The single-player version of Satchel Switcheroo.
When a character intends to use or deliver two (rarely more) separate items which appear identical from the outside. But the contents inside are intended for different recipients and/or situations. Due to the nature of the item (for example, a sealed envelope) it is impossible or impractical to determine which is which.
The character will either realize immediately that they have mixed up the items and try to find a solution to figure out which is which. Or they may not realize they mixed the items up until after they are delivered and they are left to deal with the subsequent fallout.
Items often used for this include:
- Audio cassettes or video tapes
- Letters in sealed envelopes
- Two meals or drinks - one of which has been poisoned or tampered with
- A loaded weapon and an unloaded or fake weapon
- Bottles of poison, magic potions, or other chemicals.
Thanks to the Law of Conservation of Detail, this trope is often set up so obviously that viewers can see it coming from miles away. In many works, the mere existence of two objects which can be easily confused is a Chekhov's Gun with the safety off.
- In one episode of Maison Ikkoku, Godai records two spoken messages on tape - one for his Love Interest Kyoko, one for a toddler who said she wanted to marry him. Naturally, Kyoko gets the tape where Godai explains that he can't marry her because she's far too young, and the child gets the tape where he declares his love and says he will do his best to become worthy of her hand. (For added hilarity, the toddler's name is also Kyoko).
- In One Piece, the villain Spandam commits an epic blunder by mixing up his two snailphones, accidentally issuing a buster call (basically a "Something has Gone Horribly Wrong here, level the place with heavy artillery, take no further orders from this phone" emergency order) on his location.
- Ririchiyo's reaction to realizing she did one of these in Inu × Boku SS leads to one of the single funniest moments of the series.
- One filler episode of Naruto featured a mix up between two sealed envelopes, one containing a peace treaty, and the other containing the manuscript for Jiraiya's next adult novel. Unlike most versions of this trope, there were no negative ramifications. The leader who received the manuscript by mistake turned out to be a huge fan of Jiraiya's. He assumed the "original manuscript" was a peace offering and went forward with the negotiations.
- After hiking with her friends, Komori from Komori-san Can't Decline! gave some of her pictures to her crush Ootani. The picture in question was her wearing a bikini. She immediately realized her mistake and grabbed it back.
Ootani: Hey, this is...
Komori: WRONG ONE!!
- Happens frequently in Donald Duck stories; usually involves a gift meant for Daisy.
- In one EC Comics story, a bigamist has a wife who bowls competitively, and another who golfs on a tournament level. He sends each of them a pair of shoes for their sport, but he puts them in the wrong boxes, so the bowling wife gets the golfing shoes and vice versa. He might have been able to laugh this off, if they hadn't been sharing a hotel room due to both reservations being made under his name.
- The origin of Bouncing Boy from the Legion of Super-Heroes - he mistook a bottle of experimental Super Serum (which he was supposed to be delivering when he got distracted) for the bottle of soda pop he'd just bought.
- One The Far Side cartoon has a bug-eyed scientist holding a glass to his mouth as a coworker behind him is asking where his sample of dysentery's gone.
- The Incredible Hulk: Betty Ross got a haircut and dye job from Rick Jones' girlfriend Marlo once, but they were both drunk at the time, so Marlo inadvertently used Janitor-in-a-drum on Betty's hair, causing Betty's hair to turn green. When Betty sobered up, she panicked, because she thought it was a sign she was mutating into the Harpy again, before Marlo realized her mistake, and fixed it to make Betty a blonde.
- An Archie Comics has Archie, jealous of a man who impressed Veronica with photos of himself abroad, fake a bunch of pictures hoping to impress Veronia. Having used only part of the roll of film on "serious" fake pictures, he accidentally sends Veronica an envelope of "goofy" pictures he made for fun. Veronica however, having recently discovered the man faked his pictures, loves the goofy photos and appreciates that she can trust Archie to only use the art of photo manipulation to make her smile rather than to deceive her.
- In Back To Us, Nino has two similar boxes in his bag: one containing a pair of earrings for his fiance Alya, the other containing the Fox Miraculous, which he intended to offer to Adrien. However, when he tells Alya he has something for her in his bag, he directs her to open the wrong pocket, and only finds out his mistake when he gives Adrien the box with the earrings.
- In Dementia on Steroids Molly Weasley mistakes a glass of unkeyed love potion for a glass of water, much to her detriment.
- Captain Proton and the Planet of Lesbians. Our bold space hero draws his Ray Gun, only to find it's the hairdryer of his Sexy Secretary (in a riff on the Off-the-Shelf FX of No Budget sci-fi).
- Spooky: When Tombstones is tasked with sending invitations to the family Halloween party, he mixes up the guest list with his reaper list and reaps the party guests. He's still told to go back and give them their invitations anyway.
- In The Emperor's New Groove, Kronk mistakes the bottle of extract of llama for the bottle of poison due to faulty labeling.
Yzma: This isn't poison! This is extract of...LLAMA!
Kronk: You know, in my defense, your poisons all look alike. You might want to think about relabeling some of them.
- In Monsters vs. Aliens, the Big Red Button that launches all the nuclear missiles is identical to, and right next to, the button for the coffee dispenser. President Hardaway is warned in time. In The Stinger, he's not so lucky.
- In Johnny English, Johnny intends to play a DVD on which the villain explains his Evil Plan in detail to a crowd of royalty, politicians, and other VIPs. But this trope happens, and a surveillance clip of Johnny dancing half-naked in front of his bathroom mirror comes up instead... Live... To the whole world.
- In 9 to 5, Lily Thomlin's character accidentally buys rat poison instead of non-dairy coffee creamer (they're packaged ridiculously similarly), and thinks she has poisoned her boss.
- The Return of the Pink Panther: Chief Inspector Dreyfus has both a real gun and a lighter that looks identical to the gun. After getting angry at Clouseau he tries to shoot him with the gun (yes, in his office in broad daylight) but it turns out to be the lighter. Later he tries to light a cigarette and ends up shooting his nose off with the gun.
- The entire plot of Road Trip is built on this. The protagonist inadvertently sends a sex tape (of him cheating) to his long-distance girlfriend, instead of a tape on which he sings a romantic song for her. Cue epic quest to get it back before she gets to watch it.
- A pair of envelopes in Drag Me to Hell, with disastrous results.
- In Blame It on the Bellboy, three envelopes intended for three guests at a hotel get mixed up by the aforementioned bellboy (played by Bronson Pinchot).
- The whole premise of 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag.
- In the French movie Subway, the two halves of the plot are each kickstarted when two identical recordings - a bootleg opera performance, and two criminals' confession - are mixed up.
- In The Comedy of Terrors Waldo Turmbull (Vincent Price) has a bottle of poison he taunts his father-in-law with, and also a flask. Hilarity eventually ensues.
- In The Captain's Paradise Alec Guinness' character, who has a wife in two different ports, accidentally swaps the presents he intends to send them. Fortunately for him, the homebody wife interprets the swimsuit she receives as a sign that he finds her sexually desirable, while the party-going wife interprets the apron she receives as acknowledgement of her domestic side.
- The plot of the Jackie Chan movie Mr. Nice Guy gets put in motion when Jackie accidentally mixes up the tape for his cooking show with a journalist's tape of a clandestine gang meeting, and the gang hunts him down to get the latter back.
- Frantic. While on a trip to Paris, Harrison Ford's character picks up the wrong suitcase at the airport, so he and his wife are mistaken for the next link in a smuggling ring.
- A biology professor announces a pop quiz: students will be forced to identify species of birds from their droppings. "Our first specimen" He reaches into a brown paper bag and pulls out a ham sandwich. He frowns and dumps out the bag, revealing an apple and bag of chips. "My word," he blurts out, "What did I eat for lunch?"
- In Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, the old miller puts down 2 identical calabash gourds: one filled with liquor, the other with lamp oil. On their last toast, Luo pours out the lamp oil for everyone to drink instead of the liquor.
- This happened in the Back Story of The Big Kill by Mickey Spillane. A mob boss gathered blackmail information against his ambitious underlings that would be mailed to the police if anything happened to him. They kill him anyway because they have a Dirty Cop ready to intercept the letter, but the envelope just held a fan letter to a White-Dwarf Starlet, who received the blackmail information instead and demanded to be paid off in return for her silence.
- In My Uncle Oswald, Yasmin Howcomely tries to seduce the King of Norway by giving him a chocolate truffle filled with a powerful aphrodisiac. However, she accidentally gives him a perfectly normal truffle and eats the "spiked" truffle herself. Note, however, that at this point in the book, she has pulled the exact same trick succesfully with a lot of rich and famous men.
- In Snuff, this is lampshaded without being used. Sam Vimes has two similar boxes — one snuffbox and one container of goblin snot. He muses on the possibility of mixing them up, but it doesn't happen.
- In The Dresden Files novel Storm Front, Harry makes an Escape Potion because he might need one and a Love Potion because Bob insists on teaching him how. Unfortunately, he doesn't label them and has Susan take the wrong one in an emergency.
- The plot of The Sharing Knife gets started when the hero tosses his two knives, one charged and capable of killing the monster they're currently fighting and the other uncharged, and she stabs the monster with the wrong one.
- After Robbie breaks a vase in Atonement, he writes an apology letter to his friend Cecila (whose family owns the vase), but accedentally fills it with a declaration of love and some things he shouldn't have. He writes a replacement letter, and gives it to Cecila's sister Briony to give to his love However, he gives her the wrong one by mistake, and Briony reads it, thinking that he wants to assault Cecila. This leads to things going wrong. Very, very wrong.
- In one of the Teenage Worrier books, Letty recounts a story of a friend who went bra-shopping and bought a headscarf as a birthday present for her grandmother; but then realized she had posted the bra instead of the scarf.
- In the same book, Letty's family find her mother missing and a note from a man promising to pick her up. They assume she has left them for a new boyfriend. It turns out he's the husband of someone she's visiting to discuss a business deal, but she got mixed up and left them his note to her instead of her note to them explaining where she'd be.
- And Then There Were None has the general find out about his wife's affair with a subordinate when she mixed up her letters to her lover and her husband. He never said anything (though one officer suspected something), but sent the aide on a Suicide Mission, his wife dying of a broken heart sometime later. After that, he never went to church if the Trope Namer for the Uriah Gambit was the subject of the sermon.
- Invoked by Saki's insouciant eponymous young man in "Reginald's Rubiyat":
"I never can remember which Party Irene discourages with her support, but I shan't forget an occasion when I was staying at her place and she gave me a pamphlet to leave at the house of a doubtful voter, and some grapes and things for a woman who was suffering from a chill on the top of a patent medicine. I thought it much cleverer to give the grapes to the former and the political literature to the sick woman, and the Duchess was quite absurdly annoyed about it afterwards. It seems the leaflet was addressed 'To those about to wobble'—I wasn't responsible for the silly title of the thing—and the woman never recovered; anyway, the voter was completely won over by the grapes and jellies, and I think that should have balanced matters."
- In the fourth season of Blackadder, Captain Blackadder, who is about to be court-martialled for shooting General Melchett's pet pigeon, writes two letters: one asking his klutzy lieutenant George for a sponge bag, another asking the brilliant lawyer Hugh Massingbird for legal aid. Of course, his idiotic aide Baldrick gets the letters mixed up.
- In one episode of Cheers, Sam burns an envelope which he believes to contain his sperm count test results - but he's got it switched with Frasier's will.
- Doctor Who. In the episode "The Lodger", the Doctor, in a hurry, accidentally grabs an electric toothbrush instead of his sonic screwdriver.
- After the girls' home is burglarized in The Golden Girls, Rose takes a number of measures to protect herself. When Blanche tries to maintain her hairstyle with hairspray, she discovers the can she took from Rose's room was actually mace.
- In the "Police Raid" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, Graham Chapman plays the role of a policeman who intrudes on two guys having lunch, claiming he's got a warrant to search the premises. After a brief awkward silence, Graham produces a paper bag from his pocket, drops it on the table, and begins loudly declaring that he has discovered a bag which may indeed contain illicit substances. Eric Idle searches the bag to find... a sandwich. Dismayed, Graham looks at the camera and inquires, "Blimey! Whatever did I give the wife?"
- In the "Get me Hennimore" sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look, Hennimore is a slightly clumsy secretary who is given two extremely similar orders by his boss (e.g. To put a Krufts dog show in room 1 and dog-eating Koreans in room I) which ends up with disasterous, sometimes dangerous consequenses.
- In an episode of the reality series Pyros, the speaker wiring at a fireworks show gets mixed up, and ended up playing the raw time codes used to synchronize the show (both tracks were on different audio channels of the same CD) instead of music, reducing its soundtrack to beeping noises. When the operators realized this and quickly fixed up the speakers, the person operating the music insisted on restarting the CD entirely instead of just letting it go, leading to Dead Air in the sky until it got to the part of the show that it was stopped at.
- My Name Is Earl: Chubby carries two guns, a real one and an identical-looking water pistol he keeps filled with vodka that he uses to top up his customers' drinks and sometimes squirt directly into his mouth. He is shown accidentally blasting a customer's glass to smithereens after mixing the two up, and accidentally kills himself offscreen the same way.
- Soap: Eunice is having an affair with a Congressman. A Blackmailer sends him pictures in a manila envelope, threatening that he'll expose the affair unless the Congressman pays him. As he and Eunice are talking about it, a delivery boy from a newspaper comes to pick up a copy of the Congressman's speech scheduled for the next day. The Congressman absently hands him the speech in a manila envelope. A few minutes later, after the Congressman's wife comes home, she picks up the manila envelope and opens it - it's the speech. The Congressman accidentally gave the blackmail photos to the press.
- A two-part episode of the 2010 The Defenders played this for drama. A woman dies (temporarily) and a high school football player is left brain damaged due to two bottles of epinephrine being labeled too similarly. (They were of different potency.) They ended up suing the pharmaceutical company that produces the epinephrine and show the danger by having Kaczmarek intentionally trigger his shrimp allergy.
- In the NCIS episode "SWAK", Tony learns that his Christmas gift for Gibbs was accidentally switched with one intended for one of his girlfriends. Unfortunately for him, having accidentally given his boss edible body powder is the least of his problems at the time.
- How I Met Your Mother: Robin gets Lily a vibrator for her wedding shower before seeing that the attendees are Lily's immediate family, mostly elderly women. Naturally, there's another gift with identical wrapping, leading viewers to expect an accidental switcheroo, but in fact Robin deliberately swaps the tags, then confesses afterward.
- A first-season episode of Once Upon a Time has David accidentally give his girlfriend Mary Margret the Valentine's day card he'd meant for his wife Kathryn.
- Occurs in an early episode of Red Dwarf, where Lister is singing in the mirror and applying deodorant from a spray can. Once he's finished he grabs another can to apply shaving cream, only to find it sprays antiperspirant; no surprises on what the first can actually was. To top it off, he's completely unflustered and simply grabs a swab of cream from under his armpit!
- El Chavo del ocho:
- An episode had Quico trying to pull a prank on El Chavo with a mouse inside a paper bag, pretending it was full of cookies. However, Doña Clotilde comes up with an identical bag of sugar for him to deliver to Doña Florinda. Quico being Quico, he mixes up both bags, with predictable results
- In another episode, Profesor Jirafales lends Quico a scorpion inside a bottle, to show for his mother. But of course, Doña Florinda gets scared, and when she faints, drops needles all over the house. Later Quico accidentally swaps the bottle with the scorpion with an empty bottle of Popis. Then, Quico believes that the scorpion escaped, and everyone is scared. In the end, everyone is pricked by Doña Florinda's needles, believing that the scorpion stung them.
- In the pilot of The West Wing, Sam is leaving the house of the girl he slept with the night before; she holds both of their pagers and remarks that they look identical before accidentally handing him hers. When he later receives a page from an escort service, he realizes both the mix-up and the fact that she's a call girl.
- On Corner Gas, when a character wonders how Oscar of all people got hired to be the substitute school bus driver, we get a Cutaway Gag showing the mayor handing two sheets of paper to the guy he put in charge of the hiring: one listing the names of everyone qualified, and the other listing the names of everyone not qualified. "Now don't go mixing these up."
- In a 1984 Bloom County strip Opus the penguin wakes up too early and accidentally brushes his teeth with Preparation H instead of toothpaste while he's still sleepy.
- In a 1997 Garfield comic, Jon wonders why Garfield is trying to change the channel with a candy bar. Garfield immediately burps, realizing that he just ate the TV remote.
- In this Hark! A Vagrant, Lord Lovat mixes up his letter to the king with his letter to the Jacobites.
- In a similar vein to the Bloom County example above, an early Wapsi Square strip had a not-yet-awake Monica grabbing the wrong item to apply to her toothbrush. This did lead to a name for a band some of her friends were in: Fermented Banana.
- In Stand Still, Stay Silent, a crate of food meant for the main character's expedition and a crate of candles get mixed up due to the guy labeling them getting hit on the head with a thrown object (the guilty party being one of the main characters, ironically).
- In Better Days, Fisk is home alone with his sister Lucy, who has a cold. Wanting to make her feel better, he asks his mom where the cold meds are and is told the appropriate cabinet and their description, red capsules. He finds a package of red capsules and gives them to Lucy before letting her sleep. Their mother later returns home and goes to check on her daughter...only to shriek in horror because Lucy is barely breathing. Turns out Fisk had mistaken his mother's blood pressure medication for the cold meds and Lucy barely survives the mistake.
- In Schildkrote's Persona 3 Let's Play (Part 5), the man that sells equipment to the protagonists explains that he won't sell guns, lest they get confused with Evokers in the heat of battle. Evokers are magical gun-like artifacts that are used through pointing them at your head and pressing the trigger, so the concern is understandable.
- SCP Foundation: SCP-523, "The Most Unhelpful Object on Earth", is a mysterious artifact that disguises itself as a random object, only to turn into something dangerous when anyone tries to use it. For example, it once disguised itself as a pitcher of water, only to turn into a pitcher of gasoline when someone tried to douse a fire with it.
- In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, Jimmy keeps all the crew's superpowers from a past episode in ridiculously similar sprays. He also puts a love potion in the same type of tube. Oh, and they come across a situation where they actually need them. Fast.
- In the Tex Avery cartoon "Crazy Mixed Up Pup'', a man and his dog are out for a walk and get hit by a car. The paramedics come, but one mixes up "human plasma" and "dog plasma," so that the man gets the dog plasma and vice versa. The man starts acting like a dog, and the dog like a man.
- In the Donald Duck cartoon "Chef Donald", Don accidentally puts rubber cement in a waffle mix instead of baking powder. The resulting mixture is too rubbery to stir, no matter how much Donald tries.
- On South Park, a pornographic video gets switched with a Lord of the Rings tape. When Butters accidentally watches the porn video, his confusion translates into acting like Gollum. When Token Black watches it, he is weirded out and decides Screw This, I'm Out of Here!.
- One episode of Doug had Doug and Skeeter, Patti and Mr. Bone go to the same amateur recording studio to record their own music videos (Doug's being a mess because in addition to singing a song he wrote about Patti, he had the hiccups from being nervous). After they get their videos, Doug is the first to realize that he got the wrong tape (he got Patti's) and goes to get his back... only to learn that Patti had Mr. Bone's. Despite knowing that Mr. Bone had his video, he didn't do anything to get it
- In The Looney Tunes Show, Daffy, Porky, and Lola are all taking the written driving exam, with Porky being the only one who has any idea what he's doing. Daffy deliberately swaps his test with Porky's. That's not this trope. What is this trope is when Porky is about to turn in his second attempt at the test, he crashes into Lola, causing both to drop their tests. Naturally, they pick up each other's.
- In a House of Mouse cartoon, Mickey writes an angry letter to Mortimer and a love letter to Minnie, and tests out his new fax machine by sending both. When Mortimer reveals that he got the love letter, Mickey rushes off to stop Minnie from reading the angry letter. However, though Minnie did get a fax, it was a completely unrelated message from Daisy. The person who actually got the hate mail was Roy Disney.
- In The Smurfs episode "Wedding Bells For Gargamel", the Smurfs are so busy preparing a hope chest for Andria the baron's daughter that in their rush to get it finished Poet and Brainy bump into each other and Poet ends up putting the map to the Smurf Village into the hope chest while Brainy has Poet's wedding poem. And even worse, as it turns out that Andria's husband-to-be is Gargamel, the evil wizard finds the map in the hope chest and now wants to marry her in order to get his hands on the map.
- In one old Magilla Gorilla cartoon, there was a Black Humor joke where Mr. Peebles was so depress, he tried to kill himself with his revolver. (Seriously!) Fortunately for him, it had somehow been switched with Magilla's water pistol, and squirting himself in the face made him come to his senses. Unfortunately, he wondered why that happened, and when Magilla looked in his toy chest, he found that he had the real gun. (Which naturally went off; he missed, but really made Peebles mad.)
- In one episode Pinky and the Brain, Brain had a pair of mirror glasses that he planned to use to hypnotize Sigmund Freud. Unfortunately, they were stored in the same bag as Pinkie's gag items, including a pair of Google Glasses. No need to guess what happens.
- In a certain Code Lyoko episode, Ulrich is in the dog house for forgetting Yumi's birthday; Odd volunteers to buy a gift on his behalf. During said shopping trip, Odd decides to buy a treat for his dog Kiwi. At the end of the episode, Odd unwraps the package he assumes contains what he bought for Kiwi only to find a necklace. Ulrich remarks that it's kinda fancy for a dog but quickly realizes this wasn't intentional on Odd's part. Cut to Yumi opening a package containing a squeaky bone.
- In the Dennis the Menace episode, "Big Baby", Alice has Dennis look after Sylvester, the infant son of Mrs. Atkins, while she goes to the store to buy him more baby food. Around this time, PeeBee comes to Dennis' house to show him his new super growth formula, which he keeps in a baby bottle since just one drop makes things bigger. After testing his formula on one of Dennis' peas, he tries to test it on another, only to find out that he grabbed Sylvester's bottle of baby formula by mistake, resulting in Sylvester grabbing his bottle of super growth formula and drinking most of the formula inside it, growing to an enormous size as a result.
- Hey Arnold!: In "Eugene's Bike", Arnold feels bad about getting Eugene hospitalized after a botched attempt at repairing his bicycle. Flashbacks are then shown of the times Arnold had inadvertently caused trouble for Eugene. One of them is of a four-year-old Arnold using a jar of paste to make a picture of a snowflake. He sets the jar of paste right next to Eugene's jar of frosting, as Eugene was frosting a cake. Eugene accidentally puts his finger in Arnold's jar of paste instead of his jar of frosting, and when he puts it in his mouth, his finger gets stuck to his lips and everyone laughs at him.
- This trope causes many household poisonings per year in Real Life, usually due to beverage containers being refilled with chemicals, or due to misleading packaging that causes customers to confuse cleaning products with drinks. The Illinois Poison Control Centre Blog lists several examples of this.
- In one incident, a young man wanted to store some windshield cleaning fluid in his Jeep. However, the large jug that the fluid came in would take up too much space in the back seat. So, the man decided to pour some of the fluid into a blue Gatorade bottle. Unfortunately, one of his friends came back from playing basketball and took a few swigs of the cleaner thinking it was actually Gatorade. Luckily, the man was rushed to hospital and suffered no lasting effects.
- On the 19th of August 2014, a woman dining at Dickey's Barbecue Pit in Salt Lake City took a sip of her sweet tea only to have her internal organs severely burned. The employee making the tea had poured in a packet of the highly caustic "Clean Force Fryer Cleaner" thinking it was sugar. Fortunately, the woman survived.
- In 2003, a labelling mix-up occurred in New Zealand with several cans of store-brand hair spray. They actually contained highly-corrosive oven cleaner.
- In his book, Screw It, Let's Do It, Virgin founder and CEO Richard Branson describes an incident with Mike Oldfield, composer of Tubular Bells (yes, the theme from The Exorcist). "Bells" was a huge hit for Oldfield and Virgin Records, even more so when The Exorcist used part of it. There came a time when Oldfield demanded more money for his contract, and, strapped for cash, Branson was unable to renew the contract. Oldfield wrote two letters: a nice one for Branson, and a not-so-nice one for...well, everyone who wasn't Branson. Naturally, the wrong letter got into Branson's hands.