Thug: What's that?
Cyrus: That's a rock. [pushes the rock aside with a stick]
A character is trying to outline a battle plan, a game plan or A Simple Plan. They will always use the first Props or items that come to hand, and these will nearly always be salt and pepper shakers, a bottle of mustard or other condiments, and possibly tableware like spoons and napkins.
Hilarity Ensues, resulting in:
- Everyone forgetting who is what:
- "So Alice is the pepper?"
- "No, the salt is Alice, the pepper is Bob, and the mustard is the safe they're trying to break into."
- Someone getting upset about what item they were assigned:
- Everyone getting confused between the item and what it represents:
- "Um, I don't think we could all fit in there... and none of us can breathe mustard anyway."
- The plan descending into silliness as more and more condiments get roped into the plan:
- ""OK, so the ketchup, the napkins and the salt and pepper shakers ride in on the napkin dispenser and take out the forks with the coffee gun, then..."
- And the inevitable Punchline:
- "And the coffee cup is...?" "Huh? Oh, that's just my coffee"
- An advertisement for Quality Street sweets shows a husband trying to explain the offside rule to his bemused wife, with wrapped sweets of two different colours, and salt and pepper pots to represent the goal; of course, the wife is not thinking about football, but the sweets.
- A staple act of Near from Death Note. While preferring accuracy, he uses whatever toys he happens to have on hand, and he must use toys, no matter the situation. Crucial discovery on the case? Special-order some interchangeable-headed action figures in order to demonstrate that. Angry mob baying at the gates? They're contemptible, and this must be illustrated by knocking down a circle of toy robots.
- Bill Cosby, describing playing football on the streets of Philadelphia as a kid, attributes this to his quarterback:
Bill: [narrating] He'd always get down on one knee and draw things. He'd take a Coke bottle top—
Quarterback: Now Shorty, this is you, this is a Coke bottle top—
Shorty: I don't want to be a Coke bottle top.
Quarterback: Okay, what do you want to be?
Shorty: I want to be a piece of glass.
- A sketch by kabaret Potem has Odysseus and his colleagues plan the assault on Troy using, apart from all the stuff they had in their pockets, matches that represent the Greeks. He gets an "Eureka!" Moment (of sorts...) with a matchbox. Creativity. It's a process.
Agamemnon: How do we stuff an army into a horse?
Odysseus: Dress them up as oats and feed the horse?
- A British comic book, possibly The Beano or The Dandy, once had a strip in which two old soldiers were discussing old battles using condiment pots in a cafe. After a while one of the other diners came over and said "I think you forgot something," and poured tomato ketchup over the table.
- Chaos ensues when the Knights attempt to use snack foods instead of miniatures when enacting large scale battles in Knights of the Dinner Table. It eventually gets so bad they agree to dip into the club treasury to buy proper miniatures.
- Appears in a restaurant flashback in Quantum and Woody, when Woody is discussing Eric's plans to court Amy Fishbein:note
Woody: [picks up pepper shaker] This is you.
[picks up salt shaker] This is Amy Fishbein.
[picks up ketchup bottle] This is her cousin, you know the one with the eye.
[grabs a handful of fries] This is the angry mob of her relatives. This is the judge who looks the other way...
- One chapter of Bag Enders has Aragorn drunkenly describing a battle in a trope-perfect version of this.
"An, an, if this beer boll is me, being all kingy," Aragorn attempted to crown the bottle with an upturned bottle cap but failed. Aragorn looked round for more props "An if this toaster is the army of orcs."
"Dead people. Were dead people." Legolas managed to make a vaguely pertinent comment.
Boromir looked confused. "Dead people lying on groun' or dead people stanin' up and fightin'?"
"Fighty dead people," said Aragorn. "This, this packet o' Doritos, is dead people."
"Can I have some Doritos?" asked Boromir.
"No! Are fighty dead people, can't eat them. Now need Eowyn." Aragorn looked for another prop. "An this, this," Aragorn tried to squint at what he was holding.
Boromir helped him out "Unconscious hobbit."''
- In chapter 19 of Gargoyles, the characters use coloured plastic soldiers from a board game to represent different factions, placing them on top of a map.
- In Halkegenia Online, the initial planning for what would become Operation Dunkirk was done in the map room while all the counters traditionally used for representing various levels of friendly and enemy force were in the briefing room being used to track an alternate plan, so the planners use spare change as force counters. This continues well after the original plan was discarded and everyone switched over to planning Dunkirk, as nobody thought to go back to the briefing room to get the counters.
- Hivefled: Eridan uses salt and pepper shakers to demonstrate his story about losing his eye in a fight with a dragon.
- The Mountain and the Wolf: The Wolf does this when planning the defense of King's Landing from the Iron Fleet by using different-shaped teeth from a skaven skull to represent allied ships, friendly ships and ground troops.
- Rocketship Voyager. While explaining over lunch the theory of Faster-Than-Light Travel, B'Elanna Torres uses a squeeze-tube as Voyager because it's shaped like their Retro Rocket, having rejected a spoon for the same purpose. As they're in zero-gravity conditions, she squirts a floating ball of alcohol from it to demonstrate a warp bubble.
- In A Bug's Life, Flick tries to teach Dot about potential and growing up by using a metaphor about seeds. However, he doesn't have a seed on hand to use as a prop, so he uses a rock instead. Dot fixates of the fact that the rock is not a seed, absorbing none of Flick's lesson.
- In Kung Fu Panda 3, Po uses various food items to represent the different groups of pandas while explaining his strategy against Kai. One of the panda cubs keeps eating Po's props.
- In Meet the Robinsons, Wilbur outlines his plan to get Lewis to fix the time machine using finely crafted miniatures. When Carl notes that he used an acorn for the time machine, Wilbur tells him that he didn't have time to make everything.
- In Over the Hedge, R.J. uses Monopoly pieces to outline a plan to infiltrate a home. This leads to a discussion over who gets to be the car.
- In The Road to El Dorado, Tulio tries to come up with a way to thwart Cortez's army from conquering El Dorado. He sets up a gold necklace as the city gates and pulls out a cigar for his boat, but get stuck there until the armadillo drops a cup, washing the props away, and inspiring Tulio to collapse the city entrance, hiding it from outsiders.
- Accident: When planning how to murder the pawnbroker and make it look like an accident, the gang constructs a detailed model of the block where his shop is located, using props including dice, cigarette packets, masking tape, etc.
- In The Art of the Steal, Crunch demonstrates his plan for the smash-and-grab raid on the border station using toys as props, before Nicky points out all the reasons it won't work.
- Doc Brown manages to pull off this trope twice. First, in Back to the Future, he creates a scale model of Hill Valley to demonstrate his plan to send Marty back to 1985, then does so again with crude but effective models in Back to the Future Part III, only this time it's to lay out their plans for both of them to get home.
- Bend It Like Beckham: Keira Knightley's dad is trying to teach her mum the offside rule. She comes to the conclusion that it means the mustard has to be between the sea salt and the balsamic vinegar.
- In Con Air, Cyrus demonstrates the plan to surround the police convoy using soda cans, rocks, engine parts and debris. The rock doesn't mean anything, though.
- Played with jokingly in EuroTrip when the guy who has no concept of geography lays out their travel plans using the table and food as a map. The film keeps harking back to this metaphor when the group travels, showing where on the table (or over on the neighboring table) they are headed.
- The Flash (2023). The Alternate Self of Bruce Wayne uses the plate of pasta he's cooking to demonstrate to Barry Allen and Barry's younger Alternate Self what a mess Barry has made by trying to change history. The uncooked spaghetti strands represent diverging timelines. The plate of cooked, tangled spaghetti represents the multiverse. The points where spaghetti are in contact stand for constants between the alternate universes. Tomato sauce represent the mess Flash's meddling resulted in. And the parmesan he adds doesn't mean anything; it's just there to spice up the dish. Which he then gives to Younger Barry, who's been staring hungrily at the food the whole time.
- In Heist (2015), Vaughn lays out the plan for robbing the casino to his partners in a diner by using salt to draw out a map of the casino on the table and using condiments to mark out various points (the vault, the guard post, etc.). Dante keeps interrupting with ridiculous quibbles, such as insisting that the sugar should be the vault instead of the salt and complaining that about being the pepper.
- In The Hoodlum, Vincent and his gang map out the Armed Blag using toy cars and buildings cut out of cardboard.
- Twice in Iron Eagle. Chappie initially plans the raid by rearranging the food on his plate. Whenever he mentions a target that should be destroyed, he eats the associated prop.
- Later, a larger model is produced, using various things found in Chappie's garage. After much finicky adjusting of items so they accurately represent what they will see on the mission, Chappie's lunchbox is revealed to represent... Chappie's lunchbox.
- The Disney made-for-TV movie Little Spies. The group of preteens has assembled a LEGO model of the target (think Doc Brown's models in Back to the Future.) Too bad there are only a few pieces available that are actually of people, everyone else must use toy animals. Squabbling ensues. Finally the leader must ask the girl character (and his Toy Ship love interest) if she would settle for being the cow (use a cow as her piece, that is). Priceless moment and meaningful glare before she acquiesces.
- Max Manus. A commando raid on a German-occupied harbor is planned with cigarette packets for the ships to be targeted.
- In Money Movers, Eric, Brian and Ed construct a scale model of the counting house out of cardboard, complete with plastic figures and toy trucks, to plan out the robbery.
- In Ni pour, ni contre (bien au contraire), a robbery is planned in a fast food restaurant.
- The Uwe Boll movie Postal had a scene like this. The Protagonists plot to steal Krotchy dolls using a makeshift map of the Little Germany compound, and using random action figures to represent themselves and anyone else in the compound. Apparently they couldn't find any figures on the same scale.
- Done in The Spanish Apartment: A neurosurgeon represents the different parts of the brain using food items.
- Parodied in Top Secret! when the props become more and more realistic and detailed.
- In Wagons East!, the wagon master uses kitchen utensils to lay out a map of his proposed course (while drunk), then proceeds to get lost on his own map.
"And if this the badlands then... wait, the Snake River shouldn't be here. Oh, the Oklahoma panhandle, now I know where I am."
- In the Aubrey-Maturin series, Captain Aubrey meets up under truce with a Worthy Opponent who once captured him. They pass the time by refighting the battle in question with pieces of bread.
- In Winds of Fate of the Heralds of Valdemar series, Elspeth, Darkwind, Skif, Nyara, and the gryphons plan an elaborate ambush for the Big Bad, Mornelithe Falconsbane, using twigs, pinecones, flowers, and other natural items as props. Their plan falls apart when Falconsbane, upon arriving on the scene, notices their props and figures it out.
- Honor Harrington: Played completely straight and non-comedic in Crown of Slaves, in which Victor Cachat tries to explain a set of local stellar relationships in this manner. It works, but also reminds his companion that she hasn't eaten yet.
- More Murderous Maths features a scene where the stereotypical Italian-American gangsters are trying to suss out the location of a lost treasure using breadsticks to measure distance and various items to represent landmarks. Once their chief discovers it's located at the sugar bowl, everyone tries to grab it.
- In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Ford tries to explain why they won't die when the universe ends this way. It doesn't work because he's very drunk.
Ford: Look, imagine this napkin, right, as the temporal Universe, right? And this spoon as a transductional mode in the matter curve....
- In Sphere, Ted (the physician of the First Contact Team) tries to explain to Norman (the team's psychologist) how wormholes work and time travel is theoretically feasible (if you fly around a black hole's event horizon) by using their Underwater Base's dining room's table, a bowl of fruit, and said fruit.
- George O Smith's "Calling the Empress", the second story of the Venus Equilateral series, has a scene where Don Channing starts drawing on a tablecloth in Joe's, the space station's bar and restaurant:
"That spot of gravy," explained Don, "is Mars. The jelly is the Empress of Kolain. Coffee stain is Venus, and up here by this cigarette burn is Venus Equilateral. Get me?"
- Although the characters never make use of stains on the tablecloths again, drawing on Joe's tablecloths becomes a Running Gag through the rest of the series.
- A variation — in that it's a historical reenactment rather than planning for an upcoming battle — takes place in Lois McMaster Bujold's novel The Warrior's Apprentice.
Pieces of fruit became planets and satellites; various shaped protein bits became cruisers, couriers, smart bombs and troop carriers. Defeated ships were eaten.
- Agatha Raisin: In "Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley", Agatha attempts to map out the relationships between the suspects and the victim using a map and various household objects. It is not helped when she attempts to use her cat to represent one of the suspects, and the cat promptly jumps off the table.
- There is a long sketch on The Benny Hill Show where Benny et al. are German POWs during WWII. They are planning an escape and Benny has used various food items — mostly pastry — to make a model of the camp. During his explanation of how they are going to escape, one of the other prisoners picks up the slice of pound cake which represents the gate and starts eating it.
- In one episode of Better Off Ted, Those Two Guys, Lem and Phil, are asking which one of them is the salt and which one the pepper. Phil is white and Lem is black, so Ted gets a nervous look on his face before Phil says that he must be the pepper because he's "spicy."
- In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Holt, Jake, Rosa, and Bob Annderson, Holt's contact in the FBI, plan the heist with the contents of their pockets, but the only props available are pieces of lint from Jake's pocket. Holt and Annderson are the only ones who can differentiate between their pieces of lint.
Annderson: My lint is round. My lint is approximately one centimeter in diamter. My lint is blue.
Holt: My lint is oblong. My lint is approximately half a centimeter in length. My lint is also blue.
- In the Columbo episode "The Most Dangerous Match", two chess grandmasters dine together at a restaurant the night before a match, and begin discussing chess tactics using food and utensils as pieces, and the chequered tablecloth as a board. Before long, they've set up an entire game with escargot shells as pawns, salt and pepper pots as kings and so on.
- In the short-lived sci-fi comedy Come Back Mrs. Noah, the planned rescue is demonstrated using the food on their breakfast table. Farnshaw even constructs a model Space Plane using cheese and a sausage, leading to the obligatory lowbrow gag where the sausage gets inserted into the bread roll simulating the space station. They also get distracted by an argument over whether the orange should portray the Sun because it's the right color even though it's smaller.
Fanshaw: The wings are made of cheese. It's a bit crumbly I'm afraid. Edam would have been better.
Carstairs: We're not using Edam — we've got Cheddar! [beat] Now, where was I?
Cunliffe: The rescue sausage was about to take off from the orange to rescue us from the crusty loaf.
- Community: The study group do this in Season 3 when they are planning their "elaborate heist" of the school. They have a surprising amount of props to work with, as the brainstorming takes place in Abed's apartment, and he has been established to collect tiny models of things from movies.
Shirley: You built a tiny working water fountain, and I'm a pine cone?
- Cowboy Bebop. In "Sad Clown A-Go-Go", Jet Black not only does this, he thinks up a Rhyming List of each phase of The Plan and has Spike and Faye memorize it (to their annoyance). The final prop is a trashbin which Jet sets on fire every time he explains the plan, simulating how he plans to dump the villain in a sinkhole and kill him with gas. Turns out the 'gas' he intends to burn LaFou with isn't petrol or rocket fuel, but a Deadly Gas. Which raises the question of why Jet felt the need to set the trash can on fire.
- Dexter "Hop a Freighter" Dexter and Lumen are cuddling on the floor while planning how to abduct and kill Jordan Chase. They use Harrison's various stuffed animals and toys to represent Chase, bodyguards, etc. It manages to be both very sweet, and more than a little creepy.
- Elementary In "Snow Angels" Sherlock Holmes attempts to map out the route a group of criminals took through New York using a bunch of padlocks to mark security checkpoints and his pet tortoise, Clyde, as a substitute for the ambulance they're using as a getaway vehicle. When explaining his conclusions to Captain Gregson the next day he swaps the locks for stickers and Clyde for a stapler.
- A staple on Good Eats, as Alton often uses props to explain biochemical concepts that relate to food and cooking.
- In the episode "The Bardwell's Caper" of Laverne & Shirley, the girls have to get back an insulting letter they wrote to their boss — which is in his locked office protected by a state-of-the-art security system. Laverne comes up with a plan to break in and get past the system and explains it to Shirley, with the following props: an apple and an onion to represent them (Shirley: "Make me the apple, I don't want to be the onion anymore!"), a cucumber to represent the air shaft they crawl through to break into the office, a carrot for the flagpole they have to slide down, a banana for the sofa in the office, and a pretzel for the letter. Naturally, things don't go quite as planned.
- Leverage: In "The Jailhouse Job", Nate plans his Great Escape using a map constructed of a checkerboard, checkers, rulers and other props he could source in prison.
- Loki: In “The Variant”, when Loki goes to tell Mobius his revelation about how the Variant is hiding, Mobius is at lunch, so Loki uses various bits of tableware along with Mobius's lunch and then part of Casey's lunch to illustrate his theory.
Loki: So, let's just say... [takes Mobius' salad bowl]
Mobius: What are you doing?
Loki: ...your salad is Asgard in this scenario.
Mobius: No. It's not Asgard, that's my lunch.
- The Mandalorian. In "The Marshall", the Tuskens use a snake skeleton to show their plan of how they're going to (attempt to) kill the Krayt Dragon. Having only seen the Dragon's head when it breaches the surface, Cobb Vanth complains that the model is not to scale, only to have an Oh, Crap! reaction when told that it is.
- Occurs in the episode "Happy Birthday, Mr. Monk", except with people as the props. Randy would rather play somebody other than himself because "it's a bigger part."
- This also occurs in an earlier episode where someone casually uses diner tabletop paraphernalia to stage the car crash that killed a woman. Monk points out that, even to the lay observer, the angle at which the woman flew out of the convertible defies the laws of physics.
- On My Name Is Earl, Joy wants to get pregnant (for the sole purpose of gaining sympathy from a jury), and her half-sister Liberty wants to pursue her dreams of becoming a wrestler. Meanwhile, Darnell doesn't want to get Joy pregnant just to win sympathy from a jury, and Ray-Ray wants to be a dad. So Earl does some research, and comes up with the idea of surrogacy, so Liberty and Ray-Ray can have the child they want without Liberty being pregnant (and Joy can become pregnant, and do something nice for her half-sister that she wronged along with Earl by stealing from). He explains the procedure to the couples using mayonnaise, an egg, an egg-beater, a turkey baster, a turkey, and a Cornish game hen.
Earl: It turns out, explaining a highly-complicated medical procedure using mayonnaise and an egg-beater was the easy part!
- Prof. Brian Cox is very fond of using nearby rocks, sticks, piles of dirt to describe orbiting celestial bodies in his astronomy documentaries. At least once he's done the diner-table-full-of-condiments version, including the mandatory "ignore that, that's just my coffee." Parodied in an episode of The Now Show in which Jon Holmes takes exception to the Brian Cox impressionist's attempt to explain Newton's law of universal gravitation using a packet of Smints.
- This occurs in Psych in "Weekend Warriors" and "Shawn Gets the Yips" when Shawn reconstructs crimes using household objects.
Shawn: I'm the salt. And you're the—
Gus: Let me guess, the pepper?
- This overlaps with Model Planning in a Season 8 episode of Seinfeld where George tries to model what could possibly have happened in a room after he left it with his only clue being an audio recording. As he shows Jerry the model room he made (after taking the whole day off from work), he models himself leaving the room, only for Jerry to wonder why George is represented by the tall, buff Power Rangers action figure. After all, there's a comparatively short and round Yellow M&M toy right there.
- Sense8: In the Wrap It Up Grand Finale the protagonists have to arrange to exchange the Big Bad for one of their one of their own who got kidnapped. They plan out the hand-off using a map of the location and toy cars to represent the vehicles they're using. Bug, who's in charge of the tech support, takes a moment to be Genre Savvy about the whole thing.
Bug: I can't believe I'm actually in one of those planning scenes!
- In White Collar, Mozzie outlines a plan to surreptitiously wipe a tape of incriminating evidence that's being sent by courier, using a bunch of toys that are lying around.
Mozzie: Now, you go into the office as the courier and pick up the tape. Then you use this. [holds up a refrigerator magnet]
Neal: What's the refrigerator magnet supposed to be?
Mozzie: A refrigerator magnet.
- Yes, Minister: Prime Minister Hacker's political adviser makes a case for being returned to her usual office (which she has been unceremoniously removed from due to the machinations of Sir Humphrey) by using some objects on the table, including a teacup, an ash-tray and a saucer, to construct a rough map of the interior of 10 Downing Street to prove its strategic worth. Hacker agrees, and summons Bernard to have the adviser moved to her office "between the tea-cup, the ash-tray and the saucer." Bernard, who was not present during the initial metaphor, is as confused as you'd expect.
- In an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a French soldier explains to Indy the complicated web of alliances and old grudges that ultimately resulted in World War One breaking out this way. One notable moment was demonstrating Austria (salt shaker) sending diplomatic threats to Serbia (plate of meatballs) by salting the meatballs.
- Averted noodle-incidentally in Fallout: New Vegas; Chance's Map is marked with various objects representing major features of the New Vegas area. There are no in-game clues as to its origin, other than the name of the map-maker. The companion graphic novel All Roads reveals that props weren't included in the original map, leaving the player to imagine who had been prop-planning on the engraved outlines.
- World in Conflict: In the intro to the final mission, Col. Sawyer briefs his officers inside a small diner, and resorts to using various condiments and a radio to illustrate his battle plans.
- The very beginning of Final Fantasy IX shows the planning of a kidnapping using dolls and a model airship.
- In Episode 2 of Team Neighborhood BLU Soldier outlines a plan to hijack the RED Team's cable TV with a random assortment of props related to the team like a Sonic Doll for Scout, a rotten Sandvich for Heavy and a Hitler action figure for the Medic.
- Goblins: In this strip, Complains is explaining the difficulties in getting to Hell, drawing in the dirt to illustrate, when Fumbles and Minmax stick in objects to represent themselves. Fumbles uses his mustache, and Minmax slams down a rock with a face drawn on it and a crude crown.
- The Last Days of Foxhound: Psycho Mantis outlines the plan to fight Solid Snake using painted Clue pieces.
Mantis: You wanna wait while I go buy the complete FOXHOUND action figure set?
- In The Order of the Stick, Azure City's leaders have to make their battle plan out with miniatures monsters because they don't have any toy soldiers. The last panel shows monsters dumping out a bunch of little Azurite action figures confusedly.
Lord Hinjo: Um... why does this model have Azure City being guarded entirely by reptilian humanoids?
General Chang: Well, we were in a rush, so we used these prepainted plastic miniatures, Lord Hinjo. We kinda had to make due with what we got.
We didn't even get any human archers, and we opened 30 booster packs.
The lizardfolks are the archers, the yuan-ti are the pikemen, and the kobolds are the swordsmen.
Lord Hinjo: And those hobgoblins down there are the hobgoblins?
General Chang: No, sir, the bugbears are the hobgoblins. The hobgoblins are the zombies.
- Archer has the group use the sexual harassment dolls to plan out how to get the sale of ISIS to ODIN stopped. Archer eventually points out how odd it is they have so many on-hand.
- She-Ra and the Princesses of Power:
- In "No Princess Left Behind", the Princesses plan the rescue of the kidnapped Glimmer and Bow using different knick-knacks laying around the room. Mermista objects to being the lipstick ("Don't you know what that stuff is made from?").
- "Roll with It" has Glimmer, Bow, and Adora planning an attack against the Horde with figurines. The other princesses join, sidetracking it from a serious strategy session to more of a Tabletop Game-esque free-for-all. Hijinx include Bow giving Catra shapeshifting abilities (in a nod to her She-Ra: Princess of Power incarnation) because he was left with a panther figurine instead of a humanoid onenote and Mermista providing a posable action figure of herself (maybe she learned from the last time).
- The Simpsons:
- Moe explains to Homer how he is going to steal his car. With an olive representing Homer and a model car to represent the car. Homer eats the olive, which forces Moe to use the car to represent Homer and a model man to represent the car. He gives up after that point.
- In another episode, Marge is in the restaurant, contemplating an affair with bowling master Jacques. In order to cover the fact that a married woman is having brunch with a single man (gasp!), he uses the pepper and salt shakers to represent bowling pins and pretends to give a bowling lesson.
- Another episode, where the kids plan a strategy with the gun shop owner to defeat the bullies with water balloons, has a tabletop map with salt shakers and stones used to represent each faction.
- In a SpongeBob SquarePants episode, Squidward attempted to use the people-as-props version to explain a snow fight to SpongeBob and Patrick. Squidward forgets that he cast himself as Spongebob and gets upset when Patrick hits him with a snowball.
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) episode "City of War Part 1" Mikey uses a map of the city, and some toys, to determine and demonstrate the Evil Power Vacuum going on in New York City to Donatello.