Short Cuts Make Long Delays

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"Well, we're here! Now let us never speak of the shortcut again."
Homer, The Simpsons
"So, this guy's shortcut home is through the Carpathian Mountains?"

Typically An Aesop against cheating. All the regular characters are on a Road Trip or some other quest. One character suggests they take a shortcut: sure, it may not be on the maps, but he knows the route like the back of his hand. Besides, it will shave a few hours off the trip, and be all-around more interesting than the boring old interstate! Persuaded, the other characters agree to take the shortcut.

If they're lucky, Hilarity Ensues. If they aren't, all manner of deadly serious horrors beset them as soon as they leave the beaten path. They get lost. The car breaks down. The shortcut takes them to the Town with a Dark Secret or the Wacky Wayside Tribe.

If the proposed shortcut is described beforehand as "the Scenic Route", it's pretty much doomed from the start.

A staple of Dom Coms (where it is usually instigated by the Bumbling Dad), and stories involving The Quest. Frequent use of a Long Delay turns the destination of a trip into the story's MacGuffin. The situation will often be exacerbated by a Directionless Driver.

See Path of Most Resistance for a similar trope used in video games. For more travel wisdom, see Right Under Their Noses.

Examples of Short Cuts Make Long Delays include:


Anime[edit | hide | hide all]

Fairy Tales[edit | hide]

  • "Little Red Riding Hood" is probably the Ur-example. She was told to stay on the path, but she just had to go and take a shortcut through the woods... and the rest is vaguely-Freudian history.

Comics[edit | hide]

  • Every time Usagi Miyamoto takes "one of Gen's short cuts" he winds up stumbling into a dastardly plot.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In Ice Age, the group takes a dangerous shortcut that isn't a shortcut at all, just so that Diego can hide the others from his clan.
  • It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was one Long Delay after another. For example, Phil Silvers' character takes a shortcut on a dirt road at the advice of a local kid, only to find that the road goes through a river. He attempts to drive through anyway and loses his car.
  • Pretty much the whole point of Rat Race, in which six different people (often with family/sidekicks) try to be the first to get to a town in the next state. Hilarity Ensues as increasingly improbable circumstances slow them down - the helicopter pilot discovers her boyfriend cheating on her and runs out of fuel in the ensuing vengeful maneuvers, a "helpful" woman provides shortcut directions to one driver that sends them over the edge of a cliff because they didn't buy a squirrel, and so on.
    • Of course, the movie was just kinda remake of Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World anyway, so that's to be expected...
  • From Road Trip wherein the shortcut leads over a Broken Bridge.

Of course it's difficult, it's a short-cut. If it was easy it would just be "the way."

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Lord of the Rings is the Trope Namer (it's a Hobbit proverb quoted by Pippin). In The Fellowship of the Ring the hobbits attempted to shorten their walk by cutting across country and ended up miles off course.
    • Their short cut was longer than it needed to be in order to avoid going past a nearby village inn. Pippin is heard reminiscing about the quality of their beer, and Frodo is immediately convinced: "That settles it. Short cuts make for long delays, but inns make longer ones."
    • This is later subverted by Strider, who comments that "my cuts, short or long, don't go wrong."
      • Even later, he successfully takes the grandmother of all shortcuts through the Paths of the Dead.
  • A children's storybook based upon the Berenstain Bears features a Bear Scout troop hiking up a mountain. While the group take the longer way according to their map, Father Bear takes a shortcut—admittedly, it's a shorter route, but it is beset with nigh-deadly hazards.
  • In The Pilgrims Progress, straying from the path results in either death or a deadly situation.
  • In the second Warrior Cats story arc, a lone cat named Purdy offers to show the traveling Clan cats a way though the city rather than having the cats waste time traveling around it. He claims the whole time that he knows where he's going, but the Clan cats know it's not the quickest route (at one point they realize they've been traveling in the wrong direction all day; they're supposed to be heading toward the sunset). It also results in Feathertail nearly getting captured by a Twoleg and Tawnypelt being bitten badly by a rat.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • One episode of The Mighty Boosh has Vince suggesting a shortcut to Howard that leads them both into the middle of nowhere. When Vince explains himself as having tried to follow the long red road on the map, Howard rightly points out that it's actually a raspberry bootlace.
  • Appears and is lampshaded in The Tenth Kingdom. There are two roads leading to Wendell's castle, and the pair of unlikely heroes are on foot: they must choose whether to take the long and pretty path or the short and scary path. "Virginia, don't you think there's a chance that it's going around something? But... but one path has trees, and the other... argh!" They take the scary path.
    • The fact this detour turns out to be necessary in order for Virginia to obtain the Plot Coupon poisoned comb so that she can deal out the suitably HoistByHerOwnPetard, Karmic Death for the Big Bad only makes this hew even closer to the trope. ("It's the journey that matters," and The Quest usually requires that something very important be found or learned while the heroes are caught up in a seemingly random delay or distraction.)
  • From the MASH episode "The Yalu Brick Road:

Hawkeye: I thought you said this was a shortcut!
BJ: It is a shortcut! Look how fast we got lost!

  • Malcolm in the Middle: Reese thinks any different path one takes is a shortcut. Even if they're longer.
  • Metaphorical version: On Deadliest Catch the Time Bandit crew tried to de-ice their ship faster by blowing huge chunks off with a large firework. They did manage to get rid of a ton of ice -- which landed on their coiling machine so now they have to resort to "Neanderthal fishing" and have a guy looping the rope by hand.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • A major aversion occurs in the Keeper campaign of Age of Wonders. If you can remember the way through the Underground Path, you can literally walk straight past an entire map of enemies. If you have the haste spell and click fast, you can complete the entire mission in under 30 seconds.
  • Racing games, especially ones that are not serious (Burnout, Mario Kart) often include shortcuts that are risky and can potentially take much longer than the curves they bypass.
    • In Mario Kart's case, sometimes the longer "shortcut" will have an item box to compensate people who decide to use the path. The paths are usually less traveled by most racers, making them more safer from being hit by most items.
    • In the Micro Machines series of racing games, some of the courses are wide open and shortcut opportunities appear to be plentiful. Go too far off course or stay off the course for too long, however, and the game will immediately abort your run and place you all the way back at the point where you first left the track.
  • In Baldur's Gate II you're asked to destroy a beholder cult called the Unseeing Eye, and are informed that it's far too powerful and you have to retrieve an artifact to destroy it. This involves going to an underground city to get half of it, then through a town of undead, then through a lair of beholders, before you finally get the other half. Alternatively, you can just start killing its cultists and kill it when it shows up to stop, because the point about the Unseeing Eye is that it's a blind beholder. Which makes it less formidable than the normal beholders you had to kill to get the artifact.
  • In Neo Quest II, one NPC in Act II remarks: "You know the saying: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line? Well, the longest distance between two points is a shortcut." Luckily for you, the player characters are not required to take such shortcuts.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • In Nip and Tuck, Gus takes a shortcut to win a race he's losing—and ends up right in the middle of a demolition derby which reduces his truck to so much scrap metal. A long delay indeed!
  • In this GCC strip, a "shortcut" is a mountain/large hill.

Web Original[edit | hide]

"Let me say this again, you want to take a shortcut through the Desert of Certain Doom? You know the part of the map here with all the radiation and biohazard symbols on it?"

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Cars: Here it's not taking a short cut that gets Lightning McQueen stranded in Radiator Springs but his insistance that his driver Mack keep going straight without taking a rest stop. Mack falls asleep, McQueen falls off his trailer and ends up following the wrong truck and getting lost.
  • Finding Nemo: On their way to Sydney, Marlin and Dory have to cross a trench. Dory has been told to swim through it, not over it, but Marlin insists that going over it is safer. They go over it, and end up surrounded by jellyfish.
  • A recurring plot element and running joke in the Rupert Bear cartoon series is that all of Bill's "short cuts" invariably lead to some sort of strange adventure, but never where they wanted to go in the first place. In one episode, the two decided to split up and make a race out of it. Naturally, this time it's Rupert taking the proper route who finds himself in a land of adventure, which implies that it's not the shortcuts that lead to adventure, it's Rupert.
  • Has occurred several times in The Simpsons (most often at Homer's instigation).
  • Futurama "Are you sure about this shortcut?" "Not as sure as I was an hour ago."
  • In an episode of Two Stupid Dogs, the big man's blind and buys the dogs to use them as guide dogs. The little dog's shortcuts eventually lead him to the top of a building under construction.
  • Stoked!: In ""Reef, Broseph and Emma's Totally Stupid Adventure", Broseph, Reef and Emma go into town for beaver tails (a local pastry), but stay too long and realize they're late for work. They try to take a shortcut through the woods, but end up lost in the woods for the day. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Wacky Races: Dick Dastardly once took a short cut that was blatantly shorter than the road he should have taken and ended up falling victim of a booby trap at a place he trespassed and the Mean Machine had to be practically rebuilt part by part. By the time Muttley finished rebuilding it, the land owner learned Dastardly tricked him to stop the other shortcut users and started shooting him. By the time he reached the finish line, he was in last, as usual, the Mean Machine had holes all over its body and it fell apart as Dastardly was about to cross the finish line.
  • Invoked in an episode of Gummi Bears, where Cavin is transformed into an ogre in order to infiltrate the ranks of Duke Igthorn's army. After accidentally "capturing" Cubbi, he ends up taking point on the Duke's next invasion, which he tries to sabotage by leading Igthorn and his ogres on a variety of wild goose chases in the guise of "shortcuts."

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The Donner Party, whose decision to take an obscure and untested shortcut (instead of the longer, but more established route) west to California turned a journey that typically took four months into a desperate ordeal that lasted over a year. The winding 'shortcut' led to the Donner Party getting trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the harsh winter months with grossly inadequate supplies. Faced with starvation, they were eventually forced to resort to cannibalism to survive.
    • It wasn't just taking the shortcut. They were supposed to go with a larger group, but they were late, so to catch up, they took a shortcut through the shortcut.
  • One of the more hilarious consequences of GPS navigation for cars. Most drivers will tend to stick to the routes they are familiar with, but when they get a GPS some will decide to take its routing instructions because it's supposedly shorter or faster. Murphy's Law will inevitably kick in and they'll find the shorter route will have construction, recent changes to streets (such as switches to 1-way) that aren't reflected in the GPS database and other comedic impedements. Also the number of delays they will face will be directly proportional to how urgently they have to get to their destination.
    • It can be much worse. Depending on the last time you updated, the road may not even be there.