Our Gnomes Are Weirder
"Muggles have garden gnomes too, you know," Harry told Ron as they crossed the lawn.
"Gnomes are not at all like garden gnomes, which are actually dwarves, a mistake that began in early fairy tales."
Let's talk about gnomes, shall we?
Just what is a gnome? A short humanoid... how short? How humanoid? They're almost as diverse as trolls and nearly as widespread in fiction and myth.
In the greater modern pop consciousness, gnomes are pretty well-defined. Specifically, garden gnomes: tiny (anywhere from two or three inches to a yard high), long white beard, jolly demeanor, and a big pointy (or maybe floppy) red hat. Often seen shilling for vacation deals.
The problem becomes greater in Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games, where they share conceptual space with at least two other "short" races, dwarves and halflings. As a result, gnomes tended to go unnoticed and forgotten in D&D settings; in fact, they were explicitly referred to as "the Forgotten People" in Forgotten Realms.
That began to change with the Dragonlance setting and the tinker gnomes of Mount Nevermind: descendants of humans cursed by the god of the forge for being petty and small-minded, the minoi shunned magic in favor of the sciences, particularly engineering... and were completely incapable of approaching these rationally, compelled to make everything they built as complicated and Goldbergian as possible, and valuing failure above success because you couldn't learn anything new once you'd got it right. Tinker gnomes were played for pure comedy, and proved fairly popular. Since then, engineering prowess has become a recurring trait for gnomes in various universes. Some of them are as inept as the original tinker gnomes, but other versions are actually much more competent.
Since then, the general trend has been to make gnomes distinctive by making them strange, standing out from their setting because they don't quite fit into it.
Note that while creatures with Gnome-like characteristics have been around for a very long time, the word Gnome as it's currently understood was originally used by the occultist Paracelsus to refer to Elemental Embodiments of earth. If a fiction includes elemental gnomes, they usually won't have much character depth or interaction, and may or may not follow this trope.
- Travelocity's The Roaming Gnome, played by a gnome statue. He has a nice British accent.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: the Green Witch uses gnomes, who the protagonists at first think are demons but turn out to be a type of earth elemental, as her slaves. Amusingly, they show more variance than all the other examples on this page combined, differing wildly in height, build, color, number of heads, etc.
- Subverted, of all things, in Glen Cook's Garrett P.I. novels. Gnomes are just short people, about four feet tall or so. A history of Fantastic Racism makes them touchy about short jokes.
- The things some of them yell at Garrett for disturbing them suggest they have some connection with finance: a possible Stealth Pun about the "gnomes" of Zurich.
- The book Gnomes by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet, and its Animated Adaptation The World Of David The Gnome details the society and history of, well, garden gnomes.
- They also published a gnome-sized-version of the book, entitled Little Gnome Facts.
- In The Lord of the Rings, "gnome" actually refers to the Noldor, the High Elves of the West. This is because "gnome/gnomic" has its real-world roots in a word meaning "wise". Not incidentally, the Noldor were the only Elves looked up to by the Dwarves due to their mastery of the crafts.
- They are also referred to as "Deep-Elves" which "Gnomes" is considered a synonym in Tolkien's Translation Convention. In fact, the Noldor/Gnomes were originally distinct from the woodland Elves, in Tolkien's early conception of The Silmarillion (see The Book of Lost Tales).
- Tolkien also had a race called the Petty-Dwarves who, from what little is known about them, seemed rather gnomelike. Closely related to dwarves but smaller, more slightly built and stealthier, and more unsociable. The Petty-Dwarves were all dead by the end of the First Age, having been hunted for sport by the Elves.
- To be fair that was long before the Elves recognized them as sapient. When the Elves met Dwarves who had cities, tools, and crafts they compared notes and stopped hunting the petty-dwarves.
- Gnomes in Harry Potter are barely-intelligent garden pests with potato shaped heads. 'De-gnoming' a garden consists of bodily chucking them over the wall, though they inevitably wander back after a while.
- Discworld gnomes are six inches high, and manage to have both the strength and the leverage of six-foot-tall humans. They're described as having the same belligerence as a human, only compressed. Gnome Watchman Buggy Swires catches birds and rides them. Their Elfland-refugee cousins the Nac mac Feegle share these qualities in addition to being Violent Glaswegian Smurfs.
- Terry Pratchett's Nomes Trilogy stars the "nomes," a stranded alien race of tiny humanoids who move, think, and age at ten times human speed.
- They also believe that garden gnomes are somewhere between grave markers and passed-on spirits of dead nomes. They don't appear aware that humans actually create them-they just see them appear periodically in the garden section of a nearby supermarket.
- In the book A Gnomewrench in the Dwarfworks and its sequel, A Gnomewrench in the Peopleworks, gnomes are sadistic Lawful Evil shapeshifters, of a certain type—they're always recognisably gnomes, but they can lengthen or shorten their limbs, turn their arms into swords, etc.
- The Nomes of Oz are downright evil underground dwellers with dreams of conquest and an extremely Weaksauce Weakness—eggs.
- Return to Oz expands on this: in the film, the Nomes are also earth elementals that dwell in rock and stone, crafting the bodies they require out of those materials.
- The gnomes of the Four Lands in Shannara are steppe-dwelling nomads, more like orcs or a Barbarian Tribe in their general nastiness. They're described as short but not tiny, with jaundiced-looking skin and wiry bodies. Some gnomes, such as a tracker named Slanter, distinguish themselves, but for the most part they're cannon fodder.
- In addition, there are also the spider gnomes—freakish, barely-sentient mutants with unnaturally long limbs and skittering gaits that other gnomes hate and fear.
- On the side of good (or Hipocratic Oath neutral) are the healer gnomes of Storlock.
- The alchemist Paracelsus, describing elemental creatures, called earth elementals "gnomes."
- Gnomes in Artemis Fowl probably are the base species of the People.
- Their rear ends are also known to be extremely large, so much that they get in the way of traffic in the first book. They are probably one of the fairy species that gets the least attention, however, at least in terms of description.
- Must be weird going through life known only as the "Species with the tremendously large ass". Let us all pray that Haven never discovers cheap Mexican food...
- Bizarrely, a mention is once made to the fact that highly spicy foods are regulated in Haven, to avoid the dangers of "fumes".
- Their rear ends are also known to be extremely large, so much that they get in the way of traffic in the first book. They are probably one of the fairy species that gets the least attention, however, at least in terms of description.
- In the Magic Kingdom of Landover series, we are introduced to Go Home Gnomes, a race of short (around 3 feet tall) greedy, shortsighted (their eyes work, it's their plans that don't), and stupid creatures.
- In "The Mote in God's Eye" the watchmakers are somewhat like alien crazy tinker gnomes... small, technically competent, but nonsentient and likely to create weird and dangerous gadgets. The Moties consider them marginally useful vermin who require regular extermination, and to the humans who witness their takeover and resulting destruction of the Macarthur, they're pure Nightmare Fuel—literally, in Bury's case.
- Gnomes in Teresa Edgerton's Goblin Moon and The Gnome's Engine are similar to D&D gnomes in stature and in their fondness for gadgetry (which they're quite good at); they also love brain-teasers and geometric puzzles. Their strangeness comes from their anatomy, as these gnomes have curled horns like a sheep's, and huge feet with mole-like digging nails. So they go barefoot, and wear hats with gaps in the brim for their horns.
- Chester in Monster probably takes the cake: he's a being from Another Dimension, and his body (made especially for him during his stay in our dimension) is made of paper. As he's able to change his shape by folding himself, he's occasionally called "an origami gnome."
- Incidentally, the villain of the story has a fairly traditional army of gnomes patrolling her garden.
- The gnomes of Dave Duncan's A Man Of His Word and A Handful Of Men are (like all the races of the setting) not a species but a distinct subrace of humanity—in their case, short, sharp-toothed, and with a cultural and physiological preference for living in dark and filthy environments such as sewers. They're actually fairly intelligent and reasonable people if you get to know them, but very few members of the other races are willing to make the effort.
- In The Deed of Paksenarrion, gnomes are absolute Lawful Neutral with No Sense of Humor, believing that only they know and follow the true laws laid down at creation by the High Lord.
- The gnomes in Monster Hunter Vendetta live in the projects of Birmingham, Alabama, and they'll bust a cap in yo' ass if you call them lawn gnomes.
- The Dragonlance novels describe gnomes the same way as the tabletop games. But their qualities tend to differ Depending on the Writer. In the Weis/Hickman novels, Gnomes tend to have absurdly long names beginning with "Gn" and are obsessed with inventing things, though their inventions invariably never work. However, the Preludes novel Darkness and Lightby Paul Thompson and Tonya Carter depicts gnomes as brilliant and effective, if a bit scatterbrained. The gnomes (who have names referring to their professions such as Woodcut and Roperig and Rainspot) manage to successfully build a device to fly them to the red moon, so they're clearly much more competent than the typical Dragonlance gnome.
- Special Unit 2: Carl the gnome, he's a petty criminal with diamond-hard skin who acts as an informant.
- Paige of the Charmed ones had to investigate a death of a gnome in a Magic School library. The gnome is one of the teachers.
- In Once Upon a Time Rumplestiltskin is referred to as a gnome.
- One of the more wacky monsters of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was the Gnarly Gnome, whose arsenal included a mesmerizing accordion and a rake.
- Buck Rogers in The 25th Century: In the episode Journey to Oasis, the team have a Live Action Escort Mission to get an enemy diplomat to a Peace Conference when they are stranded in the desert of a fantastic planet populated by space demons, space orcs and space magic (all justified, sort of by it being a waste dump for failed experiments). Their rather unreliable guide is a blue-skinned gnome that likes to speak in riddles called ODX (occular dynamics experiment). Aside from his riddling which is in line with Earth Fair Folk, his main power is in his eyes. He is charged every time a magnetic flare comes past the planet until he is rather like a walking taser.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, gnomes as a species are almost always good or neutral (though evil individuals crop up occasionally). Generic gnomes (called rock gnomes to distinguish them from other subraces) are pranksters, illusionists, and craftsmen; they have the power to talk to small burrowing mammals. There are also svirfneblin, or deep gnomes, who are just about the only deep-cavern-dwelling humanoid race who haven't gone evil; they spend too much time keeping out of the way of everything else to have developed much else in the way of a racial identity. Finally, the forest gnomes are small even compared to the others, live in hollow trees, and are generally woodsy hippie-types.
- Gnomes of Greyhawk conform to these stereotypes.
- In Dragonlance, as stated, minoi (or tinker gnomes) are more or less the Trope Maker. Of note are the "original" gnomoi (or thinker gnomes) to be found on the continent of Taladas, sane tinker gnomes who regard the minoi as slightly retarded cousins to be cared for and kept from hurting themselves (conversely, the minoi think the gnomoi are insane for not being manic inventors and call them "mad gnomes").
- The gnomes of Mystara are split between the generic variety (earth gnomes) and competent tinker gnomes (properly known as skygnomes). How competent? They built a Magitek flying city and invented World War I biplanes with magic engines and machine guns to protect it.
- Gnomes in Ravenloft, like all demihumans, are rare, but their size makes them not very threatening to superstitious humans, so they're less persecuted than any other nonhumans except halflings. They tend to be well-educated, and have had a hand (along with human Lamordians and Dementlieuse) in turning the northwestern Core into a proto-Clock Punk setting.
- In Forgotten Realms gnomes generally fall under illusionist or tinker types. They're a race in diaspora, with no homeland or recorded place of origin, though a very large number of gnomes are concentrated on the island kingdom of Lantan, where they coexist with humans. Most others follow "Melve’s Plan" - smile, do something useful and non-threatening, hide behind the big folk and let them butt heads with each other, if that's what they want.
- The tinker gnomes are, disturbingly enough, the default gnome subrace in Spelljammer. It turns out that a group of minoi from the Dragonlance world found their way into outer space and, much to the chagrin of the rest of the
galaxyFlow, multiplied. These spacebound gnomes are responsible for creating the famed Giant Space Hamsters, used to power their starships (yes, exactly how you're picturing it), as well as their better known cousins the Miniature Giant Space Hamsters.
- They also make autognomes - semi-sentient (if Literal-Minded) and talking mechanical automatons; they sometimes have built-in weapons and when attacking shout intimidating war cries, but generally are peaceful (they attack only in defence of themselves, gnomes or babies - except when they malfunction, of course, but... what's that? oops!) and may explode.
- The gnomes of Eberron are merchants, newshounds, crafters of elemental-powered vehicles, and just happen to have the most sophisticated intelligence network in the world. Oh, and they're believed to have evolved from rodents.
- A few core D&D supplements have introduced some new and different subraces. The whisper gnomes from Races of Stone are incredibly stealthy rogues with subdued, suspicious personalities that clash with other gnomes and find easy employment as spies. Chaos gnomes or imago, from the same book, are cheerful nomads who possess uncanny luck and crank the other gnomes' flamboyance Up to Eleven. An issue of Dragon magazine introduced the arcane gnomes and river gnomes—pompous spellcasters and simple fisher-folk (with webbed fingers) respectively. Frostburn introduced the arctic ice gnomes, who have an affinity for ice magic, while Stormwrack gave us the island-dwelling and seafaring wavecrest gnomes.
- Fourth Edition, gnomes are sneaky fey creatures rather than normal humanoids. They can turn invisible now, but otherwise haven't changed much. They're treated as monsters in the first release of the game, but become a core race in Player's Handbook 2.
- The Pathfinder setting does Fourth Edition one better by having their gnomes be crazy fey, no longer properly connected to the First World of the fair folk and having to obsess about trivia and experience interesting things in order to remain relatively stable (and to top it off, gnomes don't really understand how non-fey operate, and tend to imperfectly ape humanoid customs in ways that take observers straight into the Uncanny Valley).
- Gnomes in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy look similar to thin dwarves and are expert craftsmen. Their entry also notes the possible existence of Hell Gnomes, which is more fitting with this trope.
- There are (or were) gnomes in the Warhammer Fantasy Battle world—they were given stats in the first edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game. They were pretty bland, though, being basically short dwarves without the cool warrior vibe.
- In Magic: The Gathering, Gnomes started out with the red card Quarum Trench Gnomes, but after the inclusion of Clockwork Gnomes in Homelands, a trend started of concepting them as Clockwork Creatures. Realizing that this made no sense at all, Wizards of the Coast eventually put a stop to this practice, and gnomes haven't been seen in the game since.
- "Nockers" (named for mine spirits from Eastern European folklore) from Changeling: The Dreaming were very much like tinker gnomes... though usually taller.
- The Wizened of Changeling: The Lost also have many aspects of this.
- RuneQuest - Alchemic Elementals version.
- Legend Game System: Hallow Gnomes have low-level mind control and emotion-reading abilities, and like to be ruled by non-gnome monarchs (with the idea being that a ruler without mind control powers, when surrounded all day by creatures with mind control powers, will inevitably be on his or her best behavior). Furthermore, some of their weirdness is in the form of Obfuscating Stupidity - gnomes will often disguise their best inventions as ridiculous luxury novelties, such as garish sets of decorative rainbow armor (that gain active camouflage abilities when one more piece is added) and high-quality opera glasses (that happen to make excellent sniping scopes).
- Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do In An RPG has many of references to the gnomes - they seems to be the author's Player Character race of choice, possibly because they are considered inherently funny:
3. There is no Gnomish god of heavy artillery.
- The gnomes in Puzzle Agent are pure Nightmare Fuel.
- Gnomes in World of Warcraft (and, briefly, in Warcraft 2) are heavily based on Dragonlance tinker gnomes; they have advanced technology all the way up to nuclear reactors in a world where most other races are still fiddling with steam engines (not that it really matters that much, 'cause Rock Beats Laser whenever needed).
- Unlike the Dragonlance gnomes, Warcraft gnomes are actually pretty professional when it comes to engineering, and tend to meticulously plan and test their inventions (unlike goblins who tend to throw something together on a whim, and then either promptly forget about it or make it explode). Doesn't stop them from deciding to build completely crazy inventions just to see if they would work, though. Also unlike Dragonlance gnomes they are fairly competent magic users...Of course they still think its a good idea to NUKE their capital city when it gets invaded from a nasty case of Digging Too Deep and end up causing more trouble then the invaders themselves could have caused (they irradiated a good chunk of their population and you know what's worse then invaders from below? RADIOACTIVE, NUCLEAR ENERGY SHOOTING invaders from below) granted, this was stated to have been caused by an Evil Advisor, but STILL you think one of the higher ups would have thought it was a BAD idea to nuke their own city.
- In World of Warcraft, gnomes also have a friendly but fierce racial rivalry with their fellow pint-size technophiles, the goblins, as the two races approach engineering from opposite ends. Goblins are function before form, where gnomes are form before function. This translates into more concrete forms with the engineering player profession: a gnomish engineering specialist gains access to unique schematics for a wide array of wacky gadgets with disturbing tendencies to backfire, where goblin engineering specialists gain access to an assortment of practical explosives.
- The reason why the gnomes have such an affinity for technology is revealed in the Wrath of the Lich King expansions, where it is found that the gnomes, much like the dwarfs were originally created by the titans to help them shape the world. While the dwarfs were created as labourers and craftsmen, the gnomes were created to build and maintain the titan machinery.
- Not to mention that they were originally robots, until the Old Gods gave them the "Curse of Flesh," Similar to how the dwarves were originally made of clay until their millennia-long slumber, which caused them to grow skin and lose their rock-manipulating abilities.
- EverQuest gnomes are also pretty much tinker gnomes. Aside from having technology, they get a race-exclusive tradeskill, tinkering.
- RuneScape, Gnomes are masters of treepunk or Bamboo Technology rather than steampunk; Dwarfs are the steampunk masters.
- In Arcanum, Gnomes have a knack for money and trade and thus are used in the same role as Jews generally were in Victorian fiction. They have also engineered the serial rape of human women by ogres to breed half-ogres to use as body guards.
- Gnomes show up in the Wizardry games as a playable race, characterized as the intellectual, studious race. Oddly enough, they also excel as priests—Piety, the stat representing the ability to study intensively for long periods of time (among other things) is the priest's main attribute, and the gnomes have the highest base Piety in the game.
- The Gnomes of Overlord are more or less tiny beards with legs and funny hats and glowing eyes that can only say "eep", also some can explode by humping your legs and are planing to kill you in the end. They declare war early on against the Evil Overlord and you're given a sidequest to kill 1000 of the little buggers, which is reasonable since their only gameplay purpose is to be farmed for Lifeforce (your reward for doing so earns you an Achievement/Trophy and a Nice Hat for your minions).
- And by "declare war" we mean one bumped into you.
- While stranger-looking than most, the Asura of Guild Wars are basically similar to WoW gnomes. They're good with magic, technology, and combinations of the two. They also build giant (relative to players and even more so to themselves) magical Golems. They're even going to become playable in Guild Wars 2.
- In the Seiken Densetsu games, Gnome is the elemental spirit of earth.
- Dwarf Fortress features two species of gnome, though they universally act like primitive, savage dwarves: Mountain gnomes live in enchanted mountains and steal your alcohol, while Their more dangerous cousins, the dark gnomes live in haunted mountains. They kill you, and then steal your alcohol.
- Gnomes in Kingdom of Loathing are drawn as circles with arms and legs, rather than traditional stick figures like everybody else. They are desert dwellers living in a Mad Max-inspired Scavenger World, although for the most part it's nowhere near as crapsacky. They're technologically a bit advanced, but their main hat is that they use "gn" in place of "n" in all their words. Gnorm the Gnome teaches the skill "Torso Awaregness", for example. There are the Xtreme Gnomes, who sk8board.
- Gnomes in Majesty are tiny, live in junkheaps, and invite their buddies rather quickly if allowed to move into your kingdom. They also speed up construction of new buildings and repair of damaged ones. Unfortunately, elves and dwarves are no fonder of gnomes than they are of each other.
- City of Heroes has the Red Caps, which are terrifyingly dangerous for their level. Also, Red Cap bosses are larger than most heroes.
- In the Tales (series), Gnome is the spirit of earth, which fits the Elemental Embodiment part. There are small creatures that are presumably also Gnomes in the first installment, Tales of Phantasia.
- He takes the form of a mole with a propeller on his head in Tales of Symphonia. The dungeon where he lives is also occupied by a horde of Gnomelettes, six-inch-tall lumps of childish belligerence in pointy hats. They usually want something from you, and they won't let you pass until you give it to them-even if it means you have to backtrack out of the dungeon to fetch it.
- Dragon Fable features Popsproket, a gnomish city run entirely by gnome steampunk technology. They have a long-standing grudge against Dr. Voltabolt because he took up dentistry.
- zOMG! has, in its first area, Animated lawn gnomes. They've learned how to plan and prepare for war by observing humans. They even have mushroom cannons and employ lawn flamingos as beasts of war.
- In Touhou, the kappa fills the gnome niche, except they live in rivers. They are relatively aplenty, build curious devices, have better techs than most other people (including invisibility cloak and a freakin' nuclear reactor), and are shorter than humans (about as tall as a kindergartener). They also have shades of dwarves (fighting underground horrors) and goblins (being largely undisciplined).
- In King's Quest VI Heir Today Gone Tomorrow, there are five rhyming Sense Gnomes in one of the islands that can kill any human who sets foot on the island. And their naming features are based on the five senses (with their names in parentheses): The Gnome with the Jumbo Nose (Smell; Old Tom Trow), the Gnome with the Monumental Ears (Hearing; Hark Grovernor), the Gnome with the Gigantic Mouth (Taste; Grump-Frump), the Gnome with the Huge Hands (Touch; Trilly-Dilly), and the Gnome with the Enormous Eyes (Sight; Old Billy Batter).
- Neverwinter Nights 2 takes the "Weirder" part to an extreme with Grobnar Gnomehands. He's a bard, Omniglot, and mechanical genius. He's also an unabashed Cloudcuckoolander that most players find unbelievably annoying.
- Yordles fill the role of gnomes in League of Legends but combine this trope with Ridiculously Cute Critter for great effect.
- The gnomes in Looking for Group are depicted as being subterranean inventors who were locked in ongoing combat with the warlike trolls.
- What's New with Phil and Dixie offers us this take on exactly why there's no consensus on gnomes.
- Gnomes in Our Little Adventure are small, yellow and each have a long pointy tail.
- Nodwick had a series where it was revealed that all three of the "short races" were the same species and had been running a centuries long scam, the gnomes were just halflings with fake beards, and dwarves had fake beards and steroids.
- In Tales of the Questor, gnomes, also known as brownies, are small bald humanoids, barely six inches tall, with an apparently primitive tribal culture and fantastic, magically enhanced leaping ability. They live in the walls of larger creature's homes and hunt rats and mice and other vermin as part of their tribal tradition. They also apparently do NOT get along well with hobgoblins, another diminutive race...
- There's comic Gnome Syndicate by David Reddick and Kevin Vasse. It's about as weird as it sounds.
- In Tales of MU, gnomes are the same as halflings in older Dungeons & Dragons and Tolkien's Hobbits, but with typical MU-twists. The natural stealth associated with halflings and gnomes works like a Weirdness Censor, and it gets stronger the more of them are standing in one place. A gnomish professor has to remind her class she's there and is completely ignored by the administration. In a setting where Word of God is that technology doesn't work, they get away with clocks and pianos, but nobody notices. The gnomes themselves don't appear to have noticed they have this power.
- Rich Burlew created his own spin on gnomes in his essays on world-building, turning them into a shadow conspiracy group which doles out arcane secrets in the trappings of religion to keep the humans in line.
- In The Adventures of The League of STEAM episode "Bitter Gnomes and Gardens", the gnomes are of the garden gnome variety, with the peculiar weakness that they can only move if not seen, similar to the Weeping Angels of Doctor Who (Lampshaded in a Shout-Out).
- The World of David the Gnome; see Literature above.
- The Underpants Gnomes of South Park are... let's just say obsessed and leave it at that.
- They just have a poorly thought-out business plan. Which kind of fits the gnome stereotype, really.
- Freakazoid! had a one-shot Gargoyles parody where the protagonists were Lawn Gnomes. In this version, Gnomes were the scourge of norwegien forests because of their annoying habit of mugging people for the fun of it, until they picked on the wrong wizard's viking brother and were thusly cursed to turn stone by day until they changed their wicked ways.
- Garden Gnomes have a very...strange place in the Phineas and Ferb universe. Everyone literally seems to believe they protect the gardens from evil spirits, and failure to have one is Serious Business. How serious? Well, when Doctor Doof's family's one got repossessed as a child, he was forced to stand for hours in the cold dressed like one.
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- The typical Dragonlance gnomes could (and did) build devices that could fly them to a moon - if they tried to build an automated donut-baker. Or vice versa.