"Send help! I'm trapped in a bottle factory! Right next door to the fortune-cookie place!"
— Description for the Message in a Bottle, Wario Land: Shake It!
Someone is trapped, or forced to work against their will, in some kind of facility that produces publicly available goods (such as fortune cookie fortunes, or candybar wrappings). They proceeds to use them as a means of communicating with the outside world and asking for help.
In comedic versions, it's usually just a throwaway gag, and the fate of the mysterious victim isn't ever mentioned. And whether it's played for laughs or drama, it's a subtrope of Distress Call.
Compare with Quiet Cry for Help. Not to be confused with: I'm trapped here, and Trope Co. is forcing me to type up trope entries! Send help!
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Anime and Manga
- Case Closed: A writer has disappeared, though he continues to turn in manuscripts to his editors; however, Conan discovers that said manuscripts contain a coded message for help. Ultimately subverted, as the author was simply terminally ill and had faked his own kidnapping in hopes that one of his fans could solve the puzzle he'd devised before he passed away.
- Warren Ellis in DC's house ads for the 2017 WildStorm relaunch:
Q. What made you come back to WildStorm?
A. I was abducted. Please help. I'm sending this message out through an advertisement in the hope that Jim Lee won't see it and therefore won't give me the hose again. I'm in a bunker under a building in Burbank. Please help me.
- Whenever French is spoken in Dude Bro Party Massacre 3, the subtitles are pleadings of help by the subtitler, who is being held against his will. This extends to the end credits, where Subtitles are credited to "HELP THIS IS NOT A JOKE".
- Without a Clue: The man forced to counterfeit pound notes for Professor Moriarty prints a clue on them about his location. Ironically, Holmes and Watson completely misunderstand the clue, yet stumble on his location anyway.
- A message in Hogfather is in a Hogswatch cracker and says "Help help help Ive fallen in the crakker machine I cant keep runin on this roller please get me ou-". Someone says it's the same old mottos as when they were kids.
- In Interesting Times, the Silver Horde interrupt a tax collector in the Forbidden City, just as he's writing (in the traditional poetic form) that Seven Lucky Logs owes one pig and three measurements of rice. Before they take him along as a guide, Cohen dictates a replacement for that text, and so the collector leaves a note reading "Roses are red, violets are blue. Seven Lucky Logs to be given one pig and all the rice he can carry because he is One Lucky Peasant. By order of Six Beneficient Winds, Collector of Revenues. Help. Help. If anyone reads this I am being held prisoner by an evil eunuch. Help."
- In Goldfinger (the original novel) James Bond leaves a note on the underside of the toilet on a plane, telling of Goldfinger's plot and saying that delivery of the note to Felix Leiter of the CIA will result in a reward, hoping that the cleaning crew will find it; but doesn't know whether or not it got found & delivered, or thrown out, or found by the bad guys.
- In The Tightrope Walker by Dorothy Gilman, the plot starts when the owner of a second-hand store finds a "Please help" message hidden in one of the objects in her store.
- The rare "Buggre all this" edition of the Bible that Aziraphale had in Good Omens.
And bye the border of Afhter, fromme the east side even untoe the west side, a portion for Naphtali.
And bye the border of Naphtali, from the east side untoe the west side, a portion for Manaffeh.
Buggre all this for a Larke. I amme sick to mye hart of typesettinge. Master Biltonn is no Gentelmann, and Master Scagges noe more than a tighte fisted Southwarke Knobbesticke. I telle you, onne a daye laike this ennywone with half an oz. of sense should bee oute in the sunneshain, ane nott stucke here alle the liuelong daie inn thif mowldey olde By-Our-Lady workeshoppe. @*"AE@;!*
And bye the border of Ephraim, from the east fide even untoe the west fide, a portion for Reuben.
- In Canned, by Alex Shearer, Fergal and Charlotte find a can containing the message "HELP", along with several cans containing some more gruesome clues.
- In Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake, the message "HELP I AM BEING HELD PRISONER" begins to appear in various kinds of goods produced in a prison soon after compulsive practical joker Harry arrives there. With every message that appears, Harry finds himself more trapped between the rock of the warden and the hard place of his fellow convicts. Subverted: Harry wasn't sending the messages, it was the gardener who was about to be released and didn't want to leave.
- According to Dave Barry, when the dome of the United States Capitol was being built nobody realized the writing on the ceiling was Italian for "Help I'm trapped up here and am starving to death".
- Help! I'm a Prisoner in the Library by Eth Clifford, although it's not exactly the main focus.
- In Double or Die, Fairburn plants cryptic clues (literally: he is a cryptic crossword compiler) in the letter he is allowed to send his students. If correctly interpreted, these clues reveal that is a prisoner and where he is being held.
- In Help! I am a Prisoner in a Toothpaste Factory by John Antrobus, the message comes out of a tube of toothpaste.
- "Ms. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie" by C. M. Kornbluth is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Stephen Colbert used this trope in a Colbert Report — Apocalypse Mao: Murdered by the Orient's Success.
- Doctor Who: In "Kerblam!", the Doctor receives a rather overdue package from the titular Mega-Corp with "HELP ME" typed on the back of the packing slip inside. This prompts her and her companions to head off for the company's headquarters to investigate. The trope ends up being subverted, as the message didn't originate from a trapped worker, but from Kerblam!'s operating system. It had discovered one employee's plans to execute a terrorist attack by rigging thousands of packages with bombs, while nobody else in the company noticed anything amiss. Ryan, who works in a warehouse back in Sheffield, initially dismisses the message as a prank, implying that he and his co-workers used to do similar things as pranks at work.
- The "...Chinese Fortune Cookie Factory" version was used on Get Smart.
- One Mock the Week Scenes We'd Like to See round gave us Weird Things to See on a Road Sign to which Frankie Boyle provided us with...
Frankie: Help me, I'm trapped in a sign-making factory.
- NewsRadio, Dave is reading cards from a complaint box.
Dave: "Help, I'm being held prisoner in a complaint box", which is actually kinda funny.
- Invoked on Whose Line Is It Anyway? at the end of one game of "Hats":
Colin: Help me they're making me do "Hats" I wanna go home...
- The flavor text on the humorous Magic: The Gathering "Gleemax" card.
- This card from Twilight Sparkle's Secret Shipfic Folder.
- Box One, a tabletop game by Neil Patrick Harris, begins as a sequential trivia game until one card reveals that the rest of the card deck is fake, and contains clues to the whereabouts of the game's true designer, who was kidnapped by NPH.
- There's an urban legend of an immigrant or other forced labor using the fortune cookie as a "I'm being held prisoner at [a Chinese food preparation place]." The earliest documented one is from 1955 (listed here) but like most urban legends, it's probably been around for longer than that.
- Fairy Godmother Tycoon has a story part where someone finds a wig — there's a little note attached. "Please help. Kidnapped. Forced to make wigs. Rapunzel." Not to mention the tip, "Help, I'm trapped in a tip-writing factory."
- World of Warcraft has a fortune card that reads: "Help! I'm being held prisoner in a fortune cookie bakery!"
- You Don't Know Jack:
- A Couch Gag in The Lost Gold reads: "Help! I'm being held hostage in a tagline factory!"
- Played for Drama in Full Stream, where the Jack Attack prompts for "Escape The Simulation" are Cookie's cries for help after he realizes that he's been trapped Inside a Computer System by Binjpipe.
- Done in Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon once Roger gets a high score in "Astro Chicken". He'll find a secret message pleading for help by the Two Guys from Andromeda, the programmers of the game.
- One of the pillars in Fez reads, when translated, "Please send help. Trapped in a fez factory." Though downplayed given it's written on a stone pillar and not a fez.
- If playing as an Apex in Starbound and inspect a standard issue chair, the player character will note that they are mass produced in factories... and add that they once found the words "Help us" engraved in a chair frame like this. Given that the Apex are suffering under an oppressive, totalitarian regime, it's not at all played for laughs.
- Animaniacs Game Pack: One of the closing animations you get after quitting the game is Wakko yelling "Help! We're trapped in a software company!"
- On April Fools' Day 2022, Arcaea added a menu that would appear after each song to give a list of silly reasons for any changes to the player's Potential score, one of which read "Help I'm stuck in a Potential factory".
- CliffSide: The newspaper at the end has a section from someone claiming to be trapped in the CliffSide newspaper company by monsters.
- The eye chart in the first panel of this Gunnerkrigg Court guest comic.
- Has been parodied twice in xkcd. First there was the Pi Equals comic, and the second was in the Alt Text of Exploits of a Mom.
- xkcd fans like variations of this too.
- The Noob has A guy with PHD in Egyptology held in the Clichequest offices basement.
- The trope is discussed in Schlock Mercenary, and then used as context for Bristlecone discovering that the very unfriendly and homicidal AI Tagii has a fragment of herself holed up inside Ennesby thanks to Tagii filling tac-info shared between Bristlecone and Ennesby with messages about it.
- Oglaf: A poet has been violently enslaved in his own home by a muse that's a Brawn Hilda, emphasis on "Brawn", and writes "Please please please help me" on every volume's dedication page. He's later rescued by the personification of his own crippling self-doubt.
- The third panel of this Housepets! comic has a news crawl reading "trapped in editing room send help;&"
- CollegeHumor: In a Photoshop tutorial video, a guy who has been kidnapped by North Korea to edit their publicity photographs eventually tries to use the instructional video to give his co-ordinates to any possible rescuer, only to be beaten up by the guard.
- Facebook's "Fortune Cookie" app has "Help! I'm trapped in a Chinese bakery!" as one possible fortune.
- The SCP Foundation's Log of Anomalous Items includes a piece of charcoal that causes anyone using it to write "Somebody help me! I'm trapped in the charcoal!" every several seconds.
- Looney Tunes: The Daffy Duck short "China Jones" parodies the "being held in a Chinese bakery" one. Daffy himself ends up being held in a Chinese laundry.
- The episode titles of the first part of Robot Chicken's fourth season form the message "Help me. I'm trapped in a DVD factory. They took my thumbs. Two weeks without food. Tell my mom I love her, but not in that way. Love, Maurice PS: Yes, in that way." In a twist to this trope, the second half's episodes titles make up the factory's response: "Dear Consumer, we are a humble factory. Maurice was caught unionizing our labor. President Hu forbids it! Due to constraints of time and budget, the ramblings of Maurice cannot be erased, so sorry. Please do not notify our contractors. Especially the animal Keith Crofford!"
- In the direct-to-video movie Madeline: Lost in Paris, Madeline ended up in a sweatshop making lace, and she and the other girls attempted to knot lace patterns that spelled out a message for help.
- Ninjago: In season 4, when Cole is eliminated from the Tournament of Elements and forced to work in Chen's noodle factory, he puts a message in a fortune cookie to alert his friends to the situation and his upcoming escape attempt. In this case, the cookie isn't going out into the world at large, but to a party for Chen's cult and the other elemental masters (most of whom don't realize at this point that they're already prisoners), and Cole is highly aware that there's a very real possibility that the cookie will wind up going to someone on the wrong side. In fact, Chen very nearly reads the fortune himself before he gets distracted and it winds up in the hands of Skylor.
- In an episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Bloo becomes a celebrity, but his agent won't let him go. So on his variety show, Bloo tap dances a Morse code message saying "Help me, Mac!" so Mac and the rest of the friends who are watching can go to the studio and save him.
Mac: Oh my gosh! He needs help! But why?Wilt: Who knows? First I've heard of it. Before this, he did funny sketches and songs like "My Evil Producer Has Kidnapped Me and Won't Let Me Go", the "Somebody Save Me" magic show, and "A Little Help from My Imaginary Fr—" (realization) I am so stupid!
- Downplayed during the Middle Ages, when disgruntled scribes would insert complaints about the drudgery of their jobs in the margins of the books they hand-copied.
"The work is written, master, give me a drink. Let the right hand of the scribe be free from the oppressiveness of pain."
"Let me not be blamed for the script, for the ink is bad, and the vellum defective, and the day is dark."
"St Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing."
- ATM dispenses cash and notes for help from man trapped inside.
- A woman whose boyfriend was holding her and her three children against their will called for help through an order with the Pizza Hut app.
- In 2012, a woman bought some Halloween decorations from a K-Mart store, and discovered a note that claimed that the man who packaged that product was arrested, and sent to a prison for "reeducation through labor."
- It happened again in 2017 when a woman bought a purse in Walmart, and the note details how prisoners are forced to work long hours to finish a quota, those that don't get a beating, and they are served little food because most of it is eaten by the guards.
- An entirely straight variation, even with a Chinese factory: In 2019 an English girl was making out Christmas cards when she discovered one with a plea for help inside, along with instructions to contact an English reporter who was previously a prisoner in the same prison. The reporter investigated and says it's real, while the Chinese government says it's fake.
- My Sister, My Writer, an anime which was infamous for its hideous animation and Cliché Storm story, has one of the staff credited as 正直困太 ("Shoujiki Komatta"). That's not a real person's name - it instead translates to "We're in serious trouble", as in the anime's own Troubled Production.
- Some versions of System 7 (starting with 7.0.1) have messages hidden in the System file's data fork along the lines of "Help! Help! We're being held prisoner in a system software factory!", most likely a reference to that release of the software's Troubled Production, as well as to the protracted and ultimately fruitless development of Taligent, MacOS's anointed successor at the time.