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Every Device Is a Swiss-Army Knife

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All devices have mass customization.

Remember the good old days when a phone was just for calling people? Remember when game consoles and handhelds were for precisely games? Not so anymore. In a more contemporary (and/or futuristic) setting where folks have high expectations in terms of technology, any device that doesn't have multiple functions beyond its initial one is classed as Crapola Tech even when it genuinely does work. The general logic of the "jack of all trades" convenience being superior to the specialized frequently plays a part in this. And on certain occasions, Spy Fiction will feature technology of this caliber, particularly in the form of weaponized vehicles. A common joke related to this is that the machine is so complicated, people can't figure out how to use it for its intended purpose. Most definitely Truth in Television, especially if Everything Is Online.

Do Anything Robots and Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids are exemplary examples, as well as Swiss Army Weapons in general and Swiss Army Guns in particular. Magic Tools are the logical result of this trope.

Contrast When All You Have Is a Hammer…, which is where a device is used in this way regardless of its actual flexibility, and Shoe Phones, which have primary functions just as illogical.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Fan Works 
  • Lampshaded by Eleya in Reality Is Fluid, who can't figure out why Starfleet Science thinks that "a nav deflector is for generating weird particles, not for pushing crap out of your way when you’re at warp."

    Film — Animated 
  • In Sherlock Gnomes, Watson's cane displays a plethora for functions. These include a grapple line, a map case, and a laser pointer/garage door opener. At the end of the film, Sherlock even uses it as a walking stick.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Played for Laughs with Randall Peltzer's inventions in Gremlins (1984). Particularly the Bathroom Buddy.
  • Our Man Flint. Flint's lighter has has 82 different functions...83, if you wish to light a cigar.
  • In Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams, one of the kids gets an experimental spy-watch with so many gadgets in it there was no room for an actual time-telling device.
    • The following update to the prototype's design finds a way to add a watch to the device.

  • Alien in a Small Town uses "swissarmy" as a verb, describing one small device as having "a wide variety of tiny repair tools swissarmied into its side panels."
  • The Lancrastian Army Knife in Carpe Jugulum has a number of strange and metaphysical features such as the Device for Ascertaining the Truth of a Given Statement and the Attachment for Winning Ontological Arguments. Its inventor, Shawn Ogg, notes that if he keeps adding King Verence's suggestions it'll need a wheelbarrow to cart it around. There's probably a bladenote  in there somewhere as well.
  • A Stanisław Lem short story about rival companies making more and more complex washing machines. Played with in that the washing machines quickly become Ridiculously Human Robots and then the story explores What Measure Is a Non-Human?.
  • Subverted in Larry Niven's short story "The Soft Weapon". Archeologists find a weapon from a precursor race that has multiple functions. The heroes eventually realize that this weapon is much too complicated for front-line troops, so it must be a spy's weapon. They then trick the villains into activating its Self-Destruct Mechanism.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver. It can (of course) unlock anything but a deadlock and wooden structures, it can scan for nearly anything, and it can do all kinds of hacking with its psychic interface. It cannot, however, triplicate the flammability of port. The Master's Laser Screwdriver, given who he is, adds a more lethal function. Exactly the one that the name would imply.
  • James May's Man Lab created the Swiss Army Bike, which is a normal, ridable bike that also has a squeegee for cleaning windows, a grindstone, a drill, a sprayer for creosote, and a blender.
  • "Globals" in Earth: Final Conflict were a spot-on prediction of smart phones from back in the mid-nineties. Looking at the way the characters use them (like pocket sized laptops), they could easily be iPhones or Droids. They even have a camera function. The only main difference is the video-call function, which was standard on all Globals and used all the time. While iPhone has FaceTime, and most smartphones have Skype, we're still far from reliable video calling while on the go.
    • As of 2023 this hasn't been the case for years: while video calling has existed on 3G networks even before modern smartphones (albeit it was prohibitively expensive), 4G networks reached bandwidths that allowed reliable two-way video streaming over the phones' standard data connection without costing the users an arm and a leg. Technology has caught up with the "Globals".
  • In the Star Trek universe, the deflector dish's role is to push particles and small objects out of the way so they don't collide with the ship at warp speed. Throughout Voyager, however, the deflector dish was somehow "reconfigured" to do just about anything, becoming a common Deus ex Machina.
    • On a smaller nature was the Starfleet Tricorder, essentially an iPod that did anything the plot demanded. Except, oddly enough, be a communicator. Partially averted, in that there are actually several different kinds of tricorder, each for a different kind of scanning (most noticeably, the medical tricorder, with its separate detachable scanning widget).
    • The Tricorder was even described as such on a History Channel special on the Star Trek prop auctions. Braga described the Tricorder as a "device to move the plot along".
    • In addition to their use as lethal and nonlethal weapons, phasers can be used as cutting tools, industrial cleaning (akin to a power washer), incinerators, space heaters or hot plates (in conjunction with a convenient stone), or improvised explosives.

    New Media 

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Traveller Interstellar Wars the Lightning class is a Cool Starship version of this, being able to be a trader, an explorer, and a privateer. Its chief disadvantage is its low payload, which keeps it from carrying cheap cargoes in safe areas.

    Video Games 
  • The Pip-Boy in the Fallout series is a self-generating map, GPS, scanner (with friend-or-foe recognition), geiger counter, inventory manager, health scanner, radio, and can store computer files. It is the perfect tool for a wasteland wanderer, but it was built for Vault dwellers who'd have little to no use for most of those functions. Presumably RobCo thought they were building a device for people who would actually be rebuilding human civilization.
  • In Grim Fandango, Manny's scythe can and will be used for practically everything, from opening vaults to locking cupboards, to digging through litter boxes, to fighting.
  • The omnitool in Mass Effect is a bracelet that acts as a set of tools for a ship mechanic, a lockpick, a number of scanners, a communicator/laptop and an EMP weapon capable of overloading enemy shields. It also assists with weapon maintenance/modification and can fabricate small components out of raw materials. The name says it all, really.
    • Even worse is omnigel. Everything is made of omnigel, and you can smear this 'gel' on everything to open it up.
      • Starting with Mass Effect 2 this is no longer the case, thanks to a 'security update'. (Actually, they scrapped the original game's inventory system, and therefore had to scrap the omnigel mechanic.)
    • In Mass Effect 3, omnitools can also form Hard Light blades. Okay, technically a flash-forged, red hot, single-molecule thick diamond, but that's even worse.
  • An almost literal example in Kingdom of Loathing is the Loathing Legion Knife. 20 functions, doing pretty much everything from increasing rollover adventures to replacing the untinkerer. The hardest part is remembering which part of the inventory it's supposed to be in.

  • Axe Cop. His axe has dozens of functions (normal axe, axe-shooting gun, skateboard, guitar, etc.), and his mustache is a multifunction robot.
  • Referenced in Schlock Mercenary, more specifically in the Seventy Maxims of Mazimally Effective Mercenaries.
    50. If it only works in exactly the way the manufacturer intended, it is defective.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama has the eyePhone, which plays games, records video, sends messages, etc. Fry complains that his eyePhone might be defective, because he keeps hearing this obnoxious ringing sound, at which time he is astonished to learn It's a phone too!?!?!?!.
  • Every device available to Inspector Gadget had this nature.
  • Most of the PAW Patrol members' packs have one or two tools and functions. Rocky's, on the other hand, has been seen to have several (pincer, glue applicator, tape dispenser, screwdriver, drill, etc.) despite only having two mechanical arms.
  • In the Samurai Jack episode, "Jack and the Labyrinth", Jack competes against a rival thief equipped with a briefcase-sized omnitool capable of doing almost anything required.
  • One episode of Time Squad had Buck getting a brand-new laser gun with a myriad of many, in fact, that he couldn't figure out how to make it shoot lasers.

    Real Life 
  • You can now get a Swiss Army Knife with a USB thumb drive and LED light.
  • In fact, you can now get a novelty "knife" with one of everything officially marketed as an accessory for Swiss Army (Victorinox) Knives:
  • Fork and Knife Chopsticks, perfect tools for eating sushi and beef steak at the same time.
  • Modern PCs in general.
    • Fun fact: the Chinese word for 'computer' is 電腦, which literally translates to 'electric brain'.
  • How often do you use your smartphone to call someone, as opposed to texting, surfing the web, taking pictures, listening to music, playing games, getting directions...?
  • Apple achieved success with the iPhone and iPad by deliberately avoiding the worst aspects of this trope. Both iProducts defeated more powerful and versatile competitors by offering only the most popular functions out of the box and streamlining them to be as user friendly as possible rather than trying to 'open a whole new world of possibilities' like other companies' flagships.
  • The Ice Ax is the meat and potatoes of mountain climbers. It can be used to feel the depth and texture of the ground, to chop a grip in the ice, or to anchor a rope. It can even be used as a very handy weapon, assuming you have such a need: one noted hero in the Indian army used it in this way while storming a hill during the Indian-Pakistani wars. Leon Trotsky, close to the end of his life, also happened to be involved in an ice-axe-as-weapon incident once.
  • Paperclips. Those can be used for any of the surprisingly many chores for which an inch or so of bendable wire might be desired. Including even fastening papers together.
  • Early human hand axes/bifaces. Used for pretty much any task people could imagine for hundreds of thousands of years: chopping, scraping, cutting, digging, drilling, stabbing, throwing, lighting fires, making more hand axes, you name it.
  • Fire. It is used for cooking, toolmaking, war, and keeping warm in the winter.
  • The human hand. All tools are based on this.
  • Mammals. Specifically, their teeth. One of the defining traits of mammals is that the teeth of a mammal include both shearing/cutting front teeth and canines and grinding/crushing molars. This allows them to eat a wide variety of foods, from soft plants and tender meats to hard seeds and nuts.


Alternative Title(s): Everything Is Multipurpose


Don't rescue without it!

Topper's knife is multifunctional.

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