Rummage Fail

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

    "Where is that pass? It must be somewhere. Key to the city of Skaro, no? Pilot's licence for the Mars-Venus rocket run. Galactic passport? Do you travel much? Honorary member of the Alpha-Centauri Table Tennis Club."

    The DoctorDoctor Who, "Robot"

    The standard comedy bit for any character with a magic hat, Bag of Holding, or other large collection of stuff in an impossibly small space is that he can never find the thing he needs when he needs it.

    He'll reach in, rummage about a bit, and triumphantly pull old boot. Or a pink beach umbrella. Or a rubber chicken. Or something else equally useless or even embarrassing.

    If he perseveres, he may find the thing he's after on the third attempt. Or it may take much longer. Or time may run out before he finds it, leaving him to improvise with what he did find. May also be voiced over.

    This can cross over with Extended Disarming, if the other items pulled out are increasingly-ridiculous weapons, or Pull a Rabbit Out of My Hat. It can also be seen in more mundane contexts, such as when a character is trying to find something in a cupboard.

    Compare Exploding Closet. If your backpack, purse, or bookbag is sufficiently unorganized, this may well be Truth in Television.

    Examples of Rummage Fail include:

    Anime and Manga

    • Occasionally happens when Doraemon looks through his pocket, usually excused as a panic attack or a pocket malfunction.
    • Crossed with Yuppie Couple in one episode of Trigun: Wolfwood, searching for a book in his satchel, reaches in, rummages...and pulls out Kuroneko-sama.


    • Mousse from Ranma ½ has a Hyperspace Arsenal in his sleeves. He isn't very susceptible to Rummage Fail in the manga, but much more in the anime where his clothes can contain anything, including the kitchen sink. Not to mention the training potties and the hens that lay explosive eggs.
    • Happened to Mihoshi during her first appearance in Tenchi Universe. Then's Mihoshi.
    • Happens less often then you would think in Pokémon, given that trainers always carry multiple Pokéballs, don't even look at them when they pick them out, and they (nearly) all look exactly the same.
      • There is an episode late in the first season where Team Rocket had successfully stolen upwards of a hundred different Pokéballs, Ash's included, and in trying to break out of their van, Ash couldn't figure out which were his until Pikachu sniffed them out.
      • The trainers probably keep their Pokéballs in a specific order so they don't have to look. After all, they are in a straight line and there are only six of them. Also implied by the games.
      • Though rare, sometimes special Pokéballs pop in the anime. This trope wouldn't be invoked by the games (if you try to pretend to be the trainer) because of the sheer amount of different kinds of Pokéballs, plus the fact that you can put stickers on them.
      • If you read the Pokémon Special, when close-ups of the Pokéballs are given, the top half is translucent at the least, allowing someone to tell which Pokémon is in which ball.
      • There was a running gag for a while (moreso in the newspaper comics) where, no matter what Pokémon Misty would try to pull out, it would end up being Psyduck. One comic even had her pulling out Psyduck just to eliminate him, then tossing another Pokéball...which was also Psyduck. Though in Misty's defense, half the time it wasn't Rummage Fail; she did have the correct Pokéball, but before she could throw it Psyduck's ball somehow opened up first.
      • This did come up in one episode, though. Ash came up against a trainer who specialized in Grass types, so he decided to use Charizard (who had just started obeying him). Out came...Squirtle. Trying again, he managed to get...Snorlax.
      • They manage to subvert it somehow, too. In the Breather Episode before the Sinnoh League, Ash calls up some of his old team members from Professor Oak's lab; after the five Pokémon turn up missing thanks to Team Rocket, Ash and friends set off to find them. After finding one of the Pokéballs, Ash somehow managed to figure out that one Pokémon sent to him was not what he asked for, even though that Pokéball was empty.
    • In the Ah! My Goddess OVA, Keiichi tries to find something in his things to warm Belldandy up so she doesn't get sick. He rummages through and pulls out various assortment of objects (including a traditional fan that earned an extra gag in the dub). He finally pulls out a hairdryer, which proves useless. Understandable in the fact that Keiichi had been thrown out of his dorm room and had his things packed by someone else, so he didn't know where to start. But then he simply pulls out a blanket which had been sitting at the top of a box all along! Aaagh!

    Comic Books

    • The character Drywall in Scud the Disposable Assassin is essentially an animated bag of holding, with all the stuff he collects organized into labelled cubicles of drywall inside himself. This has no effect on his inability to pull out an item he needs, though. His brother Mess is similar, basically a giant stack of cabinets stuck together, while his other brother System becomes obsessed with organizing all of creation and becomes lord of Hell in the process. Drywall gets much better at it after the ten-year Time Skip.
    • Harley Quinn does this in an issue of Harley & Ivy. Contains a minor instance of Getting Crap Past the Radar, as among the items she tosses out of the purse are a tampon and a condom.
    • Eega Beeva, Mickey Mouse's futuristic buddy in the comics, has hyperspace pockets, and is obviously very prone to this. Interestingly, as created by Floyd Gottfredson (1947), Eega was generally able to find whatever he wanted in his "magic pocket". It's more the modern Italian stories with Eega that show him failing in the search.
    • The cartoonish Marvel superhero Slapstick does this with his "infinite pockets" in Avengers: The Initiative #10.

    Fan Works

    • With Strings Attached
      • Stoffer Briggs frantically goes through one of these while the others fight a giant poodle. Luckily, they manage to drive it off without his input.
      • In a bit of a variation, George has forgotten exactly what's in his closet. He starts keeping a list, but he knows there are some items that are basically lost because he can't recall what they are and thus cannot summon them.
    • Averted in the pre-Internet Doctor Who/Star Trek crossover fanfic "The Doctor and the Enterprise", in which Spock scans the Fourth Doctor, detects how many, many things he's got in his coat pockets, and concludes that it'd be easier to simply confiscate the entire coat than unload them.


    • The Genie does this in Aladdin. At one time, Genie pulls out a crab looking suspiciously like Sebastian from The Little Mermaid. So suspiciously that it is accompanied by instrumentals from "Under the Sea".
    • Toy Story. "Prepare to meet... MR. ANGRY EYES!!"
    • The main character in The Mask accidentally pulls a condom out of his pocket. This was an actual mistake made by the actor, but they decided it was funny enough to Throw It In.
    • In Beverly Hills Cop III, Axel hurriedly obtains a gigantic "urban survival weapon" before heading into the film's showdown. His attempts to use the overdesigned contraption result in everything from popcorn to rockets randomly firing out of it at the bad guys.
    • Harpo Marx practically started this gag with his magical trenchcoat. While he could often as not pull anything out of it from a swordfish to a lit candle (burning at both ends), there's still the classic moment in Animal Crackers when Chico requests "The flash" (light), and gets a flask, flush, fish, and flute. Since it's too dark to properly find anything, Harpo eventually pulls out a flashlight to try and find his flashlight. (Incredibly, this began as a practical effect that Harpo could perform live on stage before they moved to film.)
    • Unsurprisingly, the Marx Brothers Homage film Brain Donors includes its own version: during jail processing, Jacques empties the pockets of his pants and longcoat, revealing an ever-growing pile of odd items including a baby bottle, fire extinguisher, rubber alligator, bicycle pump, a feather duster, and what might be his own foot.
    • Mary Poppins has a moment of this when she hunts through her magical carpetbag for her tape measure.
    • The main character keeps doing this with her purse in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 "classic" Angels Revenge.
    • Muppet Treasure Island has Gonzo, Rizzo, and Jim do one of these while looking through a chest for a treasure map, pulling out such objects as an oar, a pair of novelty glasses, and a book by Henry Kissinger.


    • Harry Potter
      • In Harry Potter, Hagrid searching his overcoat pockets for Harry's birthday cake (and later in Gringotts searching the same coat pockets for Harry's vault key) turns up moldy dog biscuits and live mice among other things before finding what he's looking for.
      • In Harry Potter, Hermione gets a Bag of Holding. After off-handedly shaking the bag:

    It echoed like a cargo hold as a number of heavy objects rolled around inside it. "Oh, damn, that'll be the books," she said, peering into it, "and I had them all stacked by subject..."

      • There's a variation a bit later...Harry really needs to get something out of the bag, so when rummaging is too slow, he just uses a summoning charm.
    • Happens in Keys to the Kingdom series of books with Doctor Scamandros. The first time is in Sir Thursday when he "started rummaging around inside his yellow greatcoat and pulled out a peacock feather fan, several enamelled snuff boxes, a scrimshaw letter opener and a brass piccolo" before finding the item he was searching for, a ring. Then in Superior Saturday, a small smoking grenade falls out of a pocket in mid bow (which he shoves up his sleeve), and when confronted by an enemy soldier later on he "reached into his sleeve and came out with a tiny cocktail fork with a pickled onion on it, which he didn't expect and hurriedly replaced."
    • The Luggage from Discworld is an animated Bag of Holding, which seems able to invoke this trope at will. At least, anyone looking inside it will only find what they're looking for if its owner approves; non-owners will find nothing but clean underwear if they're lucky, or a mouthful of huge wooden teeth if they aren't.
    • In Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, Mrs. Hubbard empties her purse of two handkerchiefs, a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, a bottle of aspirin, a packet of laxative salts, a tube of peppermints, a bunch of keys, scissors, a checkbook, a photograph, some letters, and five strings of beads, all before finding the clue (a button) she's looking for.

    Live-Action TV

    • Doctor Who
      • The Fourth and Tenth Doctors have done this from time to time. One memorable scene from the Fourth Doctor's first appearance ("Robot") has the Doctor searched by a security guard. We are then shown the foot-high pile of items taken from the Doctor's pockets, which completely covers the poor security guard's desk. The new series explains this by revealing that his pockets are bigger on the inside than the outside. It implies that Time Lord technology uses these pocket dimensions everywhere.
        • Lampshaded in Genesis Of The Daleks, in which the Doctor is ordered to turn out his pockets. He begins to do so, noting that "This might take some time..."
      • One of the Expanded Universe novels runs with it:

    The Doctor: [...] for you it would be the first time, but I'm not going through the endless emptying-the-pockets routine with its plethora of whimsical surprises again. I'm just not. The first several dozen times are fine, but after that it gets old. I mean, finally, in the long run, I don't care how many yo-yos I have.

      • Another one, in a short story collection, had a character switched into the Doctor's body actually depend on the aforementioned plethora—she goes rummaging through the Doctor's multifarious pockets and attempts to devise an escape plan from what she finds, ranging from library cards to a firework. She fails and has to ad-lib something else involving plants in the area, although the firework does come in handy later.
    • In one episode of Friends, Ross asks if anyone has any gum. Phoebe claims that she does and reaches into her bag, pulling out a purse, a scarf, some sweets, silly string, a single shoe, a goldfish in a bag—at which point Ross says that he's actually fine.
    • Depty Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson does this on The Closer when rummaging through her enormous purse. The twist is that she does it purposefully during interrogations to lure suspects into thinking she is naive and harmless.
    • An episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has Pearl, Observer, and Bobo imprisoned in Ancient Rome (with Observer denied his usual omnipotence due to his brain being taken away). Bobo offers to regurgitate a key so they can escape, and Pearl is thrilled that he apparently swallowed one in a rare moment of competence. Turns out that no, he didn't. He's just swallowed so many things over the years that there's bound to be a key in there somewhere. Cue Bobo throwing up random items.
    • The Banana Man on Captain Kangaroo. But he was a vaudeville performer. And this form of comedy probably goes back further than that.
    • Loonette in The Big Comfy Couch usually looks for something in the couch at least twice an episode...which leads to the big mess and the Ten-Second Tidy.
    • One episode of The Golden Girls involves an attourney who changes career to that of a clown, who then has to temporarily go back to his old job to help the girls out of a lawsuit, being dragged to the courthouse by Sophia while still dressed in his clown suit. When the judge asks for his identification, he proceeds to pull out all sorts of clown or magic related items before the judge decides to let things slide and just proceed with the case.
    • In one episode of General Hospital, Lucky Spencer ran away with his girlfriend and Luke and Laura Spencer are preparing to chase after them. While giving the usual worried mother/worried father speaches, the two are "cleaning out" their "emergency expedition kits" (they live that sort of life), and during their discussion about how the running away might just be normal teenage rebellion, Laura removes a pistol, several packages of MREs, a flashlight, a handful of maps, a folding ladder, a pipe wrench, a box of randomly sized electrical fuses, a comb, and a copy of "Love Story" by Erich Segal. Luke likewise removes a hand grenade, a four-socket lug wrench (the "plus sign" wrenches found in many cars), a can of aerosol cheese, a solar-powered calculator, and a hairbrush from his kit. They then begin reassembling the kits.

    Newspaper Comics

    • In Big Nate, whenever he actually does it, Nate has trouble finding his homework in the landfill of notebook paper that piles out whenever he opens his locker. Also averted in that you could pretty much find anything else you could ever want in his locker landfill.


    • The old time radio series Fibber McGee and Molly had a character named Horatio K. Boomer, a con man and suspicious character, but still a friend to Fibber and Molly. At each of his appearances, he would claim to have the very thing that Fibber (or someone else) needed and rummage through his pockets, producing various items, but never the one required. After that, he'd state, "What do ya know, no <item>", and be on his way. That makes this as old as radio.

    Tabletop Games

    • Dungeons & Dragons
      • Bag of Tricks produces a selection animals depending on bag color. The animal produced is random, which means you'll occasionally reach in hoping for a tiger and get a horse instead.
      • Heward's Handy Haversack avoids this problem. It has a smaller carrying capacity than the Bags of Holding, but it has an additional enchantment causing the exact item the character is looking for to be right on top.
      • D&D players themselves are prone to Rummage Fail, especially at higher levels when everyone has a laundry list of class features and magical equipment. Many an epic showdown has come to a grinding halt as every player scours his splatbooks for an ability that might counter whatever threat the Big Bad just chucked at the party.
      • Also happens with their gear. I've got several players in my campaign who have things like "Bag of Holding containing two of every mundane item in the PHB" and "Quiver containing at least three arrows of every special material and DR-overcoming property". Just to add to the confusion I recently gave them a collection that was "One potion of every first and second level spell in the PHB".
      • A joke article in Dragon magazine, titled "Flaws for Commoners", had the flaw "Chicken Infested"; the effect is that whenever the character attempts to withdraw something from a bag, they have a 50% chance of getting a live chicken instead. For added hilarity, give a bag of tricks to a chicken-infested commoner. D&D being what it is, players promptly worked out how to use this to create a chicken machine gun.
      • The original Dragonlance setting required this of Kender characters, where they had to actually list the 100+ mostly useless items in their respective pockets, occasionally subjecting it to a roll in times of stress.


    • In Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins, Sarah Jane Moore attempts to show off her gun while singing these memorable lyrics: "I got this really great gun -- shit, where is it?" She pulls out many objects, including a shoe, before finding it.
    • The Stage Magician in The Consul pulls out many things, but, alas, not the papers the Secretary wants.
    • In The Solid Gold Cadillac, Mrs. Partridge cleans out her office after getting fired, withdrawing some very unlikely objects from a bookcase and from the filing cabinet.

    Video Games

    • Quiffy of the old Bullfrog Platform Game Flood would sometimes get an awesomely destructive flame-thrower. Every few times you switch to it, he pulls out a squawking rubber chicken instead (much to his wide-eyed surprise).
    • Weaponized in Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice by the Panic Laser magichange attack, with the user pulling out a flower vase, washtub, fish, and a Mystic Beast puppy and throwing them on top of the target's head before finding their raygun and blowing it all up with a laser.
    • Used in the backstory of the game Wild 9 with the character of Pokkit who is supposed to be able to pull anything from the bottomless pockets on his jacket. However, that never happens and it is said produced from his pockets "over 37 different items before grabbing a weapon, and that was a slingshot". The manual further says that if the team were in a tight situation he would produce a doughnut, but if they were starving in a desert he would produce a bazooka. In game he manages to actually produce a machine gun when it is useful.
    • This was played with in the first Icewind Dale. In Shattered Hand, you could find a dirty old sack in the hands of one of the goblins, which turns out to be a completely malfunctioning Bag of Holding. Instead of using it to store things, you could open it up, once a day, and try to shake something out. Results range from mildly magical weapons and arrows to jewelry of varying value and dead cats.
    • The ending of the Bionicle Mata Nui Online Game has the main character pulling the various items he has acquired out of his Bag of Holding and tossing them aside during the final level, including flutes, letters, and magical light-giving rocks. Granted, though, his attitude is less "Now where did I put that thing?" and more "Oh Crap GIANT BUG THINGS COMING FOR ME PLEASE SPIRITS LET THERE BE SOMETHING USEFUL IN HERE."
    • One of the Hilarious Outtakes for Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones has the Prince accidentally pull out a rubber chicken instead of his dagger when he goes to Stealth Kill a guard. The guards laughs his ass off at him before being smacked in the face by the chicken and sent flying.
    • Near the end of the first world of Secret of Evermore, an alchemist plays this one straight by producing a key, a crystal, a still-beating heart, and finally the Mud Pepper you'd sought him out for.

    Web Comics

    • Roy's Bag of Tricks from The Order of the Stick, as described above in the D&D entry. It's been used during three battles and in each comes up with an inappropriate animal. Used against a random encounter, it produced a small critter one monster simply ate. Used in the bandit camp, it crushed Roy with a rhinoceros. And used to try and save Roy from falling to his death in Azure City, it failed to produce anything large enough to cushion him or winged enough to carry him. It was useful on two occasions, however. While sneaking into the bandit camp, he used a cat to provide distractions for the guards, allowing him to sneak up on some of them. And he also summoned two rats and a beaver to gnaw the ropes his friends were tied up with.
    • A certain character in Charby the Vampirate has a magic hat that tends to randomly drop jackalopes on his head. Their was also a story arc in which the hat was mad at him, so he experienced many Rummage Fails in quick succession.
    • Monster from Kagerou does this with her own head.
    • In The KAMics, Gertrude has done this once or twice...

    Web Original

    • In The Legend of Neil, Neil initially doesn't even realize he has a magic inventory, and is simply carrying his ever-growing list of items awkwardly around with him and trying not to drop anything. Luckily, since he's in a video-game, someone eventually explains to him that he has a special inventory in which he can store everything he carries with him...unfortunately, the first time he tries to use it in battle, he realizes he doesn't know how to control what item comes out. He hasn't accessed his inventory since (it's only been a few episodes since he learned), so there's no way of telling if he's figured it out or will need further instruction.

    Western Animation

    • Presto's wizard hat in the Dungeons and Dragons animated series. He almost never managed to pull out what he was after, but the thing he pulled out instead usually worked just as well towards solving the problem, with a bit of creative thinking.
    • The title character's cheek pouches in Bounty Hamster.
    • Done a few times with Wakko Warner's "gaggy bag" on Animaniacs. On at least one occassion he manages to pull out Elvis. In the sketch where Yakko recites the famous speech from Hamlet, Wakko is seen behind him digging a hole and discovering several odd things including a giant squid, a United States nuclear missile, and a sexy lady.
    • In the episode of Shaun the Sheep where the sheeps are playing football (association, not American) with a cabbage, the cabbage hits the Gentle Giant sheep on the side, and disappears into the sheep's thick wool. Shaun reaches in to retrieve it, and finds two other items before the cabbage.
    • In the "Arabian Desert Danger" episode of The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, the Ant Hill Mob needed to enter a pyramid, but Pockets produced everything except a battering ram.
    • One episode of Johnny Bravo ends with Johnny pulling out various things (elephant, people) out of his toilet while looking for his dropped cereal prize.
    • Cap'n Lou Albano did this with pulling food items out of his enormous goatee in an episode of Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n Wrestling.
    • Whenever Inspector Gadget calls out "Go go gadget [item]," there is only about a 50% chance that the gadget produced will be the one that he asked for. On most failures, the Gadget Mallet would come out, as if his equipment has a "when all else fails, hit things" directive. Occasionally he would make a remark like, "One of these days, I've got to get these gadgets fixed."
    • Orko in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe would occasionally have trouble with this after storing something in his hat; usually flowers would be the first thing he pulled out.
    • Transformers Animated
      • Possible subversion on the episode "Garbage In, Garbage Out": Wreck-Gar is a garbage truck Transformer whose garbage-carrying trailer becomes a sort of Backpack of Holding when he transforms into robot mode. During the course of the episode, he pulls out a great many items from this "backpack" that are not appropriate to the situation. The twist (and possible subversion) is that, in most cases, the item he produces actually is the item he wanted to find; he simply misunderstood what he was asked for. He manages to produces an incredible array of items, including a burnt-out cash register, a set of income tax forms, an uprooted kitchen sink, and even the original Wreck-Gar's motorcycle form!
      • Bumblebee has this played straight when he starts digging out various electronic entertainment devices he brought for Sari's camping trip. When asked where exactly he was keeping them (being as he is a robot with no pockets) he awkwardly says "Don't ask".
    • All the time in Gerry Anderson's Dick Spanner.
    • In the French animated series Once Upon a Time...Man and its sequels, the character Maestro sports a full-body beard of holding. Pulling out the wrong item (sometimes anachronistic) out of it is a Running Gag for him.
    • Captain Caveman of Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels uses a similar gimmick.
    • In Rocky and Bullwinkle, a Running Gag has Bullwinkle try to pull a rabbit out of his hat and instead retrieve anything from a lion head to, after Rocky tells him, "But that trick never works!", Rocky himself.
    • Used semi-regularly in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy with Grim's chest. Though the chest is large enough that it could logically hold every item taken from it in each individual appearance, various episodes shows that it is linked to another dimension and thus infinitely spacious.
    • The Simpsons. Marge Simpson often uses her beehive hairdo for this very purpose.
    • This stuff would always happen in Courage the Cowardly Dog. In many episodes, Courage would start looking for something in the pockets that he didn't even have, either as a weapon or an item to trade or something to solve a problem with. In fact, there were episodes where he would pull out boats, other animals such as ducks or WHALES, and even a full-size anchor (which was one of his favorite possessions).
    • Futurama. In order to make room in his compartment, Bender disposes of three goldfish bowls (complete with goldfish) and the jarred, floating head of Luciano Pavarotti.
    • Family Guy. Peter finds a number of things in Quagmire's anus, including a live fish. Also George Takei.
    • Similar to the example above, Drawn Together has Xandir pulling a group of strange objects out of Wooldor's ass (including a traumatized leprechaun!) before getting the Magic Lamp he was looking for.
    • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Lawn Gnome Beach Party of Terror", Dr. Doofensmirtz tries to capture Perry the Platypus, explain his evil plot, and set it into motion, but keeps getting the various remotes mixed up (including accidentally using a garage door opener at one point).
    • Simon Belmont's backpack occasionally demonstrated this trope in Captain N the Game Master, with Simon deploying a golf club and then a bazooka, among other things. Possibly a reference to and a satire of Simon's frequently extensive in-game inventory.