A character (often a nerd) explains something using a reference that only another nerd could understand.
Sometimes, the authors are nerds themselves and speaking to their audience. Sometimes the author thought they hid a small in-joke. And on some occasions, it becomes obvious the author was trying to write a nerd and failed at their research and the joke misses its audience by a mile and becomes ridiculed.
But much of the time, the reference is completely made up in order to comply with Writing Around Trademarks and references something that only exists in-series.
This characterization trope pretty much solely exists to establish a character is a geeky, nerdy type. The more obscure the reference, the better.
Usually along the lines of:
Character B: "Remember when ________ fought _______ in issue 24? That's what you need to do!"
Character A: "I feel like _________ when he was forced to ________ in episode 57 of ______."
Compare A Tale Told by an Idiot where the explanation is muddled by the character rather than obscure.
- Marvin uses one in Daddy Day Care when the guys tell him they're shutting down the day care center, comparing it to when Spock betrayed Kirk in Star Trek V.
- In The Wedding Singer, during their first conversation, Julia tells Robbie that she feels like she's destined to be alone forever, and he sympathizes by saying, "Oh, kinda like The Incredible Hulk, huh?" She doesn't understand what he means at all, but is nevertheless amused out of her sadness.
- Road Trip:
- In the book Tithe, Corny comes out to his Star Trek-loving parents by saying "You know that forbidden love Kirk has for Spock? Well, me too."
- Bill Kingsley in Don't Call Me Ishmael! loves those. He even gets to use them in a debate in the first book when the team has to argue that Fantasy and science-fiction are relevant in Real Life. The main characters' attempt to win their school's sports competition in the third book is compared to the quest to destroy the One Ring.
- In The Long Earth, Many characters do this, especially Joshua and Sally. A few examples:
- Joshua compares the Next to Vulcans, and Happy Landings to The Stepford Wives. He asks Lobsang if reincarnating feels like regenerating.
- Sally expresses her disdain for the military by continually comparing the naval twain crews to that of the Enterprise, including calling one Ensign Newbie "Wesley". She also compares Lobsang to R. Daneel Olivaw.
- Lobsang uses Star Trek: First Contact as an example of how aliens might only contact us after we've crossed a certain technical threshold.
- "Mac" Mackenzie compares the Beagles' Proud Warrior Race culture to the Klingons, and compares Captain Cutler to General Ripper with a reference that goes completely over Cutler's head.
- When the Next are trying to process the implications of the message from the galactic core, Dev says "dim bulbs" did that long before there even was one, and the possibilities range from Contact to A for Andromeda.
- When Stan Berg is trying to explain his first rule, "Apprehend", saying that you need to understand things (and people) completely before you can fully appreciate them, someone shouts out "I grok you!" and Stan agrees that yes, that's what he's saying.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: In "The Singularity", when Fitz and Simmons discuss their newly romantic relationship, Fitz compares their relationship to the singularity in post-humanism. Simmons is initially confused, but as Fitz explains his comparison, she begins to understand, and sees the comparison as both apt and rather romantic.
Simmons: Just to be clear, are you comparing us sleeping together to crossing the event horizon?
Simmons: It's quite lovely when you think of it like that.
- The Trio (and later just Andrew) in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All the time.
- Inverted in Drake & Josh when Josh teaches Drake about atoms and molecules by comparing it to guitar chords.
- Another inversion in WKRP in Cincinnati; Venus teaches a gang leader about the structure of the atom using gang references.
- Generally how the main characters of The Big Bang Theory explain anything.
- Comparing situations to Schrödinger's Cat has become a Running Gag on the show.
- A particularly notable instance had Penny, usually the least geeky main character in the series, break out one:
Penny: Leonard and Howard and Raj aren't like other guys. They're special. How can I explain this? They don't know how to use their shields.
Alicia: Their shields?
Penny: Like in Star Trek, when you go into battle, you raise the shields— (freezes in shock as she realizes what she's saying) Where the hell did that come from?
- Eric Forman would usually compare his problems with those of Luke Skywalker.
- Mark from Peep Show frequently compares his experiences with World War II and other history, especially in the first series.
- The Thick of It: Attempted by Malcolm Tucker here. Trying to convince resident Star Wars fan Ollie Reeder to support his plan to get rid of Opposition Leader Nicola Murray, he uses perhaps the worst analogy in history.
- Subverted in The Flash (2014); the STAR Labs geek squad describe time travel in terms of Back to the Future and The Terminator, and the decidedly non-geeky Joe West gets the references, because everyone's seen those movies.
- Inverted during the Sara Del Rey vs. Mercedes Martinez match on SHIMMER Volume 1. Because Del Rey is from California and Martinez is from Connecticut, the announcers said it was the best of the West Coast vs. the best of the East Coast and compared it to 2Pac and Biggie.
- In CHIKARA's "On the Verge of High Noon" video, building up to the 2011 Season Finale iPPV High Noon, regarding the 12 Large Summit tournament final between Mike Quackenbush and Eddie Kingston to crown the inaugural CHIKARA Grand Champion, Claudio Castagnoli compared Quack and King's respective wrestling styles to "Superman vs. Doomsday."
- During Hania The Howling Huntress' match with Tessa Blanchard (Tully's daughter) at Queens Of Combat 5, which was held in the Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium in Gibsonville, NC, the commentators compared the match to Tully's past battles with Chief Wahoo McDaniel at the old Greensboro Coliseum.note
- Inverted during the match where Heidi Lovelace defeated Matt Cage for the AAW Heritage Title. The commentators mentioned that MsChif was the first woman to main event in AAW, and called Heidi the "Ronda Rousey" to MsChif's "Gina Carano."
- In The Book of Mormon, Elder Cunningham rationalizes concepts of The Book of Mormon to himself and explains them to the Africans using Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings references.
- In A Very Potter Musical, Harry uses a Spider-man analogy to explain why he can't be with Ginny. This quickly derails into a general discussion of the Spider-Man Trilogy.
- C14 Dating: One of the later events of the game consists of Melissa getting the idea that she has wasted her time on the class she's taking for most of the plot, retreating to her tent and getting checked on by the love interest to whom she's the closest by that point. Should the love interest be Shoji, who sometimes has trouble finding his words and bonded with Melissa over a common interest in video gaming, the advice he has for her will partly come out in the form of of video game metaphors.
- Gameboys: Used to heartbreaking effect when Cairo compares how motivated he is to master a game only to forget it when a new game comes along to Gavreel's romantic pursuit of him.
Cairo: You know, every time I discover a new game, I just want to master it in every way. I want to level up fast, especially if it's a difficult game. Once you've mastered a game and a more exciting game comes along, you forget about it.
- We're Alive: Angel and Michael are trying to figure who among the survivors is The Mole who just shot Pippin. When talking about a survivor named Lewis, Angel mentions that he was on the top floor of the Tower at the time of the incident.
Angel: "So unless he's secretly Jay Garrick..."
Angel: "The... never mind, it was a nerd joke."
- The Simpsons:
- Martin uses an old-timey reference which the creators need to put up a subtitle to explain, because Martin uses the word in its original meaning. "Individually we are weak, like a single twig, but as a bundle we form a mighty faggot." fag-got (fag' - et) n. a bundle of sticks for fuel. (Fr. fagot, a bundle of sticks).
- In "Bart Gets an F", Bart breaks down in tears after failing a crucial history test that (for once) he'd put a serious effort into passing, describing it as "Now I know how George Washington felt when he surrendered Fort Necessity to the French in 1754", since he tried his best but still failed. His teacher is impressed enough by the obscure reference to give him a bonus mark, which tips him over into a passing grade.