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Key Confusion

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Once you get locked into a serious key collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.

A character has a large keychain with many, sometimes dozens, of different keys. As a result, they have quite some trouble finding the right one when they need it.

When Played for Laughs, the character will proceed to go through the keys one by one, naming the function of each, until they get the right one. Bonus points if, while doing this, they discover at least one key among them with a...rather embarrassing function.

Can also be Played for Drama to create tension in the same manner as Dangerous Key Fumble. And of course, a character can intentionaly invoke this trope to stall time.

Related to Rummage Fail.


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    Films — Animation 
  • The Prince and the Pauper: This happens to Goofy when he is about to free the Prince and Donald from prison. Trouble is, the key was already in the lock, and once Goofy removes it, he has to find it again. When the guards start closing in, Donald grabs the keyring and puts the right key in the lock.
  • Tom and Jerry: The Movie: The two villains have trapped The Woobie in a mountain chalet, and locked its only exit. However, a toppled kerosene lamp starts a fire in the wooden structure, and the villains need to flee. They fight for control of the key ring, breaking it. The two must then scrabble on the floor to find the right key among twenty or so keys.
  • The Twelve Tasks of Asterix: The Roman soldier who has to let the Gauls into the Colosseum for their final task runs into this problem. One of the keys he goes through is heart-shaped and he wonders, visibly embarrassed, how that one got in with the rest. Eventually, Obelix gets tired of waiting and breaks the door open.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bruce Almighty: after angering a gang harassing a homeless man, Bruce runs to his car but ends up slowly trying to find the correct key which gives time for his enemies to catch up and tackle him to the ground.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: When Veruca climbs through the gate to the room with the squirrels, and is attacked by them, Willy Wonka casually takes out his huge keyring and starts to search for the key that opens the gate so he and Mr. Salt can rescue Veruca (see page image). He fails to find the right one before Veruca is thrown into the garbage chute, but considering how he was taking his time going through the keys and what kind of man Wonka is, that was most likely his intention.
  • Dramatic example in Die Hard with a Vengeance; while evacuating a school due to a bomb, the police notice a classroom with kids still inside and rush in with the janitor's keys. Ultimately subverted as after the first key doesn't work, Lambert opts to kick the door open.
  • In the Show Within a Show of La CitÚ de la peur, the horror protagonist has trouble opening his car, even trying keys that obviously have no chance to fit. When he finally gets in, it's revealed the car is an uncovered convertible.
  • The Great Wall: when the Tao Tei attack for the first time, William and Tovar are to be locked up, but the soldier responsible can't find the right key on his keyring. They are thus taken up the wall instead.
  • Le Samoura´. The Villain Protagonist is a Professional Killer who carries a huge ring of keys that enables him to steal any Citroën DS. Tension is created in one scene as he tests one key after another in an ignition as two patrolling police officers walk down the sidewalk towards him; the car starts before they get close enough to realise he's stealing it.
  • Poltergeist: Near the end of the movie, the Freelings are attempting to escape their haunted house using their car. The father has to fumble around with his key ring and try several different keys before he finds the car key and can drive away.
  • Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird: Near the end of the film, the Sesame Street gang finds Big Bird being held prisoner in a cage at the Sleaze Brothers' Funfair. Maria manages to snatch the Sleaze Brothers' key ring from a sleeping Sam and goes through every key on it, trying to find one that will fit the lock on Big Bird's cage without waking up Sam and Sid. Because Big Bird can't keep quiet about what key she should use and the Count counts each key that Maria uses, they result in the Sleaze Brothers waking up and starting up their truck just as Maria finds the right key and unlocks the cage.
  • Zombieland opens with Columbus demonstrating several of the tips he had been relaying while trying to unlock a car, such as the importance of cardio that allows him to do a loop after the initial fumble to evade the pursuing zombies so he can come back and try again instead of dying at the door.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Cutthroat Kitchen: One episode, a chef was given the sabotage of having to unlock a cage containing their serving dishes. Alton gave the chef a giant ring of keys and left the hapless chef to figure out which one unlocked the cage.
  • Friends:
    • In the first Thanksgiving episode the gang accidentally lock themselves out of Monica's apartment while their dinner is still in the oven. Joey and Chandler have a spare key, but it's in a drawer filled with unlabelled keys, forcing them to try every single one. By the time they finally get back inside, their dinner is ruined.
      Monica: Can't you go any faster with that?
      Joey: Hey, I got one keyhole and about a zillion keys. You do the math.
    • Joey and Phoebe have informed Mr. Treeger of a gas leak in Monica's apartment so they can get in. When firemen break down the door, Joey asks why he didn't just unlock the door. Treeger shows his keyring and explains "By the time I found it on this thing, the whole building could've exploded. And when that happens a second time, people start to ask questions."
  • M*A*S*H: When Radar needs to get into the gun locker, he goes through at least five keys, including one for his bike padlock back in Iowa.
  • Seinfeld: One episode, this happens to Elaine with her keyring, causing Jerry to ask if she's working as a medieval jailer.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017): In "The Hostile Hospital, Part 1", Esme runs into this problem when she wants to capture the Baudelaires in the library, but can't find the right key among the dozens of keys on the keychain. She gets quite frustrated, even attempting to force a wrong key into the lock. By the time she gets in, the Baudelaires have found the film they were looking for and already partly watched it.
  • Would I Lie to You?: Once, during "Quick Fire Lies", Lee Mack had a 'Possession' that turned out to be a huge bunch of keys. He claimed he knew what all of these keys were for, except one. Cue David Mitchell asking what all of the other keys opened. Lee started a long story involving a series of increasingly unlikely things he had in his house that needed unlocking. It was a lie.

  • Our Miss Brooks: The trope appears in "Key to the School".
    Mr. Jensen: Here it is. It's this fat little devil with the blue ribbon on it.

    Video Games 
  • This might come up for the player in any video game which doesn't offer Interchangeable Antimatter Keys, give a specific label to its keys or what they may unlock, and automatically discard them upon use. This is much more common in older adventure games. You might get more information by examining them in your inventory, but otherwise it'll just be trial and error.
  • Pajama Sam in No Need to Hide When It's Dark Outside: when Sam reaches Darkness' bedroom, he comes to the conclusion that Darkness is hiding in his closet, which is locked. Sam opens a cabinet near it, and a pile of keys falls out. None of the keys in the pile unlock the lock to Darkness' closet, as the one that does is revealed to be hanging on a hook in the cabinet.
  • Thief: The Dark Project: this can become a recurring problem since Garret does not automatically select the correct key to each door (if he has it on him, that is), so you have to manually try out each key on the lock in question if you don't exactly know which one fits it. Since this trial-and-error takes place in real time, it can build quite a bit of tension, when you are desperately seeking for the right key while the guards are closing in on your position.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends:
    • In the B-plot for "Bloooo", Frankie tries to get into the house to evade an apparently dangerous character. She drops her key at the front door and discovers it landed in a pile of dozens of keys (that Wilt, Eduardo, and Coco threw out the window in the A-plot), leaving her to frantically find the right key before she's spotted by her stalker.
    • In "Fools and Regulations", Mac and the imaginary friends sneak back into the house to play Terrence's video games after Frankie locked them out so they wouldn't disturb the benefit party she is throwing to raise money for Foster's. When Frankie and Mr. Herriman go outside to check on them, Bloo locks them out so they won't be able to punish them. Mr. Herriman has a key ring on hand, but has a very hard time figuring out which key is the one that unlocks the house. When he eventually finds it, Eduardo takes the key ring from him to ensure he can't unlock the door anymore. At the end of the episode, it is revealed that Mr. Herriman keeps a spare key under the house's doormat.
  • House of Mouse: In the short "Locksmiths", Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are locked in their office and try to find their door key. Goofy takes out his keychain, which becomes an excuse for a series of "key" puns. Eventually, Goofy takes out the spare key hidden on the roof of his mouth.
  • Looney Tunes: in Fresh Hare, Elmer Fudd, as a Mountie, gets handcuffed to a bomb, while Bugs has his keys. When Elmer begs to be released, Bugs starts going through the keys, naming their purpose. By the time he finds the one for the cuffs, it's too late, the bomb explodes. And yes, there is an embarrassing key.
    Bugs: Now let's see now; there's the garage, the car, the front door, *looks at the audience while making a flirt whistle*, and the back door. Oh, here it is!
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle: In the second episode of the "Jet Fuel Formula" arc, Natasha tries to off Bullwinkle by giving him a Time Bomb wrapped in a package. However, the door out of the room is locked, and Natasha panics while Bullwinlkle tries to find the right key. With seconds until the explosion, Natasha takes the package and throws it out the window (and down onto an unsuspecting Boris).
    Rocky: Hey, that one belongs to Frostbite Falls Fire Department.
    Bullwinkle: Yeah. I wonder how they're startin' the engine these days.