Figure It Out Yourself

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"If you gotta ask, you'll never know."

Louis Armstrong, defining Jazz.

Ben: You have to tell me how to work this thing.
Azmuth: Don't you want to figure it out on your own, like a true hero would?
Ben: Hmm... not really.


What could be more more Egregious than Cannot Spit It Out, you ask?

There's a crisis and information is needed. There's someone, perhaps many someones, who have this information right on hand and it would simply take five minutes to explain.

In fact, the hero outright asks for it. Politely. A lot.

"You'll have to figure it out yourself."

The problem is this isn't limited to villains or even the Ineffectual Loner, but characters who really shouldn't have any motives to keep this information secret from the character. Except to pad out the season, of course. Though they frequently claim that making the hero work through things by himself is a necessary learning experience.

Commonly uttered by Time Travellers since solving people's problems for them would change history... except when it doesn't. Time Travel is funny that way.

It's also a stock phrase for the All Powerful Bystander. The Trickster Mentor never says it, but you know he's thinking it; the Zen Survivor practically breathes in these. An Oracular Urchin will get out of de-cryptifying their Cryptic Conversation with the hero this way. Likewise heroes and super heroes with a Secret Legacy might be overjoyed to find out they're not the black sheep of their family, but wonder why mom and dad never helped out before.

Used in almost exactly the same places and situations as "You Are Not Ready", with the implication that the act of working the information out is the only way to make yourself worthy of it. Often couched within a Cryptic Conversation.

Examples of Figure It Out Yourself include:

Anime and Manga

  • Despite the obvious worry of Princess Nine's lead about the truth of her late father cheating in a baseball game, none of the characters who admit to knowing will tell her. She is later inexplicably convinced by her own bizarre dream sequence.
  • In Naruto Jiraiya tells this to Naruto when he is training him on how to use the Rasengan, that Naruto will have to work out how to pop the balloons and complete all 3 stages of mastering the jutsu by himself.
    • Notably, Naruto also improvises a way to do the first stage while circumventing the most difficult part which Jiraiya didn't expect at all.
    • Also, during a Cryptic Conversation over a game of shogi, Asuma asks Shikamaru what part of Konoha the King represents. Only with his last breath does he reveal the identity of the King: the new generation.
    • Kabuto revives some fairly powerful kages during the 4th shinobi world war, controlling their bodies but allowing them to speak normally to their opponents, who they would otherwise want to be allied with. One of them, the Mizukage, gets tired of explaining his techniques, and eventually states that if they're not strong enough to figure it out on their own and seal him, they don't deserve to win.
  • Used effectively in a serious arc of Ranma ½: a new rival, Ryu Kumon, is using the devastating Yamasenken martial art invented by Genma, and is tearing up the place looking for its counterpart/complement, the Umisenken. However, Genma is so horrified that someone is using it, he utterly refuses to teach Ranma anything about either style. Only after Ranma is nearly killed and comes home a bruised, battered pulp, does Genma relent slightly: he will use the Umisenken style on Ranma, once, and it's up to Ranma to figure out the entire style from that ridiculously brief demonstration. Naturally, Ranma does.
    • Except he actually didn't. His mom found the scroll detailing it and cut it up to use as an envelope containing a message for Ranko. All without being aware that Ranma was Ranko and that Ranma needed to learn the Umisenken.
  • In Suzumiya Haruhi, both Asahina Mikuru and Nagato Yuki give Kyon very incomplete information about how to ... save the world from Haruhi. Kyon puts both clues together at nearly the last minute to do just so. Justified to some extent because both Asahina and Nagato are constrained by rules.
  • This is C.C.'s favourite trope in Code Geass, aside from being a Sugar and Ice Personality. She was in league with the Protagonist's parents, but switched sides after some soul-searching. Mostly, she's willing to help out a lot from behind the scenes, whilst leaving Lelouch to learn lessons on his own.
  • At no point in Aiki does Kunitoshi ever give a straightforward lesson on anything. The most he does is tell you when you've screwed up. On the other hand, should someone manage to get started on their own, he does give them legitimate advice on the next steps.
  • In Saiyuki the main character, as a Sanzo priest, is supposed to give advice and provide an example of how to live your life. Sanzo rejects this as hypocritical and useless. He therefore takes a "figure it out yourself" stance on LIFE. The one time he does give a lecture on Buddhist ideology (his personal favorite, "if you meet the buddha, kill the buddha") it is a HUGE deal.
  • In the One Piece episode where the Straw Hats first meet Silvers Rayleigh (first mate of the legendary Gol D. Roger) Robin asks if her knows anything about the Void Century and Will of D, knowledge she has been pursuing all her life. Rayleigh's ominous answer is as follows:

Rayleigh: Yes, we know. We learned the entire history. However, Miss... Don't be hasty. Push forward on your ship one step at a time. Perhaps we, as well as Ohara, were too impatient. If I were to tell you the entire history here and now, it's not like you could do anything the way you are now. After you've taken your time to see the world, the conclusion you reach might be different than what we found.

  • He does tell her then that he will tell her now if she desires, but she sees his point and tells him not to.
  • Although, a common fan theory interpretation of what is says is that he believed Robin would Go Mad From the Revelation should he tell her.

Fan Works

  • After the four retrieve the first piece of the Vasyn in With Strings Attached and the Fans “call” to congratulate them, George asks why his ring stuck, and Ringo asks whether he actually teleported or the Fans saved him. Jeft says ~THESE ARE NOT THINGS WE CAN TELL YOU. YOU MUST FIND OUT FOR YOURSELVES.~ To which George, reasonably enough, cries “Rubbish! How're we supposed to find this bloody thing for you if our magic goes haywire for no reason?” Shag is equally annoyed at Jeft for holding out on the four, and answers their questions for them. (At which Jeft sniffs, ~ARE WE QUITE FINISHED SPOILING MYSTERIES?~)
    • Immediately after they leave the four, Jeft gives Shag a series of good reasons why he didn't want to answer the questions. She grudgingly agrees that he was right and she was wrong.
      • His reasons are all garbage; he really did want to preserve the mysteries in the story, since it's all a game he cooked up.


  • Most of Harry Potter‍'‍s interactions with Dumbledore revolve around measured dispensing and denying of plot critical information—all as a "learning experience". In the sixth book, Dumbledore admits that this was a bad idea. Of course, he then does it in the seventh book from beyond the grave, if for arguably better reasons.
    • Even in book six, Dumbledore isn't immune to this. There is no reason for Dumbledore not to tell Harry what a Horcrux is, and a good reason for him to do so (Harry doesn't think finding out about them is that important, if he knew what they were, it might move up his priority list.
      • Dumbledore kept secrets from Harry so that Voldemort wouldn't know
    • During book seven, while the Power Trio is on the road trying to figure out what they have to do, Hermione suggested this trope as a rationale for why they had to do something. Later on, when Harry turned the same rationale on her for a different goal, she admitted that she didn't really believe it and was just trying to get her way in the first place.
    • Justified in not telling Harry about being the last horcrux, if he had, Voldemort could have known and Voldemort had to kill the soul in Harry
  • His Dark Materials: Lyra cannot be told anything about her destiny but has to complete it naturally on her own... Because Destiny Says So, literally...
  • Everybody in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. If the good guys didn't universally have a habit of not sharing information with each other (along with other tragic flaws), the series really would have been a trilogy.
    • The author also had a habit of using this line on readers who wanted to know what the hell was going on.
  • L.E. Modesitt's Recluce series has a particularly ridiculous case of this. Order mages are usually "trained" by giving them a near-incomprehensible textbook and sending them off into danger. Why? Because, for no apparent reason, actually explaining things prevents mages from applying what they were told. Even though the explanations make perfect sense to the reader.
  • This is Miles Vorkosigan's standard response whenever someone asks him how to do something he's asked them to do, when he doesn't know how to do it himself.
    • Emperor Gregor also makes Mark Vorkosigan figure it out himself in Mirror Dance. As Mark says (using asking someone for the time of day as a metaphor):

Gregor would hint obliquely where I might look for a crono.

  • In The Thrawn Trilogy, the eponymous antagonist uses this after dropping a few oblique hints so a smuggler captain he wants to come to a particular conclusion doesn't get suspicious.
    • A version of this trope is brought up in Starfighters of Adumar, when Wedge Antilles does not want to kill the Proud Warrior Race guys he's having to fight, but can't tell them why because he's trying to sway their government, and outright stating that he finds their way of life repulsive won't win the New Republic any favors.

Hobbie: "Do to them what you do to us at times like that. [...] Tell them what you're doing but not why. Then let them speculate. Listen to them as they speculate. When they come up with an idea you really, really like, tell them 'You finally guessed right. That was my reasoning all along.'"

  • Richard's companions in Neverwhere pointedly refuse to explain most of London Below, on the premise that it's dangerous to know too much. Richard nearly dies several times due to lack of forewarning, at which point his "friends" chide him for not knowing information they withheld.
  • In The Gods Themselves, the nature of Soft One maturation requires that the Rational work out the species' life cycle on his own. Simply telling him how it works prevents him from reaching the level of mental development needed to actually cause the final maturation.
  • The cheela (neutron-star dwelling beings) of Dragon's Egg live much faster lives than humans, and advance at a much faster rate (it takes them roughly one day to advance from their equivalent of Sumeria to their equivalent of Rome). When a human spaceship shows up and even further boosts their rate of technological advancement (by essentially beaming Wikipedia at them), they feel the need to pay them back when they (again within a day or two) advance far past human technology. However, they can't just tell us everything; instead, everything they know is encrypted with keys that are based on the knowledge contained inside. So, for example, the unlock the section on faster-than-light travel, humans will need to find a pyramid on a body around Epsilon Eridani...which is about 10 light years away from the Sun. Their reasons aren't really explored, but they seem to feel that simply telling us will deprive us of the benefits of figuring it out ourselves.
  • This is how Elodin teaches naming in The Kingkiller Chronicle. It basically consists of doing random things for stupid reasons, letting the students figure out how to name stuff.

Live Action TV

  • The Doctor from Doctor Who and Sailor Pluto from Sailor Moon both invoke the "changing the future" excuse.
  • God does this in pretty much every episode of Joan of Arcadia.
  • It's a recurring part of the Ancients' schtick in Stargate SG-1, and a lot of what makes the Tollans so annoying.
    • Nicely explained concerning the issue of ascension. The Ancients believe people should learn how to do it themselves (after all, they did), while the Ori promise to ascend followers for them (which is actually a lie, but no one knew it at the time). While Daniel is usually frustrated by the Ancients and their lack of helpfulness, he once spoke in their defence to stop people from following the Ori:

Daniel: You're right. Maybe...hoarding knowledge is wrong. Or maybe it's not. Maybe learning something for yourself is part of the journey to enlightenment.

  • Angel: "You're Welcome". Cordelia wakes from her coma to help Angel and company rediscover their true calling:

Cordelia: You just forgot who you are.
Angel: Remind me.
Cordelia: Oh no, that's for you to figure out, bubba.

  • During The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., this was usually the reply Brisco got when asking questions about the Orb to anyone who was actually in a position to know something.
  • In an episode of the 2000s Continuity Reboot of Battlestar Galactica when the character Six gets Baltar to tell Commander Adama he needs an atom bomb to find possible Cylons, and Six tells him, "figure out the rest yourself."
    • Of course, it was this very bomb that enabled the Cylons to find the humans once they had settled on New Caprica.
  • Dr. Cox has this attitude very often with all of his interns/residents on Scrubs, although it is possible that this is because, as doctors, they need to be able to perform procedures/diagnoses in order to become effective medical staff. Or, possibly, because he's a jerk.
  • A complaint often leveled at the characters in Lost; they all really need to be more forthcoming with answers and persistent in the asking of questions.
  • A time traveler in an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation pulls this on Picard, saying how happy he is to be visiting the Enterprise. Picard, meanwhile, has a difficult decision to make and wants the time traveler to tell him how the decision turns out (the fate of a whole planet was at stake). The time traveler, naturally, refuses. Picard does make the right choice and saves everybody, but in an interesting subversion it turns out that the time traveler is bluffing about knowing how things come out: he was actually from the past and had stolen the time machine.
  • Dimitria spent the first half of Power Rangers Turbo doing this (her species could only talk in questions, supposedly, though fellow "Inquirian" Visceron didn't have this problem), only to drop this practice when the four veteran Rangers- probably more experienced at this sort of thing than she was- were retired and replaced, at which point she got a lot more direct.
  • Lampshaded in an early episode of Red Dwarf, with the 'Holly Hop Drive'

Lister: It's just a box, with "STOP" and "START" on it!
Holly: It's fairly straightforward. If you want to start it you press "START", and you can work out the rest of the controls for yourself.

  • Should you ever find yourself in Fraggle Rock and Cantus the Minstrel happens to be around, ask him for some advice. He'll give it freely, but it's so cryptic that you have to Figure It Out Yourself. This quirk of his has been lampshaded on several occasions.
  • It's also the case for several characters on Fringe, particularly the Observers,[1] although Sam Weiss gets a few good moments in seasons 2 and 3.


  • Dragon Age Origins. If Loghain is a party member, and you decide not to take him with you to defeat the Archdemon, he puzzles why you spared his life if you had no intention of forcing him to kill the archdemon as an alternative to self-sacrifice, one of your answers is that someday he'll realize why. If you choose the Heroic Sacrifice, it's doubly poignant.
  • Inverted in Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories. Axel explicitly offers Sora a hint as to what's going on in Castle Oblivion, but Sora turns him down, stating that he'd rather figure it out himself.
    • Granted, in 358/2 Days, Axel gives Roxas the exact opposite treatment.
    • Played straight in the first Kingdom Hearts though, when Sora asks Hercules what it takes to be a true hero.
  • The entire second Myst game is an instance of Figure It Out Yourself. Atrus is too busy to explain the situation before sending you off, so he gives you a wondrously cryptic journal, assuring you that "most of what you'll need to know is in there". He does mention that he can't supply you with an escape hatch, "for reasons you'll discover". And he tells you to signal him when you've accomplished your mission, but doesn't tell you how ...
    • Arguably, the entire series is based on this.
  • In the case of the Ace Attorney series, it's obvious what the real reason is that Phoenix Wright (and Apollo) have to figure everything out for themselves. After all, it wouldn't be much of a game if they kept telling you how to solve the problems. In-universe, however, it's kind of strange how everyone, including his mentor Mia, refuses to give any advice at trials more helpful than sometimes-vague hints. Apparently, Phoenix's growth as a lawyer is more important than making sure his innocent client doesn't get convicted of murder, even if that client is Mia's little sister.
    • Phoenix infact questions Mia's motive for being so secretive about the outcome on one occasion.
    • Ema Skye uses the phrase directly in the 4th game, regarding Phoenix's loss of his badge.
  • Somewhat amusingly, when Yuan from Tales of Symphonia says this to the party, it's mostly just that he's too impatient to bother explaining all the details.
  • In the Interactive Fiction game The PK Girl, Katryn makes a very big point of giving you exactly half of the information you need and letting you win the rest of the story yourself. Of course, she's a Femme Fatale Magnificent Bitch, and while she has her own agenda, using you as her catspaw is her way of testing you to see if you're worthy to take over ROSA.
  • The Star Tablet keepers of the Suikoden series tend to do this a lot, much to said Stars' annoyance.
    • Most notably, Zerase and her Expy Zenoa, who practically brag about their knowledge and ridicule you for asking questions of them.
  • In Mother 3, this is more-or-less what Wess tells Duster when sending him to get the Egg of Light. Naturally, being told only to get a shiny thing in the nearby ancient castle, with no more details than that, backfires, but Wess simply blames Duster for the mistake.
  • An old game on the Apple II called Nightmare #6 started off with the text: "The object of the game is to figure out the object of the game."


  • Justified in Thunderstruck, with the Shackled Man. Basically, he can see all possible futures except events directly involving him. So if he tells anyone what he sees, and they act on it, he can't see what happens to them after that.
  • A few of the Nukees comics that focus on the undergrads talk about this tendency in undergrad textbooks. "The book says, 'the reader can show how X becomes Y squared. I'm the reader! I can't show! The back of my ass! That's what I can show!"
  • In Homestuck, Karkat is extremely reluctant to explain anything of use to John, even though it would be immensely helpful. This is because he's organising the conversations in a reverse temporal fashion (his first talk with John is John's last, and vice versa). Thus, he's already explained those facts and doesn't want to repeat himself every time, which means John either figures it out himself, gets the information from another source (which pisses Karkat off) or waits until Karkat is finally good and ready to explain. When Karkat later trolls Jade, she enforces a password system for the explicit purpose of not letting him do this.
  • In Sinfest, Buddha, in the best Zen tradition, offers a flower in response to a request for enlightenment.

Western Animation


Mr. E': Where's the fun in at?


Real Life

  • The ancient philosopher Socrates believed in using a complex questioning method to engage with his opponents, instead of simply arguing for the ideas that he had in mind; this makes this Older Than Feudalism. This method of debate gets so mind-blowingly annoying that it may have had more than a little to do with why Socrates was eventually sentenced to death by the people of Athens.
    • It can help people understand a concept more than if they were just told about it. By asking them questions, they can theorize and you can find out what they already know and what they need to be taught. It's also effectively politically in that, also if done well, the person you're doing this to will think they came up with your idea. And people will always accept things more easily if it's "their" idea. Part of the reason he was executed was because he annoyed (or rather, pissed off) the wrong people with his questions. The high and mighty didn't like being made fools of back then.
    • It probably didn't help Socrates that (at least as portrayed by Plato) he rarely paid more than lip service to his own favored method of discourse. After an initial series of exchanges that show how hopelessly confused his opponent is regarding the matter at interest, the core questions from Socrates invariably go like: "And wouldn't you agree that such and such, and also that this and that, so because of fee fie foe it must be true that blah de blah?" The opponent is then reduced to meekly agreeing. Figure it out yourself, indeed.
    • During his lifetime Socrates objected to the way Plato represented him. Plato basically treated Socrates as a mouthpiece for his ideas.
  • Similar to the matrix example above, it's debated whether or not qualia can be accurately defined.
    • Obviously it can be sufficiently defined since they wouldn't be able to talk about it otherwise. The word qualia can; individual qualia can't. That's basically what the word is defined as; "Things which cannot be accurately defined."
  • Often invoked (many times as a Hand Wave) in technical lectures and discussions, especially in math and science: "The proof is left as an exercise for the reader." In general, the lower the quality of a textbook or the shorter a lecture is on time, the more frequently you can expect the sentence to occur.
    • It's sometimes more of a focus thing. As engineer, you dont really need the whole mathematical proof behind most things. You need to understand what you're doing and why and apply it to practical things like building bridges. As a doctor, there is knowledge needed about what the body is made off but you dont need all the exact chemical reactions. A race car driver doesn't need to know all the formulae and mathemathical models that make his car go 3 milliseconds faster then his opponents cars. There is a vast sea of knowledge and it's become impossible for one person to know it all.
  • There are things in life that can only be learned/believed through experience, some because it doesn't quite make sense logically at the time ("Careful - the [unchanged-looking] stove is hot now."), and some because it's something no one really knows how to explain, and you can't really comprehend unless you've learned it by experience. ("Love and hate are not opposites.")
    • Including the above. Everyone who knows this is nodding his/her head. The people that don't are thinking, "Whaaat? That's crazy. Why can't you just tell me????"
  • A quote from physicist Richard Feynman: "What I cannot create, I do not understand".
  • This is actually a large part of constructivism, a teaching philosophy that is becoming more common in today's schools and being driven into education major's heads by their instructors. Children are not simply told "This is how you solve a problem." Instead, they are guided through the process with questions and prompts from the teacher so that they can discover the answers themselves.
  • Zen Buddhism thrives on this, as the whole point of enlightenment is that it's something you have to pursue and figure out yourself. Therefore asking a master to explain something is more likely to get you a Koan or a seemingly unrelated demonstration than anything a layperson might consider useful.
  • In the card game Mao, it is against the rules to tell people about the rules. That is the one of the only rules that the people trying to get you to learn the game can tell you. You have to figure out everything else from how the people who know how to play are playing. Oh, and a new rule is added by the winner of each round.
  1. although in their case it's sort of justified in that they exist outside time