Reality Is Out to Lunch

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Ponyville, Chaos Capital of the World! Come for chocolate rain, stay for cotton candy clouds!

"A computer chattered to itself in alarm as it noticed an airlock open and close itself for no apparent reason.

This was because reason was in fact out to lunch."

As far as we know, reality is pretty much fixed.[1] We don't randomly sprout limbs, float into the air, or turn into foot stools. Not so here. There is an area, or at least a circumstance, of the setting that throws the laws of physics in the air and plays merry hell with the established rules of reality. This is not always as funny as it sounds; remember, the same laws of reality that keep your friend from spontaneously turning into a camel are also the same laws of reality that keep your lungs on the inside of your body. As such, regular exposure is not recommended, as you may get... altered.

Sample conditions of a place where reality is out to lunch include Alien Geometries (constant relation between skull volume and its surface is a good thing to have) and time dilation.[2] Perspective Magic is another common trick. A Reality Warper has this as a superpower. Related to Hyperspace Is a Scary Place, only the place in question isn't necessarily used for travel purposes. See also Eldritch Location, where this often happens, and World of Chaos for when the effect is so widespread it makes up the whole of existence. May result in someone Giving Up on Logic. Fairly common, or at least not out of the ordinary, in Surreal Horror.

Examples of Reality Is Out to Lunch include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • If upset, the eponymous character of Suzumiya Haruhi can unwittingly create "Closed Space" which looks pretty much like copies of parts of the real world, minus people plus large scary rampaging blue Kaiju-like things. Within said Closed Space, espers can also generate energy fields they can't otherwise generate in the real world. Also, she can also unknowingly warp some aspects of the real world (like making pigeons into doves, allowing cats to talk, giving people eyebeams, or literally turning someone into Santa Claus) while not affecting the rest of the world at large. Actions by the rest of the main cast usually revert such changes relatively quickly.
    • Although it's suggested by the other characters that, if she were made aware of her powers, she would be nigh-omnipotent and capable of controlling all of reality at will. Which would almost inevitably end in The End of the World as We Know It. The real kicker? It's been suggested this already happened once.
  • In the void between worlds between Earth and the Digital World in Digimon Tamers the cast are wandering the dark void wondering what's going on. Then Jeri mentions that "she thinks that way is 'down'". Renamon: ....oh dear. Gravity comes into being and they begin falling.
  • Darker than Black. There are reasons why "the Hell's Gate" is named so. And why in this part of Tokyo remotely controlled robots appears more frequently than humans.
  • Several settings in Princess Tutu are like this since they were created by Drosselmeyer. There's a lake that can become solid and then turn into water again, another that functions like water but allows characters to breathe, and a separate reality that includes talking puppets and a crank to turn back time.
  • Rental Magica has "Magi Night" whenever magical crap hits the fan Ley Lines. That a version of this, weakened a lot, is used as an exam in a Wizarding School should tell something. Calling it a survival test was a slight exaggeration, but it was a good guts test. Or it should have been, but our intrepid heroines weren't going to settle until they find the source--and trying to close the faucet, break it open. Of course.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The Invisibles arc "Entropy in the UK" has the Conspiracy summoning a big-name horror into their base. As a result, the laws of physics go completely random and insufficiently protected characters start developing skin cancer. One psychic character describes trying to read the base as "feel[ing] like someone threw up in my head."
  • In the Marvel Universe, this is the consequence of trying to use the Reality Gem without the other four Infinity Gems (Time, Space, Soul, Power) there to act as control rods.
  • In PS238, time spent in one of these zones results in Cecil getting wings and a number of Eldritch Abomination attributes.
  • Reality Warper supervillain Proteus from X-Men comics, particularly "The Day Reality Went Wild". His powers are especially traumatizing for Wolverine, whose heightened senses give him a greater awareness of reality, and a consequently greater awareness of reality being raped.
    • Doom pulled the same trick on Wolvie by having him trapped in a room full of optical illusions meant to keep him disoriented. One gets the impression Claremont just liked screwing with his heroes.
  • In Captain Britain, the reality-warping Mad Jim Jaspers' brief but nightmarish rule over Britain resulted in this; had the Fury not stopped him, it would have spread not only to the rest of the world, but to the entire multiverse.
  • In Harry Kipling (Deceased), the gods chucked out the laws of physics because they aren't mythic enough.


Fan Works[edit | hide]


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Infinite Improbability Drive from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, which moves the Heart of Gold vast distances by working from the assumption that the ship exists in every place in the universe, then narrowing down the probability so that it merely exists at the plotted destination. When Ford and Arthur are first picked up, they end up in an area improperly shielded from the effects of the drive, and Hilarity Ensues as Ford turns into a penguin while Arthur loses his limbs.
  • Wonderland is perhaps the most standout example of this trope.
  • Discworld. Reality is so malleable in that setting that things like this are not entirely out of the ordinary. It's actually stated at some point that the trick to breaking physical laws is to get this to happen and then get away with it before the universe remembers that what you're doing is impossible.
    • Also, in areas devastated by past magic wars, random distortions are a serious threat. Such areas are known as "unreal estate".
    • And some realms—like Death's abode or the tower of the Tooth Fairy—have problems with basic essential laws, like time. Or space. Or even death... kinda.
    • From the magical battle during Sourcery, "It looked like a piano sounds after being dropped down a well. It tasted yellow, and felt paisley. It smelled like a total eclipse of the moon. Of course, closer to the tower it got really weird."
    • Perhaps especially notable is how Unseen University uses Hex; knowing that many impossible things are in fact possible until reality notices, they can use a half Magitech, half Bamboo Technology computer to violate the laws of physics in very many extremely similar but distinct ways, very quickly, too quickly for the universe itself to adjust!
  • Xanth's Region Of Madness. Closer to Wackyland than The Wyld.
  • Some of Boris Vian's works are textbook cases. Froth on the Daydream (L'écume des jours, literally "The foam of the days") has expanding and shrinking windows and houses as well as a water lily growing in Chloe's lung and ultimately killing her.
  • China Mieville's Bas-Lag Cycle has the Cacotopic Stain, an area of desert (well, it's desert now) which is completely consumed by a Torque storm, and Suroch where New Crobuzon dropped a "torque bomb" in a past war. The way they're described, they're part nuclear wasteland, part half-opened door to the abyss.
    • Then there's the Scar, in the Swollen Ocean, where long gone reality altering beings once entered the world and 'broke it', and where there's fish that aren't quite normal and people show up from an alternate future.
  • The Nevernever of The Dresden Files is a spiritual realm where the flow of time is subject to the whims of its Queens, where gunpowder or fire stops working when in the wrong place, and where dying in the wrong place can cause global warming or a fresh ice age. It's suggesting that further realms are even less based in normal reality.
    • Then there's whatever lies beyond the Nevernever. So far it hasn't made many appearances in the books, but things from it have—the Outsiders (Eldritch Abomination types who are extremely resistant to magic) and mordite (a material that is basically calcified death).
  • In Roger Zelazny's The Changing Land, the land around Castle Timeless is currently inhabited by the "mad" demi-god Tualua. Tualua is undergoing one of the "changes" common to his kind, which in this case causes the land surrounding the castle to be subject to all sorts of chaotic, unpredictable, and often-deadly effects.
  • Jack Vance's short story "The Men Return" takes place After the End, when the solar system has entered a vast "pocket of non-causality" and the law of cause and effect has crumbled into chaos. A few sane survivors struggle to stay alive in a world where the landscape and circumstances shift randomly around them like a Salvidor Dali painting, while the lunatics have adapted to the madness and thrive in it. By the end of the story, the Earth's emerged into normal space again, the insane behavior that'd kept the madmen alive is now useless and self-destructive, and the sane men begin to violently retake the world.
  • There's a short story that begins with a quote from Saint Augustine. God Is Dead, God is dead—perfidy! When God dies, you'll know it!" As it turns out, the deity just expired, and the world was formerly controlled by the strength of his belief. Now it's a variant of Clap Your Hands If You Believe--and most of the world didn't believe in itself enough to keep existing.
  • Most of the world is like this after World War III in The Gone-Away World. The "Stuff" left behind goes one step beyond Clap Your Hands If You Believe—it becomes whatever you're thinking of, or, if you get coated in it, makes you whatever you're thinking of, regardless of whether you know enough anatomy to survive the transformation. The Jormungand corporation has been slowly rebuilding--people with rare brain damage think of Stuff as dust and only dust, but Jormungand keeps having to damage more brains as the people previously collected die of their injuries.
  • This is Hell in a more subtle manner in More Minds. The very laws of nature bend to your will, and if you "put a hole in someone" Death Is Cheap, but absolute freedom turns out to be absolutely boring.
  • in the Black Company novels, there's an area where this is caused by a God brought in from another world. a bunch of stuff got dragged with it and made the best of the situation. There are giant airborne whales, talking and moving menhirs, and lightning-shooting flying stingrays.
  • In Storm Thief by Chris Wooding, the "horror" version of this is played with: probability storms happen all the time, at random, with no warning, and can change anything. Of the novel's two main characters, Moa is an orphan because of this and Rail is forced to wear respirator constantly. The city also has barely any technology because the storms turned off all the power and it was hundreds of years before they turned it back on again. The kicker? This was done on purpose to keep the city from stagnating into a cruel dictatorship. It does anyway.
  • Happens in Claws that Catch, when the Vorpal Blade's chaos drive interacted with the chaos-based shield of a giant derelict, producing a bizarre effect the crew dubbed "the Anime zone". Mostly it involved massive Flanderization of the appearance of the ship and crew, as well as the crew's personalities.
  • This has started happening in All-World, the main setting of The Dark Tower, due to the Beams that support the titular tower failing. Resulting in time and space beginning to 'drift', what was east one morning my be north-east the next, the passage of time becoming uncertain etc..., and while it's All-World that is the most effected, due to it being the closest to the Tower, as the strength of the Beams continues to decay this would spread to every world.

Music[edit | hide]

  • Younger Brother has an album called The Last Days of Gravity. The left side album art depicts a man walking into a street corner. The right side has giant scissors walking the streets.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • The Wyld from Exalted. Those who live too close to it develop mutations, some of the things that exist within literally cannot exist in reality, and travel time is measured not in terms of distance but by where you are in the story. Oh, and if that weren't enough, The Fair Folk live there. Some other examples of Wyldlife are 'grass with fangs', and the delicious yet nutritious 'Rockodile'.
  • The Chaos Wastes, or anywhere sufficiently exposed to the Chaos Winds, from Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Bathed in energy from the same creepy otherspace that plays home to the setting's Cosmic Horrors, those who spend a good amount of time there usually end up mutating horribly... if they're not already eaten by all the other flora and fauna that's already mutated horribly.
    • And in Warhammer 40,000, you get the Eye of Terror. Trust us - it lives up to the name.
      • In the Eye of Terror, Mass * Velocity = Rubber Chickens. The Eye of Terror is just the most prominent example. The Warp in general is like this, as are Daemon Worlds, warpstorms, etc.
    • more like mass * velocity = mutations
  • New World of Darkness
    • The Abyss from Mage: The Awakening is pretty much established as "anti-reality." No one actually goes in there, but plenty of things come out of there... Well, OK, a few go in, it's just that they don't come out. Unless they happen to be Archmages, and even then, they can only go in for a short while.
    • The Abyss also gives rise to the Nemesis Continuum, a set of warped physical laws that create a zone where things work wrong. If you enter a Nemesis Continuum area wearing something green, it'll immediately hit 100 celsius and give you horrible burns.
    • Faerie/Arcadia from Changeling: The Lost is a much better example. Like the Wyld, it serves as home turf for The Fair Folk, and everything within its boundaries is defined not by physics but by contracts and pledges (for instance, if you haven't agreed to let fire warm you up, you can stand in the middle of an inferno and not feel any heat—though you will get burned). Not only does time work on the Year Inside, Hour Outside principle according to Earth, but it works both ways, meaning ten days on Earth could pass in three years' time in Arcadia, or vice versa (and those are not fixed values). Also, those of the aforementioned Mages that control Time and Fate may come here to awaken (the Arcadia of the Mages is within human experience, the Arcadia of the Fair Folk is not, and the nature of their connection is debated even by the Archmages - Arcadia is that screwy).
    • Another screwy realm is the Pandemonium where the Mages of Mind and Space awaken. This is where Your Mind Makes It Real is the guy in the cubicle next door, who is doing reality's work while reality is out to lunch.
  • Most of the Umbra in the Old World of Darkness gets pretty close. Even areas under the hard control of the Weaver, the spirit of stasis, tend to have unusual flow of time and sentient spirits of data running around. Where the Wyld or Wyrm rule, even simple things like waking up the same shape you started as is a rarity.
  • The interior of Hundan, the Titan of Chaos, in Scion cannot be mapped in any reasonable manner. To do so would be to define it, and Hundan cannot be defined. This renders Hundan impossible to seal away, but thankfully, it's so chaotic that it cannot focus long enough to act. And then the other Titans got out and asked Hundan for assistance...
  • Dungeons & Dragons has most of the other planes stop at "larger than life and has predictably different physical and magical laws", but some lean closer to this. Chaotic planes also by their nature add much instability, or at least uncertainty.
    • The original AD&D1 module "Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits" included a table of random Reality Is Out to Lunch events that can occur while the heroes are exploring Lolth's spider-ship, due to the inherent chaos of the Abyss. It's stated that these would be much more common and severe, if Lolth's own willpower weren't keeping them in check to preserve her headquarters.
      • In Planescape Abyss has places so vastly different they cover the whole range from "pretty nice, unless and until the fiends will get ya" to "sheer mind-blasting horror kills you instantly and transforms into a bodak, looking into whose eyes also can kill instantly" - and they are all slapped together semi-randomly rather than forming some sort of a scale.
    • Limbo, the realm of pure Chaos, is rather like this. Wild Magic is the rule there, rather than the exception, and the whole place basically exists in an endless state of creation, with new things coming to existence all the time.
  • The Mournland from Eberron is a low-key example of this, seeing as it turned into the magical equivalent of a nuclear test site during the final years of the Last War. How bad is it nowadays? One of the common enemy types in the area is sentient spells.
  • The Torg RPG featured an invasion of Core Earth by other realities (cosms), in which those alternate realities' laws of nature were superimposed on the invaded/supplanted territories. This means you could have fantasy, super-science, mad science, horror, pulp-adventure, and cyberpunk tropes all mixing it up in the same game-setting.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Bulletstorm, a game which at first glance seems like Borderlands on enough hallucinogens to kill a rhino, has enemies that you kick in the face so hard they go into slow-mo. As MachineCAST put it: ""This is a game where you can kick an enemy so hard in the face they go into slow motion! I think realism was dropped from a great height a long time ago!"
  • The Mystery Vortex in Sam and Max Hit The Road. Almost every single room of this tourist trap appears to feature some disruption of reality, from the M. C. Escher entrance hall where visitors become too small or too tall to enter certain doors, to the permanently upside-down gift shop.

Sam: "Gravity has taken a holiday and lost its luggage!"

  • Reality goes out for a smoke break whenever Alma of First Encounter Assault Recon pays a visit. Then it goes to lunch. And visits the gym. And takes a three-day weekend. And quits its job.
    • Interestingly, the developers invert the usual Real Is Brown pattern: a monochromatic or desaturated color palette indicates that some seriously unreal stuff is about to go down.
  • In S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and its sequels, the eponymous power plant exudes... weirdness. Especially during a blowout, which (aside from all the potentially fatal radiation) REALLY tends to mess things up. Just for example, you might be walking along a perfectly normal mutant-infested swamp only to have gravity suddenly crush you into the ground, possibly fatally. And that's a rather mild example. There are also the stretches of ordinary unremarkable ground which exude enough heat to burn a human to death for no reason at all, the random massive electrical discharges, the always-entertaining white-hot jets of flame from out of nowhere, the plants that dissolve skin on contact, and the occasional place where space has folded in on itself and created a bizarre maze out of an ordinary room.
  • The haunted tunnels in Metro 2033 are swarming with ghosts and every so often, a blue ball of energy tears down certain tunnels and literally kills anything that moves.
  • Infinite Space has fluctuation sectors. Apparently, it can be stabilized using the Epitaphs or the power of Observers (and possibly Trackers).
  • The nameless town in which Pathologic takes place isn't very sane to begin with, and it only gets worse.
  • The eponymous location in Improbable Island was the testing ground for a device that was supposed to disprove the laws of thermodynamics by creating more energy than it used. It created something, all right—things and people that spend too long there tend to turn into other things, often in surreal ways.
  • Silent Hill is famous for this, particularly when the Otherworld invades.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Vexxarr while running away on a hastily jury-rigged hyperdrive from an incompatible ship ran into "Twee Dimension" mode.

Vexxarr: So how are we able to live in this framework of physical laws?
Minionbot: Would you like to see your X-Rays?
Vexxarr: Not really.
Minionbot: Just as well. They all scurried off and hid in the air shafts before we could really study them anyway.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Several places in the Whateley Universe, including the Dreamscape where Sara Waite has to fight The Kellith to the death even though they are the same person, or Gothmog's domain, or even the dimension where the demon BKCRMWDJVG comes from.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy episode "One Plus One Equals Ed" involves the Eds taking reality apart to see how it works. Among other things, Eddy turns day into night by taking a bite out of the sun and turning it into a crescent moon, steals Jimmy's outline (turning the lad into a puddle of goo), and removes Sarah's mouth. Ed creates an interdimensional hole into the Kanker's bathroom, and then things get really weird.

Edd: Don't look now, gentlemen, but there's a cow hovering just overhead.

  • Wackyland in the Looney Tunes cartoons. Like Wonderland, but with more dodos.
    • It was also featured in at least one episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, in an episode during which Babs briefly became their queen.
      • ...also, it's the home of Gogo Dodo.
    • A Running Gag in oh-so-many Looney Tunes: characters refuse to fall, defying the Law of Gravity.

"Well, you see, I never studied Law!"

  • Star Trek: The Animated Series had an episode called "The Magicks of Megas-tu", where the Enterprise enters a part of the universe where reality breaks down. One character has their arm break off of their body and drift away.
    • Similarly in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Where No One Has Gone Before", the Enterprise is transported to the Outer Rim of the universe, where reality breaks down and starts making crew members' memories real.
      • And then there's also the Delphic Expanse in Star Trek: Enterprise. In some parts of it, the known laws of physics did not seem to apply. Once a Klingon ship emerged from the expanse with its entire crew anatomically inverted, but still alive.
  • Dimentia Five from the 60's Spider-Man. Also exactly the same episode from Rocket Robin Hood.
  • The Teen Titans episode "Fractured" features the inter-dimensional imp Larry, whose "magic finger" can bend the rules of reality. So, naturally, when he breaks his finger, reality gets broken along with it. This includes making an entire city look like it was drawn in crayon, Starfire's head growing wings and flying away from her body, and mouths becoming easily detachable from people's bodies.
    • The Mad Mod episodes subvert this trope, as the weirdness that seems to have taken over reality turns out to be simulated by Mod's devices.
  • In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, this happens to Ponyville in the season 2 premiere "The Return of Harmony (Part 1)", thanks to Discord's influence. The weirdness includes cotton candy clouds that rain chocolate milk, ears of corn popping while still on the stalk, and rabbits growing long, deer-like legs. It gets progressively weirder in "The Return of Harmony (Part 2)", where Discord throws in things like dirt roads turning into wet soap, day and night cycling at random, buildings floating in midair, the ground developing a checkerboard pattern, drinking an exploding chocolate milk of glass, and more.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Dreaming is an example of this. With sufficient practice, dreams can even be shaped.
  • Quantum physics. 'Nuff said.
    • If you need an example, quantum tunneling. Imagine a real-life example: you can't push something up a hill if you don't supply enough energy to it, but it gets that energy back when it rolls down on the other side. If you don't have enough energy to get it up in the first place, in real life you're out of luck. On the quantum scale, this doesn't seem to matter as much. There's a good chance that if you aren't being observed, you can pass right through the hill and be on the other side of it when reality comes back from lunch.
  • Truth in Television: It's theorized that there are parts of the universe where matter randomly comes into existence, though usually not in a coherent form (that we know of...).
    • In particle physics reactions, there can exist "virtual" particles which have invariant mass much different than what would be that particle's usual mass (if that particle weren't extant only as part of a reaction). Example: An electron and an antielectron (positron) annihilate, to form a single photon that has mass equal to the total center-of-mass energy of the two electrons, then that photon decays after a time to an electron and a positron with the same center-of-mass energies as the originals. A free photon would normally have zero mass and not decay, but here the virtual photon has mass, but decays - almost literally it is "Reality is Out to Lunch," and when reality "catches up" with the improperly-massed particle, it decays. Or at least that's one way to think about it. Of course, this is a "cartoon" picture, since in real life it's impossible to "see" the virtual particles, so it's hard to say whether they "exist" or not.
  • A lot of higher mathematics invokes this trope, playing around with imaginary numbers, hypothetical spatial dimensions, and conceptual permutations of infinity.
    • The fun thing about mathematics is that it doesn't have to reflect reality at all; it only usually does so because that's more convenient for most things. Want to redefine "continuity", make a longer-than-infinite line, work in fractional or infinitely many dimensions, or split a sphere into two copies of itself? As long as you can formally define it and prove it works, there's no problem.
  1. Post Modernism notwithstanding.
  2. Except for Relativity physics. Reality is is perfectly real in this case.