However, sometimes the hero can respond with, "I don't like those choices; I'm taking a third option!" It is usually something completely unorthodox or seemingly suicidal. Yet this typically turns out to be the best choice after all, Everybody Lives, and the day is saved completely.
In general, a Third Option has three basic requirements needed to seem plausible: time, resources, and knowledge. A Third Option is useless if you don't have time to implement it, don't have (usable) resources/power, or don't have knowledge of it. Depending on how well that rule is followed, the solution will usually either be incredibly awesome or incredibly stupid. Deciding which examples are which is an exercise left to the reader, although Foreshadowing possible answers can help win them over.
This can be the hidden solution to a Secret Test of Character. It's also one way to resolve a Debate and Switch or of turning a Morton's Fork to your advantage. Cutting the Knot is almost always an example. If done poorly, it may fall victim to the Golden Mean Fallacy. Sometimes it's triggered by Heads, Tails, Edge. When the options are different sides in a conflict, taking a third option may lead to becoming Omnicidal Neutral.
In most Power Trio scenarios, when The Spock advocates one course of action and The McCoy insists upon the other, The Kirk will be particularly fond of using this method as a solution to the problem of the week. This is also the best way to deal with a Xanatos Gambit. A true Magnificent Bastard will have anticipated that, though.
Compare Third-Option Adaptation, where an interactive work is adapted to another medium and the producers decide to Take a Third Option in order to avoid endorsing one of the original options over others.
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- Real Life
- In an Eddie Izzard routine people is asked if they would like "Cake or death?" Everyone responds "Cake" and eventually the cake runs out. To which the next person replies "So my choices are... or death?? I'll take the chicken."
- Averted in Dilbert when he is visited by Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light. Phil offers him two options as punishment for his sins, one where he will have a meaningless job, but will be paid highly, and one where he will have an important job, but be paid badly. You do not see which he chooses, but Dilbert is delighted, because both are better than his current position (where he is paid badly for meaningless work).
- Played for laughs in one Drabble strip. That week, Ralph had been harassed by the new water inspector trying to encourage him to use less water. One day, the inspector admonishes him for using a glass to get some water since it would take two more glasses to clean it. He tells him to use paper cups instead. Norman then points out that using paper cups would mean cutting down more trees to make more cups. Ralph's solution doesn't sit well with his wife.
Honeybunch: For goodness sakes, Ralph! Don't drink right from the faucet!
- A comic from The Far Side has people discussing a glass that has water in half of it. One says, "The glass is half full!" One says, "The glass is half empty!" One says, "Half full... no, wait, half empty... no, wait..." And the last guy is shouting, "Hey! I ordered a cheeseburger!"
- One FoxTrot strip had Paige asking Peter whether a glass of soda in front of her is half-full or half-empty. Peter simply takes the glass, drinks it, and says "empty."
- It's really more of a sixth option, but in "The Five Sons" the titular group have rescued a princess, and each has an equal right to marry her. After much argument and rumination, the king decides to marry the princess off to their father, since he'd technically had the biggest role in her rescue (by fathering the kids and urging them to go find useful trades).
- A classic from Mathematics: the Truel, a duel with three participants. Mr. White has a one in three chance of hitting his target, Mr. Grey a two in three chance, and Mr. Black is a perfect shot. To make things fair,note Mr. White has the first shot. Who should he shoot?
- If he shoots at Mr. Grey, he might kill him, then Mr. Black has the next shot. Oops.
- If he shoots at Mr. Black, seemingly the better option, he might kill him, then Mr. Grey has the next shot. Oh dear.note
- If he takes a third option and shoots into the air, Mr. Grey and Mr. Black shoot at each other until one dies (each would consider the other the greater threat), then Mr. White has the first shot in a duel.note He gets the same benefit if he misses whoever he aims at.
- Yo momma is so stupid, she took the Pepsi Challenge and chose Jif.
- A man stumbles into a big fight. He's questioned at gunpoint: "Are you <insert your local loons 1 here> or <insert your local loons 2 here>?" Unfortunately, it's not evident whether the gun belongs to 1 or 2, so his answer is: "I'm a tourist!"
- A variant of the joke, when even the options are only implicit: "What is your political opinion?" "Oh, as chance will, exactly the same as the gentleman over there with the tommy gun."
- One variant is set in Belfast during The Troubles. The man is asked "Are you Catholic or Protestant?" He replies, "Neither, I'm Jewish". The gunman grins and says, "Gee, I must be the luckiest Palestinian in all of Ireland!"
- The glass with water in half of it. Half full, or half empty? A joke says that an engineer will answer, "The glass is twice as large as it needs to be."
- It's just 100% margin of safety.
- Other people would just ponder why it should be glass, break the glass when they lay their feet on the table, or drink straight out of the bottle
- It's completely full. Half full with water and half full with air.
- It depends on whether you're drinking it or pouring it.
- It is neither half-full, nor half-empty; it is simply half a glass of water.
- Drink the water. Now it's empty.
- One person on Dear Blank Please Blank said that the glass was half full... of rat poison.
- Pee in the glass till it's full.
- "Dear optimist, pessimist and realist, while you were arguing about the water in the glass, I drank it." - The opportunist
- Mad Magazine had a gag where a man refreshes his alcoholic beverage after declaring it's "at the halfway point." One man mentions the "optimist/pessimist" dichotomy, and says since the guy said neither, what does it make him? The response? "A drunk."
- Physicists will say it is a superposition of the "full" and "empty" states.
- In The Breaker, Chun-Woo Nine-dragons makes one, when the Alliance Chief takes Shi-Woon as a hostage in order to extort Nine-Dragon's "Black Heaven and Earth technique". Here he's presented the sadistic choices of either saving Shi-Woon by handing over the secret technique or either doing a Heroic Sacrifice, like his own master Unwol did for him in a similar situation and started his RoaringRampageOfRevenge. To avert this from happening to Shi-Woon too, he takes a third option of killing the Chief and destroying the ki-center of his apprentice in the process.
- In the story of "Alice's Restaurant", Arlo Guthrie, upon being summoned to the police station over a matter of a pile of trash, surmises that the police officer will either commend Arlo and his friends for their honesty (which even Arlo says is highly improbable) or verbally chew them out. Instead of either of those possibilities, they get arrested.
... but when we got to the police officer station, it turned out there was a third possibility...
- Occurs in the story of "The Choice," by Ben Weiner. Or, parodied, rather. The two options are soup or salad, and the third option, eventually suggested by the impatient waiter, is soup and salad.
- "Weapon of Choice" by Fatboy Slim.
"You could go with this, or you could go with that... or you could go with us."
- Said lyric is taken from "The Choice Is Yours" by Black Sheep.
- In "Luigi's Ballad" by Starbomb, Princess Peach is presented with choosing between the somewhat-risque Mario, or the more emotional Luigi. She ends up choosing Toad, because "his whole body is shaped like a dick", to which both Mario and Luigi concur.
- In the folk ballad, "Thomas the Rhymer" the Queen of Elfland notes the road to Heaven is overgrown with briers and the road to Hell is broad and even. On the other hand there is the narrow, winding, and/or hidden (depending on the version of the ballad) that goes to fair Elfland .... which is where the Queen of Elfland takes Thomas.
- "I'd Rather Miss You" by Little Texas:
And if I had to choose between living without you
And learning to love someone new
I'd rather miss you
- In Poets of the Fall's "Drama for Life," when battling with his Enemy Within, an out-of-control creative impulse compared to a rampaging bull, the singer elects to stop fighting a win-or-lose struggle and take a chance on riding it out, seeing where it takes him.
Just one chance to kill it dead
But I will embrace it
Into the darkness on we ride
To gamble is all
- The lyric "who'd you rather be: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?" from Metric's "Gimme Sympathy" is a question Lou Reed asked Emily Haines. Her response: The Velvet Underground.
- Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht: Lieschen agrees to give up coffee in exchange for her father finding her a husband, but secretly pulls a Lysistrata Gambit to make sure whoever she eventually marries allows her to drink it.
- Adventures in Odyssey has an episode where Connie becomes the valedictorian. One of the things she has to do on stage however is say a prayer. So the principal of the high school and her tutor let her write a prayer, only to find it makes references to Jesus which offends other members of the faculty. So the principal says she should pray the high school's "acceptable" prayer. He adds that if she doesn't pray the "acceptable" prayer he'll stop her during her prayer and get her in more trouble. However, her tutor says if she wants to say her own prayer, she (and some other faculty members) will support her. On the day itself Connie makes the decision to...not pray at all!
- Cue the Slow Doxology.
- A much earlier episode has the parents of Odyssey banning Halloween because it's a Pagan holiday. Two kids are skeptical and go to Whit for help. After confirming that the adults are correct, the kids briefly are torn between going along with the non-Christian crowd but disappointing their parents or missing out on the fun parts of Halloween but ultimately they get the idea to host a Bible character dress up party in celebration of All Saints' Day at Whit's End, which Whit personally caters meaning that the menu features items from Whit's End including ice cream.
- In the Warhammer 40,000 verse, the Soul Drinkers Astartes Chapter are this. Instead of working with a corrupt Imperium or serving the forces of Chaos, Sarpedon leads his chapter to do the all but unheard of and form their own side under nobody but the Emperor Himself. And it is not easy.
- In Deadlands, Dr. Darius Hellstrome is pretty adept at taking the third option. During the Great Rail Wars, all the good rail routes got taken around the Rocky Mountains, meaning he'd either have to fight one of the other Rail Barons for territory, or commit financial suicide by trying to build track through the Rocky Mountains. Instead, he takes a third option by creating an invention that allows him to dig underneath the Rocky Mountains, which had the added benefit of hiding his progress from his competitors.
- He did it again in The Last Sons Plot Point Campaign where he exploited a loophole where the Sioux forbid any outsiders from laying track on their lands. After all, they didn't say anything about laying track under their lands. Surprisingly, nobody suspected that he'd take the same third option he previously took.
- Realizing that his life would eventually end in one way or another, Hellstrome could either plan to take all his work with him to the grave or find a successor. Instead, he created an automated process that could indefinitely preserve his mind in the event that he died, thus allowing him to live well into the Hell on Earth era two centuries later.
- Averted in the Deadlands: Hell on Earth adventure Unity (which also was the intro to Deadlands: Lost Colony). At the end of the scenario, a mad computer controlling the starship forces the characters to choose one of them to voluntarily sacrifice themsleves, or it will kill everyone on board the ship. The authors of the scenario went to great lengths to assure that there is no third option. The only way to save everyone on board is to do as it commands and have someone sacrifice themselves for The Needs of the Many.
- In the Battletech universe, Clan Nova Cat decided to fight on the side of the Second Star League, since to them the entire point of the Clan Invasion was to rebuild the Star League in the first place. This was generally seen as treasonous by the other Clans, which told them in something called a Trial of Abjuration to get out of Clan space or be destroyed. This left them with no particularly good options: they could either effectively refuse the Abjuration, which would get it upgraded to a Trial of Annihilation (which is exactly what it sounds like) or they could go to the Inner Sphere and conquer a new homeland, where they would get absolutely destroyed by the Second Star League they had just effectively joined. The Draconis Combine actually offered them a third option in taking over the Irece Prefecture (and thus becoming an effective buffer state against the Clans), but just accepting this would be against Clan honor and Clan Nova Cat would lose all of its face and suffer internal revolt. The Nova Cats came up with a fourth option by goading the Combine into a series of Trials of Absorption that the Nova Cats rigged to lose.
- Notable examples include having a wire-thin Aerospace Pilot phenotype arm-wrestling the biggest infantryman the Combine could find, calling "Edge!" on a coin flip, a soccer match the Nova Cats lost 4-3 after penalties, an "aerospace simulator duel" that was actually who could get the highest score on shoot-'em-up arcade game, and a "contest of stamina" that saw another small Clan aerospace pilot hospitalized with severe alcohol poisoning.
- How this rules-lawyering still managed to be honorable as far as the Clans were concerned can be explained by the explanation given by the Clanner who called the previous coin-flip. His reasoning is along the lines of: "What if it had landed on its edge? Think of the glory." Meaning the glory of a win against such odds.
- One Pathfinder module has you breaking into a warehouse in Riddle Port in order to question the the guards. after accomplishing this and taking out all of the guards you can then loot the warehouse and find several potions and weapons. Far more than you could ever carry. Upon leaving the warehouse a group of thugs will threaten to kill you if you don't give them what you stole. You can either fight them off or hand over the goods and they will leave you alone. OR you can simply point out to them that they could just rob the currently unguarded warehouse which would take less effort while being more profitable. They're pretty stupid though so it is actually possible to fail the diplomacy check.
- DMs in any Pen-and-Paper RPG experience this happening way too frequently. In fact, the more the DM tries to prevent this from happening by being over-prepared, the more intent the players will be on making this happen.
- In the Avenue Q song "It Sucks To Be Me"
Kate: Whose life sucks more, Brian's or mine?
Rod and Nicky: OURS!
- The Merchant of Venice: Launcelot has to decide between continuing to work for Shylock, whom he sees as "the devil", or running away...which would be committing a sin, thereby putting him in the service of the real devil. He gets out of the dilemma when his father shows up and helps him to lawfully switch jobs.
- A Midsummer Night's Dream is an interesting example. Hermia has to decide between marrying Demetrius or being put to death, with the "third option" of becoming a nun. She takes a fourth option, running off with Lysander to get away from the laws of Athens.
- When the titular character in Giselle is forced to choose between dancing Albrecht to death or definitely dying by Myrtha the Queen of the Willis, her decision is... dancing slowly enough for Albrecht to keep up and reviving him when he's exhausted and near death. That way, Albrecht survives and Giselle manages to free herself from the willis, passing on in peace.
- In Hamilton, Alexander takes the third option when Burr refuses to promise to keep his silence about Alexander's affair with Maria Reynolds. Instead of letting Burr hold it over him or letting himself fall to the treason accusations, Alexander instead decides to publically announce the affair, thus allowing himself to explain himself on his own terms. It ... doesn't go well.
- In Anyone Can Whistle, Hapgood, tasked with separating the sane townspeople from the inmates of the local Cookie Jar who have mingled indistinguishably among them, first goes about assigning each of them to one of two groups, labeled "Group A" and "Group One," based on their responses to often abstruse and philosophical questions. When everyone, onstage and off, is thoroughly confused but still demanding to know which is which, Hapgood takes a moment and points at the group he knows to be insane: the audience. No, really.
- Sakura Oogami from Danganronpa took one. It's eventually revealed at the end of case 4's trial that the reason Monobear was able to persuade Sakura to be The Mole was because Monobear was holding the Oogami dojo hostage. Sakura either had to kill someone and thus lose her moral integrity, which would emotionally destroy her (and cause her to be bloodily executed if she can't get away with it), or lose her family's beloved dojo, which is the other important thing in her life... And what does she do? She kills herself, which simultaneously satisfies the dojo-saving requirement of killing someone (her own person) while preserving Sakura's moral integrity by not actually killing any of the others.
- The sequel had a dilemma of the same kind. Option A: everyone leaves the islands... including the Mastermind. And no, its escape cannot be impeded if this option is choosed. Option B: stay on the islands as prisoners to keep the Mastermind trapped. Then some help comes and offers option C, which takes the best of A and B as the Mastermind dies and everyone else escapes... but most of them will recover their erased memories. Which aren't pleasant.
- In Fate/stay night:
- After Saber nearly wipes her magical energy empty with the Excalibur, Shirou is initially faced with two options as to how to restore her energy: 1. transfer his energy to her, which is out of the question due to his poor magic skill. 2. Have her kill humans and steal their energy, which he doesn't want to do for obvious reasons. Later, however, Rin reveals that there is a third option: have sex with Saber. Too weak as a magus to transfer magic, and too moral to slaughter the lives of innocents, Shirou hesitatingly takes option three.
- Parodied in the fake 'dead-end', on Fate route, where Shirou tells Saber they will fast. Tiger and Illya turn him into a cyborg with gatling guns, and offer him a chance to 'join the Tigers willingly, or be brainwashed and turn into a machine.' His response? Turn on the gatling guns.
- Juniper's Knot: The demon girl is trapped within a magic circle. At least one life form must be inside the circle at all times, so someone has to take her place in order for her to escape from her prison. The boy has to either exchange places with her or leave her to her fate. He chooses to instead plant a tree within the circle, thereby substituting the life of the tree for hers. It works.
- To get to the secret Music Test in Radical Dreamers you have to choose an invisible third option at one point in the game.
- Taking one of these forms the crux of the True Ending of Steins;Gate. Okabe is faced with two equally awful timelines: the Alpha timeline, where Mayuri dies and SERN completes their time machine and turns the world into a dystopia, or the Beta timeline, where Kurisu is stabbed to death and her father plagiarizes her paper on time travel, sparking World War III. Obviously, Okabe doesn't want either of these timelines to come to past. However, none other than his future self, driven by his failure to change the Beta timeline, provides the third option: the Steins;Gate timeline, where Okabe Tricked Out Time to save Kurisu and the time travel paper burns in a plane fire.
- Toho Kingdom Toons has one in one of their earlier cartoons, where Gabara offers Little Godzilla a potion that could kill him. You have the option of saying "YES" OR "NO", but regardless of which choice you pick you ultimately get the 3rd option of "He should resist this peddler of peculiar potions @ all costs!"
- DarkMatter2525: Discussed in Worse than the Wolf in relation to the "choice" between Heaven and Hell, which in this context is simply a glorified Morton's Fork.
The fish would be better off if never caught. The wheat would be better off if never harvested. And the sheep would be better off to escape from the Sheperd and take their chances with the wolf.
- Fatebane frequently chooses a bizarre out-of-box-thinking way of getting out of seemingly impossible situations in Associated Space, to the extent that his companion lampshades this tendency:
"What?" David looked doubtful. "There's a third option? Crazy and daring?"
- On the Livejournal community Anthropomorphs Deserve Love Too!, Alienware does this to the Linux system.
- Uncyclopedia insists that in a dilemma of two options, there is always a third option... cake.
Always delicious. Never complicated. Just cake.
- In SF Debris:
- In the review of The Matrix, during the Red Pill/Blue Pill scene:
Neo: Do you have a green pill?
Morpheus: No. You must choose: Blue or red.
Morpheus: Let me explain the pills again.
Morpheus: Listen, you take-
Neo: Can I take both?
Neo: Uh... orange then,
Morpheus: Here's the orange one.
Neo: That looks red.
Morpheus: Uh, that's the Matrix trying to trick you, now swallow the damn thing!
- In a review of Star Trek: Voyager Neelix offers the advice that when facing a crossroads, sometimes you should take the third path. Chuck points out that following this metaphor, the third path would be back the way you came.
- In the review of The Matrix, during the Red Pill/Blue Pill scene:
- A Giant Sucking Sound: The premise of the story is Ross Perot winning the 1992 election. Unfortunately, he has trouble getting much of his agenda threw Congress, so he forms the populist Freedom Party, made mostly of moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats, mavericks, political fringes, and forever dismantles the two party system.
- Accomplished by Jesse Cox of OMFGcata during a Let's Play of the DLC of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Rather than give in to a Sadistic Choice of rescuing a crucial witness or several innocents, he successfully reasons out where the poison gas threatening them is and destroys it instead.
- The Nostalgia Critic:
- Played for Black Comedy by the Critic. When Spoony gives him the choice of watching the Reb Brown Captain America (1979) or blackmail pictures of roofie-induced crossdressing being posted everywhere, he decides to hang himself instead.
- Invoked again when Critic and Hyper Fangirl have a tie in their Old Vs. New debate on Disney's classic animated Cinderella vs. the 2015 live-action remake. When they ask Devil Boner and Benny the Assassin to break the tie as to which Cinderella movie is best, they both give the same answer: Ever After.
- In The Annoying Orange parody of The Matrix, there's a third green pill. It tastes like boogers, so he doesn't take it.
- In ScrewAttack's Top Ten List for greatest Space Marine, Stuttering Craig and Nick argue that the #1 spot should belong to Luke Skywalker of Star Wars and Christopher Blair from Wing Commander. After arguing for a bit, they agree on Mark Hamill. (Mark played both roles.)
- In Paint's video "Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump (feat. Ken Bone)", Ken Bone ends the video shocked by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and votes Third Party (and Gary Johnson appears, asking what Aleppo is).
- In Noob, Gaea ended up taking an option that turned out to be just as bad, if not worse than the other offered to her: pay her new guild's debts out of her own pocket despite being The Scrooge as Guild Master responsibility, have her incompetent guildmates come up with the money or be thrown in jail. She choose leaving the guild so she's no longer Guild Master, only to have her debtor basically reply "You know this keeps you from joining any of our faction's guilds until you pay up, right ?".
- Matthew Santoro:
- Discussed in Star Wars in 3-D!!!. Matt mentions iTunes as a third option to Blockbuster and Netflix.
- In Psychic Octopus & Oil Spills, Matt takes a third option between calling the octopus an octopus and calling the octopus an octopi:
Matt: This octopus — is it "octopus", or "octopi"? [beat] This octo is named Paul, and he was born in England, but he lives in Germany.
- Video game reviewer Caddicarus has a system where he "slaughters" a bad game by shooting it, or "salvages" it by beaming it up with a transporter. In his review of Destruction Derby 2, he declares that the game isn't quite bad enough to slaughter since he got some enjoyment out of it, but not quite good enough to salvage. He instead opts to "slauvage" it by beaming it up halfway, then shooting it. A few games since have gotten the "slauvage" too.
- In JourneyQuest, Sir Glorian does this all the time. In the Temple of All Dooms (technically the Temple of Some Dooms, or as the Orcs call it, the Temple of Select Dooms), there's the classic puzzle with two gargoyles guard two doors. One can only speak the truth, the other can only lie. One of the doors is the correct way, the other leads to certain death. The normal solution to this dilemma is to ask the right questions and think before making a decision... Unless you're an Obliviously Evil Blood Knight with a love for fighting, in which case the solution is to kill one of the gargoyles, throw the other down one of the halls and if he survives, that must be the right way.
- A skit for MTV's website had Anthony Mackie and Paul Bettany both trying to convince Josh Horowitz to buy an action figure of the respective Avenger they portray in the movies (The Falcon for Mackie and The Vision for Bettany) for his nephew. After several minutes of both actors arguing and taking shots at each other's careers, Josh buys an Iron Man figure instead. This causes Mackie and Bettany to angrily yell "Downey!" in unison.
- In this instructional video on orbital mechanics, the creator faces a dilemma: Give distances in kilometers and alienate his American viewers, or give distances in miles and be a scientific neanderthal. His solution? Give the distances in furlongs, thereby confusing everyone.
- In politics the Third Way ideologies seek to marry the principles of free market capitalism (first position) and collectivist socialism (second position) to create a "welfare capitalist" ideology that keeps private property and the free market, but in a system more favorable to workers. Obviously criticized by the left and right for being too compromising to the other side.