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Ditzy Genius

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"He was so learned that he could name a horse in nine languages; so ignorant that he bought a cow to ride on."

Contrasting with the Genius Ditz, who, while usually foolish, has one area (or some) in which they are absolutely brilliant, we have the inversion: the Ditzy Genius, a character who, while they are very intelligent and talented in several or many areas, has absolutely nothing in the way of common sense, logic, wit, or tact, or at least isn't good enough in those areas.

This can occasionally be shown as naïveté to the point of stupidity, and/or nigh-Suicidal Overconfidence/inability to see the danger or flaws in what they're doing. In any case, these characters end up landing themselves in trouble more often than not. They are capable of doing pretty much anything they put their mind to, but they also tend to forget to ask themselves if they should do it, or even question themselves on why they even do it in the first place.

The primary difference between a Ditzy Genius and a Genius Ditz is that a Ditzy Genius has high general intelligence but is highly inept at something more mundane than their intellectual interests (social skills, for example) or lacks common sense, whereas the Genius Ditz usually seems dumb or clueless but is in fact highly proficient in at least one fairly specialized skill or field of knowledge. Contrast also Book Dumb, which is a character smart in mundane life but abysmal in everything academic.

In any Tabletop RPG using The Six Stats, this kind of character-type will have high Intelligence, but low Wisdom.

Sometimes, this is a deliberate characterization decision made to give a highly intelligent character a Fatal Flaw, or make them come across as weird, or any number of other reasons. Other times, it happens entirely by accident because the writers keep tossing the Idiot Ball to a character who's (perhaps only because we're told as much) supposed to be academically brilliant.

This trope is Older Than Feudalism — one of the earliest instances of this trope dates back to ancient Greece, more specifically from Plato's dialogue Theaetetus, in which Socrates explains that philosophers were back then often perceived as absent-minded because they didn't care about such mundane things such as gossip or social fads, but instead about truly important matters such as the essence of knowledge.

Compare Nerds Are Naïve, though note that not all nerds and geeks are geniuses and vice versa. See also Cloudcuckoolander or Brilliant, but Lazy, especially in cases when the character's intelligence is largely informed. One of the standard Hollywood interpretations of a nerd, along with the Stereotypical Nerd. Very closely related to Smarter Than You Look and Bunny-Ears Lawyer. Also compare Absent-Minded Professor, who isn't foolish so much as forgetful. See also No Social Skills and Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training. If the character's deficiencies are in the areas of manners or consideration for other people, see Insufferable Genius. See also Quirky Doctor.


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Other examples:

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    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • The perpetually six-year-old Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes. An example:
    Calvin: Hey Mom, did you know that gravity in outer space works as if space was a soft, flat surface? It's true. Heavy matter, like planets, sinks into the surface, and anything passing by, like light, will "roll" toward the dip in space made by the planet. Light is actually deflected by gravity! Amazing, huh? And speaking of gravity, I dropped a pitcher of lemonade on the kitchen floor when my roller skates slipped.
    Calvin's mom: [cleaning up the mess] How can kids know so much and still be so dumb?
  • A Dilbert strip has the Pointy-Haired Boss interviewing a prospective job candidate:
    Boss: Wow! You have three masters degrees and a PhD!
    Interviewee: Yes, it's all very impressive, but interestingly, I have no common sense whatsoever.
    Boss: That's not the sort of thing you should say during a job interview.
    Interviewee: I don't see why not.
  • Jason from Foxtrot. The kid always does his homework and gets incredibly high marks in school... yet will pull off incredibly dumb, and sometimes dangerous stunts, half the time just to torture his sister. He's a kid smart enough to program absurdly effective computer viruses, and dumb enough to send them to people who want to see if his website has any content.

    Fan Works 
  • Ruby Rose in Boop the Snoot for Critical Damage! is a mechanical genius who creates and customizes her own weapons and is an expert fighter with her complex sniper-scythe, but she ain't what most would call practical or sensible. For instance, she spent all her money on equipment to customize her runner to transform into a Wave-Motion Gun. In hindsight, Angel should have known better than to give the gun crazy Siren what amounted to a blank check.
  • In Death Note: The Abridged Series (kpts4tv), Light Yagami is characterized this way:
    Light: Oh my God I forgot my death note!
  • The Doctor Whooves – The Series Doctor makes a show of being this, which is part Obfuscating Stupidity, part genuine unfamiliarity with the world he's found himself in, and part simply him.
  • Futari Wa Pretty Cure Blue Moon has Ami-sensei. She's constantly given to speeches about hope and justice, chasing a promotion she's not sure will ever arrive despite her best efforts, and is the laughingstock of the school, but she's a Gadgeteer Genius who can build anything from a super-toaster to an elaborate trap for the local Panty Thief to an interdimensional communicator.
  • Roxy in HSETAU. She's a brilliant scientist and self-made billionaire, but she buys an infrared sauna off of the internet to scan WK and WQ because x-ray machines are expensive. When her 13 year old daughter Rose suggests borrowing the x-ray machine at the local clinic, Roxy realizes that not only is Rose right, but building the sauna would probably put them on a fast track to giving WQ and WK cancer. Roxy's behavior is mostly due to her frequent drinking clouding her judgement.
  • My Heroes Reborn: Hibiki Kinzoku has the Past-Life Memories of MCU Tony Stark but is this thanks to his original personality being that of a complete moron. He can't even use freakin' Amazon without accessing Tony's memories.
  • As revealed in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue of The New Retcons, Robin Patterson becomes this: unable to live by himself, but was accepted into the physics program in a nearby university.
  • Penny in A New World on her Shoulders. Due to being an android, she has a mind akin to a super computer that makes her one of the most intelligent students in Atlas, managing to get perfect scores where her teammates (including Weiss and Ciel) struggle. Her social skills, however, are completely lacking and she's very Literal-Minded.
  • Princess Luna in Progress manages to be a brilliant leader, improving irrigation systems and the tax code and much more (not to mention being a Physical Goddess), and set the microwave to 27 minutes when making popcorn. Being a Fish out of Temporal Water helps.
  • In Sword Art Online Abridged, Akihiko Kayaba is proved to be this. Despite his hair-brained scheme to pretend to set up a death game to save face over a bug that was more due to how sleep deprived he was, he is still a genius programmer. Sugou states that despite Sword Art Online's buggy code, his team was able to advance virtual reality simply by studying it. Sugou's entire plan is based on the fact that Kayaba's code has the potential for video game stats to affect a person's real life ability such as charisma allowing for real life Compelling Voice. And the fact that he could have made a genuinely good game if Bethesda didn't order him to finish the game before its deadline. And when Bethesda refused to delay the release so he can undo a bug that could kill people if they log out, he decided to lock everyone in the game and claim he added the kill nature on purpose, rather than consider he could frame a terrorist group from the crime, which he regrets when Asuna points it out.
  • The Story of Apollo, Daphne and Luca: An Italian Tragedy: Luca is very smart and studious, but also quite naive and oblivious.

    Films — Animation 
  • A Bug's Life: Flik is very smart and capable of building various inventions, but is also very clumsy and mistakes the goofy circus bugs for mighty warriors.
  • Kronk in The Emperor's New Groove is a borderline polymath who excels at cooking, various types of obscure linguistics (both Hash House Lingo and squirrel), identifying different types of wood at first glance, communicating and empathizing with others, and identifying metafictional inconsistencies in his own narrative. He's also so dense that he knocks himself over while trying to slap a fly that's landed on his own face, thinks he won't be seen if he "pauses" his own (self-provided) theme music and he flattens himself against a wall in plain sight, and is generally a Horrible Judge of Character when it comes to his Bad Boss, Yzma. In essence, he's too dumb to realize that he's a genius.
  • Help! I'm a Fish:
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:
    • Miles Morales is very book-smart and artistic, but he doesn't realize what would be suspicious about getting a 0 on a true-or-false test. There's also the time he tried to play dumb to a security guard asking what he was doing by claiming to not be Miles Morales.
    • Dr. Olivia is one of the smartest women on the planet: she's the one who constructs the device that allows for dimensional warping, and frequently makes online videos about the nature of quantum mechanics. She's also a Cloudcuckoolander who rides a bike to work, has an exercise ball instead of a chair at her desk, and has about two hundred icons (with absolutely no rhyme or reason to their placement) on her computer's home screen. This makes The Reveal of her full name — Doctor Olivia Octavius — and role as classic Spidey villain Dr. Octopus all the more surprising; how could such a silly, lighthearted genius be a threat?
  • Gune in Titan A.E. is the chief scientist of Korso’s crew on the Valkyrie, and while he comes across as a Cloudcuckoolander Absent-Minded Professor when we first meet him, he’s shown to be incredibly brilliant at his job. Korso even acknowledges this.
    Cale: I'll tell you a secret, this guy's nuts!
    Korso: I'll tell you one more, he's never wrong.
  • Wallace of Wallace & Gromit is a fairly textbook case, a Bungling Inventor who develops complex Rube Goldberg Machines in his spare time and demonstrates expertise in pest control, window cleaning, baking, and space travel. He also would rather build a mechanical foot into his motorbike to push the gas for him than move his actual foot six inches.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A Beautiful Mind has John Nash, a mathematics whiz who will actually go up to a woman and say, "I don't exactly know what I am required to say in order for you to have intercourse with me. But could we assume that I said all that? I mean, essentially we are talking about fluid exchange right? So could we go just straight to the sex."
  • Doctor Strange (2016): A genius as a neurosurgeeon and a very quick study at magic, who broke his hands by speeding and texting on a narrow road at night, and who nearly summons Dormammu because he didn't read the book all the way through.
  • I.Q. (1994): Catherine Boyd is a brilliant mathematician and doctoral candidate at Princeton. However, she's also absent-minded, easily distracted, and rather gullible.
  • Oppenheimer: Robert Oppenheimer is a brilliant scientist, but seems to be hopeless at anything that isn't related to his main passions of physics, literature, and womanizing: he forgets to put a kitchen in his own home, he's a neglectful parent who's practically useless at childcare, and he's woefully socially inept. He genuinely believes that he was able to convincingly lie to Colonel Pash and get on his good side when it's clear that Oppenheimer's a Bad Liar and that Pash despises him (Groves, who wasn't even in the room when this happened, can tell that Oppenheimer and Pash's meeting did not go well), he tends to contradict and self-flagellate himself in his testimony during his security clearance hearing, unknowingly insults Lewis Strauss several times while Strauss is in the process of offering him a job (though, to be fair, Strauss is pretty thin-skinned), and often becomes a Nervous Wreck when trying to argue his viewpoints to people who aren't other scientists.
  • Rain Man: When Charlie Babbitt feels slighted after his father leaves him a 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible and his prize-winning rose bushes, so he sets out to find who has custody of the rest of the estate, where he learns he has an older brother named Raymond, who is a ward of Walbrook Psychiatric Hospital, that is named the trustee of $3 million on Raymond's behalf. Along the journey to Los Angeles, he discovers that Raymond has quite a good memory for trivia, and can count the number of toothpicks in a box, but he has virtually no social skills, and a poor grasp of everyday prices, believing that $100.00 is the price of a candy bar and a new car.
  • Star Trek:
    • Brilliant physics-defying engineer in Star Trek (2009), Montgomery Scott, a man so intelligent, he came up with trans-warp beaming. A man so stupid, he decided to test the thing on Admiral Archer's dog and promptly got himself Reassigned to Delta Vega.
    • The "other" Scotty broke Kirk and McCoy out of Enterprise's brig, bragging that he knew every inch of the ship — then promptly hit a beam and knocked himself out.

    Jokes 
  • There is an old joke about a professor who, at a university formal dinner, helps himself to some peas using his hand. When he realizes what he's done, he excuses himself with "I'm sorry, I thought they were beans."
  • Likewise, there's the old fable about Thales of Miletus, who was so busy studying the stars that he fails to pay attention to what's around him and falls down a well.

    Podcasts 

    Roleplay 
  • Dr. Shaw in Dino Attack RPG is a very intelligent and capable surgeon and even shows some talent as a counselor. On the other hand, she's extremely unstable psychologically and spends a lot of time praying to a being she only half-believes in.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: This trope pretty much defines Tinker Gnomes, an offshoot of gnomes who appeared in the Dragonlance and Spelljammer settings. They're curious creatures who love to build, study, and improve mechanical devices, but ar often careless and foolhardy, and often go way overboard, creating weird and nutty inventions (or blowing themselves up). Justified, of course, because they are a divinely created species cursed with Science-Related Memetic Disorder, which outright compels them to go about creating devices in the most ridiculously complicated and unlikely manners possible, to the point they are the number one cause of Fantasy Gun Control in-setting. (Game-wise, Tinker Gnome PCs start with a +2 bonus to Intelligence Scores but a -2 penalty to Wisdom, making them smart, but lacking common sense.)
  • Warhammer 40,000: Orks as a species tend towards the extremely stupid and have no fear of death, with only their physical resistance and numbers keeping them from dying out. Every once in a while comes an ork smarter than the rest, be it a Gadgeteer Genius, a kommando who knows how to sneak up or a warboss with a sense of strategy who are a nightmare to their enemies, but are still fundamentally orks, so they commit the same kinds of mistakes (such as blowing themselves up, rushing out of stealth too early, getting into personal combat instead of directing the strategy, etc.).
  • Warhammer Fantasy: Master Engineers are eccentric individuals prone to being sucked into projects that they focus on to the exclusion of everything else, forgetting to eat or sleep, and muttering incomprehensible nonsense to themselves as they tinker with bizarre contraptions. Most other Imperials think that they're quite made, but they're also unquestionably geniuses in matters dealing with machinery, and their inventions have often proved instrumental to securing the Empire's safety.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 

    Webcomics 
  • Fortiscue from Commander Kitty has shades of this. He has numerous amazing scientific accomplishments to his name, but between insisting that only the portable hard drive can be moved and mistaking CK for a janitor after a costume change even though they've been talking for the last few pages, one has to wonder where exactly the little sheep's head is...
  • Girl Genius: Count Wolkerstorfer manages to be ditzy even by Spark standards given how distractible he is and how often he will completely lose his train of thought and forget what he's doing mid rant, but he's a genius even by their standards too having done some of his most notable and impressive work with magnetism.
  • Molly in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! is an Omnidisciplinary Scientist with the personality of a child. Also Galatea, although these days Golly does a better job of at least looking worldly-wise, even if she's still incredibly naïve.
  • Otacon from The Last Days of FOXHOUND, in a Flanderization of his original appearance in Metal Gear Solid. An engineering genius who designs and builds a walking stealth deathtank capable of firing untraceable projectiles from almost any location, but so naïve that he believes it'll be used solely as a missile defense platform and easily distracted by things like amusing GIFs of penguins pushing each other over.
  • Palma from Mushroom Go. She's an immature, loud-mouthed teenager with a short attention span and poor grammar. She may also be the smartest Pianta in the world and has spent most of her life lost in books.
  • Link is this in Nintendo Acres: competent at being the hero of The Legend of Zelda games, has an incredible knowledge of literature, and can't open a door without using a bomb or boomerang.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Celia unites the Azure City resistance, saves Haley from murderous rogues twice using only words and quick thinking, and even wins a complicated albeit rigged court case while still a law student, but lacks basic knowledge of how humans work and doesn't suspect that someone dragging a corpse through a Wretched Hive might not have pure intentions.
    • The elf priestess Veldrina is a personable, articulate, Magi Babble-spouting genius. She's also completely trusting of strangers, bewilderingly Literal-Minded, and so bereft of common sense as to tickle a vampire's chin.
  • The Petri Dish: The protagonist, Dr. Thaddeus Euphemism, can create life and do other amazing things, yet he's also really incompetent.
  • Brian Fitzpatrick in Rhapsodies is a gifted polymath, economist, and accountant who can pretty much make numbers do what he wants. He is however impulsive with an extremely abrasive personality and is so socially clueless most people think he's an idiot.
  • In Sakana, Taisei is incredibly smart and a talented salaryman. He's also incredibly silly and childish (but well-meaning).
  • Brandi of Wapsi Square is beyond brilliant when it comes to planning, to the point where any unusual coincidence that worked to the favor of the protagonists can be attributed to her manipulations. She also fails to realize that flies drown when she flushes them down the toilet (she couldn't just shoo them outside because it was winter in Minnesota, and they would quickly freeze to death).

    Web Original 
  • Tiberius Stormwind from the Critical Role D&D show is played like this, fitting for a character with a very high Intelligence stat but a Wisdom of 4. (To put that in perspective, the team's Dumb Muscle has an Intelligence of 6) As a result, Tiberius is a brilliant spellcaster and a genius in all arcane matters but has zero common sense. In one episode, he responds to an account of someone "stepping on a few toes" with "Oh, was she clumsy?" He's essentially the magical equivalent of an Absent-Minded Professor.
  • Gordon Freeman as depicted in Freeman's Mind is a narcissistic, bumbling, lazy, and overall bizarre human being who, among other things, built pillow forts out of plaster when he was a kid, got mad at zombies for not answering his questions, thought his mailman was spying on him, and stayed up for three days straight when he thought his house was being invaded by frog people. Some of his interactions with the scientists also show him to pretty inept and overall dickish socially, and he's implied to go on drinking binges regularly as well as get high on whatever's available. However, his inner monologues show that, despite all of this, he's quite competent in combat, is actually very knowledgeable about theoretical physics, speaks at least five languages (Haitian Creole, Spanish, German, Hindi and English), and has proven consistently more competent both physically and mentally than anyone else in Black Mesa (though Gordon at one point notes that his competence isn't so much him being smarter than everyone else but the rest being so stupid it veers into Too Dumb to Live).
  • SCP Foundation: The Person of Interest currently known as dado handily qualifies. He's genuinely a brilliant parapharmacologist, with his creations working exactly as he intended and achieving things like a pill that puts people in suspended animation impossible to current technology or paranormal means available to the Foundation. However, his English and communication capabilities in general are terrible, not to mention he's overly literal (the suspended animation pills came to be because he was asked for pills that "put people to sleep" from someone who actually wanted an euthanasia pill), and he gets some weird ideas as to how to carry things out or generally overengineers things as what he thinks is a nice feature (he "improved" a perfectly good laxative by making it so the individual also "outsourced" evacuation and started pooping out others' waste too, because he thought with so many people saying the world is shit he might do his part to clean up all the shit). As a crowning example of both skill and ditziness, when asked for a radioactive, discreet pill to kill someone, he suggested using Potassium from bananas as the source of radiation because Plutonium wasn't discreet enough, and when he stumbled into the problem that you'd need several hundred tons of bananas to get that much radiation he just packed them into the pills anyways, with the end result that the target dies not of radiation, but because his stomach suddenly had hundreds of tons of bananas inside it and exploded, not to mention he was crushed to death as they kept coming out.
  • SF Debris: Parody Janeway. On the one hand, she's a brilliant if malevolent engineer with a gift for mad biology; on the other, she is remarkably prone to blundering into obvious danger and otherwise making disastrously bad decisions.
  • "High intelligence, low wisdom" is probably the best way to describe Travis from SMPLive. He's actually quite intelligent and skilled in PVP, but tends to say things that make people question that and sometimes isn't the best with social situations.
  • Delta Spike from the Whateley Universe is a prime example: a Gadgeteer Genius who is especially well known on campus for the catastrophic explosions her devises cause when they inevitably fail, she tends to assume that everything will work perfectly and doesn't consider consequences. As one character put it, "She knows A plus B will equal C, but she fails to consider that there's a D, E, and F."


 
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Kevin fixes Dr. Wily's plans

Kevin is portrayed as a down-to-earth and heavily logical assistant towards mostly talented villains in the "If Every Villain Had An Assistant" mini-series. And while there are some villains' plans have stupider reasons for letting their heroes get away with defeating them. Some villains such as Dr. Robotnik and Dr. Wily (who is revealed to be a gynecologist) are villainous scientists that are highly intelligent and talented villains with engineering robots & mechanical work because of their scientific passions with hatching plans to defeat their arch-nemeses, but they mostly lack common sense, logic and tact in their strategies since they were simply flawed and this is a prime of how Kevin's hyper competence enhanced his boss's plans at defeating the heroes and/or villains on occasion because of doing his job properly.

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