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Smart Ball

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(Super Saiyan) Goku: Gohan, take Piccolo, find Bulma, get back to the ship.
Gohan: But what about you?
Goku: If Piccolo dies, then all this was pointless! Get to the ship and get out of here!
Gohan: ...This is surprisingly well thought-out for you.
Goku: Gohan? Where should you be right now?
Gohan: The ship?
Goku: The ship!!

Sometimes a good joke has a great punchline but none of the characters are witty enough to say it, or a story can't move forward without a crucial skill or fact which none of the characters could possibly know. What's an author to do?

Toss one of them the Smart Ball!

Characters who catch the Smart Ball become knowledgeable regarding some trivia or discipline needed to deliver a punchline, discover clues, or implement a foolproof solution to whatever problem they face when normally such attempts fail. They may also become far better at effectively communicating information, allowing several characters to put their clues together to discover the villain's Evil Plan.

Using the Smart Ball is not necessarily bad. While it can be an Ass Pull if The Ditz suddenly demonstrates a keen skill at molecular biology, it's not much of a stretch to imagine the Jerk Jock also knows the results for every Super Bowl since 1966. If a character is tossed the Smart Ball enough times, they may even get Character Development that makes the smarts permanent. And sometimes the character saying the gag being normally an idiot can add on another layer of humor.

Mind, excessive use of this trope can be considered negatively if an author has to resort to this sort of thing too often, using it essentially as a Deus ex Machina to get the heroes out of a tight spot or to railroad a plot in a given direction. If it's a comedy though, no one minds thanks to the Rule of Funny.

Compare Informed Ability, when someone is said to have the Smart Ball in terms of a certain field, but it's rarely demonstrated, or Good with Numbers, when a character is suddenly endowed with math skills. Contrast Hidden Depths, which is what this often comes across as. See also Dumbass Has a Point, for when it is The Ditz instead of an ordinary person having the insight. When a character consistently picks the ball up when it comes to specific subjects, he's a Genius Ditz. If the ball is limited to crises or combat situations, he's a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass. This trope is a relative of Sanity Ball, Snark Ball (which is about wit rather than intellect), and the opposite of Idiot Ball. Advantage Ball is a distant cousin. See also Bat Deduction.

Not to be confused with the video game of the same name.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Case Closed:
    • Agasa catches this ball about three episodes into the series and promptly pockets it — going from what Conan himself described (to his face, no less) as "a self-proclaimed genius [who has] only invented junk" to the greatest Gadgeteer Genius since Q Branch, with no intervening development or explanation.
    • Depending on your point of view, Kogoro could also be said to catch this ball a few times over the course of the series whenever he actually manages to get a deduction right.
  • In Dragon Ball, Goku is one of the less bright characters in the story due to his mountain kid origins (he was well into his 30s when he realized he never needed a haircut like everyone else did). So it can be very surprising when he's able to remember that, say, taking a near-death Piccolo to safety is a high priority so that his other half Kami can live, thus the Dragon Balls won't turn to stone and they can wish everyone who died back to life. That said, half of these instances are about a fight, which is Goku's great passion in life, so cases like intentionally pushing Nappa's buttons or drawing Frieza into a battle of attrition come off more naturally.
  • In One Piece, Luffy is generally not very intelligent, and often does stupid things as a result of a lack of common sense, trying to brute-force his way through his problems, being overwhelmed by emotion, or some combination of the three. However, there are times when he ends up making surprisingly intelligent statements. For example, during the Alabasta arc, he tells Vivi that people will die in spite of her efforts to stop her country's civil war, and defeating Crocodile (the man responsible for the war) is the only way to restore peace. These instances happen often enough that the fandom often debates how smart he really is.

    Comic Books 
  • Obelix in Asterix is The Fool, not bright, socially clueless, inattentive and usually displays what intelligence he possesses in the form of Simple-Minded Wisdom rather than strategic thinking, but in Asterix and the Normans he's shown to be capable of logically tracking down Cacofonix (who has gone to the city convinced that he can become a pop star despite having the most horrible singing voice imaginable), finding him, and convincing him that it is a terrible idea and that he needs to go back home without hurting his feelings.
    • Obelix also once caught the ball when someone asked what a wild boar is (his favourite food). He then rattles off the Latin name and biological classification of the wild boar, to the amazement of Asterix.
    • On another occasion, this time bordering on parody, he manages to deduces that the discovery of Asterix's helmet lying on the ground means something bad had happened to him. This intellectual effort causes his brain to emit smoke through the ears in the next panel.
  • More than usually justified when applied to the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing of the Fantastic Four, who is often portrayed as a dumbass despite the fact that he is a college graduate and a former military test pilot. (You don't want your geniuses flying experimental aircraft if you can avoid it, but neither do you want dumb grunts to destroy them!) Additional frequent justification: you can't spend all your time around Reed Richards and not pick up at least a few bits and pieces. It's occasionally been said that the difference between a good FF writer and a bad one is that the former realizes Ben is the smart one. Ben Grimm is at least smart enough that he can sometimes work as a mild example of a Genius Bruiser. A better example would be Johnny Storm, who's even MORE of a dumbass and has no higher learning backstory (he got his powers in high school). Yet on one occasion he was able to sum up a chain reaction streaming from unlocking unstable molecules and think of a way to contain the problem. Again, sharing living space with the smartest man in the world helps.
  • Issue #4 of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) comic series finds the characters facing a door that gives them a variation of the unanswered riddle ("Why is a pegasus like a writing desk?") from Alice in Wonderland. The others are unable to come up with a solution, but resident Genki Girl and Cloudcuckoolander Pinkie Pie answers it correctly stating that she can't answer the riddle.

    Fan Works 
  • Used and lampshaded in Lisa Is Pregnant when, having "noticed for once" that something isn't right, Homer asks why Lisa was in the mountains, where Bart froze to death keeping her warm. She doesn't remember, though.
  • In Gensokyo 20XX: When they are lost in the forest and the other children, save Reimu and Sakuya, are growing agitated when one of the former claiming to see something, Chen notes that Reimu is near-blind, mentally ill, and a heavy sleeper and couldn't have seen anything, not outside of dream or delirium, based on those factors.
  • From Kill la Kill AU, Rei "the Drunk Secretary" Hou'oumaru is rarely noted to be sober, especially, and, at least, not long enough to state something coherently, however, in one fanfic, she took the time out to note how to point out that Soichiro's stolen cell phone could be tracked in order to find Ryuuko, along with pointing out that Houka knows how to track phones. Likewise, she's also the one to point out there wasn't something right with Ryuuko's hospital stay and how important it was to have her moved to a different one, subsequently, saving Ryuuko's life.

  • In Daddy Day Care, Marvin doesn't seem to know or care about anything in the world not related to Star Trek, but a social worker is surprised to find out he's knowledgeable about child psychology — thanks to having read a book by Benjamin Spock, assuming it was about Mister Spock.
  • In Deep Rising, a Jerkass who works for the cruise line spontaneously rattles off a theory as to the man-eating worms' origins, and displays such expertise that you'd think designing computer networks for ships requires an advanced degree in marine invertebrate paleontology. He turns out to be totally wrong. The "creatures" aren't worms. In fact, they aren't even individual creatures. They're the tentacles belonging to a monstrous octopus-like creature.
  • In Evolution, the scientist heroes figure out that the life forms are weak to Selenium, but can't think of a ready source they can use. Then Deke and Danny, the resident meatheads, pipe up that Head & Shoulders contains Selenium Sulfide, going on to point out their shiny, flake-free hair. At least the writers had the decency to lampshade it. "How can you know that? You two don't know anything!" To which the idiots reply that they read it off the bottles. "It's right on the ingredients list..."
  • Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Ben is able to realize the satellite photo of the Silver Surfer doesn't show a meteor by noting "The trail's all wrong. This thing's giving out its own energy." Justified in that, while Ben Grimm isn't as smart as Reed Richards or Victor Von Doom, he is an astronaut with all the education and training that would entail.
  • Mal in Serenity, after he exhibits a working knowledge of Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
    Mal: Yes, I've read a poem. Try not to faint.
  • Ripcord from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra figuring out the transmitter was still on. Of course, anyone could've realized the only person who's messed with the transmitter since its deactivation was McCullen. Ripcord just figured it out faster.
  • In Old School, the fraternity has to compete in a college bowl. One of the events is a debate with Frank versus another student, but the dean pits him against James Carville instead. Carville gives his remarks on the subject and Frank gives his counter argument. It ends up being so good, Carville can't think of a response. Hilariously, Frank follows up the debate with "What happened? I blacked out."
  • Ragetti, the skinny one-eyed pirate from the comic duo in Pirates of the Caribbean displayed some quite commendable knowledge of mythology and philosophy in the sequels, though it was out of place most of the time. He does this often enough that he might just be a Bunny-Ears Lawyer, but with his brief screen-time it's impossible to tell.
  • In most slasher movies, the mistake the Final Girl makes is not making sure the killer is dead. Not so for Sidney in Scream 2. Rather than simply assume Mrs. Loomis has perished from her injuries, Sidney shoots her in the head to ensure death.

  • The Animorphs leader Jake is ordinarily pretty smart, devising plans and delegating roles to the group as necessary. In Book 46, The Deception, however, Jake has enough highly specific knowledge of a particular aircraft carrier to rattle off its construction date, what company built it, its full arsenal of weapons down to their model number, and which uniforms belong to which crews.
  • In the third Artemis Fowl book, two of Spiro's nigh-brainless henchmen "cleverly" come up with the idea to use the stolen Cube computer to take down a rival of Spiro's company. Spiro finds this sudden brain activity a bit suspicious, but he can't deny it's a good idea. Of course, the henchmen were hypnotized into suggesting this, because it's exactly what Artemis wanted Spiro to do.
  • Roys Bedoys: In “Read a Book, Roys Bedoys!”, Loys, a toddler, mentions looking forward to learning to read because “whole new worlds will open up for [him] to explore”.
  • Unseen Academicals has the lovably Book Dumb Trev Likely informing the Only Sane Woman Glenda on the difference between talons and pounces. And, after a brief moment of awkwardness, attempt to justify his knowing this with "you pick stuff up, okay?"
  • Tracie Martin, the party girl heroine of The WAG's Diary by Alison Kervin constantly picks up both this and Snark Ball. Nominally she is a Brainless Beauty (on a bad day) or Book Dumb (on a good day) but her vocabulary is that of a highly educated journalist.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Arrested Development episode "Sad Sack" has possibly the biggest crisis faced on the show: photos supposedly showing the locations of WMDs in Iraq are found in the Bluth Company computer network. While the country prepares for war, Michael angsts over whether or not to turn in his fugitive father. He brings the family's usually incompetent lawyer Barry to the meeting with the head prosecutor. At the meeting, Barry sees the pictures for the first time and solves the entire crisis by pointing out something nobody else noticed: the pictures are actually a close-up of Tobias' testicles. A justified example, perhaps, as it's been established that Barry spends a lot of his free time picking up transvestite prostitutes. Identifying testicles might be something he studied harder than the law.
  • Blackadder the Third: In the final episode, the three main characters are trying to come up with a plan to get the Prince Regent out of a duel he's sure to lose, when the plan comes up of Blackadder and the Prince switching places so that Blackadder can fight instead. When the Prince notes that it will never work, because "my portrait hangs on every wall", Baldrick — who thought to solve the problem of his mother's low roof by cutting off her head — offers up this gem:
    Baldrick: Well, my cousin Bert Baldrick, Mr. Gainsborough's butler's dogsbody, says that all portraits look the same nowadays since they're painted to a romantic ideal rather than as a true depiction of the idiosyncratic facial qualities of the person in question.
    Blackadder: Well, your cousin Bert obviously has a larger vocabulary than you, Baldrick.
  • Boy Meets World: Has Eric Matthews. Given his Flanderization into an idiot in later seasons, seems to pick up the ball to revert to his earlier characterization in "Brotherly Shove." Lampshaded by his friends by noting that he seemed to be "well-rested."
  • Days of Our Lives: The fandom refers to the local Smart Ball as the Salem Brain. Considering many Days fans love snarking at plot holes, this evidently doesn't show up nearly as much as it needs to.
  • Designing Women: Suzanne and Charlene would occasionally make remarkably insightful comments or unexpectedly understand some abstruse comment.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Moonbase", Ben Jackson suddenly has considerable knowledge of chemistry, physics, and medicine that he never displays again.
    • In "Pyramids of Mars", Sarah Jane suddenly becomes a crack shot with a rifle. There are only very flimsy reasons to believe someone in her position even could be.
    • In "Image of the Fendahl", there's a funny bit where Leela translates a string of the Doctor's Technobabble into plain English for the sake of the guest character he's failing to communicate with. This involves her displaying technical knowledge about chemistry jargon that she doesn't show again.
    • In "The Curse of Fenric", teenage delinquent Ace demonstrates that she paid attention to her Computer Science lessons, if nothing else. Then again, we already knew she was talented at chemicals, having invented her own explosive.
  • The Drew Carey Show actually features the protagonists finding a literal smart ball called an "Epiphany Sphere." The sphere provides the holder to have a sudden realization and understanding of the world when they hold it. Drew and Oswald use it to realize why they have so many relationship problems in their love lives, making them realize how their insecurities cause most of their issues.
  • Eureka:
    • Sheriff Carter often solves the problem of the episode despite the fact that he's in a town full of geniuses and the viewers have already figured it out. The main reason for this is because he's the Only Sane Man amongst a population lacking any common sense whatsoever. An example would be the poultry breeder who fed her cloned chickens a nutrient that was "organic" (and thus, in her opinion, good for you) and not consider that it degenerates your brain.
    • Lampshaded by Fargo in "All The Rage":
    Fargo: Hey, I'm Sheriff Carter! I'm going to save the day with my everyman logic!
  • Friends:
    • Joey picked up the ball to deliver a bit of obscure info about Trump Towers, prompting Chandler's reaction: "What kind of stuff do you know?"
    • In another episode he takes forever to finish reading a very short poem, but instantly grasps what its symbolism is about.
    • In yet another episode, Joey (who is working as a waiter at Central Perk) brings the group their check and mentally calculates what each person owes, very swiftly and accurately. Chandler remarks, "This, from the man who couldn't divide our $80 phone bill in half."
    • And in another one, he actually manages to correct Ross' grammar, prompting the others to give him all surprised looks.
    • Joey was also not only the first person to learn about Monica and Chandler's relationship, but also the only one to do so by piecing things together and figuring it out rather than overhearing it on the phone or actually seeing them about to make love.
    • Joey knows why Ross, Chandler, Monica, and Rachel's bosses don't like them.
  • Hannibal: Frederick Chilton, the Smug Snake Glory Hound psychiatrist, picks it up in the second season. When Will Graham consents to an exam, Chilton demonstrates some actual credibility as a psychiatrist, helping Will recover desperately-needed memories and taking seriously what he finds. While the rest of the cast believes Will to be a psychotic killer, Chilton becomes an unexpected (albeit manipulative and self-serving) ally to Will.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
    • Mac, Dee, and Dennis play hot potato with the smart ball, taking turns being the reasonable one in different episodes.
    • Charlie is usually bottom of the barrel as far as cast intellect goes, being an illiterate, barely functional Cloud Cuckoolander, but on health inspection day he transforms into an absurdly organized savant who manages to run circles around the health inspector and the rest of the gang.
  • Newhart: Larry, Darryl, and Darryl frequently catch this.
  • Night Court: This happened often enough that an incidental character lampshaded it.
  • In one episode of The Office (US) the characters need to win a pub quiz in order to finance some Zany Scheme. They split into an 'A team', a 'B team' and a 'Just for fun team', with the latter consisting of those too stupid or vapid to contribute anything of worth. This is the team that ends up winning thanks to their obscure knowledge of celebrity gossip and films containing female nudity. Subverted at the end when they try entering another contest and fail miserably.
  • QI: Alan occasionally has this, usually when it makes the scene in question funnier:
    "That's assuming time is linear."
  • Reno 911!: All of the officers are poorly educated morons who get humiliated and defeated by random criminals. But the episodes tend to be... episodic, with the officers taking care of various criminal complaints. In most of these complaints, one of the otherwise moronic cops displays impressive intelligence and insight when dealing with the criminals.
  • Revolution:
    • In "Sex and Drugs" and "The Children's Crusade", Aaron takes up the role of Only Sane Man Deadpan Snarker after Miles decides to agree with Charlie rather than argue with her anymore. However, not only is he then the target of Charlie's Character Shilling via Nora, but he drops it after those episodes.
    • He kind of picks it back up again in "Kashmir". He recognizes the symptoms of oxygen deprivation and this is what makes the rebel group realize they have to leave the tunnel network, and quickly.
  • Schitt's Creek drives a lot of its Character Development by tossing the Idiot Ball and Smart Ball to the various Roses. While all of them have significant knowledge gaps arising from their lives of privilege, they all have special talents.
    • Johnny was a business mogul and he's shown to be adept at running the motel. He just grabs the Idiot Ball when it comes to social media or the time a madame books rooms for her prostitution ring.
    • Moira may not be a talented actress, but she's a fairly gifted local politician with a knack for convincing people to give her what she wants.
    • David may lack basic financial literacy, but he is a talented designer and marketer.
    • Alexis is frequently shown to be anything but book smart, but she is great at social media and has street smarts that include being able to bust shoplifters, escape from kidnappers and pass multiple international driver's tests.
  • In Son of the Beach, B.J. picked it up in one episode. She then lampshaded it when everyone gave her a surprised look, explaining that she usually isn't very bright and it must be the booze talking (she was drinking wine with dinner). She then said something else intelligent and commented "*Hic* I really gotta lay off the booze!"
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • One episode has the team going to a planet where an eclipse is going to darken the sky enough to allow observation of a black hole using an observatory they set up there. After the smart people in the room talk about how cool the spinning mass of... mass getting sucked into the black hole will look, Jack O'Neill correctly identifies it as the accretion disc. Jackson look at him funny, and Carter responses with, "You didn't think the colonel had a telescope on his roof just to look at the neighbors, did you?" and Jack adds, "At least not initially." Of course, many characters state that O'Neill is a hell of a lot smarter than he lets on, but he still tries to explain all advanced technology as magnets.
    • It's called Obfuscating Stupidity. By acting like a black ops idiot savant, he can get away with a desk full of paperwork and not being Kicked Upstairs. It eventually fails, though.
    • This is the guy whose brain can fit the entirety of Ancient knowledge and not immediately die. Even the Asgard say he's the next step in human evolution.
    • In this case, it's due to Flanderization. This was in Season 1, when it was not Out of Character at all for O'Neill to have a head on his shoulders.
    • More importantly, all Air Force Colonels (other than "battlefield promotions") have to graduate from the Air War College, so they have the functional equivalent of a Master's Degree. They are decidedly not dumb. Jack just may look so compared to Daniel and Sam.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Quark's brother, Rom, is introduced as an absolute idiot who can barely follow basic orders. At one point in the first season, Odo knows Quark is lying because Quark claimed Rom fixed his bar's replicators: Odo claims Rom couldn't fix a bent straw and Quark agrees. Very early in the second season, Rom suddenly reveals to Quark he can get through a computerised security lock faster than Quark can, revealing an aptitude for mechanics. This is an example of a Smart Ball that was used for a permanent upgrade via Character Development. It turns out Rom's an idiot by Ferengi standards: he has no business sense, which is practically regarded as some kind of mental disability on Ferenginar. However, Rom has a natural gift for engineering, a talent that moving to the station to be with his brother allows him to discover. Encouraged by the non-Ferengi around him, he's allowed to develop his talent and eventually joins the Bajoran engineering staff that work alongside the Starfleet engineers. By the end of the show, he's playing a major role in protecting the entire Alpha Quadrant through some genius self-replicating mine inventions that stop Dominion reinforcements reaching the Alpha Quadrant.
    • At the end of the show's run, Grand Nagus Zek retires to spend more time with Quark and Rom's mother, and he names Rom as his successor to lead the Ferengi Alliance into a new era (one which is hoped to be more socially progressive but still very profitable).
  • That '70s Show: Played for laughs in one episode when Kelso is able to instantly calculate how many people they can invite to a kegger and what they will need to charge per person.
  • The Thundermans: Oyster is the first character to question why Chloe is a preschooler at six months old and why the Thunderman house has so many man-shaped holes in their ceiling. Both times, Max, Phoebe, and Cherry are able to use food to distract him from questioning this further.
  • Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger: In one episode, the Monster of the Week has the power to change from a demonic witch-creature into a ludicrously adorable baby and charm people. When it attempts this in the middle of a fight with the Kyoryugers, Daigo just shoots it and points out that he saw it change, so of course it's not gonna work on him.

     Music Videos 
  • The main singers in Preschool Popstars are mainly just normal preschoolers, but:
    • In "Wash Your Hands", the one with the dark skin and the yellow outfit is seen with a chemistry set.
    • In "See Saw", the blonde one knows what a fulcrum is.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In FoxTrot, Paige is usually totally clueless about anything related to math. In this strip, she gains working knowledge of algebra for the purpose of a texting gag.

  • Occasionally caught by Cloud Cuckoolander Arthur in Cabin Pressure, most triumphantly in the Grand Finale, when he realizes that while Douglas doesn't have documentation to prove he's Gordon Shappey, Arthur himself can prove that he's Gordon Shappey's son, and then vouch for him. And then nearly ruins it by attempting an appalling Australian accent, even though he's pretending to be himself.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Sometimes this can be the result of a player playing as a character less intelligent than themselves. It can stretch suspension of disbelief if the dumb-as-rocks barbarian is able to figure out the solution to a puzzle because his player could. Some better roleplayers may attempt to avert this trope in order to avoid metagaming.

  • In BIONICLE Legacy of Evil, Reidak figures what the whole Plan is, given only the beginning. While the Plan wasn't that awesome, it's frightening because Reidak usually needs simple plans to be explained four times. So the others speculate Reidak may have forgotten to act as an idiot, and rest of time he acts stupidly because he want to be underestimated.

    Video Games 
  • Batman: Arkham Knight: The Dumb Muscle working for the Riddler in the Arkham series pick it up for once when they nonchalantly talk about how they got their supervillain boss to pay them online as opposed to in person. Considering the employers in Gotham's underworld, this was a pretty smart move.
  • In The Boogie Man, Richard Grundler figured out the identity and mystery behind the titular character because of something Keith mentioned. The Boogieman loves displaying his murders theatrically. The fact that this wasn't done with Brendon, the owner of the castle and first death to occur, made him realize that Brendon was the Boogie Man. The golden ending has him admit to not saying it out loud because he wasn't sure if Keith would take his amateur opinion seriously.
  • In The ClueFinders The Incredible Toy Store Adventure's climax, Owen gets the Ball. The villain of the game is threatening his boss with the shrink ray that caused the plot when Owen gets the idea to use the "un-shrinker" the team had built that is currently small enough for him to use (he and Joni and Laptrap getting shrunk and needing their teammates to rescue them from the top floor of the titular toy store formed the basic plot) and blasts the shrink ray with it until it's too big for the villain to hold.
  • Emiya Shirou of Fate/stay night is not the sharpest knife in the drawer for the Fate route and most of the Unlimited Blade Works route. Then he has a "Eureka!" Moment, figures out how to turn into a Reality Warper entirely by watching Archer, and never drops the Smart Ball again. It's almost a little jarring seeing how quick on the uptake he is in Heaven's Feel.
  • In Kingdom Hearts II, Goofy has it at some points, like when he saw through Mulan's disguise while Sora and Donald couldn't. It's said in his journal entry for one of the games that he often notices stuff that others miss.
  • For the first two Mass Effect games, Conrad Verner was as little more than an annoying, incompetent fool who never amounts to anything and is a bit of a pitiable Butt-Monkey. Then, come Mass Effect 3, he gets thrown one hell of a bone. Exactly when you need it, it turns out he has a PHD, of all things, and did a dissertation on xenotechnology and dark energy integration, which helps with the construction of the Crucible.
  • In the Persona series, there's always a male party member who serves as the resident Butt-Monkey, a state that is usually his own fault. These boys very frequently get thrown the Ball as part of their Hidden Depths. Eikichi works out how to abuse the Exact Words property of the rumour system in order to destroy an opponent's advantage, Yosuke is the one who puts together the connection between the TV World and the murders based on very little evidence, and Ryuji comes up with the initial plan to take down Kamoshida by identifying his victims in the Metaversenote .
  • The Judge is given the Smart Ball in Case 5 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations. It's even lampshaded:
    Phoenix: Objection! W-Well, maybe he brought a change of clothes with him!
    Judge: B-but... No one could have predicted the lightning strike that shut down the bridge! Why would anyone have brought a change of clothes!?
    Phoenix: Nngh...! (Did the judge take smart pills during the last recess?)
  • In Survivor: Fire, Gran seems a bit dopey, what with sticking around in the burning kitchen, but the game ends with her giving a link to a fire safety website.


    Web Original 
  • The Agony Booth references this trope (though not by name) during their review of Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings movie, when Sam (who was pretty much an annoying dumbass throughout the film) suddenly and inexplicably knows that he can find Frodo sailing down a nearby river.
  • In Critical Role, Grog the Barbarian is the group's Dumb Muscle (he has an Intelligence stat of 6, where 10 is considered average), so this trope naturally results whenever he rolls a Natural 20 on an Intelligence check. Which is surprisingly often, since his player Travis Willingham often has Grog attempt them for laughs. A standout occurrence was when he somehow managed to identify anti-scrying glyphs when examining a council Mole's room. This was an Arcana check, which is one of Grog's worst skills.
  • Homestar Runner from the show of the same name is, by default, dim. However, his intelligence is known to shoot up for the sake of Rule of Funny. He once correctly stated Coulomb's law (although he was asked what 2+2 is), he is capable of speaking Spanish to some extent, he is the only one in Free Country to see through Bubs' disguise as the Thnikkaman, and he managed to trick Strong Bad into saying something stupid. Also, whenever he is in a scene with even bigger CloudCuckoolanders, he often could not help but look like the Only Sane Man by comparison.
  • Caboose from Red vs. Blue occasionally has a good idea. There's also Donut, who, at one point, was able to correctly figure out the ridiculous string of events that led to the Red Team's jeep trying to kill Sarge. Of course, the rest of the team decided that this was a stupid theory. And there was the time Tucker managed to outwit Wyoming, a trained assassin. Half the cast is made up of idiots, so this is bound to happen a lot.

    Web Video 
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged: In scenes where the usual Only Sane Men (Tien, Trunks, Gohan, Android 18 and sometimes Piccolo) are absent, one of the other characters will often grab it. Notably, Goku has done it twice. The first instance was right after he became a Super Saiyan, where he was so angry it made him marginally smarter, and again while explaining why a bulk change didn't make an effective transformation. Both times left Gohan (the only person to witness them) speechless.
  • In Screen Rant Pitch Meetings, a screenwriter generally pitches a script full of plot holes, poorly thought-out story elements and other problems to a producer who either doesn't notice the flaws or doesn't care. At times, one or both of them will get smarter, usually when it's funny. For example, in the John Wick pitch meeting, the Producer, after hearing that John is known as "Baba Yaga", does a little research and finds that it's the name of a deformed old woman, not merely a name for the boogeyman. Considering that the Producer usually lets more glaring problems pass with barely any comment, it's surprising that he thought to look up the namesake for John's nickname.

    Western Animation 
  • Waffle from Catscratch has about as much common sense as your average brick, but throughout the course of the show, he constantly defines words such as "imprinting", "fulcrum", and "caldera" the other characters, to the point of stopping the action dead just to launch into a spelling bee-esque delivery.
  • In Code Lyoko, Odd is usually regarded as not being very bright. However, in one episode in the last season, where a mission to destroy one of XANA's Replikas took him and Yumi's virtual forms to the International Space Station, he actually got the Smart Ball twice in the same episode. First, when Jeremie warned them that they had to make the computer's destruction look like an accident (because the Station was too well-known and suspected sabotage would be a headache they did not need) Odd suggested breaking a pipe to cause water damage. His second good idea came when XANA attacked them using flying, spiked orbs that he was using the Station's equipment to build; he got rid of them by opening a hatch door, causing the orbs to be blown out of the station.
  • How's this for weird: In a Halloween Episode of Codename: Kids Next Door, Numbuh Four holds both the Idiot Ball and the Smart Ball in the same episode. First, after Stickybeard steals his candy bag (which holds only one butterscotch), he breaks onto the pirate's ship, steals it back, and runs off not realizing until he gets away that he just ignored an entire treasure trove of candy while looking for that one butterscotch. However, his Smart Ball moment more than makes up for this. First, Numbuh Four decoys the pirates with a bag that seems to be loaded with candy (but in actuality, is loaded with bricks) just waiting for Stickybeard to try and steal it from him. By the time Stickybeard and his pirates realize that the heavy bag they planned on dragging back to their ship did NOT have any candy at all, Numbuh Four steals the whole ship.
    • Numbuh Four has another two Smart Ball moments in Operation: P.O.O.L.. First, he manages to figure out that his teammates were replaced by evil Bizarro Universe counterparts, just from the fact that Negative Numbuh 3 had a mean look in her eyes that Numbuh 3 would never have. After beating them all up, he goes to the Negative world and confronts his own counterpart, an Evil Genius. Negative Numbuh 4 lampshades the "evil opposite" gimmick by pointing out that Numbuh 4 was stupid to come since now he's completely surrounded by guards, only for Numbuh 4 to point out that if they're opposites, then that means that Negative 4 must be a coward, since Numbuh 4 just conquered his own fear of swimming to come, while Negative 4 brought bodyguards with full intent on letting them handle things instead of fighting Positive Numbuh 4 himself. The revelation causes Negative 4's tyrannical reign to fall apart as everyone stops being afraid of him and decides they want to stop being evil and just act like normal kids.
  • Played for Laughs on Dan Vs., when Elise asks if they can just trick Dan about his plan to desecrate Mount Vernon:
    Chris: Dan has a very strange patchwork of knowledge. It's anybody's guess as to what he knows about any given topic. Watch. (louder) Hey, Dan, who sculpted Mount Rushmore?
    Dan: Gutzon Borglum. Then his son finished it. Why?
    Chris: And what state is it in?
    Dan: I don't know! Ecuador or something! What's with all the questions?!
    Elise: So there is a savant half.
  • Brittney in Daria is usually such a big airhead that she could double as a zeppelin. However in the episode the class plays in two teams with paintball, she turns out to be a superb warrior with impressive tactical skills, almost singlehandedly assuring her team victory. This little hidden depth of hers is never referenced again. She's also the only one able to console Daria after she has a freakout/identity-crisis about trying out contact-lenses instead of her massive geek-glasses. Britney reminds her that its okay to care (even just a little) what other people think of you, you don't have to be perfect or completely live up to the ideals you set for yourself as long as you are trying and being true to yourself, after all "we're all just human and junk".
  • In Ed, Edd n Eddy, in "High Heeled Ed", towards the end of the episode, Ed makes a comment along the lines of "Spending an extended period of time in the presence of females can be mentally disorienting and physically confusing." After Double-D and Eddy stop for a second to register this, Ed then proceeds to shout "HUG ME!" for no particular reason. In short, he grabbed the Smart Ball and held it for all of 2 seconds before smashing it on the ground.
    • Edd guessed that it may have been because he was pantless at the time.
    • In another episode, Ed pulled of a subversion of this of sorts. He figured out Eddy's brother's complicated treasure map like it was nothing (the map was supposed to be superimposed over Eddy's face at a certain angle). When Edd was baffled and asked him how he did it, (essentially) said it was because he and Eddy's brother were both brothers.
    • He also takes hold of it again at the end of The Movie, and at the best possible time, too.
    • In a more Bizarro Episode than usual, an odd apparently mystical boomerang causes anyone who touches it to change into another personality for as long as they hold it, which in Ed's case causes him to gain genius level intellect.
  • Futurama:
    • In the episode "Parasites Lost," during a "Fantastic Voyage" Plot in Fry's body, Dr. Zoidberg amazed his colleagues by demonstrating a knowledge of human anatomy to help them survive a sneeze... knowledge gained by watching a TV commercial about a nose decongestant.
    • He also astoundingly knew what a pentimento was. When the others are shocked, he explains that his doctorate is actually in art history.
    • In "Near-Death Wish", Fry, who is normally Book Dumb at best, correctly points out that The Matrix-style human batteries would be horribly inefficient at best and scientifically impossible at worst, since it would take lots of energy just to keep the humans alive, and their bodies would produce almost no power, especially relative to their requirements. Of course, since Futurama goes with the Rule of Funny and It Runs on Nonsensoleum for its style of science, Leela notes that despite sounding like a completely implausible idea, it totally works, going so far as to shove two old people into their vehicle's battery compartment at one point. (The whole joke being, more or less, that as dumb as Fry is, even he can see the problems with how The Matrix works.)
  • In one episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Billy, Mandy, and Nergal Jr are training for a track meet. Junior is doing excellent (having demonic powers helps) but Billy isn't doing so great. Then Billy remembers that Junior can shapeshift, and asks if he can turn himself into anything. When Junior says yes, Billy suggests he turn into a pair of pants so that the two can win the hundred yard dash together. Prompting this response from Mandy:
    Mandy: Billy, that has got to be the dumbest idea... (Pause) Actually, Billy, that has got to be the smartest idea you've ever had.
    Billy: I know, that's why I wanna do it.
  • Harley Quinn occasionally baffles friends and foe alike in the various Batman cartoons and comics with displays of intelligence. At which point they either remember or Harley reminds them that she holds a doctorate in psychology. Depending on the Writer, she is either naturally carefree or just likes playing the role of Perky Female Minion.
  • Inspector Gadget has rightly earned his reputation as an imbecile many times over, but even he was perfectly capable of holding the Smart Ball if the plot required it. And not just in the "MAD Trap" episode, either-there are multiple instances throughout the show where Gadget saves himself and/or Penny and Brain quite deliberately... and that's not counting the times when his bumbling make him a Spanner in the Works and enable Penny and Brain to save the day.
  • In Invader Zim, GIR will occasionally point out something wrong with Zim's logic, most particularly in "Walk for Your Life," when Zim somehow doesn't realize that his plan to make a slowly expanding explosion go off FASTER in order to get rid of it might be a bad idea. In "Plague of Babies" he also points out that Zim is too concerned about being seen by an apparently normal baby, but doesn't worry about Dib, who actively tries to foil his plans.
  • Bouncing Boy from the Legion Of Superheroes cartoon suddenly reveals a master strategy to save an entire planet from storms a la The Chessmaster. Second season, never mentioned again. Similarly, Shrinking Violet reveals a knowledge of advanced technology just in time for fixing LL's arm. Also never mentioned again.
  • Looney Tunes: Beaky Buzzard is usually one of the most dimwitted villains in a series already filled with Harmless Villains, but he's oddly competent in the short The Lion's Busy, in which he outsmarts and turns the tables against an elderly Leo the Lion (who, to be fair, was never exactly depicted as clever either), who wants to avoid being eaten by him.
  • In Masters of the Universe Beast Man is usually the Dumb Muscle of Skeletor's crew, but he gets a pretty good idea in one episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002). He figures that because Man-E-Faces is part beast when he assumes his super-strong monster form, he should be able to control him using his animal-controlling abilities. And it actually works for a few minutes. (This is the only time Evil-Lynn gives anyone, much less Beast-Man, a genuine compliment.) This drives Manny into a Heroic BSoD, where he's too afraid to assume his monster form again. However, this ultimately backfires on Beast Man at the end when he tries it a second time, as Manny overcomes the effect, and beats the crud out of him and the rest of Skeletor's goons.
  • Most of the time, Dethklok in Metalocalypse are comically stupid to the point of being borderline nonfunctional in any field outside of music production, and a few episodes have suggested they can barely read. However, in "Bluesklok", they manage to successfully renegotiate a contract for a Deal with the Devil from obtaining blues talent in exchange for their souls to blues talent and a backend of the devil's own soul in exchange for a five-dollar Hot Topic gift card.
  • Pinky and the Brain
    • Brain is astonished that Pinky correctly identifies a Bunsen burner by name. Subverted when he explains that it's for burning bunsens.
    • Another time, Pinky responds to "Are you pondering what I'm pondering" with "When am I ever pondering what you're pondering?" and explaining that the odds that he was this time weren't very high. Which, it turns out, was what Brain was pondering this time." However, when he says "And do you know what else'' I'm pondering?" Pinky's response is something considerably more Pinky-ish.
    • Both Fanon and Word of God are fond of pointing out that though the opening song claims "One is a genius, the other's insane", it doesn't actually specify which is which — Brain, after all, is a megalomaniac bent on world domination who constantly fails in his overly elaborate and frequently ridiculous schemes, so he is neither sane nor necessarily as smart as he believes himself to be; Pinky, meanwhile, is often the one who accidentally ruins the plan, but between his periodic holding of the Smart Ball and the possibility that Brain is the insane one, perhaps Pinky utilises Obfuscating Stupidity and his "accidents" are intentional, calculated screw-ups designed to save the world from a madman without losing his best and only friend.
      • According to Word of God Pinky is the insane one, he just has flashes of common sense on occasion.
  • Done for laughs in The Powerpuff Girls when Him tells the girls he has the Professor in "the place where it's boiling and freezing at the same time". The girls rack their brains trying to figure it out only for the Mayor to appear out of nowhere and claim that converting the boiling and freezing points of water into geographical coordinates points to a Townsville street. "Or maybe there's an ice cream truck on fire".
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson is a frequent culprit for this, as per Rule of Funny.
    • In "The PTA Disbands", Homer is suddenly knowledgeable about the laws of physics for the sake of a joke. His line after Lisa builds a perpetual motion device (that actually keeps going faster and faster)?
    Homer: In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!
    • Homer has had several humorously out of character Smart Ball moments, that showcase his stupidity at the same time. In "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie" he knew who former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren was, but somehow thought he was also a stripper.
    • His most common and impressive form of brilliance is when he infrequently appears to be an Omniglot. Homer has spoken Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Russian and even Penguin, among others. He has passed this trait onto Bart who has picked up French, Spanish and Japanese himself in different episodes.
    • Homer also shows musical ability, even talent, in several episodes, most notably composing songs (albeit with rather idiotic lyrics) in "Homer's Barbershop Quartet".
    • In "Homer and Apu", he corrected Apu on the nature of karma, using somewhat more complex words than usual in this scene.
    Homer: You're selling what now?
    Apu: I'm selling only the concept of karmic realignment.
    Homer: You can't sell that! Karma can only be portioned out by the cosmos! (slams the door in Apu's face)
    Apu: ...he's got me there.
    • At "Bart's Comet", he predicts that a meteor heading for Springfield will probably burn up in the atmosphere until it's the size of a chihuahua's head. At the end of the episode, it gets lampshaded. "Dad was right!" "I know, kids. I'm scared, too." For added hilarity, the meteor even lands right next to a chihuahua for comparison.
    • Then there was that time where Homer correctly guessed what a think tank was, much to the shock of his family.
    Homer: Hey, can't I get one right?
    "Leaves of grass, my ass!"
    • "Homer at the Bat", bucking the trend, has Barney holding it, when he gets into an argument with Wade Boggs over the best Prime Minister of the UK that suggests a decent knowledge of British history. (Boggs thought it was Pitt the Elder, Barney thought it was Lord Palmerston.) In fact, he's passionate enough about this that he concludes the argument by decking Boggs in the face.
    • In "The Last Temptation of Homer", Barney abruptly gives Homer good advice for handling his feelings for new girl Mindy: that being, his interest in her is solely limited to her looks, and if he talks to her, he should quickly realize they don't actually have anything in common. This is then subverted when it's revealed he's reading it off a bar napkin (and further subverted when Homer takes Barney's advice and learns that Mindy actually is a great match for him).
    • "I'm not jealous! I'm envious!"
    • In "Homer the Moe", Homer builds a functional (if incomplete) talking robot that he later discards out of boredom.
    • In "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace", Homer invents a useful device (an electric hammer) which is mistakenly attributed to Thomas Edison, resulting in Homer getting no credit or profit. He's also shown studying (and seemingly understanding) fairly advanced concepts in physics.
    • A more plot-relevant example: In "Bart Carny", Homer successfully outwits a duo of carnies who were squatting in the Simpsons household by promising to give them the deed to the house if he can throw a hula hoop onto the chimney, then, just as he's about to throw, having the family immediately run in and lock the carnies out.
    • Lenny is generally somewhere between "average" and "slightly smarter than Homer, but not by much." However, in "Homer the Great," he's able to abruptly rattle off rather erudite information on the effects of cholesterol when Homer claims he was saving his life by slapping an egg sandwich out of his hand. (It's implied he may have been getting this information from "those Egg Council creeps.")
    • Bart can also be subject to this, such as in "Simpson Safari" :
    Bart: I think we should look at her research before we condemn her entirely.
    [everyone stares]
  • Done memetically in Sonic Boom when Knuckles, of all people, deconstructs the You Go, Girl! brand of feminism:
    Amy: It all comes down to this one penalty kick. Can the young woman break the glass ceiling, and prove once and for all that a female can be just as good an athlete as a male?
    Knuckles: You know, Amy, any time someone calls attention to the breaking of gender roles, it ultimately undermines the concept of gender equality by implying that this is an exception and not the status quo.
    Knuckles: ...what? Just because I'm a meathead doesn't mean I'm not a feminist.
  • Subverted in one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants when Patrick reacts to seeing snow for the first time with an eloquent burst of Purple Prose. When SpongeBob compliments him, Patrick admits he was just reading the back of a candy bar wrapper.
    • Played straight in the episode "Squidtastic Voyage". SpongeBob and Patrick end up trapped inside Squidward via a Shrink Ray incident and need to remove the clarinet reed stuck in Squidward's esophagus. Patrick eloquently describes how they can use Squidward's own gastrointestinal release (in this case a giant burp) to remove the reed and free the duo. Both SpongeBob and Sandy are left speechless by this and Sandy ultimately agrees to it.
    • Played straight in the episode "Porous Pockets". SpongeBob and Patrick come into some money, and the former starts spending left-and-right, eventually ending up broke. Patrick tries to advise SpongeBob not to do this.
  • Storm Hawks usually gives Piper or Stork the Smart Ball in regards to finding the solution to a given episode's technobable or wilderness survival, respectively. In Piper's case, she's the resident specialist (as the opening credits helpfully remind us) and Stork is so paranoid he's usually Crazy-Prepared with contingencies for most disasters.
  • In the Teen Titans episode "Crash", Beast Boy turns himself into an amoeba to accompany Gizmo into Cyborg's body to destroy a computer virus. When they see the virus, however, Gizmo chickens out and runs in terror, leaving Beast Boy at the giant abomination's mercy. Then he realizes that, since he's an amoeba, he can "multiply" using mitosis, creating an army of duplicates of himself that overwhelm the virus and enable Cyborg's anti-viral system to kick in. (In the final scene of the episode, Robin and even Raven compliment Beast Boy on the smart move. Beast Boy replies by saying, "I may not be smart enough to do everything, but I'm dumb enough to try anything!")
  • Happens fairly often in The Venture Bros., due to many characters being a Genius Ditz to some degree. Hank is one of the more consistently stupid characters, but occasionally pulls out a bit of obscure knowledge that the adults can't even fathom where he would have picked it up. Dermott also surprisingly once gave some very competent advice on relationships to the brothers, prompting amazement from them, as he usually doesn't know anything.
  • Winx Club: Stella and Aisha's ability to enter Realix and stop Darkar in the Season 2 finale hinges on solving a puzzle of color cards. Stella solves it, and it's justified differently depending on which version you're watching:
    • Original: With no clue at all what the puzzle is supposed to be, she notices that the colors on the cards clash, and she moves them around a bit... and somehow solves the puzzle, at which point it's revealed to be a color spectrum analysis problem that no one's ever solved that fast. Her reaction: "See? Fashion sense is a vital skill after all."
    • 4Kids: This version borders on Ass Pull, as she sees the puzzle and says, "Remember that field trip [to a history museum] we took for magic history class?... Remember that civilization that spoke with colors?... They used hue and pattern to communicate, something I'm quite fluent in." She solves the puzzle, prompting one of the non-main pixies to comment, "She's so knowledgeable about magic history. I'm impressed." Having Stella be fluent in hue and pattern allowing her to solve the puzzle is understandable, but for it to hinge on a previously unmentioned, much less seen, field trip (not to mention Stella suddenly demonstrating knowledge of magic history)? Not so much.



Joey knows grammar.

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