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Clutching Hand Trap

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"You just had to buy the unbreakable plastic kind, didn't you, Dog?"
Cat, from CatDog, after ending up in this situation

A Comedy trope in which someone reaches their hand into a container to grab something, often but not always food, but their hand gets stuck because of the way that they're gripping it. This trope can come with An Aesop about greediness if the character is unable to get their hand out of the container because they're holding too much of it and are refusing to let go, or about thinking rationally with the situation at hand (pun very much intended) if they'd be able to remove their hand with the item simply by holding the item in a different way. Can result from a Tempting Cookie Jar.

Compare Hand in the Hole, which this trope is similar in concept to where it is also a form of Schmuck Bait, but it differs in that for a clutching hand trap, the victim reaches in on their own whims since they know what's inside and want to get it, whereas Hand in the Hole is when the victim is being an idiot and putting their hand inside with no idea of what's in there in the first place.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Yami Yugi uses this trap in Yu-Gi-Oh! against a crooked shopkeeper in a game involving expensive sneakers, some coins, and a scorpion.

    Comic Strips 
  • Happened to Garfield in this strip, but he subverts it by breaking the cookie jar on Jon's head, instead of just simply letting go of the cookie that he wanted.
    • Not a cookie jar, but Jon got both of his hands stuck in pickle jars (as did his date) in this strip.
    • Garfield gets his hand caught in an olive jar in this early strip, which was recycled into a gag in the very first Garfield animation, a nameless short from 1980 that was only shown in the special Happy Birthday, Garfield.
  • The comic strip Overboard had a strip in which Captain Henry Crow patiently explained to one of his dimwitted crew that if he'd only let go of the cookies, he could get his hand out of the cookie jar. Night falls and the crewman still has the jar stuck on his hand.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • The Thief and the Cobbler: At one point the Thief sees a bottle filled with jewels. Unfortunately, the jewels are too big for him to get past the opening. He won't let go of the diamond, even when the palace guards have him surrounded.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Clerks, an idiot customer needs Dante's help to get his hand unstuck from a Pringles can. Dante lampshades his stupidity by immediately tilting the can sideways to get chips from the bottom.
  • The final shootout of Just Heroes have the Plucky Comic Relief sidekick trying to "help out" his idol, Cheung, by hiding pistols in various random places, one inside a narrow vase. Cheung tries getting said gun, only to get his hand stuck in the middle of a shootout necessitating him to smash the vase. And then, the sidekick realize he forgot to reload some of the guns.
  • In Strangers on a Train, Bruno, a remorseless murderer, gets his arm stuck in a drainage hole by the sidewalk. This is played for suspense, as it helps buy time for Guy to finish his scheduled tennis match, Bruno arrives at the tennis match anyway, though it does have Alfred Hitchcock's trademark dark humor. Subverted, as Bruno is able to easily pull out his hand clutching the lighter from the tight grid where he struggled to slide his forearm through just moments ago.
  • Saw II: The movies typically go the Hand in the Hole route, but this one had a more seriously played case of this with a glass case containing a syringe of antidote the characters needed for poison they'd been given. One character on the tail end of the poison's effects discovers the glass case, sticks her arm in and, due to the entry being lined with blades, can't get the arm back out causing her to bleed to death trying.
  • In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this is used as a Funny Background Event when the dwarves arrive at Bilbo's house: Dwalin is seen with his hand in the cookies jar, and he has a hard time pulling said hand out, mostly because his fingers are far too big to fit in a jar made for Hobbits.
  • Played with in Diamonds Are Forever. A Mook, frisking James Bond, reaches inside his jacket to go for the gun... and receives a nasty surprise, courtesy Q-Branch.
  • In the reboot of The Pink Panther (2006), while talking with casino owner Larocque, Clouseau gets his hand stuck in a vase and struggles for several minutes trying to get it out. Finally, he asks the owner:
    Clouseau: Is this vase valuable?
    Larocque: It is a worthless imitation.
    Clouseau: Good. [smashes vase against a nearby desk, causing it to fall apart]
    Larocque: But that desk was...priceless...

  • During the events of Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, Adrian's mother is taken to hospital to give birth to his sister whilst he is at school. She has left money for the taxi in the spaghetti jar but it gets stuck and he is forced to come into the delivery room with the jar still wedged on to his hand.
    Taxi driver: You should have tipped the jar upside down, you stupid bleeder.
  • In Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, Hershel tricks one of the goblins by offering a jar of pickles. The goblin reaches in and grabs as many as it can, but it's so greedy that it doesn't think to let go when it realizes its hand is stuck. Hershel only reveals the trick after finishing his Hanukkah celebrations for the night.
  • Used in one of Jungle Doctor's Monkey Tales, when Toto (a generic African name for a small child) the monkey is trapped this way using a kerosene tin half-filled with stones and dirt so it's too heavy for a monkey to lift, and a layer of peanuts on top with a hole only just big enough for him to insert his hand but too small for him to remove it while holding anything. "It is not the habit of monkeys to let go of peanuts" and so Toto is caught.
  • Moongobble and Me: Variant in book 2 — when Edward, Moongobble and Urk go to see the Rusty Knight, he has his hand stuck in a vase... not because he was trying to get something out, but because he was cleaning it. Fortunately, Edward's able to get it off him with the help of a stick of butter.
  • Invoked in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, when monkeys refuse to let Minli and Dragon enter a peach grove. Minli boils some rice, then ties a fishnet over the pot of rice and pretends to be asleep. The monkeys reach through the net's holes to take the rice, but they grab so much that they can't pull their hands out. Since the net is too strong for them to tear, and since they're too greedy to let any of the rice go, they are unable to keep Minli and Dragon out of the peach grove.
  • Where the Red Fern Grows has something similar as a way to trap raccoons. You cut a small hole in a hollow log, drive some nails around it pointing down and inward, and place something shiny at the bottom like cut-up pieces of tin can. A raccoon passing by will be attracted, reach in to grab it, and catch its fist on the nails trying to pull it out. The narrator thinks his grandfather is teasing him when he first tells him this method, because all the raccoon would have to do is let go of the tin. But the grandfather assures him that a raccoon will never willingly let go of anything shiny. After the narrator has caught one raccoon like this and can use its skin to train his hunting dogs, his father makes him pull the nails out of all his traps, because if raccoons are that serious about their tin then they don't have a sporting chance.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Scrubs Turk has gotten his hand stuck in an ice dispensing machine (during Carla's labor), apparently this latter also happened to Leonard the Hook-Handed Security Guard. Another time, he got stuck in a candy machine because he wouldn't let go of the candy. When Carla asked why JD wasn't mocking him, he revealed that he also had his hand stuck, in a glass coffee pot (because he dropped a penny inside).
  • One iteration of Celebrity Jeopardy featured Tom Hanks, flanderizing himself into a bumbling idiot, fall to this trap while trying to get a pickle out of a jar that came from...somewhere.
    "Alex Trebek": Just let go of the pickle.
    Tom Hanks: ...b-but I want a pickle.
  • That '70s Show: Kelso gets his hand stuck in a vase. Like Homer below, we only find out his hand was "stuck" this way after he mentioned the vase was where he hid their stash of marijuana and he has it explained that holding onto the bag is why he can't take his hand out. He then lets go of it while still holding the vase in the air, causing it to drop to the ground and break.
  • Discussed in Shaka Zulu when Shaka uses the "catching a monkey" variation as a metaphor for how he believes the English are manipulating his greed and lust for power. Of course, by the time he realizes this, it's already far too late.
  • Fort Boyard: If the teams want to sacrifice a player to gain an extra clue, the player has to put their hand into a tiger statue's mouth, which then ends up manacled to the tiger.
  • Mr. Bean is in a hospital waiting room with a small kettle stuck on his hand. In the same episode, he puts his hand into a litter bin with a small opening; the bin then ends up stuck on his other hand.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Several old stories use this trope.
    • The Boy and the Filberts (attributed to the Greek philosopher Epictetus). A boy reaches into a pitcher of figs and filberts and grabs so many that he can't get his hand out. A passing stranger advises him to release some of them. He does so and succeeds in removing his hand. Epictetus died in A.D. 135, making this Older Than Feudalism.
    • Idries Shah's Tales of the Dervishes had a story (attributed to Khwaja Ali Ramitani, who died in 1306) in which a monkey was trapped by putting cherries in a jar. The monkey was so greedy that it grabbed too many cherries and couldn't remove its hand.
  • In Buddhism, a monkey getting his hand stuck in a coconut hand trap is a metaphor for the monkey mind repetitively creating thoughts and being attached to thoughts. When the mind is not grasping tightly onto thoughts, the mind relaxes, and so does the consciousness perspective.

    Puppet Shows 
  • In a Sesame Street episode from the mid-'70s, Oscar has his hand stuck in a jar. Throughout the episode, the adults try many methods of prying his hand out, even by greasing it with lard. Turns out he wanted to look at his rock collection that he kept in the jar. The adults convince him to let go and his hand comes out easily; the adults then pour the rocks into his hand. Immediately after, Luis comes by with an old alarm clock in pieces as a gift to Oscar. Luis puts the pieces in the jar, and Oscar immediately grabs them. He finds his hand stuck once again as the closing credits begin.

    Web Animation 
  • One skit in RWBY Chibi involves Yang very intensely removing the lid off a jar of sweet pickles for Ruby (after both Ruby herself and Sun failed to get the jar open). She then sticks her hand in to try one out, Ember Celica and all, only for it to get stuck. She is not at all deterred by this, causing Ruby and Sun to run for the hills in terror.

    Web Comics 
  • Comes up as Mood Whiplash on one page of Slightly Damned when Kieri is in an argument with her brother, who is trying to convince her that Buwaro is evil. She briefly considers the idea that Buwaro could be manipulating her, but then either imagines or remembers Buwaro with his hand stuck in a jar that he's trying to take a pickle out of and begging her for help, which causes her to immediately dismiss the idea since he's too incompetent to be able to manipulate her.
  • Combined with an ironic cut in Sluggy Freelance: Lord Horribus and Reakk of the Dimension of Pain discuss their plan to capture Torg, and mention how clever and resourceful Torg is to have evaded them every time prior. Cut to Riff and Torg setting up Halloween, with Torg having his hand stuck in a jar of candy corn.

    Western Animation 
  • This happened to Socrates in the Adventures from the Book of Virtues episode "Moderation", when he tries to take a cookie out of the jar Zach gave him.
  • The idiot customer with the Pringles can in Clerks: The Animated Series. Dante subtly points this out by pouring the remaining Pringles into his hand while telling the customer that "sometimes you just need to let those hard-to-reach chips go."
  • The Simpsons: Homer got both of his hands stuck in two different vending machines while trying to get a free can of soda and a candy. They think they have to cut his arms off in order to free him, but then they discover that he's still holding onto the can of soda and candy inside the machines and that his hands weren't even stuck — he just wouldn't let go of the immovable can/packet.
    Fireman: Homer, this... this is never easy to say... I'm gonna have to cut your arms off.
    Homer: They'll grow back, right?
    Fireman: Oh... yeah.
    Homer: Whew!
    Second Fireman: [interrupts first fireman as he is lifting massive buzzsaw to Homer's shoulder] Homer, are you just holding on to the can?
    Homer: Your point being?
  • The Critic's Jay Sherman got his head stuck in a honey jar a la Winnie the Pooh. Someone even took a photo of it.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Squid's Day Off", Mr. Krabs gets his claw stuck in a sink drain because a dime fell into it, and he couldn't get his claw out unless he let go. However, when SpongeBob suggested that he simply let go of the dime to get free:
  • CatDog: Cat got both of his hands stuck in a pickle jar. Since he was also about to be on a date, he had Dog substitute his arms for him in a suit.
  • Nerds and Monsters: The shiny rock monster trap from the "What's Mine Is Mine" episode is shiny rock inside a cave with an opening to small for it to pulled out and the monsters are too dumb to let go. Judging from the amount of bones surrounding the cave, the trap has claimed the lives of many a monster.

    Real Life 
  • AI programmers sometimes mention a program ending up in a "local optimum" where it cannot reach a target state because all available choices would place it in a worse state. For instance, a program navigating a two-dimensional grid ends up behind an obstacle in the direct path to the target position and won't sidestep it, because it's programmed to move towards the target and either movement would just move it away from the target position. (Rather than not moving at all, this can also occur when the program does see a sequence of moves, all of which look good to it at the moment it decides on each, which end up putting it right back at the start to repeat an endless cycle.) A non-computing example is the "Theseus and the Minotaur" logic maze, created in 1990.
  • People can catch monkeys by putting fruit in a hole. The monkey will not let go of the fruit, allowing the person to grab it. In the US, this trope is frequently referred to as a "Raccoon Trap" for the same reason — shiny objects like the polished lid of a tin can work as well.

Alternative Title(s): Jar Hand Trap