Follow TV Tropes

Please don't list this on a work's page as a trope.
Examples can go on the work's YMMV tab.


Genius Bonus

Go To
E = MC Hammer not good enough for you? Twilight Sparkle does time dilation.

"And here we go, another reference no one gets but you. Consider your audience once in a while, huh?"
Daru, Steins;Gate

A joke or tidbit meant for people knowledgeable in a certain field. The rest of the audience doesn't get it, but it's usually subtle enough for them not to care. This is the non-age-related counterpart to Parental Bonus.

Genius Bonuses are most often seen in series with a Direct Demographic, especially New Media, as they can expect their audiences to be sufficiently focused that most of them will recognize an in-joke.

If this goes too far, it falls into Viewers Are Geniuses, so it has to be applied carefully. If it seems to be a byproduct of necessary research into the story, setting or plot, then the author is showing their work. Understanding one of these may lead to Fridge Brilliance.

Whenever a series of 0's and 1's or two-digit hex codes are shown, chances are they'll spell out something when decoded as ASCII text.


A Super-Trope to Lampshaded the Obscure Reference.

Can overlap with Reference Overdosed.

Contrast with Small Reference Pools.

Example Subpages:

Other Examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • There's a commercial for dental insurance in which a little cartoon girl uses a hand mirror to count her own teeth. It's actually an in-joke for dental care professionals: she's too young to have adult teeth yet, yet keeps counting even after reaching 20 — the total number of baby teeth in human kids — indicating she must've lost count somewhere along the line.
  • At the 2014 Paris Motor Show, Lamborghini released the Asterion LPI910-4 hybrid concept car. "Asterion" happens to be the name of another hybrid — the Minotaur of Greek legend. In addition, Lamborghini's emblem is a charging bull, and many of its models names are related to bulls and bullfighting.


    Comic Books 
  • Brazilian comic book Monica's Gang has Chauvinist as a character's pet pig name
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore. Just try to catch all the references in it to Victorian literature, politics, and events.
  • Moore's V for Vendetta. Nearly every other sentence V utters is a quote from some famous writer. Lampshaded near the end.
  • Although the Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison can be enjoyed as a psychological horror story with drool-worthy art, readers with a knowledge of Jungian psychology and symbolism (or who own a copy of the fifteenth anniversary edition with Morrison's annotated script) will get much more out of it.
  • As a Fantasy Kitchen Sink series, Finder is overflowing with obscure and unusual references. The author wisely chooses to weave most of them into the background and leave the most complex and unwieldy connections in the (substantial) footnotes.
  • Body Bags. The city where all the action takes place is Terminus, Georgia. A little research reveals that Terminus was the original name of the city of Atlanta. By this the reader can assume that Terminus is just Future Atlanta.
  • In Knight & Squire #3, Britain is under threat from the Bad Kings of England, superpowered clones of the originals. Each of them attempts to conquer a different area of the country; Edward I takes the north, and his superpower is a massive energy-mallet. If you know the real Edward was called the "Hammer of the Scots"...
  • You sure have to have read a lot to catch all the mythological and literary references in The Sandman. Just to throw in a few:
    • World's End has many parallels with The Decameron.
    • William Shakespeare plays a significant secondary role during the whole series. Bonus points if you are familiar with the relevance of The Tempest in Shakespearean studies.
    • Lucifer quotes Satan from Paradise Lost and immediately claims having borrowed the quote from Milton.
    • There are characters a-plenty from different traditions: Morpheus, Orpheus, Calliope (Greek Mythology); Odin, Loki (Norse Mythology); God, Lucifer, Azazel (Christianity); Ra, Bastet (Egyptian Mythology); the Three (found in multiple traditions as the embodiment of femininity); and many, many more.
    • Why and how does abusing a woman named Calliope make you a bestselling author? If you're familiar with the concept of Muses, you will get it: not everyone is, nowadays.
    • The Fair Folk sent to parlay with Morpheus in Season of Mists say that they want an end to the tithe they've been paying to Hell. If you're familiar with the 400-year-old Child Ballad "Tam Lin", this will make perfect sense. If not, well...
  • An Italian Donald Duck comic story had Daisy Duck and her friends eating madeleine cookies. One of the friends remarked "The memories they awaken..." If you're a fan of Marcel Proust, a writer most adults consider too "heavy" to read, you recognize this reference to classic, deep French literature. In a children's comic. Never let it be said that the Walt Disney company underestimates the smarts of their readers.
  • This was actually made part of the story for an issue of Untold Tales of Spider-Man. The Wizard challenged the Human Torch to a contest wherein he'd leave clues for where his next crime was going to occur, if the Torch figured out the clues, he'd be able to stop him. The Wizard used science-related clues that he figured would stump the Torch, but Spider-Man teamed up with Johnny and his heavy science background enabled him to figure out the clues easily. This infuriated the Wizard, since he considered Spider-Man helping Johnny to be cheating.
  • In the first issue of Seven Soldiers: The Shining Knight, all the stuff about King Arthur plundering the realm of the Sheeda with three ships, and only seven men returning, but they did get the Cauldron of Rebirth out of it? Straight from the less-well-known Arthurian epic The Spoils of Annwn, supposedly by Taliesin. "Revolving Castle" is one of many possible translations of the Welsh Caer Sidi; others being "Castle of the Mound" and "Castle of the Zodiac".
  • Asterix: Numerous references to antiquity and Latin language that only history buffs and Latinists will understand. Little jokes referencing French literature and linguistic brain-twisters are also thrown in.
    • In Caesar's Gift, Asterix has a sword fight against a Roman with a large red drunkard's nose and quotes lines that are directly lifted from Cyrano de Bergerac, in which the protagonist also has a Gag Nose. This clever joke loses somewhat of its power in the English translation, where Asterix quotes Hamlet instead.
    • Everything the crippled pirate in Asterix says is untranslated Latin, but always fits the situation.
    • The entire battle between the Belgians and Caesar in Asterix in Belgium is accompanied by text on scrolls which is a linguistic spoof of Victor Hugo's Les Châtiments, a poem written about the Battle of Waterloo. A double joke in the sense that Caesar, too, loses the battle and that Waterloo is located in Belgium.
    • Towards the end of Asterix and Cleopatra, Cleopatra swears by "Ammon and Helios", Helios being the Greek god of the sun. Cleopatra and her family were Greek and worshipped Greek gods.
  • In Innocence Lost, a minor detail during X-23's training scenes with her sensei is the color of her belt. The first time we see her train she's wearing a white belt. We then see her progress to yellow, then brown, and finally, by the time she kills her sensei, she's wearing a black belt.
  • In The Umbrella Academy, Vanya's neglectful father, to whom she is The Unfavorite, scoffs that she can "barely" perform a Paginini caprice. The "Caprices" are among the hardest pieces ever composed for violin, requiring extremely swift movements, perfect control of the instrument and frequent tone jumps. That Vanya could complete one at all, at her age, speaks volumes of her skill. This reference was likely included to reiterate how unfair Reginald's standards were for all of his children.
  • The original Squadron Sinister version of Hyperion, one of Marvel Comics' Superman Substitutes, believed his real alien name was Zhib-Ran. This is a Stealth Pun on "Kal-El" by way of the early 20th century writer Kahlil Gibran.

    Comic Strips 
  • FoxTrot author Bill Amend sometimes put challenging math puzzles in his strips, where only the genius or patient would try to solve them. The rest just scratch their heads. Amend also has a real-life degree in physics, so all of the formulas in the series are perfectly accurate.
  • Frazz has one in this strip for climatologists. See Snow Means Cold for details.
  • The Far Side was full of these, becoming very popular with scientists as a result.
    • In one comic, there are two scientists. One is explaining some complex math that shows that those many wrongs equal a right. However, if you do the math described, it equals 0. 0 wrongs make a right.
    • Anatidaephobia, the fear that a duck is watching you. Antidae is the scientific name for the duck family, which Larson describes as "a joke a dozen ornithologists got, and everyone else just went 'what the hey?'"
    • One strip depicts a man named Muhammad sitting in his house when a mountain rings his doorbell. This is based off an idiom from Francis Bacon that goes "If the mountain won't come to Muhammad then Muhammad must go to the mountain".
    • One comic has a horse teacher ask her class an arithmetic question, which the foals answer by tapping their hooves on their desks (and all getting the wrong answers). While funny by itself, the cartoon also makes fun of Clever Hans, a horse who was trained to paw the ground a certain number of times when asked a math question. The horse didn't actually know the answers, but rather its owner had trained it to stop pawing the ground whenever he made certain facial gestures.
    • One has a dog filling himself with water from a hose when he is interrupted by his wife who says, "So! Planning on roaming the neighborhood with some of your buddies today?" Once again, funny by itself, but even funnier when if you know that dogs and wolves can mark a huge territory without replenishing their liquid intake.
  • Calvin and Hobbes, beginning with the names of the two main characters referencing philosophers John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes.
  • Peanuts: Whenever Schroeder plays piano, the note transcriptions are actual melodies. Charles M. Schulz did this just for fun, knowing that only people who could read notes would be able to read and possibly recognize the piece.

    Fan Works 
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged has a few examples, usually spouted by Gohan (to which Piccolo retorts "neeeeerrrddd"). But one of the more subtle ones was Piccolo's "Damn you, Pavlov" moment, which was followed by an interrupted explanation of who Pavlov was. The Namekians all speak in Klingon as well.
  • Among the topics discussed/mentioned in one episode of Calvin and Hobbes: The Series include squat lobsters that perform chemosynthesis, as well as acromegaly.
    • Then there's "SouthWest Pacific", which is about Calvin performing in a school play. What does the title mean, then? Well, during World War II there was an area entitled South West Pacific, where many important things happened. The wartime definition for this? A theater.
  • Subverted in You Got HaruhiRolled!. It includes a parody of Eliezer Yudkowsky's "AI in a Box" thought experiment, with Kuyou as the AI and Kyon's sister as the gatekeeper, but the narration right out tells the readers of the experiment beforehand.
  • In The Powers of Harmony, much of the backstory mythology is tied into a group called the Order of the Zodiac, whose members had the names of the Zodiac constellations. Bearing that in mind, also take into account Ophiuchus (an Energy Being whose existence is crucial to the plot) and Cetus (the Big Bad) — Ophiuchus and Cetus are also the names of constellations (the Snake and the Whale, respectfully) considered in some circles to be the unofficial thirteenth and fourteenth Zodiac symbols.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fics by Bad Horse tend to reference literature and philosophy as core parts of the story.
    • The Descendant is famous for Christian theological and thematic undertones in his works.
  • Bait and Switch has a bit character named S'bek, a Gorn who is the skipper of an independent freighter. The author mentions in the author's notes on DeviantArt that the name is a play on Sobek, an ancient Egyptian river god depicted with the head of a crocodile.
  • In Jeconais' Harry Potter fanfic Happily Ever After, a knowledge of psychology will let the reader suspect the main plot twist well ahead of its reveal in-story. No reputable or competent psychologist would give a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder for a six-year-old child. The diagnostic criteria specifically requires that the patient be at least 18 years of age to be diagnosed, as several of the possible symptoms are not atypical behavior for small children and are only alarming if they persist unchanged through adolescence and into adulthood. Of course, Gabrielle's psychologist is actually the Big Bad and misleading her parents for his own Svengali-esque agenda, which is exactly why he did it. In addition, the Quibbler building's elevator uses Catalan numbers.
  • In Between Minds, Adlivun Electric is the laboratory located in Greenland that discovered the Borealis ship from Half-Life and Portal. Just so happens, Adlivun is analogous to purgatory in Inuit Mythology.
  • The Writing on the Wall describes the building that the titular writing is in some detail, making note of metallic thorns built around the place and a room full of warnings in dozens of ancient dead languages. Only people familiar with a proposal for a real life nuclear waste depository will realize that the building really is before the end. The text of the eponymous writing itself is a genius bonus as it is derived from the same proposal. Brr.
  • Bad Future Crusaders:
    • Pavel's silver and eggs joke actually does make sense if you know "eggs" are Russian slang for testicles.
    • Silver Spoon referring to the Cake Twins as "Nicola and Bart" is a reference to Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian-born anarchists who were (unjustly, according to common opinion) tried and executed for their beliefs in the 1920s.
    • Ms. Daydream's rant about the importance of "positive and negative lightning" sounds silly, but is actually a real thing. Given the difference between the two, the polarity of lightning would be a very important thing in a world where lightning was artificial.
  • In the fan comic Twilight's First Day, a periodic table on the wall of Twilight Sparkle's science classroom has certain elements highlighted in colors associated with Twilight's friends in the series premiere. Put them together in the order the friends in question highlighted their connection to one of the Elements of Harmony (Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash) and you get Hydrogen-Argon-Molybdenum-Nitrogen-Yttrium, which abbreviates to HArMoNY: the Elements of Harmony.
  • One has to have extensive knowledge of pop culture trivia to get all the references in The Story to End All Stories.
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: A fair deal of background information and details rely on obscure knowledge that most readers do not realize during the first read. See that fic's YMMV page for details.
  • Some of the religious jokes in Episode 8 of Hellsing Ultimate Abridged come from this, including Integra's mocking suggestion to 'nail a formal protest to Maxwell's door', or the Temple Beth Zion's taunting reference to the Rhineland Massacres. note 
  • In Dobby's Deceit Harry complains that Dobby wanted to set the bounceback destinations of his anti-apparation ward to inside Mount Etna, Antarctica and the Phlegraean Fields.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Amazing Bobinsky from Coraline wears a Liquidator's Medal on his chest, which was given to the clean-up crew of the Chernobyl Disaster. This turns his baldness and odd color scheme from a funny quirk to a Dark and Troubled Past, when you think about it.
  • The training sequence in Kung Fu Panda is a useful tool for illustrating the concept of subconscious learning.
    aqulia2sax: The analogy with language acquisition is this: The language center is a thinking part of the brain, that is located in the subconscious, its thinking processes hidden away from conscious awareness. Thus, it bears some resemblance to Kungfu Panda's budding kungfu skills, which lurked beneath his awareness.
  • For The Book of Life, the character designs of the soldiers of the town militia are based on the styles of several famous Spanish painters, the most surreal-looking characters being based on Picasso and Dali.
  • Horton Hears a Who!: It's pretty well-known that Jim Carrey likes to insert little impressions in all of his movies. In this kids' movie, as he (who's voicing the titular character) is being chased by the Wickersham Brothers, he randomly does an impersonation of... Henry Kissinger, of all people.
  • Ratatouille:
    • Anton's food-induced flashback hails from Marcel Proust's concept of "involuntary memory". Quoth In Search of Lost Time:
      No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory â this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. ... Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ... And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.
    • Additionally, if you look at the movie from Chef Skinner's perspective, it starts to look a whole lot like a fantastique story, a genre in which the French excelled in the nineteenth century. Your typical fantastique story is about an ordinary man who grows increasingly obsessed with some supernatural phenomenon, until it destroys his life, but it's never exactly clear if the supernatural phenomenon is real, if it's a conspiracy by persons unknown, or if it's all a delusion in the ordinary man's head. See Skinner's rant about "Is there a rat?" "No! But he wants me to think there's a rat!"
    • In one scene, Ego stops himself from doing a Spit Take while drinking wine. Close inspection of the bottle reveals it's a real-life rare wine, Cheval Blanc 1947, and far too expensive to waste on a spit-take.
  • Finding Nemo has a Stealth Pun in the title that requires knowledge of Latin to understand. Nemo is Latin for "no one", so the title means "Finding No One". It's also a Shout-Out to Captain Nemo, whose name was itself a genius bonus; Nemo is the Latin equivalent of the Greek Outis, which is the name Odysseus used when blinding the cyclops Polyphemus in The Odyssey.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: While the Drawfs forcibly wash Grumpy, they put a ring of flowers on his head and Sneezy comments that he smells like a petunia. In botany, petunias symbolize anger and resentment, which explains Grumpy's Meaningful Name.
  • In Madagascar, the side of the titular island on which its indigenous predators live bears several signs warning passerby of "foosa". Since that's how the word is pronounced and it's an incredibly obscure species, very few people are likely to catch the joke that "fossa" has been misspelled.
  • Hook Hand, the leader of the pub thugs in Tangled, dreams of becoming a concert pianist, despite missing a hand. One-handed concert pianists are in fact not entirely unheard of.
  • Big Bad Shan Yu from Mulan is pretty much the only character in the entire movie to never even care that the titular Mulan is a woman, only remarking "the soldier from the mountains!" when he comes face-to-face with her during the Final Battle. Anyone familiar with the history of China and the Huns will know this is because Mongolian women had a much higher social standing in Asia than anywhere else (Genghis Khan's daughters were even army combat Generals). The significance of Mulan being a woman is completely lost on him and she really is just a soldier like anyone else as far as he's concerned.
  • All the unexplained visual symbolism of Son of the White Horse. Which is to say, the entire film. Religious and mythological imagery, references to seasons and weather, heavy focus on astrology, hard to interpret folk tale quotes based on East European and West to Middle Asian cultures, with hints of Nordic myths thrown in. To those unfamiliar with folk symbolism, the film could seem like an utterly bonkers retelling of a paper-thin bedtime story, which has no doubt contributed to its status as a Stoner Flick.
    • The planet Saturn's blink-and-miss-it appearances in the Underworld refer to the Roman god Saturn and to medieval cultures' reinterpretation of him as a fallen god and the marker of the great divide between life and the unknown, like how Saturn is the farthest planet visible by eye.
    • The griffin who sprouts a second head while trying to flee the Underworld is a nod to the Orthodox Church's two-headed eagle and the mythological griffins' ability to cross divides, both symbols of resurrection.
    • The titular White Mare's gradually shrinking crown of ice invokes both the snowdrop flower shedding its petals as Spring nears and an old nomad tradition of dedicating masks with antlers to sacred dead horses.
    • Even those who know the source tale in and out can easily be confused by the film, unless they're aware of the dozens of different versions the story exists in, seeing as the movie borrows aspects from those as well.

  • Invoked as a gameplay mechanic in the AC/DC pinball. During the Album and Tour Multiball modes, scoring a multiball jackpot shows either an album or a tour ticket, in Real Life chronological order. If the player's current song first appeared on that album or was first played live on that tour, the player also gets the Song Jackpot as a bonus. Folks who know their AC/DC history have used this to strategically increase their scores.
  • In The Simpsons Pinball Party, Abe "Grampa" Simpson says, "Back in my day, we didn't have flippers!" It sounds like another characteristic absurd thing he vaguely recalls but was distorted by his deteriorating memory. However, The Simpsons Pinball Party was released in 2003, and the first machine with flippers, Humpty Dumpty, was released in 1949, 54 years earlier, meaning pinball flippers really didn't exist when he was young.

  • When listening to The Scathing Atheist, it helps to be knowledgeable in world politics, science, literature, the English language, films, and pop culture to get all the jokes. Keep this in mind when Noah compliments a patron's penis by stating that it has Lagrange Points.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Little Egypt's Gratuitous Rap in GLOW is surprisingly well-researched.
    • "Even though I may be little, I'm the answer to the Sphinx's riddle" - technically she's right as she is a human after all.
    • "Here's one wrestler who never fails, there's action behind my seven veils" - the dance of the seven veils performed by Salome for her father King Herod's birthday. As a reward she asked for John the Baptist's head on a platter.
      • The character herself is a Genius Bonus as she is a Hot Gypsy Woman when you consider that Gypsies were mistaken as Egyptians by medieval Europeans.
  • Kane. He's the treacherous brother of The Undertaker, and Cain is the treacherous brother of Abel. The only difference is Xtreme Kool Letterz.
  • In the mid-2000s, WWE fans were treated to a (Kayfabe) mentally-challenged wrestler named Eugene. Ironically, "Eugene" is from a Greek phrase meaning "well-born" (or, less literally, "genetically superior"), which WWE's Eugene definitely was not.
  • Matt Striker is notorious for these. He seems to have a vast knowledge of professional wrestling history and movesets that could constitute an entire encyclopaedia.

  • BBC Radio 4 quiz show The 3rd Degree. Steve Punt's introductions to the specialist rounds usually incorporate some highly esoteric reference to the subject in question. Although this is Played for Laughs, the references do (usually) make sense... if you're an expert.
  • In Dragnet, the idea was to present police work as realistically as possible. So, the characters used accurate police terminology and codes without providing explanations for the audience. In most cases, listeners caught onto what was being said in context. This was carried over into the TV series.
  • In the Adventures in Odyssey epsiode "Stage Fright", the action centers around the "Taft-Hartley Theater" where a School Play is to be held. In professional acting circles (including radio), being "Taft-Hartleyed" refers to a non-union actor being allowed to take one role in a union-signatory production without joining SAG-AFTRA (incidentally, being Taft-Hartleyed is often the first step to joining said union). Incidentally, Adventures in Odyssey is a union production.

  • Though the (alleged) historical incident it refers to is relatively well-known, one suspects that the pun in the title of the Nero Burning ROM software package still went over many people's heads.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: The effect of Last Chapter of the Noble Knights actually works as an elaborate Mythology Gag when taken in tandem with Bedwyr's lore article. The art clearly depicts Bedwyr returning Excaliburn to the lake, and a knight with a red sword about to strike Bedwyr down, thus a knight and arms are lost. But the card returns a Knight and Arms to the field. Why is the dissonance? Bedwyr's lore article describes these events from Merlin's perspective, and Merlin sees time in reverse. The effect is reversed from the events because that's how Merlin sees it.
  • Warhammer 40,000 has such bonuses in spades, ranging from mythology to sf to history. Some examples:
    • One of the early-edition Space Marine Chapters was called Rainbow Warriors. Goofy as it may sound, there's an Aztec Mythology about a Rainbow Warrior who protects all life.
    • Nurgle, Chaos god of plague sounds interestingly similar to Nergal, ancient Sumerian god of plague.
    • Tzeentch, god of magic and knowledge, has an avian motif going. Another well-known deity associated with birds is Toth, Egyptian god of... knowledge and magic. Tying into this, the legion that serves Tzeentch, the Thousand Sons, have an Egyptian motif.
    • Western magic tradition has it that 3 is especially potent. Tzeentch's sacred number is 9, or 3 times 3.
    • One of the first worlds in the path of Tyranid, the Great Devourer, was Prandium, which is Latin for "lunch". Talk about Unfortunate Names...
    • The double-headed eagle, symbol of the Imperium, is a triple-whammy. It has been a symbol of many empires throughout the ages, such as Byzantine, Russian, Austrian and so on. It's also eerily similar to Reichsadler, symbol of Nazi Germany. Lastly, for thousands of years it has been a very popular symbol in the Anatolia region — the very same one the Emperor is said to originate from.
  • In Shadowrun, the Puyallup Barrens in the Seattle metropolitan area has an abandoned shopping mall called the Crime Mall, which is currently used as a front for many black market dealers. Now consider that the real life town that the Barrens is based on is named after a Native American tribe whose term literally means "the generous people" in their dialect. Given the location of the Crime Mall in that particular town, the name couldn't be any more coincidentally accurate.
  • Some pairs of black and white cards in Cards Against Humanity are made for each other specifically, such as Things White People Like and The 3/5ths Compromise.
  • The Pathfinder Bestiaries are gold mines for people familiar with mythical monsters. Most people will recognize the classical monsters pulled from Classical, Egyptian, and Norse Mythology. A lesser, but still significant, number of people will recognize the single popular monsters from certain mythologies, like the Algonquian Wendigo, the Orcadian Nuckelavee, and various Yokai. But only very dedicated or specialized mythological scholars will be able to identify all the lesser known monsters right off the bat, which draw from Taíno, Mesopotamian, Persian, Aztec, Inuit, Ojibwe, Chinese, French, Aboriginal Australian, and Bagandan folklore and myth, among many others.

  • Cabbage Patch Kids is a well-known line of dolls that's been around since 1978. However, what some people may not know is that the name is a reference to one of the myths surrounding "where babies come from". One of those myths is that they're "found in the cabbage patch", inspiring the name of the toyline.
  • The date the dolls are sewn on in the Lalaloopsy line could count as this. One example is Patch Treasurechest, a living doll who likes to play at being a pirate. He's said to have been sewn into life on September 19th... but how many grade-schoolers are going to recognize that as International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day?

  • In Evita, the musical based on the life of Argentine First Lady Eva Perón, mourners at Eva's state funeral sing a Latin chant based on the real-life Roman Catholic prayer, the Salve Regina. The original prayer references the Biblical Eve, known in Latin as Eva, meaning that the chant can be read as a prayer to Eva Perón herself.
  • At the very end of Urinetown, the Narrator, Officer Lockstock, concludes the tale of the eventual decay and collapse of the town's society when people are allowed to use water without restraint by shouting "Hail Malthus!" This is a reference to a Malthusian Catastrophe, which is exactly what Urinetown illustrates.
  • In Irma Vep, stage directions indicate that the innocent-young-girl character is to play a few bars of "The Last Rose of Summer" on the dulcimer. Although "The Last Rose of Summer" is perfect for this gothicky play, being a sentimental Victorian song that's really pretty morbid, few people in the audience will know the words, even if the tune sounds vaguely familiar to them.
  • In Noises Off, Lloyd the director mentions in the second act that another play he is directing is having many problems, including the actor playing Richard III suffering a back injury. This becomes funnier when you remember that Richard III the character has back problems, too.
  • In Company, Joanne says that smoking is the best, saying that it's "better than Librium". Librium was the precursor to Valium and is a sedative/muscle relaxant/anti-anxiety/anti-convulsant drug, mostly prescribed in the short term to treat anxiety. You know what else it's prescribed for? Acute alcohol withdrawal.
  • Elisabeth: References to Heinrich Heine's poems pop up in the libretto, mostly via Death's lines. This isn't surprising, because Lucheni stated in the first song that Elisabeth loved Heinrich Heine (she did, in real life). The original casting call for Death specifically stated that he should be "young, attractive, androgynous" and close to an idealistic representation of a young Heine. The German poet also contemplated death extensively.
  • The Pirates of Penzance: The Major General Song sounds impressive to the uninitiated, but most of the things that the Major General brags about doing are either flat-out impossible or trivially easy.
    • "Sing the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes." The entire chorus is "ribbit". (Or, in the original Greek, Βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ. Which is, naturally, Greek for "ribbit".)
    • "quote the fights historical from Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical" — He has only read about them in The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo but can't even remember the timeline. Also, a categorical order memorization is no big deal, just remember that Salamis was a naval battle and you're good.
    • "can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies" — Raphael painted religious iconography heavy with symbolism while Dow and Zoffany painted photorealistic scenes from life. The difference is unmistakable.
    • "tell you every detail of Caractacus’s uniform" — The only depiction of Caractacus shows him in the nude. Also, Caractacus was a Gallic chieftain who lived around the birth of Christ, and would never have worn a uniform at all.
    • "I can quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus" is well and good, but an elegy is very specifically a poem of praise. Someone has misunderstood something here...
    • "I can write a washing bill in Babylonic Cuneiform": Cuneiform was at the time understood to be a form of writing, but nothing else was known about it.
    • "And I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din a-fore": Fugues are per definition polyphonic, i.e. have more than one melody running at the same time. Tuvan throat singers can accomplish something to this effect by singing one tune and humming another, but good luck humming two tunes at once.
    • "About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news"—No real advances had been made in the area since Newton generalized it more than 200 years before, hence there were no "news" for him to teem with.
    • "I'm very well acquainted too with matters mathematical/I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical"—Understanding a quadratic equation is junior-high-level math and should not impress anyone older than fourteen. At the very least, a man of his class would be expected to have been introduced to calculus as a university freshman, so a statement like this would be roughly the equivalent of someone today saying "I went to high school."
    • "I know the Kings of England" — Quite impressive today, but at the time being able to recite the line of regents was part of middle school history.
    • "In conics I can show peculiarities parabolous" — Conic geometry can be pretty advanced, but any military officer will be given at least a taste of parabolas since they are so strongly associated with ballistics.

    Theme Parks 
  • The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Walt Disney World features a scene in the queue area where you see skeletons of pirates playing chess. The average person would think nothing of the way it's arranged, but apparently, Imagineer Marc Davis set up the pieces specifically so that it would result in a neverending game — justifying why the pirates were playing up to their deaths! (Though apparently they didn't get it quite right.)
  • The former Universal's Back to the Future: The Ride: When Doc Brown goes back in time and meets Albert Einstein, he doesn't look ecstatic or happy like the other scientists that the Doc saw. During the press shoot, there is a man standing next to Einstein; that man is Oppenheimer. The press shot that Doc went to was about the atomic bomb during/after World War II!

    Web Comics 
  • The Property of Hate does this every so often. One of the characters, Melody speaks entirely in musical notes. Another character, Dial has an old microphone for a head.
  • Irregular Webcomic! does this a lot. DM Maus tends to explain the references for those who don't get them in The Rant, though. Even then, they can be a bit brain-breaking and tough to understand. In this one he goes Up to Eleven by explaining the Banach-Tarski theorem and making it make sense.
  • Schlock Mercenary does a cool arc where the villains use command injection to force a CCTV system to sleep for ten minutes. When a QR code is held up to a security camera, the system reads the commands contained in the code and executes them because the administrators never changed the system's admin username and password from their defaults. The QR code in question is displayed to the reader, so what happens when you use your smartphone's bar code scanner to read the QR code the character is holding up? Your phone returns the following data:
    • UID='ADMIN'
    • CMD='sleep, 600sec, noprompt, fnord'
  • Gunnerkrigg Court makes some obscure references without stopping to explain: Though Reynardine's character is more based on Reynard the Fox, his first meeting with Antimony references the seduction from the English folk song "Reynardine". Similarly, Winsbury and Janet's secret relationship is a reference to the song "Willie O'Winsbury". The First Treatise copies poses and Latin from the Mutus Liber, a 17th-century Hugenot alchemy text. And Chapter 17 references Medieval German master swordsman Johann Liechtenauer.
    • Tom Siddell seems to be particularly fond of song references. Mr. Eglamore's name contains yet another one.
  • As it is befitting of the title, several Girl Genius strips offer incredibly obscure references, a selection:
  • Listening to 11.975 MHz, if you understand every obscure literary, mathematical, and radio reference, you need to get out more often.
  • As a comic that bounces around between physics, psychology, math, philosophy, and general geekery jokes, you need to be fairly cosmopolitan in your background to enjoy Dresden Codak. It's worth it though. The author mentions at one point that the comic probably wouldn't work in another medium, because only on the web do readers have near-instantaneous access to obscure information.
  • The entire cast (and most of the dead bodies) in Weapon Brown comes from various syndicated comic strips. Identifying all of them and picking up all the references and in-jokes would take someone who's a talking encyclopedia of the hundred year history of comic strips.
  • This Bob and George:
    Ran: The way I see it, we've broken every law of physics except the third law of thermodynamics.
    Dr. Light: Aha! Negative two Kelvin!
    Ran: Nevermind.
  • xkcd is loaded with these, to the extent that some have called it a series of obscure references that occasionally involve jokes, rather than the other way around.
  • Cyanide & Happiness actually had a week's worth of strips called "90% Of The General Public Won't Understand Week".
  • In a filler comic of El Goonish Shive, the Demonic Duck informs Dan that he's going to Australia to discover his roots. There is fossil evidence of a large, prehistoric bird that lived in Australia which has come to be known as the "Demon Duck of Doom".
  • Homestuck is chock-full of references to video games, pop culture and bad movies, but its biggest bonuses are probably in astrology.
    • People who study the astrological signs will often find the corresponding trolls to be either spot-on representations of their supposed traits... or humorous subversions. (Such as the traditionally rational, serious Capricorn being deployed as their friendly neighborhood stoner.)
    • The biology bonuses. While Hussie is a bit artistic with the trolls, the fact that the handle abbreviations are genetic code pairs (GCAT), and the fact that Bslick's "cancer" is caused by an error in his genetic code are completely sound. Especially if you consider that the "cancer" was caused by Karkat, whose chum handle (carcinoGeneticist) practically means "creator of Cancer". He's also the Cancer troll, and John changed his handle from valid genetics to "EB", (a mutation) after Karkat messed with Jade, who brought it up, causing John to decide to change his handle. And his Weapon of Choice is a sickle- this initially appears to just be because it resembles a crab's claw, until we find out Karkat is a mutant himself, with the only other troll sharing his blood color being his ancestor. Let's see, sickles and genetic blood disorders caused by a mutation...
    • The first three kids' sylladexes. Those three are commonly used data structures in computer science. Extra Genius Bonus Points goes to Rose's Tree Module, specifically an AVL tree, which mandates that the two subtrees of a binary tree must not have a height that differs by more than 1 (and consequently all the subtrees must follow this rule). As such, the auto-balance is a perfect double rotation that would be used in an AVL tree. Shame it doesn't handle the deletion of the root element very well, like a real AVL tree.
  • The Packrat already expects the reader to be a synth geek, but still, spotting the many unmentioned but accurately drawn synthesizers and other electronic devices is a nice bonus.
  • The Illustrated Guide To Law does this every now and then. In its section on Duress, for example, the members of the outlaw biker gang engage in discussions of physics and philosophy and multiple dimensions while brawling. In its section on Entrapment, the physicist has real equations on the blackboard behind her. The first page of the section on "taking the Fifth" has a couple of math jokes like "Wow, your truncated Maclauren fits so well. Of course... it's Taylor made," and a kitten saying "μ" (a greek letter pronounced "mew").
  • Chasing the Sunset plays with this a lot. In one notable instance a broken automaton lets out a stream of plusses and other symbols which, when compiled with a brainf*ck compiler (it's a programming language), spells out "beep".
  • Narbonic is chock full of references to literature and manga and comics, many of which are not apparent even to the aficionado without reading the "Director's Cut" version.
  • Spinnerette nails it with the engineering crowd by one super hero claiming to fly via the 'Left Hand Rule'.
  • Ursula Vernon, author of Digger, has a degree in antropology and an interest in the more obscure mythologies (South American, Balkian). This shows up frequently in her works.
  • One of the "About" pages for Comments on a Postcard reads "According to an analysis of your IP address, you access this site from a computer located in the Langerhans Islets. In accordance with Langerhans Islets pornography laws, individual pictures will not be displayed." The Islets of Langerhans are groups of hormone-secreting cells in the pancreas.
  • If you suck at remembering flags, you'll have trouble finding the Polandball comics funny. Consider then that many also include references to history, geography, politics, languages, dialects, slang, religions, movies, literature... "Ostrakon" is a good example of this. The comic's punchline features a Pun on the words "ostracise" (i.e. excluding someone from society) and "Österreich", the German name for Austria. The name of the comic comes from the word ostrakon (which means "shard" in Greek) because the citizens would vote for whom they wanted to banish by writing their names on clay shards.
  • When morphE isn't overtly explaining the game mechanics of Mage: The Awakening, it is using spells and information from the source books without any extra focus or attention. Readers with a knowledge of the source books will pick up on these bread crumbs and hints to ongoing mysteries through their understanding of the universe. The rest of the audience are left to discover these facts with the main characters.
  • In Sandra on the Rocks, the British geek girl Marie swears in old British comics titles.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Tiamat, the Dungeons & Dragons goddess of evil dragons, is part of the Western Pantheon. The Western Pantheon is based on the gods of ancient Babylon, which is where the name Tiamat (although nothing else about her, as Babylonian Tiamat was a sea goddess) came from.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: