Genius Bonus

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
E=MC Hammer not good enough for you? Twilight Sparkle does time dilation

A joke or tidbit meant for people knowledgeable in a certain field. The rest of the audience doesn't get it, but it's usually subtle enough for them not to care. This is the non-age-related counterpart to Parental Bonus.

Genius Bonuses are most often seen in series with a Direct Demographic, especially New Media, as they can expect their audiences to be sufficiently focused that most of them will recognize an in-joke.

If this goes too far, it falls into Viewers Are Geniuses, so it has to be applied carefully. Dennis Miller may or may not fit here. If it seems to be a byproduct of necessary research into the story, setting or plot, then the author is showing their work. Understanding one of these may lead to Fridge Brilliance.

Whenever a series of Zeroes and Ones or two-digit hex codes are shown, chances are they'll spell out something when translated to ASCII.

A Super-Trope to Lampshaded the Obscure Reference.

Can overlap with Reference Overdosed.

Contrast with Small Reference Pools.

Bilingual Bonus is a subtrope where a non-plot-related bonus is in a language different from the main language of the work.

Examples of Genius Bonus include:

Anime and Manga

  • Billy Bat is chock full of references to American, animation and film culture and history. So are 20th Century Boys and Master Keaton. Perhaps historical references is Urasawa Naoki's Author Appeal.
  • The opening of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya depicts positronium, Lambda baryons, benzene ring, cyclohexanes, infinite number, Titius-Bode law, Planck's constant, Drake equation, time-dependent Schrödinger equation, Hubble's law, infinite product, definition of information entropy, large numbers, stationary Schrödinger equation, the theory of relativity, probability axioms, definition of Laplace operator, the wave equation in one space dimension, and small numbers. In case you haven't noticed, the author likes math.
    • The Second Season (kind of...) continues this tradition, with Millennium Prize Problems, photons, quarks, electrons, tau neutrinos, gluons, M-theory, supersymmetric GUT, Tsuchinoko, and oddly enough some Nietzsche (Gott ist tot, ha-ah).
    • The books are even worse. In addition to the advanced mathematics and science references mentioned above, Kyon's narrative contains allusions to obscure science fiction novels, classical mythology, medieval Japanese history, and other highly esoteric topics. Also doubles as making him come across as, contrarily enough, a Book Dumb First-Person Smartass.
    • The later novels and the incredibly complicated Time Travel plot take the advanced mathematics from "Extra Credit" to "Required Courses".
    • In the Deep-Immersion Gaming episode, Kyon makes reference to the philosopher Lacan when musing about being special because he's a completely normal person who's been able to cope with some pretty odd things.
    • Aside from the confusingly vast amount of scientific and mathematical references, there are also a few philosophical and mythological ones. In the earlier parts Kyon compares his life to Sisyphus' task in such a way that evokes Albert Camus.
    • In later novels, we see Sakaki, who talk about quantum physics with Kyon in middle schools.
    • There was a fan who had knowledge of C programming and command line execution who actually took screenshots of Nagato's code, frame by frame. The code was valid.
    • Nagato Yuki's alien incantations are shown in the anime as seemingly random high-speed gibberish. In the first light novel during her confrontation with Asakura Ryoko it's SQL code.
      • And if you slow down the corresponding clip from the anime and play it in reverse, it is, in fact, SQL code (although, between the audio quality and the voice actor's accent, it's just barely identifiable as such).
  • Hunter X Hunter often contains very minor and obscure details that can actually completely change the perception one has of a character of event if one does get the reference. The most notable case is a dialog scene in issue 10, chapter 84, between Feitan and Shalnark, where an attentive reader will notice that Feitan is reading a book from Trevor Brown, a Real Life, underground illustrator who specialized in such family friendly subjects as bondage, rape, torture, dismemberment, and pedophilia, all of this with a voluntarily uncanny style of drawing (his characters often look like puppets). So not only Feitan is a Complete Monster, Psycho for Hire who completely lacks any kind of patience and uses torture on a regular basis, but he is also apparently a sick and sadistic pervert.
  • There are some Genius Bonuses in Neon Genesis Evangelion, like Central Dogma coming from biology, or the Pribnow Box where the Simulation Bodies are kept coming from a sequence of base pairs in a section of DNA.
    • Not to mention numerous other scientific, philosophical, mythological, psychological and even political allusions, shout-outs to works of film, music and literature, and of course, obscure religious references that may or may not possess a deep symbolic meaning.
    • But the really obscure parts of Evangelion? The ones drawn on from real life. It's the one and only topic there hasn't been a flame war-igniting argument over, at least in English. Which is weird considering it involves the only Japanese animator most of us can name.
  • In the Kingdom Hearts manga adaptation of Chain of Memories, the female Nobody Larxene is seen in a library reading a book about the infamous French writer Marquis De Sade, the namesake of sadism, which is clearly related to her sadistic nature.
  • Lucky Star likes to hang lampshades on this trope, mainly in regards to Otaku culture, which most of the characters don't get, but the minority understand all too well (* cough* Konata * cough* ).
  • Fullmetal Alchemist uses a moderate amount of Hebrew in the background, and the Gate has the Kabbalistic Tree of Life on it.
    • Large portions of random English seen in various books in the first anime are copypasted from third edition Dungeons & Dragons books (or online reviews of the same). The selection is completely meaningless, however, so its appropriateness to this trope is debatable.
    • Another surprising thing is OST in Russian. There is a song performed by boys chorus in a second episode of first FMA series which has meaningful text and perfect language.
    • Also, a joke for those who know Chinese: Ran Fan enjoys using explosives. "ran fang" is Chinese for "to light/set off (as firecrackers)"
    • One combined with a Woolseyism: The English term for Xingese Alchemy is Alkahestry, which is named for a substance called the Alkahest, that was supposedly discovered by Paracelsus. Paracelsus' real name was Von Hohenheim, and in the series, Von Hohenheim is the inventor of Alkhahestry.
  • Black Lagoon includes loads of these. To name a few, several European/Asian dialects are used (from Russian to Romanian), quite a few old movie references are made ("This looks like a remake of the movie "The Last Command") as well as several obscure gun comments ("I mean he's Jewish, right? Of course he'd have an Israeli-made gun!"). References to various philosophers and their view on consequence ethics, like Kierkegaard and Sartre, are made by several of the characters.
  • When Minatsu teaches math in Student Council's Discretion, a proof of Euler's identity can be seen on the whiteboard behind her.[please verify]
  • Mahou Sensei Negima has tons of these in the Omake in the collected volumes; one needs a decent understanding of physics to understand the explanations of how the spells function. There are also a number of visual Shout-Outs to famous architecture, such as the bell tower at Mahora being the bell tower on the Florence Cathedral, and the background of this page contains the Suleymaniye Mosque. It's strikingly realistic when compared to the actual landscape.
    • Not to mention that the spell incantations actually make a lot of sense if one has a familiarity with ancient Greek, Latin, and Greco-Roman Mythology.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX features references to alchemy, tarot cards, and various other subjects.
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei ladles these on thick, primarily in the form of random scribbles on the ever-changing blackboard. Topics range from writer/illustrator Edward Gorey to philosophy to prominent (and obscure) works of Japanese and English literature. Even character names are not exempt ("Kafuka", anyone?).
  • On the surface, the concept of Strike Witches is just a shallow excuse for underage Fan Service, with storytelling chock full of moe cliches. And yet it's littered with references to WWII events, figures, and especially technology down the the obscure, unimplemented aircraft designs. Basically, it inverts Getting Crap Past the Radar.
  • Poor Eureka Seven. Since the show is a massive sea of pop culture references with Fauxlosophic Narration, its surprisingly well-applied Buddhist elements are written off as equally shallow Faux Symbolism.
  • Surprisingly, Princess Tutu is rife with these. Naturally they're all ballet references, but it's still saying something when the translators compiled a list of notable references several pages long and it's likely they missed quite a few.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena has the student council's speech in the elevator. It sounds like it's just some wordy nonsense, but it's actually a shout out to Herman Hesse's novel Demian. The rest of the show benefits tremendously from knowledge of fairy tale tropes.
  • Fun game: try to recognize all of the Real Life people/events/spacecraft shown in the Planetes opening.
  • With Tears to Tiara, barring the obvious Arthur, Morgan, and Gaius, a lot of names and characters harken back to Welsh Mythology like Arawn, Rhiannon, Epona, Annwn, Pwyll, etc. Especially clever is the Sword in the Stone being named 'Durnwyn' rather than the generic Excalibur.
    • Myrddin is more of an Expy of Greek Titan Prometheus and has nothing in common with his Welsh namesake. The villains feel like a Gnostic Demiurge committee, being tasked by an aloof deity to create the world but failing at making it `perfect`... and not happy about it
    • Taliesin is named after a poet who supposedly lived during the time of King Arthur and wrote a bunch of poems about him.
  • Akagi is about a guy who plays mahjong. Anyone can watch and enjoy it even if they haven't the slightest clue of how to play mahjong, however the author manages to make the games realistic and the point of view changes from time to time so at one round you can see the main character's tiles and next round you can only see his opponent's tiles. This obviously means nothing if you know nothing about mahjong and can be easily ignored. However, if you learn to play mahjong even to the most basic level, it instantly becomes way better because you understand what's going on, and you can finally understand why Washizu is in love with his 1-pin.
  • Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is both the title of a story, and the incantation that Vamdemon uses to open the gate from the Digital World (where everything is made of computer data) to the Real world. One of the main themes of the story is that ideas (or data) ultimately manifest themselves in the physical world.
  • Heartcatch Precure is filled with stuff about flowers and just about every episode has Tsubomi (sometimes the other girls pitch in) talking about what their Heart Flower means in The Language of Flowers.
  • Asobi ni Iku yo! has quite a few references to obscure artistic films only a handful of film students and hardcore film enthusiasts will know.
  • In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Admiral Lindy is shown to have a vase of blue roses. This is the only color that gardeners and botanists on Earth have not managed to breed into a rose,[1] so these roses have to come from somewhere else.
  • In a magic circle that appears in Black Butler there are strange symbols that are Theban letters. If you translate those letters, the circles and lines inside the greater circle can be interpreted to form an incomplete diagram of a molecule, which can be identified as sarin, a nerve gas. This in turn foreshadows the big revelation a few chapters later that the deadly "miasma" is actually mundane chemical weaponry. You can also reach that conclusion early if you correctly identify the physical signs of mustard gas exposure, which should be easier, at least if you have a decent knowledge of a field that happens to be an elective in Japanese schools, Some might consider the identification a Moon Logic Puzzle though.
  • The original anime version of Sailor Moon throws one in: As Sailor Moon completes her In the Name of the Moon speech, she makes the American Sign Language sign for "I love you" as part of her gestures.
  • Most viewers of Princess Principal often wonder what Ange is going on about with her references to the Black Lizard Planet. Fans of Edogawa Ranpo's works know exactly who Black Lizard is.

Comic Books

  • Brazilian comic book Monica's Gang has Chauvinist as a character's pet pig name
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore. Just try to catch all the references in it to Victorian literature, politics, and events.
  • Moore's V for Vendetta. Nearly every other sentence V utters is a quote from some famous writer. Lampshaded near the end.
  • Although the Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison can be enjoyed as a psychological horror story with drool-worthy art, readers with a knowledge of Jungian psychology and symbolism (or who own a copy of the fifteenth anniversary edition with Morrison's annotated script) will get much more out of it.
  • As a Fantasy Kitchen Sink series, Finder is overflowing with obscure and unusual references. The author wisely chooses to weave most of them into the background and leave the most complex and unwieldy connections in the (substantial) footnotes.
  • Body Bags. The city where all the action takes place is Terminus, Georgia. A little research reveals that Terminus was the original name of the city of Atlanta. By this the reader can assume that Terminus is just Future Atlanta.
  • In Knight & Squire #3, Britain is under threat from the Bad Kings of England, superpowered clones of the originals. Each of them attempts to conquer a different area of the country; Edward I takes the north, and his superpower is a massive energy-mallet. If you know the real Edward was called the Hammer of the Scots...
  • De Cape et de Crocs pretty much runs on this trope, and still manages to avoid Viewers Are Geniuses.
  • You sure have to have read a lot to catch all the mythological and literary references in The Sandman. Just to throw in a few:
    • Worlds End is a rewriting of The Canterbury Tales. Yep, the one written in the Middle Ages.
    • William Shakespeare plays a significant secondary role during the whole series. Bonus points if you are familiar with the relevance of The Tempest in Shakespearean studies.
    • Lucifer quotes Satan and immediately claims having borrowed the quote from Milton.
    • There characters a-plenty from different mythological traditions: Morpheus, Orpheus, Calliope (Greek mythology); Odin, Locki (Norse mythology); God, Lucifer, Azazel (Christian mythology); Ra, Bastet (Egyptian mythology); the Three (found in multiple traditions as the embodiment of femininity); and many, many more.
  • An Italian Donald Duck comic story had Daisy Duck and her friends eating madeleine cookies. One of the friends remarked "The memories they awaken..." If you're a fan of Marcel Proust, a writer most adults consider too "heavy" to read, you recognize this reference to classic, deep French literature. In a children's comic. Never let it be said that the Walt Disney company underestimate the smarts of their readers.

Fan Works

  • Dragonball Z Abridged has a few examples, usually spouted by Gohan (to which Piccolo retorts "neeeeerrrddd"). But one of the more subtle ones was Piccolo's "Damn you, Pavlov" moment, which was followed by an interrupted explanation of who Pavlov was.
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic Happily Ever After by Jeconais, a knowledge of the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder will reveal who the villain of the story is very early in the first act, when his identity is not revealed in-story until the denouement. No reputable or competent psychologist would ever diagnose a six-year-old child as a sociopath, because one of the requirements of that diagnosis is that the subject must be over eighteen. Many of the traits of APD are considered normal in small children and only become alarming if they persist past adolescence. Knowing this reveals that Gabrielle's psychologist is actually the bad guy.


  • Pirates of the Caribbean
    • In the second movie, Jack shows the crew of the Black Pearl a scroll with an image of the key that will become a major plot point. A pirate exclaims "A key?" in puzzlement and is told that it is not a key, but a drawing of a key, which seems to be a reference to this painting by Magritte.
    • When Barbossa tells the story about how he lost his leg in the fourth movie, he paraphrases the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley ("I am the master of my fate ... I am the captain of my ship ..."). Henley wrote the poem in response to losing his leg to tuberculosis and his maimed-yet-powerful figure was one of his friend Robert Louis Stevenson's inspirations for Long John Silver.
    • In the third film, when characters on both fleets' flagships remark that the wind is with them, anyone with sailing and/or meteorological expertise could probably guess that Calypso had something worse in mind than just departing in a huff....
    • Anyone who has ever read Lovecraft knows what Davy Jones' beard was based on.
  • Real Genius is chock full of these (not surprising given the decidedly highbrow nature of the film). One of the best though would be this scene:

Mitch: What are you doing?
Chris Knight: Self-realization. I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, "... I drank what?"

  • The film Sideways features an incredibly subtle ironic joke in its last few minutes: The hero finally opens his prized possession of a classic vintage of wine which experts will know is made from merlot and chardonnay grapes, both of which he had disparaged earlier in the film.
  • The scene in the Master and Commander movie in which Jack describes Lord Nelson as "A man of singular vision."
  • In Kill Bill, the Bride questions how long she'll have to train with Pai Mei. Bill responds "That's the title of my favorite soul song from the '70s," without elaborating further. If one pays attention to the dialogue at all, they would note that the exact words she uses are "when will I see you again?" Which means that the song referred to is most definitely... When Will I See You Again.
  • Inglourious Basterds.
    • In the restaurant, Hans Landa orders Shosanna a glass of milk. The French never drink milk straight once they reach adulthood. This is a hint that he knows her identity and is deliberately referencing her life on the milk farm.
    • Hans also orders Shosanna a schnitzel and insists that she eat it with cream. Kosher laws forbid Jews from eating meat and milk products in the same meal. This is another hint that he's deliberately fucking with her.
      • Er... what? It was a strudel, in other words: an apple pie. With no meat. Why would anyone, Jewish or not, put whipped cream on his schnitzel?
  • Toward the end of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the "sonic transducer" probably gets more laughs from those who recognize the phrase as meaning "speaker or microphone."
  • In The Dark Knight, part of the plot requires Batman to use an experimental form of sonar to track the Joker's location. Whilst often criticised as being a sci-fi concept jammed into a movie which had not used much of that, it contains two little notes that the informed will appreciate: (a) bats track movement and location through using a form of sonar; and (b) the sonar device make the eyes in Batman's cowl glow white with energy. In the comics, Batman's eyes are never seen when he is wearing the cowl - they merely appear as two white slits.
  • The film Malice features an ornate ballerina statue that Bill Pulman's wife (played by Nicole Kidman) supposedly made for him, but he finds another one in her mother's house. She tells him that you can buy those statues in any store. Of course, if you already knew that the statue was a replica of "Little Dancer at Fourteen Years" by Edgar Degas, you wouldn't have been surprised by the twist...
  • Shakespeare in Love
    • An early scene featured William Shakespeare listening, horrified, to a young boy who's a huge fan of all the gorier elements in his work (he specifically praises Titus Andronicus, which was so horrifying that scholars used to believe that it couldn't have been Shakespeare's). While funny on its own, it's even funnier if you know the Historical In-Joke - this is a young John Webster, who will grow up to write even more violent tragedies himself.
    • Also, when Shakespeare is asked his name by an enemy and he blurts out "Christopher Marlowe!" Although Marlowe appears in the film and this becomes a plot point (as Shakespeare thinks this led to his death), at first it looks like a Historical In-Joke about how some scholars believe Shakespeare's plays were written by Marlowe.
    • And another scene, when Viola asks Will, "Are you the author of the plays of William Shakespeare?" is probably also a reference to those same conspiracy theories.
    • Another example from close to the start of the movie: when Shakespeare is practising his signature and tossing all of them into the bin is a huge joke if you know that there are very very few examples of the Great Bard's signature to be found in the wild, AND no two of them are spelled the same way.
  • Almost all of Theater of Blood is way funnier if you've read the Shakespeare plays that are the core of the story (hack actor who did a list of Shakespeare plays is killing off his critics via deaths from said plays).
  • Many a snarky historical comment were made in Gangs of New York, especially when a character, Boss Tweed, can be heard making a comment about his plans for the Tweed Courthouse being both "modest" and "economical," which, as history buffs will know, is completely untrue.
  • There are some Fan Bonuses in The Lord of the Rings:
  • In Evan Almighty, when God shows up in the back of Evan's car and scares the pants off him, God replies "Let it out, son. It's the beginning of wisdom." Proverbs 1:7 states "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom".
  • One from Young Frankenstein: a book is found by Doctor Frankenstein entitled How I Did It. In Mary Shelley's original novel, the method of monster-creation is never described and Victor Frankenstein specifically says that he will never reveal how it's done.
  • In Spaceballs, immediately after the order is given to prepare Spaceball One "for metamorphosis", we get the line "Ready, Kafka?" This is a reference to Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. In the DVD commentary, Mel Brooks admits to being ashamed of that joke.
  • In the original The Producers, Max Bialystock looks through a pile of scripts for the worst one and reads the first line from one of them: "Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover that he was transformed into a giant cockroach. (beat) Nah, too good."
  • Blazing Saddles:
    • Hedley and Taggart consider plans to terrorize the town of Rock Ridge.

Taggart: I got it! I know how we can run everyone out of Rock Ridge.
Hedley Lamarr: How?
Taggart: We'll kill the first born male child in every household!
Hedley Lamarr: [after some consideration] Too Jewish.

  • Tampopo is a very funny movie in its own right, but it becomes drop dead hilarious once you've seen a couple westerns.
  • Watchmen: the inscription on the pedestal "Look on My Works Ye Mighty and Despair!" just after the Diabolus Ex Machina Ending Reveal. Even if you heard of the poem and assume it is a mere Shout-Out, bonus points only come from remembering how the poem ends. Basically, it's a Take That implying no tyrant's rule ever lasts. An additional bonus is the implication that what does last is an artist's work.
  • The film version of The Paper Chase has a fair number for lawyers/law students—the cases discussed are real and some are recognizable even from shots a few seconds long. One of the more obscure references comes when Hart looks up Professor Kingsfield's notes from when he was a student. The camera shows that Professor Kingsfield took Contracts from Professor Williston—who really did teach Contracts at Harvard in the early part of the 20th century and is one of the most important Contracts scholars, and whose treatise will be familiar to many law students.
  • Hairspray, amazingly enough, has a Genius Bonus, and even more surprisingly it's a very subtle one. It comes in the scene where the main characters visit the beatniks' apartment. One of the residents is playing the bongo drums and reciting some poetry, when he glances at the African-American character and suddenly stops. If you recognize that he is reciting the 1950s classic Howl then you'll realize why he stops so suddenly: he was about to get to the line about "dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix."
  • The source code running on the background of the camera in Until the End of the World looks like feasible matrix functions to process graphics data, like the ones a real camera would use.
  • Southland Tales includes a number of references to literature. It's seeping with quotes from Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot. A more oblique and obscure reference comes when a cop (played by Jon Lovitz) mutters "Flow my tears" in one scene. You would have to be a fan of Sci-Fi author Philip K. Dick to realize it's a reference to his novel Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.
  • If you're familiar with Minnesota, Juno has many great jokes others won't get. One great example is when Juno and Paulie get the bickering lab partners, of which the guy says "You've been like this ever since I got back from my brother's in Mankato, I already told you nothing happened." Mankato is a college town with a reputation for STDs and riots and disruptive behavior by drunks.
  • Easy A: The various movies that Olive sees throughout the films are adaptations of The Scarlet Letter, including a German one. The film is a modernized retelling of that story.
  • Tron: Legacy has many bonuses for Unix users. And one for Go players.
  • Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, surprisingly enough, has a Shakespeare reference. The characters Rosenberg and Goldstein are a based on Hamlet's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
  • Sunshine Cleaning, set and filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, uses an old yellow brick building as a location for several scenes. Viewers familiar with Albuquerque (or In Plain Sight) could recognize it as the historical Sunshine Building.
  • The Social Network included a scene rife with hacker-sounding jargon and cool techno-like music playing in the background as the Mark Zuckerberg character "hacked" the Harvard University computer network to gather photographs of as many students as possible. The informed viewer will notice that all the jargon in this "hacking" scene is actually completely accurate, and quite feasible if you were to understand what it meant and try it yourself in real life (but only in that one scene). The screenplay writers say they adapted to the film an actual interview with Zuckerberg on how he created the website that was depicted in that scene in the movie.
  • The characters in Monsters, Inc. mention a restaurant called "Harryhausen's". Ray Harryhausen was an accomplished stop-motion animator in the day when that was the height of special effects technology, who worked on films such as One Million Years B.C., The Valley of Gwangi, and Clash of the Titans.
  • In one of the funniest scenes of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, Gil tells a young Luis Buñuel he has an idea for a movie about a group of rich upper class bourgeoisie who go to a dinner party at a mansion and find themselves unable to leave as they slowly turn into the very animals that they're dining on. Gil quickly exits as Buñuel repeatedly and fruitlessly asks what is keeping the group from leaving the room. It would take about 40 years for him to finally get it. Actually, Midnight in Paris basically runs on this trope since getting at least half the jokes depends on if you know who the characters are.
  • There was a fight to keep a line in Diamonds Are Forever: when Bond is asked by Felix Leiter where the diamonds are hidden in a dead body coming into the country (the stomach), he replies "alimentary, my dear Leiter." Cubby thought it far too esoteric, but it got a couple hearty laughs from some doctors during a preview, and stayed in.
  • Inception names the architect of the team "Ariadne". The architect designs the mazes of the dream world. Any Greek mythology buff will clue in the reference to the Princess Ariadne who helped Theseus find his way out of the labyrinth.
    • Additionally, "Cobb" is an old English word meaning "spider" (hence "cobweb").
    • And "Eames" is also the surname of Charles and Ray, a pair of famous graphic designers and architects; pretty much every major character in the movie was named for a very specific reason or reference.
  • The afterlife's waiting room in Beetlejuice looks like any other waiting room—except the exit signs say "No Exit" instead.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter had occasion in the past to be around patients in insane asylums. In that era, most depression would have been treated with MAO inhibitors, which have a terrible reaction if the patient eats foods containing tyramine. Thus, access to foods containing tyramine would have been strictly forbidden to any patients in the asylum who were on MAO inhibitors. Now, name three foods that contain tyramine.... Liver, fava beans, and chianti.
  • The DTV slasher film .Com for Murder includes a surprising number of references to The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
  • The Australian movie The Castle is a well-known comedy film about a guy who goes to court to defend his house. What most people don't realise is that, apart from the unrealistic but necessary ending, all the law in the movie is 100% correct, right down to the cases and legislation cited. It's never necessary to understand the law to find it funny, but no-one laughs at The Castle more than lawyers and law students.
    • One example is near the end of the movie when the good lawyer mentions something relevant a judge said in another case and the other lawyer comments that this was merely obiter dictum. The main character is absolutely shocked and offendedly shouts "Was not!" to the confusion of everyone. Most people can guess that obiter dictum is something completely notmal and inoffensive. Lawyers recognise that obiter dicta refers only to statements made by a judge that don't form part of the reasoning for the judgment handed down, and so are not binding precedent - a basic concept learned in your first week of law school.
  • The Firefly film Serenity has a very subtle one: the planet where the government used mind-control drugs to make the public complacent is called Miranda. Miranda is the character in The Tempest whose most famous line ("O brave new world, That has such people in't.") inspired the title of the novel Brave New World, in which the government uses mind-control drugs to make the public complacent.


  • The works of Neal Stephenson can be read and enjoyed without advanced knowledge of computer science, meme theory, classical and ancient mythology, international finance, particle physics or the geopolitical dynamics or history; however, readers who are familiar with those topics have a massive head start when it comes to figuring out what the hell is going on.
  • The Michael Crichton novel Sphere involves a cryptogram. A plot point is that a character deliberately errs in solving it, changing its meaning by changing one letter. The deception is not revealed until much later in the novel, but if the reader solves the cryptogram himself, he discovers it right away.
  • The Discworld series is plenty accessible, and damn funny even if you're not a genius, but there are hundreds of subtle jokes and references in the books that are easy to miss if you're not well versed in a number of subjects.
    • This especially applies if you're not British, in which case you will miss about half the references.
    • The Annotated Pratchett File lists hundreds of obscure and esoteric Genius Bonuses from each of the books in the series, a must read for any Pratchett fan who wants to truly appreciate Pterry's abilities as a writer.
    • The most obvious Genius Bonus in the entirety of the series is the title of Monstrous Regiment, which refers to a 1558 tract by John Knox.
  • Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man features a code key of various business phrases in its first chapter. There are so many listed that readers will likely just skip over them. However, if you actually apply the key to the messages sent and received in the chapter, you'll see that the message a character claims is a rejection of a merger request is actually an approval of the merger. This becomes very important toward the end of the book.
  • House of Leaves is stuffed with references both to entirely fictitious and real works, mixing them up for maximum confusion. Astute readers, however, will start noticing the references to Jorge Luis Borges, author of The House of Asterion and The Library of Babel... including a multiple-paragraph quote from Pierre Menard: Author of the Quixote.
    • The novel also contains numerous references to philosophers like Derrida and Heidegger, who are known for their theories on language and textuality. Heidegger specifically is known for his notion of 'Unheimlichkeit', meaning both creepy (uncanny) and unhomely. Also, and according to him, "language is the house of Being."
  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. While quite enjoyable without much knowledge at all, it truly becomes brilliant with a thorough understanding of thermodynamics, Jacobean revenge drama, the American 1960s, human sexuality, and linguistics.
    • Contrast with Gravity's Rainbow.
    • There's comparatively easy Pynchon, and then there's stupefyingly intimidating Doorstopper Pynchon. The former would include The Crying of Lot 49, his "Whatever happened to the 1960s?" novel Vineland, a few short stories like "The Secret Integration" and his most recent[when?] book, Inherent Vice. These offer a healthy dose of Genius Bonuses, while V, Gravity's Rainbow, Mason & Dixon and Against the Day head over into Viewers Are Geniuses territory.
  • A lot of jokes and references in John Hodgman's Complete World Knowledge series will fly over readers' heads unless they have enough historical, geological, or pop cultural knowledge to understand why they're funny.
    • Ditto for his subsequent books and half the things he says when he appears on The Daily Show.
  • Neil Gaiman's American Gods is, not surprisingly, rife with references to religions around the world, so much so that the forums on his official website are filled with guessing games as to the identities of many of the more obscure ones.
    • Nearly all of them have been positively identified, except for the 'Nameless God' or 'Forgotten God', who appears twice in the novel but whose name is never revealed, it seemingly being part of his innate power to go unremembered. Despite the intense research attempts by Gaiman fans all over the world (Gaiman's fans including a large scholarly demographic), this God has yet to be identified.
    • Anyone who knows the origins of the English days of the week will know who Mr. Wednesday as soon as he's introduced Wednesday is named for Woden, a Germanic name for the Norse god Odin. He even drops a big hint when he mentions that today is his day (meaning that Shadow is meeting him on a Wednesday), but because of the stormy weather, it might as well be Thursday. Thursday is named for Thor, Odin's son and the Thunder god.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold tosses an easter egg for classicists in her SF novel The Warrior's Apprentice by piling Pelian on Oseran.
  • T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land contains so many obscure references to different works that it makes the reader wonder if they are reading a poem with footnotes or footnotes with a poem.
  • Kim Newman's Anno Dracula is filled with a massive cast of historical figures, 19th century fictional characters, and more recent vampire horror characters, all swanning around in a London where Dracula survived and married Queen Victoria. You pretty much need an encyclopedia to catch all the historical references and literary in-jokes.
  • The Artemis Fowl books have some fun wordplay, the notable example being in Eternity Code. Try saying the names of the rival telecommunications companies out loud. They are "Phonetix" (think three syllables) and "Fission Chips" (perhaps less erudite, but still amusing).
    • Doctor F. Roy Dean Schlippe anyobody?
    • All of his pseudonyms. Emmesey Squire probably knows quite a lot about Einstein. Dr. C. Nial De Mencha is mentioned to be a psychologist. Sir E. Brum is named after part of the brain. The Other Wiki lists them all in his article/profile.
  • The Dalziel and Pascoe series of novels has any number of literary references that erudite readers can pick up on.
  • Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files has one in the newest book, Ghost Story. It starts on May 9, which was the first day of the Roman festival of Lemuralia, which was when people would banish the Lemures, vengeful angry ghosts.
  • Doctor Seuss indulged in these now and again. One particular example is when a character is charged with having "a flugelhorn ge-busted." Flugelhorns are real instruments, even if the word does sound like a Seuss invention.
    • Better yet, the Flugelhorn is a German instrument with a German name. Adding "ge-" to the beginning of (some) verbs in the past tense is a feature of the German language.
  • In Brian Clevinger's Nuklear Age, Dr. Genius mentions that her company does testing on various animals to make sure that they aren't just using humans for slave labor. However, they're having trouble with cats, as they can't seem to prove that they're actually in the testing box.
  • Surprisingly, Harry Potter is far more meaningful to those who have a working knowledge of Latin, are well-versed in European mythology, or happen to be religious scholars.
  • Letters Back to Ancient China has many details about Munich, where the story is set.
  • Isaac Asimov wanted to call his short story "Flies" (in which a manufacturer of flyspray is worshiped by flies as a vengeful god) "King Lear Act IV, scene i, lines 36-37", but his editor said no-one would get the reference. (It's the "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods..." line.)
  • The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel has some. Machiavelli's passwords are the best examples, being titles of his lesser-known works. In Italian, so it doubles as a Bilingual Bonus.
  • The Lord of the Rings contains several major shout outs to Macbeth, all taken from Act IV, Scene i, when the Witches tell Macbeth their prophecies of his death. First of all, the phrase "Crack of Doom" was coined by Shakespeare in this scene. The Ents' besiegement of Isengard and the Witch-King's defeat by Éowyn are references to two of the three prophecies—namely, that it will not happen until "Great Birnam Wood...shall come against him" and that "none of woman born shall harm" him. Of course, the trees do come to the castle when Macduff's army uses their branches as camoflauge, just as the Ents come to Isengard, and Macbeth is killed by a man who was not born, but removed from his mother's womb, just as the Witch-King, who can be killed by "no living man," is killed by a woman (who was dead inside).
  • While you don't need to be familiar with ancient/medieval Middle Eastern art and Islamic theology to enjoy My Name Is Red, it doesn't hurt. On the other hand, the neophyte reader gets several college courses worth of information on the subjects, wrapped up in a fascinating set of narratives.

Live Action TV

  • Frasier is as much a master of this trope as Ada Lovelace was a master of mathematics.
    • That's Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace to you!
    • According to the producers, sitcoms generally run on "the 70% joke", where 70% of the TV-watching audience will get the joke and laugh, while Frasier often had "the 20% joke". It didn't seem to hurt them, though.
    • Parodied when Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce guest-starred on The Simpsons:

Cecil: But I suppose I should thank you. After all, it led me to my true calling.
Bob: Cecil, no civilization in history has ever considered "chief hydrological engineer" a calling.
Cecil: clears throat meaningfully
Bob: Yes, yes, the Cappadocians. Fine.

Cecil: I have the '82 Chateau Latour and a rather indifferent Rausan-Segle.
Bob: I've been in prison, Cecil. I'll be happy just as long it doesn't taste like orange drink fermented under a radiator.
Cecil: That would be the Latour, then.

  • In the first season of the MacGyver reboot every episode is named after one of the tools included on various models of Swiss Army Knife. Naturally a Knife Nut would get it.
  • The West Wing:
    • In one episode, Toby tells the president, "Your favorite movie was on last night." They then spend a few minutes (mis)quoting and discussing it, and Toby eventually applies An Aesop from the movie to their current situation. But neither of them ever actually says the name of the movie.
    • In another episode, Bartlet learns that his daughter Ellie, who seemed to be manipulating him by appearing to express confidence in him, was simply, honestly, expressing confidence in him. He just says, "My God, King Lear is a good play" (in that play, the daughter Lear thinks is the least loyal is the most).
    • The West Wing is simply crammed with this. The sheer number of subtle puns and jokes that would take a rather high level of knowledge about American history and politics to understand makes watching any given episode five times funnier for a political wonk than for a regular viewer. And the genius bonuses aren't limited to history and politics - there's a lot of literary, religious, scientific, sports-related, and pop-culture references slipped into the dialogue as well.
      • Leo goes on a long rant comparing Pro-Wrestling to politics (Which happens a few times) and concludes with: "But at the end of the day you don't vote for them." To which Josh replies: "Except for in Minnesota."
  • In a much less genius of a bonus, over the course of several episodes News Radio had a running gag concerning every time a character goes to a movie theater, the same terrible movie is playing, though its name is never mentioned. Astute viewers will pick up that the crappy movie is John Travolta's Michael.
  • Lost contains constant references to philosophy, religion, literature, and science. Is the casual viewer really expected to understand the significance of someone named John Locke, or their using the alias Jeremy Bentham? Plus, the plot became increasingly complicated as the show has gone on, with innumerable callbacks to previous episodes, making it extremely hard for new viewers to understand what is going on.
    • When Hurley wonders what could be inside the hatch. Locke responds that he believes hope is inside, referencing Pandora's Box.
    • Another episode had John Locke asking Desmond David Hume how he knew something. Answer: "Experience."
  • The Doctor Who story "Dragonfire" had a sequence in which the Doctor distracts a guard by discussing semiotics with him. The real joke... the dialogue came verbatim from a semiotics text examining Doctor Who. Particularly impressive for a story which came out way back in 1987, before such post-modern humor appeared everywhere.
    • The real real joke: Apparently, the Doctor's line is semiotics-jargon for something like "The less relevant an in-joke is to the story, the greater its cultural significance".
  • The episode "QPid" of Star Trek: The Next Generation is a lot funnier to anyone who's seen The Adventures of Robin Hood, as it's basically a Whole-Plot Reference, down to several shots and some of the background music cues. It also makes Vash's complete inversion of the Marian character all the more hilarious.
  • A lot of Blackadder. For instance, when Edmund tells the newly-solvent Prince Regent to "take out the plans for the beach house at Brighton" he's referring to the Royal Pavillion, which was indeed paid for and occupied by the Regent.
    • In the same episode, Blackadder, explaining why purchasing a "tuppenny ha'penny" tract of land will cost a thousand pounds, lists a string of spurious expenses, including "window tax". While it seems to fit in with the other expenses, like "swamp insurance", the window tax was a real thing in Georgian Britain; an attempt at progressive taxation on the basis that rich people had bigger houses, and therefore more windows.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000. Annotations circle the Internet... You have to have a wide knowledge of a lot of things to get many of the jokes on the show, a lot like The Simpsons.
    • Other references can be chalked up to over-obscuring the comedy, forcing the viewer to laugh not because they get the joke but that it's so random there's no way it can't be funny. A backstage motto of the writers was "The right people will get it."
      • The right people could occasionally just be the writers though. One of the robots quipping "There goes Mike's keyboard!" was absolutely meaningless to everyone who was unaware that Mike's ex-girlfriend had taken his keyboard with her when she moved out the previous week.
  • The head of Babylon 5‍'‍s security is named Michael Garibaldi. The most famous real-life Garibaldi is probably Giuseppe Garibaldi, a major figure in the struggle for Italian unification and independence. Giuseppe's followers were dubbed Redshirts.
    • Ironically, Sheridan is probably the real Garibaldi expy: Crazy Awesome general specialized in coming Back From the Brink and who wins battles even when his side has already lost the war? Check, Check and re-Check. Plus the events described in "Severed Dreams" resemble a lot the events of the siege of Montevideo.
    • Which siege of Montevideo? There were at least five.
  • The Seinfeld episode "The Betrayal" is based on Harold Pinter's Betrayal and is far funnier if you've seen the play first.
    • In one episode Elaine's boyfriend takes Jerry's parents to the art museum and his father spends the rest of the episode obsessing about how Claude Monet must have been nearsighted to paint waterlilies like that. This parallels the Jewish scholar Max Nordau's theory of Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), the belief that the oddities of 20th Century modern art reflected various disorders on the part of the artists, such as impressionism being symptomatic of a diseased visual cortex. This idea was famously (and somewhat ironically, considering Nordau's background) co-opted by the Nazis as justification for their censorship of the art world.
  • The Big Bang Theory. Oh... where do we even start?
    • How about with Cylon toast? To the general public, funny because Sheldon is making toast with scifi characters on it. To nerds, funnier because Cylons are often called toasters.
    • Also, the equations on the whiteboard are always real and recognisable to physicists. They have a physics professor helping them out.
  • 30 Rock had an episode which parodied Amadeus.
    • They also centered a storyline around a birthday party thrown for a Hapsburg. If you knew who the Habsburgs were, there's a chance you could know where things were going at the start of the episode when the name Hapsburg is first mentioned, but either way, the Habsburg in question is so ridiculously inbred to cause everyone to laugh on sight.
    • At one point, Liz went out to a club and was questioned on it. She responded "I'm saying yes! to life."
    • Cerie showed up to a Halloween party dressed in a bikini. When asked what her costume was, she replied "I'm an Italian senator!"
  • An episode of Supernatural: Sam and Dean meet an author who has been inexplicably writing sci-fi novels about characters named "Sam and Dean" whose monster-fighting adventures are exact retellings of their own story. When confronted, the author has a moment of realization when he admits that his still-unfinished new novel is kind of inspired by Kurt Vonnegut. Dean asks "Slaughterhouse-Five Vonnegut or Cat's Cradle Vonnegut?" and he replies "Kilgore Trout Vonnegut." The references are not elaborated upon, it's just assumed that the viewers understand what that means.
  • The IT Crowd is so chock full of real technology in-jokes and references that people who work in IT would go Squee in recognition at almost every scene.
    • The decor of their basement office was a clutter of old computers, classic video game posters and other nerdy reference, with the occasional ThinkGeek t-shirt.
  • Glee: In an episode introducing two show choirs, one of them was from a ghetto school that had a member named Aphasia, while the other was from a deaf school. Heh.
  • It's not excessively intelligent, but one brilliant visual joke in the "Manny's First Day" episode of Black Books depends on the viewer recognizing a physical similarity to Beethoven.
  • When he learns that a possible "recruit" was a dance teacher when Mitchell knew her, Being Human (UK)'s William Herrick offers a wonderfully subtle Shout-Out to Emma Goldman:

"Come the revolution, we'll all need to know how to dance."

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: While sneaking into the Initiative during the fourth season, the Scooby Gang are surrounded by enemy soldiers. Buffy quickly grabs their leader as a hostage with a crossbow to his head:

Buffy: "Stay back, or I'll pull a William Burroughs on your leader here."
Xander: "You'll bore him to death with free prose?"
Buffy: "Was I the only one awake in English class that day?"

    • The exchange is funny even if you know nothing about William S. Burroughs, a famous author from the 50's who's probably best known for writing the book Naked Lunch. However, Buffy's original threat only makes sense if you know that William Burroughs drunkenly shot his own wife to death.
  • Dollhouse. Oh, so many... The biggest (and most obvious) is the name of the Dollhouse's parent corporation: Rossum, which comes from Karel Capek's play RUR. The basic premise of the play is very similar to that of the Dollhouse- a company that produces humanoid slaves.
    • "The Target" features a psychopathic (and possibly cannibalistic) hunter calling himself "Richard Connell". Richard Connell wrote a short story called The Most Dangerous Game, in which the protagonist is hunted by a psychopath, as sport, and winds up killing him in a plot deliberately echoed by the episode.
    • Wondered why the D.C. House uses Active codes from Greco-Roman mythology? Thank Bennett Halverson. The cabinet in her office contains a small statue of Romulus and Remus, suckled by a wolf.
  • In the Jim Henson's The Storyteller episode "The Soldier And Death", the soldier plays cards against a troupe of devils in an abandoned castle. The game they play isn't specified, but based on the fact they're using three cards in a hand it appears to be three-card brag (a predecessor of modern-day poker) that would fit in with the medieval setting of the show.
  • When one thinks about it, anything in Sesame Street could be considered this. Don't forget what kind of show it is, and what its purpose is.
  • The Vampire Diaries has one that most in the target audience will probably get: During an emotional scene between Damon and Elena, there's some piano music playing in the background. This could simply be because there's a funeral going on, or it could be background music. Someone who knows the song, however, may remember the lyrics.

You tore me to pieces...You tore me to pieces...

    • And in a sort of combination of this trope and Funny Background Event, the Salvatores' house is full of famous paintings that a viewer with both keen eyesight and a knowledge of art, like this troper hirself, will spot. This includes a Manet that shows up in almost every living room scene.
  • In Sliders, Quinn's cat was always named Schroedinger. Interestingly, in different Alternate Universes the cat was visibly different.
    • But always alive, so... y'know... that answers that.
  • A number of signoffs for Bill Nye the Science Guy, while relevant to the episode's topic, are much more advanced in that field than the target demographic has likely studied.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some strike-slip-shear modulae to compute. See ya!

  • During one episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun Dick comments that Easter Island was a practical joke that got out of hand. Many listeners will simply associate this joke with the massive stone heads and laugh, but a person who has read about the ecological and societal collapse resulting from overuse of natural resources due to moai construction will understand the "got out of hand" differently.
  • Hilariously done by the MythBusters editors in a combination with This Trope Is Bleep. Adam tests out a curse-proof tool in the "No Pain, No Gain" episode. If you know Morse Code, the beeps spell out HELLO.
  • Criminal Minds
    • The two-parter "The Fisher King" has the team trying to find a kidnapped girl. We're shown her locked in a basement bedroom, coughing hard and apparently ill, having been taken some time ago by a kidnapper who acts as though he cares for her. At this point viewers who've read John Fowles' The Collector may have spotted that this plot is somewhat familiar; and then the clues the kidnapper sent to the FBI turn out to be centred around... John Fowles' The Collector. It's never mentioned in the episode what the novel's about.[2]
    • The fifth season episode "Slave of Duty" refers not only to the action of the episode but is also an alternate title for Pirates Of Penzance, which is referenced a few times in that episode and a couple of first season episodes. The high school production of the play was when Hotch met Haley (who got murdered in the previous episode).
    • The UnSub in "I Love You, Tommy Brown" defends her relationship with a teenage boy who was a student of hers by arguing that Henry VIII's first wife was twenty years older than him,[3] and that "Romeo and Juliet" were teenagers as well. Now that might sound all very intelligent and cultured, but think about how both those relationships turned out...
  • Stargate SG-1 features a cat called Schrodinger.
  • Lexx might be extremely perverted, but it also has some very obscure jokes. One is the Higgs Boson apparently can't be measured without causing a planet to implode into a stranglet. Another involves a big crunch and the corresponding theory for the effect on time it has.
  • Max Headroom, a show ripe with social commentary, features a trailer for the wacky show "Lumpy's Proletariat". Aimed at the lower classes, no less.
  • On The Wire, Brother Mouzone is a Cultured Badass who tasks his assistant with collecting his issues of Harper's while researching hits. The bonus is that the actor and character are a dead ringer for the original composite sketch of the man who allegedly murdered Notorious B.I.G..[context?]


  • They Might Be Giants features a variety of songs about semi-obscure characters such as James Ensor and James K. Polk.
    • And four key figures from Mesopotamian history (one of whom is probably fictional, but still...).
      • Another one from the Mesopotamians: "Hey, man, I thought that you were dead, I thought you crashed your car." "No, man, I've been right here this whole time playing bass guitar." Only people who know their Beatles trivia will get this one.
    • Another example is the song "She Thinks She's Edith Head," which references Edith Head and Helen Gurley Brown, both "cultural figures we don't know a lot about."
  • The Manic Street Preachers often reference obscure historical figures and artistic works. For example, historical dictators Miklós Horthy and Jozef Tiso in "Of Walking Abortion".
  • Pet Shop Boys songs regularly reference various European (especially Russian - Neil Tennant is a fan) history and culture, for example in "Jack the Lad," "Don Juan," "My October Symphony," etc.
    • One of their more famous songs, "West End Girls", includes the line "from Lake Geneva to the Finland station". This refers to the railroad route Lenin took when returning from his exile in Switzerland to Russia near the end of first World War.
  • Mr. Bungle's songs, specifically those on their album California, are chock-full of esoteric name drops. The track "None Of Them Knew They Were Robots" alone is a six minute long wall of doctrinal and scientific references.
  • Frank Zappa. Not only do his lyrics contain many obscure references, but the music itself is often quite complex, featuring odd time signatures and "quotes" from other songs. Ironically, he's most famous for his fairly straightforward comedy-rock songs.
  • Bob Dylan, once he stopped being a protest singer, pretty much referenced everything from Shakespeare to pop culture in his songs
  • Bands like Augie March, Okkervil River and The Decemberists often get lumped into "lit pop" because of their insane number of literary references - like Decemberists songs featuring exact quotes from William Blake.
  • John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats has written songs about everything from HP Lovecraft to obscure boxers to minor Greek political events
  • The Hold Steady sound like just another bar band - until you realize they're singing about John Berrymen, Jack Kerouac, and other authors you feel guilty for not having read.
    • Not to mention references to obscure locations, songs, and people, plus the thick internally consistent narrative. Enjoying "First Night" from Boys and Girls in America is almost entirely dependent on having listened to the previous album, Separation Sunday.
    • Furthermore, if you live in and/or are very familiar with the layout of the Twin Cities, it's not at all confusing to hear about Lyndale, 494, or the Grain Belt Bridge.
  • Secret Chiefs 3 (not coincidentally led by Trey Spruance, who was responsible for some of the more esoteric Mr Bungle lyrics) manage to do a lot of this despite primarily playing instrumental music. Their song titles include references to Zoroastrianism, alchemy, the unfinished Philip K. Dick novel The Owl In Daylight, and illuminationist philosophy, and even their name is a reference to a group of occult figures.
  • Jonathan Coulton does a hell of a lot of songs on various nerdy topics, ranging from DNA structure to Evil Supervillains to one on the mathematical Mandelbrot set. Smart listeners will realise that, despite everything else in the song, JoCo is actually singing about the Julia set (something he freely admits).
  • Mikhail Scherbakov. Pretty much Russian Coulton, only Scherbakov's more of a philology nerd. Get ready for references and allusions to Xenophon, Gogol, Tolkien and so on.
  • Tool is fond of this trope. For instance, the syllable count to the lyrics and the time signature of Lateralus is based upon the Fibonacci Sequence. "Lost Keys (Blame Hoffmann)" is a shout out to the father of LSD. The whole album Ænima is a reference to both the "Anima" (or the soul) and "Enema" (a cleansing of the bowels by flushing them with liquid). Jungian references abound; "Forty Six & 2" references a theory that human evolution will continue by adding another chromosome pair (46+2 instead of 44+2); and Lateralus (again) references a landmark study by Berlin and Kay about the universal pinnings of color naming in its opening lyrics before moving on to Hermetic mysticism.
  • British Sea Power have written songs filled with all manner of obscure references. The Open Season album features a song called Oh Larsen B, for example.
  • There's a song by anNina called "Rothschild Rh-" (the B-side to Higurashi no Koro ni Kai's ending theme, "Object a"). "Rh-" would be an anion of rhodium; not possible. The lyrics are basically about realizing when something's not possible and moving on.
    • It's far more likely to be a reference to the Rhesus-negative blood type.
  • Fugazi lyrics are often in this territory. Then they wrote a song about John Cassavetes.

Cassavetes: Crush my calm, oh you Cassavetes... That's something from someone / and Gena Rowlands!

  • Composer Peter Schickele has made a career as the musicologist irresponsible enough to "discover" the forgotten works of one P.D.Q. Bach, last and least of Johann Sebastian's grandchildren. P.D.Q. Bach's "works" include obvious riffs on well-known classical works, such as the "Short-Tempered Clavier" and the "1712 Overture," as well as less well-known pieces. In addition, he does things like describing one of his sopranos as an "off-coloratura," or specifying tempo for movements as "andante alighieri" or "presto changio." Sometimes you need to be familiar with the original piece being parodied; sometimes you need a cursory knowledge of Italian, German, or Latin.
  • Steely Dan does this from time to time.
  • Half Man Half Biscuit. Everything from obscure biblical references to Leadbelly songs and the history of Blackpool Town Football Club, with a healthy does of Britsih 80's / 90's pop culture thrown in too.
  • Joaquin Sabina is very fond of these. He has songs that are fully comprehensible only by having vast knowledge of Spanish, Mexican and Argentinian culture and history, like "Mas de cien mentiras".
  • Lil Wayne slips in words into his lines that he'd know due to being a sports fan, slang that is twisted and played into metaphors and One Liners that high on word play.

One life to live never ask for a mulligan.[4]

  • As you might have guessed by the content of the song itself, Weird Al Yankovic's "White & Nerdy" has some. The biggest one is him and Donny Osmond dancing in front of the Schrodinger equation for a hydrogen atom.
  • Clutch peppers their lyrics heavily with mythological and folklore references that sound cool even when too obscure to be comprehensible.
  • The songs on the Fall Of Troy album Doppleganger are most, if not all, obscure pop culture references that have nothing to do with the music itself. Two are references to House of Leaves ("You Got A Death Wish, Johnny Truant?" and "The Hol[ ]y Tape"), one references Ace Ventura ("Laces, Out Dan"), etc.
  • Queen's "'39" appears to only be about an astronaut traveling on a ship traveling at significant-fraction-of-C speeds, and the effects of time-dilation on him and those he left behind; however, Brian May has stated it has a second, more-personal, meaning: It's about how a musician feels about having to be out touring all the time -- coming back a year later to find his kids had grown, the neighborhood had changed, someone he knew is dead, and so on.
  • The Divine Comedy's "Woman of the World" works as a song in its own right, whether or not you know that the title character is Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany's (she's not named, and it isn't made explicit, but it's obvious once you spot it).
  • And Then There Was Silence by Blind Guardian has various lines that are only really meaningful to someone who knows their Greek mythology and/or Homer; for example, "the coin's been placed beneath my tongue".
  • The Rush song YYZ begins with Neil tapping a rhythm in Morse code. Specifically the he's tapping the code for "YYZ".
  • The Barenaked Ladies song Aluminum describes various properties of the title element, a few of which are somewhat obscure. For example, "but just below where you shine you burn" references the fact that it's used to make thermite and "every time you're here I forget" comes from various medical studies that have shown a possible connection between excessive aluminum exposure and Alzheimer's Disease.

Newspaper Comics

  • FoxTrot author Bill Amend sometimes puts challenging math puzzles in his strips, where only the genius or patient would ever try and solve them. The rest just scratch their heads. Amend also has a real-life degree in physics, so all of the formulas in the series are perfectly accurate.
  • Frazz has one in this strip for climatologists. See Snow Means Cold for details.
  • The Far Side was full of these.
  • Calvin and Hobbes, beginning with the names of the two main characters referencing philosophers John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes.

Professional Wrestling

  • Vince Russo has been known to make gags out of referencing pieces of obscure wrestling trivia, particularly during his time in WCW. Take the (in)famous "San Francisco 49ers match", which featured Booker T, Jeff Jarrett and boxes on poles. One box had a "coal miner's glove", referencing a terrible match that took place years earlier between Sting and Jake Roberts, and another had a picture of Scott Hall, who hadn't been on television for some time but had remained notorious behind the scenes for drug and alcohol problems. Eventually these crossed the lines from "bonuses" to "Viewer Are Geniuses about Esoteric Behind-The-Scenes Wrestling References"... which most weren't.


  • BBC Radio 4 quiz show The 3rd Degree. Steve Punt's introductions to the specialist rounds usually incorporate some highly esoteric reference to the subject in question. Although this is Played for Laughs, the references do (usually) make sense... if you're an expert.

Recorded and Stand Up Comedy


  • Cabbage Patch Kids is a well known line of dolls that's been around for.. practically "ever". However, what some people may not know is that the name is a reference to one of the myths surrounding "where babies come from". One of those myths is that they're "found in the cabbage patch", inspiring the name of the toyline.


  • In Evita, the musical based on the life of Argentine First Lady Eva Perón, mourners at Eva's state funeral sing a Latin chant based on the real-life Roman Catholic prayer, the Salve Regina. The original prayer references the Biblical Eve, known in Latin as Eva, meaning that the chant can be read as a prayer to Eva Perón herself.
  • At the very end of Urinetown, the Narrator, Officer Lockstock, concludes the tale of the eventual decay and collapse of the town's society when people are allowed to use water without restraint by shouting "Hail Malthus!" This is a reference to a Malthusian Catastrophe, which is exactly what Urinetown illustrates.

Theme Parks

  • The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Walt Disney World features a scene in the queue area where you see skeletons of pirates playing chess. The average person would think nothing of the way it's arranged, but apparently, Imagineer Marc Davis set up the pieces specifically so that it would result in a neverending game -- justifying why the pirates were playing up to their deaths!

Video Games

  • General Pepper from the Star Fox series. Think about it. If you don't get it, here's another clue for you all: in the Star Fox comic in Nintendo Power, Fara asks why Pepper didn't do something. His answer? "I was only a sergeant then..."
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the last health upgrade is described as the batsuit being soaked in a secret formula. While the description is pretty vague, it sounds very much like a dilatant.
  • In The World Ends With You, the math jokes that Sho Minamimoto makes vary from simple to comparatively advanced.
  • As with Discworld, these jokes are all over the place in Kingdom of Loathing.
    • These include jokes about JRR Tolkien's "Cellar door" idea, and a parody of the rats' song from the novel version of Coraline.
  • Symphony of the Night's "What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets!" won't be immediately recognizable (if at all) by most gamers unless they know André Malraux.
  • Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness: Episode One has the first robot you meet ask you "01100110 01110101 0110001101101011?" "01100110 01110101 0110001101101011!". 01100110 01110101 0110001101101011 is binary for "Fuck". The robots want to rape you.
  • The opening of Persona 3 is full of philosophy, including a whole paragraph of Descartes that gets flashed on screen for a couple seconds. The PSP remake prefers Nietzsche, and it throws in some complex math too.
    • The Shin Megami Tensei metaseries, which includes the Persona games, is also generally chock full of very obscure mythology references. The tamable/fusible "demons" include Greek and Roman gods, Judeo-Christian angels, both Eastern and Western dragons, Japanese mythological creatures and even Aztec deities.
  • Dmitri and Jorge of Backyard Sports throw in a lot of references to computer programming.
  • Ratchet and Clank 3 contains a pair of of planetoids named 'Obani Gemini'. Both planetoids have their own name - one is 'Castor', the other is 'Pollux'. Castor and Pollux are the two main stars of the Gemini constellation.
    • And when The Dragon tries to create an artifical third planetoid, she names it 'Obani Draco', after a huge constellation (the fact that she and the constellation are The Dragon is a coincidence, but brilliantly fridgy).
  • Starsiege: Tribes and its sequel Tribes 2 featured a number of maps with obscure names that would seem meaningless to most people, but brilliant to those who know something about archaeology (Skara Brae), meteorology (Katabatic), history (Masada), metallurgy (Recalescence), et cetera.
  • There are a few bizarre jokes in The Neverhood that only make sense if you've read the Bible.
    • "Hang me from a tree by my hoop and we can play Absalom!"
    • And then there's that one story in the Hall of Records that parodies Gnosticism...
    • Well, the entire hall of records is a parody of the old testament. That doesn't mean an ungodly heathen such as myself isn't amused by it, though.
  • In Team Fortress 2, The Sniper has an apricot air freshener. The "apricot" is a real-world sniper slang for the medulla oblongata, a popular "sweet spot" to aim for. The team has confirmed this was an intentional reference.
    • Likewise only those that play a lot of FPSes are likely to get the fact he drives a camper.
  • World of Warcraft is so chock full of references to other things that even the smartest player is bound to miss on a few. On the websites that collect data about the game, discussions about new items frequently flare up concerning whether or not the name of an item or an NPC references something or not.

I can't wait till this quest is done and I can look for another Garibaldi artifact

  • Everywhere in Touhou, especially in the spellcards and music. By far the most famous is the title of U.N. Owen Was Her?, referencing the Agatha Christie story And Then There Were None, in which the characters are invited by someone calling themselves U.N. Owen (i.e. Unknown).
    • The boss to whom the aforementioned song belongs also has her second to last spell card named Secret Barrage "And Then Will There Be None?". The SAME boss also has some other spell cards with terms such as Starbow Break and Catadioptric.
    • The Komeiji sisters have many of these: their costumes are negatives of one another, Koishi's theme sounds the same played backward or forward, and many of Koishi's spell cards have Psychology related themes such like Instinct "Release of the Id", Suppression "Super-ego", Subconscious "Rorschach in Danmaku" and of course, the one that Dr. Freud would be proud of Rekindled "The Embers of Love", which is basically a barrage of Danmaku phalluses. And yes, most of the attack patterns used by these bosses and others do reflect the meaning in their names. Also, from the wiki:

Koishi's musical theme, Hartmann's Youkai Girl, may refer to Eduard von Hartmann (whose most famous work is entitled The Philosophy of the Unconscious) or Heinz Hartmann (as many of Koishi's spellcards seem to make references to ego psychology.)

"You wouldn't believe how often I hear 'Why is the ship turning around? We're only halfway there!"

  • Mother 3 had a few, but by far the most Egregious example is the naming of the Magypsies (Ionia, Doria, Phrygia, Lydia, Mixolydia, Aeolia, and Locria) after the names of the modal scales.
  • The English translator for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl is also a writer for Something Awful. So for fun, he subtly slipped in a few references that a meme-savvy gamer might catch, such as the line "My Pokemon is fight!".
    • Also there are tons of weird, out-there Pokemon that are based on obscure animals.
  • The Thief series has a few of these:
    • Thief: Gold features a mission with several obscure nods to Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. First, the protagonist encounters a man named Raoul living in the caverns under the opera house (albeit in the musical, Raoul is not the one who resides there, but the Phantom's real name - Erik - is not mentioned in the musical). Further allusions include a ballet dancer named Christine being mocked for her lower-class upbringing (the protagonist of the musical, Christine, was orphaned and raised in the opera house) and a haughty soprano storming out of a rehearsal telling the manager to "find a new leading lady" (a central plot point in the musical).
    • The phrase "Bunch of taffers in this city" is used in multiple missions in Thief 2. Since "taffer" is the all purpose curse word in the series, and the city is always referred to as "The City", this hearkens strongly to the oft-repeated "Bunch of savages in this town" line from Clerks.
    • Also in the second installment, there is a book titled "Hunting of the Frumious Bandersnatch".
  • The graphics for bard songs in Forsaken World use correct musical notation. (For those who aren't musically inclined, the description lists the notes in text.)
  • Twelve in Street Fighter III, whose speaking is half understandable in battle, but has his victory quotes (as in after the battle) are all in binary code. One of the funniest is 00101 01101 00001 01111, meaning "LMAO".[5]
  • The music for one of the nastier dungeons in Final Fantasy IX uses a slowed-down version of the opening of Dies irae, the best-known of Gregorian chants, as its bass line. Since it's an ominous chant about the Day of Judgment, it's rather appropriate.
  • Dragon Age includes a banter in which Leliana is praising Wynne for doing good for its own sake rather than for show, and comparing her favorably to women in her homeland, who will make boasts such as "Today I washed the feet of forty lepers." This is a reference to a common practice in Real Life history; medieval women would wash the feet of lepers (considered unclean, the lowest of the low) as a means of showing their charity and humility.
    • And in the Leliana's Song DLC, which tells the story of her Heel Faith Turn, there is a scene where she is escaping from jail. One of the fellow prisoners she rescues (who joins the party) is named Silas. This is likely a reference to the Biblical apostle Paul, who, like Leliana, got religion and repented of his previous life of sin and was imprisoned with his future helper Silas.
  • In the Zelda series, the most obvious nod is to a certain Celtic goddess of horses. However, one can drive oneself mad with what appear to be this, such as noting that the Koroks in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker look suspiciously similar to how kodama are depicted in Princess Mononoke.
  • Silent Hill Homecoming has an unusual one. The original series was developed in Japan, and would have lots of forgivable errors regarding American culture. Homecoming was developed in the United States, and the devs had Shown Their Work regarding background details about the US Army. If you understood military culture at all, and you remembered that the devs were in the States and had done their homework, you had a good chance to guess The Reveal right about the time you finished the tutorial level. There's no way Alex could be mistaken for anything except someone trying to impersonate a troop, even if it is because of psychiatric disease.
  • In Skyrim, the Sabre Cats have bodies more similar to bears than cats, with many a player probably thinking this was some fantasy take on saber-toothed cats. Well, the genus Smilodon had bear-like bodies stockier than modern day cats, with the most accepted theory being that it was an adaptation to take down large prey such as mammoths. Mammoths also live in Skyrim.
  • All over the place in Marathon, which contains numerous references to philosophy and mythology (the name "Durandal" was not picked out of a hat). Many of the terminals also contain gibberish characters... some of which are actually hex values that contain meaningful messages if one knows how to decipher them. The developers even went so far as to hide the code for an entire multiplayer level in two terminals that, to the average user, contained nothing but a long string of nonsense.
  • In one mission in Modern Warfare 2, a corkboard in a terrorist safehouse holds a diagram of the chemical structure of RDX, a military-grade high explosive.
    • While gamers are an audience expected to understand a lot of military jargon, Modern Warfare basically requires the player to sit down with a book of U.S Military code phrases to get a full idea as to what is going on around them. "Oscar Mike" is just the start. For instance, anyone familiar with the phrase "Broken Arrow" will undoubtedly have an additional Oh Crap moment at the start of "Wolverines!", whereas the rest will probably wonder what the hell that Christian Slater movie has to do with a Russian invasion.
  • Dungeon Overlord:
    • On the Mission screen, a Warlock is teaching a goblin about the golden ratio.
    • The illustrations for Primordial Elements contain Platonic Solids corresponding to the element in question.
  • Resident Evil: Revelations. Ever read the The Divine Comedy? Play this game and count the references. It may take a while.
  • Diablo II: The first game featured a type of high-level demonic enemy called the Balrog. That is, there were several palette swapped variants, and the most powerful ones were called Balrogs, but the type they all belonged to were also called Balrogs. That's just an obvious J. R. R. Tolkien reference. But in the next game, while some enemies are still called Balrogs, the broader type they belong to is now "Megademon". Since "bal" in Sindarin means something like "might" (Quenya: "vala", cf. the Valar, Tolkien's "gods"), and "rog" means demon, "Megademon" is a stylistically odd but pretty much direct translation of "Balrog".
  • If the included modding tools to look at the internal class assigned to Joshua Graham in Fallout: New Vegas it will be shown as "NVDLC02DestroyingAngel". While this could be dismissed as a cool title, especially since the top search results for that term will be for a poisonous mushroom, those familiar with his "tribe" will recognize "Destroying Angel" as the title given to historical gunslinger Porter Rockwell. Rockwell was reputed to be so skilled with firearms he convinced the legal system he couldn't be guilty of attempted assassination because it was impossible for him to miss. While the game engine can't do that justice, Graham is indeed a master gunfighter.

Web Comics

  • Irregular Webcomic does this a lot. David Morgan-Mar tends to explain the references for those who don't get them in The Rant, though. Even then, they can be a bit brain-breaking and tough to understand.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court makes some obscure references without stopping to explain: Though Reynardine's character is more based on Reynard the Fox, his first meeting with Antimony references the seduction from the English folk song "Reynardine". Similarly, Winsbury and Janet's secret relationship is a reference to the song "Willie O'Winsbury". The First Treatise copies poses and Latin from the Mutus Liber, a 17th-century Hugenot alchemy text. And Chapter 17 references Medieval German master swordsman Johann Liechtenauer.
    • Tom Siddell seems to be particularly fond of song references. Mr. Eglamore's name contains yet another one.
  • Listening to 11.975 MHz, if you understand every obscure literary, mathematical, and radio reference, you need to get out more often.
  • As a comic that bounces around between physics, psychology, math, philosophy, and general geekery jokes, you need to be fairly cosmopolitan in your background to enjoy Dresden Codak. It's worth it though.
    • The author mentions at one point that the comic probably wouldn't work in another medium but the web, where readers don't have near-instantaneous access to obscure information.
  • The entire cast (and most of the dead bodies) in Weapon Brown comes from various syndicated comic strips. Identifying all of them and picking up all the references and in-jokes would take someone who's a talking encyclopedia of the hundred year history of comic strips.
  • This Bob and George:

Ran: The way I see it, we've broken every law of physics except the third law of thermodynamics.
Dr. Light: Aha! Negative two Kelvin!
Ran: Nevermind.

  • Alas for that example, science marches on: See "A temperature below absolute zero" at the Max Plank Institute. The Third Law of Thermodynamics remains unbroken despite the reading in negative Kelvin.
  • xkcd is loaded with these. Hell, this is the entire point of xkcd.
    • Leading some to accuse xkcd of having no actual jokes, just a bunch of references which, while intelligible and generally correct, are not funny.
  • Cyanide & Happiness actually had a week's worth of strips called "90% Of The General Public Won't Understand Week".
  • In a filler comic of El Goonish Shive, the Demonic Duck informs Dan that he's going to Australia to discover his roots. There is fossil evidence of a large, prehistoric bird that lived in Australia which has come to be known as the "Demon Duck of Doom".
  • No Black Plume does this from time to time.
  • Homestuck is chock-full of references to video games, pop culture and bad movies, but its biggest bonuses are probably in astology. People who study the astrological signs will often find the corresponding trolls to be either spot-on representations of their supposed traits... or humorous subversions. (Such as the tradionally rational, serious Capricorn being deployed as their friendly neighborhood stoner.)
    • Don't forget all the biology bonuses. While Hussie is a bit artistic with the trolls, the fact that the handle abbreviations are genetic code pairs (GCAT), and the fact that Bslick's "cancer" is caused by an error in his genetic code are completely sound.
      • Especially if you consider that The "cancer" was caused by Karkat, who's chum handle (carcinoGeneticist) practically means "creator of Cancer". He's also the Cancer troll, and John changed his handle from valid genetics to "EB", (a mutation) after Karkat messed with Jade, who brought it up, causing John to decide to change his handle.
    • Also don't forget the first three kids' sillidexes. Those three are commonly used data structures in computer science. Extra Genius Bonus Points goes to Rose's Tree Module, which is specifically an AVL tree, which mandates that the two subtress of a binary tree must not have a height that differs by more than 1 (and consequently all the subtrees must follow this rule). As such, the auto-balance is a perfect double rotation that would be used in an AVL tree. Shame it doesn't handle the deletion of the root element very well, like a real AVL tree.
  • The Packrat already expects the reader to be a synth geek, but still, spotting the many unmentioned but accurately drawn synthesizers and other electronic devices is a nice bonus.

Web Original

  • The magical young children of the Global Guardians PBEM Universe attend Martha Corey Memorial High School in Nowhere, Ohio. Martha Corey being the first woman convicted of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.
    • British Flying Brick heroine Samsonite, from the same setting, took her name from the indestructible brand of luggage of the same name. Most people assume its a variation on "Samson".
  • AMV Hell, despite being mostly lowbrow humor, has a degree of this in that you need a lot of knowledge about a lot of different shows to get all the jokes.
  • Maddox, owner of The Best Page In The Universe, occasionally interjects these in his pages:

"In fact, this book can be expressed mathematically by the following theorem: lim(manliness -> â) Books = The Alphabet of Manliness"

  • One of Open Blue's mods is Kukulu, a Captain Ersatz of Cthulhu. If you look at his profile, his country section says he's from "Pitcairn", which is the name of one of the three Real Life countries nearest to the canon location of R'lyeh.
  • Darwin's Soldiers is laden with little references that are not necessary to the plot but are quite interesting to know about nonetheless. The catch is that one must be fairly well versed in science to understand them.
  • In the Whateley Universe, Phase is almost as snarky as Daria, with refs covering everything from Shakespeare and Sinclair Lewis to Umberto Eco and Spenser. Also doubles as "Showing off the Research".
    • When Chaka is deciding on her codename ('chaka' means 'leopard'), she mentions some old book by some Belgian guy who said that pound for pound, the leopard is tougher than the lion. Most readers won't know this is supposed to be Congo Kitabu by Jean-Pierre Hallet.
  • Freeman's Mind (a narrative playthrough of Half Life "voiced" by Gordon Freeman himself) does this a lot. Sophisticated jokes about quantum physics pop up from time to time (Gordon is supposed to be a physicist, after all) and the episode where Gordon does nothing but talk like a pirate is full of archaic English and historically accurate nautical terms. Fortunately the show is still very approachable from a lowbrow perspective.
  • Homestar Runner once recites Coulomb's Law, though he mistakes it for the sum of two and two.
    • A Strong Bad email featured a jumbled spam message to which Strong Bad says, "Did the quadratic formula explode?".
  • Of a sort: had a zombie-themed page for Halloween with the text almost entirely in Zamgrh, one of the user-created languages of Urban Dead.
  • Chaos Fighters shows the constituents of various alloys and composites which can be understand better if one has the periodic table of elements.
  • Bad Obsession Motorsport's Project Binky -- a YouTube video series about two mechanics souping up an old Mini -- frequently has random comments in Latin written on the white board in the shop. Episode 17 (May 2018) had one such: "Si hoc legere potes, tibi nimium eruditionis habes" -- "If you can read this, you're overeducated."

Western Animation

  • Half of the comments made by Brain in Pinky and The Brain.
  • Half of the comments made by Brian in Family Guy.
    • And a great many Non-sequiturs that leave a majority of the audience going, "huh?", while a handful are laughing with tears streaming down their cheeks.
      • Some of those moments would require a pretty big knowledge of musicals
      • Family Guy is nowhere as funny unless you have a good knowledge in 80's and early 90's pop-culture.
    • Back in the earlier seasons particularly, there was an extra layer of funny for those who live or have lived in Rhode Island. Lately, however, they seemed to have abandoned that.
    • Lampshaded early in the episode One if by Clam, Two if by Sea:

Louis: Peter! He's charming! All British men are!
Peter: Yeah, right...that's what they said about Benjamin Disraeli.
(Cut to Benjamin Disraeli at a writing desk)
Disraeli (scornfully addressing the camera): You don't even know who I am.

    • Another episode noted that Jesus's actual last name is Hong.
  • Futurama contained a large amount of jokes relating to scientific concepts. For example, a dating agency had a sign reading "discreet and discrete", a joke which would make more sense to mathematicians. (Although, Word of God says that it is a reference to discrete electronics, not mathematics.) Other jokes included binary, and not one but two bilingual bonuses in the form of "languages" (actually encrypted text) which the viewers were left to translate/decrypt for themselves.
    • There are so many mathematical jokes in Futurama that the writers did a special for the first movie's DVD with a real Mathematician dedicated to explaining them.
    • Math isn't the only topic they do this with. How many people will get all the jokes about decades-old politics in "A Head In The Polls", for example? And not just the Nixon stuff, but the Bull Space Moose Party, which is a joke almost a century old.
      • Or the obscure webcomic joke, to boot.
    • "Wow, I love symposia"
    • They note several of these jokes during the Creator Commentary. Following the explanation for the 'Aleph-Nought'-plex theater as "infinity, but a small form of infinity[6]", the voice actor for Fry chimed in:

Billy West: "That is the nerdiest thing in the universe. However, it's only the fifteenth nerdiest thing in Futurama..."

    • "It's so cold, my processor is running at peak efficiency!" -Bender, Bender's Big Score
    • It's probably the only TV show, ever, to include a homage to Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, the Holophonor.
    • And the Professor bemoaning how a horse race was so close that it came to a "Quantum Finish", but they changed the outcome by measuring it.
    • Or the beer in Klein bottles, on display next to St. Pauli Exclusion Principle Girl beer.
    • In "The Honking," Bender sees a string of zeros and ones on the wall, and tells Fry and Leela it's gibberish, then sees it in a mirror and panics. The creators are very coy about the significance on the commentary, but anyone who bothers to check will find the backwards string, 1010011010, is the base-2 representation of 666.
    • "The Prisoner Of Benda" is full of these. The Couch Gag is "What happens in Cygnus X-1, stays in Cygnus X-1"—a fact that's almost certainly true, since Cygnus X-1 is the most famous observed black hole candidate. Then Bender proves he's a robot through a reverse Turing test. Finally, at the end of the episode, the Globetrotters use abstract algebra to sort everyone back into their proper bodies. Naturally, the math checks out. And they said math has no practical applications!
      • It should be noted that the theorem and proof used by the Globetrotters were developed specifically for the show - in this case the practical application was "resolve a cartoon plot twist in a mathematically valid manner." The creator of this theorem is writer Ken Keeler, who holds a PHD in advanced mathematics.
    • In "Fry and the Slurm Factory" the chip in Bender's head reads "6502", the model number of the 8-bit 6502 microprocessor.
    • "The Why of Fry" appears to take its name from "The Why of Y".[7]
    • In Hell Is Other Robots we encounter the Church of Robotology, whose logo is a jagged line, the schematic symbol for a resistor in electronics. I.e. "Resisting temptation".
  • On Rocko's Modern Life, the guys are making a cartoon and have some problem taking the film out of the camera with the lights off. When Heffer asks to turn the lights on to see what they are doing, Filburt says, "That'll expose the film, Eisenstein!" To most viewers, this will sound like a mispronunciation of Einstein; those familiar with film history will recognize it as a reference to Soviet silent film director Sergei Eisenstein.
    • One could argue that this is the best kind of Genius Bonus - it's funny on a level most people can understand, but to knowledgeable people, it's even funnier.
  • Fillmore! contained a surprising number of these, in a addition to the regularly spoofed cop show tropes; including a quick, but legitimate discussion of whether Judy Blume has subtext, and shout outs to Charles Laskey, Miles Davis, Arthur Schopenhauer, and others.
  • Garfield and Friends:
    • The name Federico Fettuccine (the director character in "Lights! Action! Garfield!) is probably to many people an Italian-sounding name with a food reference. But to those with the right knowledge of film history, it's an obvious reference to Federico Fellini.
  • Daria, being the genius that she was, often made quips at her family's expense in relation to literature she enjoyed. Odd for a teen animated show, most of the titles she referenced averted Small Reference Pools of teenage life.

Jake: "Why do they make sewing needles so damn SMALL?"
Daria: "Probably to piss off the camel."

    • Or:

Jake: "Which one of you girls wants to try my new recipe?"
Daria: "You pick, mom. It'll be like Sophie's Choice."

  • An episode of The Simpsons brought this exchange between Homer and Lisa: "He's nailing something to our door!" "Hmm, I wonder if it's theses?"
    • Which, surprisingly, wasn't even close to the first "Martin Luther nails something to a cathedral door" joke in The Simpsons:

Lisa: I've created Lutherans!

    • In 'Much Apu About Nothing' Chief Wiggum prepares his men to deport illegal immigrants:

"Allright men, here is the order of deportations. First we'll be rounding up your tired, then your poor, then your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
Sounds familiar?

    • The Simpsons is full of obscure—and accurate—mathematical references. You may be surprised to know that many of the writers possess advanced degrees in physics, mathematics and astronomy, among others. Many of the same writers moved on to to work on Futurama. Given the futuristic bent of the latter show, it's even more packed with scientific references.
      • This fact lends itself to a Genius Bonus from Arrested Development in which Michael refers to the child of Harvard alumni as "Probably some geek Simpson's writer's kid."
    • The "Homer 3D" episode was full of references to mathematical equations, physics and 3D graphics once he enters the 3D realm.
      • The UtahTeapot can be seen in the 3D world, as well as many 3D graphics primitives used as standard building blocks in 3D modeling, such as spheres, cubes and pyramids.
      • One of the equations in the background (1782^12 + 1841^12 = 1922^12) is very obscure. It 'almost' disproves Fermats Last Theorem, which states that such an equation should not be true. If you do it on your calculator, it seems to be correct - the error is in the eleventh decimal place, which is more than most calculators will display.[8]
      • Not to mention that the place he's in is an Einsteinian representation of space-time and the vortex he creates is therefore a black hole which leads to an alternate universe.
      • The library from Myst also shows up, along with the music that plays when you are infront of it.
      • The chalk lines drawn on the wall where Homer vanished are a reference to the Twilight Zone episode "Little Girl Lost".
    • The rhyme scheme that the Jonah Jameson Captain Ersatz rambles is the pattern for a Petrarchian sonnet.
    • In the episode Thank God, It's Doomsday, God reverts everything back to normal and shouts 'DEUS EX MACHINA!', which means in Latin 'God/s in the Machine', as well as meaning 'excuse to make everything suddenly go well for the protagonist'.
    • In the episode 'Mountain of Madness', Mr. Burns say that "there's more organization in a Marx Brothers film", which nowadays wouldn't be that known. Now, the true Genius Bonus is in the Latin American translation. Burn's phrase turns into "Hay más orden y cordura en película de Buñuel! (There's more order and sanity in a Buñuel's film!)" Those familiar with the name know that the famous Luis Buñuel is one of the masters of surrealist film, and that along notable and famous surrealist artist, Salvador Dalí­, made the film 'Un Chien Andalou'. The Latin American translations of the Simpsons episodes are famous for translating jokes and phrases that are not much known in the United States, instead they mention events and characters that are known through Mexico, South America and Spain.
    • In one of the Treehouse of Horror XIII, several historical criminals come back as zombies including the most evil German, Kaiser Wilhelm ( Hitler was Austrian). This isn't as much a genius bonus as a "paid attention in 9th grade history" bonus.
    • In Black Widower, Sideshow Bob is prisoner 24601. Sound familiar?
    • In one episode, Lisa is trying to complete a cryptic crossword with the clue "Yentl singer" (13). This is too short to be Barbra Streisand and Lisa is stuck until she triumphantly cries Isaac Bashevis.
    • The show also has some not-so-well hidden science jokes

Homer (about Lisa's perpetual motion machine): In this house, we obey the Laws of Thermodynamics!

    • The villains in the episode "The Crepes of Wrath" are named César and Ugolin, which were the names of the antagonists in a pair of french Novels, Jean de Florette, and Manon des Sources.
  • In The Venture Brothers episode "The Lepidopterists," two OSI agents claim to be amateur lepidopterists as an excuse for helping him fight the monarch. A lepidoperist is, of course, someone who watches butterflies.
    • more specifically, someone who COLLECTS butterflies... as in impaling them on pins in little display cases.
    • In "Self Medication", Sgt. Hatred makes a reference to Henry Darger. This while at a movie that is obviously LOTR inspired... double genius bonus since Darger was kind of a darker, damaged-goods version of Tolkien.
    • In the episode "Return to Malice", 21 names his revenge scheme for 24's death "An Eye for an I." Go look up Exodus 21:24.
    • Brock has just bisected an assassin, vertically. As he drags the body away, he tells Dean to get a phone number from his coat and call "The Cleaner" and tell him "we've got a 'Damien Hirst' in room 204." Hirst is a controversial conceptual artist who is known for, among other things, creating anatomical sculptures of humans with various layers of skin and muscle peeled back.
    • The episode "ORB" is positively dripping with this trope. A scene set in the late 19th century chronicles the precursors of The Guild and the OSI. Most people could probably recognize the references to Twain, Tesla, Wilde, and maybe even Crowley. But there probably weren't that many who knew that Fantomas was a character from a series of French novellas, or that Sandow was a real-life strongman and the father of body-building. To take this trope to rediculously meta levels, the characters attempt to solve a series of riddles using Wikipedia and end up entirely in the wrong place. The Alchemist calls them out on this, pointing out that the meaning of words change over time. He uses an old dictionary to prove his point and find the location of the final clue.
      • The show is PACKED with references of all sorts. There are at LEAST 30 an episode. You don't have to have an eclectic knowledge of art, literature, television, music, film, philosophy, religion, etc. to enjoy the show, but it certainly helps!
  • Animaniacs. Particularly for the supposed target audience, but even amongst adult viewers there were some references that were quite obscure... enough so that there's a Cultural Reference Guide circulating the Internet.
  • There's even an example in Veggie Tales - in Silly Songs with Larry, no less! During the song "I Love My Lips", while Archibald is showing Larry a series of Rorschach Test cards, near the end of the cards, if you pause just about 1:41, you see the number 6.023 x 10^23. For the average child, this is nonsense, which fits the song's theme. For people in chemistry, this is Avogadro's Number.
    • There was a stand-up comedian who had a joke that, while in college at Lehigh, their basketball team once lost a game by Avogadro's Number. He then thanked the people who got that and laughed.
  • In one episode of Arthur, Binky is frustrated because he wants to write a poem on a birthday card for his mother, but he can't rhyme. He goes to sleep and dreams that he ends up in a magical land called Verseburg, where "it's a crime not to rhyme," and Verseburg's authorities throw him in jail for his inability to rhyme. Binky ends up sharing a cell with William Carlos Williams, a 20th-century poet famous for his use of "free verse" (poetry that doesn't rhyme), and Binky asks, "So you can't rhyme, either?" Williams answers, "Oh, I can rhyme--I just choose not to. FREE VERSE! FREE VERSE! I'm a political prisoner." Williams then shows him a secret passageway out of the cell and gives him a rhyming dictionary. A few minutes later, the episode mentions Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda without any further explanation.
    • Additionally, Williams and Binky escape jail in a Red Wheelbarrow, and the people of Verseburg give him a large tuna caught by Pablo Neruda.
    • When Binky complains while wheeling Williams out of the cell, Williams quips that Binky's "lucky you weren't imprisoned with Sylvia Plath - now she's a heavy poet!"
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • "Here?" "Toulouse Lautrec!" * rimshot*
    • A Valentine's Day episode had Patrick look at paramecium under a microscope. Made all the funnier by how Patrick is most of the time an idiot.
  • Horton Hears a Who!: It's pretty well-known that Jim Carrey likes to insert little impressions in all of his movies. In this kid's movie, as he (who's voicing the titular character)is being chased by the Wickersham Brothers, he randomly does an impersonation of... Henry Kissinger, of all people.
  • During a talent show in ReBoot, one comedian cracks a joke in binary, which is promptly derided for not being child-friendly. For those patient enough to translate it (or google it), turns out to mean "Take my wife, please!".
  • In the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command episode "Ancient Evil", the Sealed Evil in a Can is a "living mummy" (found on a planet with all Ancient Egypt motifs the artists could imagine) called Natron the First. In Real Life, natron is a mineral that was widely used in the mummification process in Ancient Egypt.
  • Archer frequently goes from jokes about anal and drunkenness to jokes about Indira Gandhi, Eugene V. Debs, and Herman Melville. "I would prefer not to." * click* "Bartleby the Scrivener? What, not many Melville fans here, huh?"

Archer: "God, I SAID the cap slips off the poison pen for no reason, didn't I?!"
Cyril: "I know, I know, but I just assumed that if anything bad happened it-it would've been-"
Archer: "No, do NOT say the Chekhov gun Cyril! THAT, sir, is a facile argument!"
Woodhouse: "Also woefully esoteric."

  • In the second Strawberry Shortcake special, The Purple Pieman tries to enter the bake off in "Big Apple City" by making "kohrabi" cookies. "Kohlrabi" is a type of cabbage, hence why they taste so awful.
  • Quite a few of the details of Avatar: The Last Airbender would go completely over the head of anyone not familiar with written Chinese, or various intricate details of Asian cultures and history.
  • The Boondocks is rarely a subtle show. Some viewers might have missed the Wunclers parodying Bush's family and administration, since their actions work as jokes on their own and it's never stated outright. The comics became famous almost entirely for the author's stance on them, though.
    • Not to mention that "Wuncler" sounds exactly the same as "Once-ler", a man who—in Dr. Suess's "The Lorax"—used business to drive out everything that was natural to the land and make it a desolate wasteland. Take notice in the episode where Mr. Wuncler tricks Robert Freeman into opening a soul food restaurant which drives the crime rate up so that he can buy the park next to it.
  • My Gym Partner's a Monkey contains a surprising number, usually delivered by Windsor the Gorilla, such as when he explains what would otherwise be a fairly lame gag about an owl answering "Who?" to every question asked of it is, in fact, an illustration of the Socratic dialogue.
  • Dexter's Laboratory - Dexter's Joke. It's about the professor's wife being a pain.
    • One comment on the video explains:

"I feel like there can be two meanings:
1) As many commenters have stated, hydroxyl ions are abbreviated as OH- or, in this case, HO-. So, the punchline will read: "That's no HO, that's my wife!"
2) He talks about the professor trying to "liberate" negatively charged hydroxyl ions (HO-). After the punchline, it could mean that the professor is trying to figure out how to "liberate" himself from his wife.
Either way, it is a great joke, which definitely went over my head when I was younger!"

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory â this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. ... Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ... And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.

  • In the X-Men: Evolution episode "Middleverse", one of the devices created by mutant Forge is said to run on CP/M, a pre-DOS computer OS.
  • Batman: The Animated Series is *thick* with these, but one standout example is "Carl Rossum," a brilliant cyberneticist named for the author Karel Čapek and the main character of his best known play, R.U.R., a.k.a. Rossum's Universal Robots.
  • In Fireman Sam, the Welsh wannabe rockstar being named Elvis Cridlington is funny for obvious reasons. It's even funnier if you know the popular but discredited theory that Elvis's name is of Welsh origin (Elfys Preseli).
  • Phineas and Ferb: In The Movie, Candace wonders out loud why the mysterious force of the universe help her brothers so much. Buford says, "Well, why don't you ask it, Kierkegaard?" He gets weird looks from the others, to which he responds, "Existentialist trading cards. It came with the gum."

Baljeet: Would you like to trade two Sartre for a Nietzsche?
Buford: Alright.
Baljeet: Sucker...

    • In the episode where they're at the endangered species benefit...

Scientist 1: I bet I'll have more species named after me than you. Care to make a wager?
Scientist 2: No.
Scientist 1: Why not?
Scientist 2: Because your last name is "Pithecus."

    • When Lawrence drops an address and accidentally reads it upside down, he says that it's on Palindrome Road.
    • Heck, half of the humor on Phineas and Ferb is this.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the ponies give Princess Luna a flower necklace as a sign of forgiveness. The flowers are red and white roses, together, symbolizing reconciliation within the royal family, just as the red-and-white-rose of the Tudor house in real life symbolized the reconciliation between Lancaster and York at the end of the War of the Roses.
    • "Luna Eclipsed" has one that doubles as a Stealth Pun: Twilight Sparkle dresses for Nightmare Night as "Star Swirl the Bearded", a unicorn wizard from ancient times who was "father of the amniomorphic spell", according to Twilight. "Amniomorphic" means "bowl-shaped" in Greek, which means Star Swirl was a bearded shaper of bowls, or a hairy potter. If that's too much of a stretch, the "amnion" is the term for the membrane that forms around the fetus of reptiles, birds, and mammals, so it may instead be a Call Back to the spell Twilight cast in "Cutie Mark Chronicles" to hatch Spike's egg.
    • In "The Cutie Pox", Apple Bloom all of a sudden gets a cutie mark shaped like a Fleur de Lis. Immediately, she begins speaking in French. The average American child watching the show is unlikely to be aware of the connection between a Fleur de Lis and the French language. And of course, if the viewer does not speak French, he or she will not know what Apple Bloom is saying.
    • In the episode "Bridle Gossip", Zecora shows a number of strange habits or possessions that cause the ponies to conclude that she's evil. All of these are explained away in the episode as actually being entirely innocuous... except for her habit of pawing at the ground and digging small holes. This is something zebras actually do to find water—by pawing at the ground of dry river beds and the like, they can draw out water that's seeped into the ground.
      • For even more genius bonus, pawing at the ground is a threat display for horses. No wonder the population of Ponyville was reacting poorly to her!
    • In "It's About Time", Twilight Sparkle is seen working at a chalkboard full of equations while trying to figure out the supposed disaster that's due to happen by Tuesday morning. The equations in question describe the effects of time dilation.
    • In "A Canterlot Wedding - Part 1", we get musical bonus in the form of "B.B.B.F.F", as explained here and verified here.
      • For those who cannot follow the first link - the genius bonus is that the first rendition of a particular musical #, sung before Twilight Sparkle actually met and poorly reacted to the character Princess Cadance, ends with a chord shift known as an 'authentic cadence'. The reprise of that musical #, sung after Twilight has started to suspect something wrong, ends with a variation of that chord shift known as a 'deceptive cadence'. In the second half of the episode, it is revealed that the Princess Cadance Twilight had just met was actually a shapeshifting impostor.
  • The goofy astronauts in Tom and Jerry Blast Off To Mars spout an extensive Joseph Campbell quote while wondering if humanity is alone in the universe:

Astronaut 1: The universe? An inconceivable immensity of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and clusters of clusters of galaxies, speeding apart into expanding distance. And humanity? A kind of recently developed scurf on the epidermis of one of the lesser satellites of a minor star in the outer arm of an average galaxy, amidst one of the lesser clusters among the thousands, catapulting apart, which took form some fifteen billion years ago as a consequence of an inconceivable preternatural event.
Astronaut 2: Well, I don't see anything.
Astronaut 1: Guess that answers that. Let's hit it.

This Very Wiki

  1. "Blue Moon" roses are lilac and Florigene and Suntory's genetically-engineered "Applause" roses are lavender/mauve; other blue roses are white roses with a dye job.
  2. It should be noted that The Collector has been a favorite book of several serial killers in real life, despite the moral of the story being "don't be a serial killer".
  3. This is actually more of a case of Did Not Do the Research because Catherine of Aragon was only six years older than Henry VIII
  4. Obscure if you don't know golf or Magic: the Gathering, but it means pretty much a do over.
  5. The first character's binary representation is incorrect, however, as a character in Twelve's cipher is representable by its index in the alphabet ("00001" for 'A', "00010" for 'B', etc.). "00101" is 'E', not 'L'; 'L', instead, is supposed to be "01100".
  6. Specifically, it's an infinite quantity that can be indexed by the natural numbers, unlike, for instance, the set of all reals.
  7. For the non-mathematicians/programmers - the Y combinator allows an anonymous function to be defined in terms of itself, exactly what Fry does to his own life during that episode.
  8. Though you could just notice that the left-hand number is even and the right-hand number is odd...