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String Theory

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He does that a lot.

Roger: Look, there's coded messages everywhere! In the New York Times, on the Internet, even in Catcher in the Rye.
Steve: Well, you did use an awful lot of string...
American Dad!, "Bush Comes to Dinner"

Somebody's conducting an investigation — and every little bit of information could be the break they need. Red Herrings are flying left and right, and they need to get everything organized. What better way to do it than with a pegboard (or an entire room) covered in pictures of people, maps of places, and cryptic hints? Often the items are related, and these relationships are expressed by a complex web of strings connecting pairs of items; thus the name.

An example of Law of Conservation of Detail, as almost invariably every single item will be plot relevant — although it's not always clear whether it was all planned out meticulously in advance, or whether the writer decided to use the various random items on the board as jumping off points for future episodes. Fans will naturally drive themselves crazy trying to figure out the relevance of every item. Don't stare at it too long, though.


May contain a Serial Crime Map. Subtrope of Room Full of Crazy.

Not to be confused with the Webcomic String Theory or actual particle physics.


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    Audio Play 
  • Big Data: The trailer for it is a video of one made in real life.

    Comic Books 
  • In Batman: Year Zero, Edward Nigma's office at Wayne Industries contains a vast spiderweb of different coloured strings, as he tries to "solve" pretty much everything as though it were a riddle.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Megamind, Roxanne finds Megamind's plan lain out in one of these, but can't understand it at first. When she backs up for some perspective, she sees that the strings, rather than holding information, form a picture of the plan.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks, after the credits roll, it is revealed that human Twilight (the real, original human Twilight) has been tracking the occurrences of the two movies using this trope, and all the strings on her board lead directly to CHS... It's still around in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games and now has expanded to include elements from Rainbow Rocks, such as a blurry photo of the Dazzling's siren forms, their broken Power Crystals, the "Taco Tuesday" poster, and the giant rainbow column of light formed by the Humane Six and Sunset. It is heavily and closely featured in the opening credits.
  • In Zootopia the ZPD bullpen has a map of Zootopia overlaid with photos of the 14 missing mammals complete with strings tying them to their last known location.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 21 Jump Street;
    • Played for Laughs when Schmidt and Jenko create an elaborate web of students, with the supplier indicated by a question mark at the top.
      Capt. Dickson: Who put this together, are you autistic?
      Schmidt: It is artistic, sir.
      Capt. Dickson: Cut the bullshit. I want to know who's the supplier.
      Schmidt: We don't know. That's why there's a question mark on his face. That's not the way his face looks, that's just a question mark.
    • In the second movie 22 Jump Street, the web has all the suspects indicated with question marks.
  • In X-Men: First Class, Erik has a minor one on the wall before going to the banker.
  • Leonard has one of all his current Polaroids in Memento.
  • Holmes has quite an impressive string setup in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, centering on Moriarty.
  • The title character of John Carter has one of these.
  • A variation occurs in the film Spider where the eponymous paranoid schizophrenic protagonist has a penchant for creating webs with bits of discarded string as he investigates the death of his mother during his traumatic childhood. As befits his character, the strings never connect up anything useful and his notes are complete gibberish.
  • In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash creates these when investigating Communist infiltrations and conspiracies. It all means nothing, however, as Nash is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
  • Peter Parker has one in The Amazing Spider Man 2.
  • In The Box, the babysitter has maps and photos in her room, with red string connecting them all.
  • In Decoy 2 Alien Seduction, one student has newspaper clippings, maps and photographs connected with string on a pinboard in his room.
  • Billy makes one in Power Rangers (2017) to help determine the location of the Zeo Crystal. It's three dimensional and takes up the entire basement, including the ceiling.

  • In the Swedish original of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (cf. The Millennium Trilogy), Mikael Blomkvist investigates the mystery by assembling all the pieces of information on his wall and connecting them.
  • Control by Victor Suvorov had the protagonist doing it as a part of her job in the secret Secret Police, to track power groups within party, NKVD etc. First with photos on a stand connected by threads of relations, then she removed them all and remade as one interconnected web of small thumbnails all over several walls. It worked, though not as expected: a few bosses living in one city turned out not to interact — never met informally, nor even tried to bring each other down. Wherefore Hilarity Ensues. The author was in military intelligence, after all.
  • The Dresden Files: In White Night, Harry Dresden is investigating his half-brother, Thomas. During the investigation, Harry snoops around the suspect's apartment, and stumbles onto one of these.
  • In volume 9 of The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign, a slightly-amnesiac Kyousuke creates a string board to pinpoint his childhood home's address. The usual connotations of obsession and madness apply to him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Showcased on Homeland with Carrie doing this a lot. Her bipolar disorder causes her mind to be chaotic and she thus uses this to try and make some sense of things.
    Saul: You don't trust her? Is it because she's a woman, David?
    David: Look at what she did to that coke-board in ten seconds! (cut to Carrie having filled every inch of the board with photos, maps and strings)
  • Heroes: Both Mohinder's map of specials, and Future Hiro's map of all time.
  • FlashForward, blatantly following in Heroes' footsteps with Mark's Blackout wall. A case could be made for D. Gibbon's "Garden of Forking Paths" as well. Mark's wall turns out to be the key to determining the time of the next blackout.
  • The Flash: Barry Allen has one of these devoted to his mother's murder — which, ironically, may actually be related to particle physics (since most of the metahumans in the show got their powers from a particle accelerator malfunction in the the pilot episode).
  • Star Trek: Voyager, Time Fleet and the "Year of Hell" aliens has an automated version of this to keep up with their monkeying in the timescape.
  • In the beginning of the second episode of Alias, Sydney is pressing CIA handler Vaughn on how in just six months, they can take down SD-6. Realizing she believes it, Vaughn has Sydney draw an organizational chart of SD-6, a large main circle with a half-dozen branches that fits on a piece of notebook paper. Giving Syd a look of pity, Vaughn takes down and unrolls a massive sheet of paper showing a huge chart of the true scope of SD-6. As she takes in the various connecting branches, Sydney is stunned to realize SD-6 is at least ten times larger than she thought it was...and it's just one of the cells of the Alliance.
    Vaughn: We started working on this five years ago. And all it's done in that time is grow.
  • Chuck, when he is keeping data of the Intersect and Orion on the back of his Tron Poster. Granted, it's in marker, but it's the thought that counts.
  • The Lost Room has a couple maps of the objects, including how they supposedly relate to one another, and where they have been.
  • The Major Crimes unit in The Wire tends to have a pegboard like this for each of their main targets. Unlike many of these examples, it's actually realistically and sensibly organized, with strings connecting people based on their positions in the drug organization's hierarchy.
  • CSI has one. It was once Played for Drama in the episode "The Case Of The Cross-dressing Carp" when the mother of a victim saw one of the victims' friends (a scientist who was investigating the cause of the water contamination which caused the condition that caused him to be Driven to Suicide) connected to him via a line and wrongly assumed he was a suspect and shot him ending any chance of his work being used to prosecute the Corrupt Corporate Executive responsible for the water contamination.
  • New Tricks has one. Most episodes have a few scenes with the main characters sat around and one of them explaining what they've just discovered. They once discovered that a retired fireman who was helping them was an arsonist when they realised he would have been able to find his targets after seeing their board.
  • In an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie makes one of these when he believes he's uncovered a corporate conspiracy while working in the mail room. It is one of the most well-known scenes in the show. [1]
  • Kamen Rider Double uses these in a meta sense; the second episode of each mini-arc starts off with a "corkboard" that shows the characters from the first episode and how they connect. Then Movie Wars CORE shows the origin of the corkboard in-universe.
  • Nick sets up one of these in Primeval, trying to track the various anomalies across time and space. Later, the characters discover a heavily upgraded holographic version of his chart brought from the future.
  • Supernatural:
    • A beautiful example of a string theory during the first season's first episode. The main character's missing father was investigating on a Woman in White, using his motel room's wall to externalize his deductive reasoning.
    • Sam and Dean occasionally put these up in their motel rooms, which seems like a lot of effort for something you're going to have to take down in a few days.
      • For a certain kind of visual/tactile learner, this probably works as a form of Thinking Out Loud, as well as playing into the old school sensibilities the brothers picked up from their dad. Tearing it down and breaking it apart at the end of a case is also probably pretty satisfying.
  • The episode of Castle, "Linchpin", briefly displayed a room that looked very much like the page image, as belonging to a statistics genius — the strings started at one murder, the branches were cause and effects, and they converged on World War III at the other side. In particular, the researcher postulated that by committing the murder, all the effects would come to pass, though there are characters that doubt the accuracy of his predictions. We never find out either way as the murder is thwarted.
    • Castle himself sets one up in the seventh season, only the strings aren't intended to show a whole lot of crazy connections, just to track the movements of three people.
  • Charlie Crews on Life has an entire room dedicated to finding out who framed him for murder.
  • In the pilot of the 2012 spy show Hunted, the main character Samantha owns a rather "off-the-wall version" in her Scottish hideout.
  • Elementary:
    • In series 1, episode 13 of , Holmes is compiling one about Moriarty after tearing down the one he made about Moran. The book-canon description of Moriarty as 'a spider at the centre of a web' makes these almost inevitable. For some reason, it also includes a picture of Napoleon Bonaparte.
      Joan: And Napoleon?
      Sherlock: By my fifth night without sleep, I may have been reaching.
    • Sherlock does this a lot later in the series. One time it was Played for Laughs as the local Anonymous Expy asked him to write an essay on why Bella should have hooked up with Jacob instead of Edward. After putting it all on the board he comes to the conclusion all three should have been together.
  • Dirk Gently: used for the opening credits. Dirk keeps one on the wall, on which he puts everything that has happened in the episode whether or not it's relevant it's always relevant, and which he is seen painting over in the pilot episode, for a case which references an "electric monk".
  • John's home computer wall in Almost Human displays an electronic version as he tries to work out how his girlfriend used him to get police information to an organised crime group.
  • In Orphan Black, the police detectives investigating the deaths of Katja and Beth, and Sarah's brief impersonation of them, put one of these together. It lacks the string (so far) but has all the other elements.
  • The Leverage crew put one of these together as part of a con once, to convince an unscrupulous reporter that the government knew about a coming Apocalyptic event.
  • Stiles is shown doing this in the fourth season opening for Teen Wolf. He also has one in his room to help his dad solve cases, which Lydia sees him working on in season 3.
    Lydia: What do the different coloured strings mean?
    Stiles: Uh, they're just different stages of the investigation. So like, green is solved, yellow's to be determined, blue's just...pretty.
    Lydia: What does red mean?
    Stiles: Unsolved.
    Lydia: You only have red on the board.
    Stiles: Yes, I'm aware. Thank you.
  • In the pilot of Person of Interest we see a wall of photographs connected with strings in Finch's office.
  • In NCIS: New Orleans King Pride has one in his private room when obsessively looking for Mad Midnight Bomber Baitfish. It was referred to as "the wall of crazy you got going on upstairs". Later Conspiracy Theorist Sebastian has this conversation:
    Sebastian: I hear through the grapevine that you have a conspiracy wall?
    King: No, no conspiracy anything.
    Sebastian: Oh, you don't have to be bashful. I got several myself. One I'm currently working on ties the Illuminati to the owners of all 30 Major League Baseball teams. I got some extra string if you need it.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)'s opening credits features Lemony Snicket setting one of these up, based on his investigation into the Baudelaire orphans' lives. It's also shown in his hotel room in a couple episodes.
  • The Community episode "Competitive Ecology" has Chang creates a laughably small one with only a couple pieces of "evidence" linked by a single piece of yarn while investigating an imagined conspiracy. Despite this, the yarn proves to be a fire hazard and the evidence board as well as part of the school cafeteria burns down.
  • The Opposition with Jordan Klepper: Jordan's "murder board" is a major feature of his show. In one episode he comapres himself to Sean Hannity - "We both like our conspiracy boards".
  • An episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert had a critique of the GOP "Uranium One" chart.
  • A major subplot of Forever has immortal Henry searching for what happened to his beloved wife, Abigail, who vanished in the 1980s. In a late season episode, Henry seems to have a clue but at the end, tells their adoptive son Abe that he's been held back too long by this and it's time to move on. Abe says he's happy and good for Henry. As soon as Henry leaves, Abe goes to a secret room in his basement to add this clue to the boards of evidence he's been collecting, revealing he's been investigating his mother's disappearance for years without Henry knowing.
  • Deception (2018), magician Cameron Black is thrown when his long-hidden twin brother Jonathan is framed for manslaughter by a mystery woman. At the end of the second episode, FBI agent Kay reveals that she's secretly been working on Jonathan's case, showing Richard a room with photos and files connecting it.
    • It then cuts to London where that mystery woman has an entire windowed wall of her loft covered with more files and folders on the brothers with strings connecting several of them.
  • In Full Frontal with Samantha Bee the Puerto Rico special had David Duchovny give a masterclass in conspiracy boards ("why does conspiracy yarn only come in red?")
  • The Daily Show with Trevor Noah turned Trump tweets into a conspiracy board that they published in a book.
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Control has one of these as part of his desperate attempt to discover which of five suspects in the Circus is the mole "Gerald".
  • The Path briefly shows us Eddie's bulletin board with photos, articles, facts written on cards, and strings connecting them. What he is tracking down are the facts about the cult's founder Dr. Steve Meyer, his having stolen the ideas for the faith from a client, and his history of child molestation.
  • Motive: The Victim of the Week in "Remains to be Seen" has a pegboard where he has mapped up various articles connected to the disappearance of his journalist father, and how he believes things are connected.
  • On Bizaardvark, Frankie is told she has to attend summer school. Paige shows a board with strings and photos indicating her belief that Principal Karen is faking the entire thing as a plan to join the web show. At first, Frankie brushes it off but soon comes to the same conclusion. Naturally, she has to outdo Paige by covering their entire room in massive cross-connecting strings.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Loom of Fate from Exalted looks a lot like this, with strings of fate representing the lives and destinies of all the beings under its purview.

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock, Andrew Ryan has one of these in his office as an aid in figuring out who Jack is and why he's survived this whole time.
  • Captain Price sets up one of these in Modern Warfare 3 to track down Makarov. After Soap's death, part of it doubles as a Shrine to the Fallen.
  • There is one covering the walls of the Task Force Aurora lab in the Mass Effect 3 DLC Leviathan. Fitting, seeing how this is basically an organization of kooks who believed in aliens — before the First Contact. They have also believed in Reapers long before Shepard encountered Sovereign. In an aversion of the Law of Conservation of Detail, some of the leads the team is following are Red Herrings that won't lead you to the objective. (In fact, if you try to cross-reference them all, you end up with no systems matching all the criteria. No wonder work was going slowly...) It's up to Shepard to either sort out which influences are genuine and which misleading, or just go gallivanting around the galaxy in your Cool Starship and narrow the set of worlds down by yourself.
  • The coroner in Mystery Case Files: Shadow Lake was using this method to try and figure out the mysterious deaths in her town. Cassandra Williams has a similar bulletin board in her motel room, but we never get a decent look at it so there's no telling if she was trying something similar or just trying to sort out the Ghost Patrol shooting schedule.
  • In Sam & Max: Freelance Police, Bosco has it in his shop starting with season 2, detailing the connections between the villains from the previous season. It's rather outdated by that point, as lampshaded by Sam.
  • In Watch_Dogs, Aidan has one of these in the hotel room he's living out of. Oddly, he only references it a few times and you can't interact with it in-game at all.
  • [PROTOTYPE] has a side quest where you must assimilate people in the "Web of Intrigue". Each person you assimilate will grant you their memories and give you a lead towards the next one in that web, thus slowly uncovering the truth behind the game's entire story.
  • Henry in Firewatch does this when he and Delilah find the observation reports of them in the Wapiti site.
  • One gradually appears on a wall in the Dreadful Wale in Dishonored 2 as Corvo/Emily, Megean Foster, Sokolov and, if you save him, Stilton unravel Delilah and Abel's conspiracy.
  • The stategic non-mission portion of Phantom Doctrine involves searching through intelligence documents and linking key words on a corkboard. For authenticity this is displayed with actual pins and strings. The game actually starts with one displaying the names of the developer studio and the publisher among other items.

    Visual Novels 
  • A promotional video for Queen of Thieves shows the main cast's headshots as photos tacked up on an investigator's corkboard, surrounded by scribbled sticky-notes and linked together with a network of string.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Question has one of these in Justice League Unlimited.
  • Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: Jimmy has one of these going for alien encounters, specifically involving those with the Omnitrix insignia.
  • In the American Dad! episode "Bush Comes to Dinner," Roger determines Osama bin Laden's location by studying a variety of popular media which he's hung all over his attic. Cue the page quote.
  • The Simpsons: The FBI had one to show Homer Simpson to demonstrate the hierarchy of Fat Tony's mob. Emphasis on had. Why, oh, why, did they have to pick that spot to keep their shredder?
  • In Gravity Falls, Dipper has a bulletin board of clues to the identity of the author of the journals. At first he had dismissed Old Man McGucket as a candidate, but after finding his name in the author's laptop, he found that all the clues lead to him. While a good theory, an Apocalyptic Log reveals that McGucket, back when he was lucid, merely helped the Author.
  • In Milo Murphy's Law, Melissa has an entire room like this which she's using to get to the bottom of Murphy's Law.
  • We Bare Bears: In "Creature Mysteries", Ranger Tabes is revealed to have a string board dedicated to Charlie the Sasquatch.
  • Tangled: The Series: In "One Angry Princess", Rapunzel creates a string chart while trying to prove that Attila didn't vandalize Uncle Monty's shop.
  • DuckTales (2017): Webby, an avid fan of Scrooge and his adventures, has a board connecting the McDuck family tree.

    Real Life 
  • This is actually a decent way to demonstrate a relationship diagram for a database.
  • Actual wall of string created by Australian serial killer John Bunting, which he called his "spider wall", and used to track the activities of people he would eventually murder. See here.

Alternative Title(s): Conspiracy Wall