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Something important is locked. There is a key. However, this key is inside. You need the key to reach the key.
While this trope can be Played for Laughs with trivial situations such as locking your car keys in the car, many works that use it choose to employ it in a far more dramatic manner. The hero is on a quest to find the key, eventually finding some other way to reach what he needed the key for - and then he finds out that his initial quest was futile; the key was inside all along.
Anime & Manga
- In one episode of Cardcaptor Sakura, Tomoyo has been trapped in a classroom as Eriol messed with the floor plan as a test for Sakura. Sakura needs to find her, and Syaoran says he has a magical technique that can locate lost people, provided she has left an object behind. (Not unlike a dog using scent, except it works off auras/energy signatures.) Tomoyo did have an umbrella...but it's with her in the very classroom they're trying to locate.
- In the Donald Duck story "Sagmore Springs Hotel", Donald, as a Hotel Manager, accidentally locks the combination to the hotel safe inside the safe. In his attempts to open it, he ends up devastating the entire hotel and destroying his uncle's important cheque.
Film -- Animated
- In The Simpsons Movie, Prof. Frink has invented a drill that could cut through the dome and free them all. "It's right there, out...side the dome."
Film -- Live Action
- In Back to The Future, Marty is locked in a car trunk, along with the keys to the trunk.
- A similar moment happens in The Whole Ten Yards.
Lazlo: You locked my son in the trunk?
Oz: No! No, sir. He locked himself in the trunk.
Lazlo: [pause] This I believe.
- In the Hugga Bunch Made for TV Movie, the villainess, Queen Admira, stays young by eating young berries, which grow on a tree she keeps locked under a glass dome. When the heroine comes to take some young berries for her grandmother, Admira catches her in the act. In her hurry to leave, the heroine accidentally leaves the key for the dome on the ground by the tree, and as the dome descends, Admira lunges toward the key, but is too late.
- In Little Monsters the heroes are trapped in a locked room by the villain. After MacGyvering a way for Maurice to be reduced to a pile of clothes and slid under the door It Makes Sense in Context, once on the other side he says:
Maurice: Any of you freaks know how to pick a combination lock?
- Although he's simply joking and opens the door a second later.
- In Blå Tornet, the Guardian has been sleeping on the High Altar for over a thousand years. There are a lot of prophecies about how a chosen one will one day wake him. In the meantime, one of the worst blasphemy someone can do is to touch The Guardians holy sleeping body. It turns out that they artifact needed to wake the Guardian is in fact inside the altar: Only a blasphemer can heal the horrible wrong that happened so long ago, and lead the civilization back on the quest the creators had originally intended.
- There's a recurring gag in the Discworld novel Thief of Time about "opening the box with the crowbar you will find inside".
- Also, in Jingo the Bursar has locked himself in the Unseen University safe and taken the key with him. "It's not even as if there's a keyhole on the inside".
- In Going Postal, Vetinari plays mind games with condemned criminals--if they use the spoon they get with their gruel to try and dig a stone block out of the wall as part of an escape attempt (ruining the spoon in the process), they finally pull the block out only to find a little alcove behind with a shiny new spoon in it.
- A fairly standard situation in the Locked Room Mystery is for the police to have to break into the Locked Room, because the key is inside with the deceased.
- Subverted in a short story by Isaac Asimov, where people are searching for an uranium asteroid an illegal miner found, and due to the miners dying in an accident, all they have is a statement by a silicon based alien that the coordinates are "on the asteroid" (the alien died right after saying that). In the end it turns out that the alien wasn't good in astronomy, and the coordinates were actually on the ship - hidden among the registration codes of the equipment.
- Happens in Corner Gas. Hank had a combination lock that stored the lock's combination.
- Then there was the time he locked his keys in his truck, and didn't notice that his passenger side window was down.
- That happens in an episode of Get Smart too, regarding the wall safe in the Chief's office.
Chief: Have you got the new combination, Max?
Max: New combination?
Chief: Yes, according to standard security procedures we changed the combination yesterday. Do you have it?
Max: Well, I didn't memorize it, but I had the usual three copies made.
Chief: Where are they?
Max: I burned them.
Chief: Oh, yes. Of course. Do you have the Master Copy?
Max: No I don't, Chief. But I put it in a place where no one will get it.
Chief: Where, Max?
Max looks at the wall safe.
- In an episode of Caroline in The City, Del and Charlie get trapped in Del's car due to a snow plow and Charlie accidentally locking the keys in the trunk instead of an ice scraper.
- One strip of The Far Side had a pair of aliens trapped on Earth. As a crowd of curious humans approaches them, one of them says to the other "Well, here they come. You locked the keys inside, you do the talking."
- This is basically what makes some deals of solitaire Unwinnable. If the cards onto which you'd need to move a face-up card all happen to be face down behind it, then they might as well be keys on the wrong side of a locked door.
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, there's one locked treasure chest whose only key, you are told, is inside the chest, and you can never open it. Fortunately you can drag it with you until you find a master lockpicker.
- In Adventure, on the hardest difficulty, the items were distributed in a kind-of-random manner, which occasionally resulted in the gold key being locked in the gold castle.
- In Zork: Grand Inquisitor, there is a glass box ("In case of adventure, break glass") containing a spell scroll, a sword and a hammer. It can be easily opened, but the clamp holding the sword will not let go. The obvious solution is to open the box, take the hammer, close the box, break glass. Then the clamp lets go and you can take the sword.
- In the NES port of Metal Gear 1987, the keycard required to enter Building No. 4 is inside the building itself. This requires Snake to get captured on purpose in order to get inside said building.
- A similar situation occurs in Snakes Revenge when the player reaches the entrance of the first enemy base. Only this time it's one of Snake's comrades who allows himself to get captured, so that Snake can sneak in undetected.
- The first level of Mystery of Time and Space has the key in the keyhole on the other side of the locked door. To get it, you have to slide a poster underneath the door and then push something small enough through the keyhole to make the key drop onto the poster, which you can then retrieve.
- The Interactive Fiction game Savoir Faire has one locked door where you can see the key through the keyhole. The solution to unlocking this door is more creative than the usual ones, due to the game world's Functional Magic which lets you "link" similar things to each other so that doing something to one of them will similarly affect the other: link the key to your sword (it's ornate enough to allow the link) and then turn your sword in its sheath. Voila, an unlocked door!
- Starship Titanic has a circular version - in order to obtain a hammer, you need to press a button with a long stick. However, in order to obtain a long stick behind glass, you must break the glass with a hammer. Fortunately, there's a parrot perch that you can use in place of the long stick.
- Ratchet and Clank has a similar circular version in the second game, on one planet there is a wrench upgrade in a glass case with a 'use rock to break glass' note attached, nearby in another glass case there is a rock with a 'use wrench to break glass' note. As clank tries to figure out the puzzle ratchet just smashes the wrench case with his current wrench and takes it.
- Zoë's first line in Sluggy Freelance is "Help! I need a phone! I locked my keys in the car with the engine running!" This is also referenced later when she temporarily moves to a place with normal people. (Oh, and Clem.)
- Parodied in the Family Guy episode "Petarded", where a cutaway shows one incident where Peter locked his keys out of the car, trapping himself inside...wait, what?!
- In one version of the backstory for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Prince Adam was questing with Teela for what would later become his magic sword. Wielding this sword was the only way to enter Castle Grayskull. And yes, the sword was inside the castle.
- In a cartoon episode of Lucky Luke, the usual criminal Dalton Brothers were trying to be honest, and to have a honest work, they open their own bank. At one point Averell Dalton is commanded to open the safe, but he can't remember where the key is, so he opens the safe with dynamite. It turns out that the key is inside, and Averell closed it in there "for safety". Joe Dalton is not amused.
- The doors of many apartments and hotel rooms behave like most padlocks: The key isn't necessary to lock them (simply closing them is enough), making it very easy to lock the keys inside.
- Many cars avert this by making the front doors require the key to be locked from the outside (by disabling the "lock while open" feature). One can still lock self out using the back doors, but if the driver does this, then s/he deserved it.
- Of course, people in TV Land never drive such cars when the plot demands they lock themselves out.
- And there are also the cars with remote locks and an auto-lock feature.
- Such cars will generally not engage the lock if the keys are in the ignition, however.