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One or more heroes are put through a False Crucible, without any warning they're being tested. This is particularly popular with trickster mentors.

Compare Hidden Purpose Test (where the hero knows he's being tested but not what he's being tested on), Unwinnable Training Simulation (where the hero doesn't know there's no way to beat it), and Danger Room Cold Open (where the audience doesn't know the hero's being tested).

Secret Test of Character is the common special case where the character may think they're being tested about one thing, but what's actually being tested is the strength of the hero's moral conviction. Other common cases include secret tests of skill, intelligence, supernatural powers and true love.

When the hero initially knew they were being tested, but is falsely told the test has ended, it's a Training Accident (military) or The Game Never Stopped (civilian). Either way, the hero end up thinking they're facing a real situation, with no idea it's still just a test.

Examples of Secret Test include:


Anime and Manga

  • At the beginning of the Bleach anime's Bount arc, our heroes are confronted by a trio of mod souls that kidnap them and a number of innocent schoolchildren, apparently as part of some bizarre game with their lives at stake. Later they discover that the mod souls were created by and are under the control of Kisuke Urahara, who is using them to test the main characters' abilities and teach them teamwork.
    • A situation ripped almost directly from Yu Yu Hakusho, only with psychics instead of mod souls, Sensui instead of the Bount, and Genkai instead of Urahara.
  • In Aria, the test to go from Pair (apprentice) to Single (journeyman) is known to everyone in the city except Pair undines. It consists of rowing through a narrow canal without difficulty. When Alice takes the test, it becomes the series' Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • In Chrono Crusade, after Chrono loses his temper and causes severe collateral damage during a fight with the Big Bad, including several civilian causalities, Father Remington is ordered to execute him. He takes Chrono and Rosette out to a remote location, then gives Chrono a sword, telling him of the execution order before challenging him to a duel. During the fight, he taunts Chrono about how his contract with Rosette is killing her, which causes Chrono to begin to fly into a rage yet again. However, between help from Rosette and hints through Remington's dialogue, Chrono learns that he has to control his rage--and does so, winning the duel. Remington then reveals he was testing Chrono all along, writes a false report claiming that he succeeded in executing Chrono, and gives Chrono and Rosette supplies before setting them back on the right path to complete their quest.
  • In Goshuushou Sama Ninomiya Kun, Ryoko does this to her brother Shungo, Mayu, and Reika. While relaxing at a beach, some heavily armed military soldiers show up and tie them up. Shungo manages to escape with the two girls, and later has Mayu take Reika away somewhere to hide while he tries to slow down the soldiers. In the end, he ends up fighting a masked fighter, and manages to break the mask, which turns out to be his sister, who tells him the whole thing was a test and also for Candid Camera.
  • Done in a strange way in One Piece. In the Jaya arc, Luffy and Zoro help an apparently feeble and sickly old man, Doc Q, onto his equally feeble and sickly horse. As thanks, he offers some apples, which Luffy eagerly accepts. It turns out some of the apples contain detonators which would blow up once bitten into. Luckily, Luffy's apple wasn't a "bad apple." In reality, the doctor had been testing Luffy's luck.
  • In Naruto, part of Gaara's backstory revolves around Gaara being told by his uncle that he was hated by his mother, that the same uncle only pretended to love him, and that he will never be loved by anyone for as long as he lives, all because of the One-Tailed Beast inside him. Turns out they're all complete lies arranged by Gaara's father to see if Gaara could control the beast while "psychologically cornered." Of course, Gaara failed miserably.

The Bible

  • One interpretation, popular among military historians, gives this as the true lesson behind the story of Gideon (Judges, ch. 7). Faced with a superior opponent, Gideon starts with a host of 32,000 men. He begins by asking for volunteers only, which drops him down to 10,000 men. Then he puts them through a grueling march across the desert, at the end of which is an oasis. Most of the men put their faces down to the water, but 300 men scoop up the water in their hands so that they can keep watch while they drink. Those 300 are selected as the most spirited, most disciplined, and most well-conditioned of all his men, and with them Gideon conducts the first Special Forces raid in recorded history: they infiltrate the enemy camp with trumpets and clay jars, surround their sleeping opponents, and proceed to blow their horns and smash their jars. Their opponents are understandably scared to all hell by the utterly weird nature of the attack and rout immediately, where they are slaughtered to a man by a separate blocking force of Israelites. The Bible credits Divine Inspiration for the whole thing, but whether or not you believe it, it's hard not to see the parallels between Gideon's method and modern Special Forces selection.

Comic Books

  • The origin story for Dr. Droom in Amazing Adventures #1 (1961). Doctor Anthony Droom is summoned to the Himalayas (probably Tibet) to treat an ill lama. He is told he won't be paid for his work and is required to walk over hot coals and face a gorlion (half gorilla, half lion). He faces these challenges bravely and finally meets the lama. The lama tells him that he isn't really ill: he put Dr. Droom through all that to find out if he was worthy to take the lama's place in fighting sinister occult forces. Droom decides to accept the lama's offer to replace him. Eventually the character Doctor Droom became Doctor Druid.

Commercials

  • In one, a groom is flirted with by the bride's sister, and offered a "once before you're married" ride. He leaves the house and goes to his car before the rest of the family comes out to applaud his ethics for leaving the way he was. Moral of the story: Always keep your condoms in your glove compartment.

Fairy Tales

  • The Traveler. While looking for a job, a man arrives at an apparently deserted castle. Its dining hall is full of sumptuous food and its luxurious rooms have everything ready for hosting guests. Since he believed that he had not yet performed any job worthy of those luxuries, he is content with eating a simple piece of bread, drinking a glass of water, and sleeping in the cellar. That night, he dreams of a white swan who speaks to him, telling him to put the castle's crown on. The next morning, he does so, and the swan appears and transforms into a beautiful princess. She tells him that, because of his temperance and humility, he has broken the castle's curse and hers; and that, if he wishes, he can become the lord of the castle with her as his wife.

Fan Fiction

  • In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic Fanfic Eternal, Twilight treats the wedding preperations for two of her friends as one, hoping to prove to Princess Celestia that she's perfect. Celestia is horrified when she realizes that's how her Faithful Student's treating it... but doesn't have the heart to correct her, instead offering the praise she hoped for.

Film

  • The Princess Bride: Westley returns and discovers that Buttercup, his True Love, is about to be married to Prince Humperdinck. After he rescues her from her kidnappers (under an alias of the Dread Pirate Roberts), he doesn't reveal his true identity, in the hope of finding out whether or not she still loves Westley, whom he claims to have killed.
  • In The Avengers 1998, Steed invites Mrs. Peel to meet him inside the Boodles club, but doesn't tell her that women aren't allowed inside. He's testing her on her initiative. Note that Mrs. Peel figures out that it's a test.
  • In Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, a purported competitor offering to buy secrets from the children who took the factory tour, was actually a secret test to find Wonka's successor -- the person who wouldn't reveal the secrets in the fact of temptation.
    • Of course, in the original novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the tour itself was the secret test of character.
    • In the movie the tour was also a Secret Test, which all of the children failed, including Charlie (he drank Fizzy Lifting Drinks after being told not to - though, unlike the others, he and Grandpa figured out how to escape the dangerous side effects).
    • It's possible that the fake offers to buy the Everlasting Gobstoppers had their practical side as well. If the child decided to sell the candy, it would go back to Mr. Wonka instead of one of his competitors. Unless, of course, the child or their parents got the idea of auctioning it off to the highest bidder instead...
    • In one particular adaptation, the lifetime supply of chocolate was the booby prize, and Charlie's test was a situation in which he would give in to temptation and never get caught or called on it. He confesses to drinking the Fizzy Lifting Drink and is rewarded for his honesty with the factory.
  • Disney's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Nemo tells Professor Aronnax that he can stay on the Nautilus, but Ned Land and Conseil will be left topside when the ship submerges, leaving them floating on the ocean. Professor Aronnax decides to remain with his friends. Nemo has the Nautilus partially submerged, but then surfaces again and tells his second in command "I found out what I wanted to know.". Later he talks with Professor Aronnax.

 Arronax: I am still curious as to the reason you spared our lives.

Nemo: In your case, I wanted to test your loyalty to your companions. I may have use for such misplaced devotion...It comforts me to know that your life was not too dear a price to pay for the love of your fellow man.

  • V for Vendetta. V tests Evey's resolve by putting her through starvation, torture and death threats in what appears to be a government concentration camp but is really his basement. Subverted when he reveals the truth and she responds by packing her bags.
  • The backstory of the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast involves a rare failure of such a test. The prince was turned into a beast as punishment for refusing to shelter an old beggar woman (actually a beautiful sorceress in disguise) on a cold night.
  • Undercover Brother. Sista Girl confronts the title character in his apartment and points a gun at him to test his courage. He says "If you're going to shoot me, shoot me", thus passing the test.
  • In Men in Black, J's idiosyncratic responses to the entrance tests earn him the scorn of the other applicants and appear to be ruining his chances, but in the end he's the only successful applicant, with the implication that initiative and out-of-the-box thinking were what the tests were looking for all along. The novelisation has K explicitly saying that J's decisions in the target-shooting test were the correct ones.
  • In Captain America the First Avenger, the Colonel throws a grenade into the middle of the group of soldiers. The group scattered, except for Steve Rogers, who threw himself on the grenade to protect everyone else. It turns out to have been a dummy grenade, causing the Colonel to grudgingly admit that he was the right choice to receive the Super Soldier Serum.

Literature

  • Robert A. Heinlein liked this kind of thing and used it in several stories.
    • In the short story "Space Jockey", spaceship pilots are monitored to make sure they are psychologically stable. A space pilot is bothered by a "stupid tourist" who is secretly a psychiatrist to determine his state of mind before a flight.
    • In Farmer in the Sky, William Lermer wants to emigrate to Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons. When he goes in to talk to a psychiatrist for a psych test, he's kept waiting and two clerks harass and insult him, but Lermer manages to keep calm. He later finds out that the clerks were psychometricians and there were a camera and microphone on him recording what happened. He was being tested to see whether he could keep his temper when provoked.
    • Exactly the same thing happens to the hero of John Scalzi's Old Man's War as he "waits" for his military enlistment psych exam. There the purpose is actually to gather his emotional states in preparation for the body-swap process. (The test administrator is trained in unarmed combat in case of emergency.)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society recruits children using a pencil-and-paper test combined with a series of Secret Tests. For example, the test requires everyone to bring exactly one pencil. On the way to the test, each child meets a girl who has dropped her pencil down a grating. The main characters each try to help her in different ways: Kate manages to MacGyver a way to retrieve the pencil, while Reynie simply breaks his own pencil in half and sharpens the broken end. This is combined with a Secret Test of Character when the girl (who's actually a plant working for Mr. Benedict) offers each of them a cheat sheet.
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester has one of these. Potential telepaths are told to wait in a room for an interview. The minder at the front is a telepath broadcasting the thought "If you can hear this, go through the door on your left..." (or right, or whatever it was).
  • In Lords of the Bow, Chen Yi once paid a boatman to offer Quishan safe passage away from Baotou, shortly after Quishan became a slave to Chen Yi to pay off a debt. Quishan refused out of honour - good thing too, as he would have had his throat slit if he said yes.
  • In the Hand of Thrawn duology, Talon Karrde has a green new crewmember stationed on deck when he comes out of hyperspace next to his ally Booster Terrick's ship, Errant Venture. The Errant Venture is a captured Star Destroyer revamped into, basically, a luxury liner, but there's no way to tell just by looking at it that it's not part of a trap. After she realizes that no one's preparing for combat and that this really isn't a trap, she gets angry at her boss, telling him that she does not like to be made into a human joke. Karrde indirectly tells her that this is a way of testing how she reacts to sudden shocks, and she passed - she froze for a moment, her fur puffed out, but she recovered quickly. Karrde's new bodyguard observes after she's gone that he probably does this a lot, and this crewmember left something that the others probably didn't - claw marks.
  • In Lord of the Clans, Thrall finally meets the surviving members of the Frostwolf clan. They treat him badly, refuse to train him as a shaman and assign him menial and degrading tasks. When he eventually objects loudly, they explain that true orcs refuse to be slaves and accept him as their heir.
  • In The Confidence Man, every conversation the eponymous character has with another passenger on the steamboat is this. He challenges their morals and confidence while conning each one of them out of money... and he's either God or Satan testing them.
  • In Isaac Asimov's short story "Profession", the main character George is put in a House for the Feeble-minded in a future where everyone is assigned a job and Educated (that is, their minds are filled with information from learning tapes) except for the "feeble-minded". It was really a test - if he protested being labelled feeble-minded and tried to escape the House, it proved he was gifted with the ability of original thought and therefore a cornerstone of human society.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Abbey Grange", Holmes learns that the murderer was acting in self defence, and to protect the victim's wife. He offers to give the man time to escape before telling the police, to which he angrily refuses, because that would leave the woman in the lurch. Holmes then says "I was only testing you, and you ring true every time," and doesn't tell the police at all.
  • On the Warrior Cats series' official iOS app, it mentions that when Squirrelflight and Leafpool were kits, Squirrelkit put fire ants in her sister's bedding. Their mother, Sandstorm, knew she'd done that, and that night she announced that the two would be switching nests. She really meant for Squirrelkit to say she didn't want to switch nests, to confess to what she'd done, but Squirrelkit didn't say a word, choosing instead to spend the night being bitten by ants. Sandstorm, while disappointed that Squirrelkit didn't confess and apologize, admired her daughter's stubbornness and determination.
  • An issue of MAD Magazine once posted a parody ad: "Psychic Wanted: If you are for real then you already know who I am, what I want, and what number to call me at."

Live Action TV

  • The Outer Limits TOS episode "Nightmare": A group of soldiers invading the planet Ebon are captured and tortured for information by the Ebonites. They eventually learn that the situation is a set-up by their own superiors to test their ability to resist interrogation, with the cooperation of the Ebonites (who eventually protest the unethical nature of the test).
    • This is a fictional depiction of the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training U.S. troops go through, but in Real Life the troops know it's simulated.
    • The Remake redoes this episode, except they never left Earth, and their job wasn't to invade, but to plant a bomb, which since they were the builders of the bomb had to be the real one. So They Win.
  • Lost episode Hearts and Minds features Locke knocking Boone out and then feeding him some self-made drugs in order for him to have a spiritual journey. Boone isn't exactly pleased with it at first, but eventually comes to understand the purpose.
  • Star Trek
    • Star Trek: The Original Series
      • "The Corbomite Maneuver". Balok allows the Enterprise to break free of his control and sends out a fake distress signal to determine their real intentions, as the information in the Enterprise's memory banks could have been faked.
      • "Patterns of Force". The Ekosian Resistance sets up a fake Nazi attack to make sure the Enterprise crew members aren't Nazis.
      • "Catspaw". Korob tells Kirk, Spock and McCoy that they have passed his tests of loyalty, bravery and immunity to bribery.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Let He Who Is Without Sin": A group of terrorists burst into a room on the planet Risa and threaten the occupants. Shortly thereafter it's revealed that the whole attack was a hoax carried out by members of the New Essentialists Movement, who are trying to test the Risans' reaction to violence and prove the Federation's lack of preparedness.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Big Bang", the Doctor refuses to take the time to save Amy because, he says, she "isn't more important than the whole universe." The plastic Rory punches him and insists that she IS more important, whereupon the Doctor welcomes him back and helps revive Amy. Apparently his callous refusal to rescue his companion is a test to ensure that Rory is completely on his side.
    • In "The End of the World," Cassandra makes a hilariously hasty attempt to invoke this trope after her villainous plan is exposed to the people who were supposed to have been killed by it. "So! Well done, you've passed my little test, bravo. This makes you eligible to join the, the, uh, uh, the Human Club."
  • In the Caprica episode "Blowback," Lucy Rand and a bunch of STO recruits are sent off to a training camp when the shuttle is attacked and hi-jacked by anti-STO zealots. They threaten to kill everybody who doesn't renounce the "one true God." But, lo and behold, it was actually a Secret Test, and those who hold onto their monotheistic beliefs in the face of death pass. Lucy takes the third option and fights off her captors. This impresses her Mentor.
  • Scrubs. Early in the series, after the Janitor removes a penny from an elevator door that prevented it from closing, he accuses J.D. of dropping the penny. In the Series Fauxnale of Scrubs, the Janitor claims that when he first met J.D. he knew he accidentally dropped the penny. The Janitor was testing him to see if he'd admit it, and he has been tormenting J.D. for eight years, not because he was mad about the actual penny but because it was a test of character that J.D. failed, thus causing him to lose the Janitor's respect. Of course, this is the Janitor, so he's probably just lying out his ass again.
  • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "Valley of the Shadow". A newspaper reporter learns too much and is taken prisoner by the inhabitants of the title valley. An attractive woman sets him free and he takes advantage of this to steal their secrets, killing several of them in the process. After he escapes with the girl, she turns on him, revealing that the whole set-up was a test of his worthiness to know the information. He failed.
  • In Firefly, at the end of the episode "Ariel." Jayne tried to sell Simon and River out to the Feds, which Mal figures out. He knocks Jayne unconscious and threatens to throw him out the airlock, but relents at the last second, because Jayne, accepting his fate, asks him just not to tell the crew why he's dead. Mal hadn't intended a Secret Test, but it turns out that caring what the crew thinks of him changes how Mal sees him enough to save his life. This is helpfully explained by Book at the beginning of the next episode, when quoting the words of the Warrior Poet Xiang Yu.

 Book: Live with a man for forty years. Share his meals, and speak with him on every subject. Then, tie him up, and drag him to the rim of the volcano. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.

  • In the second season of The Wire, Stringer Bell sends some guys to go get a rental car that supposedly has a shipment of drugs in it. After the guys pick the car up, there are no drugs and the guys must report to Stringer on what happened. The guys go to Stringer and tell him their stories. Stringer then reveals that it was a test to see how they would react, which seems meaningless after it's put into perspective.

Music

  • The classic folk song trope - girl and lover part before war. He finds her after, bewailing that her love has gone to war and not returned. She doesn't (for plot reasons) recognize him, tells him her sad tale, swears she'll go to her grave unwed. Cue joyful reunion. See "Claudy Banks", "Plains of Waterloo" and a whole slew of others
  • Kate Bush's "Babooshka"

Mythology

  • Older Than Feudalism: At the end of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Yudhisthira arrives at the gates of heaven, accompanied by a dog. He is told that he can enter, but the dog must be left behind. During the journey to said gates, all of Yudhisthira's siblings had perished, presumably for being not worthy to enter heaven, except the dog. After all that they'd been through together, Yudhisthira refuses to abandon the dog, and turns away from heaven, then the fact that it was a Secret Test of Character is revealed.
    • In a variation on the story, Yudhisthira rejects paradise and chooses the underworld; with the Secret Test of Character being the realization that both paradise and the underworld are illusions, and rejection of that illusion is the final step toward Nirvana.
  • This trope also appears in a number of other myths worldwide.
  • The Swedish folk tale Which Is Which? has a King discover his long-lost son, who with another boy survived a ship wreck and was raised by a fisherman. The wisemen debate how to discover the true prince, and give both boys fine robes and send them off to enjoy the city for a week. One boy gets his robe muddy, soaked, burnt, and torn while helping people; the other boy locks himself in his room for the week. Back in court, the wisemen declare that the one boy obviously thought of nothing but himself and his fine clothes, while the other boy thought of other people and would make the better king. The king accepts the better boy with the words "My son, my son!" This may seem like Values Dissonance (royal blood is automatically noble?), but then again, the Q&A section asks whether he found the true Prince, or merely selected the one who would make the better King.
    • Lost princes and princesses raised by other people being identified as lost royalty by their looks or manners, even if they went missing right after birth, isn't a wholly unknown concept in folk and fairy tales. Many of which can probably be traced back to times when people would have readily agreed that yes, royal blood should automatically make you noble (in both senses of the word, Real Life evidence to the contrary notwithstanding). See, again, Values Dissonance.
    • Portrayed in the Arabian Nights miniseries (and hence, probably, the source material), the Sultan swaps places with an unwitting beggar who, once he gets over the shock of his new identity, takes earnestly to ruling all of Araby, rather than doing stupid practical jokes like the regular Sultan. For about a week, every time the man falls asleep, the Sultan transforms him back and forth between a beggar and king just for the Mind Screw. When the true Sultan is accidentally slain (by the beggar thinking he has gone mad and stabbing a curtain that the king is behind laughing at him), his advisers perpetuate the ruse indefinitely, favoring the newer and more responsible regent.
  • In The Iliad, Agamemnon tests the Greek army by pretending to be weary of fighting and ordering them to pack up and leave.

Poetry

  • In The Nut-Brown Maid, her lover tells her that he's been outlawed and outlines his perilous life ahead; she persists in saying that she will go with him, "For, in my mind, of all mankind/I love but you alone."; finally, he reveals that he made it up and is, in fact, an earl's son.

Tabletop RPG

  • Dangerous Journeys - Mythus main rulebook, adventure "High Time at the Winged Pig". The PCs go to an inn to interview with a merchant for jobs. It's actually a setup: all of the occupants in the inn are there to play out various scenarios to test the PCs and find out if they have appropriate personalities to be the merchant's employees.
  • Top Secret/SI adventure The Final Weapon. The PCs are relaxing in a hospital while undergoing their annual physicals or recuperating. Suddenly the hospital is attacked by commandos and the PCs can't find find any weaponry to fight them. They must overcome the attackers and disarm a bomb, only to have their boss appear and tell them it was just a training exercise. The Admininstrator (game master) is told to cheat to make sure that none of the NPC "commandos" is killed by the PCs during the session.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation Tabletop RPG. According to the Starfleet Academy supplement, applicants to and cadets at the Academy are regularly given Secret Tests to determine if they belong in Starfleet, including being lied to by Academy personnel. In Real Life, even reasonable people in that situation would either:
    • (a) start worrying that everything that happened was such a test.
    • (b) stop trusting anything they were told by Academy personnel unless they could verify it.
    • (c) get so annoyed at being regularly lied to by people they're supposed to trust that they quit, or
    • (d) decide that a life-threatening situation was "just another test" and not take it seriously, causing people to get killed.
  • Dungeons and Dragons
    • Basic D&D adventure X11 Saga of the Shadowlord. The cloud giant Azor gives a PC a potion which he claims is a potion of Animal Control. If the PC drinks it in hope of charming the giant's guard wolves, he'll discover that it's actually a powerful sleeping potion.

Theater

  • In Macbeth, Malcolm claims he might be a worse king than Macbeth, because he is so full of lust and greed. Macduff reacts with consternation, but then Malcolm tells him it's all a lie and in fact he's the most virtuous Boy Scout in Scotland. It's not completely clear, but it is possible Malcolm is testing Macduff to make sure his first allegiance is to the benefit of Scotland.
    • Malcolm suspects that Macduff may be an agent of Macbeth trying to lure him back to Scotland and into a trap. If that were the case, he would expect Macduff to respond along the lines of "It doesn't matter how bad you are; come back anyway." Instead, Macduff exclaims, "Alas, poor Scotland!" signaling to Malcolm that Macduff's goal is to save his country, not simply to bring back Malcolm.
    • According to one interpretation, Macbeth himself may have been subject to such a test. The witches' prophecy told him that he would first become Thane of Cawdor, and then king hereafter. However they didn't tell him how or when he would become king. They did not convince him to plot with Lady Macbeth to murder king Duncan, they did not place daggers into his hands, and they did not force him to commit the deed and cover it up. He did all that on his own, out of his own free will. If the prophecy had been truly inevitable, Macbeth could just as easily have sat back and rested on his laurels until it happened on its own. Needless to say, he failed the test of character. Big time.
      • One interpretation is that he actually did expect to be named Prince of Cumberland (Duncan's heir): that's why he acts so shocked when Duncan actually names his son, Malcolm. (In Real Life, the throne of Scotland was not hereditary: the king was expected to pick a successor from the senior noblemen of the kingdom. As a victorious general, Macbeth would have expected to be in the running. Being passed over for the king's young son must have been a huge shock.)
  • Rossini's opera La Cenerentola, which is a much fleshed-out re-telling of the Cinderella story. Alidoro, the tutor of the prince, dresses himself in rags and comes to the house of Don Magnifico. His two daughters send him away, but his step-daughter Cenerentola takes pity on him and offer him food. Alidoro thinks this girl is right for the prince, and so offers to doll her up for the royal ball.

Video Games

  • In the "Merlin's Crystal" quest in Runescape, there's a portion where the Player Character visits the Lady of the Lake in a quest to find Excalibur. She instructs you to visit a jewelry shop. On your way, you're approached by a beggar who asks you for food. If you give him a loaf of bread, he reveals himself as the Lady of the Lake in disguise and tells you that you've proven yourself to be generous and pure of heart and thus worthy of wielding Excalibur.
  • In Baldur's Gate 2, Korgan Bloodaxe will constantly berate Aerie, who will eventually bail out of the party. In the Expansion Pack, Aerie will eventually insult him straight back, at which point Korgan tells her that he was trying to see if she'd develop a backbone and now that she has, he's OK with her.
  • In Dark Cloud 2, Max has been looking forward to the circus for a long time. He treasures his ticket and finishes all his chores at the workshop just to make it on time! But then a filthy, shoeless street urchin steals his ticket! After chasing the kid all over the town square, he finally catches up and gets his ticket back... only to give it back to the child, because he can see just how much that poor, homeless kid wants to see the circus too. Turns out, this was actually Monica Raybrandt, princess from 100 years into the future, testing Max's heart as the wielder of the Earth Atlamillia.
    • The official fanbook pokes fun at this by having Max Take a Third Option... and photocopy the ticket. Monica sulks away, dejected at this turn of events.
  • In the end of the last Dark Brotherhood story arc quest in The Elder Scrolls IV The Night Mother reveals that she knew who the traitor was all along but refrained from telling anyone because she wanted to see if her followers could figure it out on their own. They failed the test. Badly.

Web Comics

  • Baron Wulfenbach of Girl Genius enjoys using these on his son, the first one we see involving an analysis of an apparently important but ultimately non-working invention of his to see if Gil was sure enough of his own skills as a Spark to point out that his overlord father made a mistake. He gives these often enough that Gil tends to asks his father with an annoyed tone if an unexpected occurrence was actually one of his little tests for him.
  • Subverted in College Roomies from Hell. When it's clear that Dave won't become Vernon's assassin, Vernon tries and fails to convince him of the morality of killing "evil" people in cold blood. This is a test to make sure Dave is Not Worth Killing; Dave, however, sees through it, gives the "right" answers...and incinerates Vernon the minute he gets loose.
  • Misfile, Ash's father has Rumisiel re-roof his house and dig a new leach field for the septic tank as a test of how long it would take Rumi to blow it off. Subverted in that if Cassiel had not distracted him by claiming a threat to Ash's life then Rumi would have completed those tasks. A possible more meta example is that Rumisiel's handling of the misfile itself may be a secret test by his superiors in heaven, but this remains a fan theory pending Word of God either way.
  • In Dominic Deegan, the titular seer's cruise vacation turned out to be one of these. Rilian tested Dominic and Luna through their interactions with the different people they met with, and if Dominic had failed any of the tests, Rilian was prepared to kill him on the spot rather than risking Dominic going through a psychotic Mindbreak.
  • In No Rest for The Wicked, November meets an old beggar woman. She gives her some of her food the first time she asks, and then the second, but the third, she gets angry. As a consequence, the old woman both gives her the information about The Quest and curses her.
  • Ki of General Protection Fault contacts Nick, whom she has a crush on, under the alias Pookel and starts a brief cyber-relationship with him, setting up a date at the movie theater with his online alias and claiming to have been stood up by her date when she meets him. She eventually gets together with him in real life without telling him about Pookel, and contacts him as Pookel to see if he's loyal to her, and he tells Pookel that they should be Just Friends, showing that he is. He later finds out that she is Pookel, and is initially angry that she did not tell him, but forgives her.
  • In Megatokyo, when Meimi calls out to Yuki that Kobayashi is on the phone (she specifically calls him her boyfriend), Masamichi goes absolutely nuts, grabs the phone, and begins to verbally thrash, threaten, and overall act just plain nasty. Over the course of three pages. He states everything from how heavily he could have the poor guy monitored to asking him if he knows how much concrete he buys a month. He may not look too pleased in the end, but he finally begrudgingly heads up to Yuki's room and hands her the phone.

  Masamichi: He didn't hang up.

  • In City of Reality, an immigrant has to pass a test in order to be accepted into the City of Reality. The test, however, is actually made while the immigrants are queuing and waiting for the test to begin. Will they help the crying child? Are they polite when speking to strangers etc. (thecityofreality.com - Chapter 5-2: Do You Believe in Magic? Part 2)

Western Animation

  • Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Magicks of Megas-Tu". The Megans tell Captain Kirk that Lucien, the Megan who helped the Enterprise crew earlier, must be punished for betraying his people. Captain Kirk risks death to help Lucien, after which the Megans tell him that they were testing him to make sure humans could be trusted.
  • One Family Guy episode has Peter grilling a potential boyfriend of Meg's, asking a series of personal questions. The final question he asks is whether the boyfriend has ever done a particular masturbation technique (the stranger). Since the boyfriend answers honestly, Peter responds, "Not anymore you don't, you're dating my daughter!"
  • Parodied in an episode of American Dad, where Stan's boss Bullock claims that all his Jerkass behavior was just a test to see if Stan could stand up to him. In truth, Bullock really was just a huge Jerkass and came up with the whole test thing at the last minute to keep Stan from killing him.
  • In Recess, the episode in which the cast found a note worth a large amount of money on the ground (for a child, that is; remember ever finding a $20, $50, or even a $100 bill as a kid?). Rather than keep it like they all initially wanted to, they decided to try to find the real owner of the bill. They do, and T.J returns it, only to be apparently told to leave. Assuming they made the wrong decision by giving it back to someone who didn't seem that appreciative of it, he comes back and tells them, only for the person to come out on a jet-pack and explain he did it all the time. And of course, the gang was the only one to actually return it to him.
  • On The Simpsons, when Marge reacts with horror to Dr Hibbert suggesting she could sell one of her children, he says "That was a test. If you had responded in any other way, you'd be in jail now." He isn't totally convincing.

Real Life

  • A story: A job for a telegraph operator opens up. Many people come in to apply, but nobody ever calls them in for an interview, so they just sit in the waiting area listening to the tap-tap-tap of Morse code in the background. Finally, one man comes in, sits a few minutes, then gets up and goes to speak with the staff on his own. The other applicants are then told to go home, the position has been filled. The Morse code in the background? It was repeating the message "If you are able to understand this, come and speak to us, the job's yours."
  • One of the most famous real-life examples was Van Halen's way of making sure the technical specifications of their performance contracts were being read and followed: it also called for them to be provided with a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones removed. If there were brown M&Ms in the bowl, it was a quick sign that the venue didn't take the other specifications seriously, and they would always find other problems.
  • Henry Ford allegedly pulled these on job applicants by taking them out to lunch and ordering soup for them. If the applicant added salt to the soup before tasting it, Ford wouldn't hire them: the test was to see if they were the kind of person who would personally check on situations before making decisions about them... Naturally there are a hundred ways this could give a false positive, but hey, Ford could afford to be stringent.
  • The old joke, told in the first person: "I was coming over to meet my fiancee's family for dinner, but as soon as I got in the door I ran into her gorgeous younger sister wearing a towel. She told me that she had always found me hot and wanted to make good on her last chance before I married her sister. Then she dropped the towel and left for her room, motioning for me to follow. I immediately turned to exit the front door and ran into the rest of her family on the front porch. They told me that they had to be sure I wouldn't stray. Now they could feel totally comfortable letting me marry their daughter. Moral of the story: Always keep your condoms in the glove box."
  • Zhao Gao, the corrupt/evil prime minister of the Qin dynasty once brought a deer before the Emperor and began to describe it as the most wondrous stallion in all of China. Most of the officials played along, but a few call continued to call the deer, a deer. Zhao Gao then had everyone who told the truth executed for being too honest and not pliable enough. The story was referenced in a Chinese idiom (指鹿为马) to describe a overly transparent attempt to misrepresent something
    • This is also the origin (at least, a very similar tale) for the word "baka", which if you were to look at the kanji, are the symbols for "horse" and "deer".
  • There is an old joke like this. It starts off saying "a man and his talking donkey are going to X location." Then it just repeats "after 10 miles, the donkey says 'are we there yet?' and the man replies 'patience, jackass, patience.'" Obviously, if somebody asks when the joke ends, you say "patience, jackass, patience."
  • Honest Tea did an experiment in major US cities where they would place cases of their products out with a sign saying $1 each (a great price for it too). They set cameras on it and left it out on the honor system. At the end of the day they counted the money against the amount of product taken. Boston (93.3%) and Washington DC (93%) were the "Most Honest" while Chicago (78%) and Los Angeles (75%) were the worst.
    • A small company in Washington, DC, did something similar in that they left bagels with cream cheese and cash boxes out in various businesses with a little sign asking people to pay one dollar per bagel. They owner made quite a profit. He kept extensive records of how different companies treated him, and they were reviewed extensively by the economist Stephen Levitt in his academic papers and his book Freakonomics. In general, the stats showed: 1) small companies were more honest than large ones, 2) certain holidays (like Christmas) drove up theft, while others (July 4th) drove it down, 3) executives stole more than lower-ranked professional employees, 4) 9-11 caused a large decrease in theft, especially among defense-related companies, and 5) overall, payment hovered near 90%. So when faced with the Secret Test of Character, about 90% of the time, a Washington office worker is good for a buck.
  • Some TV programs/groups/magazines have done an "honesty test" by leaving wallets out in the open and seeing if the person who finds it returns it or not. The magazine Reader's Digest did this once worldwide, and commented that people who looked like they needed the money often returned the wallet (the most notable case being a person so poor that he went through dumpsters to find bottles to sell who nonetheless returned the wallet, saying that he thought it might have belonged to a handicapped person who needed the money more than he did) whereas people who looked rich enough to not need the money often didn't return the wallet. A real-life case of Screw the Rules, I Have Money?
    • Power corrupts, and corruption empowers.
      • Apparently pizza delivery drivers prefer delivering to the less affluent parts of town because they're considerably more likely to receive a tip.
      • In the Netherlands, there's a holiday on November eleventh', much like Halloween, when children go around with lanterns, sing songs, and get candy. Most children like walking around the poorer parts of town more, because the people over there often give more candy than the rich people.
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