FANDOM


WikEd fancyquotesQuotesBug-silkHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extensionPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifierAnalysisPhoto linkImage LinksHaiku-wide-iconHaikuLaconic

Bridgekeeper: STOP! Whoever approacheth the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.

Sir Robin: Ask me the questions, Bridgekeeper. I'm not afraid.

Bridgekeeper: What... is your name?

Sir Robin: Sir Robin of Camelot.

Bridgekeeper: What... is your quest?

Sir Robin: To seek the Holy Grail.

Bridgekeeper: What... is the capital of Assyria?[1]

Sir Robin: ...I don't know that!

(Sir Robin gets flung off the bridge)

Sometimes, a clue on a Game Show or other similar competition may be so arcanely obscure that the contestants and viewers are left scratching their heads long after the fact. Other times, it may be a puzzle or password that is impossible to convey no matter how much skill the contestant has. Granted, everyone has a different level of skill when it comes to game shows, but when it gets to the point that nearly everyone at home is asking "how do they expect anyone to be able to know that?!", you know you have an unexpectedly obscure answer. Such clues are sometimes used as a way to ramp up the difficulty, although many fans of the genre (jokingly or otherwise) refer to such clues as being a way of saving money after a particularly big win.

This trope is sometimes played with in parodies of game shows, where the host asks an insanely obscure question and the contestant gets it right for a big win.

Examples
  • Jeopardy! was the inspiration for this trope:
    • The Final Jeopardy! clue for July 23, 2009:
      A: "This cheese was created in 1892 by Emil Frey & named for a New York singing society whose members loved the cheese."
      Q: "What is [2]?"
      The day that this episode aired, the Jeopardy! forums were abuzz with people (including the returning champion on that episode) who pointed out the difficulty of that clue, as none of them had even heard of the cheese, nor was it listed in two different cheese enyclopedias. In a poll asking for the hardest Final Jeopardy! from that season, this clue received more than 70 votes for being the hardest, with all the other choices having at most two. Whenever an extremely difficult clue pops up on the game, it became a Running Gag on the Jeopardy! forum to mention Liederkranz in some way.
    • Another Final Jeopardy! clue that was considered an UOA, from September 30, 2009:
      'A: "On Sept. 30, 2008, Daily Variety reprised this 5-word headline from Oct. 30, 1929."
      Q: "What is [3]?"
      Even if the date leads you to Wall Street, and even if you are familiar with
      Varietys idiosyncratic phrasings, how would you possibly get the lays an egg part? (As with the above example, this clue smoked the competition in a poll asking for the toughest final clue.)
    • Opera and ballet categories are usually known for their extreme difficulty, often leading to blank stares for at least the bottom three clues. This difficulty is sometimes lampshaded when the writers name the category something like "The Dreaded Opera Category." This is more a case of the whole topic being relatively unknown in the general population than the questions being unreasonably difficult for the category, though.
    • An intentional joke when Pat Sajak hosted for April Fool's Day was the category "Amateur Trinidadian Ichthyologists" for final Jeopardy:
      A: "This common aquarium fish was named for a Trinidadian clergyman."
      Q: "What is [4]?"
      This question was based on a common but erroneous belief that Robert John Lechmere Guppy was a clergyman.
  • Pyramid with Donny Osmond (Keep in mind that the person giving the clues must give only a list of things that fit the topic given, and must not say any part of the category name.):
    • The Winner's Circle Bonus Round was sometimes full of this. One example was "Things on a Cave Wall"; the contestant who was receiving the clues said "things in a cave" but that wasn't enough for the judges.
    • One of the hardest Winner's Circle boxes ever was "Colors in the Olympic Rings," even if it was on an Olympics-themed week. Here's the list: Black, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow. The list isn't the hard part. The hard part is that those are the only clues that fit... and of course, the receiving celebrity needed to be Genre Savvy enough (which seldom happened on Donnymid).
    • Subverted at least once on the 1980s $100,000 Pyramid, where one run at the top cash prize included the seemingly impenetrable "Things That Are Enshrined" in the top box. The contestant gave the clue "hall of fame books" (along with "The Torah"), which led to the celebrity giving the right answer for a $100,000 win... with fewer than five seconds left on the clock.
  • Wheel of Fortune
    • It can sometimes have a sadistic streak in its Bonus Round, where a contestant is given R, S, T, L, N and E plus their choice of three more consonants and a vowel to aid in solving a shorter puzzle. The difficulty stems from some incredibly short puzzles (for most of the 1990s, few bonus puzzles were over six letters long, sometimes getting as small as three letters), puzzles with several rarely picked letters (e.g. JURY BOX), answers that are obscure to the category (e.g. completely off-the-wall phrases like WHAT A KICK), and/or large numbers of vowels (e.g. OAK BUREAU or IOWANS; no matter which vowel is picked, there's still a lot of empty space to fill).
    • Subverted in the bonus puzzle ZOO; given only the three blanks and a category of Place, the contestant played her hunch and called Z and O among her letters. Who would have ever thought that Z would be a good choice in the bonus round?
  • Cashword, a special in-game bonus on Super Password, was meant to be difficult to achieve due to its high stakes, but sometimes it was just ridiculous. Even with five digits on the line and three chances, how would you convey something like "backgammon" with just a one-word clue?
  • Even the children's game show Knightmare could sometimes have really obscure questions you'd hardly expect English schoolchildren to know the answers to, such as the name of the first hobbit to hold the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. This is a case of an unnecessarily ambiguous question, rather than a unexpectedly difficult one. The first time a Hobbit is seen to hold the Ring is in the first chapter of Fellowship, the first book of the trilogy: Bilbo, at his long-expected birthday party. But the second chapter flashes back hundreds of years to another hobbit holding the Ring: Déagol, Gollum's brother. Combined with the game show's physical challenges, it was no wonder that seeing anyone actually win the game was a rare sight (in fact, not a single team won in the first and third years).
  • Speaking of children's shows, after a string of correct answers, Double Dare would throw in a few questions that no child could be expected to know, such as "What does DNA stand for?" [5], in order that a messy physical challenge (one of the main draws of the series) would be played.
  • Happens frequently on QI, which has an explicit policy of asking questions that nobody's likely to know, and awarding points for how interesting a contestant's answer is, regardless of whether it's correct.
    • In a third series episode of QI, Helen Atkinson-Wood correctly answers a question "so impossible that Stephen Fry shall award a gigantic 200 points if anyone gets the answer right." After she answers, the other contestants, rightly astonished, ask, "How the hell did you know that?" For the curious, the question was:

 "What does this chemical equation: "C6H12O6 + 6O2 --> 6CO2 + 6H2O", represent?"

Her answer: "An explosion in a custard powder factory."

The equation is for the combustion of glucose (a key element of said powder). According to those behind the show, "an explosion in a custard factory" is the standard example used when the combustion of glucose is taught at school, (it's also a common example of the effects of Static Electricity) and that's how she knew it.
  • Played with on the Comedy Central show Vs. Winning teams would be given two choices for categories, one hilariously obscure, and one hilariously gamed to their advantage. For instance, a team of Grateful Dead fans would be given the choices of "International Grandmasters of Chess" or "Jerry Garcia Songs". Occasionally the teams would spring for the obscure category, for which they did indeed have a question prepared.
  • It also came into play in the bonus round of Clash, from 1990-1991 on "Ha! The Comedy Network" (which merged with "The Comedy Channel" to form Comedy Central in 1991): a representative of the winning team spins a wheel to determine the category of a final question; get it right, and the team wins a major prize. One wedge is the "Easy Question" (e.g. "Which is bigger: the Sun or your head?"). The other five are categories like "Incredibly Difficult Tax Code Trivia."
  • This is the MO of the phone-in quizzes that went through a brief amount of popularity amongst the television money-men from 2005-2010, as this clip shows — the host isn't even able to pronounce the big answer.
    • Some phone-in game shows have actually gotten into legal issues for using this in combination with encouraging viewers to phone in multiple times (which of course, keeps racking up revenue for the operator). One British show got fined for a game where "balaclava" (you know, those full-face masks the burglars always wear) and "rawlplugs" (a piece of hardware used to anchor a screw into a drywall or plaster wall) were listed as items a woman would keep in their purse. Seriously?
    • On a German call in show, there once was a question of "animals starting with 's'" with a really high price. Of course the answers were obscure as usual, but one caller actually answered one correctly with "Stirnlappenbasilisk" (Plumed Basilisk). Which is why this animal became the mascot of critiques of this kind of show.
    • A German TV show also posed the supposedly simple question "Add up these numbers: 1,1,2,2,3,3,4". However, instead of "16," the desired answer was some enormous number that appeared to be the sum of all the digits, plus all the two-, three-, four-, five-, six-, and seven-digit permutations of those digits!
    • A Canadian call in show controversially threw this one at viewers: "4 girls are travelling on a bus. Each of them have 3 baskets, in each basket there are 4 cats. Each cat has 3 little kittens. How many legs are in the bus?" [6]
  • Questions in Only Connect tend to be fairly difficult at the best of times, but some stand out as being unanswerable by anyone except a human manifestation of Google. In one such question, contestants had not only to identify the category of Chief Medical Officers of England, but also to provide the fourth in the sequence. And to get the maximum points, not only must you get it right, but you must get it in one clue!
    • Possibly inverted by the tendency to shove in less obscurist topics which invariably loses players who wind up over-thinking.
  • In volume 3 of You Don't Know Jack (a series of PC games that play like a game show) there are "impossible questions", worth a ridiculous $20,000 (normal questions go from $1,000 to $3000 in round 1 and from $2000 to $6,000 in round 2), like "I'm Thinking of a number between One and Nine, what is it?", "Within two years, how much time was there between the invention of the can and the invention of the can opener?", or "If you travel at a constant speed of 10 knots, at how many bells will you have to lift anchor in order to arrive at exactly 11:00 AM and get the last delicious Fiesta Breakfast Burrito?" What's even weird about it that it's either multiple choice or fill in the blank (in either case five, 48 years, and four Taco bells, respectively).
    • Subverted, occasionally, as with one impossible question, of the category "It's a Dog!": "What has four legs, barks, and is a common household pet?" No tricks here; the answer is "a dog". Another "Impossible Question" was the not-terribly-obscure "What is it called when winning costs you more than losing would have?" The correct answer is, of course, "Pyrrhic Victory". However, keeping with the theme, if you get it right, you lose points.
    • Carried over to "The Lost Gold". However, each question is Pirate-themed, was worth $26,606.06 (minus the six cents), and if no-one gives the right answer, a Skull and Crossbones replaces where the correct answer would be revealed. Before each question of this type, the Set-Up music would play and the Captain would be heard crying. Schmitty becomes more and more terrfied each and any time he hears it.
  • A huge number of University Challenge questions have very obscure answers, but there have been some that take the cake. One picture round required the contestants to identify nuclear power stations from photographs. What university students are spending their spare time admiring nuclear power stations!?[7]
  • Played with on MTV's Remote Control with the "Public Television" channel/category, which consisted entirely of obscure scientific facts, etc. One contestant selected the channel and got the question right, however, leading to a Crowning Moment of Awesome.

 The Question: "Name the physical law which simply states that the magnitude of the electrostatic force between two point electric charges is directly proportional to the product of the magnitudes of each of the charges and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two charges."

The Answer: [8].

  • In order to win anything at all on the British game show The Million Pound Drop, contestants must face a final All or Nothing multiple-choice question at the end of the game, picking from two choices. Picking the right answer means they get to keep their winnings, while picking the wrong one wipes out their winnings at the last second. For contestants who reach this final question, it usually ends up being an unexpectedly obscure piece of pure trivia that may as well be a coin flip. Examples:
    • For one team, this final question required them to correctly identify which happened first: Prince Charles and Lady Diana's marriage or Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne's. [9] They got it wrong, and lost 525,000 pounds.
    • Another team got the question "Which of these two US TV comedies ran for the most series?" with choices Friends and Fraiser. [10]
  • The Impossible Quiz is made of these. Of course, that's the point.
  • Both Debt and Idiot Savants made use of categories based on a contestant's selected field of pop culture expertise. During each game's bonus round, questions would come from these categories, but would be extremely obscure to anyone but absolute experts. For example, one Debt question about The Flintstones asked who gave the voices for the adult Pebbles; an Idiot Savants question about the Back to The Future series involved the exact time Marty woke up when he returned to 1985.
  • The mini-game "M.P.I.Q." in Mario Party 3 will sometimes ask what the current record time or distance on some other mini-game is. This is hard enough if you're playing on your own cartridge. If you're playing on someone else's? Forget it. Or it asks you how many times a certain board has been played. Nobody keeps track of that! It gets even worse as the game is played more and more often, and you have to choose between 35, 36 or 37 times.
  • Played straight with a twist in British quiz Pointless. Given a category, the aim is to name the most obscure member. But even though giving obscure answers is the point, it's still unexpected when it happens. Also, sometimes it's the fact that a given answer is obscure that's unexpected; sometimes the 100 people surveyed will simply miss an answer that you would expect to be obvious.
    • The final round gives you three guesses to name an answer that none of the surveyed people got, or go home with nothing. In a recent category (places in Britain which gained official city status since 1900), there were only three answers that scored zero, which even the hosts seemed to think was on the unfair side.
  • Disney Magazine included quizzes written by Dave Smith, founder of the Disney Archives, and encouraged readers to submit their written answers. Smith managed to stump everyone when he asked for the title of the first Disney movie to receive a Screen to Stage Adaptation performed in New York. The answer: Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, which had a play in Radio City Music Hall 15 years before the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast.
  • Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? has this from time to time, with most examples thankfully very high up in the question stacks where they belong. But the fan term "llama," meaning "to leave the show with nothing," came from the first $0 loser, Robby Roseman, whose $100 question had an Unexpectedly Obscure Answer: "Hannibal crossed the Alps on what animal?"
    • Lampshaded— and also understated— by Meredith Vieira in an episode of the clock format.
    • Following the 2010 Retool, a recent trend in questions seems to ask what celebrities did before they became famous (or which of four celebrities had a specific job). These are almost always the hardest in Round 1 and frequently jumped or walked away from, and none have been answered correctly.

In-work examples:

  • Parodied in Monty Python's Flying Circus where John Cleese's game show host asks a housewife (played by Terry Jones) a very obscure question about philosophy ("Which great opponent of Cartesian Dualism resists the reduction of psychological phenomena to a physical state and insists there is no point of contact between the the extended and the unextended?") . When she protests she has no idea, Cleese nudges her to take a guess, which she does, correctly guessing Henri Bergson (despite never having heard of him). She has more difficulty with the second question, What do penguins eat?
    • Another Python sketch had a British television host a game show with the the figures of Communism; Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Che Guevara, and Mao Tung. Marx, Che, and Lenin are shot down with obscure English Premier Football and Jerry Lee Lewis questions (oddly Mao knew the Lewis one). That version was on the Live At City Center album. On the show, it was to name the Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr song which won at the 1959 Eurovision Song Contest. ("Sing Little Birdie.")
      • Eventually, they ask Marx another set of three questions about "worker's control of factories" : "The development of the industrial proletariat is conditioned by what other development?" [11], "The struggle of class against class is a what struggle?" [12] and, finally, "Who won the cup final in 1949?" [13]
  • Played for drama in the episode "Quiz Show" of Boy Meets World. A traditional Quiz Bowl-type game show is revamped in order to appeal to youngsters by ditching their acadamia-themed questions for pop culture and "stupid question-stupid answer" type questions — much to Feeny's dismay. Naturally, this made goofballs Cory and Shawn (and the not-so-goofy-but-still-on-the-team Topanga) popular returning champions. When the executives wanted Cory and Shawn out of the game, they brought back the academia to force the team to lose, including one question that Feeny answered in a ~Chekhov's Lecture~ earlier in the episode, which the team wasn't able to answer.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "The Ducksters", Daffy is the host of a radio game show, and Porky is the hapless contestant. Daffy throws quite a few of these at Porky throughout the cartoon, including asking for the maiden name of Cleopatra's aunt, or asking him to name an opera from a single note ("C-C-Cavalera Rusticana?" "Audience?" "Rigoletto!"). Porky gets even after winning the $2 million cash prize and buying the radio station with it, giving Daffy the same treatment Porky got after the question "At what latitude and longitude did the wreck of the Hesperus occur?"
  • In one of the stories in "Joker's Asylum", The Joker takes over a game show and presents the contestants with ridiculously difficult questions. To their surprise and relief, failure to answer correctly results in harmless joke penalties rather than the expected lethal ones -- the real target of the joke is the show's executives, who are cynically exploiting the incident for ratings (in a control booth bugged by the Joker).
  • Subverted in the first Pajama Sam game, in which one of the questions of an in-game quiz concerns the response of a young French duke when he was presented a question on policy. All four possible answers are variants on "I have no idea," "That's too hard, I'm just a kid," or simply, "Huh?" All four answers are correct (except, of course, the duke said it in French). Then played straight in the second game, where Sam must answer an employee questionnaire to gain access to an executive washroom key. The questions range from easy to impossible-to-answer-wrong, except for the last one, where Sam is asked a difficult economics question. Once again, all four answers are variants of "I don't know." The secret is to locate a friendly carrot who has been studying economic theory, and bring him to the question. He answers the question for you, making the next MacGuffin reachable and teaching the player what Giffen's Paradox is. [14]
  • Played for laughs in the "Bridge of Death" segment of Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Watch it here.
  • Parodied in Sam and Max: Situation: Comedy, where you have to win "Who's Never Going to Be a Millionaire?". The questions are just as ridiculously arcane as you'd expect with a title like that. To win, you have to switch the question cards with questions (actually song lyrics) that are insanely simple.
  • This question, from the television comedy series Saturday Night Live.

Notes

  1. It's Assur. Or Dur-Sharrukin (which was also called Khorsobad) . Or Nimrud (AKA Kalhu). Or Ninevah. Or Harran if you're being generous. Or none at all, since Assyria ceased to exist as a country in around 614-605 BC. Which one is correct depends on what time period you're talking about.
  2. Liederkranz
  3. "Wall Street lays an egg"
  4. a guppy
  5. Deoxyribonucleic acid
  6. "222" was its answer. This assumed the kittens were not on the bus, and also counted the driver's legs, and the legs of the seats as well
  7. Nuclear Engineers
  8. Coulomb's Law
  9. Charles and Di. They were married on 29 July, 1981. Ozzy and Sharon were married on 4 July, 1982
  10. Frasier, with 11 series (seasons), to Friends 10
  11. the development of the industrial bourgeoisie
  12. a political struggle
  13. Marx throws away marxist-themed answers and loses, the answer being Wolverhampton Wanderers.
  14. The theory that as a price rises on a good, demand will rise as well.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.