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File:Gn string theory 2736.jpg

Roger: Look, there's coded messages everywhere! In the New York Times, on the Internet, even in Catcher in the Rye.

Steve: Well, you did use an awful lot of string...
American Dad, "Bush Comes to Dinner"

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

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

Subtrope of Room Full of Crazy.

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

Examples of String Theory include:


Film


Literature

  • Control by Victor Suvorov had the protagonist doing it as a part of her job in the secret Secret Police, to track power groups within party, NKVD etc. First with photos on a stand connected by threads of relations, then she removed them all and remade as one interconnected web of small thumbnails all over several walls. It worked, though not as expected: a few bosses living in one city turned out not to interact -- never met informally, nor even tried to bring each other down. Wherefore Hilarity Ensues. The author was in military intelligence, after all.


Live Action TV

  • Heroes, possibly to the point of being the Trope Codifier with both Mohinder's map of specials, and Future Hiro's map of all time.
  • Flash Forward, blatantly following in Heroes' footsteps with Mark's Blackout wall. A case could be made for D. Gibbon's "Garden of Forking Paths" as well.
    • Mark's wall turns out to be the key to determining the time of the next blackout.
  • Star Trek: Voyager, Time Fleet and the "Year of Hell" aliens has an automated version of this to keep up with their monkeying in the timescape.
  • Chuck, when he is keeping data of the Intersect and Orion on the back of his Tron Poster. Granted, it's in marker, but it's the thought that counts.
  • The Lost Room has a couple maps of the objects, including how they supposedly relate to one another, and where they have been.
  • The Major Crimes unit in The Wire tends to have a pegboard like this for each of their main targets. Unlike many of these examples, it's actually realistically and sensibly organized, with strings connecting people based on their positions in the drug organization's hierarchy.
  • CSI has one. It was once Played for Drama in the episode "The Case Of The Cross-dressing Carp" when the mother of a victim saw one of the victims' friends (a scientist who was investigating the cause of the water contamination which caused the condition that caused him to be Driven to Suicide) connected to him via a line and wrongly assumed he was a suspect and shot him ending any chance of his work being used to prosecute the Corrupt Corporate Executive responsible for the water contamination.
  • Sam and Dean occasionally put these up in their motel rooms in Supernatural, which seems like a lot of effort for something you're going to have to take down in a few days.
  • New Tricks has one. Most episodes have a few scenes with the main characters sat around and one of them explaining what they've just discovered. They once discovered that a retired fireman who was helping them was an arsonist when they realised he would have been able to find his targets after seeing their board.
  • In~It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia~, Charlie does one of these when he believes he's uncovered a corporate conspiracy while working in the mail room.
  • Kamen Rider Double uses these in a meta sense; the second episode of each mini-arc starts off with a "corkboard" that shows the characters from the first episode and how they connect. Then Movie Wars CORE shows the origin of the corkboard in-universe.
  • Nick sets up one of these in Primeval, trying to track the various anomalies across time and space. Later, the characters discover a heavily upgraded holographic version of his chart brought from the future.
  • Supernatural presents a beautiful example of a string theory during the first season's first episode. The main character's missing father was investigating on a Woman in White, using his motel room's wall to externalize his deductive reasoning.
  • The episode of Castle, "Linchpin", briefly displayed a room that looked very much like the page image, as belonging to a statistics genius - the strings started at one murder, the branches were cause and effects, and they converged on World War Three at the other side.
  • Charlie Crews on Life has an entire room dedicated to finding out who framed him for murder.


Tabletop Games

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


Video Games

  • In Bioshock, Andrew Ryan has one of these in his office as an aid in figuring out who Jack is and why he's survived this whole time.
  • Captain Price sets up one of these in Modern Warfare 3 to track down Makarov. After Soap's death, part of it doubles as a Shrine to the Fallen.


Western Animation

  • The Question has one of these in Justice League Unlimited.
  • Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Jimmy has one of these going for alien encounters, specifically involving those with the Omnitrix ensignia.
  • In the American Dad episode "Bush Comes to Dinner," Roger determines Osama bin Laden's location by studying a variety of popular media which he's hung all over his attic. Cue the page quote.
  • In Megamind, Roxanne finds Megamind's plan lain out in one of these, but can't understand it at first. When she backs up for some perspective, she sees that the strings, rather than holding information, form a picture of the plan.


Webcomics

  • In one Questionable Content strip, when Faye is trying to explain the main character's relationships to one another, her therapist stops her so she can get thumbtacks and colored string and diagram everything.


Real Life

  • This is actually a decent way to demonstrate a relationship diagram for a database.
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