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How Is That Even Possible?

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A Stock Phrase that is commonly used as a Lampshade Hanging of those occasions when the laws of physics (and other scientific laws) are blatantly defied. This is sometimes caused by Achievements in Ignorance, when the impossible thing only occurs because the person involved has no idea that what they are doing is supposed to be impossible.

Often Played for Laughs, this phrase can be used to tell the audience that the strange or unusual occurrences going on aren't the norm for the world in which the story is taking place. It can also be used as part of the Rule of Scary for the same reason.

On occasion, this trope will be accompanied by an explanation of how the strange occurrence is impossible. The creators will use this to demonstrate that they did their homework. Alternately, the impossible event will be chalked up to "magic", possibly with an explanation that magic really isn't supposed to work that way. If something breaks the story's internal logic expect this question to come up.

This is commonly used with the Took a Shortcut Trope, when a character wonders how another character could have gotten to a place ahead of them so fast.

Compare and contrast with Fridge Logic. May result in someone Giving Up on Logic.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Beauty's default reaction to Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo's antics.
  • Something like this in FLCL.
    Amarao: You can't be real.
  • One of the older characters in DieBuster reacts to Nono splitting a black hole in half with "That is something that is not allowed in this universe!"
  • In Rave Master, this is the heroes' reaction to the villainess Lilith somehow using her wind attacks underwater.
  • In the Pokémon episode "One Trick Phoney", this is everyone's reactions to Jessie's Charizard somehow doing moves that logically a Charizard shouldn't be able to do, like Dig. That said, in the game Charizard can learn it by a TM.
  • In One Piece, this is Vivi's reaction when Nami is able to predict when a cyclone will hit while navigating the Grand Line, something regarded as impossible by most pirates. She wonders whether Nami does so less from researched skills and more from innate ability.
  • In the first episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, Yuya defeats his foe by Pendulum Summoning, a technique that was, up to then, unknown. Even Yuya himself has no idea - at the time - how he did it, and is shocked to see that he won. (He'd find out how later, much to his regret.)
  • In Dragon Ball Super, Goku reveals he has no idea what kissing is. Vegeta asks how that can be when Goku has been married for years and has children.

    Comic Books 

  • Classic example from The Wizard of Oz:
    Dorothy: Oh come now, how can you talk if you haven't got a brain?
    Scarecrow: I don't know! But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.
  • From Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:
    Uhura: Admiral, I have a signal closing on the whales. Bearing 328 degrees.
    Kirk: On screen.
    Gillian: How can you do... that...
    Uhura: On screen.
  • Also an ongoing theme in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, beginning with the evident (but impossible) fact that the Enterprise fired on the Klingon chancellor's flagship while under a flag of truce.
    Spock: An ancestor of mine maintained that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. If we did not fire those torpedoes, another ship did.
    • This, incidentally, leads into another iteration of this trope: For another ship to have been in position to launch the attack in question without being detected, it had to be cloaked, and ships in the Star Trek setting cannot fire their weapons while cloaked, except for the fact that one ship evidently did just that.
  • In the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby film Road to Bali, Bob Hope is deep-sea diving when he is attacked by a giant squid. The diving crew pulls him out, only to find his suit is only filled with air; Hope resurfaces without the suit a moment later. When Crosby asks how he got out of the suit, Hope starts to explain, but then notices the camera and pulls Crosby away to where the viewers can't hear the explanation. Afterwards, Crosby turns to the camera and shrugs.
  • From The Emperor's New Groove:
    Kuzco: No! It can't be! How did you get back here before us?
    Yzma: Ah... [looks confused] How did we, Kronk?
    Kronk: Well, ya got me. [pulls down a chart displaying the progress of the previous chase] By all accounts, it doesn't make sense.
  • In The Matrix, this is a beat cop's reaction to not only witnessing Trinity leap over a six-lane street, plus sidewalks, to go from rooftop to rooftop, but seeing Agent Brown follow her.
  • The Beatles affect this reaction in Yellow Submarine when they see that Sgt. Pepper's Band, encased in a big glass ball, is the spitting image of themselves (or as John explains it, "extensions of our own personalities").
  • Superman: Superman's Metropolis debut, catching Lois Lane and a falling helicopter in mid-air:
    Superman: Easy, miss! I've got you!
    Lois: (Hysterical) You've got me? Who's got you!?"
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: Scott is very confused by the black censor boxes that pop up on Julie's mouth when she swears.
  • Justice League (2017): Superman and Cyborg get floored by a massive explosion. Cyborg complains that his toes hurt, and wonders how this can be considering almost all of his body, including his feet, is mechanical.
  • Coco: The clerk in the land of the undead starts sneezing around Miguel's dog Dante because he's allergic. Miguel asks how this can even be possible seeing as Dante doesn't even have hair; the clerk adds that he also doesn't even have a nose, then shrugs.
  • When a zombie clamps its jaws onto the arm of Mickey from Cockneys vs. Zombies, Katy blows its head apart, leaving the jaws still stuck to Mickey's limb. Everybody gawks at the still-attached jaws, and one of them asks "Is that even actually possible...?" while they're looking at it.
  • Said almost word for word in The Princess Bride when the Man in Black reveals to Buttercup that he is in fact the Dread Pirate Roberts. She wants to now how this is possible, given that the Dread Pirate Roberts has been marauding for twenty years. Since he's also Westley, her sweetheart who has been presumed dead for the past five years, her confusion is understandable.

  • In Contact (the book, not the movie), while the characters are moving through the wormhole, one of them, a theoretical physicist, does some calculations and says (paraphrase): "I can almost prove mathematically this can't be happening."
  • At several points in World War Z a character notes that the zombies are impossible — not just biologically, but even from elementary physics (moving endlessly with no energy input.) And having waved to reality as it passed, the story carries on as before.
  • At several points in Galaxy of Fear characters are bewildered by the various things by which they're menaced. Tash asks a cloning technician droid how the clones are being grown so quickly, but the droid tells her it's classified.
  • In the Honor Harrington books, Manticore's enemies tend to be quite startled at the Manticorans' technological feats, the fruits of an expensive decades-long secret research program. Starting from Mission of Honor, the Manticorans get a chance to experience that sensation themselves when the Mesan Alignment attacks their home system with unseen new technologies, without leaving any hard evidence to implicate themselves.
  • As in the film example noted above, Buttercup wants this answered in The Princess Bride regarding the Man in Black being the Dread Pirate Roberts.
  • In the Elenium trilogy, Sparhawk at one point declares he's going to reach down a specific enemy's throat and pull his heart out through his mouth. One of his companions, a little unnerved, inquires whether that's even possible. Sparhawk calmly replies that yes, it is, "if your arm is long enough and you know what you're looking for." He never gets the chance to do it, but Sparhawk being Sparhawk, he almost certainly could have.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an early Sesame Street sketch, Ernie pours himself a glass of milk while hanging upside down, ignoring Bert's warnings that the milk would spill.
  • In multiple episodes of iCarly, Spencer says this after something he makes/fixes spontaneously bursts into flames.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Spectre of the Gun". When Spock and McCoy test their Knockout Gas on Scott, it doesn't work.
    Spock: Captain, you don't seem to understand. It did not function, but it must function.
    McCoy: Nothing could go wrong, Captain. It should work.
    Spock: A scientific fact. But if the tranquilizer does not function, which is clearly impossible, then a radical alteration of our thought patterns must be in order.
  • In the Smallville season 3 episode "Covenant", Kara flies. Clark Kent, who has never seen this power before (in fact, he doesn't learn how to consciously fly until season 10), is baffled and asks how it is possible.
  • Fringe. Its said pretty much Once an Episode.
  • In an episode of Married... with Children, Kelly is hustling pool under Jefferson's tutelage; after a prospective mark comes in with a very large wager, Al decided to take over from Jefferson. However, to meet the ante, he goes to nine blood banks to sell blood. Jefferson points out that the human body only contains eight pints of blood, although to the dazed and disoriented Al clearly isn't sure himself how he did it (or how he's still alive).
  • In the Community episode "Regional Holiday Music", Mr. Radd somehow manages to play a piano without touching it.
    Abed: How's your piano still playing this song?
    Mr. Radd: Glee is the answer when questions are wrong!
  • Played for drama in The Expanse when the infected Eros station zooming away from a crashing ship defies all sorts of physics, which signals to everyone in the galaxy that something is really wrong.


    Newspaper Comics 
  • Charles Addams's skier cartoon... specifically, the other skier's reaction.
  • In one series of Bloom County strips, Opus and Milo are hunting for the Basselope in the forest. In one, Opus thinks he sees him and takes a Polaroid shot, but instead takes a picture of a squirrel blowing a raspberry at them with a loud "Thpptp!" In the last panel, Opus looks at it and says, "How can a picture go 'Thpptp'?"
  • Peanuts has many, most involving Snoopy:
    • In one strip, Snoopy is asleep while playing second base, with an alarm clock behind him. It rings, waking him up, and he catches the fly ball coming towards him. A confused Charlie Brown says, "How do you set the alarm for a fly ball??"
    • In another strip, Snoopy tries to dive into Lucy's wading pool, but she shouts, "Oh no you don't!" and Snoopy turns around in mid-air. Then he says to himself, "Now how did I do that?"
    • In another, Snoopy is upset that it's raining on his face, and shouts "Why can't it only rain on my legs?" And it does. When Lucy comes by and asks how that's possible, he says, "There are always ways of working things out."
    • One strip set in winter has him lying on his doghouse, covered with snow. When Charlie Brown comes out with his supper, he takes his dish, eats it - evidenced by loud chewing sounds - and hands the empty dish back, all without disturbing the snow. "I wonder how he did that?!" muses Charlie Brown.
  • In The Wizard of Id, the Spook digs a tunnel out of his prison cell and surfaces through the neck of the Wizard's wine bottle. "This isn't possible!", he says.

    Video Games 
  • Flipping the super-heavy Elephant tank in Halo 3 elicits this response from the game when you try to flip it back over.
  • In Mass Effect 3, Garrus Vakarian's skill with calibrations is legendary. Legion calls him out on this.
    Legion: Telemetry indicates that the calibration of Normandy's weapon accuracy could be increased by .32%.
    Garrus: You couldn't squeeze .34% out of it?
    Legion: Negative. That threshold is impossible.
    Garrus: You sure? Take a look now.
    Legion: Scanning. Normandy's weapon systems have been improved by .43%. How did you accomplish this?
  • In Left 4 Dead 2, one of Ellis's stories about his friend Keith involves them trying to make their own fireworks and Keith having 95% of his body covered in third-degree burns as a result. Another involves him trying to deep-fry a turkey and getting 90% of his body covered in burns on top of the ones he had from the prior incident, and his doctor had to call other doctors because they didn't know that was even possible.


    Web Original 
  • From Red vs. Blue:
    Church: Poor Jimmy was the last one to go. Tex walked up to him, pulled Jimmy's skull right out of his head and beat him to death with it.
    Tucker: Wait a second... how do you beat someone to death with their own skull? That doesn't seem physically possible.
    Church: That's exactly what Jimmy kept screaming.
    (cut to Tex, in black armor, beating Jimmy to death with his own skull)
    Jimmy: This doesn't seem physically possible!
    • It later becomes a recurring joke that anything implausible involving skulls (Or skull-like objects) "Doesn't seem physically possible". During Season 4, a contest for Sarge's new Professional Butt-Kisser after Simmons left was held between Donut, a wrench, and a skull. When it's revealed that the skull managed to tie with Donut, Donut responds, "That doesn't seem physically possible!"
    • During "The Revelation", Tex beats Church over the head with the Monitor that briefly contained Church's mind. The Reds, safe on the sidelines, once again comment on how that "Doesn't seem physically possible."
    • And in Season 14 Prequel Episode "Why They're Here" we learn that Private Jimmy wasn't killed by Tex but instead had the Alpha AI forcibly implanted into him. "AAAAH! WHAT'RE YOU DOING TO MY SKULL!? AAAAAHH! THIS DOESN'T SEEM PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE!!"
    • In Season 13, when Katie Jensen causes a five car pileup when just driving five miles an hour, this is Simmons' reaction.
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged: Goku obtained a muffin and the ability to read minds by pressing the muffin button of the spaceship... except there is no muffin button. However, in the alternate take, it's a cookie. Cue Big "NO!" from Goku.
    Goku: "Oh, all right. I promise I will absolutely not click-brrrrrrr *long inhale* rrrrrrrrr"
    King Kai: "He hung up on me! How did he even do that?"
  • This phrase being said verbatim is a running gag in the CollegeHumor point-of-view sketches.
  • Danbooru has an image pool with this name.
  • In a Strong Bad Email segment, Strong Bad finds Homestar stuck in the office's water cooler, with one foot hanging out of the nozzle.
    Strong Bad: Just explain to me what you were trying to do when this happened.
    Homestar: Well, I was in Barbados, hanging a picture on the wall...
    Strong Bad: Okay, that tells me everything I need to know.
    • In another segment, Strong Bad explains the incident that caused the original Bubs to quit the show:
    Original Bubs: Hey! Who ate all the mayo off of my egg salad?! ...And how??
  • ASDF Movie:
    Armed robber: You're gettin' mugged, kid!
    Unarmed kid: *makes a "gun" with his fingers* No, you're getting mugged!
    Armed robber: Ah! How the hell does that even work?
  • When Retsupurae made fun of the Trapped series of flash games, this came up when the third game reveals the protagonist to somehow also be the leader of the villains:
    Dialla: (in the game) How is that even possible?
    Proteus: (in the commentary) Yeah, how is that even possible?!
  • In the Camp Camp episode "Eggs Benefits", when Nurf and Preston's egg that they were taking care of runs away offscreen, Max yells "He ran away?!" in a tone that evokes this trope.

    Western Animation 
  • Camp Lazlo, specifically the episode where they tried to sell expired, uncanned beans. A man was walking towards the stand... and then floated into midair, drifted right over the stand, and then floated back onto the street and continued walking. This prompted Raj to ask how that was even possible.
    • The end credits repeat that scene with other characters doing the same thing.
  • Futurama: In "Space Pilot 3000", Bender's arms fall off. A moment later we see the arms, in closeup, pick up and reattach each other. Fry is just as baffled as the audience.
    • In "The Deep South", Zoidberg's undersea conch-shell home somehow burns down...
    Zoidberg: How could this have happened?!
    Hermes: That's a very good question.
    Bender: [picking up his still-lit cigar from the underwater ruins] So that's where I left my cigar.
    Hermes: That just raises further questions!
    • When Amy starts criticizing how Fry and Bender's slacker-ness have gotten out of hand, she points out that Bender has gotten so fat his front panel won't close, then points out how that doesn't even make sense.
  • During the Justice League episode "Hereafter", the Flash is almost fried by enemy lightning. Wonder Woman saves him by deflecting the lightning with her metal bracelets. Flash's response? "There are so many reasons why that shouldn't have worked." The actual answer is likely that A Wizard Did It.
  • In a Road Runner cartoon, Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff while in pursuit of the Road Runner who, it turns out, is standing on a chunk of rock in mid-air. The bedraggled Coyote looks up from the bottom of the canyon at the Road Runner and holds up a sign commenting that what the Road Runner is doing defies the laws of gravity. The Road Runner responds by holding up his own sign saying it doesn't matter because he's never studied law.
    • Previously done in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "High Diving Hare," where Bugs is trussed up on a diving board platform and Yosemite Sam is sawing off the board, but the ladder and platform collapse with Sam instead.
    • 1938's "Porky & Daffy" has Daffy as a prize fighter and Porky his manager. When Porky tells Daffy to get on his bicycle (a ring term for avoiding the opponent as best as can), Daffy does. He starts riding an invisible bicycle, to which he quips "I'm so crazy I don't know that this is impossible!"
  • One episode of Johnny Test was a full-on send off to Road Runner; After the Painted Tunnel, Real Train bit, Bling Bling Boy declares, "That completely defies the laws of physics!" He then gets run over by the inevitable truck. "And so does that..." Then he sees an anvil falling. "Oh, come on, an anvil!?" Then he 'protects' his head with an umbrella that’s smaller than his thumb.
  • This line is literally said in several episodes of Almost Naked Animals where the main character Howie has been catapulted across a room in a cardboard box and continues to surf at top speed throughout his hotel, including going inside an elevator and being taken up to the next level, only to be thrown out by some invisible force to go 'box surfing' on the next floor. However, it is only when he is 'surfing' up the stairs without slowing down that he literally says "How is this even possible?"
  • In "The PTA Disbands" episode of The Simpsons, Homer gets upset at Lisa for making a working perpetual motion machine because it violates the laws of physics. ("In this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics!")
    • In the episode, "The Front", Bart and Lisa ask Grandpa what his first name is; he can't remember, but he knows he has it written on his underwear, so he takes them off... Without taking his pants off. When Bart and Lisa ask how he did that, even he doesn't know.
    • In "Homer Goes to College," Homer is put in a truck containing a simulator of his work station and somehow causes a meltdown.
    Inspector: I'm still not sure how he caused the meltdown. There wasn't any nuclear material in the truck!
  • In the Animaniacs story "Hooked on a Ceiling", Michelangelo gets angry at the Warner siblings and tries to throw them out of the chapel; he's about to do so, but the scene shifts to the outside of the Chapel, and Michelangelo is the one who is thrown out. As he sits on the ground he scratches his head and wonders how they did that. (This gag or variations thereof was used in several episodes afterwards.)
  • In one Woody Woodpecker cartoon, the villain is trying to ambush Woody using a rifle with a crosshairs. As he watches Woody approach through the crosshairs, Woody actually walks up the vertical line of the crosshairs, causing the villain to look up and exclaim, "How did he do that??"
  • In the MAD sketch "My Little Warhorse", Pinkie Pie face-plants into a cake she made that reads "Yay Friends!" spelled out in icing. When she lifts her head, the icing has somehow rearranged itself to spell "Go bronies!", and this is her reaction.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In the episode "It's About Time!", Pinkie Pie explains that her Pinkie Sense can't help predict the impending disaster Twilight Sparkle is getting worked up about, because it's only good for vague, short-term predictions. Pinkie demonstrates when she gets a "twitchy tail" reaction that indicates a falling object, and a flowerpot lands on Twilight's head... despite both ponies being inside a tent. Pinkie then wonders aloud where the flowerpot came from.
    • In another episode, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash are hanging out at the beach. When RD wants to take a nap, she asks Pinkie to be quiet; so Pinkie, about to jump into the water (and already falling), slows her descent, and slowly lowers herself into the water in clear violation of gravity. Dash briefly wonders how that was possible, then shrugs it off as Pinkie being Pinkie.
    • In the My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks Shorts short "Perfect Day for Fun", Pinkie Pie makes faces and poses in front of a mirror, but her reflection just stands there. Applejack gives a confused reaction.
    • When counting the number of new friendships that will form when the Apples and Pies meet each other in "Hearthbreakers", Pinkie comes up with nineteen and holds up nineteen hooves. Applejack is visibly shocked and is looking around to try and see where the extra hooves came from in the background of the next shot.
  • In one episode of Danny Phantom, Frostbite explains that Danny is developing An Ice Person powers, and offers to train him. Danny asks how it is possible. Frostbite points out that Danny already has ghost powers and calls him out on his Arbitrary Skepticism.
  • In an episode of King of the Hill, while trying to get ideas for how to make his house look terrible so that it isn't sold, Hank goes to Bill's house and pulls the switch to the ceiling fan in the kitchen, which causes Bill's microwave to turn on. He even asks out loud how that's possible. (And then replicates it in his own house.)
  • In an early episode of Drawn Together, Princess Clara asks Toot and Foxxy not to reveal the secret of her Octopussoir. Before any of them leave the room or even speak, Captain Hero knocks on the door and say Toot told him about it, leading Clara to ask the question verbatim.
  • The Real Ghostbusters; Slimer runs away in an episode after Peter yells at him, and leaves a note behind. Jennine finds it first, and angrily reads it to the guys, scolding them. Ray takes the note and asks how she can read it, as Slimer not only has bad penmanship, but got slime all over the paper. Jennine simply snarks, "I'm a secretary. I can read anything."
  • In the climax of the Teen Titans episode "Betrothed", Beast Boy is able to scare some palace guards away by transforming into one of the giant Tameranian beasts he saw earlier:
    Raven: How long have you been able to do that?
    Beast Boy: Uh... Since just now? note 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • In "The Procrastinators", after Gumball's gravity-defying "moonwalk", Darwin tells him he's "breaking the rules of the game and the laws of physics!"
    • "The Responsible": "Look at this! How do you set fire to a swimming pool?"
    • "The Sidekick": When Gumball sees Darwin's inbox which is so empty the page itself is falling apart, he asks "What the- is that cockroach inside your inbox?''
    • In "The Virus", Gumball demonstrates how complete his control over his body is by withdrawing his legs into his chest and floating in the air. Teri is just as baffled as we are.
    • "Halloween": After Carrie tells Gumball and Darwin she was born a ghost, Darwin asks "How does that work?" to which Gumball replies "Duh-actually I have no idea."
    • "The Internet": Gumball asks this verbatim after an embarrassing video of him gets a hit counter so high the numbers start falling off the screen and leaking out the computer.
    • "The Recipe": When Anton drowns and disintegrates at the same time, but is back in the next scene with no sign of injury, Gumball asks "Am I the only one who finds it weird that he's still alive?"
  • In the American Dad! episode "Joint Custody", it's explained what happened to Jeff's mother:
    Stan: Why can't Jeff live with his family?
    Hayley: He hasn't spoken to his dad in years, and his mom ran away before he was born.
    Stan: How... how could she do that?
  • The Ant and the Aardvark: In "Technology Phooey," the Aardvark pushes a big rock off a cliff towards the Ant's ant hill. The Ant uses his breath to blow it back up.
    Aardvark: I'll say it in two words: Im. Possible.
  • In Milo Murphy's Law, Milo's bad luck causes a chemical fire in class to the utter bewilderment of the substitute Chem teacher who notes the chemicals involved can't combust.
  • One sequence in Justice League Action is one big homage to Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner; Lobo tries to capture The Flash on a desert planet with a variety of traps, only to fail due to Flash's Super Speed. However, when they do the "Cliff crumbles while the ledge stays floating" bit, this is Lobo's reaction.
    Lobo: Grr, how'd you do that? (Falls) It defies the laws of physics!
    Flash: (Hops onto another floating ledge) I never studied law, doc. Meep meep!
  • The Fairly OddParents!: In one episode, Cosmo and Wanda are in their fish forms and Cosmo is trying to light candles inside the fishbowl in spite of the water. When Cosmo actually manages to do it, Timmy shows up to ask what's new and Wanda answers, "The laws of physics."
  • Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja: In a Halloween Episode, the reanimated skeleton of Jerry Driscoll is recognized by a retina scan in spite of, as Viceroy points out, not having a retina.
  • Asked verbatim by Dr. Eggman in the Sonic Boom episode "Chez Amy" when he finds that Dave gave him cold soup and hot salad.
  • In the Kim Possible episode "Car Alarm", Ron's attempts to help Kim fix up her hand-me-down car keep ending up with Ron entangled in wires and attacked by a flock of crows that emerge from under the hood. Even when he keeps his distance and doesn't touch anything, it somehow happens to him again.