually insane, and is discharged on those grounds.

    Comic Strips 
  • A Beetle Bailey strip has the company run out of requisition forms, and discover that you can't requisition new ones without filling out a requisition form.
  • In the 2015 reboot of Bloom County, Opus is conscripted into being a Presidential candidate, which he does not want. In the strip seen here, a government official tells him he can't withdraw his candidacy, except by reason of insanity. When Opus tries that, the guy makes him swear he does not want to be President — which means he's clearly sane, and thus cannot withdraw. The official's desk actually has "Cancellations — Catch-22 Division" written on it.
  • Happens a lot in Dilbert, normally as a critique of corporate bureaucracy.
    • Carol explains to Dilbert that he can't order new pens because "you need a pen to fill out the pen request form. And if you have a pen, you're not allowed to order one."
    • Dilbert loses his ID and is told to go to the security office to get a new one. The problem with this is that he's not allowed to go to the security office without his ID.
    • The PHB reads two memos, one which says that all official company documents must be recycled to meet the corporate sustainability goals, and one says that all official company documents must not be recycled to meet the corporate security goals. He reads them off at every weekly meeting because he doesn't know how to get rid of them.
    • The PHB tells Tina that she has to use the Danville Font as per corporate policy, but when she says she'll buy the Danville Font software immediately, he says there's a budget freeze on software purchases.
      Tina: So ... the Danville Font is both mandatory and prohibited?
  • FoxTrot had a comic where Jason asks Roger if he can hang out with his friend Marcus, and Roger answers "I'm okay with it if your mom is." Then when Jason asks Andy, she says "I'm okay with it if your father is." The comic ends with Jason reading a book on formal logic, trying to figure out whether they actually gave him permission or not. The next comic had Paige asking a similar question and getting the same answers... and she simply interprets that as an okay.
  • An early Peanuts strip has Charlie Brown lamenting to Violet that he wanted to build himself a workbench but doesn't have a workbench to build it on.

    Fan Works 
  • Entropy: The Fate of the Hero System: The crux of the fic. In order to prove herself capable, Momo must have opportunities to do so, opportunities she is denied because she hasn't proven herself capable. This eventually leads to her losing her hero license under the new Heroic Contributions Act; she is regularly rebuffed when trying to solve cases, since people see her as a Spoiled Brat. This leads to her not making the cutoff under the HCA.
  • Implacable: After Triggering, Taylor is forced into the Wards, and the best way she can find to get out is to share the circumstances of her forced conscription — but, due to Piggot exploiting the rules to keep that secret, Taylor can't legally share what happened until she leaves the Wards. The solution is to bring in a third party that can be told the truth and has the power to close things down, so the moment the option appears she takes it.
  • Infinity Train: Boiling Point: This is pretty much the biggest issue a Static Passenger deals with on the Infinity Train: They enter the Train to work our their issues, but one of said issues leaves them unable to change, which is necessary to work out the issues in the first place...
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Olympian Journey: As explained during the Poseidon arc, the spell that Eris and the Six-Eared Macaque set up to let the latter steal Sun Wukong's role included a barrier specifically to keep the real Monkey King in Heaven, making it so the only person who could beat the Macaque and break the spell can't show up until after the spell is broken.
  • In My Immortal: if you aren't a legit goff, Tom Rid won't give you the "real" goffic clothes. But you can't be a "real" goff without them, so you can't get the "real" goffic clothes unless you already have them. Oh, and you're not considered a true goff unless you know all goffic knowledge, but if you didn't have said information at some point, then you're a poser.
  • In Of Twist Arm and Bended Knee, Izuku is transferred out of the hero course until he gains control of his Quirk. He notes internally that he cannot hope to learn without help from the hero course. Eventually, it's revealed that Aizawa planned for him to receive extra-curricular training after his transfer.
  • In Witches of Westfield Andromeda Tonks decides to resume the Healer internship she abandoned when she became pregnant with her daughter.
    Andromeda: It seems that there are some additional classes I'll need to sit as it has been a number of years since I dropped my previous internship. Sadly, in order to sit the classes I need to be in an internship, which I can't get without sitting the classes. It's all rather maddening.
  • With This Ring:
    • When discussing Earth's rate of development in comparison to other species, Paul notes that there are a lot of worlds that simply don't have enough fossil fuels to support a level of societal development that would allow the discovery and development of better energy sources to make fossil fuels obsolete. They're perpetually pre-industrial as a result. Fortunately, Earth isn't in that category.
    • When the Renegade is sent to the far future, something drains all the charge from his power rings. He could recharge them from his personal lanterns, but those are both secured in subspace pockets attached to the rings, requiring at least a small amount of ring power to retrieve them... Eventually, decades or possibly centuries later, after destroying the source of the draining effect, he's able to consult a specialist in emotion magic and infuse enough of a charge to access the pockets.

    Films — Animation 
  • Punny Name aside, this is the problem of 22 from Soul. In this universe, souls get their personality traits and interests in a realm known as "The Great Before". 22 has been there for literal eons, and wants to get rid of her badge with her interests so she doesn't have to go to Earth and live a life. But to do that, she needs to find her "spark" so it'll become an Earth Pass, as otherwise it can't be separated from her. The "spark" is the desire to live, which 22 only finds after she gets temporarily stuck in protagonist Joe's body, in which she can finally experience the joys of life properly.
  • Sugar Rush Speedway in Wreck-It Ralph invokes this trope. The nine racers who will be on next day's roster are decided by a race held after the arcade closes, and the entrance fee is a coin; those who don't place in the top 9 don't get on the roster, thus can't earn any coins that day, so if they use the last of their coins to enter the qualifying race and don't place, they can never again be on the roster and thus can't ever get any more coins. This is done to keep Vanellope, supposedly a glitch, from racing, though why it hasn't yet caught any of the others is not explained. (Conceivably the coins can simply be shared between friends, but this is never stated.)

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Angel and Big Joe: Angel needs his phone fixed. Joe tells him to call the phone company. Angel says "How am I going to call the telephone office if my phone's broken?"
  • Played for Laughs at the beginning of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Bill and Ted argue that they need a "triumphant" music video to get Eddie Van Halen to join their band but also say the best way to make a triumphant video is to have Eddie Van Halen on guitar. They enjoy the paradox.
  • Camp X-Ray: Ali hasn't done anything wrong, so he should be released. However, the very fact that he's been in Guantanamo means no country will take him in, so he can't be.
  • In the flashback intro to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Thorin is caught in one. He can't reclaim his kingdom without dealing with Smaug, but the only way he can see to defeat Smaug is to rally the armies of the other dwarf kingdoms, who will not answer his call unless he is king. Gandalf suggests that he Take a Third Option: hire a thief to steal back the crown jewels from Smaug's hoard, at which point Thorin can be crowned king and call upon his brother kings for aid.
  • Akira Kurosawa's film Ikiru has an extended scene showing a group of frustrated residents being directed from one city-hall office to another to yet another, in hopes of registering a complaint; they wind up being referred right back to the first person they tried to complain to.
  • Jupiter Ascending: To claim her rightful title, Jupiter needs to have a Tax Income Number. But until she has her title, she's just a nobody from a world that's going to be harvested, so she can't apply for a Tax Income Number. Her frustrated advocate eventually resorts to bribing the Seals and Signets Master.
  • Lampshaded by Alex Rogan in The Last Starfighter. The Ko-Dan have too many fighters for him to take out ship-to-ship, so the plan is to destroy a communications array on The Mothership to disrupt command-and-control. But to get to the comm turret, they have to get through the fighters. In the end, they Take a Third Option they didn't know was available at the time of the conversation: they hide in a cave so they can hit the command ship from behind and get the turret without needing to hit the fighters, which are several kilometers ahead of the carrier.
  • The Miracle Worker: A simple example. Annie, looking in a dictionary for the word "discipline":
    Annie: What a dictionary. You have to know how to spell it before you can look up how to spell it.
  • In Red Tails the brass are trying to decommission the Tuskeegee Airmen because they haven't scored any air-to-air kills. This is because they haven't been assigned to an area where such kills are available, officially because they haven't scored any air-to-air kills. In this case, it's a blatantly obvious cover for simple racism on the part of the brass, and the problem is solved when the unit's major and his white boss who helped him set the unit up call the brass on their BS and basically browbeat them into letting the Red Tails provide the air support for an amphibious assault. They not only down several Bf-109s in the air, they follow them back to base and have a fun time blasting it to pieces.


Trope Namer:

  • The term was coined by the Joseph Heller novel Catch-22. It crops up over and over again there, in several forms:
    • Yossarian can be exempted from flying more bombing missions if the doctor does a mental evaluation and declares that he's crazy. But for the doctor to make that declaration, Yossarian would have to request an evaluation. Requesting an evaluation because he doesn't want to fly more bombing missions proves that he's not crazy because not wanting to risk your life repeatedly isn't crazy at all.
    • An Italian peasant woman deals with soldiers who claimed that the actual text of Catch-22 did not have to be revealed when carrying out orders related to it, meaning that "they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing." (In simple terms, "We don't have to provide a citation of the rule that allows us to do this because the rule that we're claiming allows us to do this says we don't have to provide a citation of it.")
    • Captain Black issued an order that everyone had to sign a "loyalty oath", but did not allow Major Major to sign it, then began harassing him because he hadn't signed it and, when Major Major asked to be allowed to sign it, Captain Black continued to refuse to allow him to sign it on the grounds that he hadn't signed it when the order was first issued.
    • Major Major uses it himself, giving his aide orders that no one is allowed to see him while he's in his office. But people must be allowed in sometimes, so he orders his aide to allow them to see him when he's not in his office. (When he sees someone coming who he doesn't want to deal with, but who outranks him, and therefore could countermand his order to his aide, he jumps out the window.) Yossarian solves it by jumping out of the window right behind him, catching him and tackling him to the ground so he is forced to listen to him.
    • When Clevinger gets fed up with Yossarian ruining his bi-weekly educational sessions with pointless questions, he complains to Colonel Korn. Korn then makes it a rule that the only people who can ask questions during sessions are the people who never ask questions during sessions. The sessions are then discontinued altogether since it is both pointless and impossible to educate people who never questioned anything.
    • A prostitute laments that no man would want to marry her, because she's not a virgin. But when a man expresses a willingness to marry her, she flatly turns him down — on the grounds that she's not a virgin.
    • After Doctor Daneeka is mistakenly declared to have been killed on a flight that crashed, he tries to get it fixed, but nobody will let him speak to the people who have the authority to correct this because they can't schedule an appointment for a dead man.

By Title:

  • Animorphs: Discussed in the final novel, The Beginning, which features a sequence where Esplin 9466, a.k.a. Visser Three/Visser One, is put on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. Yeerks, being a species of Puppeteer Parasites, are physically incapable of interacting with the court or anyone else without taking a host, but taking a host without consent is one of the crimes the ex-visser is charged with. The Andalites Take a Third Option and create a cage for the Yeerk with a user interface that lets him speak and hear.
  • In Artemis, the best jobs in the titular Lunar Colony are outside the domes. To work outside the domes, you need a license from the EVA guild. To get a license, you need to pass their exams... and pay for your own suit. A new suit costs more than any middle-class Artemis colonist makes in a year... unless they work outside the domes. Jazz (the protagonist) nearly dies on the first page trying to do an end-run around their racket with a used suit, leaving her having spent thousands of slugs All for Nothing.
    • Bonus points; the precise reason that EVA jobs pay so well... is because there aren't enough certified suit users. It's textbook protectionism.
  • In Atharon, for a mortal to get an audience with the Avatar of his/her class so they can submit their (prayer) request, they need to make an appointment with one. To make an appointment with the Avatar, mortal needs to see! the Avatar of at least their discipline (other Avatars won’t do it because they do not care about classes not related to their disciplines), after which it takes at least two months (up to several years!) until the Avatars make their decision whether to grant it or not. Except, a chance of mortal seeing any Avatar out in the real world is slim to none because they rarely leave their audience chamber. To even get to the door of the audience chamber, a mortal has to pass a series of gruelling tests. You don’t like the rules? Luckily, there’s a shortcut: after mortal’s death, said mortal gets to see the Avatar of their class immediately, no tests needed! Unluckily for the mortals, they come to see Avatars to be judged and sent to heaven or hell and are unable to make any requests or bargain with the Avatars at that point (because they’re dead). One of the POV characters resolves it by Taking a Third Option.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Dead Past": Potterley points out the circular reasoning behind Foster's rejection of neutrinics. It's not offered in schools because the field is useless. Neutrinics must be a useless field because otherwise it would be offered in schools. Potterley concludes that the dilemma means the world government is trying to suppress scientific research into neutrinos and past-viewing.
    "It's not given because it's unimportant. And it's unimportant because it's not given." — Arnold Potterley
  • Discworld:
    • In Soul Music, Musicians' Guild membership costs AM$25.00 (plus AM$15.00 compulsory voluntary pension fund contribution and AM$35.00 as a percentage of ... something). Without membership, a musician can't perform in Ankh-Morpork (at least, not for long), and without performing, there's no way the average musician can raise AM$75.00.
    • In The Last Hero, Rincewind has second thoughts about volunteering for the dangerous mission to travel to Cori Celesti via the Disc's first spacecraft, and tries to resign on grounds of insanity. Lord Vetinari argues that you'd have be crazy to go on the mission, which would make Rincewind fully qualified. And if Rincewind isn't insane, he'd have to go anyway on the grounds that Vetinari is obligated to send only the most keen-minded men on such an important mission.
      "I think there's a catch here," said the wizard, knowing he'd lost.
      "Yes. The best kind there is," said the Patrician.
  • Empire from the Ashes: One such dilemma is a major reason why, in the first book, the mutiny aboard Dahak takes over 50,000 years to resolve: the spaceship's central computer is given orders by the captain to not leave the Solar System until the mutiny is resolved, and the rest of the crew has been forced to evacuate the ship. It also can't do anything until it receives orders from its new captain. However, due to sabotage in its onboard power plants, the computer is mostly out of action for 110 years after the mutiny, and when it finally comes back online fully, all of the bridge officers (who have communication implants) are dead, and all of the lifeboats used by loyal crewmembers, which have communications equipment, have been destroyed, meaning that no loyal officers can order the ship to pick them up, and the computer can't consider doing so. In the present day, the computer, which has developed full self-awareness, is noticeably embarrassed when explaining this to the protagonist, who actually drops the trope name.
  • P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster: In the short story "The Artistic Career of Corky", from Carry On, Jeeves (1925), Bertie Wooster explains a problem for budding artists: "You see, the catch about portrait-painting — I've looked into the thing a bit — is that you can't start painting portraits until people come along and ask you to, and they won't come and ask you to until you've painted a lot first. This makes it kind of difficult, not to say tough, for the ambitious youngster."
  • Land of Oz: In Paradox in Oz, Ozma meets a barber who impressed the princess of his land with his haircutting skills so much that she passed a rule decreeing that he must cut the hair of anyone who doesn't cut their own hair. The other barbers of the land didn't want him cutting their hair, however, so they asked the princess to amend the rule to say that he isn't allowed to cut the hair of someone who does cut their own hair, which landed him into the quandary of whether or not he's allowed to cut his own hair. (In short, the barber paradox.) The result being that he's let his hair and beard grow long enough to cover the entire floor of his shop because he can't decide what to do with them.
  • Naofumi, the titular protagonist of The Rising of the Shield Hero, finds himself in a bind at the start —He's too weak to kill monsters himself, but in order to level and get stronger, he needs to kill monsters. Normally, one in his situation would join an adventuring party and gain Leaked Experience, but he's been disgraced by a False Rape Accusation and no honest adventurer will join him. He resorts to buying slaves to fight for him.
  • A minor example shows up in The Rithmatist when Joel and Professor Fitch are attempting to determine the properties of the new Rithmatic line they've discovered at the crime scenes. They know it is a Rithmatic line because Fitch's chalklings react to it as one, but they can't figure out what it does. The obvious solution would be to draw the new line themselves and see what happens, but since you have to intend to draw a Rithmatic line to draw it (which is why all straight lines don't turn into Lines of Warding and so on), they have to know what the new line does before they can draw it.
  • In the Saga of Recluce novel The Death of Chaos by L. E. Modesitt, Jr., the protagonist, Lerris, arrives at a base where his consort is stationed. The guard at the gate refuses to let him in without a pass, and after asking several questions, Lerris learns the only people who can give him a pass are inside the base he needs a pass to get into, and the guard won't call anyone who can help. After a few failed attempts at reasoning with the guard, Lerris gets impatient and tries to enter anyway, resulting in about a dozen guards trying to hack him apart. Luckily, an officer who knows Lerris arrives to sort things out, and the guard who started the whole mess receives an (offscreen) chewing out for his behavior.
  • The Norlaminians of the Skylark Series are stuck technologically because their planet utterly lacks metal X, which is essential to put their advanced theory into practice. They do have primitive rockets, but all expeditions to the nearest X-rich solar system have failed. Though they can project themselves to other planets of their solar system, they cannot travel between stars this way, since that requires metal X.
  • The Star Wars Legends novel X-Wing: Rogue Squadron presents a New Republic task force consisting of X-Wings, Y-Wings, and a Corellian corvette with a Catch-22 in the form of an Imperial squadron consisting of a Carrack-class cruiser and a Lancer-class frigate—the former a standard (if old) warship, the latter an ack-ack platform. The corvette outguns the frigate, but the cruiser would eat it for lunch, while the fighters could Macross Missile Massacre the cruiser but would be shredded by the frigate (its guns have a longer reach than the fighters' targeting sensors). Corran Horn's solution is to have the Y-Wings lock a barrage of proton torpedoes onto his own X-Wing, and then has his astromech droid Whistler program the autopilot to maneuver at random towards the frigate and then fly over it at extreme close range, to lead the less-maneuverable torpedoes into it.
  • Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen: In volume 2, the Grand King sets a trap for Elisabeth that caps her ability to use magic. She could break it if she destroyed the Grand King, but the curse prevents her from generating enough mana to do so. Kaito breaks it after forming a contract with the Kaiser, the only demon more powerful than the Grand King and thus able to break it directly.
  • The Gordon Korman book Ungifted has Noah lament that the only way to get out of the gifted program would be an act of sheer genius, but that everyone displaying sheer genius gets sent to to the gifted program.
  • Wayside School: In Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School, the last True/False question is as follows:
    1. Statement 2 is true.
    2. Statement 1 is false.
  • The Witch of Knightcharm: Brynne breaks her glasses during her first (failed) attempt to complete the orientation course at an evil Wizarding School. The only place she can get new glasses is the school store, but only students who beat the course are allowed into the store, and Brynne can't beat the course because she can no longer see unless she gets new glasses.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The season 2 premiere of CSI: Cyber has a side plot of the team hoping to take down a revenge porn site and running into a common Catch-22 created by Fourth Amendment protections: they can't get a warrant without probable cause, but they can't get enough evidence for probable cause without a warrant. They try an end-run around it by checking to see if a victim's phone was hacked for the nudie pics (which would constitute probable cause to seize the servers as evidence), but it doesn't pan out.
  • The three main female protagonists on Friends run into this issue when performing a magic spell to change their love luck.
    Phoebe: Okay, all right. Now we need the semen of a righteous man.
    Rachel: Huh. Okay, Pheebs? You know what? If we had that, we wouldn't be doing the ritual in the first place.
  • Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: In "Gomer, the Perfect M.P.", Gomer is on MP duty, with orders from Sgt. Carter not to admit anyone without proper identification, and in order for Carter to enter the base, he has to show his ID, which is impossible since it's in his wallet which is back at the base.
  • Kamen Rider Zi-O: The way the series normally works, the Monsters of the Week are "Another Riders", evil versions of the heroic Kamen Riders who can only be defeated with the powers of the originals. However, this gets thrown off by Another Shinobi, who copies a Rider from an Alternate Timeline; the heroes can't travel to different timelines, so the only way they could get Shinobi's powers is by defeating Another Shinobi, which they can't do without Shinobi's powers. Eventually Sougo finds a way around this by convincing the present-day version of Shinobi to believe in himself, creating a bridge to the alternate timeline that gives them access to his powers.
  • The detectives in Law & Order have run into this a few times: they know evidence is somewhere, but can't prove probable cause to search the place. Essentially, to find the evidence, they need the evidence. Generally resolved by finding a weak piece of evidence that lets them search the place they really wanted to.
  • Maid: Alex is at the social services office trying to get some help.
    Alex: I can't get a job if I can't afford day care.
    Social worker: Well, we have access to subsidized day care grants once you have a job.
    Alex: I need a job to prove that I need day care in order to get a job? What kind of fuckery is that?
  • In The Monkees "The Monkees' Paw" episode, after Micky finishes talking with their union agent:
    Micky: He said we can't work until we pay our dues.
    Peter: And we can't pay our dues until we work.
  • Nova: The season 18 episode "Earthquake!" says that in order to figure out how to predict an earthquake, you must find earthquakes to test your theory on.
  • Supernatural: The only thing capable of killing a dragon is a special dragon-killing sword, which can only be made by using the blood of a dragon when it's forged. This is explained in other material. (spoiler) 
    Dean: So you need one to kill one, but you got to kill one to make one. How does that work out?

  • "Dear Liza (There's a hole in my bucket)": Henry needs straw in order to fix his bucket, but before he can use the straw to fix his bucket he needs to cut the straw, but first he needs to hone his dull old knife so it's sharp enough to cut the straw, but before that, he needs to fetch water to wetten his grindstone so that he can sharpen his knife, but in order to fetch the water he needs his bucket, and his bucket needs to be fixed before it can hold any water...
  • "I Can't Defeat Airman". The narrator playing Mega Man 2 can't get through Heat Man's stage, noting it would be easier with Item 2, which is acquired by defeating Air Man — who the player can never beat. It goes on to note Air Man would be easier to beat with the Leaf Shield — but the player can't beat Wood Man either. Though it's not noted in the lyrics, Wood Man's weakness is the Atomic Fire you get from Heat Man so it's an unwinnable circle. note 
  • Alice Cooper's "Lost In America" is all about this trope.
    I can't get a girl
    Cuz I ain't got a car
    I can't get a car
    Cuz I ain't got a job
    I can't get a job
    Cuz I ain't got a car
    So I'm looking for a girl with a job and a car.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Pirkei Avot, a classical Jewish text, states that God created the first pair of tongs because you need a pair of tongs to fashion a pair of tongs.note 
  • In The Four Gospels Jesus taught that those who truly believe will be able to work miracles even greater than his. However, older laws against putting God to the test (sometimes translated as "tempting" god) still apply. The result is trying to actually use such abilities prevents you from using them. Jesus himself was crucified for enforcing this law; the religious authorities offered to believe him if he would but prove his abilities, but that's a literal God Test...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Diplomacy can trigger this in the rules in specific circumstances. Specifically, if the following combination of orders occurs: One of A's armies, supported by another, attacks B's fleet. Meanwhile, B's fleet convoys one of B's armies across to attack A's supporting army. If this attack succeeds, the army will be unable to support A's army, and the combined attack on B's fleet will fail. If the combined attack on B's fleet succeeds, the fleet will be dislodged and unable to carry any of B's armies that turn. In other words, for A to successfully destroy the fleet, B's army must be prevented from disrupting A's supporting army, which can only happen if A successfully destroys the fleet. Likewise, to protect his fleet B must disrupt A's supporting army, which requires B's fleet to be protected. The standard tournament rulebook devotes several pages to how to unpick the resulting situation.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition could also trigger this with the thief Shadow Stride ability. It states that, provided the thief is in hiding at both the start and end of their movement, they are hidden throughout that movement. The catch-22 comes if the thief uses this to sneak past a guard who could have interrupted their movement, and then when they arrive at their destination hiding place, find that it's already occupied by someone else they couldn't previously see. The problem is, that means that the thief should never have gotten there at all, because since they aren't hidden at the end of their movement, Shadow Stride does not activate and their movement would have been interrupted by the guard. So to understand why they can't sneak past the guard, the player would have to know that their hiding place was full; but the character could only find out about that if they got to the intended hiding place, which they can only do if they can sneak past the guard.
  • Paranoia:
    • A large portion of the game's enjoyment is putting characters in these situations, often with the threat of death for failure, and letting them find creative, dastardly, and/or amusingly violent ways to get out of it. A good example of this: Troubleshooters (Player Characters) get sent on a mission and are issued weapons to test while they go about the mission. But they also have to bring the experimental weapons back in prime condition. So the sod who gets issued 3 experimental grenades faces the dilemma of either using the grenades like he was supposed to or bring them back in one piece like he was supposed to. Failure in following any of the orders usually results in death by termination.
    • In the adventure included in the Traitor's Manual, there's a Chain of Deals where the form that the Troubleshooters are supposed to fill out requires another form, which in return requires another form... until it loops back and requires the form that they were supposed to get in the first place. They're not actually expected to complete this legally, though Perversity Points are available for those who try— instead, they're supposed to get out of it using their secret society contacts or other methods.

  • In The Book of Mormon, Elder Price storms out of the Mormons' District Headquarters in the middle of the night. This leaves Price's mission companion Elder Cunningham with a choice of either going after Price (which would break the rule about not going out past curfew), or staying put (which would break the rule of not leaving one's mission companion behind). So Cunningham has to leave the headquarters to get his mission companion so as to not break the rules, but he can't leave the headquarters to get his mission companion without also breaking the rules. No matter what he chooses to do, Cunningham can't follow one rule without breaking the other, and imagines that he's probably going to get in trouble regardless of what he picks because he's such a Nervous Wreck.
  • Glengarry Glen Ross and its film adaptation: The central dilemma of the plot is that the salesmen don't get the good leads unless they sell, but they can't sell without good leads. And they need to sell, or else they'll lose their jobs. This prompts one of the agents to break into the office to just steal the best leads so he can keep his job.
  • Inspector Javert encounters one at the end of Les Misérables, as his life was saved by the man he must apprehend, causing him to commit suicide so that he doesn't betray his ideals.
    Javert: Damned if I'll live in the debt of a thief! Damned if I'll yield at the end of the chase!

  • If you've got a Rubik's Futuro Cube but not the instructions, you can find out how to use the thing by the Help option, which is in the Red Menu— but if you have only just got the cube, chances are it's still in Beginner Mode, in which only the Blue Menu is available; so in order to find out how to unlock it so you can reach the Green or Red menus, you have to know how to use it. Of course, you can download a copy of the instructions.

    Video Games 
  • A lot of Baba is You puzzles consist of situations where the direct solution is one of these and will render the actual win condition impossible, forcing you to use a workaround that comes at it from a different angle. For example, "Baba Doesn't Respond" has a setup where the victory flag is locked behind an impassable door, with a reed that has no effect in the corridor leading to it. There's a set of rules that can be adjusted to form "DOOR is SHUT and OPEN", which will cause the door to destroy itself...but that will also form "REED is DEFEAT", so if you just head over and push the block yourself, you'll still have an impassable barrier, just two spaces to the left. So you need to rearrange the level so that the other moving object in the stage will push the rules while you're between the reed and the door.
  • Discussed in BlazBlue: Central Fiction. In Act 2, after Makoto fights Izanami, the latter gives her the "Azure", a magical light blue sphere that one can use to materialize their wish. Makoto's wish is for her to always be with her friends, Noel and Tsubaki. But her wish gets immediately undone... by Noel, unconsciously (It Makes Sense in Context). Izanami then tells Makoto to kill Noel so that said "wish-nullifying effect" could be gone... but then she points out that it means Makoto's wish, logically, can't be reality after all. Later in the plot, however, the heroes find the real issue behind Noel's problem, and in the end, Makoto gets her wish by herself.
    • In Act 3 of the same game, this trope is also revealed to be part of Yuuki Terumi's dilemma: As resident Destroyer Deity Takehaya Susanoo no Mikoto, it was his purpose to destroy things, sometimes entire timelines even, for the sake of Master Unit: Amaterasu. But having grown fed up with his role, seeking freedom instead, he abandoned his old body and his role... only to find that he was now even less free than before, being subject to the laws of physics, spacetime and, even more so than before, the Master Unit's whims. This birthed in him a seething hatred for The Master Unit, and so he began trying to get back at her by destroying her beloved creations... only to realize that doing so was perfectly in line with his divine task, meaning there was no practical difference between him rebelling and him just doing what he was supposed to do anyway. Hence why he seeks the "Azure": So that he can grant himself complete freedom and remake the laws of reality so that he can destroy everything and everyone on loop for all of eternity without having it correspond to his divine purpose.
  • Due to an Unintentionally Unwinnable bug in Crusader Kings II's Conclave DLC, player characters ruling nomadic realms sometimes end up in a bind where the members of their realm council dislike them because they want more land, then disagree with granting vassal khans (including themselves) more land, because they dislike the PC due to wanting more land. A similar problem can come up with feudal rulers who are over the cap on held titles. The only solutions are to fire the councilors and get ones who will vote yes, or to pass a law removing the council's ability to vote on title and land grants. You can also sometimes get around it by granting land to one of their relatives.
  • In Digimon World Dawn/Dusk, if your Digimon loses battles, you lose friendship, best gained through winning battles, and it stops obeying you, leading to more losses... Worse in the case of Lunamon or Coronamon, the most powerful Mons in your party. If they lose in the prologue, you're doomed.
  • Accidentally in Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2: the Prince of Thieves Mon can only be obtained by filling the entire Monster Compendium. That is, you need to recruit or breed every monster in the game. The Prince of Thieves is a monster in this game and is part of the compendium. There's an Obvious Rule Patch for this scenario, but the dev team forgot to apply it.
  • Forges in Dwarf Fortress are necessary for most metalwork (weapons, armor, furniture, coins, etc.), but require an anvil to build. Anvils can only be made using a forge. If you embark without an anvil or have your only one stolen before it's used to build a forge, you'll be unable to do any crafting until a trade caravan brings one into for you to buy—assuming you have any money after spending so long deprived of metalworking. If you're desperate enough, you can also plunder it from another site and hope for the best, if starting the game off with a war against another nation looks worth it. The wiki article for Anvils points out the logical difficulty of this, similar to the Pirkei Avot example with forging the first metal tongs.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's: Security Breach: An In-Universe one exists around Faz-Cams, if a visitor brings any sort of device capable of flash photography into Monty Golf then it can be confiscated by the staff. This includes the Pizzaplex's own Faz-Cams, which are ONLY sold inside Monty Golf. Which means they can sell you a Faz-Cam, confiscate it, put it back in the gift shop and then sell the exact same Faz-Cam to someone else, confiscate it from them, put it back in the gift shop, sell it to a third person, and repeat ad nauseam. Or as Glamrock Freddy puts it...
    Glamrock Freddy: It is a very clever marketing plan.
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age presents the fate of the world as such; don't restore Alchemy and the crumbling world will erode to nothing or unleash Alchemy to stop the erosion and risk destroying the world from Alchemy's sheer power. Isaac, whose initial quest was to prevent the lighthouses from being lit (which is what Alchemy is tied to), lampshades the conundrum, but decides to join Felix in his quest to restore Alchemy. In the end, the world isn't destroyed, but many areas suffer drastic changes as seen in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.
  • In Kingdom Hearts, Riku is recruited by Maleficent to gather the hearts of the seven Princesses of Heart in order to retrieve Kairi's heart. The problem with this is that Kairi is a Princess of Heart. In Maleficent's defense, she seems to have believed it would work by gathering the Princesses themselves. The circumvention is a doozy of a spoiler: Kairi's lost heart has taken refuge in Sora, which is a significantly easier destination than everyone thought. Riku (gets possessed by a guy who) uses the other six Princesses' hearts to create a Keyblade with the power to free Kairi's heart from Sora.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has this in the form of a locked chest with its key locked inside: to open it, you bring it to a former thief who agrees to lockpick it for you in exchange for keeping his whereabouts a secret.
  • Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope inadvertently had this at launch. If you leave the Planet Key as the last thing you buy from the shop, you can never buy it or get the last Spark. There are only exactly enough Sparks and Planet Tokens in the game for 100% Completion, and no way to get any more. The Planet Key opens a secret room that leads to a Spark. And getting all the Sparks unlocks a secret boss battle that gets you a Planet Token. You need 11 Planet Tokens to buy the Planet Key. If the Planet Key is the last thing you buy, you'll be short one Token. You need the last Spark to get the last Token, but you need the last Token to get the last Spark. This was fixed in a patch a few months later by simply adding an additional token.
  • Deliberately invoked in the 1980s PC shareware game Master Spy: you control four agents (one at a time), each in his own domain which he cannot leave except through the good exit door (or by returning to the safe house in the middle and meeting the other agents there), and once he leaves his domain, he's out of that game forever. If a loyal agent exits through the bad door with any ticket, or through either door without a ticket, he's trapped and you lose. The problem is that Agent A's domain has the ticket required for B to exit, B has C's ticket, C has D's ticket, and D has A's ticket. Fortunately for you, one agent is The Mole, and the aim of the game is to deliberately trap that agent as well as enabling the escapes of the loyal three; so to win you need to execute the escapes in precisely the right order.
  • In Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds, your player character needs to get into the citadel of Evermore in order to report important news. The soldier won't let you in because you're outsiders, but says that one of the ways you can get in is by obtaining a mercenary badge from Swift Solutions. In order to get said badge from Swift Solutions, you have to complete missions, but the Swift Solutions guy, Bert, doesn't want to give you missions... because you're outsiders. Fortunately, Bert does explain at least that he will eventually give you the time of day if you do enough to enhance your reputation by helping people around town.
  • The Outer Worlds: The First Town, Edgewater, is a Company Town that is periodically stricken by plague. There's never enough medicine to treat all the victims due to the MegaCorp that owns the place cutting corners, so manager Reed Tobson follows company policy and reserves treatment to only "good workers"—here meaning "workers who aren't sick". For bonus points, the plague is really a nutrient deficiency: the town's diet consists entirely of its own canned fish (which has no actual fish in it), and beer.
  • Pharaoh has a recurring situation where your housing starts devolving because it no longer has access to some services, most often because of a worker shortage. When housing devolves, several citizens are kicked out, reducing the workforce even further, causing the housing to fall to an even lower level, and so on. The only way to fix the situation is to increase the workforce and improve the services, which can only be done by getting new workers to move into the area...
  • In Poker Night 2, Sam will admit that he's envious of Brock and Ash's physique, lamenting that he keeps putting on weight despite his active lifestyle. GLaDOS does an scan on Sam to reveal he's eaten nothing but junk food his entire life, which Sam never realized was bad for him. But he's been on that diet for so long that the preservatives are the only thing keeping him alive now. So he's going to keep getting fat if he only eats junk food, but he'll die if he eats anything other than junk food.
  • Parodied in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando: a ways into the game, the duo finds a pair of jars that contain a rock and a wrench upgrade. A plaque reads "Use rock to break glass to get wrench to break glass to get rock." Clank is more than eager to try and logic it out... before Ratchet just breaks the new wrench's case open with his old one.
    Ratchet: Solved it.
  • The Riddle of Master Lu: In Beijing, there's a gate you might want to go through (not for any particular reason, it's just there), but there's a guard blocking your way, and he won't let you through without a pass, which you can get from behind the gate. It's just a throwaway joke since you don't actually go through the gate at any point, although travelling to the First Emperor's tomb at the end of the game may be implied to involve going that way offscreen.
    Ripley: I'd like to go through there.
    Guard: You must have a pass.
    Ripley: Where do I get a pass?
    Guard: Through there.
  • In Sam & Max Save the World, the duo must investigate a casino, but are forbidden from entering a specific door unless they are members of the Toy Mafia. To join, they have to talk with the head of admissions... who is right behind the door they can't enter.
    Max: This is what it would be like if Catch-22 had a meaner, older brother.
    Mobster: Look, I don't make the rules, I just blindly enforce 'em.
  • The Ploxis in Star Control 3 are fond of engineering these situations to entrap other races into servitude. For instance, the Doog owed the Ploxis a large debt that had to be worked off, but in order to do the work, they had to buy materials from the Ploxis, which increased the debt. The solution, of course, is for the Captain to buy them out. Another one is the Clairconctlar, who have to serve the Ploxis until their queen says otherwise. Unfortunately, the queen has been kidnapped and currently resides on a space station that the Ploxis have forbidden them to visit. Solving that one requires the Captain to commit a crime so heinous that the Clairconctlar would chase him anywhere - even to, say, a forbidden space station - to carry out a death sentence.
  • In Strife, a Red Acolyte in The Bailey drops an Order Key — which you need in order to get into the Bailey in the first place. Fortunately, this key is also dropped by a Grey Acolyte outside the Bailey, both making it possible to get in and making the second drop redundant. There are also a lot of exits to other levels — most of which are to levels whose relevance to the plot was earlier, or which can only be opened from the other side, making them useless as sequence-breaking shortcuts.
  • Yume 2kki: To get to Voxel Island, you need the Drum effect so you can get to Silhouette Complex. But the area after that requires the Drum effect to not be in your inventory in order to proceed to the next area. The solution? Set the Drum effect as your favorite, then drop it in the Trophy Room. You can access the effect with the Shift key regardless of if you have it or not, making it so that you can solve the paradox of having it and not having it at the same time.

    Visual Novels 
  • The third case of Ace Attorney Investigations 2 ends in one of these. The culprit happily confesses to his crime because the Statute of Limitations on the case has expired and he can't be prosecuted for it. Through a combination of the culprit having fled the country and the defendant having been tried and found guilty of being an accomplice, you prove that the statute of limitations has been extended just long enough so that it still applies, meaning he can be prosecuted. Except the extension offered by the defendant's trial hinges on its verdict. If the verdict is overturned, the extension no longer applies, and the statute has expired. So in order to find the culprit guilty, the defendant has to be guilty, but the culprit's guilt proves the defendant's innocence.

    Web Animation 
  • FreedomToons: In the Dr. Mac short "Gentrification" Dr. Mac scolds guest speaker Timmy for moving into the inner city, referring to it as gentrification, saying it would drive up the area's prices and kick out the poorer locals. However, when Timmy suggests moving out of the city, Dr. Mac gets mad that he's no longer giving his money to the inner city's local economy, allowing poverty in the area to rise.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: In the third Vox Log video, Leman Russ puts a pair of Dark Eldar into one. Russ is being brought to Commorragh, and the Eldar guarding his cell decide to kill time by playing a version of twenty-questions. It'd be harmless, but Russ knows how to use the Warp to make it whatever he's thinking of manifest. After using choke gas and Urist the dwarf to torment the pair, he begins the third round... and its something the Dark Eldar can't name: Slaanesh. For a Dark Eldar to say its name would kill them, and drag them to an eternity of torment. But if they don't say it, Russ will manifest it in Commorragh, destroying the city and them. This would be absolutely horrifying... if the victims weren't Dark Eldar.
  • In the Overwatch short Alive, Widowmaker sets one up against Tracer by lining her up with the target she wants to protect. Either Tracer blinks out of the way and Mondatta takes the bullet, or her chronal accelerator is destroyed and Mondatta dies anyway without her protection. Tracer doesn't realize the set-up and blinks out of the way, and it takes her a moment afterwards to understand what just happened.

  • Freefall:
    • In this strip of after their ship has been certified to fly, Florence mentions that the inspector didn't have to pass them because the ship is only provisionally certified and he is not required to pass them until they are fully certified. When Sam asks how they get fully certified Florence explains they have to fly the ship and even explains a Catch-22 to Sam (who thinks it's a wonderful thing to introduce to his species).
    • In this strip, Sam Starfall is caught trespassing in a federal prison. Sam informs the robot that caught him that he could be sent to prison for that. The robot realizes it's a Catch-22.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: When the young Mathangi was pleading for the supreme Master Swordswoman Meti to train her, she gave her rather impossible terms: "Only a spectacular idiot would want to be my student, and I don't train simpletons."note 
  • In Phillip Jackson's Sequential Art, panel 136, Pip has to play as a Level 1 serf, and needs armor and a sword to go on treasure quests. (He had a sword and armor upon first spawning in the game, but they were stolen by a Griefer who he tried to join a Pick-Up Group with.) However, armor and swords cost money, which is earned by obtaining treasures. Pip lampshades his dilemma, then solves it by killing grasshoppers to level up.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
    • Parodied in this strip while discussing the book itself. A professor says that the book goes on so long that nobody finishes it, but since nobody finishes it, nobody can claim that it goes on so long.
    • Also parodied in "Skimmed," where a guy is too addicted to social media to stop using social media even though he doesn't like to be addicted to it.
      If I quit, I can't tell people how I quit! It's a Catch-22, sort of.
  • Parodically referenced in Sluggy Freelance in "The Isle of the Ployees", Riff's allegorical dream about corporate jobs. On the Isle of the Ployees,note  Riff is charged with taming a pr'jeknote  called Catz-Twenty-Two, in the form of a giant cat monster. Naturally, this is impossible, at least with the means available. There isn't a clear Catch-22 Dilemma in the story — the monster is just too big and fierce — but given the monster's name, the whole thing must be a reference to a case where a project is undoable because it involves one. Trying to get Mark and Tingnote  to approve new taming technology does involve something similar to this dilemma, since they demand completely opposite things.
  • In Stand Still, Stay Silent, while the story didn't address it at the time, Reynir has this concerning getting a magic teacher in Adventure I. He awoke to his powers while in the middle of nowhere with just a handful of other human beings around. The two only mages he can reach, both in the dream and the real world (one of the members of the crew, and the latter's older cousin who relocated to otherwise mage-free Sweden), are of Finnish tradition and hence have magic that works differently from Reynir's. There seems to be a correlation between how close other mages are and how easy it is to reach them via the dream world. The space between mage sanctuaries is dangerous to wander in, and the oldest of the Finnish mages has told Reynir that he's really not supposed to leave his safe area at all, especially considering his current strength. This puts Reynir in a position of not being able to reach other Icelandic mages safely before he gets better at magic but needing another Icelandic mage to make him better in a decent timeframe. Because of this, he's mostly relying on experimenting and praying his gods for a few pointers, with the latter possibly being an unreliable channel. In later chapters, he's working with variants of a rune he remembers seeing in his home farm once.

    Web Videos 
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd:
    • The Nerd sees Stalactite Spite this way in a Batman review. If you go under a Spiteful Stalactite, it hurts you, and to make it fall, you have to go under it. What a paradox. To make matters worse, the game in question, Return of the Joker, added ice physics to the stalactite rooms, to make it harder to get out of the way.
    • In the Tiger Games review, the Bullshit Man from You Know Whats Bullshit makes a cameo appearance and mentions scissors that come in plastic packaging that requires scissors to open.
  • Freeman's Mind on the Malevolent Architecture of Black Mesa: "Why would you have a ladder in an elevator shaft? To fix the elevator! How do you get on the ladder? You take the elevator that doesn't work! Who thought this one up?!"
  • Scott The Woz: In "Game Baths," Scott discusses his bathtub, explaining he couldn't use it because he stored all his soaps in it, but he couldn't use the soaps because he never had a place to bathe.
  • Stoogeposting: In "The Three Stooges pass the buck," Moe can't pay the water bill because Curly didn't pay the telephone bill, Curly couldn't because Larry didn't pay the electric bill, and Larry couldn't because Moe didn't pay the water bill. Moe questions why Larry needs water to pay the electric bill, and he replies:
    "So you expect me to go all the way to the bank parched?"

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of American Dad!, Steve wants to go on a hunting trip with Stan, but Stan won't let him come because he's still a boy. When Steve asks how he can become a man, Stan stays it's simple: he has to hunt and kill an animal. Steve then lampshades that he can't do that if Stan won't let him join the hunting trip. He even mentions the book Catch-22, but Stan says that he doesn't read any books he hasn't already read.
  • Gilbert finds himself in one of these in an episode of Anne of Green Gables. Gilbert wants money in order to purchase a tripod, so he tries to get a job babysitting for the adults. However, the adults are uncomfortable leaving a child in the care of someone with no experience. Gilbert lampshades his predicament, lamenting that he has no experience, but how is supposed to get experience if no one is willing to take a chance on him? Fortunately, Anne provides a solution when she offers to babysit with Gilbert and oversee his attempts at childcare — since Anne is experienced, the adults are willing to let them both do the job, allowing Gilbert to get paid and get experience with a trainer.
  • Beetlejuice faces a Catch-22 in "Super Zeroes". As his own superhero Super Beetleman, he can't join a union of superheroes unless he has a membership card. And a superhero can only get a membership card by being part of the union.
  • In "Bee is for Bear" from the PBS animated Curious George, a beekeeper says that she can't remove a beehive from a tree unless the tree branches are trimmed down first. So they call in a tree-trimmer, who would be happy to remove the branches if something is first done about the bees. It all comes to moot when a baby bear arrives and knocks down the hive.
  • One Dave the Barbarian episode has the characters learn that they're stuck in a debt loop that is collectively a Chicken-and-Egg Paradox but sticks each of them individually in one of these: all of them owe the same amount of money to the next person in the cycle, and none of them have enough money to pay off that person unless they can get the money from the previous person in the cycle, who doesn't have it because they need to get it off the person before them, and so on, back to the person you started with. Candy resolves it by skipping the cash-in-hand question entirely and having them pass around a cheque instead. This confuses Dave, but luckily Oswidge is on hand to sing a baffling, yet catchy, song about an egg, which apparently explains everything.
  • In Dexter's Laboratory, one "Justice Friends" short, "Bee Where?" has the titular group trying to get rid of a bee that is in their apartment. One of Major Glory's first plans is to open all the windows in the apartment so the bee will fly outside. He quickly changes his mind though, thinking in paranoia that with all the windows open, more bees will come in and swarm them. Valhallen then asks him, if all the windows are closed then how will they get rid of the bee that's already inside? Major Glory realizes he's right and goes into a long rambling speech about the dilemma he faces and the pros and cons of both choices.
  • The Fairly Oddparents: In "Christmas Every Day", Timmy wishes for it to be Christmas year-round, thus prolonging his favorite holiday indefinitely. However, he later learns that Santa Claus himself is a fairy, and all the fairies in the world lend him their magic on December 25th in order to give him the power to deliver gifts to kids around the world every Christmas, and, since now every day of the year is December 25th, Santa's being overtaxed with constantly delivering gifts. Problem is, fairies only get their magic back from Santa on the day after Christmas, which isn't to come due to the stuck calendar, so none of them have the power to undo Timmy's wish—to make matters worse, the Lesser Holiday mascots are pissed at being bumped off the calendar, and , believing Santa to be responsible, are on a warpath to the North Pole in order to usurp him and banish him to the nonexistent date of February 33rd and bring an end to Christmas—permanently.
  • Munro: Due to an accident, a four-year-old boy is drafted into the army. Every time he tries to point this out to get sent home, he's met with rejections of this type:
    • The sergeant claims he's actually not a kid, because the army doesn't recruit Child Soldiers and they would have kicked him out if they realized. Only adults get drafted, so if Munro got drafted, he's an adult, and therefore can't be dismissed for being underage.note 
    • His continued "delusions" that he's a little kid get him sent to the doctor, who needs to approve of his mental condition not being fit for the army to let him go. The doctor also considers any patients that get sent to him to be faking, because they're in good enough health to walk to his station with minimal issue.
  • In two episodes of The Proud Family, Oscar tells Penny that he wants her to start dating after she's married.
  • In the Porky Pig's Feat cartoon, Porky and Daffy are presented with a massive bill, and the manager won't let them go until they pay their bill. Things don't get any better when Daffy loses the last of the money in a craps game. Since the manager has Porky and Daffy confined to their room, they can't go out and get a job to earn the money, and the manager won't receive the money Porky and Daffy need to pay their bills, since they can't leave the hotel.
  • Discussed in Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown during the initial organization of the girls' tent in a "democratic fashion". Peppermint Patty wants to prepare ballots, but the girls have to decide first on who passes out ballots.
    Lucy Van Pelt: Wait a minute! You can't vote unless we have ballots!
    Marcie: If we can't vote to see who will pass the ballots, how can we have ballots to vote?
    • She avoids that dilemma by asking those in favor of letting her pass out ballots to say "yes". The proposal is approved with unanimity.
  • Sonic Boom: In "Mayor Knuckles", Dr. Eggman comes to Knuckles, who is the temporary mayor of Unnamed Village to protest about his trash not getting picked up (as Knuckles had approved vacation time for all sanitation workers). Knuckles tells Eggman to Take a Number, to which Eggman points out that the machine has no numbers in it. Knuckles tells Eggman that he'll need to fill out a complaint form to get through to him, so Eggman asks him where he can find one. Knuckles then says he'll have to take a number for that.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Patrick! The Game", Patrick makes his own board game out of several other game boards taped and glued together and starts making up rules as he goes along. When Squidward lands on the "go to jail" square on the Monopoly-esque game, Patrick tells him one of the only ways he can get out is to roll a 6, which he can't do because he can't roll the dice while in jail (the other way is for someone to say his name).
  • In the Steven Universe: Future episode "I Am My Monster", Amethyst remarks that the best person to take care of someone who turned into a monster would be Steven. Unfortunately, the person who turned into a monster is Steven.
  • Xavier: Renegade Angel: In order to help a farmer in a drought, Xavier tries to make God cry and bring rain by doing a shamanic Navajo rain dance. He can't remember how it goes, so he tries to do a Lakota memory-jogging dance, but can't remember that either. He suggests performing an Iroquois irony-melting dance, but remembers that only God can perform the dance, and it has to be raining first.
    Xavier: That's the irony part.
    Farmer: Damn this circular logic!

    Real Life 
  • One that's all too common is "The Permission Paradox," where businesses offer starting-level jobs, but require that the person hired already have a certain level of experience. You can't get a job without having experience, but you can't get the experience without having a job. (Though it's not a true paradox as lot of these are 'soft' requirements, and not having the experience isn't a death sentence on your application.) This inspired the following book title: Want a Job? Get Some Experience. Want Experience? Get a Job. Countless fresh graduates, people who have earned degrees or higher but don't have job experience due to being in school, found themselves on the employment line for months, if not years, because of this. This was usually because those companies wouldn’t hire a fresh out of college newbie, but they would hire those graduates who had worked internships with them during their college years. That way, they gain “experience” before graduating. Universities with cooperative education programs in fact require students to spend a semester every year working as an intern for a company, so that they graduate with work experience. In many instances, the paradox is actually because the company already has a candidate in mind for the position but company policy requires them to seek applicants from outside, so they deliberately set up contradictory qualifications to cut down on the number of people who will try to apply for it.
  • Academic research can have the same problem. While peer review is supposed to be impartial, in practice many peer reviewers will be reluctant to badly review a more reputed researcher, or to taint their own reputation that they're a negative reviewer. So it's easy to find that you can't get a paper published without a prior reputation, but you can't get a prior reputation except by having papers published. The most common way around this is that research groups will always list their new members as primary authors and the best-known researcher in the group as a co-author.
  • Likewise, in video game development, it's common that video game hardware manufacturers will not trust you with the development kits for consoles unless you have proved that you are part of a company that has been hired by a publisher to develop a game; but no publisher would want to hire a company that doesn't already have the development kits, because that implies they have no experience developing on the console. For a long while, this made it mandatory for programmers to jump between jobs with established development houses getting experience on their console development kits. It's slightly eased in the modern day, with more support for independent console development and many game engines being easily portable between consoles and the PC.
  • SAG/AFTRA (the Screen Actor's Guild) employs an infamous Catch-22 in its membership requirements. You can't appear on screen in a movie with union actors as any more than an extra unless you're a member. But in order to qualify to become a member, you have to have appeared on screen in a movie with union actors! The solution is for the movie producers to cast you anyway and then pay the fine to SAG/AFTRA for using a non-union actor in a union production. Given that the goal of SAG/AFTRA was explicitly to limit the supply of movie actors (SAG was formed because stage actors feared that, since movie acting doesn't require doing the same perfect performance over and over, film-makers could just recruit completely random people as actors for next to nothing and give them multiple takes), it makes a certain amount of sense, but it still stinks for anyone trying to break into the field.
  • Many employers prefer an uninterrupted work history in their job applicants. This creates a dilemma for unemployed applicants since they're viewed as less employable since they don't already have a job (after all, a skilled or motivated worker would already have a job) so they don't get the job, which creates a larger gap in their work history and causes their references and experience to age and decay, which means they have an even harder time getting a job, leading to the situation where they can't get a job because they don't have a job.
  • One theoretical application of the Alcubierre Drive that would not require large amounts of exotic matter would be to use masses placed along the intended travel path, creating Hyperspace Lanes. Unfortunately, these masses would themselves have to be moving faster than the speed of light, so you'd need an Alcubierre drive to make an Alcubierre drive.
  • Politicians who are not "front runners" in elections can't get votes even from people who support them above all other candidates because voters don't want to "throw their vote away" on a candidate who "can't win," but losing votes in this way is exactly what makes them unable to win. One solution that's gained ground outside North America is to switch from a first-past-the-post system (highest vote-getter wins, whether or not it's 50%+1) to a runoff system (50%+1 votes wins; if no one gets it, a second round is held between the top two candidates), or in the Anglosphere and nowhere else to Instant-runoff voting (AKA "alternative vote" in the UK and "ranked-choice voting" in the US), in which the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated if no candidate gets a majority, and the second choice votes on those ballots are added to the other candidates. Repeat until somebody gets at least 50%+1 votes.
    • Elections for a multi-member body (such as a legislature) allow for a third option in the form of Proportional representation, in which there are multiple winners assigned to each party proportionally to its vote share; naturally, this system requires large, multi-member districts, or even electing the whole legislature on a nationwide basis outright, to work effectively, and if there are any single-member districts at all note  they only form one tier of the legislature's membership.
  • Similar thing with peaceful protests leading to "protesting won't solve anything" self-defeating mentality. For protests to have an effect to put enough pressure on the people in power, protests need to be massive. If there is not enough people protesting, the protest won't accomplish their goal. If enough protests fail due to lack of massivity, the others get discouraged from participating and start to believe that protests don't solve anything. Basically, for protests to get massive enough to work the organisers need to assure enough people that protests will work.
  • Building a credit score in the US tends to have this problem:
    • Some banks require you to have a credit score to take out a loan or get a credit card. In order to get a credit score, you have to pay back money owed due to loans or credit. Of course, there are ways around this, such as through secured credit cards or piggybacking onto someone else's credit by convincing them to co-sign with you. Which can be a problem for immigrants because they don’t know anyone to “piggyback” onto.
    • Similar to the aforementioned "Permission Paradox", having a bad credit score can keep one from getting a job, but getting a job is the best way to improve a credit score.
  • The music composition software Finale PrintMusic, as well as the one for the Magic: The Gathering fan software Magic Set Editor, has a pretty big flaw with their user registration system on their forums. If your account should happen to get locked due to inactivity (and you will qualify after only about 3 months of inactivity), then it is essentially impossible to get back into it because you must contact a forum administrator to re-enable it, contact information is found in user profiles, and user profiles cannot be viewed unless you are logged into an account. You can't even make a new account (at least, not without setting up an entirely new e-mail address) because the old information is still in the system and cannot be reused.
  • To sign up for Sky services, including internet, you need an email address. To get an email address, you already need internet access. Fortunately, you can borrow someone else's or the like. In rare cases, your original order may run into a problem, in which case you need to sign up again. You can't use the email address you used before because it's already registered with Sky. One way around this is to use plus-addressing (e.g. if is blocked, use to create an address that looks different but isn't.
  • UK telephone service provider Lycamobile has a similar problem. You are not told what the phone number of your new SIM card is; to find out, you have to dial *132#. This code only works if you have credit. To get the credit, you have to top-up; to top-up online, you need to register the SIM... and to register it, you need to know the number. The way to break this deadlock is to make the first top-up using a voucher, but if you're housebound and have nobody to go and buy a voucher for you, you're screwed.
  • Stack overflows in programming are often caused by a function needing information from some other function, which in turn needs information from the first function (more functions may be involved), creating an infinite sequence of calls back and forth filling up the stack.
    • Similarly, deadlocks are a significant danger in multithreaded programming. Basically, thread 1 has a lock on resource A and is waiting for resource B to become available. Thread 2 has a lock on B and is waiting for A. So they each sit and wait for the other to finish, bringing your program to a grinding halt.
    • In object-oriented programming, a class whose constructor takes an instance of the same class as an argument would not be able to be instantiated (unless it's nullable,What?  in which case one could just pass null as the argument).
    • The "Oracle problem" in automated software testing. It can be very beneficial to write a program to test another program, but this requires the testing program to be able to identify if the program under test is working correctly. The problem is that this can't be done by generating the correct solution, because if you had a reliable program that could do that, you would be using it to solve the actual problem and would have already tested it. For example, to test if a GPS system is correctly producing routes; a testing program can easily verify that the route reaches the intended destination, but to check that it is the shortest, it would have to be able to calculate the shortest route to compare to. So you need a working program to calculate the shortest route, in order to test that your program to calculate the shortest route is working. These therefore have to be tested by hand or with pre-established data.
    • Public Key Encryption techniques as used on the internet are used for a similar reason. Traditional Shared Key encryption is more secure and much more established, but to be able to use it, you have to securely communicate a key to the other party. This was possible in historical uses of encryption (for example, spies could be issued with code books at HQ); but for internet connections, it would mean that to establish a secure internet connection, you would first need a secure internet connection to send the key with. Public Key encryption allows the initial setup of the key to be conducted over an insecure connection; once the key is set up, the system switches to shared key encryption for greater security. note 
  • To get identification paperwork, you need to prove your identity. Which is the purpose of identification paperwork. Thankfully, multiple forms are issued, so you can, for example, use your birth certificate to get your passport. If you lose something along the way, though, good luck.
    • There was a case in Canada of a young man whose identification had actually been destroyed due to becoming a foster child. He ultimately used his criminal record to get a driver's license.
    • Even stranger was a case that happened in Romania: A man traveled abroad to Turkey, and after a short time there was an earthquake. His wife back home hadn't heard from him, so after a while, she assumed him as deceased. Years later, the man was brought back to Romania with an expired passport and found out that he was legally dead. To overturn the death certificate, he needed to have a valid identification; but to be able to get identification, he had to be alive. The court eventually overruled the death certificate, but until then said man remained dead despite being in good health in front of the judge.
  • The curious case of the now-defunct Lakes Mall in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. The owners of the then-struggling mall in 1989 were faced with a unique problem: "The owners [of the mall] aren't paying off their mortgage, the mortgage holder charged in a foreclosure suit filed this month. We can't, says the owner, because the mortgage holder — which also leases space in the mall — isn't paying its rent." So the mall owner can't pay the mortgage owner because the mortgage owner can't pay the mall.
  • Often the case with many high schoolers looking for a job to earn enough money to purchase an automobile. Many of these low-level jobs ask if you have a reliable way to get to and from your job. In other words, you need a car to get a job in which you're saving up to get a car. Some countries/cities try to go around this by offering cheap ways for students to use public transport... only for businesses to counter by outright requiring a driver's license and a good driving record.note 
  • During World War II, the International Labour Organization was faced with the potential of this. They were an agency of the League of Nations, but were autonomous enough to keep running despite the League's issues. The problem, they realized, was that one thing their constitution didn't let them do was change their constitution without getting approval from the League— so if the League ceased to exist in any sense capable of giving approval, then the constitution couldn't be changed and they'd be stuck as an agency of an organization that no longer existed. Ultimately they just decided that such a situation meant that article of the constitution was no longer in effect, allowing them to amend the constitution using their internal procedures and follow along when the rest of the League's remaining assets and institutions were transferred over to the United Nations.
    • If not following this, they could have followed three later (1950, 1955, and 1956) International Court of Justice decisions on Namibia (which had remained a League of Nations Mandate, as South-West Africa, even when the League had been disbanded and all other Mandates had become United Nations Trust Territories) which jointly stated that the United Nations General Assembly had a supervisory role, was empowered to receive petitions and call for reports, was not required to follow League of Nations voting procedures, and had the power to grant hearings to petitioners.
  • A classic one for computer users is booting up a computer without a keyboard attached to the system in some manner and get "Keyboard not detected, please press F1 to continue."note 
  • Setting up a new computer and/or reinstalling an operating system can be like this. You need to download and install the drivers for all of your hardware, which often includes the network adapters you need to connect to the Internet. Usually the solution is to have another computer on hand that you can use to download the drivers and then copy them onto a USB drive. Also, operating systems increasingly support things like networking and sound out of the box without requiring drivers thanks to the increasing standardization of computer hardware.
  • Way back in the days of minicomputers and mainframes with very expensive memory, as much as $1 a bit (in the 1960s) or $1 a byte (in the 1970s), it was very important to make programs not use a lot of memory. So someone got the idea of the "overlay," a feature where only part of the program was loaded into memory, and parts you weren't using weren't loaded until you needed them. For example, a word processor wouldn't need the printing function until you wanted to print something, so when you did want to print, the editing part could be "swapped out" and the printing part "swapped in" from the overlay. How this was done was a part of the program called the "overlay manager" that decides which part needs to be brought into memory and which part does not. This was a great idea until someone decided they could save even more memory and put the overlay manager in with the overlays...
    • Some computers had a similar issue with swapping data in and out of memory, if there was too little memory still available to swap in enough of it at once to move forward.
  • A Truth in Television version seen frequently in Police Procedurals is created by laws restricting search and seizure, such as the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. A careful criminal can entrap the police by leaving little enough evidence at a scene that the police cannot get sufficient probable cause to be granted a search warrant. They need evidence to get the warrant to get the evidence. The usual solution is to Take a Third Option, often by flipping a witness.
  • This is often a problem that arises with new technology or media formats:
    • This is what doomed high-quality optical audio disc formats such as Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio. The publishers wouldn't release disks because not enough people had players... but the public wouldn't buy the players because there weren't enough discs for it.
    • Sun's lawsuit against Microsoft hinged on this argument: that Windows had to be treated as a monopoly even though there was technically nothing stopping anyone from writing another operating system for the PC, because no one would use an operating system that didn't have any software available, and nobody would write software for an operating system that nobody used. A fair amount of discussion towards the start of the lawsuit was about whether a company could become a monopoly simply because of the nature of the product they made, and what Microsoft might or might not have done that could be construed as attempting to reinforce the Catch-22.
    • The gaming industry's relationship with the Linux operating system can be described this way. Not many people play on Linux because developer support is relatively limited, and developer support is limited because not many people play on Linux. Starting to be averted with services such as Steam getting ports to some distros (Valve even wrote their own gaming-optimized distro for their Steam Machine gaming PCs).
    • This can also affect game consoles. If a console launches with a poor lineup of games, its launch sales will be poor, which then makes publishers hesitant to release additional games. Usually, it takes a publisher taking a risk on an ambitious game that becomes a Killer App for a console to catch on, or publishers grinding it out with popular games at the beginning of the generation while they wait for the console to catch on.
      • Both the Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series X have been affected by this. Both consoles suffered from seriously reduced availability at launch due to the COVID-19 Pandemic causing a shortage of chips. This meant that companies were reluctant to make exclusive games for the consoles because people couldn't get hold of them, which meant that people other than the most dedicated fans didn't bother to jump through the hoops involved in getting one because they didn't have enough exclusive games.
    • Companies can shoot themselves in the foot with this, too. For example, Google has gotten a reputation for killing off their less popular apps, so people tend to be wary of committing to a newly-released app, which in turn makes it unpopular.
    • Autonomous vehicle research has progressed rapidly, but taking the final step to fully autonomous cars is constantly impended by the need to have an attentive human driver on hand to override the autonomous system in the case of unexpected circumstances. Of course, having human drivers able to override the autonomous system also dramatically increases the risk of abnormal driving behaviour that creates unexpected circumstances for others..
  • Steam Workshop has many add-one that require multiple other add-one, which in turn require the previous add-on.Example  Since most add-ons don't need to be installed in a specific order, you can just install the other add-ons right after.
  • Team-based multiplayer games can easily get to be this. You have to play and practice to "git gud" and be beneficial to teammates, but to not be The Millstone and get trash-talked by people who think you should just quit, you have to be good to begin with. If you have friends that you can group up with, it helps, since they're likely to be more patient and help you out; but if not, good luck.
  • An insurance company once had a rule against issuing car insurance to anyone who had not yet registered the vehicle in their name. That was in a state that required anyone trying to register a vehicle to provide proof of insurance in their name. The company eventually changed that rule.
  • Applying for healthcare, insurance, and other similar necessities will have you pay your premiums based on your income, and the type of services you get will also depend on your income. It's quite common seeing people who make too much money to qualify for getting health insurance for free and not make enough money to actually afford the medication and doctor visits. Similarly, in the United States healthcare system, you need a full-time job in order to get health insurance, but many people with health issues cannot work until they get medical treatment.
  • Looking up a word in a dictionary to find out how it's spelled. In order to find it, you have to know how to spell it. In most cases, you can get close enough, but with a word like 'pneumonia', you won't find it in the N's.
  • Many chess problems have an obvious-looking solution that runs into this in some form. "In order to execute a mating attack, I have to push my opponent's king into a corner, but if I do, he'll be stalemated before I can reach mate." The real solution usually involves a completely different line of thought.
  • For transgender people, access to medical aspects of transition, such as hormones and surgery, often requires some pre-set amount of time spent living as the identified gender. However, the acceptance of a trans person's gender by society at large may depend on their having medically transitioned. (Eg: you can't change your gender on your passport or other ID without surgery, but you can't use your ID if it doesn't match the gender you present as, so you have to continue presenting as your assigned-at-birth sex just to live your life, so you can't get surgery.)
  • Debtor's prison of any man unable to pay alimony or child support. He can't make any money while he's locked up, but as his debt only grows, he can't be released. Meanwhile, the ex and kids get nothing anyway, and the taxpayer has to foot the bill of keeping him fed and housed in jail.
    • A similar, real example: man couldn't keep up with child support even with a full-time job, so his driving license was suspended, so he lost his job.
    • This problem was far more pronounced in earlier centuries, where debt of any kind could land one in prison and prisons not only prevented an income, but charged for room, board, and such pleasantries as not being tortured (I.E. the "easing of irons.") The prisoner's only hope was to beg, get help from friends, family, and accomplices, or otherwise cut deals.
  • Cigarette smokers face a particularly harsh one when they are faced with a smoking-related health scare. The fear of illness produces anxiety and depression, which in turn heighten nicotine cravings. The withdrawal on top of the worry can cause quite the miserable experience.
  • Substance addictions invariably turn into Catch-22 situations. The only thing that makes you feel better about your problems is taking the substance, but the substance is creating the very problems that you are using it to escape from.
    • Likewise, recovery poses a similar dilemma. The negative experiences and feelings that result from using are a strong motivator to quit, but as more time passes, you start to feel better, and the memories the consequences of your use are less vivid, you may develop less resistance to using again.
  • Some sports teams, like the Dallas Cowboys, are regularly featured in nationally televised games because they draw higher ratings than other teams. And why do they get higher ratings? You guessed it, because they're regularly featured in nationally televised games.
  • In the US, when a convict is released from Prison, one of the conditions they need to fulfill in order to not wind up back there is to have a steady job of some sort. Of course, many employers are reluctant to hire someone with a criminal record, so many people end up going back, either because they couldn't get a job within the timeframe allotted to them by their parole officer, or because they get desperate and turn to illegal ways of making money so they can pay their bills. (They may also, especially if they've been in a Private Profit Prison, have debt they incurred while in prison.)
  • This is believed to be the reason why The Owl And The Pussycat remains unavailable on Blu-ray to this day, and doesn't even have a page on This Very Wiki. Barbra Streisand, its notoriously persnickety leading lady, will only allow the film's broadcast or release if a nude scene she was convinced to do and a scene-relevant Precision F-Strike are omitted. However, a vocal minority of videophiles will riot if the film is released on Blu-ray like that.
  • Legal systems that allow people to be fined for vagrancy put homeless people in this situation. If they don't beg, they'll never be able to get a roof over their head or clean themselves enough to get employed, but if they're caught begging, they'll be fined, ironically making them more likely to have to stay on the streets and keep begging.
  • Pornstars often end up trapped in their field due to this. Many of them, particularly the women, got into the industry because they came from poverty and needed the money. Problem is, once they made enough money to live comfortably and pay their bills, nobody else wants to hire them for any role, because of their past employment in the adult entertainment industry. The regular film and television industry has a dim view of pornstars’ acting ability, and generally avoids casting them. Other industries avoid them because they think that the ex-pornstar will bring disrepute to them. Some jobs such as healthcare and teaching are out of reach for them, because any past as a sex worker precludes them from working around children and/or vulnerable people. They become unemployable and end up burning through whatever money they had made as a pornstar. They end up right back into poverty. Out of desperation, many pornstars reluctantly end up going back to the adult entertainment industry because they literally have nowhere else to go.
  • Weight loss surgeries (WLS) such as gastric bypass surgery are affected by this. One of the problems with being morbidly obese is that most surgeries become prohibitively risky, due to a combination of factors including their high weight making it impossible to administer anesthesia safely, and the excess body fat making it more difficult for the surgeons to actually reach the organ they're trying to operate on. However, the people in need of WLS are those who have tried and failed to lose weight via other methods, and are in desperate need of losing weight due to looming health complications.
  • General Orde Wingate used this as a tongue-in-cheek goad to get his recon troops to work harder:
    No patrol will report any country impenetrable until it has penetrated it.
  • Various phone providers require an email adress to set up a mobile number, while several email providers require a mobile phone number to register an account. Downplayed, as on both sides there are still providers without those demands.