Readings Are Off the Scale

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"So many energy sources are described this way in the Trek universe, it must be its own category in the Federation database. Something like “Energy Sources—Unbeforeseen. (See: Misc.).”

The instruments used by the heroes, be they solitary investigators in the back woods or interstellar explorers on the fringes of the galaxy, are never up to the task of actually measuring the full scope of their subjects. Nor can they be recalibrated to expand that range at the cost of some loss of detail. The result is that not a day goes by that something doesn't peg the meters, rendering them completely useless.

A reading that's so far off the scale as to be truly incredible may even cause the measuring device to suffer from Explosive Instrumentation.

Presumably this is to allow writers to say something is astonishingly big or powerful, without having to make up the measuring units for Subspace Quantum Tachyon Emissions, or using a real value that is completely out of proportion to what would be sensible. Basically Up to Eleven taken, well, Up to Eleven.

In comedy genres, many Thing-O-Meters (like Pun-O-Meter or Annoying-O-Meter, or the ever-popular Weird Shit-O-Meter) will most likely tend to go off-scale or even explode.

It should probably be noted that, as the Real Life Examples below indicate, in Real Life, it's seldom as easy as just "recalibrating". At a certain point, any measuring device will eventually reach the limit of what it was designed to measure.

Seen in almost every Space Opera.

If you're using a chart, Off the Chart will be the case, too.

A Super-Trope to Readings Blew Up the Scale.

When this is applied to reviews, it's Broke the Rating Scale.

Examples of Readings Are Off the Scale include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Dragon Ball Z, characters working for the Big Bad Freeza have eyepieces called "Scouters" that measure ki, outputting it as a 'combat rating' (or 'power level' in the dub), and if a low quality scouter, like the ones used by Red shirts, is used to measure a combat rating that is rising at a rate that the unit cannot handle, it'll explode. The higher-ups get ones that don't have this flaw, although Vegeta has a bad habit of crushing them anyway. At different points in the series, Raditz, Nappa, Jeice, and Androids 17 and 18 are each shocked at their opponent's power level as given by the scouter, and they immediately dismiss their scouter as flawed or broken. (In the case of the androids, the scouter being used was the one built into Android 16)
    • Considering the ability to control one's power level is somewhat rare among the fighters seen in the Freeza saga (apart from everyone from Earth), the scouters' limitation isn't too strange, as the ones carried by the grunts were presumably intended to be used on "weaker beings" that couldn't power-up.
      • It's more of a misunderstanding of how the device functions: It measures the raw amount of Ki in the area, like a Gieger counter, not the ki of a being. This can be seen when Raditz's scouter read Goku's Kamehameha as separate reading.
    • One filler scene in the anime involved the mooks on a different planet measuring the readings of Frieza and Goku... who were killed when the readings overload blew up the entire complex.
    • Toryiama admitted he did this intentionally, as he didn't like the hard-and-fast "this character is more powerful than that one by this amount" corner the scouters had painted him into, and also the ever-increasing power levels would have made for ever-increasingly stupid sounding numbers.
    • Kids Next Door spoofs this part of Dragonball Z in a skewed Rashomon-type episode. In Numbah 4's telling of the pizza delivery, it is a spoof of Dragonball Z, down to transformations and Ki (Or rather bubblegum bubbles) balls. During the scene where he is continually being zapped by The Delightful Kids From Down The Lane (as a multi-headed Freiza no less).

Numbah 4: "Their power levels... are off... the charts! I'm really gonna have to get some... bigger charts...!"

  • In one episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Lt. Ibuki uses this trope directly ("All our meters and gauges are going off the scale!") when trying to recover Eva-01 and Shinji.
    • Misato finally addresses this trope in one of the last few episodes:

Maya: Yet, I can't believe it. I mean, it's impossible on this system.
Misato: Nevertheless, it's a fact. We must accept the fact and then investigate the cause.

    • Rebuild of Evangelion, manages to both avert and utilize this trope. Here it's not so much a matter of going beyond measurable values as exceeding safety thresholds; the "negative values" of plug depth indicate the pilot has moved out of safe depths in the plug and into the zone where "contamination" is a major concern. However, it is also played straight to a degree when Eva-02's beast mode causes all readings to go haywire and Eva-01's destruction of its limiters allows it to transcend all human reason.
      • Plug depths actually have a limitation on how high they can go. It's labeled "The Great Beyond Depth"; one can only assume things don't go well for the pilot there.
  • This line is used in the Gainax Opening of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, where Captain GARlock faces down an armada with an impossibly large size: The fleet size is "off the charts". The opening fades out as he orders the attack.
    • The amount of spiral energy readings given by our heroes only continues to grow as the series goes on. After Lordgenome's Heroic Sacrifice in the final episode, the Spiral Power gauge doesn't just register a number that's off the scale; the glass covering it actually shatters and it keeps increasing onto empty air, in plain defiance of all logic and common sense. Note that it's not actually a traditional number: It's a spiral-shaped gauge that fills in with colors as spiral power increases. It has a system for reading excessively huge amounts, by starting over with a different color for the gauge as each new plateau is reached. This powerup is so ridiculous, that even after going to a never-before-seen rainbow color almost immediately, the damn thing still has no way to express the ridiculous power except by shattering and spiraling out into empty air. The gauge is a gauge calibrated specially for the fact that Spiral Energy constantly goes off the scale. So his energy went off the scale of a scale made to measure things that go off the scale...
  • In Diebuster, the Buster Machine Quatre-Vingt-Dix uses a physics-breaking Exotic Maneuver to freeze enemies at -1,000,020,000,000 Celsius.
    • Note that absolute zero is about -273 degrees Celsius.
  • In Space Runaway Ideon, the crew of the Solo Ship head back to Earth to use the most advanced computer on the planet to try and calculate the eponymous mecha's potential output. Needless to say, they're all shocked when the readout points to literal infinity. Quickly, they begin to worry about the fact that a release of that kind of energy at once could destroy the universe. The computer wasn't exaggerating....
  • In the FRLG saga of Pokémon Special, Orm uses the Dark Pokédex to gauge the power of Yellow's Pokémon and laughs at their low levels. And then Yellow's Viridian Power kicks in, sending the numbers over the eighties, effectively freaking him and Sird out to the point that they know better than to try to fight her head-on.
  • In Episode 22 of Pokemon Black and White, one of Professor Juniper's assistants mentions that the energy readings they're getting are off the scale.
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, where gods are hard-pressed to even reach the last measured digit in magic resistance, meta-Battler's resistance is maxed out at "Endless Nine", as the Siestas discover to their horror after they try to shoot him.
    • Fromerly provided the page picture. And it makes sense his Anti-Magic is at endless nine. He's Anti-Magic incarnate, thanks to his position in the game as "Magic cannot exist." Also note that this reading was taken during his high point; in the previous arcs he's a bit less of a determinator and in later arcs, he begins to accept the existence of magic and even gets to be Beatrice Endless Sorcerer.
  • In Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu, during a Furo Scene, Shimada examines several other girls' breasts with size-detecting heat vision. One... generously endowed character causes the numbers to max out.
  • Seto Kaiba's computer control panels nearly exploded when Kaiba powered up his Infinity Plus One Card, Obelisk the Tormentor. A bit peculiar considering that Obelisk was a hologram with no physical presence whose model, animations, and statistics were probably programmed into a Duel Disk with computers probably not too far off from the ones used to gauge its power level. And given that each card's statistics had to be programmed into the Duel Disk to begin with, it's not so clear why Kaiba needed to monitor any monster's power levels at all.
    • Clearly, he programmed his computers to explode whenever they try to gauge the power level of any Egyptian God cards due to Rule of Cool. He does have the money to replace said computers as often as needed, after all.
    • The Egyptian God cards aren't exactly normal cards—the cards somehow act as avatars for the real gods' power. Presumably that is what made the computers explode. Not that a Flat Earth Atheist like Kaiba would ever believe that.
  • In Ties That Bind, the companion movie to Street Fighter IV, Ryu's Satsui no Hadou is the target of Seth and SIN. The first time he's provoked into using his power, the power gauge the scientists are reading max at ...999999999999999 (the camera angle obscures the start of the number, but it's big). In the final battle, he manages to control the Satsui no Hadou, and we get a shot of the equipment rolling over from ...999999999999999 to ...000000000000000.
  • In the first Sakura Wars OVA the developers of the spirit armor are having trouble finding someone who is able to pilot it. After their latest military pilot nearly kills himself trying to operate the mech, the scientists comment that they need to find someone who can move the gauge on the spirit-power-measuring-thingy. They idly flip it on in the presence of the granddaughter of the chief scientist (and daughter of the owner of the company), and the gauge, of course, promptly overloads and breaks.
  • In Guilty Crown the protagonists at some point find a Void-o-meter. For Inori it simply shows "Over" after going up to 2000.
  • When the main Zentraedi fleet shows up in Earth's orbit in Robotech, everyone there understandably has an Oh Crap moment, and one of the characters mentions that due to the sheer volume of ships (5 million of them), their radar can't even keep up with it all.
  • In the final arc of Bleach an attack on Soul Society manifests as multiple powerful pillars of light - one of Mayuri's technicians analyses them and complains that the amount of raw power makes it hard to calibrate the instruments, before finally getting a clear reading and confirming the enemy to be the quincy. Then the attackers step out of the pillars and the story goes from Nobody Can Die straight to triple digits bodycount, including named characters.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

Mr. Fantastic: Power is right off the readouts...
Human Torch: So I'm guessing bigger readouts wouldn't help? Like that amp in Spinal Tap that goes Up to Eleven?

  • In Cable & Deadpool issue #15, Black Box has Deadpool hooked up to some equipment that's monitoring him and showing Black Box his thoughts. After some observation, Black Box notes that Deadpool's ferocity and skills are off the charts.

Black Box: Clowns. He is too funny. But his ferocity--his skills--are off the charts. I should know...I've charted them all.

  • Semi-lampshaded in an issue of First Comics' Humongous Mecha series Dynamo Joe:

Pomru: The readings are off the scale! If we get outta this we're gonna need a bigger scale!

Film[edit | hide]

  • In Das Boot, when everything is going to hell and the submarine is stuck on the ocean floor, the depth meter is far past its last marking (220 meters).
    • To clarify, 220 meters is already way past the point where the navy originally expected the hull to be crushed and destroyed. The manufacturer's warranty extended only to 90 meters.
  • Implied in Ghostbusters. The PKE meter (handheld device used to measure ghost activity) seems to only have three readings: Zero, Pegged and Blown Up. When we see it used, it only seems to go "active" when a ghost is within visual range, so it's only slightly better than, say, looking.
    • The RPG explains this by saying that incidents with a reading of, say, three on the PKE meter are so easy to deal with (and therefore boring) that it's not worth depicting or roleplaying them. Of course, that's not Canon.
    • The 2009 video game shows the PKE meter in better detail. The "antenna" on the meter rise higher the closer the meter is to a spectral entity, regardless of power. The bars in the middle are kind of a "hot-cold" mechanic for pinpointing a hidden ghost or cursed object. There's more to it than that, as Ray and Egon both comment on the readings, noting things that are non-obvious, but for the rookie Ghostbuster (that's you), it's just a ghost locator.
  • The Fifth Element: Temperature probes sent to absolute evil jam, one at a million degrees, the other at minus 5000. A bit later, Leeloo's DNA is described as having hundreds of different bases.
    • The "minus 5000" part is more than just "off the charts", it's actually impossible in our universe (the lower possible temperature is absolute zero, or −273.15 °C, or −459.67 °F). Then again, we have no idea where the "absolute evil" came from.
  • In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker's midi-chlorian level is said to be "off the charts" and "over twenty thousand." It's not entirely clear whether this means that they could only measure them up to twenty thousand, or that a little over twenty thousand was the actual count but unprecedentedly high.
  • Midway through Forbidden Planet, we are shown a power gauge consisting of a (very large) number of lighted displays, each of which shows ten times the amperage of the previous one. (Think of it as a decimal display with a whole lotta digits.) What the protagonists consider a large power output barely registers as a blip on the first gauge. Naturally, by the end of the film, we see the whole panel lit up (and flashing!).
  • The energy readings of the reactor in Antarctica are off the scale to Nite Owl's Owlship in Watchmen.
  • Whiteout has a particularly ridiculous example, where someone says that the radar went off the charts. Given that radar isn't actually used to measure anything, how it can go "off the charts" is a mystery.
  • The 2009 Star Trek film uses it twice, most bizarrely for James Kirk's attribute tests (there's no way to score very high scorers?). Either that or "Off the charts" is used as Federation slang for "Really friggin' high": a fact which would explain an awful lot.
    • "Off the charts" has been used for years as a colloquial "really friggin' high". That fact alone could clean up most of this page, as a good portion of the examples are this phenomenon.
  • Inverted in the Soviet sci-fi film Moscow Cassiopeia, where an accident (a guy sitting on a console) results in their relativistic ship accelerating beyond the speed of light in just a few seconds. The Captain notes this on the console readout, which shows the rising speed bar. Forgetting the fact that accelerating beyond the speed of light is impossible without some sort of Applied Phlebotinum, there'd be no way for any device to measure translight speeds (although you could still put the numbers on the scale just for the hell of it). The crew passes out and wakes up to find that they have arrived at their destination, while everyone on Earth has aged several decades, which seems to indicate that they did not, in fact, travel faster than light but merely approached the speed of light, causing Time Dilation. Given that the captain is still a teenager, it can be forgiven if he incorrectly gauged the speed.

Literature[edit | hide]

Soleta: Readings are off the scale.
McHenry: They're always off the scale. We've just to install bigger scales.

  • Funny inversion in Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: The temperature at the evil sigil during the Apocalypse is never measured correctly. The machines put it at either -150 or +350 degrees. Both are correct, 'cuz that's the temperature in Hell.
  • The Last Continent in Discworld uses a thaumometer, that measures magical energy. Sure enough, it melts when it detects a magical field of over a million thaums. To be fair, that is a far greater amount than would ever normally be encountered, but they'd accidentally traveled back in time to when a Creator was installing an entire new continent.
    • Given the nature of Discworld magic, melting is about the most normal thing one could expect at this point — magic fields encountered in other areas have been known to make coins always land on their edge, cause dragons to appear out of thin air, and tear the fabric of reality.
    • And who can forget CMOT Dibbler's "dragon detector"? It's a piece of wood on a metal stick. When the stick was burned through, you'd found your dragon.
      • That sounds like a variation on the old weather detecting stone gag - stone is dry: fine weather; stone is wet: rain; stone is white: snow; stone is gone: hurricane.
  • Comes up once in The Corellian Trilogy:

C-3PO: -and there are probably temperatures much higher than that, except the detectors are not there any more to tell us.

    • Note that said detectors were good up to over 500°.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Babylon 5 used off-the-scale readings as shorthand for the equivalent of Wooden Ships and Iron Men spotting a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The rest of the time they're just fine as-is.

Red Shirt: Oh Crap. Captain, we have company.
Sheridan: What kind?
Red Shirt: Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
Sheridan: ...Bring me a bottle of vodka, a revolver and one bullet.

    • In the shortlived sequel series Crusade, Captain Gideon subverted the trope the first time it appeared by ordering that the Excalibur's sensors be recalibrated so that the readings were back on the scale. Given that they are adventuring out on the frontier, they run into that kind of all the freaking time, and he'd like to know if the ship's Wave Motion Gun might actually work on that particular target.
  • In the Lost episode "The Incident," Dharma is drilling into the island's electromagnetic pocket. Dr. Chang notes that the Gauss readings are off the scale. (This magnet is known to be strong enough to crash a plane.)
  • In Star Trek: "The Corbomite Maneuver," the mass of a starship only one mile across was off the scale, according to Spock. One wonders how he measured the mass of, oh, planets or moons.
    • Either the starship had a ludicrously dense hull, or the Enterprise's sensors just weren't designed to measure the mass of anything substantially larger than itself.
    • It's more sensible to assume that the mass for a starship a mile across was wildly out of proportion to what it should be for a vessel that size.
    • In "Operation: Annihilate!" the meter on Spock's biobed measuring pain drifts straight to the top and stays there. Implying that it simply can't measure any higher.
  • Averted in Star Trek Enterprise, where a device designed to measure the age of metal happily shows a negative number when used on parts from the future, despite few people in that era believing in time travel.
    • Which honestly makes even less sense. Sensors designed by people with no knowledge of time travel shouldn't possibly be able to identify its effects.
      • Not to mention that the metal doesn't get younger, it's the same age it just wouldn't have been born yet. The only way it would have worked is if the metal was somehow marked on manufacture with it's birthday and the only way you can identify the birthday of the metal was to use that device and the metal was still manufactured in the same fashion in the future. The device and metal seem very impractical, though it is star trek...
    • In The Next Generation episode "Where No One Has Gone Before", the Enterprise is accelerated to a velocity that causes Data to quote this trope.
  • In an episode of How Clean is Your House, Aggie tells a smoker that the carbon monoxide levels in her living room were right off the scale.
  • Doctor Sheldon Cooper claims at one point that his IQ "cannot be accurately measured." This is in fact an issue with extremely high IQs.
    • Pretty much all IQ tests produce increasingly unreliable results for results higher than 145-148 due to the fact that there's generally not a large enough sample to normalize them properly.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "the Pandorica Opens", River uses some kind instrument to detect that there are "at least ten thousand" warships in orbit above planet earth. When Amy pesters her for a more accurate number, she says that there are too many readings for her detector to measure.
    • The number of lifeforms in Science in the Library
  • A comedic version from The Munsters - when Lily was asked what Herman's weight was, she replied "three spins." When asked for clarification, she said that when he stepped on the scale, the needle spun around three times.

Video Games[edit | hide]

Female Technician: Sixty-eight hundred, sixty-nine hundred, seven thousand! This must be deifacted Nethicite! The count still climbs!

    • In this rare case, they're using equipment that's specifically stated to be ill-suited for measuring its power, so it almost subverts this trope.
      • How ill-suited? They stuck the Shard in the ship's engines and measured the output from there. Being an engine, the gauges only go up so far. Being a Shard of Nethicite (a substance specifically noted for sucking in Mist), the ship goes down soon after.
  • In Lufia II, when the party steps forward to have their personal energy measures by Lexis's kymograph, Guy's results are five times more than the highest reading Lexis had ever seen, then Selan's are shown to be eight times more, then for Maxim, yes, the Readings Are Off the Scale.
  • Homeworld's Nebula missions feature this. However, it is stated that your personnel are working to recalibrate them to compensate.
    • Done straight when the Bentusi are first encountered. Made hilarious by the calm way it's stated.
  • Also happens in Chrono Trigger, if Robo is in the party during the battle with Lavos' final form. He tries to assess Lavos' power level:

Robo: Power level is... immeasurable. It's completely off the scale!

  • Enemy Scan abilities in the Final Fantasy series usually depict boss statistics as a series of "???" readings, indicating how powerful they are compared to regular flunkies. Notably, some games allow you to upgrade the Libra/Scan spells to reveal these readings.
    • Their stats aren't actually off the scale, mind you. They often aren't even beyond what is achievable for the player characters given sufficient Level Grinding. (Except HP and MP, which are often above the player characters' limit, which is usually 9999 and 999 respectively. The Big Bad of Final Fantasy III, for instance, has 65000 HP.)
    • Final Fantasy X has summons which can deal damage over the damage limit, as well as weapon modifications which allow the player characters themselves to do so (predictably called "Break Damage Limit").
  • In World of Warcraft, monsters and enemy players more than ten levels above yours will have their level displayed as "??" or a skull symbol. They might be +11 to you, or +50. Either way, you probably don't want to mess with them. If you play undead, the first example you'll see will probably be one of the "Welcome Bears", and then your only hope is to Exit, Pursued by a Bear.
    • Raidbosses are also level skull. They count as being 3 levels higher than the attacker's current level for purposes of determining hit chance and such.
    • World of Warcraft now has an achievement labelled "It's Over Nine Thousand!!!" What is it for, exactly? Why, for getting over 9000 achievement points, of course!
  • In Persona 3, Your Mission Control all but freaks out at trying to perceive the Bonus Boss' power.

Fuuka: Her power is unbelievable! Who is she?

Rise: Her power level is insane! Who is she?! Don't tell me you're going to fight her!

Egon: These readings are off the I'll have to make new charts."

    • Even more hilarious is the fact that Egon is not astounded, but annoyed. Of course, being the super-brain that he is, he probably just doesn't like having something he can't quantify.
  • In Fallout 3, the player has a radiation measuring device. At the end of the game, if the player steps into the highly irradiated control room of the Project Purity building, the meter will get maxed at +100,000 (as in, more than one-hundred-thousand rads) and jiggles. Mercifully, no-one comments on this.
    • There is also another area ( The above-ground entrance to Vault 87) that will irradiate you to death—more than 3,000 rads/sec, fatal to the Vault Dweller in zero point three seconds—unless you use console commands to make yourself invincible or max your radiation resistance to 85%, which will reduce the rad levels to a slightly more manageable ~350 rads/sec... in which case you'll live for about two point eight seconds. Running for the locked and permanently unopenable door? Better have a huge pile of Rad-Away that's hotkeyed!
      • This is incredibly annoying seeing as how at some point in the game you get paid to have locations marked on your map. In order to get Vault 87 marked you have to run up to it even though you can within five feet of it FROM THE INSIDE OF THE VAULT. The price you get for the mark doesn't justify the means, unless you just want bragging rights. Even more annoying is that Enclave soldiers make it through the impassible door and instant almost instant death radiation and you STILL can't get through that door.
        • Side note: With the user perk Attack of the 50 ft woman radiation makes you stronger AND bigger with no definable limit, meaning YOU can run to and back, with your rad guage litterly off the visible spectrum, and you will continue to grow...But then your so bing you cant loot the bodies or get close enough to auto mark it...But you are alive...and 600 feet tall...Hope you brought a ton of Rad away.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door had the Iron Cleft Bros. with a defense so high it was even in Goombella's book marked as ???. The only thing hard enough to hurt a Iron Cleft is another Iron Cleft.
  • Free Space 2 had a Vasudan sensor officer describing the mass readings of the Sathanas as "Exceeding superdestroyer class".
  • In Half-Life 2: Episode 1, the Combine are purposely trying to destabilise their Citadel's Dark Energy Core to cause a massive explosion (sacrificing the whole base of operations, and the surrounding city), then use the release of energy to send a message off-world and open up a super-portal from which off-world reinforcements can pour in. When Alyx Vance looks at the Control Room monitor, she claims that the Core Reactor's readings are off the charts.
  • Shadowrun from Genesis has this with Walking Bear, a female orc shaman. When people want raw power, they usually hire Winston Mars, a Troll Samurai who can reach incredible amounts of strength (the power charts even states his power as [sic]Incredible! when maxed out). But here's a catch: Orcs have the one of the best Max Body/Strength, second only to Trolls. Also, using cyberware as a shaman will weaken your spells. But if you stop fearing the soul-stripping cyberware then cyber up Walking Bear, you will end almost as strong as Winston Marrs (also cybered, in this comparision). With this, Marrs will have a full power bar and Bear will have a nearly-full ("Massive" power). HOWEVER, there are talismans which increase strength and defense ratios, which are only usable by shamans and were meant to be used to make up for their fragility. That said, after maxing up Walking Bear, give her a Power talisman (you can only have one) and Defense talismans (they stack, up to three). The power readings will still read only as "Massive" instead of "Incredible!", but the bar graph charts for attack/defense will be so high, they will go beyond its limit and actually start a new one to carry its excess. Her defense is so massive that even in a game where you never will be invincible, be due to scratch damage, rolling ones or other overhelming strikes, BULLETS WON'T EVER FAZE HER, and only the strongest mental attacks will scratch her mental gauge.
  • In the original "Disgaea" the "Bonus Boss" Baal shows up. Laharl reads his power as "Level 4000" (his literal level out of the maximum possible 9999). By way of comparison, the previous optional boss was 2500. The Final Boss of the story proper is 90.
    • In a meta-example, in the third game it is possible to achieve amounts of dealt damage big enough for last digits of the number to go off the screen edge.
      • Apparently, in the fourth game, the damage cap seems to be 184 quadrillion (can anything even have so much hp!?). Which means that someone has to have hit MORE than that in order to notice that it capped at that. Thusly, we can assume that someone caused this trope on Disgaea
  • Grolla in Rosenkreuzstilette gets a big shock when Iris attacks her with immensely powerful magic, leading her to think of her as not just any girl, but some kind of immensely powerful monster.

Grolla: What in the...!? How did she obtain such powerful magic? Iris, what ARE you!?
Iris: Heheheh. Why, I am myself, of course. I don't expect a commoner to understand my genius.

  • In the Guitar Freaks and Drummania series, charts are given a rating from 10 to 99. Guitar Freaks & Drummania V5, the Bonus Boss song "Rock To Infinity", on all instruments' Extreme difficulty, is given a rating of infinity.
  • In Mass Effect: "Uh, Commander? I'm getting some strange readings. Really strange. Like, off the damn charts."]]
  • The prologue of Xenogears has a team of Bridge Bunnies yelping about the rising "base code" of a vaguely-defined thing that is attacking their spaceship.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, on first encountering the final boss, the main character's suit can't even translate its appearance into a perceptible form. It requires outside assistance from a near-divine entity before you can see what it looks like.
  • In Portal 2, the Announcer claims "nine... nine... nine... nine..." days have passed since the first game. What the actual amount of time is is open to speculation.
  • Asura's Wrath has the Gohma measured in Impurity levels, but on in particular stands out. Gohma Vlitra Impurity Level: IMMESURABLE.
  • In the Shining Force series, any stat that is over 100 is shown as ??.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

Karl: Hullnuts. She can't be that old. Ennesby, fact check.
Ennesby: [...] Records are locked... and records are unlocked... Micrometeor pocking, interstellar medium accretion and vacuum-welding suggest a drift period of indeterminable length between "this can't be right" and "we now doubt whether these techniques are accurate"".
Karl: Rusty hullnuts.

Web Original[edit | hide]

Nappa: VEGETA! What does the scouter say about his Power Level?
Vegeta: IT'S ... one thousand and six.
Nappa: What... really?
Vegeta: Yeah. Kick his ass, Nappa.
Nappa: Yay!
(Nappa proceeds to get his ass kicked.)
Vegeta: Hmmmm... that doesn't seem right. Wait, wait wait wait... Nappa!
Nappa: Whaaaaaat?
Vegeta: I had the scouter upside down. It's over 9000. *crushes scouter*

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Penguins of Madagascar: when Kowalski mentions that readings of spectral activity are off the charts, Skipper suggests getting bigger charts.
  • Egon in The Real Ghostbusters likewise has a habit of getting PKE readings that are off the scale, to the point that The Penguins of Madagascar might've been referencing him. Nobody ever suggests getting a bigger scale, but he does have to get a new PKE meter every now and then, when trying to measure an especially powerful entity (generally 9 or higher) leads to Explosive Instrumentation.
  • This trope was the justification for the equipment upgrade in Extreme Ghostbusters. The series averted it as often as it played it straight though. There were many times where they found a ghost that was a perfectly measurable classification (especially in The Teaser) and other times where a creature was literally off the scale because they weren't ectoplasmic entities or have psycho-kinetic energy at all, and thus couldn't be measured by the PKE meter.
  • Parodied in Outer Space Astronauts. "These readings are off the chart!" "Well, they're on the chart; they're just, near the top."
  • The Simpsons: Professor Frink's sarcasm detector.

Frink: ...this baby is off the charts, mm-hay!
Comic Book Guy: Ooh, a sarcasm detector! That's a real useful invention.
(sarcasm detector explodes)

  • In an episode of MAD, this was parodied in a segment called, Grey's In Anime. And that's not the beginning.
  • An episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series had Spock caution his team against drinking some water they found because his tricorder said "the water is too pure", which is an awfully odd reading to have listed on a tricorder.
    • Meaning that the water couldn't possibly be in that state in nature, which means either it's being artificially produced, or is contaminated in a way that they can't detect. So caution is warranted.
    • Or it was molecular H₂O , which might actually dehydrate you. We humans at least need some electrolytes in our drinking water or i'll give us exesive diuresis(urination) and electrolyte elimination... and it may also give us extreme diarrea, so drinking perfecly pure water is not a good idea.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The very first flight of the Ariane 5 launcher resulted in a big ball of fire, because the reading coming from a speedometer went off the chart. More precisely, the reading was to be converted from a 64-bit floating point value to 16-bit signed integer value, but was too large for the latter format. It was arguably the most expensive bug in history.
  • The Apollo 13 incident began on the ground, when one of the oxygen tanks that would later go into space with the service module was having a mechanical problem. The technicians decided to vent the liquid oxygen from the tank with the help of the onboard heating system. This caused the temperature gauge (which was designed for use in space after all) to go off-scale high. However, nobody knew at the time just how far off the scale things were. The results are well-known.
    • Specifically, (looking at the Wikipedia article) the temp gauge didn't go above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees C). This wasn't considered a problem, because a thermostat was supposed to cut the heat at 80 degrees F. Unfortunately, this had fused on because when the electrical system was redesigned from 28v to 65v, the thermostat wasn't. The result was that temperatures hit an estimated 1000 degrees F (538 Degrees C) and burned the insulation off the wires.
  • Radiation monitoring instruments are prone to this sort of problem, especially those instruments used for health and safety physics.
    • Following the 1961 power excursion in the SL-1 nuclear reactor and the subsequent steam explosion within and meltdown of the reactor, the first team to check out the alarm discovered their radiation detectors pegged at maximum. The second team, which went in with higher-range radiation detectors, also had their detectors peg at maximum. When the bodies of those killed in the explosion were recovered, the bodies alone pegged these high-range meters.
    • When the Chernobyl reactor exploded, a dosimeter capable of measuring the true radiation levels failed when it was tried. Every other dosimeter merely read "off-scale," leading the crew to assume that the steam explosion hadn't penetrated the reactor (ignoring the pieces of reactor fuel lying everywhere). In reality, some areas of the plant had radiation levels 5,600 times the range of the dosimeters. And when a new dosimeter with a larger range was brought in the high readings convinced them it was defective.
    • A disturbing example from radiation medicine: the radiation monitoring devices in some malfunctioning radiation therapy devices (Therac-25 machines) experienced saturation when they (and patients) were incorrectly exposed to extremely high current electron beams. One patient, after one of these treatments, reported a sizzling sound, as of something frying, that turned out to be these saturated radiation monitors. Of course, the patient didn't necessarily know that at the time.
    • Scarily, certain types of radiation detectors, if they are energized while in a strong radiation field, will actually read zero instead of pegging. Of course, don't expect any plot points to hinge on this.
  • In Real Life, a sensor being off-scale may mean the sensor or its wiring has failed. Whether it fails off-scale low or off-scale high depends on the type of sensor and on the kind of damage. On the Columbia Space Shuttle accident, several sensors on the left wing (most of them being left over from early tests from when it was the first space shuttle) registered off-scale readings. By observing the relative timing of the sensor failures and knowing the layout of the wiring within the wing, the investigators were able to determine the path of the damage.
    • The driver of a BMW Mini was once issued a speeding ticket...for going 3000 km/hr. The radar had malfunctioned.
    • It still means often enough that the number it's reading is higher than the highest number, or less commonly, lower than the lowest number the sensor is equipped to display or read. Scales and electronic balances (weight/mass), for example, have this problem often.
  • C'mon, has nobody else pegged their speedometer on a straightaway at 2am? This is especially common in cars from the 1980s; most speedometers from that period top at 85 mph (136 km/h) due to funky bureaucratic definitions of sports car vs. coupe. (More modern vehicles have speedometers that go higher.)
    • Varies from country to country. In the UK, speedometer dials often go up to 120 or 140, even for cars that struggle to do more than 90.
      • I think it's a Commonwealth thing, because here in South Africa that happens as well. I mean, when your bog standard Ford, which maxes out at maybe 160 km/h in optimal conditions, comes with a speedometer that can read up to 220 km/h...
      • This is exactly why the depth meter in Das Boot, as mentioned above, only went so high. If it went higher, SOMEBODY would try to beat it. While going faster than your car can safely handle on the road is not so smart, in a submarine it can be positively lethal: hello, "crush depth". As it sounds like, that's the depth at which the sub's builders expect a catastrophic hull failure, followed promptly by the tremendous pressures of being far underwater crushing the sub and everything in it. Pegging the meter on your depth counter usually means you'll be staying below for the rest of your life—which, if you're lucky, won't be very long at all.
        • During World War II, submarines often went below their rated crush depth in desperate attempts to evade enemy destroyers. Sometimes they survived, sometimes they didn't. This was because the crush depth rating was an estimate; submarines were too expensive to actually send one down as far as possible to see what depth would crush it. The same is even more true with modern submarines, but computer modeling allows for much more accurate estimates.
      • Airspeed indicators usually go a bit higher than Vne, or Velocity to Never Exceed, aka "and then the wings rip off". Is that a subversion?
        • Might be more of a 'Desperate Times Require Desperate Measures' type thing.
    • Used to be, a candid "No, officer, I don't know how fast I was going; the speedometer doesn't go that high" could get you out of a ticket if the officer was having a good day. Suffice it to say, Don't Try This At Home.
  • Subverted in mathematics, where the most commonly used probability distribution (and thus probably the closest thing in pure math to the kind of things this trope covers) has a non-zero value for all finite arguments. So if you have something that's, say, 18 standard deviations from the norm all the usual data finding techniques technically still apply to it (obviously, the possibility of it being an outlier would mean that the Readings Are Off the Scale in Real Life, but I digress...).
    • For example, the book "Littlewood's Miscellany" points out that you can use actuarial charts to give a probability of living to be 1000 - it's just really small (something like 1 in 10^10^20).
    • Actually it is played horribly straight, and this trope is truth in general for any theory, including ZFC (the standard Set theory that is used to build Maths). For instance, the very existence of a "Set that contains all existing Sets" would lead into a contradiction, and therefore can't exist. This means that such an object is off the scale for ZFC, and thus off the scale for standard mathematics too. Some alternative foundation theories, such as NBG, will be able to describe "Proper Classes of all Sets", but in the end, due to Gödel's incompleteness theorem, any theory either is incapable of having arithmetic built on it, or has ridiculous large amounts of things that are off the scale.
      • To be clear, the "Set of All Sets" leads to a contradiction because it would contain its powerset (the set of all its subsets), because by definition it has ALL sets, and this contradicts Cantor's theorem. Another possible example of a contradictory "set" is "The Set of All Sets not members of themselves", which is a member of itself if and only if it is not a member of itself.
    • Although normal distribution never gets to zero, it does decrease super-exponentially, so it's quite feasible for it to go so low that whatever you're using to calculate it can't tell it's not zero. For example, R can't tell it's nonzero if it's 38 standard deviations from the mean. The probability is less than 1 in 10^300.
  • In contrast, Graham's Number cannot be expressed with any standard form of mathematical notation, including stacks of exponents (x ^ y ^ z...) and even taxes Knuth's up-arrow notation.
  • On FSTDT, an overly ironic statement is said to have "busted my irony meter",implying that the readings are off the scale.
  • An actual example: The US Embassy monitors the pollutants in Beijing air. Their scale goes from 1-500, so readings of "bad" or "hazardous" appear frequently for the city...until recently, when one of the readings broke the 500 mark and the warning read as "crazy bad." The Embassy is now forced to re-evaluate their scale. Article here.
  • One of the big differences between analog and digital recordings (for both audio and video) is that the "scale" for digital recordings is very tightly defined—an over-the-top analog signal has a chance of degrading gracefully at the top of the range (sort of like how the traditional distorted-guitar sound is created using tubes). However, most of the time a digital signal simply can't go any higher because of the way the data is structured; in a case like that, a sound might make a loud popping or scraping noise, while a digital image will simply flood with white and lose all detail. (Some digital cameras and camcorders have features like "zebra effects" and histograms that show where an image overloads; this is also a pretty standard feature in photo editing programs like Adobe Photoshop.) In extreme cases, the only solution is to filter or attenuate the input before it ever reaches the analog-digital converter, usually with something like a lens filter or mic windscreen.
    • A lot of music is currently mastered to exploit the limitations of digital audio by boosting quieter parts of the signal to maximum level, thereby creating the perception that the sound is louder than it really is. See Loudness War for details.
  • One of the hottest peppers is the Bhut Jalokia, which reaches 1,000,000 on the Scoville scale. Still, there are four peppers that come in above 855,000 on the Scoville scale: Naga Viper pepper, Infinity Chilli, Bhut Jolokia chili pepper, Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper.[1] At that level, trying to tell them apart by personal observation is a distinction without a difference.
    • For most people, anything with a value over 100,000 (about what a "mild" habanero is) is hard to distinguish. Anything close to 1,000,000 will ensure that your tongue and throat won't be feeling or tasting things right for a week.
    • Scoville scale ends at 16 million (pure capsaicin). Resiniferatoxin gives readings off the scale as in pure form it produces heat of 16 billion Scoville units.


  1. Your typical jalapeño? Only maxes out at 6,000 Scoville units.