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Impossible Pickle Jar

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"When I fail to open this jar and you succeed, it will establish you as the alpha male."
Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory

The Impossible Pickle Jar is a true test of endurance. The goal: open it. Not all can pass the test.

The jar doesn't just have to be a jar of pickles, either. All jars or bottles with stubborn caps, full of jam and peanut butter or still-moving eyes, still apply (a common realistic one is containers of glue, as once it's in use, there's a chance that the owner might accidentally glue it shut).

This trope is often used to demonstrate a character's strength, usually a male character. Though it's just as likely to be subverted: the more a character insists on opening the jar to show off, the more likely they are to fail. That, dear readers, is comedy.

After one character struggles like crazy to open the jar, after which another does so easily, the first character might try to save face by saying, "I loosened it for you."

Sometimes, to add to the humor value, the person who succeeds at opening the jar isn't particularly strong; where the strongman of the group strained and failed to pop the cap, the smarter one might just simply resort to getting a proper grip on the lid and some mechanical advantage to torque it loose (a spoon wedged under the lid, for example) or expose the lid to some heat.

Not to be confused with Tempting Cookie Jar.


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  • One television advert for the Yorkie chocolate bar in the United Kingdom has a female customer with a fake mustache pose as a male because the Yorkie slogan at the time was "Yorkie: It's not for girls." The suspicious shopkeeper poses a series of tests to verify the customer's machismo, one of which is to unscrew a tenacious jar lid. The customer gives the lid a mighty effort and succeeds.
  • A sponsorship spot on UK Disney XD for Marvel dressing-up costumes shows a boy dressed as The Incredible Hulk failing to open a jar of pickles until a girl dressed as Captain Marvel does it for him.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Aggretsuko: One of the ways Tsubone, a senior accountant at Retsuko's company, torments her underlings is by ordering them to open a stuck jar of preserves and watching them try and fail. Tsubone is shocked, and rather disappointed when Retsuko manages to open a jar thanks to getting more fit from yoga class. Needless to say, karma gets her good once she tries to open one herself... and her wrist ends up fractured.
  • Early in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, Kenichi's father, Mototsugu, attempts to open a jar of tomato sauce when his wife Saori muses that she can do the task herself. After much straining, Kenichi nonchalantly takes the jar from his dad, instantly opens it, and leaves, much to his father's bewilderment. This is Mototsugu's first clue that his son is beginning to come out of his shell and becoming a stronger, more self-confident person, although he initially gets the wrong idea about what's going on in the Ryozanpaku dojo.
  • In Episode 15 of the second season of Osomatsu-san, one segment involves the Matsuno brothers struggling to open a jar of seaweed paste that simply won't budge for them no matter what they try. In the end, their mother Matsuyo tries to open it herself. She can't open it either and throws it out the window.

    Comic Books 
  • A variation of this is a recurring gag in Gaston Lagaffe: When eating nuts, he finds one he can't crack open. It starts with trying to stomp it only to hurt his foot, and culminates in putting it on trolley tracks, only for the nut to derail the trolley.
    Gaston: [multiple times] That's the hardest nut I've ever seen...
  • Played with in X-Factor issue number 71 in 1991. Jamie Madrox tried to open a jar of mayo by summoning a dupe to help him open. Then, Strong Guy tried to use his super strength to open it. After that, Lorna tried to opened it with her magnetic powers failing miserably. Havok used plasma blasts on the jar of mayo causing it to bounce up still unopened. Finally, Val, the human, just tapped on the mayo causing it to be opened. At the end of the comic it was revealed that it was a trick jar of mayo that Madrox used to play a prank on the gang.
  • Y: The Last Man: In a play put on in-universe, the first scene has a woman's grief over her husband's death (along with the rest of the male gender) brought home to her when she has trouble opening a jar. It's lampshaded as a cliché and has been something of a running joke between the two of them.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • After Po earns the Dragon Scroll in Kung Fu Panda, he struggles to open the container. After Shifu opens it for him, Po gives him the "after I loosened it up" line.
  • Referenced in Monsters vs. Aliens. After Susan defeats the giant robot probe all by herself, she tells the others, "Did you see how strong I was? I bet there wasn't a jar in the world I couldn't open."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Back to the Future, Marty fails to twist open a bottle of Pepsi. He did not notice that it has an old fashioned bottle cap. George nonchalantly opens it with a bottle opener.
  • In Frankie & Johnny (the 1991 version), ex-convict Johnny (Al Pacino) struggles with a jar before his love interest Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer) opens it. The producer put the scene in after noticing that Pfeiffer had big hands.
  • In Hancock, Charlize Theron's character asks her husband to open a jar for her, to hide the fact she has super-strength like Hancock.
  • The Neverending Story: The first scene Bastian has shows him struggling to twist the lid off a jar of jam before his father opens it for him.
  • Variation in Sabrina where the jar is already open, but Linus' father can't get to the last olive jammed all the way at the bottom. Linus just smashes it.

  • In the children's book The Bionic Bunny Show, Wilbur — the actor who plays The Bionic Bunny — struggles with opening a jar for his wife. The story closes with one of their children opening it.
  • The Goosebumps book, Why I'm Afraid of Bees uses this trope to demonstrate Gary, the Loser Protagonist's uselessness; he's shown struggling to open a jar of peanut butter for his mother, and failing until his younger sister comes over... and opens it easily. Cue the mother and sister laughing at his uselessness.

    Live-Action TV 
  • During one of the countdowns in 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, Jimmy pulled out an enormous jar of pickles from under the desk and attempted to open it, using an assortment of increasingly unlikely tools. In the dying seconds, Rachel walked over and opened it for him, causing him to comment "I loosened that".
  • In one episode of Arrested Development, Lindsay tries to open a jar but fails. Her husband Tobias proudly comes to her aid but fails miserably as well—playing into his general lack of manliness displayed throughout the series.
  • One episode of As Time Goes By has Lionel unable to open a jar of pickled onions as a Running Gag (which also underscores the episode's plot worrying about his age when Sandy is frightened by a stalker). Although he's pleased that Jean fails because he's old-fashioned and thinks that it should be men opening jars that women can't, Jean teases that it would work except he can't do it. The button at the end of the episode? Sandy, unaware of this argument, casually opening it with just a little effort.
  • On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon asks Leonard to open a jar of white asparagus for him in order to impress Leonard's date. Not only can he not open the jar, Leonard ends up breaking it and cutting his hand, which causes him to throw up.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "Helpless", Buffy temporarily loses her Super-Strength and gets annoyed when she can't open a jar of peanut butter. Xander teases her but finds that he can't open it either and he asks Willow for help.
  • On The Cosby Show episode "Golden Anniversary", Sondra's boyfriend Elvin attempts to open a jar of pickles for Clair, claiming that it's a man's job when a woman can't open it. After struggling in vain to do so, Sondra asks to try it. Not wanting to seem sexist, he lets her try. Two pops on the bottom of the jar, and it opens.
    Clair: Thanks, Sondra. You're a real man.
  • CSI: NY: Exploited by Flack's grandmother in "Misconceptions." One of the ploys she uses to get him and his sister to come over for dinner is claiming she can't open her jar of pickles... which he proceeds to open without the least bit of effort. He calls her out on it, too, asking her if she's stronger than herself since she's the one who closed it.
  • Frasier:
    • In "Death Becomes Him", Daphne casually mentions how she likes her men more on the manly side. When she has trouble opening a jar of peanuts, Niles offers to do it as a means to impress her. When he too fails to do so, Frasier stops midsentence, grabs the jar, and opens in a single twist.
      Niles: [to Daphne] I loosened it for him.
    • Played with in "Martin Does It His Way", when Niles can't open the urn of his aunt Louise's ashes. The scene's title card even reflects this, reading "Try Holding It Under Some Hot Running Water".
  • In an episode of Full House, Danny laments to his girlfriend, who he has recently discovered is older than him, that he had always believed that the man of the house should be older, taller, and stronger. Then Danny struggles to open a jar, and his girlfriend pops it open for him as well. Danny can only lament that at least he's still taller.
  • In the Great Sport Relief Bake Off, neither international cricketer Michael Vaughan nor huge-forearmed bread expert Paul Hollywood could open a jam jar. Sue Perkins unceremoniously banged it on the counter, opened it, and walked off.
    Sue Perkins: No, you don't do it like that! Look. ...Men!
  • In an early episode of Henry Danger, Ray says he'll hire Charlotte if she passes "the pickle test"; aka opening up a jar of pickles that he sealed shut as tight as possible.. She passes the test by smashing the jar on the table it was sitting on.
  • On Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Jimmy asks Hillary Clinton to prove her health by opening a jar of pickles he just happened to have had hidden away, which she does.
  • Life Support: In the seventh episode of season three, Sigourney does a segment on tightening jars around the house so that your boyfriend can open them and get a boost to his ego.
    Sigourney: So, if you want your boyfriend to feel like the big man, you only have to give him something little to do. So get yourself a tightening tool, tighten every jar in the house and watch his self-confidence flourish.
  • Non-jar variant happened in a MADtv (1995) sketch where John Madden was advertising a popcorn popper, but he couldn't get the included butter packet open. One take had him curse up a storm as he strained to rip it open and near the end, he's visible annoyed when his co-host opens it no problem.
  • Kevin Sorbo made a guest appearance on Martha Stewart Living at the height of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. She gave him a jar to open, only for him to completely whiff. The video quickly became fodder for TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes.
  • A somewhat viral clip of an episode of MasterChef Junior Brazil had a contestant trying desperately to open a sauce jar, having to run to his own father (who is in the audience) to open it.
  • On the pilot episode of The Orville, Captain Mercer can't open a vault door and asks Pint-Sized Powerhouse security officer Alara to "open this jar of pickles for me." Instead of using her Super-Strength to turn the wheel that opens the door, she just knocks it over, along with part of the wall. This soon becomes a Running Gag between them.
    Mercer: (Beat) I loosened it for you.
  • Pixelface: When Alexia and Sgt. Reilly have a contest about who is tougher, one of the challenges is opening the old jars of applesauce Rex keeps in the fridge. They both manage to do so, and then quickly regret it as they smell the jars.
  • There's an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch in which Sabrina and her aunts can't open a jar - they can't even do it by using magic. Sabrina's father visits and, after a great deal of effort, is able to open the jar. Her father is going through some personal problems at the time, so to unwind he sets about opening every difficult jar in the house.
  • On Seinfeld, Jerry feels uncomfortable with his girlfriend's tendency to walk around his apartment naked—especially when he sees her do a "full-body flex on a pickle jar."
  • In Strong Woman Do Bong-soon, Bong Soon pretends to be unable to open a jar so her crush would do it for her.
  • Superman: In Lois & Clark, Clark often pretends to be unable to do things like open jars to help hide his identity.
  • In an episode of That '70s Show, Midge asks Bob to open a jar, to make a point to Donna about how women have men under their thumbs. He has a lot of trouble opening it, and it's implied that Midge was only doing it to make him feel manly.
  • On Three's Company, Jack feels emasculated when Terri fights off a drunk who was threatening him at the Regal Beagle, and it only gets worse when she effortlessly opens a marmalade jar that he couldn't.
  • An episode of When Things Were Rotten has Maid Marian distract a pair of guards with the Pickle Jar Trick: She asks them to open a pickle jar for her (possibly one whose lid is glued in place).

    Video Games 
  • The Last of Us Part II has Ellie and Dina struggling to open a jar full of joints. Dina ends up just shattering it open.
  • In Sam & Max Hit the Road, one of the items you need to solve a puzzle is the severed hand of Jesse James, which happens to be stored in a jar. The only way to open said jar is to ask the clerk at the nearest Snuckey's, as all Snuckey's employees have special training in jar-opening.
  • In the first case of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, Holmes is looking for someone who is breaking people's necks with his or her bare hands. He crosses the widow of victim number two off the suspect list after seeing her fail to pry open the lid of a tin of candies without outside assistance.
  • Stardew Valley: In a relationship event with Haley, she's having trouble opening a jar. As your character walks in, she asks for your help. You manage to open the jar, impressing her. (Your character can do it regardless of gender.)
  • Discussed in Tomodachi Life, occasionally, when a female Mii talks about her husband. She'd mention how she has a hard time opening jars and the husband can open it easily when she gives it to him.
  • One of the bonus cases in Touch Detective 2½ tasks Mackenzie to help open a bottle of tea that has the cap screwed on too tight. The one who is able to open it? Penelope, much to Mackenzie's surprise. Presenting it to anyone else will have them try, struggle, and quickly admit defeat.

    Visual Novels 
  • Last Window: Kyle has to open a jar for the Cafe owner. It's a minor puzzle.
  • She's a Bit Sluggish: Dori struggles to open a pickle jar, and gives it to Andrew. He can either loosen it and give it back, or open it himself. Doing the latter will lead to the Bittersweet or Downer Ending.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY Chibi has Ruby struggling to open a pickle jar, and eventually having to use Crescent Rose to open it. Another short has her terrified to ask her sister Yang to open a stuck jar — pretty well justified because Yang goes for even more overkill (as in point-blank shooting with Ember Celica) when she ends up arriving anyway and working on the jar.

  • The Handbook of Heroes: In a spectacular case of overdoing it, Sorcerer manages to open Oracle's pickle jar... with a fireball.
  • The Little Trashmaid: One strip features Tidy working out in order to build the muscle to open a jar. She fails and takes it to Ricky for help, who reveals that she was simply turning it the wrong way.
  • In Nerf NOW!!, Morgan begins a Training Montage after failing to open a jar of pickles for Jane because, as Jane's husbando, she needs to level up. She then proceeds to open the jar in truly epic fashion. Jane's reaction is to demand that Morgan put a baby in her.
  • In Swords the strip DCCXXIX - "The Everstabbed" - has a man seek out 'The Everstabbed' an entity made up of black void energy that is "kept eternally bound between life and death by the sword that cut through [their] heart"... to ask them to open his pickle jar. The Everstabbed can't open it either.
  • In a What's Normal Anyway? comic after Mel gets his first testosterone shot, the ultramasculine montage contains a panel of a pickle jar being opened.
  • In Kevin & Kell, Kevin's happy to lend an ear.

    Web Videos 
  • Gender-inverted in one video clip where an enormous female bodybuilder struggles to open a jar, which she then passes to the wimpy-looking guy next to her, who opens it effortlessly.
  • BAMF Girls' Club:
    • In episode 8, Bella proves unable to open a jar of jam. Although, after seeing Buffy accidentally crush a pot with her Super-Strength, she just hands it to her. And then she keeps hounding Buffy with more jars until the vampire slayer shows Bella how to use a jar opener.
    • Later, in episode 14, Hermione on a magic fast is unable to open a jar, and Bella opens it for her. That she would need Bella's help, of all people, depresses Hermione even further.
  • There exists a Tik-Tok wherein a girl becomes extremely offended by her boyfriend offering to open a jar for her. We then Smash Cut to her meekly asking him to open it for her, and asking "please don't tell anyone..."

    Western Animation 
  • In the Atomic Puppet episode "Big Pickle", AP gets stuck in a hi-tech pickle jar belonging to Joey's dad, forcing them to turn to his former archnemesis Professor Tite-Gripp for help.
  • In the Beavis and Butt-Head episode "Blood Pressure" Beavis is prescribed blood level pills after being freed from the blood pressure chair. He tries to open the bottle, but can't because he isn't pushing the cap down. Eventually he accidentally kicks the bottle down a sewer drain and gets his hand stuck as he tries to retrieve it.
  • In The Day My Butt Went Psycho!, one episode has both Duke and the Great White Butt daydreaming on what they'd do with a ripped body. Both of their daydreams involve struggling to open a pickle jar, before Granny comes along and opens it for them, to which they say, "I totally loosened that up for you."
  • In the Johnny Bravo episode "Bikini Space Planet", the eponymous meathead finds himself captured by a race of alien women. They test Johnny to prove whether he's worthy enough to be their man, and the final part of the test is to open a jar of pickles, which he is successful at.
  • In the Kim Possible episode "Stop Team Go", a humorous sub-plot involves Drakken struggling to open a jar of pickles while Shego is away. He tries opening it himself, using various tools and henchmen and he even tries incinerating it with a massive Death Ray. By the end of the episode, Shego returns to Drakken's lair and opens it instantly. Watching the scenes closely reveals that Drakken and his henchmen fail because they try to turn the lid the wrong way. It opens readily when Shego turns it the correct way.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "The Mysterious Mare Do Well", Rainbow Dash is searching for "heroic" deeds to do, so she tries to help Amethyst Star open a jar of peanut butter. Rainbow only succeeds after Amethyst actually loosens the lid for her, by tapping it against a rock.
  • The Patrick Star Show: Parodied in "Stuntin'". Patrick is able to pull off an incredibly complicated and fast-paced motorcycle stunt. What injures him is trying to open a pickle jar afterwards, which snaps his wrist bone through his arm. GrandPat, meanwhile, opens it with little effort.
  • A recurring gag on The Powerpuff Girls (1998) involves The Mayor calling the Powerpuff Girls to open his pickle jar for him.
  • Ready Jet Go!: In "My Fair Jet", one of Jet's tasks, in order to behave like a human, is to open a pickle jar with his bare hands. Jet has a hard time doing so, and even tries to use his robotic arms even though it's against the rules. However, Jet does eventually open the jar.
  • In Rick and Morty, Jerry's inability to open a jar of mayonnaise results in Rick giving him the Meeseeks box, sparking the B-plot of the episode.
  • Robot Chicken: In the Manimal sketch, Manimal struggles to open a jar, so his son suggests he turn into a bear for the added strength. He protests that a bear lacks the hand anatomy to actually open the jar, but his son insists. He transforms and winds up destroying the jar.
  • A "Mr. Know-It-All" segment on Rocky and Bullwinkle has Bullwinkle trying and failing to open a jar of pickles in various increasingly over-the-top ways. At the end, Rocky notices the jar is actually a jar of jelly, and Bullwinkle says he couldn't open it because it was jammed.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Parodied with a helicopter door that they treat just like a jar. The First Lady's bodyguards strain and ultimately fail to open the door — then she kicks it, and it opens. And of course, the captain mutters that they'd loosened it for her.
    • At the beginning of the Season 10 episode "D'oh-in' in the Wind", Mr. Burns calls in the entire power plant workforce to help him open a jar of pickles he's having for lunch. Not a single employee manages to get it open, prompting a frustrated Burns to make a recruitment film and hire some new blood.
    • In yet another episode, "The Monkey Suit", Marge gave a beer bottle to Homer, but he is unable to open the lid, trying with all his might until he has to use a gavel (they were in court) to break the bottle open... And then discover it had a twist-off lid.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In the episode "No Weenies Allowed", SpongeBob tries to prove he's tough enough to enter the Salty Spittoon by trying to open a bottle of ketchup. After a brief struggle, he gives up.
      SpongeBob: If I could just run this under some hot water...
    • In another episode, SpongeBob wins the Conch Signal that allows him to summon Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy. What's the first task he asks them to do? Open a mayonnaise jar.
    • In yet another episode, Plankton manages to steal the Krabby Patty Secret Formula, but he can't open it because it has a time lock and the bottle is Made of Indestructium. Even a small pile of explosives doesn't harm it in the slightest.
  • Teen Titans Go!:
    • Beast Boy has been shown struggling to open pickle jars on a few occasions. The most prominent one being "No Power", where after being prohibited from using his powers (such as turning into a gorilla for added strength), he is unable to get the jar open no matter what. He ends up resorting to licking the unopened jar. Later on, he's shown using a cat as a jar opener where he does succeed.
    • The episode "40% 40% 20%" has the team, frustrated with Cyborg constantly playing his favorite song "The Night Begins to Shine," tell him that if he can't open a pickle jar without his song, he can't join them in fighting the Brain. He struggles at it for days until a bird outside reminds him that he does need his music. He plays it, pops it open and has a pickle before saving the day!
  • In the "Legend of Boggy Ben" episode of ThunderCats Roar, Lion-O is unable to open a jar of Thunder Snaps and goes on a quest to retrieve "jar juice" to open it by himself.
  • On Wishfart, Puffin and Akiko constantly have to turn to Dez for help with opening any jar, as Dez opens them with utter ease (he says it's in the technique). Puffin and Akiko get annoyed enough by this dependency on Dez that they wish from him (he's a leprechaun, mind you) to be able to open jars on their own, giving them huge biceps that they use to go on a jar-opening spree that leaves Dez feeling useless.


Video Example(s):


Drakken's Pickle Jar

In the Kim Possible episode "Stop Team Go", a humorous sub-plot involves Drakken struggling to open a jar of pickles while Shego is away. He tries opening it himself, using various tools and henchmen and he even tries incinerating it with a massive Death Ray. By the end of the episode, Shego returns to Drakken's lair and opens it instantly. Watching the scenes closely reveals that Drakken and his henchmen fail because they try to turn the lid the wrong way. It opens readily when Shego turns it the correct way.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / ImpossiblePickleJar

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