Didn't See That Coming

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht. ("Man plans, God laughs.")
A Yiddish proverb

Ah, nothing denotes how Crazy Prepared The Chessmaster is like the good old Gambit Pileup. Truly, there is nothing these twelfth-level omni-geniuses have not contemplated in their equations and planned for with contingencies B through Z^42.

Then something, or someone, happens. Not just something that the Chessmaster didn't know about, but something that he didn't know he didn't know. In fact there was no way he could have known that that he didn't know this. Thus the brilliant plan goes to pieces, with a deadpan "I Didn't See That Coming" once the dust settles. Less Stoic fellows may go Oh Crap or into Villainous Breakdown, though usually it's a Spanner in the Works that causes that reaction.

Problems tend to come in five varieties, of which varieties 3, 4, and 5 qualify for this trope:

  1. Known Knowns: There are the known dangers, these you deal with directly: My opponent has access to laser blasters—I need Deflector Shields before I attack.
  2. Known Unknowns: These are the things strategists know they don't know, but they can prepare for the different possible outcomes: The enemy has his forces deployed elsewhere when you are Storming the Castle, so you need a plan for what to do if these forces do not return in time (to take full advantage), and you need a plan for what to do if the enemy forces return early.
    • Someone who is especially good at this kind is probably Crazy Prepared.
  3. Unknown Unknowns: Then there are the unknown unknowns, or even unknowable unknowns. These cannot be prepared for, planned for, or in any way anticipated. They are the bane of all well laid plans. This can often be a Genre Shift, for example, and the character was in the dark because of The Masquerade. The mage being surprised by the space alien, for instance, or The Mafia not expecting Psychic Powers. Acts of God and Outside Context Villains tend to fit in here, unless characters are aware that they are a Cosmic Plaything, and even then it's hard to know what you don't know, except that you don't know anything.
  4. Unknown Knowns: It happens. Sometimes the plotter knows a given person, event, or variable is present... but doesn't see how it could possibly impact their foolproof plans and proceeds to dismiss it or mistreat those "irrelevant" to his plot, and otherwise ignore the sword overhead while whittling at the rope holding it there.
  5. False Assumptions: Even the most diabolical scheme can be doomed before it even starts if it's built on faulty information. That ridiculously circuitous plan to steal the MacGuffin from the safe deposit box by sneaking into the bank disguised as security guards? The only thing The Hero's grandfather hid there was some old family memorabilia; the MacGuffin is hidden somewhere else entirely (if it even exists).

Any plotter claiming to have all five of these variables accounted for (and actually has a plot succeed) is very likely playing a Gambit Roulette and getting help from on high to do it.

A plotter who is aware that these can appear, builds the flexibility into his plan, and improvises when they arise, is playing Xanatos Speed Chess.

Compare Spanner in the Works, which very often is the unknown factor. See also Didn't Think This Through.

Examples of Didn't See That Coming include:

Anime and Manga

  • Running into one of these is how Light of Death Note finally lost.
    • Specifically a Type 4. It occurred to him his plan might have anticipated, but underestimated his opponent's capacity to do so.
      • Actually Type 3: Shidou was a greater Spanner in the Works than anyone else, and there was no way Light could have foresaw the damage he did.
    • Hell, come to think of it, it's what did L in, as well. Being the world's greatest detective can only take you so far if your nemesis has a god on his side.
  • Kyon of Suzumiya Haruhi gets a note asking him to meet in the classroom after school. He's pretty sure it isn't any of the SOS members, but he thinks a little about how he'll respond to each of them, if it is one of them after all. He knows that he does not know who it is. However, it was not possible for him to know that Ryoko Asakura was actually an alien waiting there to murder him. He got hit with Didn't See That Coming, and it was not fun.
    • Not fun for him. For us, the audience, it was FREAKING AWESOME.
  • Quattro, the resident Smug Snake from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS encounters a tiny flaw that completely undoes her whole plan when she overlooks a few critical facts. First, That Nanoha is a mage that specializes in blowing stuff up. Second, that Nanoha is using a special booster system that makes her capable of blowing up even more stuff. And finally, that Nanoha was using area search magic to look for the cyborg the entire time she was fighting against her adopted daughter, per Quattro's plans. On top of all that, somehow Quattro tends to overlook an even more critical fact regarding the way Nanoha treats her friends and loved ones. While being ignorant of the third was a reasonable possibility, there is absolutely no excuse for the first two, not to mention Nanoha's tendency to befriend people. The end result... Oh Crap!
    • Of course, Quattro did see it coming in the end. She was just too late to do anything about it.
    • On a wider scale, Jail and the cyborgs got blindsided completely by Section 6' available firepower, due to careful management of their Power Limiters hiding what they were really capable of.
  • Code Geass . All the time, courtesy of the universe's violent hatred of Lelouch. Seriously, the only plan to go off without a hitch was Zero Requiem, which ends with Suicide by Cop.
  • Alucard in Hellsing is finally finished off when the Major gets him to weaken himself by unleashing his familiars, become injured by fighting a newly vampirised Walter, then try to restore himself by reabsorbing his familiars and all of the blood in the devastated London. The snag for Alucard comes when the Major has Schrodinger commit suicide and be absorbed by Alucard; Schrodinger's nature means that he ceases to exist if he cannot identify himself. Being absorbed by Alucard and melded with the souls of his familiars makes him unable to identify himself, causing him to cease to exist, and taking Alucard with him.
  • In One Piece, the World Government captured Ace and imprisoned him, prompting Luffy to break in to get him out. Normally, one pirate single-handedly invading their fortress jail to break someone out under maximum security would be an easy matter to deal with. Unfortunately Luffy ultimately set all their prisoners free, recruited as many as he could into fighting the World Government with the surprise aid of Buggy the Clown, Mr. 3, Mr. 2 Bon Kurei, and two ex-members of the Seven Warlords of the Sea. To top it off, a current Warlord, Blackbeard, turned on them for unknown reasons while everyone else was preparing for all-out war with Whitebeard. And wouldn't you just know it, numerous prisoners that Luffy recruited have the exact powers needed for the group to succeed. Unfortunately, things don't go as planned. Things don't go as planned at all.
    • A better example is when Luffy goes for a rematch with Crocodile, and swallows a huge barrel of water to become a living water balloon. Crocodile is more than a bit surprised by this, though he recovers quickly.
    • Luffy's "execution" (actually an attempted murder) in Roguetown is prevented when the executioner is struck by a bolt of lightning. Luffy's flabbergasted allies can only conclude it was Divine Intervention. However, it's really a type 4 all around, maybe even an Idiot Ball moment. Why? They were atop a tall tower, the executioner wielding a metal sword, while thunder was rumbling in the background. Although it is well implied that it wasn't natural lightning that struck.
    • Zoro begs Dracule Mihawk to train him so that he can surpass and defeat...well...Dracule Mihawk. He's actually trying to get stronger for the sake of the Straw Hats, but, he's not forgetting his own goal in the process. Dracule agrees to it, knowing that he's helping to create the one swordsman he believes can defeat him. Simply because Zoro is willing to throw away his pride for the Straw Hats.
  • In Princess Tutu, Rue pulling a Heroic Sacrifice and saving Mytho from The Corruption through the Power of Love blindsides Drosselmeyer so utterly that he spends the next five seconds gaping dumbfoundedly before finally going, "...What." He does recover his plans rather quickly though -- just on a different rail.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima, a type 3 screws up Kurt Godel's plan to make Negi an ally, as he was totally unaware that Negi had a source of information that that Kurt couldn't have possibly have anticipated.
    • Chapter 273 is basically just Kurt's whole Gambit falling to pieces around him. First he reveals himself as a powerful Shinmeiryuu swordsman; Negi overloads his defenses. Then he claims they can't escape from his projected space; Chisame disables it. Finally he claims that no one knows they're there anyway; Asakura reveals that all of Negi's friends outside have been watching what's happened through her artifact the whole time. Then, just to top it off, he gets smacked with Ku Fei's artifact and Takamichi lamps him one from across the room.
    • Then right after that, Ala Alba's preparations promptly got shot to hell by the arrival of one of Fate's minions, causing their main retreat plan, as well as most of their backups, to fall to pieces.
  • In Pokémon Special, this is pretty much the only reason why Giovanni loses against Red in the two battles they fought against each other. First time, he completely dominated Red from beginning to end, took down all his Pokemon except Pika, and knew that he could take Red down before it could attack. How was he supposed to know Red stole Lt. Surge's gloves so that Pika could charge up its attack in its Pokeball? The second time, his Deoxys is beating him and Mewtwo. Too bad Bill and Celio, miles and miles away from the battle, manage to steal the jewels that were allowing Deoxys to form change.
  • In Naruto, Kisame Hoshigaki probably shouldn't have stopped to Kick the Dog after subduing Killer Bee- but who could have expected that he'd be betrayed by his own Empathic Weapon, leading to his defeat and death when reinforcements arrive? Certainly not the readers, that's for sure... ( Actually, he did see it coming, since his "death" was a Kansas City Shuffle to infiltrate the Cloud Village.)
    • What he did fail to see coming was that Naruto would be able to detect murderous intention, leading to his actual death.
    • In the first movie Ninja Clash in the Snow, there's a incredibly obvious Type 5: the evil ruler of Snow Country is trying to activate a machine that his peace-loving brother (who he overthrew) created under the assumption that it's a superweapon. The machine turned out to be a system of mirrors designed to warm the country and trigger spring.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin during the Kyoto arc, Shishio has set up an attack on Kyoto as a distraction for his real goal: to take his pre-Dreadnought era Dreadnought to Tokyo. He wasn't too surprised that Kenshin read through this ruse, however he and his Dragon didn't know about Sano and frankly didn't care when he showed up. Until they found out he brought a former terrorist friends gift with him; a handful of bombs. It was this that managed to destroy the ship.
  • A Certain Magical Index: A type 4, bordering on type 5, screws up Aleister Crowley's plans big time when Shiage Hamazura, a completely normal Level 0, defeats a Level 5. From then on, Shiage Hamazura becomes an unknown variable to be accounted for, forcing Aleister to use up resources in order to eliminate the unknown variable.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: for all of Kyubey's Batman Gambits and deception to further his plans, he fails to account for the one thing he's been tempting Madoka with in the first place: Madoka practically wishes to overwrite the entire universe.
  • In Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, the last words of bad guys are "This was not foreseen", this being an explosion with a blast radius of Millions of kilometers.

Comic Books

  • Frequent Fantastic Four the Mad Thinker is often foiled by things that even his supergenius intelligence can't predict, such as random human behavior.
  • The Infinity War has a resurrected Magus employ a complicated scheme to seize all the Infinity Gems from Warlock and his Infinity Watch. Because the plan is too complicated requiring all his attention, the Magus literally doesn't see the combined efforts of Doctor Doom and Kang interfering with his plan.
  • The Satan Captain Ersatz from J. Michael Straczynski's graphic novel Midnight Nation literally says this line word for word after The Hero with the Meaningful Name of Gray turns down his offer, chooses self sacrifice, and turns the Balance Between Good and Evil right against him, something which thousands of predecessors before him had all failed to do.
  • Malekith the Accursed in The Incredible Hercules falls prey to this. One panel after he revealed his scheme. Who can stand against the mighty Grendell with Hercules and The Mighty Thor both weakened? Zeus. To add injury to insult, Grendell then fell on him. Probably a Type 5, as the plan was based on the assumption that Zeus was still dead.
  • In a Dracula vs Superman crossover Dracula was struck with an ignominious Type 5. His plan was to drink Superman's blood and thus gain the powers of a Kryptonian. Unfortunately he was not aware that Superman is solar-powered, and drinking his blood had a similar effect to trying to chow down on an active grenade.
  • In All Fall Down, AIQ Squared's plot falls apart when he fails to plan ahead for Siphon's Death Activated Super Power.

Fan Works

  • This tends to happen to heroes of Peggy Sue fanfics when the changes they make to the timeline come back to bite them in the ass. An excellent example of this occurs in Harry Potter and the Nightmares of Futures Past; Harry rants to Dumbledore about his living conditions with the Dursleys at one point, and Dumbledore responds by using memory charms on the Dursleys in an effort to improve the situation. When an unknown third party later removes the charms and Vernon remembers being charmed, Harry's already-rocky relationship with the Dursleys turns downright venomous, culminating in a savage beating during the first year/second year summer break that leaves Harry in critical condition.
  • Tzeentch's failure to see the C'tan plans coming was what forced the canon!40k gods to work together in Thousand Shinji. Continues into The Open Door, where newChaos forces occasionally find themselves facing things even the supposedly-omniscient and inheritor of Tzeentcch's mantle Tzintchi fails to see coming and thus pay for it.
  • Pops up left and right in Tiberium Wars, to both GDI and Nod. After all, GDI never saw the initial Nod assault coming, nor did Nod ever see Havoc's mini-guerilla war, fifty thousand GDI Marines, or a division of Mammoth Tanks coming.
  • In With Strings Attached, the completely unexpected appearance of mobs of skahs in Ehndris diverts the baddies' attention and gives John and Ringo the chance to avoid a head-on confrontation with the Raleka as they race to get into the warehouse.
    • Also, no one was expecting Kerrun to have a Villainous Breakdown and declare the skahs to actually be Idris (the mortal enemies of the Raleka), shifting the focus of the Raleka away from John and Ringo.
  • Jewel of Darkness: Midnight's plan, to torture Robin into insanity in order to force the Titans to disband, ultimately fails because she had no way of knowing that Ai was possessed/working for Trigon, was plotting against her, and would ultimately sell her out to the Titans. Robin also suggests that the plan would have failed anyway, because even if she had succeeded in breaking him, he has faith that the team would be strong enough to withstand it.
  • The Dilgar War has a few of them, on all sides, but the most notable are Earthforce actually being able to take on the Dilgar best and not only win (this ability was Type 4 for the Dilgar high command, but Jha'dur knew they had the ability and tried to get Earth in the war) but utterly annihilating them with an absurdly high number of nuclear weapons (this was Type 4 for Jha'dur, who, when told of how many nukes were being fired at her, admitted she should have seen that coming but hadn't) and Jha'dur's attempt at exterminating Earth's population with a plague being ambushed by an unbelievable Type 3 in the form of a Minbari fleet led by Chosen One Dukhat in person who acted on information of the Vorlon.
  • In A Fighting Chance, the Minbari gets a major Oh Crap when they realize that Earthforce has broken their stealth. This instance is part Type 4 and 3, as in the backstory of this fanfic the Dilgar had already did it once (and in fact they were the ones who sold Earthforce a few dozens of the stealth-breaking sensors complete with blueprints), but that happened to the Windswords who apparently never told anyone else.


  • Type 3 occurs in Serenity when the Alliance releases the Pax. No one could have foreseen the Reavers' creation Of course, their failure to do so is a classic case of the Idiot Ball, as what kind of a moron doesn't run proper clinical trials before dosing an entire fucking planetary population!
    • A type 4 occurs later in the movie when the Alliance's trap is derailed as Serenity charges at them with an army of Reavers.

Jayne: You know they're gonna see us coming.
Mal: No. They're not going to see this coming.

  • The Coen Brothers movie Fargo centers around a man trying to get out of financial trouble by hatching a Xanatos Gambit to have some men kidnap his wife and pretend to hold her for ransom so he could get some money from her wealthy father to pay off his debts. The plan spirals completely out of control and causes the deaths of about five or six people, including the wife.
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy probably executed this in the most humorously absurd manner. When Burgundy and company start butting heads with another news group, they bring along multitude of weapons. Soon, other rival news groups join, and they all get into one large and epic battle royale. At different times, one person gets killed with a trident, another gets caught in a net and dragged on the floor by two horses, someone gets a hold of a grenade, Luke Wilson's character's gets an arm chopped off, and then his other arm's ripped off by a bear.

Frank: (after getting his arm chopped off out of nowhere)"Ugh! I did not see that coming!"


Preed: An intelligent guard. Didn't see that one coming.

    • Type 4 occurs in the climax. The Drej have their entire fleet attacking the Titan station, hellbent on destroying it. Titan is running on auxiliary power, which isn't enough to activate the station. The Drej, being energy beings, are undefeatable...until the heros realize that Drej energy can be absorbed and converted into station power. The entire fleet is destroyed.
  • Once Upon a Time In Mexico's Agent Sands had a nice Chessmaster scheme going. A number of things went wrong, including Cucuy going Face Heel Turn and Mariachi and crew deciding to help the President instead of letting him die, but the one hitch that Sands truly did not see coming was Ajedrez turning out to be not only The Mole, but Barillo's daughter. Ajedrez even lampshades it: "You never saw it coming, did you?"
    • Which makes for a nice bit of irony (or something) as he shortly after loses the ability to see ANYTHING coming in an Eye Scream moment.
  • The type 4 is the whole plot of Under Siege with S. Seagal. Who would have thought that this annoying cook could be a threat to the very well conceived plan executed by the bad guys.
  • The type 3 is the plot of Under Siege 2 and a lot of action movie like the Die Hard series, other Seagal's movies and much others.
  • In the movie Kick-Ass, Frank D'Amico never imagined that by framing the cop who refused to take his bribe, he would turn him into something far more dangerous. Big Daddy was so ridiculously efficient in destroying D'Amico's operation that if Kick-Ass wouldn't have accidentally provided him with a lead, D'Amico probably wouldn't have realized who was after him until he was about to die.
  • In the Kamen Rider Decade movie All Riders vs. Dai-Shocker, the Big Bad Shadow Moon has Decade and Kuuga right where he wants them when Kamen Rider Double comes out of nowhere for a Curb Stomp Battle ending with Shadow Moon embedded in the wall of his own castle.
  • The film version of Richie Rich fits type 5 almost word-for-word, as the Riches do in fact keep family memorabilia in their safe. Their money, rather sensibly, has been invested and isn't vulnerable to just being swiped.
  • In Mystery Science Theater 3000, Crow did know that breaching the hull of the Satellite of Love would result in dangerous decompression... yet he still somehow thinks tunneling back to Earth is a good idea and is taken by surprise when it doesn't work.

Crow: Whooooooooooa I didn't expect this! [...] Wow, this is confusing! Mike! You wanna hand me me my calculations? [The wind happens to blow Crow's calculations right into his face.] Thank you. [Reading.] Well, look at that. "Breach hull--all die." Even had it underlined.


Elizabeth: Elizabeth Swann.
Barbossa: Hector Barbossa.
Jack Sparrow: Elizabeth Swann.



  • In Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, Hari Seldon is able to predict politics using math. However, the emergence of "The Mule", a Mutants (sort of), is so powerful that he alters the path of history. When Seldon's message about a Civil War (predicted for the time of The Mule's emergence) goes over like a lead balloon, the people realize that The Mule has altered the plan. Seldon has died by this time, so he doesn't get a moment to reflect, but the reactions of the people who have up until then been relying on Seldon's fully accurate predictions are fairly priceless.
  • Grand Admiral Thrawn was playing a very effective game of Xanatos Speed Chess, until bitten by two or three Unknown Knowns. Specifically, Niles Ferrier botching his plan for the fringe, causing a group of independent smugglers to join the New Republic in battle; C'baoth killing the ysalamiri and escaping his imprisonment; and his secret cloning facility being discovered, all at the same time. All of this he might have been able to deal with. But the one thread that came loose in his plan, and led to his eventual demise, was all caused by one single Unknown Unknown, or, as Timothy Zahn put it, a bit of information he didn't know and didn't know he didn't know: that Leia was Darth Vader's daughter.[1] At the very least, he didn't know that the Noghri could detect that fact simply from Leia's scent.
  • In Yendi, a perfectly good plan to install Sethra the Younger as Warlord was foiled because Aliera and Morrolan were standing in the wrong places and then Aliera revived Norathar and Cawti.
  • The Culture has its own term for Type 3 situations—an "Outside Context Problem". For instance, a prosperous South Pacific island tribe suddenly discovering they've been colonized by an 18th-century European naval power—the kind of situation a civilization only encounters the same way a sentence encounters a period, once. The novel Excession revolves around one of these in the form of a Negative Space Wedgie.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Galaxy in Flames, when Angron attacks the survivors of their treacherous attack, Horus is enraged—with himself.

"Angron is a killer!" snapped Horus, rounding on his Mournival son. "He solves every problem with raw violence. He attacks first and thinks latter, if he thinks at all. And yet I never saw this!"

  • In Beowulf's Children, the sequel to The Legacy of Heorot by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes, Aaron Tragon's (the Magnificent Bastard of the novel who comes close to being a Complete Monster by the end) schemes to colonize the mainland of the planet and becoming the new leader of the colonists is derailed by a rather spectacular Unknown Unknown. After shooting Little Chaka and Cadmann to keep them from warning everyone of the imminent continent sweeping attack of the recently discovered huge flesh-eating "bees" with Super Speed, all in order to keep everyone from leaving, he goes back to the colony and tells everyone a story of how they were devoured by grendels. He puts on a very convincing act of grief and shame, while preparing to take the reins of leadership left behind by Cadmann. All of a sudden, the intelligent grendel protagonist approaches the colony, having saved Little Chaka, who proceeds to blow the whole scheme out of the water by telling everyone of Aaron's betrayal. The only reason Aaron avoids execution on the spot is the untimely arrival of the aforementioned flesh-eating "bees" with superspeed.
  • Usually what causes any of The Chessmasters in A Song of Ice and Fire to finally slip up.
    • Tyrion is left badly injured after a battle, and while he's comatose, every single one of the men on his side is either turned to Cersei's side or replaced. Given the circumstances, he manages a spectacular recovery, which is promptly destroyed when Joffrey is murdered and Tyrion is framed for it. It's yet to be seen whether or not he will manage to come back from this one, but he's probably going to meet Daenerys soon, and Tyrion's most beloved dream has always been to ride a dragon...
    • Cersei resurrects the Swords and Stars and has them charge her rival with treason; unfortunately, the Swords and Stars decide to torture the man she sent to testify against Maergery, and, trying to save himself, he tells them everything, including Cersei's own crimes. Then, just to rub salt in the wound, her actions towards Jaime come back to bite her in the ass when he refuses to champion for her and instead continues on his own campaign.
    • Robb, Catelyn, and most of the Stark campaign gets screwed by Robb marrying the wrong woman and pissing off House Frey, leading to The Red Wedding. Readers should see this one coming, though.
    • Arguably, the entire country of Westeros got screwed when Eddard Stark met Joffrey Baratheon. Instead of allowing Lord Stark to live in exchange for a false confession, the newly-crowned Joffrey has him executed, and thus the War of the Five Kings is kicked off with a bang.
  • The villains of the last Narnia book The Last Battle; Shift, Ginger, and the Calormene warlord Rishdan, all meet a nasty end due to one horrifying Unknown Unknown: the demon Tash is real. And pissed.
  • Archmagos Khobotov in Soul Drinkers discovers a few problems with his plan for stealing the Soulspear and back-engineering it - one Unknown Unknown and two Unknown Knowns.
    • Unknown Known 1: he threatened Space Marines with a spacegoing artillery piece and assumed they'd do the logical thing and back down, despite the fact that these Marines are descended from the most headstrong of the loyal Primarchs, and Marines are not very logical people in any case.
    • Unknown Known 2: threatening a star fort without considering that there may be vehicles on board...vehicles the Soul Drinkers used to take over the artillery piece.
    • Unknown Unknown from later in the book: a Daemon Prince of Tzeentch was running the whole thing as a Xanatos Gambit, and turned up to take the Soulspear for himself.
  • The Doctor Who short story collection "Short Trips and Side Steps" featured a story called 'The Android Maker of Calderon IV'. The title character has meticulously engineered a plan to get revenge on the Third Doctor (who thwarted his plan to set up a technocracy) and assassinate the planet's government by building an android in the form of the Doctor responsible as a suicide bomber. Then he activates the return beacon the Doctor left behind...and the Fourth Doctor steps out, giving us a demonstration of the Unknown Unknown, and a marvellous quote for anyone who's ever been on the receiving end of this trope:


  • A Type 4 blows up the Big Bad Storm King's Xanatos Gambit in Tad Williams' fantasy epic Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Specifically, he didn't care who showed up for the final ritual to unite the Three Swords and reverse time so he could return to Osten Ard, but one of those people turned out to have been primed to figure out his weakness at the very last second, and another happened to be carrying the Chekhov's Gun necessary to defeat him afterwards.
  • A Type 4 is what brings Sauron's downfall in The Lord of the Rings, specifically that he never thought that anyone would actually deny the power of the Ring, nonetheless that two insignificant creatures would actually have the audacity to sneak into Mordor and then destroy his Ring of Power.
    • The Witch-King had an Oh Crap moment when he realized that women can use swords.
      • Sauron was right, in fact—nobody denied the power of the Ring in the end. Of course he couldn't possibly fathom that one of those would be idiot enough to victory dance on a cliff above a massive lava pit...
        • Tolkien noted in correspondence that part of Saruon's problem was a more basic miscomprehension; he believed that after the Fall of Numenor, God had ceased to care what happened to His creation, that the Second Fall of Man had been the last straw. He was wrong.
    • Sauron really had won, by all accounts. Aragorn's army was hopelessly outnumbered, and Frodo had claimed The Ring for himself. In a way, this trope is double subverted. Early on, Gandalf notes that they have the advantage because Sauron cannot comprehend the idea of someone trying to destroy The Ring. What Gandalf didn't see coming was that Sauron was right. In Mordor, where the Ring's power was greatest, no one could resist it. Sauron's flaw was an example of Genre Blindness. He assumed that Middle Earth is a Crapsack World, when it was not. What he didn't see coming was the almost literal Deus Ex Machina that caused Gollum to fall to his death. As it was an accident, the only real way to interpret this is an act of fate.
      • Some see Gollum's fall as a way for Tolkien to avoid forcing Samwise to execute a Hero Maneuver. When first read, Frodo's failure and then Gollum taking the Ring from him looked a lot like a setup that would allow Sam to knock or tackle the Ringbearer into the lava without the rather unbelievable concept of being able to do it to his best friend. The accident simply meant that the pair got to survive the war together, but Sam's presence and the fact that he'd never touched the Ring meant that success didn't have to rely on luck alone.
  • In Cain's Last Stand, Varan gets hit by type three in that he didn't know that Cain's aid, Jurgen, was a blank, so when he met up with Cain to discuss the terms of surrender, the psychic ability that allowed him to instantly convert people to his cause wouldn't work. Cain ends up kicking his ass off a skyscraper. Literally.

"Well, that was unexpected..."
Chaos Warmaster Varan the Undefeatable, last words

  • Lord Vetinari subverts the trope by accounting for Didnt See That Coming. Instead of planning, he waits until the unexpected (or the expected—he has a very firm grasp of human nature) happens, then drives the situation to his advantage from there. Even when it seems like he's miscalculated, people prove every bit as stupid or clever, dogged or unmotivated, loyal or treacherous as he expects. He is a master at Xanatos Speed Chess.
  • In latest addition to The Wheel of Time series, The Gathering Storm, Rand pretends to begin playing Graendal's game of manipulation and subterfuge, then obliterates the palace she's in with a column of balefire.

How do I outthink someone smarter than I am?

    • The following book subverts this. Apparently, one way to handle Unknown Unknowns is to spy on your enemy until the last possible second, and have someone around that can serve as a body double...
  • Harry Potter: "Nobody will ever guess that I've made Soul Jars, and even if they do they will never find them. What? They did and they did? FUUUUUUUUUUUUU-"
    • Voldy has one as well before the series takes place. He seriously did not expect a mother's love to cause his curse to backfire like it did. He later admits his mistake...but he doesn't learn from it.
    • The legacy of the Elder Wand, which Voldemort so desired in Deathly Hallows, was supposed to die with Dumbledore, by having Snape kill him by his command. However, unexpected and unbeknown to everyone till the very end, Draco Malfoy had already inadvertently gained the wand's allegiance at the end of The Half-Blood Prince by Disarming Dumbledore (thus defeating him) beforehand. Then a few months later, Harry overpowers Malfoy at the Malfoy Manor, which subsquently tranfers the Elder Wand's ownership to him. According to wand lore, one only has to defeat the Elder Wand's current master to win over its ownership; whether the previous master was in possession of the wand does not matter. Thus, even though Voldemort is in possession of the Elder Wand in the final battle, he cannot unleash its full power, nor can he harm Harry with it, as the wand has already sworn allegiance to Harry, making him its true master.
  • Caesar from Matthew Reilly's Area 7 puts a microwave transmitter on the president's heart, so that he can set explosives to blow up half of America the moment he dies. He also puts one on his own heart to prevent the heroes killing him if his plan fails. He didn't anticipate that the heroes could fake the signal using the black box from an AWACS plane allowing Schofield to just shoot him.
  • in the forth Earth's Children book. Attaroa try to kill Ayla to show her tribe what happen to those who resist her, only to be killed by wolf who has been hiding in the woods. Since wolf is the world first domesticated wolf, there really wasn't any way Attaroa could have even suspect that he exists
  • The appendix of Dune (the first Dune book) argues that the Bene Geserit order should have foreseen that the Kwisatz Haderach they were trying to create would not serve the order.
    • They were also making it easy for their members to fake being messiahs in case of emergency, so they underestimated the real thing.
  • In From Russia with Love, Kerim gives a speech on this trope:

This is a billiard table... And you have hit your white ball and it is traveling easily and quietly towards the red. The pocket is alongside. Fatally, inevitably, you are going to hit the red and the red is going into that pocket. It is the law of the billiard table. But, outside the orbit of these things, a jet pilot has fainted and his plane is diving straight at the billiard room, or a gas main is about to explode... And the building collapses on you and on top of the billiard table. Then what has happened to that white ball that could not miss the red ball, and to the red ball that could not miss the pocket? The white ball could not miss according to the laws of the billiard table. But the laws of the billiard table are not the only laws.

  • Callahan's Lady has a couple of doozies in its final story. The Professor, the World's Greatest Conman, bought $50,000 in counterfeit ten-dollar bills from Tony Donuts. After the money had been disposed of, Tony demanded the bogus bills back, so the Professor was forced to rob a bank, to pass real money to Tony for his fakes. Unfortunately, after bringing Tony the nice, neatly bound sequential bills, Tony realizes the money isn't his counterfeit cash, because he'd never figured out how to work the serial number increment mechanism on his press, and thus all his counterfeit money had the same exact serial number. Perfect example of a type 4; clever people have troubles properly accounting for real stupidity.
  • The Big Bad of Tantalize (a Twilight knockoff), had a pretty good plan and executed it well, but got well and truly screwed by something he never anticipated: three of his Five-Bad Band were secretly werepeople who betrayed him, killing his fourth and last ally in the process. To be fair, the readers didn't see it coming, either.
    • Also, he didn't expect that Quincie would abandon him for Kieran after all, though that might more accurately be Hubris.
  • In the Honor Harrington novel The Short Victorious War, Havenite battlecruisers expecting a lone Manticoran light cruiser stumble upon a dreadnought. The results are... obvious.
    • Mission of Honor. Manticore was on alert and ready for trouble, but Oyster Bay still succeeded because the Mesans were not using impellers, which the Manties knew to look out for, but their new spider drives, which were a completely new technology.
  • Pretty much the reaction of the Malwa Empire and Link every time their carefully-made plans encounter a Byzantine general named Belisarius.
  • A spectacular type four happens in Princeps' Fury to Gaius Sextus during the fall of Alera Imperia

Gaius: Crows. Didn't even look at them twice

  • Nuklear Age's Dr. Menace encounters one every few seconds, as one after another of her plots fail in Deus Ex Machina style. Her first kidnapping plot failed when a just-introduced supporting character happened to catapult into her abandoned warehouse base, destroying the building, her orbital death ray failed when Nuklear Man decided to show off by firing a Plazma Beam into the sky, her plan to convince Nuklear Man to turn evil via telepathy failed when Dr. Genius happened to contact him telepathically soon afterward and he mentioned it in passing, her plan to capture her alien visitor failed when the alien happened to be an nigh-omnipotent god... Her plans not only failed, but failed in the most frustrating style possible. It is mentioned several times that she was finding it more and more difficult not to start screaming.
  • In The Scar, Silas Fennec succumbs to a Type 4 when he overlooks Armada's tugboats and their potential as explosive ramships. His oversight directly leads to the utter decimation of the New Crobuzon fleet.
  • In the backstory of the Mercy Thompson series, a trophy wife kills her husband with a pair of gardening shears, and pins the blame on the gardener. How was she to know he was a fey, who can't touch iron without being burned? And even if she somehow knew that, how was she to know the Grey Lords had chosen this moment to break the masquerade?
  • In Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet novel Invincible, Desjani warns that her great plan is also a terrible plan because they know so little about the aliens that it relies on some assumptions that could easily be thrown off. They go with it anyway, though.

Live-Action TV

  • Pretty much every episode of Leverage, starting with Episode 1.
  • In an episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles a local gangster discovers that Sarah is a fugitive and tries to blackmail her. To make sure she would play along, he sends one of his henchman to kidnap her children. Since Sarah's "daughter" is actually a killing machine from the future, that plan goes really bad, really fast.
  • An episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured the return of a bunch of hyper-intelligent, genetically engineered "friends" of Dr. Bashir's, who, upon thinking on the Dominion war situation, decide it was in the best interest of all involved if the Federation surrendered or was defeated quickly and the Dominion won (which would save billions of lives in the long run, and end in a galaxy-wide rebellion to overthrow it). They go to give the Dominion some classified Starfleet tactical data, but are stopped when one of their own tells on them. Dr. Bashir rubs it in, explaining that if one person can uproot their brilliant plan, then maybe their calculations might become nil due to the uncalculatability of human nature.
    • A very subtle double example, as the payoff is in an earlier episode: the Dominion worked out the exact same projections, and had a counter to it: When they won, they were going to purge Earth, as an example.
  • In an episode of Torchwood, a paedophile tries to force a little girl into his car. He really had no way of knowing that fairies were interested in the girl and that they were not the Disney kind...
    • In Children of Earth, Jack Harkness falls prey to a Type Four: he knew that the 456 were capable of curing viruses deadly to humans, but it never occurred to him that they could create and instantly release one if anyone tried to resist their demands.
  • The Volume Four finale of Heroes, "An Invisible Thread" involves Peter having used Sylar's shapeshifting power to impersonate the President, heading off Sylar's attempt to shapeshift into the President and become him. From Peter's dialogue, it is clear that Sylar probably knew that Peter had replicated one of his powers, but wouldn't have expected him to have taken something so mundane.
    • The Volume Four premiere had a Type Four. Danko, having rounded up most of the specials and put them on a plane to a detention facility, agrees to free Claire in order to mollify Nathan Petrelli (her father). He admits that her power (regeneration) doesn't make her a threat to society. However, he didn't know that Nathan has no real control over Claire, or that being immortal and all but immune to pain means that she can and will carry out acts normal people would consider suicidal. Claire escapes from Nathan, gets on the plane via the landing gear, frees the captive specials, and ends up causing the plane to crash. Now the government has to round up the specials all over again, only this time they're actively evading capture.
  • After capturing SG-1 in a planet he recently conquered, Cronos decided to publicly execute them so that the locals would see how foolish it is to try to resist him. Unfortunately for him, during the execution it was revealed that they were actually SG-1 robotic Doppelgangers. Kind of hard to keep claiming to be an all-knowing god when you can't even keep your jaw closed.
  • In The Office every time Dwight tries to do something manipulative it falls prey to this. He even lampshades it.

Just once, I would like to be a puppetmaster and have nothing go wrong. Just once.

  • On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Master had planned to kill Buffy, gaining the power to escape his prison and open the Hellmouth, bringing about The End of the World as We Know It. If he thought about Buffy's allies, he dismissed them as powerless. Unfortunately, while his plan to kill Buffy worked, Xander knew CPR. Buffy therefore returns from the dead, and proceeds to kill the Master.
    • Considering the Master has been in a prison for hundreds of years, it's possible that CPR itself was an "unknown unknown" to him. The idea that a human could come back to life through non-supernatural means may well have been completely foreign to him.
    • In Season Two, Spike and Drusilla had a plan to destroy the world. They had resurrected the Judge, a demon who, according to prophecy, could not be killed by any weapon forged. They did not take into account several hundred years of advancement in weapons technology, and Buffy blew away the Judge with a rocket launcher.
    • Given that The Judge was defeated last time he rose up too, they might not have actually expected him to destroy the world (which Spike rather likes), but they were certainly expecting a bigger death toll than two. One of which was one of their own minions.
  • On Covert Affairs, Auggie experiences a 4-5 combination when he appeals to his ex-girlfriend Natasha for help on a case, and is somewhat surprised and dismayed when she refuses to help, still angry that he landed her in jail previously. He says the trope name verbatim when she slaps him upon their first reunion...except he means it literally, having been blinded since their last encounter.
  • In Babylon 5, after Jha'dur, the last Dilgar was captured; she managed to get a pardon in exchange for developing her immortality serum. Just before she was about to go to earth she gloated to Sinclair that the serum can only be manufactured by killing other people and that her capture was actually part of her plan to make the rest of the races just as bad as hers was. What she didn't realize was that the vorlons were not the enigmatic reclusive weirdoes that they seemed to be, but were actually manipulative Precursors who saw right through her plan and destroyed her ship to stop it. Also, since the vorlons themselves were forced to act openly and directly instead of manipulating events from the shadows as they usually did, Jha'dur herself could be considered a Spanner in the Works.
  • The Shadow Line:
    • Gatehouse gets this in his first encounter with Glickman, when he realises that Glickman knew he was coming in advance and prepared countermeasures; namely, a large bomb, which destroys his shop and almost kills Gatehouse.
    • In the next episode this happens to Glickman himself. He contacts his girlfriend not knowing that she's working for Counterpoint. She then stabs him to death.
  • In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, former Dragon Damaras has defeated the Gokaiger, capturing Captain Marvelous for execution, killing the others, and letting Lovable Coward Don live out of mercy. Then his plan gets completely dereailed when Don actually comes back to mount a rescue, relying upon their little-known Team Pet to rescue Marvelous while he distracts everyone else (and is lampshaded by Marvelous' Evil Former Friend Basco outright saying the trope's name when Don first shows up). And then we find out that Basco only faked killing the other Gokaigers, which he reveals as he literally backstabs Damaras.

Tabletop Games

Board Games

  • In Shogi, remember that it's possible to have your captured pieces used against you.
  • In a similar manner, Chess, especially if a player fails a spot check.
  • Since Go has a ridiculously complicated Metagame deciding who actually controls territory on the board, it's possible to make unorthodox (or slightly less orthodox) moves that result in a massive advantage. (For a glamorized version of how this might happen, watch any match in Hikaru no Go.)

Tabletop RPG

  • On the one hand, Game Masters are very often on the receiving end of PC ADD (not AD&D, though the similarity is telling) and are often forced into Railroading the plot. On the other, PC's can be struck by a very creative GM who gleefully goes Off the Rails with them and reprimands misbehavior creatively.
  • This happens quite a bit to the Thousand Sons Chaos Space Marine chapter in Warhammer 40,000. They plan any action they take for years, carefully plot out every single possibility... Then their rivals, the Space Wolves, just run in and beat the shit out of them when they least expect it. You'd think they'd learn by now.
    • One example took place in the Gothic War. Chaos runs in and has the Imperial Navy on the ropes, they're clearly winning with their plans falling perfectly into place. Then out of the blue the Ork pirates which have been pestering the Imperial decide it might be fun to attack Chaos for a while.
    • The bread and butter of the Alpha Legion, to the extent where their very existence has been denied by the Imperial Inquisition three times. It's not really clear who's side they're even on.
  • Happens to virtually everyone in Exalted, especially when Adorjan or the Exalted are involved. Let's put it this way: in Autochthonia, one of the nations implemented a form of currency to keep the Populat happy during a series of high-profile scandals. Now there are illicitly wealthy members of the Populat bribing their way out of their responsibilities, regulator corruption all over the place, counterfeiting rings springing up, and similar chaos, and nobody has any idea what to do about it.

Video Games

  • Bob Page from Deus Ex had a plan to become a Physical God by merging with a nigh-omniscient AI was only mildly impeded by the player nuking his base of operations. It's completely thrown out the window, however, by the AI deciding it wants to merge with the player instead.
  • Calypso sometimes runs into this in Twisted Metal; he doesn't always pick the most dependable players. Sweet Tooth tends to do this most often, but he's gotten caught off-guard by others as well. At least four characters turn the tables on him in Twisted Metal 2.
  • Persona 3. After his Reveal as The Chessmaster, Shuji Ikutsuki plans to sacrifice most of the party by forcing Robot Girl Aigis to murder them, in order to bring about The End of the World as We Know It. He's just about to succeed... and at that point, the player is reminded that Ikutsuki forgot to crucify the dog, too.
  • And it happens again in Persona 4, if you manage to find the true ending. The game itself works against you here, making you wait until most of the way through the good ending and then ignore two of its attempts to turn you around, that it's really no wonder the true final boss is surprised you got that far.
  • In Command & Conquer, Kane's always a step ahead. Of everyone. GDI, Scrin, his own generals. Then in Command & Conquer 3 he undergoes a Villainous Breakdown when Kilian's forces ally with GDI. And then in Kane's Wrath, when it's revealed just how proficient Kane is at playing a Gambit Roulette, he's yet again surprised when Alexa reveals to have tried to destroy LEGION, and tricked Kane into executing Kilian, out of her devotion to Kane. That said, he still wins out in the end.
  • Planescape: Torment has a backstory example: Fhjull Forked-Tongue, Lawful Evil devil manages to trap a deva, a very incarnation of truth and Lawful Good, only to have it undone by the fact that the deva lied to him. The result of this (which is never precisely explained) is that Fhjull is now trapped into performing charity to any who asks.
  • In BlazBlue, Hakumen says a variation of this in his Calamity Trigger Arcade path when Nu-13 turns out to be the ninth fight instead of the last one.
  • In BioShock (series), Fontaine's plot to get Jack to kill Andrew Ryan to let him take over Rapture went of without a hitch....except for those Little Sisters....
  • No one seemed to see Yuna and her Guardians coming in Final Fantasy X, least of all Lady Yunalesca, who has never been challenged before and was certainly not expecting to get the shit kicked out of her horrifying medusa-head form, thereby destroying the traditional (but not, as she claimed, "only") way to defeat Sin.
    • Since the only way that she could reasonably be defeated was if the player read a guide beforehand, that was probably a reasonable point of view.
    • Nobody predicted that Sin itself, or rather Jecht, was capable of setting into motion events that would lead to its destruction.
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, Barthandelus' plan to turn the l'Cie into the instruments of Cocoon's destruction hinges on them breaking when he slams them into the Despair Event Horizon, inducing them to follow their Focus and using the power of Ragnarok to kill Orphan. Fang comes close in the end, but not close enough: Barthandelus' failure to recognize humans as more than mere tools is the undoing of his schemes, as the l'Cie ultimately save Cocoon by subverting their Focus.
  • Sun Li, Glorious Strategist for the Jade Empire. Yeah, marvelous Xanatos Gambit. Flawless, right down to deliberately putting flaws in the Player Character's fighting style. But...he really didn't expect that The Water Dragon was running an equally good one to counter it.
  • In Mass Effect despite the Reapers being terrifyingly thorough when it comes to wiping out all life in the galaxy, they still can't foresee every outcome:
    • The Reapers didn't plan for the Protheans to stop the keepers from activating the Citadel Relay. Nor did they anticipate the keepers evolving in manner that could be exploited to this end. This is noteworthy as it also relied on the Reapers only weakness: their expectations. They expected the Protheans to futilely fight until extinction. They didn't expect them to accept their fate and Fling a Light Into the Future, essentially using their last fighting chance to give future sentient life better odds of survival.
    • Harbinger recognized Commander Shepard as a major threat, and had him/her eliminated. He didn't count on Cerberus being able to resurrect Shepard, rebuild the Normandy, and point him/her right at the Collectors.
    • The original Shadow Broker didn't see the betrayal by his Exclusively Evil yahg agent betraying him until it was too late.
    • In a Mass Effect novel, the Illusive Man captures Paul Grayson, a rogue Cerberus agent, and has him implanted with Reaper nanites, effectively turning him into a Saren-type Husk. He keeps Grayson sedated and has Kai Leng on standby to kill Grayson if necessary. Then the research station is attacked by a turian squad sent to stop Cerberus and rescue Grayson. The Illusive Man's plan is ruined, and he barely escapes with his life. Unfortunately, the turians experience this as well. They rescue Grayson but have no idea that he's already under Reaper control.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, Yuan has a foolproof plan for getting hold of the Plot Coupon that will allow him to save the world: all he has to do is threaten the son of the person who can unlock the seal on the Summon Spirit that grants it. It probably would have worked, if the Big Bad hadn't been traveling with the party incognito...
  • Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines - Pity poor Sebastian LaCroix. For an ineffectual-seeming idiot Prince, he manages to make surprisingly good use of the PC and then turn the entire city against you when he doesn't need you anymore. Problem is, there was simply no way he could count on you defeating the Blood Hunt and any and all other opposition by yourself, Caine empowering you to defeat his Dominate, and Jack setting him up the bomb. Okay, the first might have been something he should have expected, but the rest almost amounts to a Diabolus Ex Machina from his perspective.
  • Several of these nail Manfred von Karma in Ace Attorney. He didn't see Larry Butz arriving with key information, didn't expect Phoenix to get useful information out of a parrot even after retraining it to destroy the most useful, and, most importantly, he spends the entire case manipulating the Judge... but never expects the Judge to truly hold devotion to law and order over any fear he may have of him. This last one screws von Karma over more than everything else.
    • Also, in Miles Edgeworth's game, Quercus Alba is unbeatable, until a series of these brings him down. Notable in that multiple completely unpredictable (from his perspective) events are required for him to be arrested.
  • In Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Tirnoch created the Fateless One so that he/she could free Tirnoch from her prison that she was destined to hold her forever. This part works perfectly. What Tirnoch didn't see coming was the Fateless One being powerful enough to kill her.
  • Pokémon Platinum: Cyrus captures the Legendary Pokemon of Time and Space, and prepares to use them to destroy the universe to end human suffering. Unbeknownst to him, they were two-thirds of a trio, and the Legendary Pokemon of Matter/Antimatter, long ago banned from reality and stricken from mythology out of fear, isn't too pleased with him for this...
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 pulls a nasty one on the player with the side quest, "He's British, Of Course". The protagonist meets Margaret - a male circus performer who dresses like a woman - who needs your help because three of his circus animals - a zebra, tiger, and lion - are loose. The zebra and tiger are pretty easy to subdue, seeing as they're only a donkey and cougar with dyed fur; it seems Margaret is a charlatan side show owner who uses puckery to attract customers. Thus, when he emphases that he wants the lion alive, you're likely to assume it's another fake, especially since he claims it's from "Tanganyiki" (there is no such place). This time, however, not only is this a real African lion, it's angry. And sadly, there's no way to safely capture the poor beast alive, the only way to survive this encounter is to shoot it.

Web Comics


Beholder: Thus is was written...
The Archmage: This was not supposed to happen.


Thog: thog is the Champion, thog's friends! And thog will keep fighting to the end!

  • Happens all the time in Sluggy Freelance. Often followed by Riff's Catch Phrase, "Let me check my notes."
    • One particularly memorable moment is an inversion.

Riff: Torg, why are there pants on the floor?
Torg: They're my emergency pants.
Riff: ...why do you have emergency pants?
Torg: I don't know, but in every situation I could think up, I was glad to have them.

  • In Girl Genius, no character ever gets to have everything go according to plan. Something always happens just when you least expect it. They can only be better or worse at being on top of the chaos.
  • SSDD, the Oracle is usually successful in his Gambit Roulettes due to the fact that he was designed to make accurate predictions, but apparently Time Travel throws him off.
  • Kale Williams utters those exact words in the Quetza Drake's Furthia High comic, when Campy shows up to the school dance with a male date.
    • Ashley averts it when she calmly replies, "I did."
  • In an Xkcd comic, some nerds figure out how to end all relationship drama (via a mathematic equation, naturally), but upon testing their theory in the real world, all the relationship drama, in fact, SPIKES, leading one to say "Holy shit... people are complicated!
  • Bob and George: Our Idiot Hero is on the edge of a cliff with The Yellow Demon jumping at him -- so he runs back and the cliff falls. Bet you the demon didn't see it coming.
  • The defunct webcomic Filthy Lies had one character daydream a Self Insert fic where he was a Jerkass Stu (using Felix Felicis, for example, to have a threesome with Hermione and Ginny) in the events of Harry Potter...who, during the climax, ended up screwing everything up so that all the good guys died. He even took the big moment away from Snape by accidentally bumping Dumbledore off the top of the tower with poor broom handling before Snape could perform Avada Kedavra.

Snape: I did not see that coming.

  • In El Goonish Shive, when Abe disarmed the elf. Anybody who forgets he's fighting a wizard after having to overcome his spells just to get there deserves to be spammed by exploding crows on the spot.
  • A chain of these in Alanna. Tristan has forcibly bonded OB, the god of lightning and dissection, to himself, and EB, the god of Frost and Destruction, to the protagonist. All he needs to do is capture the protagonist, and he pretty much wins. He knows that the protagonist has a lightning sprite that can absorb his electrical attacks to become stronger, but considers it to be a non-factor because sprites are easily banished. He also knows that EB's creations will obey her, but isn't worried because he has a small army of Amalgams, and also knows that OB's creations can only function under OB's orders. However, he was completely unaware of several important facts: firstly, OB's creations had a small degree of autonomy, and had built a clone of OB to guide them; Tristan didn't know about this because Fake!OB was non-functional, but the protagonist managed to get it operational. In return, Fake!OB sent OB's creations against Tristan for the final battle, and also gave the protagonist's lightning sprite a warding that made it impossible for Tristan to banish. lastly, it gave her a means to communicate with the imprisoned Real!OB. Tristan's reaction to this is absolutely priceless. More importantly. however, Tristan is unaware that there was a complication during EB's bonding. At the start of the story, "Spirit Guides" (Actually the readers, who give the protagonist suggestions on what to do) were bonded to the protagonist, occupying the place where EB was supposed to go, meaning that EB is actually bound to the readers, instead of the protagonist. Since we can sever our connection with the protagonist at any time, the readers are essentially provided with a big red button labeled "Screw Tristan's plans six ways to Sunday." And Tristan certainly couldn't have predicted the readers using this information to prove to the original OB that Tristan's plan couldn't work, and that this would cause OB to take advantage of Tristan's unstable mental state when he tried to go One-Winged Angel to leave his body.
  • In Sinfest, Lil' Evil flips off God and runs off. God asks him where exactly he thought he could hide.
  • Mountain Time — when Agoraphobic Hamster pokes a penguin with a broom, it may sound as a bad idea, but it turns out to be a Very Bad Idea instead.

Web Originals

  • In The Salvation War, this is the downfall of several figures in the story, not least of which include the antagonists Satan and Yahweh, while in contrast much of human military tech shown in the story is concerned with trying to prevent this. In particular, General of the Armies David Petraeus is shown on several occasions accounting for known unknowns.
  • Despite all of the completely ludicrous things they managed to pull off in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, I still don't think anybody was expecting Bad Horse to be an actual horse.
  • In the "40K Rejects" series by Mini War Gaming dot com, in Episode 3 (The Tale of an Ork), Captain Slaughter and co. are looking for the five Ork Shokk Attack Guns. They capture several Orks in combat, and Slaughter interrogates them one by one. The first few are gibbering idiots, but the third is quite articulate. His intelligence and knowledge intrigue Slaughter, who is subsequently shocked to discover that the Ork is actually "the Warboss in disguise"!. Slaughter's reaction to it is priceless:

Slaughter: Out of all the unforeseen things I've ever seen!

  • Ranger has multiple times fallen victim to the first type in Comic Fury Werewolf. He's several times forgotten key facts which are public information due to focusing too hard on the details. One of the worst is how he's twice forgotten about the vigilantes, and even forgot about the alpha's ability to convert until he was dead and too late to warn the village.

Western Animation

  • Happens quite a bit in Johnny Test, leading to a character using this line.
  • In an episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Brainiac is surprised when he blasts off Batman's suit and Superman is underneath it, having taken on the guise of Batman with Bruce Wayne having gone missing (due to Brainiac kidnapping and brainwashing him for his plans). His reaction is typically understated...

Brainiac: "Kal-El! ...This occurrence was highly improbable."


Lex Luthor: Did you really think you could take me all by yourself?
Amanda Waller: Actually, yeah. But on the off chance I might've been wrong...
[The founding Leaguers have entered through the window]
Flash: Ta-da.

  • Which is immediately followed by another one: It turns out that Brainiac is underneath Lex's suit. And skin. I guess he learned his lesson...
  • Then, of course, there was the episode "Wild Cards." In the middle of Joker's bomb threat on Vegas being aired as a reality TV show, Batman manages to talk to Harley Quinn alone. He insinuates that Joker seems awfully close to Ace, the new henchgirl. Harley storms off toward her puddin' in a jealous rage, but not before throwing and landing a solid punch on Batman for enlightening her. Cue to a shot of Joker staring blankly at a television screen after the exchange is over.

Joker: Have to admit, I didn't see that one coming...

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Azula, the Dangerously Genre Savvy Chessmaster and expertly Magnificent Bastard, "miscalculated" one thing, possibly in her life: Mai's loyalty to Zuko.
    • In the Alternate Universe short "School Time Shipping", Zuko, understandably, utters this when Katara reveals her choice of date to the dance: the Blue Spirit, Zuko's alter ego.
    • Fire Lord Ozai faces a couple in the last episode: an Unknown Known (Aang regaining control of the Avatar State) and then an Unknown Unknown (Energy Bending).
  • This is how Homer winds up going to a Krusty the Clown themed clown college in one episode of The Simpsons (after being bombarded by new billboards telling him all the stuff he has to buy). He gets up in the middle of dinner, declares his intentions, and walks away. Bart just states, "I don't think any of us expected him to say that."
  • One episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, "Grounder the Genius", had the eponymous bumbling robot minion accidentally end up with Dr. Robotnik's stolen Super Genius Program in his head; he instantly transforms into an uber-chessmaster with enough smarts to incapacitate Sonic and decide that the bad doctor has no place in his own schemes for world domination. In the end, he has Sonic and Tails on the ropes with a lightning generator and announces that he's thought of every possible occurrence...except the one where fellow bumbling robot minion Scratch shows up trying to help and accidentally knocks his head off.
  • In an episode of Thundercats, Mumm-Ra and the evil Mutants had succeeded in capturing ALL the Thundercats - except Snarf. When the Mutants discuss whether they should get him too, they all laugh at the notion that little, dorky Snarf could in any way possibly affect their plans now that they've essentially won. Little did they realize Snarf's talent for communicating with animals, as well as being so small and weak to be ignored to begin with, turned out to be their undoing.
  • It was almost a Running Gag in Kim Possible how many bad guys would have Kim and/or Ron absolutely nailed to the wall, fail to account for Rufus chewing through their bonds or hitting the self-destruct for the Kill Sat, and then are absolutely stunned that their plans were foiled in the end. And they never learned otherwise no matter how many times it happened to the same villains.
    • In an early episode, Drakken did manage to spot Rufus in time to foil him (or rather a mind controlled Kim pointed it out). But he winds up underestimating Kim's brothers when he doesn't believe a portable machine they made could stop him.
    • And then the villains in the Grand Finale face an awesome Unknown Unknown in the form of Ron's Mystical Monkey Power.
  • This was one of Hunter's Catch Phrases in Road Rovers. "Yet another unexpected twist."

Hunter: "I would NOT have predicted this!"
Colleen: "Face it, Hunty. The Psychic Network, you're not..."

  • The events of the first Futurama Christmas Episode lead Fry to lament, "I never thought it would end this way... gunned down by Santa Claus. Honestly, I didn't see it coming!"
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Applejack says this in "Swarm of the Century", when the voracious parasprites, instead of eating her apple crop, ate her barn instead.
    • The two things that Discord hadn't planned for were Celestia breaking Twilight out of her Heroic BSOD by sending her the letters her student had sent her the entire previous season and Twilight somehow reuniting her friends and breaking them out of Discord's Mind Rape so they could use the Elements Of Harmony to defeat him. The former is likely an Unknown Unknown he couldn't have expected and the latter is a Known Unknown, he knew about who was involved but hadn't forseen how they could do anything to stop him at that point.
    • After Chrysalis true form being revealed true form in front of Celestia and her plans explained, it was obvious that Celestia wasn't going to stay still about it. What it wasn't obvious was that the queen of the Changelings had already gathered enough strenght to beat the Princess. Not even Chrysalis expected that!
  • In one South Park episode, when Kenny died, Stan didn't react the usual way (i.e. "Oh, my God! They killed Kenny!"). Instead, he asked who didn't see that coming.
  • Discussed by Edward's friend (voiced by Samuel Jackson) in The Boondocks. He talks about how there are known unknowns, things that we know that we don't know, and unknown unknowns, namely things that we don't know that didn't know, in order to justify how the plan that they had to capture a killer was so far going badly.
  • In the second to last episode of Teen Titans, during the Final Battle Jinx switches sides. Cyborg comments "I didn't see that coming". Control Freak nods in agreement while being pinned down by Cyborg.

Real Life

  • The submarine USS San Francisco one ran smack into a Underwater mountain. The captain and crew should seen that coming if they were doing their jobs right (the captain ended up relieved of duty), so that would make this a case of unknown knowns.
  • During World War I, the Austro-Hungarian battleship SMS Szent István was torpedoed and sank by two Italian torpedo boats that just happened to pass in the area. This goes under Unknown Knowns category, as the Austro-Hungarians knew that the Italians used motor torpedo boats and considered them a threath due their tendence to attack their fleet in the harbours, they just didn't expect them to be able to torpedo a battleship in the middle of the sea in spite of a destroyer and torpedo boat screen (and in fact thought it had been submarines until the Italians started bragging).
  1. Or, at least, that was the intention. The later Expanded Universe has had trouble deciding whether it was public knowledge or not.
  2. During the events of Wheel of Fortune: Calamity Trigger, Hazama makes an attempt on Jin's life, only to have himself parried by a half-dressed squirrel beastkin he initially recognizes as Makoto Nanaya, but when she asks about Noel, who was obliterated in Ibukido during this timeline, he starts running questions through his mind on just who she is. This Makoto, as he finds out far too late to salvage the rest of his Wheel of Fortune plot, is actually an extracontinuual anomaly, and not only has she been asking questions about things that didn't happen in Wheel of Fortune, but she also brought Noel up before Tsubaki Yayoi - the resulting confusion caused Tsubaki to not meet with Hazama for prescheduled Mind Rape, so Hazama has to come up after her, and since Continuum Shift Makoto has been in recent contact, she was nowhere near Relius, who Hazama was outsourcing her handling to. His plans completely toppled and his patience having expired, he decides to kill her where she stands - only Rachel shows up and gets her out of there, leaving him alone with his seething rage. Back in Continuum Shift, when Hazama catches Makoto chatting with Jin and not on assignment in Ikaruga, he finally puts two and two together, and his actions relegate his newfound priorities with her - outsource to Relius or kill on sight!