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The Window or the Stairs

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"The easy way is always mined."
— From Murphy's Laws of Combat

This occurs when a character is given two choices; one of which sounds much easier/safer/more pleasant than the other option. When the "better" option is chosen, it is subsequently revealed that they've actually picked the worse option without realizing it until it's too late.

Named after a Running Gag in the film I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. Damon Wayans and Kadeem Hardison play Evil Minions who are always being told by other characters that they can leave the building via "the window or the stairs". Each time, they choose the stairs and each time they get thrown painfully down a long flight of stairs.

For people actually leaving via the window, see Destination Defenestration and Super Window Jump. See also The Easy Way or the Hard Way. Contrast Sadistic Choice. When someone is baited into this folly, it's usually Schmuck Bait; see also Original Position Fallacy, which tends to be how said bait is set up. If the two bad options turn out to be the same, that's Morton's Fork. In video games, this is related to Path of Most Resistance.


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    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in The Transformers Megaseries. Optimus Prime and Ironhide were reminiscing about old battles in one issue, remembering one in which there were two ways to advance. One route turned out to be a minefield, so Ironhide had suggested going the other way. Optimus sensed that something was up and instead ordered a retreat. Ironhide started to argue when suddenly Trypticon revealed himself on the un-mined route.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animated 
  • In The Land Before Time, Cera and the other dinosaurs refuse to follow Littlefoot's instructions on where to go to find the Great Valley, instead taking an easier path. Their "easier path" winds up trapping them all in a deadly lava flow and nearly gets them killed until Littlefoot saves them.
  • In Finding Nemo, our heroes come across a chasm. Dory was told that they had to go through it, and she tries to tell Marlin, who ignores her and then tricks her into swimming over it, since it seems much safer. They end up in a huge swarm of jellyfish, and they both almost die because of the stings.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, as described above. The trope is subverted at the end of the film when the protagonist says "There's two ways outta here..." at which point Wayans screams and jumps out the window. This prompts one of the heroes to say, "Didn't he know about the elevator?"
  • Subverted and then completely lampshaded in Galaxy Quest. Captain Taggert sees the path between himself and the Berylium Sphere he needed for his ship is clear. Suspecting this trope is in play, he begins taking the 'window' by dodging from boulder to boulder and rolling behind cover. Meanwhile the other characters simply stroll unmolested up the path. Gwen DeMarco looks over at him as they do and comments, "Does the rolling help, actually?" Capt. Taggerty stands up and dusts himself off. Unwilling to admit defeat, he says, "Uh huh. It helps." Then she points out that during his somersaults he actually dropped his raygun.
  • In Frequency, the main character's father died in a burning building because he found himself in this situation (one corridor in fire, another with just smoke) and picked the easy way. When the main character tells him he has to go the other way, the father goes through the fire, which leads to a faster way out of the building.

  • There is a famous joke where three men have been caught by a tribe of natives and get to choose their sentences. The two options are "Death" and "Nugoba"note . The first man says "Nugoba", thinking that whatever it is has to be better than death. He is immediately raped by all of the men in the village, then released. The second man chooses the same fate, knowing he will at least live after it is over. The third man, too proud to subject himself to such treatment, chooses death. The chief then says " Nugoba!".
  • Many, many jokes about people going to Hell and getting to choose between a traditional torment or another that seems harmless or even desirable, only for the second choice to turn out to be The Not-So-Harmless Punishment.

  • Discworld:
    • Played with in the novel Going Postal. Main character Moist von Lipwig is given a choice by Vetinari: He can take over the job of Postmaster General, or walk out a door in Vetinari's office, and Vetinari would never bother him again. Being a Genre Savvy sort of chap, Moist goes to the door, carefully peeks through it, and finds a deep pit where the floor should be. He drops a spoon into the pit, and it doesn't make a sound for a rather long time. He takes the job. At the end of the book, the Big Bad is offered the same choice with a job at the Mint. It isn't stated whether he walks straight out the door without pausing to look or purposefully did not consent to Vetinari's bargain, but it seems we will not be hearing from him again.
      Vetinari: You have to admire a man who really believes in freedom of choice. Sadly, he did not believe in angels.
    • Further played with in Making Money: Moist is given the same choice, and referred to the same door, on being offered a new job. Having ostentatiously repeated his previous actions, he discovers the room now has a perfectly normal floor. When he asks what happened to it, Vetinari claims to have no idea what he's talking about.
  • Ology Series: One of the Dragonology choose your adventure books subverts this trope. Choose the nice wide gentle path and you make it to the castle safely, choose the narrow twisty trail you make it to a cave and set of a trip wire and get crushed by a boulder.
  • One of the main Running Gags in Ciaphas Cain. Every time Cain makes a decision that looks like he chose the easy way out at the risk of damaging his HERO OF THE IMPERIUM reputation, he always stumbles on some unsuspected danger or vital clue that reveals the greater enemy. In one he doesn't go on the frontline to fight orks and thus discovers they're on a Necron tomb world, in another he joins a recon group only to find out the rebel factions are actually genestealers, or takes a squad with him away from a battle on a hunch and ends up disturbing a daemonic summoning ritual. It's so consistent that Jurgen, who fought next to him for more than a century, is convinced that Cain's doing it on purpose.
    • Cain does see this coming, sometimes. On many occasions, he has stood his ground or done something brave rather than take what many would consider the easier or cowardly way because he already realized the latter would definitely get him killed, while the other way at least stood a chance of survival.
  • One Berenstain Bears book had the kids go camping à la cub scouts. At one point their map tells them to take a long and winding mountain path around a deadly culvert, while their leader insists on taking the shortcut right over said culvert (ignoring the blank spot on the map). He takes the shortcut and promptly falls into the culvert because the bridge was out.
  • In The Worst Witch, the hapless trainee witch Mildred Hubble tends to make unfortunate journeys through windows, usually on a broomstick, instead of the much simpler ways of using the stairs.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Ribos Operation", the Doctor is given a mission by the White Guardian, and told that "nothing" would happen to him if he refused. The Doctor responds, "What? Nothing? You mean nothing will happen to me?", and the Guardian replies "Nothing at all. (pause) Ever."
  • In the Saturday Night Live game show parody "What Have You Become?", each of the contestants realize that they had taken the fun, easy way throughout their lives (depicted as something that everyone does from time to time and then their horror exaggerated for comedic effect) and in doing so had sabotaged their chances to become so much more (in contrast to their oldest living relatives, who had instead become war heroes or known Eleanor Roosevelt).

    Video Games 
  • In many a 2D Adventure Game and Platform Game, the screen will have a set amount of space it can display. If there are 2 paths to take and one has more Mooks or Spikes, it will be much easier in the long run.
  • In Mitra's palace in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, there are several areas where you have three hallways to choose from. On the floor in front of them, you find a message saying, "Take the long road". The shorter hallways either have a trapdoor that will drop you to the floor below or are lined with damaging floors.
  • Episode 3 of The Walking Dead: Season Two ends with your group wandering through a horde of zombies, using the classic zombie disguise. However, some zombies see through it, and one woman in your group gets bitten on the hand. You then have two choices; kill the zombie with your hatchet, or chop the woman's arm off. Over 80% of players chopped it off, because they had recently found out that chopping off the infected area just after someone is bitten can stop the infection spreading. Unfortunately, doing so results in said woman letting out a scream that attracts several zombies which kill her immediately.
  • A very minor example happens in Undertale: When Sans implies that crosswords are tough, his brother Papyrus immediately says that Junior Jumble is much harder, and asks the player to settle the argument. As Sans is more likable (and crosswords do tend to be tougher), players have a tendency to agree with him. However, Sans is a laid back guy. The only thing he cares about is his brother, so he is actually grateful if you agree with Papyrus, because he likes it when he's happy.
  • A borderline-literal example happens in Final Fantasy VII where Cloud is asked if he wants to storm into the heavily-guarded Shinra HQ, or sneak in. Storming the building involves a handful of easy battles, a couple of floors to climb and a lot of fun things to see and do on the way, including a car advert FMV. Sneaking in involves climbing up 60 stories of identical staircases, in real time (there's some amusing party banter, though).
  • In the packed-in adventure Rivers of Light in the classic 8-bit computer game Adventure Construction Set, you face an area called Hell on your trip through the afterlife. Two paths are visible, one which is blank and the other which is on fire. Adventure Construction Set allows you to make any tile have any appearance; in this case, the "fire" tiles do minor damage that you can survive if you rest frequently or use healing items, while the "blank" tiles do horrific damage. The clue was found much earlier in the game — an inscription saying that nothing is worse than the fires of Hell.
  • Deus Ex has a very literal example of this trope, though which also reverses the conditions. At one point, The Men in Black storm your brother's apartment building to apprehend him, and you'll be faced with a choice. You can either take the safer option, which in this case will be to escape through the window, evading the attackers completely, or you can stay behind and fight them, clearing all of them out of the front door and in the downstairs lobby. Doing the former will result in your brother dying, but doing the more dangerous latter will save him.
  • Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis has a critical plot choice where Alphonse has to choose whether or not to go along with Cybil's plan of torturing a mermaid for information. However, if you admit to her that you have no other ideas, a third option of rescuing a mermaid from other hostile humans presents itself. If you refuse, this doesn't happen, and you end up fighting the mermaid instead.
  • Bloodborne: The player has two options for where to send the various survivors they help throughout the game. The first is Iosefka's clinic, which is run by a friendly doctor who helps you early in the game. The second is Oedon Chapel, a desecrated old church who's sole remaining inhabitant is a creepy, deformed man who giggles and talks to himself, and seems all too eager for the player to send him some company. The twist is that shortly after you meet her, Iosefka is kidnapped and replaced by an imposter, who experiments on her -and any others who are sent to her clinic- turning them into horrible aberrations. The Chapel Dweller, on the other hand, turns out to be harmless, and depending on the player's choices, he and any other survivors at the Chapel actually have a chance of making it through the night.

  • Dr. McNinja encounters a choice in the White House Negazone. It turns out the Negazone likes to play tricks.
  • Schlock Mercenary: Petey mentions that by all indications, the operation should be as easy as calling up some people performing a dangerous experiment and telling them to stop. Kevyn is less impressed, and when they do call it turns out that not only are they not believed, but the experiment is already well underway.
    Kevyn: You do know the easy way is usually mined.
    Petey: You're being optimistic. The shared experiences of ground troops throughout history is that the easy way is always mined.

    Web Original 
  • Used straight in a Diceman game comic - In one story if you chose to descend the stairs you'd meet a bunch of demons on the way up and get torn to pieces. The other option involved escaping through the window onto clotheslines.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The King of Omashu", the eponymous King is putting Aang through a series of tests. For the last one, he tells Aang to choose one of two warriors to fight. Aang tries to Take a Third Option and choose the old, crazy King himself - but he was expecting this, informing Aang that he's an incredibly powerful earthbender and tougher opponent than both of the warriors presented. In fact, he's one of the two strongest earthbenders in the entire series, the other one being Toph Beifong.
    His Majesty: Heh heh, wrong choice!
  • This trope is subverted in the Adventure Time episode "Another Way". Throughout the episode, Finn keeps being presented with situations that seem to only have one (or two equally bad) options; he insists on finding another way each time, generally resulting in much more distress than necessary.
  • In one episode of Planet Sheen, Sheen is challenged to a gladiatorial duel to the death. When given a choice of weapon, he's told that he can use either a trident or a "huggy bunny". He picks the trident, which turns out to be essentially a fork, while his opponent picked the huggy bunny, which is actually a five-headed fire-spitting staff.
  • One episode of Viva Piņata has Fergie and Paulie try to guide a sleepwalking Ella through dangerous territory, at one point having to choose between "Certain Doom Avenue" or "Fluffy Pillow Cul-de-sac". It's only after they pick the latter does Paulie remember that a cul-de-sac is closed at one end, leading to them crashing through some Dead End signs and tumbling down a hill.

    Real Life 
  • The page quote accurately sums up military movements, especially in third and fourth generation warfare. Easy paths, such as staying on a road or crossing an open field, are deadly. Even movement within the immediate area can be like this. It can be very tedious to approach an objective properly and stick to good movement, then clear the objective properly, but failing to do so can get soldiers killed.
    • Troops under fire are trained to use a variety of movement techniques which can involve crawling without lifting your head or body up, springing to your feet and running for three seconds before sprawling to the ground, and so on. In a modern army, a soldier might be expected to do this with about 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of load. Of course, they could just walk normally - and be picked off much more easily.
    • Continually varying patrol routes and keeping an unpredictable schedule can be murderously taxing on the troops, but any pattern or routine which would make a troop's life easier also allows a watchful enemy to ambush them.
    • Many military accomplishments amount to someone taking the hard path no one expected them to, from Hannibal's crossing the Alps and Arno to Deng Ai crossing 'impassable' mountains to invade Shu.
    • Flying "nap of the earth" is a dangerous flying technique of staying low to the ground and using the topography to conceal one's location. According to Pakistan, this sort of flying allowed four US helicopters to make it to Osama bin Laden's hiding place in 2011 without Pakistani radar detection. This type of flying, whether done with helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft, is much more difficult than simply flying high above the terrain - but it does result in the aircraft not being as likely to be detected and shot down.