Viewers Are Geniuses

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Never underestimate your audience. They're generally sensitive, intelligent people who respond positively to quality entertainment.

Lt. Colonel Cameron MitchellStargate SG-1

The public's been clamouring for some more intelligent television in the wake of Reality TV and Lowest Common Denominator Recycled Scripts. So, you go and write a series loaded with difficult quantum mechanics, quoting obscure 17th-century philosophers, with characters who are philosophical Magnificent Bastards who speak a dozen languages while conversing to each other by sending Shakespearean Zen koans hidden into chess move patterns, and packed with allusions to ancient Sumerian religion. You make sure all your Techno Babble is scientifically plausible and go to great lengths to make sure all your ancient Roman soldiers are wearing exact replicas of period equipment. Now it's True Art, right?

So you sit back and watch the ratings—which plummet faster than a rocket-propelled brick in a nosedive. What went wrong? In trying to avert making the classic mistake that Viewers are Morons, you went too far and ended up assuming that Viewers Are Geniuses instead.[1]

While a lot less common than its more insulting opposite (any show without the "mass-market appeal" that the less high-brow stuff has will be Screwed by the Network without mercy), overestimating the audience can be more of a death knell than underestimating it, even without network sabotage.

Remember that loading up your work with loads of obscure references solely for the sake of having them there is just pretentious. Just because your characters know who Derrida is does not make them interesting or your show any better than than one that doesn't namedrop. Don't think your show/book/game is smart just because you're quoting smart people.

The opposite is also true: an intelligent, engaging work may lack any sort of references at all.

There's also the trap of being so consumed with the complexities that you forget simpler things like plot and characterization.

The most successful way to do this may be to provide a Genius Bonus. If a writer gives the more intellectual content a small dose at a time, viewers can still enjoy the work at their level, but those who get the Easter Egg will enjoy its hidden depths.

See also Faux Symbolism, Mind Screw, and Moon Logic Puzzle. Not mutually exclusive with Did Not Do the Research or Critical Research Failure - just because a show is crammed with obscure knowledge doesn't mean that said knowledge is correct, even when it comes from the show to begin with. This can be the result of too many in jokes being included in a work.

See also Viewers are Morons, the opposite side of the coin. When this trope and the latter trope conflicts however, you can wind up with an Unpleasable Fanbase.

Examples of Viewers Are Geniuses include:

Media in General

  • Almost every Mockumentary and April Fools' Day hoax ever, to the extent that they practically constitute a subtrope. Surely viewers are smart enough to work out that there isn't actually an alien invasion going on right now, without having to say "THIS IS NOT REAL!" every 5 minutes, right? Wrong, as these examples show:
    • Panorama‍'‍s legendary "Spaghetti trees" April Fools bit had people actually calling the BBC and asking how they could grow Spaghetti trees of their own.
    • Dragon's World: A Fantasy Made Real apparently convinced several people that dragons really existed.
    • And Flying Penguins, although this was perhaps Lampshaded by it being a publicity piece for their online TV-on-demand service
    • Many people were disappointed after finding out The Guardian‍'‍s travel supplement on "San Seriffe" was an April Fools hoax, even though the entire article was clearly one typography pun after another.
    • As Daniel Handler found out when writing A Series of Unfortunate Events, people will accept anything labeled as "based on a true story" as true, no matter how outlandish it is. Never mind that the series involves at various points a four-year old movie director, a bikini made of lettuce, eagles used as transportation, and a sawmill that pays people in chewing gum and coupons that will employ a baby to bite pieces of wood, people still criticise the movie (which is more obviously a comedy than the books) for disrespecting the memory of the (entirely fictional) Baudelaire children!
    • A number of video game rumors got their start as April Fools' Day jokes in the video game magazine EGM.
    • The defunct British games magazine CVG also started a number of urban legends with April Fools' jokes.
    • N64 Magazine had a regular joke page where they would review a game from an Alternate Universe (The Duke of Nukem, Star Wars: Brogue Squadron, Bill Oddie Harvest, etc.). A number of stores reported customers trying to find a copy of Beatles Adventure Racing.
    • RTBF's Bye Bye Belgium, a mock news broadcast stating that Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium) had unilaterally declared its independence. So many people initially believed the message that the broadcasters had to add a 'this is fiction' note at the bottom of the screen after half an hour. And even then spontaneous protests broke out. It caused a huge uproar. Ironically, the broadcast had been made to get Walloon and Flemish politicians to talk about the growing tensions between both sides of the country. It failed.
    • Brass Eye: "Genetically, paedophiles have more in common with crabs than they do with you or me."
    • Inquest Magazine is the source for the oft-persistent rumor that Magic: The Gathering is getting a sixth color. It was, of course, an April Fool's joke (although the card Water Gun Balloon Game can put a 5/5 pink creature into play, so in a sense there is a sixth color already).
      • In a sort of ascended meme, Wizards of the Coast was actually considering adding a sixth basic land to the game for Invasion. It was known as "Barry's Land" during testing and would have produced colorless mana. Its sole use would have been to pump up Domain decks.
      • There is now "Wastes" which is a (non-conventional) basic land that produces only colorless mana, and the colorless mana symbol {C} in the mana cost of some cards requiring to use colorless mana to cast them.
    • The Second City went to the Rally to Restore Sanity, of all places, with a sign reading "Obama = Keynesian," and got a fair number of bites.
    • One American news channel convinced a good amount of people that Russia was invading America.[context?]
    • A Public Service Announcement that ran on Saturday mornings a few years back[when?] started as a fake documentary about rodent-sized house hippos. The effects were well-enough done that the tiny hippopotamuses looked real. Then a voiceover breaks in and asks the audience, basically, "You have enough common sense to tell this isn't real, right?" The point of the PSA was to encourage kids to think about what they see on TV and not believe everything television shows them without thinking about it.
  • Bilingual Bonus is usually a Genius Bonus but overuse, often combined with having to "get" them in order to understand the plot, falls into this.
  • Byte Magazine used to run an ad every April advertising some form of "write-only memory", such as "erasable write-only memory" or "high-speed write-only memory". Every May they'd print some of the orders they had received.
  • Twelve years before the famous War of the Worlds broadcast a genial priest created a similar, although less extreme, panic with his Broadcasting the Barricades. People missed the fact that the rioters' ringleader was one Mr Popplebury, the Secretary of the National Movement for Abolishing Theatre Queues. As Evelyn Waugh (a great friend of Knox) wrote in his autobiography: “It was prefaced by an explicit statement that it was a work of humour and imagination, enlivened by realistic ‘sound effects’, which were still a novelty. Read today, it seems barely credible that it could have caused a tremor of alarm in the most timid listener. [Ronald] had no idea of imposing on anyone. The intention was broad parody.”


  • There was a commercial that assumed people had more knowledge of what goes into their deli meats than they generally do. The commercial has two cows standing on a stage. One represents the advertiser while the other represents the competition, and from offstage someone throws a bucket of seaweed over the competition's cow. The cow representing the company, however, remains clean and "natural". They were trying to illustrate how their competition used filler materials (seaweed derivatives being very common as filler ingredients) in their meat products but that they didn't, and where thereby superior quality meats. Too bad the commercial never bothered to explain itself because most people didn't know about filler much less what the seaweed had to do with anything.
  • Denny's restaurants had a bacon-themed special called "Baconalia," a pun on "Bacchanalia," which were cult orgies in Ancient Greece and Rome. One wonders if Denny's wanted their patrons to get the (relatively) esoteric reference or not.

Anime and Manga

  • Ghost in the Shell is pretty hard on the brain. Ghost in the Shell 2 is harder on the brain than Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Stand Alone Complex discusses sociology and memes, and if you understood it fully the first time, you either already had an undergrad understanding of sociology, or earned one in the process of puzzling it out.
    • While difficult enough at parts the comparatively lightweight anime series has a tendency to have characters spout plot points (often convoluted political situations) at an accelerated clip. It then rarely, if ever, repeats itself. Example: In 2nd Gig the full source of the title 'Individual Eleven' and its supposed contents are explained once. Despite coming in in multiple episodes before and after the explanation. The extent of the subtleties in these conversations are enough to quickly lose all but astute Political Science majors the first time through, much more so than the sociology and philosophy references.
      • Not to mention being ultimately a Red Herring.
        • Near the end of the 2nd Gig, Kuze has a discussion with Yousuke Aramaki, which requires a customary understanding of basic Marxist economic philosophy to piece together.
  • Serial Experiments Lain. The central theme revolves around highly technical aspects of computers and networking, and the series is a well-known member of the Anime Mind Screw Club.
    • And don't forget the extended Jungian metaphors.
    • "Lain‍'‍s computer hardware is so cool. How come we don't get designs like those?"
    • Lain lacks a plot at all until you do the research. The plot only emerges at all once you get to the point where you're looking at the patent file for Microwave Audio Induction and trying to figure out if on Schuuman Resonance frequencies it can be used to trigger individual action potentials (nb: schuuman resonance is actually a massive frequency range—the number given in the show of 7.83 Hz is actually the median).
  • Many anime series produced by the Bee Train studio (most famously, Noir and Madlax) require so much reading between the lines and background cultural knowledge that most viewers refuse to believe that something worthy was there in the first place. As a result, the rather small fan community deliberately positions itself as "intelligent fans", actively shunning whom they refer to as "fanboys" and "haterz".
  • Ergo Proxy casually references Greek myth (Daedelus and Icarus, Theseus and the Minos maze), philosophy (Descartes, Nietszche, Turing, many others), film (Battleship Potemkin, Akira, Blade Runner), gnostic religion, art (Michelangelo, Millais), history, and many other things, almost to the point of showing off to the audience how smart they are by cramming episodes with as many allusions as possible.
    • Well, I think there's big difference whether high school or university level knowledge of a subject is required. The former is easily achieved by just hearing things here and there without even having to ever go to high school. When watching Ergo Proxy I don't remember ever having that 'what the heck?' feeling like with Lain or Ghost in the Shell, despite being just in high school then.
      • While you may not need an understanding of any of the references to appreciate the concrete plot, how many people caught the City Lights bookstore (real one located in San Francisco) and its importance to the beat poetry movement, or that Re-L's name was listed as "124C41+" in a computer database, referencing early sci-fi novel Ralph 124C 41+ published 1925. Even Red Shirt characters have names from obscure ancient religions.
  • Kinoko Nasu really, really loves winding philosophical debate, and he expects you to as well. The rules governing said 'verse can get pretty complex as well, with a huge amount of Mr. Exposition giving Instruction Dialogue regarding borderline game-breaking abilities. Fate/stay night is particularly guilty. For example, several pages episodes will be dedicated to explaining the minute details as to why imagining swords into being real is a stupid, useless form of magic, and then later Shirou manages to summon every sword ever made at the same time.
  • Anyone who attempts to translate Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei deserves our pity (literally). The English manga has about a dozen pages at the end of each volume dedicated to explaining the dozens of references. Most of said references are about either Japanese pop culture, or obscure Japanese historical events -- none of which will make the least bit of sense to a foreign reader. "I'm in despair! This series being in this page has left me in despair!"
  • Darker than Black never explains anything, and on the rare occasions it does, the source is usually less than trustworthy. Most of the background is left deliberately vague, and it ends with a Mind Screwy Gainax Ending. In short, if you want to sort out the overall plot (rather than the 2-episode sub-arcs; those tend to be fairly self-contained), you'd better have a very good memory or be taking notes.
  • It feels weird sticking a fanservice manga/anime here, but Ikki Tousen, to some extent. The series seems to take for granted that all of its audience has some basic awareness of the historical characters it's portraying, which... for the most part, particularly in the West, they don't.
  • To put it lightly, Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno doesn't seem to care whether or not the audience grasps every minute detail of the anime's storyline. To put it more bluntly, Eva crosses the line between this trope and outright Mind Screw several times, with a considerable bit of vital information being All There in the Manual. On the other hand, the references to philosophy and psychology are fairly digestible, averting this trope.
    • You wouldn't believe how many of the show's fans had to familiarize themselves with everything from quantum physics to Kabbalism just to understand the parts of the show that do make sense...
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni has Ryukishi07 go on about the basics of Schroedinger's Cat, Raven Paradox and Devil's Proof. He also makes lengthy articles about his philosophies of anti-mystery, cultural noise and chessboard logic. And to top it off, he makes numerous references to famous mystery writers. However, his critics accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about, even when it comes to his own inventions.
    • Counterargument: Shkanonyasutrice. The Second or, possibly, the Third.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya. The references to philosophy and advanced mathematics in the light novels start out as Genius Bonus, but eventually become pretty crucial to knowing what the hell is going on.

Comic Books

Jack: There's nothing wrong with being elite.
Or another example.
This one isn't about collectibles but it's the same kind of thing. I'm in a book store ... for new books. I've gone a little bit crazy and I'm about to spend a couple of hundred bucks. I murmur under my breath "money's too tight to mention".
Now the guy behind the register, he hears this. He looks at me, nodding his head knowingly like we're in some "club of cool" together. He says, "Yeah, Simply Red" like it's a password, and now we do the secret handshake.
And I'm thinking "Simply Red"? Lame English band. More soul at a polka convention. And the book store guy thinks he's on some kind of inside loop with that.
Sadie: Jack, that's the smuggest thing I ever heard. A guy tries to be nice and you stand there hating him just because he hasn't heard of the Valentine Brothers.
You're like my ex-boyfriend. He was that way about authors. He'd deliberately drop obscure quotes and references. He'd take over conversations at parties. But none of what he read was for the love of it. His knowledge was like a weapon.
Don't tell me you're like that. I don't want another jerk. I've had...
Hey, why are you smiling?
Jack: Because you've heard of the Valentine Brothers.

(Naturally, since Jack and Sadie both know that the Valentine Brothers are a soul duo who originally performed "Money's Too Tight To Mention" before Simply Red covered it, they have no reason to tell the readers this.)
  • Really, most DC Crossovers are like that; though Final Crisis takes the cake for being both poorly paced (jumping from one sequence to the next with no segue) and including obscure scientific or philosophical references many people have never heard of. But it's Grant Morrison, so he gets away with it.
  • Keith Giffen's Ambush Bug stories are very much like this, with damn near every page (and sometimes every panel) containing references to decades of comic book history, as well as famous people and trends in the industry. Combined with extreme Medium Awareness, the comics are truly incomprehensible to non-comic readers (and often a bit confusing to regular readers who just aren't up on their history lessons).
  • Pretty much anything Grant Morrison has ever made. The Invisibles gets special mention, since in order to fully follow it, you would need a degree in history, a biography of Morrison, a complete and unabridged summary of British popular culture of the past 80 years with an emphasis on the 1960's, a reasonable understanding of the Voodoun, Aztec, and Native-Australian belief systems and the underlying symbolism of the Egyptian tarot, books on metaphysics, homeopathy, and the various theories of the holographic universes, a familiarity with the works of the Marquis de Sade, a copy of every single piece of conspiracy theory literature ever published from the 1940's to the present day, and a bucket full of enough psychoactive drugs to make Charlie Sheen run away screaming. Even then, you probably wouldn't get it all.
  • Garkin's assorted belongings in Phil Foglio's comic adaptation of the first Myth Adventures novel contains, among other things, a The King In Yellow paint-by-numbers book.

Fan Works

  • A Death Note fanfic, apparently about random American civilians during Kira's reign, starts off with a Seinfeldian Conversation about how easy it is to do a feminist critique of classic literature, which further digresses into this exchange:

Character A: Y'know, if Sir Nigel does come up on the test, I'll thank my lucky stars it wasn't, say, Rodney Stone. Would've refused to read it on principle.
Character B: What? I've never even heard of Rodney – oh. (rolls eyes) I'm guessing it came out around the turn of the century?
Character A: So I'm predictable.

    • If you knew without Googling or proceeding to the next chapter that this is supposed to mean Character A is predisposed toward a particular side, well, I'm glad you came down from your terrifying ivory tower long enough to watch a cartoon, but... chances are you're the author.
  • This chapter of A Few Angry Words. There's a Shout-Out in there, but in the comments for the chapter, nobody gets the reference. One guy almost does, but then proceeds to cite the wrong story.
  • Prinz von Sommerhoffnung, my goodness. What's supposed to be, if the author can be believed, a My-HiME AU novelisation slaps you with a questionably correct piece of translation-wordplay from the title on. The various character names, ostensibly attempts at Captain Ersatz-ing, run on translations, transliterations and wordplay that need some amount of bizarre lateral thinking to decipher; not to mention that Shout-Outs both to modern and older works are handled in a roundabout way. Perhaps the worst part, though? The author knows his stuff is undecipherable, and seems, well, blasé about it.
  • Aeon Natum Engel. The author admits he likes to write intricate plots. He's not lying. He makes offhand references to the end-plot of Neon Genesis Evangelion by quoting another book. There's foreshadowing in both Medieval and Ancient Latin, cross-referencing Roman generals across several periods of time. Part of the plot is revealed in flashbacks that don't bother with proper names. You might not actually want to know what is going on either...
  • S-Michael, being Brilliant but Lazy as he is, will never, ever tell you anything you should already know. In Thicker than Water, that whole JD thing is based on real science! Better science than Blood+ is, in fact! (Assuming of course that certain facts of chiropteran biology are inherently similar to human biology, at any rate.)
  • The Higurashi no Naku Koro ni fanfic Cicadas: Case of the Endless Dreamer. The entire story, due to often being told by a malicious Unreliable Narrator, relies on the reader managing to weave through the various red herrings present, pick up the small details, and determine exactly what is true and what is fiction. Otherwise, the reader has to deal with various inconsistencies with canon, contradictions, and will outright not have a clue what is going on in a good portion of the story.
  • Kimi no Na Iowa extensively uses oblique references to naval history and Makoto Shinkai's filmography as foreshadowing. Certain major reveals or the upcoming thereof are staring the reader right in the face should he know what he's looking at, and are conversely nigh-impenetrable until the Wham! Line hits if he doesn't.


  • Some people found Donnie Darko hard to follow, so a Director's Cut was released that basically went to the opposite side of the spectrum, replacing all the interesting ambiguity with a lot of flat explanation.
    • Southland Tales was even more obscure, to the point that people were accusing it of being meaningless (there is actually a story, it's just nonsensical).
  • The movie Primer was written by a math graduate who studied physics intensively to produce one of the most plausible Time Travel movies ever. In the words of one reviewer: "anybody who claims they fully understand what's going on in Primer after seeing it just once is either a savant or a liar". Reportedly, writer-director Shane Carruth didn't think the movie would be too hard for the average viewer to figure out.
  • Hardly anyone understands all the vital plot points from The Descent first time 'round. Either they completely missed that Sarah went crazy or they didn't connect the dots and get that the crawlers were evolved from cavemen who stayed down in the cave or they would miss the subtext that Sarah possibly only imagined the crawlers or they would make a more simple mistake and forget the seemingly unimportant singular lines of dialogue which would explain things later on. To top it off, it's very difficult to tell who's who in the dark, and fans are still arguing over what the hell the ending means...
  • Spike Lee's 25th Hour has a deleted scene where a pair of gangsters explain the exact reasons why the protagonist has 24 hours of freedom. Pretty much every single review either couldn't figure out the reasons within the context of the film, or presumed that the 24 hours were not Truth in Television. They were, at least at the time.
  • The climax of Trading Places involves a surprisingly complex commodities market scheme. However, earlier in the film, the Duke brothers explain the basic concept of commodities trading in such simplistic turns that Billie Ray give an Aside Glance to the audience.
  • Videodrome. A good understanding of Marshall McLuhan's media theory is required to really get it.
  • In the Director's Cut and the Final Cut, Blade Runner‍'‍s world is a complicated one with little to no flat explanation, a slow pace, and a lot of rumination on human nature. It requires a certain type of viewer to understand and enjoy it to its fullest. The theatrical cut, however, includes narration in a Viewers are Morons move by the studio.
  • In the film Stargate, the Egyptologist character figures out how to speak the language of the humans found beyond the stargate in about five minutes of dialog with the native girl he later has a romance with. When another character expresses amazement that he cracked the language so quickly, he observes modestly that he just had to get the vowels right. This is hilarious, but to catch the humor you need to know arcane details about how the vowels of Ancient Egyptian were reconstructed by modern scholars.
    • Earlier, he disparages the military team for relying on the works of Budge for translating Egyptian hieroglyphs, calling them outdated and inaccurate.
  • Inception. There's a lot to keep track of in this film, including dream rules and levels, and after the initial period of exposition and heist planning, Nolan expects you to figure it out for yourself. Differing opinions on just how difficult the film is to understand caused some Hype Backlash.
  • In The History Boys there is an entire scene spoken almost entirely in French. There is also a lot of jokes that are more funny if viewers understand the context behind it, from World War II to Nietzsche and from the Dissolution of the Monasteries to Brief Encounter to Thomas Hardy.
  • Ocean's Twelve makes a point of omitting details and forgoing explicit exposition. It assumes the viewer will fill in the gaps.
    • Though it never gives you all of the details, it does explain how things happen at the end via flashbacks.
  • Much of Peter Greenaway's work fits this trope. For example, he commented in the DVD bonus features for The Draughtsman's Contract that he did not want to explain the plot and its ending within the film, feeling that the audience would understand what had happened. Much of said audience disagrees.
  • Master and Commander: Aside from mayhem, Scenery Porn. and Stuff Blowing Up there is political philosophy, nautical architecture, seamanship, classical music, nautical folk dancing, Nautical Folklore and so on.


  • Authors who put non-English phrases or sentences into their English-language novels and, instead of leaving them as a Bilingual Bonus, make them central to understanding the plot.
    • Agatha Christie sometimes does this in her Hercule Poirot novels, or else puts Bilingual Bonuses in places where they look like they might be important.
    • Edgar Allan Poe parodies this in his essay "How to write a Blackwood Article" and the "Blackwood Article" that follows.
  • Authors using the Literary Agent Hypothesis sometimes have this happen whether it is their intent or not. For instance, some early reviewers of the first Flashman novel thought it was an actual memoir (despite the fact that the protagonist is a character from Victorian fiction). Oddly, one book, Dickens of the Mounted, is a Spiritual Successor/pastiche of the Flashman series and actually has a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo from Flashman was also interpreted as being the actual memoirs of the protagonist (who was in this case actually a real person, the n'er-do-well son of Charles Dickens).
  • You can read all the way through Erskine Childers' The Riddle Of The Sands just for the gripping conspiracy that invented the modern espionage novel or the beautifully verbose and poetic descriptions of the sea... but having extensive knowledge of sailing in small boats certainly helps.
  • Most readers find Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles largely incomprehensible for the first 100 pages due to the untranslated Latin, Spanish, and French, the fact that most characters are referred to by multiple names, that much of the meaning comes from snippets of obscure medieval literary quotations that require knowledge of the (unprovided) full piece to understand, and the plot that assumes detailed knowledge of 16th century Scottish politics. There are two official guidebooks and multiple fan-made translations and literary-reference compilations to make up for this.
  • Michael Crichton is notorious for this; many people who read Jurassic Park right after seeing the movie were overwhelmed with Crichton's stifling detail of anthropological and palaeontologic minutiae.
    • Then in the second book there are extended sections of dialogue explaining how much of the exposition from the first book was wrong, many of them due to Science Marches On.
    • Think Jurassic Park is bad? Just try reading (or watching) The Andromeda Strain. A lot of technobabble (accurate, though) involving genetic mutations, diseases, and molecular level sciences.
  • Umberto Eco:
    • Foucault's Pendulum is a Deconstruction of conspiracy theories that spans forty years or so, is told nonlinearly using flashbacks and a frame story, and references hundreds of names and concepts related to politics, history, science, religion, and occultism.
    • The Name of the Rose includes monks arguing about classic Greek literature and philosophy, quarreling about medieval church dogma, and throwing untranslated Latin quotes at each other... yet all the discussions should be fully understood to get the whole book. Bonus points if you spot the deliberately anachronistic elements, such as the medieval narrator quoting Wittgenstein.
  • T. S. Eliot's long poem The Waste Land is either an example of this, or of True Art Is Incomprehensible. For example, it contains quotes from various famous sources, still in their original language. If you're not reading an annotated version, it will make no sense.
    • The notes don't really help much; they were described by Louis Menand as "simply another riddle - and not a separate one". Eliot himself wrote in The Frontiers of Criticism that he started out just citing his quotations "with a view to spiking the guns of critics of my earlier poems who had accused me of plagiarism", before realising he had to come up with more material if the poem was going to be released as a book "with the result that they became the remarkable exposition of bogus scholarship that is still on view to-day".
    • It also doesn't help that even Eliot seems to admit that some of the references make no sense without the notes. One of the cards during the Tarot reading represents the Fisher King, but not only is this not indicated in any way, Eliot claims to have no idea why he associates the two.
  • Ernest Hemingway's "theory of omission" or "the iceberg principle."
    • Though this depends on how you read it - some say Hemingway is simply championing understated Beige Prose as opposed to overwritten Purple Prose, therefore adopting a nice middle ground between Viewers are Morons and Viewers Are Geniuses, others say it is this trope.
  • Lampshaded in Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Casino Royale, when M complains to one of his underlings that the report the underling wrote has a French sentence without any translation.

"This is not the Berlitz School of Languages, Head of S. If you want to show off your knowledge of foreign jawbreakers, be good enough to provide a crib. Better still, write in English."

  • While they can still be enjoyed on a superficial level, William Gibson's novels (Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Idoru, etc.) rely on complex and multilayered metaphors, both pop culture and "learned" allusions, and a blurring of traditional concepts of "human," "life," "technology" and "reality", among others. On the other hand, Gibson admits in interviews that readers shouldn't look too deep into the technical aspects of computer science and cyberspace in his works, because he didn't even own a computer until well after he'd written Neuromancer, and was profoundly disappointed with it.
    • However, he did do the research; he's known to keep track of "the invisible literature" - scientific research papers.
    • Remember that this story is set in the future. Even extrapolating from the time that Gibson was writing, it states specifically that the Tessier-Ashpool clan had been in orbit for an unspecified but significant length of time; long enough for the clan's progenitors to establish the satellite and die of old age, as well as the next generation going into cryogenic freeze for a motal generation (Molly's lifespan at the time of the story), possibly having done so several times. The process of creating the Boston Atlanta Metropolitan Axis would require at least a full century, which in turn would allow solid-state (silent) desktop computers to become as common and inexpensive as their current real-world equivalents.
  • James Joyce's Ulysses requires intimate knowledge of the history of literature (especially English-language literature), geography of Dublin, history of Ireland and a genius ability at recognising allusions. Finnegans Wake requires ... surrendering the possibility of comprehension, which was perhaps the point.
    • Given that the title is the Roman name for Odysseus, understanding Homer's Odyssey is incredibly significant to the book. It also helps if you're familiar with Shakespeare's Hamlet
  • The first half of William Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury is incomprehensible at first glance. Benjy, a 33 year-old with a profound mental disability, narrates the first section. He narrates all events in the present tense, even if it's a past memory. The second narrator is the incredibly intelligent and thoughtful Quentin Compson. The difficulty in his section stems from his narrative constantly shifting between what's actually happening, what he's thinking about, long sections of stream-of-consciousness narration without any punctuation, and even being able to tell what even really does happen at some points. Case in point: Did Quentin just fantasize about having sex with his sister, or did it really happen?
    • And to make matters worse, Quentin is narrating his part of the story while having an extended mental breakdown. For the record, he didn't have sex with his sister, he only claimed to have done so because he felt it was better than the alternative.
  • Garry Kilworth's Welkin Weasels may suffer from this thanks to the rapid-fire Shout-Out rate. How many of the ten-year-old target audience will get references to Shelley, Coleridge, and Orwell, among others?
  • Stanislaw Lem's works are usually loaded with science and philosophy.
    • Most of his parodistic works, like The Cyberiad and Mortal Engines also require good knowledge of literature theory.
  • Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels feature an extraordinary level of use of complex physics and biology concepts considering that the books are mainly intended for children. However, it also qualifies as a Parental Bonus since they're mostly just used as plot devices and so the reader doesn't really have to understand how everything works and just accept that it does work.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events falls firmly into this category, particularly for a children's series. While this is partially Lampshaded with the constant refrain of "a word which here means-," it still does not explain the constant references, particularly in character names (Esme Squalor, Nero the fiddle-playing principal, Frank and Earnest, Duncan and Isadora, Mr. Poe, etc.) or the convoluted plots and Mind Screw themes. While many nerdy 10-year-olds have enjoyed every minute of these books, they live and breathe this trope.
    • This actually tremendously increases 'family value' of the books, because they can be very entertaining to kids and parents alike.
  • The works of author Cormac McCarthy. Some can be thoroughly enjoyed without being well-versed in McCarthy's interests or history—such as All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and The Road—but it definitely helps to make sense of it all (especially with Blood Meridian and Suttree).
    • His Border Trilogy (of which All the Pretty Horses is the first) has characters have whole conversations entirely in Spanish. There's a website where you can download a list of all of the translated dialogue, which you may need by your side during the reading.
  • Ezra Pound. Try reading his "Cantos" without a way of translating Chinese, ancient Greek, Latin, Italian, and Basque. Yes, Basque!
    • And when you find that way of translating Chinese, offer it to Pound. His Chinese is actually kind of awful.
    • Once you've done that, make sure to study 14th and 15th century Italian painting and political history. And the world of prewar Europe. And Greek mythology.
  • Even worse: Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Even having the necessary knowledge in history, statistics, physics and linguistics to understand the background might not be enough to get through the Mind Screw it is.
  • William Gaddis' JR is a 700-plus page novel with no chapter stops that is almost entirely composed of conversational dialogue that is sometimes packed with financial jargon.
  • Idlewild by Nick Sagan and its sequels, several times. For instance, the character of Fantasia averts The Schizophrenia Conspiracy, but you're assumed to know what hebephrenic schizophrenia is.
  • Charles Stross' Accelerando
    • To elaborate: the novel relies heavily on computer science and information theory concepts without bothering to explain them, and is literally written in Expospeak.

Don't trust anyone whose state vector hasn't forked for more than a gigasecond [2]

  • S.S.Van Dine was even worse than Arthur Conan Doyle. Philo Vance uses quotations not only from Latin, but also from French, German, and Italian. They usually are at least somewhat important, and they may be a paragraph, not just a sentence, long. He had one multi-paragraph footnote in German.
  • Paradise Lost is filled to the brim with allegories, intended to be read by an early modern Upper Class Wit with an extensive library of contemporary and ancient works. Modern readers can substitute the library with Google and The Other Wiki.
  • The description of the Xunca superweapon in Flinx Transcendent, the final book in Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series, is likely to be incomprehensible to anyone without at least a basic grasp of string theory.
  • Montague Rhodes James's classic horror story "Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come to You, My Lad" lampshades this trope: everything goes pear-shaped because the protagonist doesn't realize that the apparently unintelligible inscription on the whistle is in Latin, just like the intelligible inscription on the other side. To be fair, there's no agreement about how to translate it, but the general gist is that anyone blowing the whistle will be in for a nasty shock.
    • Most of the horror stories by M.R. James, for that matter. "Mr. Humphreys And His Inheritance" is the most blatant example by far, with a lot of religious, classical and antiquarian references thrown in and a few Latin phrases left untranslated - a succinct discussion of which produces enough materials for a full-blown literary article. A study guide is also helpful if the layman wishes to appreciate "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book" fully.
  • One can only really understand Dan Simmons' Ilium and Olympos after studying The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Shakespeare's The Tempest, and be familiar with The Time Machine, the complete works of Marcel Proust, Shakespeare's sonnets, and Hans Moravec's writings, and should know a decent amount about quantum physics, the Voynich manuscript, terraforming, transhumanism, and biosphere theory. Then it might make sense. No guarantees.
    • It helps that there are characters who love talking about Proust and The Iliad while much of the rest can be taken as "awesome magic stuff".
    • Hyperion does the same thing but this time with John Keats, Jack Vance, time travel, quantum mechanics (again), transhumanism (again), internet sociology, The Wizard of Oz and the Canterbury Tales.
  • House of Leaves. The weird text alone is enough to confuse most people.
  • Very little of the plot of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is actually stated outright. Douglas Adams expects readers to connect several clues by themselves, to remember minor details from early in the book that suddenly become major plot points towards the end, and to be familiar with the life and work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The ending, in which Dirk Gently saves humanity from being erased from existence, is completely incomprehensible unless you know the story of Kubla Khan and the person from Porlock.
    • Or you could have watched the Doctor Who episodes "The City of Death," and the un-produced "Shada," since Adams basically reused their plots - even copying some of the dialogue verbatim. He gets forgiven since he was script editor, writer, after all.
  • Any copy of the Divine Comedy that doesn't include extensive annotations becomes this within, quite literally, the first few stanzas.
    • Of course, for most of Inferno, you need mostly to understand the politics of Italy at the time. When it was written, it would be the equivalent of writing about Bush trotting through hell and seeing all the Democrats, Al Quaedans, and EU-eans being tortured. Though it might not have been obvious even to Dante's contemporaries who was who, since he often uses partial names, nicknames or descriptions. (The equivalent of writing "here's Nick, il Cavaliere and the boy from Eton" and letting your readers figure out that you mean Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi and David Cameron.)
  • The Aubrey-Maturin novels contain masses of unexplained early-nineteenth-century detail and language. There are now several companion books. On nautical matters, at least, the author has explanations addressed to Stephen Maturin as The Watson; but pay attention, because most things are explained only once, and will come up again in later books.
  • Basically Greg Egan's entire body of work is this trope.
  • Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges is known for including multiple references throughout his books, including and not limited to religion, philosophy, and the works of fellow writers. It is said that there is no one who has been able to decipher them all. Many claim that the references are so convoluted, they even speculate he just did it for the lulz.
  • Blindsight, a hard science fiction novel by Peter Watts, is probably one of the worst offenders there are. No, you will not read "radio signals were picked up". You will read, I kid you not, "Fourier transforms appeared".
    • Note that Fourier transforms do not really "appear." They can take a radio signal and give the strength of each of a large number of small frequency bands in the larger band of frequencies to which the radio receiver is tuned. What you would see is something like this.
  • Pretty much anything by Roger Zelazny. From minor things like expecting you to know why Corwin "closed her eyes with kisses four" so as not to break the spell, to needing to have a pretty good understanding of Hindu-Buddhist myths to get the whole of "The Lord of Light," to simply needing a background in pulp fiction to know that one of the guys who tries to kill Red, is Sunlight and the guy Red hands him over to is Doc Savage.
    • Two of those are more Genius Bonus than this trope, as understanding the references is not at all necessary to understanding the plot. Lord of Light, on the other hand, is entirely this trope.
  • John M. Ford often wrote stories so densely layered and plots so wheels-within-wheels that his own editors often didn't know where he was going. "Most normal people had the slight sense that something large and super-intelligent and trans-human had sort of flown over," said one.
  • The Suzumiya Haruhi light novels. What starts out as a healthy amount of Genius Bonuses later falls straight into this. There are as many throwaway references to astrophysics as there are to pop culture, a Time Travel incident reaches near-Primer levels of complexity, and one novel features an in-depth discussion of Euler's planar graph formula—which is necessary to resolve the current situation. There are diagrams.
  • Almost any fiction until the mid-19th century or later. Many specific examples appear upthread with individual entries, but until relatively recently it was a Genre Convention of most fiction to be filled with allusions to the classics, major contemporary philosophers, and other languages.
  • Stephen King's The Dark Half has an in-universe example. The protagonist has written several highly intellectual novels with great reviews and poor sales. In the meantime he has also written under a pen name intentionally trashy books that engorge themselves on sex and violence which have went on to become bestsellers. King wrote the book in part as a response to his pen name Richard Bachman becoming public knowledge. The stories he wrote under the pen name in turn tended to be less psychological than those with his own name on them.
  • This is probably part of the reason why the Intrigues of the Reflected Realm series by Robin Jarvis never progressed further than the first book - the complex backstory is only hinted at and requires multiple re-readings before it makes sense, plus in order to understand the plot you need to be familiar with the concept of genetic engineering, which is integral, but again, never fully explained. Being familiar with the Elizabethan idea of the four humours helps a lot as well. Bearing in mind that this is a kid's book, the result can be hopelessly confusing on first reading.
  • Gene Wolfe is well known for leaving large amounts of his background and story as puzzles for the reader—particularly in the Book of the New Sun series. Important details like which characters are the lead character's close relatives and where (on earth) the story is set are left as puzzles for the reader—as are many obscure (but real) words used in the series.
  • Jasper Fforde's works are loaded with literary puns and in-jokes, and oftentimes he relies on the conventions and limitations of his medium to drive important plot points. It's wonderful reading, but try to keep up.
  • In The Pale King, Garrity's ghostly rants include references to Pascal, Marquise du Deffand, Latin, Greek, Metropolis, Kierkegaard, and philology.
  • Neal Stephenson has set up shop smack in the middle of this trope and lives quite well there, thanks much.
    • The Baroque Cycle books in particular go down much smoother if the reader has an undergraduate-level comprehension of economic theory, currency trading, securities investment, shipbuilding, counterfeiting, alchemy, high-seas piracy, and a graduate-level mastery European political machinations during the Renaissance era.
    • You'll get a lot more out of The Diamond Age if you are already conversant with advanced concepts in nanotechnology and Asian geography.
    • If you can't crack an output-feedback mode stream cipher before you read Cryptonomicon, you'll be able to by the time you finish (there's even a handy Appendix to show you how!)
    • In Snow Crash, Stephenson pauses about halfway through to ensure that the reader is brought up to speed on essential elements of ancient Sumerian mythology and human neurological development before continuing with the plot.
    • Anathem speaks learnedly about subjects many readers may not even be able to pronounce let alone describe, including epistemology, ontology, orbital mechanics and the (theoretical) quantum-multiverse. Sensing a pattern...?
  • The Silmarillion - Tolkien's epic history of Middle Earth - needs the reader to have both an photographic memory and an understanding of pre-medieval Norse / Germanic naming conventions just to keep up with the characters that were introduced 100's of pages previously but then turn out to have a child who married the child of the child of...ok enough of that, I personally recommend sticky notes. Lots and lots of sticky notes
  • Some books drop a term and never properly or adequately define it, assuming the reader will know. Of course younger readers who grew up with a smartphone on their hip may wonder why the reader can't simply look it up, but non-fiction books are written and read to be informative.
    • In Stephen Ambrose's D-Day, Ambrose rambles on and on about the difficulty the allies had in fighting through hedgerows. It talks about how the hedgerows in France were bigger than the short ones they trained with in England. It talks about how the hedgerows were HELL. What it doesn't do is explain right away what the heck a hedgerow is in any way that the standard city person would understand. We know they're made of plants, and they're big. They fought around them, paratroopers died on them, and gliders ran into them - but not what they are. Finally a description is dropped on page 452 of a 538 page book.
    • A book on fraternity alcohol poisoning and hazing called Wrongs of Passage drops the term "Kangaroo Court" many times without ever explaining what one is. Once you know what one is it's obvious, but some readers go "What do kangaroos have to do with anything?"

Live-Action TV

  • The Wire is one of the best examples of the past decade. You're expected to keep up with multiple plot lines, a dozen-plus characters and their sub-stories, and all their field terminology with no Expospeak provided. It's often cited as one of the reasons for the show's low ratings and being subject to Award Snub despite its enormous critical acclaim.
  • House, M.D. is a textbook case. It started out this way, collecting a small but highly intelligent and medically-savvy fanbase on the official site, tended to include lots of Freud Was Right and captured the overarching themes of "Everybody lies" and "No one is ever truly happy". Later on though, the writers began to appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator and skimp on the research.
  • Part of the fun of watching a Game Show is shouting out the answers from your couch. It can be difficult, however, when the answers are so unexpectedly obscure. Jeopardy!, which usually crams 61 clues into a single game, is probably one of the most demanding shows for those playing at home.
    • Brits have University Challenge. In a given episode, it's entirely possible for 80 questions to be asked and for a viewer to be able to correctly answer about nine. It's exactly this extreme difficulty that helps make it so popular, though.
    • The BBC also has Only Connect, a game show whose theme is spotting obscure links between brief clues. The website has some example questions from the hardest round of the show, which involves separating 16 clues into four groups of four and explaining the connection in each group. Against the clock, of course. The links could be anything from "fictional spacecraft" to "female British government ministers" to "words with vowels in alphabetical order" to ... well, just about anything you can think of.
  • Alternative 3. A British documentary series decides to have a bit of fun for April Fool's day, and claim British scientists are being taken to a secret base on Mars to protect them from a terrible disaster. Twenty years later, the show is now a central part of a great many conspiracy theories by those who failed to get the joke.
  • Carnivale had knights templar and tarot card mythology, obscure symbolism, cultural references from the 1930s, fabulous and expensive-looking recreations of the depression-era midwest, and refusal to provide helpful exposition to the audience. It got cancelled after two seasons.
  • Doctor Who is generally pretty straight-forward, but the Seventh Doctor story "Ghost Light" is an involved meditation on the concept of evolution that probably requires two or three viewings to understand. It also uses literary and scientific allusions as a time-saving substitute for exposition.
    • The E-Space Trilogy was, according to the DVD specials on "Full Circle," partly written to start the show including science that "wouldn't be laughed at" by legitimate scientists. This is especially true in "Warriors' Gate," which takes place in a shrinking universe at coordinate 0 and has some connection to the I-Ching and the nature of randomness. Adric's frequent coin-flipping? Yeah, it means something.
    • Depending who you ask, Steven Moffat's major story arc involving River Song and the Silence is either this or just plain full of Plot Holes. There are fans who insist that everything you need to know about this storyline is obvious from the show, but get them discussing it in detail and it turns out they don't agree among themselves about anything but the broadest strokes of the plot, which isn't the part that confuses people.
  • Firefly, "Objects In Space". Most blatantly the opening, but the whole thing is a philosophical statement on existentialism. Joss Whedon's DVD Commentary might help the viewer to get the point (that objects have the meaning that people choose to give them).
  • While most of the more obscure stuff in Lost falls under Genius Bonus, it does fall under this trope when it comes to the plot, which has become increasingly complicated as the show has gone on, with innumerable callbacks to previous episodes, making it extremely hard for new viewers to understand what the heck is going on. Not to mention flash forwards.
    • ...Or the fact that in season five, the Island skipped around in time. Literally. Lost requires the utmost of attention, or else the viewer will be utterly confused. In fact, it's not uncommon for a viewer to miss an episode and be completely lost.
    • The finale has this in spades. In what can only be described as the exact opposite of Creator Provincialism, understanding it fully requires the viewer to have knowledge of obscure, mostly dead Eastern philosophies (Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, Stoicism, Manichaeism) or concepts that don't crop up a lot in America. Case in point: everyone knows Karma, but how many Americans know that "dharma" means a divine duty that leads to the "moksha", or "letting go", one of the show's Arc Words and a super-critical concept in the final season?
  • The 1980s TV Series Max Headroom, of all things, was short-lived largely for this reason.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 jokes about everything, from obscure songs most people have forgotten to classical history and famous works of art. Of course the fun of the show is that the riffs are so frequent, you can miss one or two and still get the jokes.
    • Done by other, different-style riffers as well, such as "The Agony Booth". "Hey, it's The Death of Socrates! They told me there wouldn't be any French neoclassical paintings in this movie!"
    • The riffs that revolve around these things are written so that they just sound funny even if you don't get the reference. ("It looks like a Frank Frazetta of Frank Zappa", "You look like Maude with a hellbeast", etc.)
    • Their reference pool is so varied that they won a freakin' Peabody!
    • In fairness, some of their jokes are literally inaccessible to anyone who is not them. Case in point: In response to a character in the movie carrying a keyboard, one of the robots says "There goes Mike's keyboard!" Mike Nelson's girlfriend had taken his keyboard with her when she moved out a week or two before.
  • The Big Bang Theory has a way of combining this trope with jokes that the average viewer might understand. In the Halloween episode Leonard uses several scientific references to insult Penny's ex, all of which are awesome if you understand them. Of course, this can fall flat when the writers try too hard to find a complicated way of putting a line to qualify as a statement as a Genius Bonus, when it really just comes across a weird wording to anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the notion.
  • The Prisoner.
    • Not explaining why could in itself be seen as a version of Viewers Are Geniuses. However, in this case, it's somewhat justified. Considering that the show only lasted one season, they managed to cram in enough esoterica that to list them here would require a separate page. And most of them happen in the last two episodes.
  • Yes Minister is a British comedy series about a Politician, an Obstructive Bureaucrat, and a 3rd underling who answers to the second one. Even an adult who isn't well-acquainted with the detailed workings of British government, let alone a non-Brit trying to watch the series, would find himself pausing the video to look up things like "quangos" and "marginal constituencies" on That Other Wiki.
  • It is virtually impossible for a single viewer to correctly identify all of the music and pop culture references made in Gilmore Girls without looking them up. The cast would spend the majority of their readings just trying to figure out what the hell their characters were talking about, and eventually a book of "Gilmorisms" was distributed with the DVD sets to help aid curious fans.
  • Some episodes of Red Dwarf, especially Series 5. Considering it's a comedy, a lot of people would probably just brush it off as Techno Babble.
  • Tony's series 2 episode of Skins makes a lot more sense if you have a very strong understanding of Jungian psychology.
  • The West Wing season two finale, "Two Cathedrals" has about eight minutes of untranslated Latin cursing and shouting.
    • More of a Bilingual Bonus - Martin Sheen's acting is such that even though you may not understand what Jed is literally saying, you definitely know what he means.
    • The West Wing is rather fond of this - if you're not pretty damn well up-to-date on the workings of the United States government, good luck keeping up with some of the storylines, not to mention the jokes.
  • Frasier definitely qualifies, and gets a special mention for being one of the shows that pulled it off well while still getting high ratings. Fraiser, Niles, and some of their highbrow friends frequently make reference to all manner of obscure, highbrow things, often within the subcultural worlds of opera, wine appreciation, and psychology. They're particularly fun of clever puns or sassy insults that show off their knowledge, though these can be difficult to follow for the un-elite.
  • Alton Brown usually calls the secret ingredient's scientific name in Iron Chef America when the timer starts ticking.
  • Thirty Rock plays with this a lot. A textbook example is when Cerie mentions how she's upset her fiancé wants a Greek Orthodox wedding because she disagrees with the church's stance on Cyprus. Only viewers who are of Greek heritage or who follow international politics closely will have a clue what she's referring to.
  • When the BBC first aired Rome they felt that British viewers already knew a lot of the Roman history and so much of the exposition was redundant. As such they edited the first three episodes down to just two by trimming a lot of the politics scenes (without telling the director of said episodes). This is the official reasoning, though the fact that this placed much greater focus on the sex and violence may suggest the true motives skewed the other way.
  • QI full stop. For a show about comedians (and the odd political figure) talking about whatever happens to cross their mind, the show is extremely smart. Stephen Fry is a certified genius to begin with, then adding in questions that question common knowledge ("How many moons does the Earth have?"[3]), then the fact that said comedians are often specialized genusi themselves.
  • Occasionally showed up in the End-of-Episode Silliness on Welcome Back, Kotter, such as the story of one of Kotter's innumerable uncles, a tailor who had a friend he hadn't seen in years named, improbably, Euripides Feldman. One day, the story went, a man who looked like his long lost friend walked into the uncle's shop carrying a torn pair of pants. Uncle Herbie studied him a moment, then asked, "Euripides?" The other man replied, "Yes. Eumenides?"
  • Magnum PI: Besides philosophy from Magnum(who is not someone you would suspect of being a deep thinker there is history, culture, and art.


  • The entire nerdcore genre is built around this, from Mc Hawking's "Entropy" to MC Lars reinterpreting Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" as a rap song obliquely referencing Vanilla Ice.
  • In order to find the classical music parodies of P.D.Q. Bach (a fictional composer "rediscovered" by Peter Schickele) funny, apart from the occasional slapstick bits, the listener needs an Encyclopaedic Knowledge of Baroque, Classical and Romantic music, as well as a grounding in music theory and scholarship. Conversely, listeners who only like classical and ignore popular music will miss many of the jazz, country and other non-classical elements Schickele sneaks in.
    • The classical quotations are far more prevalent, and often the non-classical touches are no more than jazzy cadences. Even so, there are many pieces which mix both, like one of the fugues in "The Short-Tempered Clavier" which quotes both "You Are My Sunshine" and "Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche."
    • It's not just obscure music he makes jokes about. In "Iphigenia in Brooklyn", Orestes appears "chased by the Amenities". Cheap laughs...except that the Eumenides were actual Greek mythological beings more commonly known today as the Furies.
  • In order to even begin to understand what the death metal band Atheist plays, one would need a working knowledge of thrash metal, jazz, progressive rock, funk, and latin music. Try listening to "Mother Man" from Unquestionable Presence if you don't believe me.
    • To say nothing of what Psyopus and Dysrhytmia do.
      • Indeed, this is by far one of Psyopus' most accessable songs, and it still sounds like complete aural insanity, in spite of being very much the opposite.
    • Meshuggah is another good example. Enjoyment of their music almost requires knowledge of death/thrash metal, free jazz, progressive rock, polyrhythmic song structures, polymeters, and syncopes. Since 1993, they have produced exactly one song that relies on a consistent 4/4 timing, and are regarded as one of the most influential bands in the underground, despite having virtually nil in the way of mainstream recognition.
    • The Dillinger Escape Plan's first record, Calculating Infinity, is definitely a good example of this, although there is a notable exception in the main riff of fan favorite, "43% Burnt", which was named by Decibel Magazine to be the 8th greatest riff of all time.
  • Frank Zappa trampled this one into the dirt.
  • Ditto Jethro Tull.
  • Subverted by Iron Maiden, who often explain their literary and historical references in the lyrics or even the title alone. (Examples: "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", "Alexander the Great", "The Trooper")
    • This is more Genius Bonus: if you know what the Crimean War is or who Tennyson was, all the better, but if not, hey, they still have kickass melodies and you can sing along to "Woah oh oh oh oh oh oh oh!"
  • Many Dream Theater fans need to listen to their songs at least 3 times through to catch all the little details. Deciphering Scenes From A Memory could prove as a real challenge to those inexperienced to reading between the lines.
  • Modernist/Postmodernist composer Alfred Schnittke—in order to REALLY understand his work, you really need to know classical music history, understand his own personal philosophy on music, know music theory, and it would really help if you read Thomas Mann.
  • Rancid's Life Won't Wait requires you to be a near expert in both music and politics. After releasing ...And Out Come the Wolves, a largely straight ahead punk record with a little ska for good measure, Life Won't Wait spanned genres including reggae, dub, hip-hop, ska, rockabilly, calypso, and everything in-between. Lyrically, the band upped the prose level by about 50% and referenced everything from the minutia of the Kennedy Assassination, conflicts in Ireland, Jamaica, Poland, and makes numerous mentions of anarchism and other political theory, even splicing in audio readings of Mikhail Bakunin's essays on anarchism. Oh and the kicker? This is the only Rancid album not to include a lyrics sheet, so even if you know what they're singing about, you have to be used to Tim Armstrong's marble-mouthed vocals and Lars Frederiksen's snarl to get even half of it.
  • Possibly the worst example of this is Mohsen Namjoo, an Iranian singer-songwriter, often referred to as the Bob Dylan (read: Frank Zappa) of Iran. Western listeners would be baffled because he writes lyrics in Farsi, uses a traditional Iranian music ensemble, almost never writes in 4/4 and alludes constantly to years of Persian poetic and literary tradition. Iranian listeners are often baffled because he mixes traditional Iranian folk and classical music with Western instruments and jazz, rock, blues and flamenco influences, covers David Bowie and Nirvana, uses parodies, subversions and references to poets such as Hafez, Rumi and Ferdosi, makes fun of the Islamic regime and Khamenei constantly and occasionally throws in the odd song in Kurdish or some other regional Iranian language.
  • Electronic duo Coil filled their music with lyrical and sonic references to art, highbrow literature, pop culture, the occult, and everything in between, often in the form of highly intellectual puns and jokes (mainly Black Comedy and Surreal Humor). At its essence, their entire catalogue is one giant Genius Bonus.
  • Pretty much every Bad Religion album requires the use of a dictionary to understand the lyrics.
    • Lampshaded by the NOFX song "I'm a Huge Fan of Bad Religion" with the lyric "I bought Suffer then I bought a thesaurus"
  • Tom Lehrer was a math professor at Harvard during his musical career. Both his songs and his commentary dealt heavily with science, history and (then) current events. Occasionally it went over his audience's head.

"I recently read a heartwarming story about a young necrophiliac who finally achieved his boyhood ambition by becoming coroner."
(tepid laughter)
"The rest of you can look it up when you get home."

  • The music of Pep Lab. Listing the references is left as an exercise.
  • The Decemberists.
  • The Divine Comedy's songs are about anything Neil Hannon is interested in. Which could be anything: Wordsworth's poems, 20th-century French cinema, stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, architecture and landscape gardening... all liberally bespattered with quotations from literature, mythological allusions and musical tips of the hat to Noel Coward and Scott Walker. Also, upbeat songs about hayfever, banking and travelling by long-distance coach.
  • Tool's music, while enjoyable to a casual listener, is often laden with polyrhythms, uncommon time signatures ("Schism," anybody?), and several songs deal with themes such as Transcendentalism, Jungian psychology, religion, abuse, and really run the whole gamut lyrically. Take a look at the guitar tabs; they might not sound impressive, but Adam Jones is a more "technical" musician.
  • Pavement's "Conduit For Sale" is about the end of the House of Savoy's rule in Turin. Yeah.
    • And to think that all that most people ever remember is "I'm tryin'..."
  • The third movement of Luciano Berio's Sinfonia takes a movement from a Mahler symphony and layers on top of it musical quotations from composers as diverse as Ravel, Beethoven, Bach, and Boulez. Some of them are very famous, some of them not so much. The piece is often cited as using the widest array of musical techniques of any piece of classical music. It would take an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music to understand all of them, but it's well worth it. Complicating matters is the fact that singers also sometimes recite passages from a Samuel Beckett novel, read graffiti from the May 1968 protests in France, or turn a musical allusion into an Incredibly Lame Pun, among other things.
    • Other movements continue the Mahler references and cut up sections of Claude Levi-Strauss's classic anthropological text The Raw and the Cooked.
  • To understand Schoenberg/Berg/Webern's 12-tone atonal serialism (where all 12 notes in the western chromatic scale have to be used in a composer-determined order before repeating), you pretty much have to study it, which in Western Music Theory, usually comes around the fourth semester. Complete with a 144 square matrix of all possible orders of notes. It's quite unsettling to the ear for many people, although others enjoy it.
    • It's also very difficult to play.
    • The Second Viennese School (the group started by Schoenberg most noted for 12-tone compositions) also liked to demonstrate the power of their system by creating some traditionally pleasant-sounding pieces. One of these was Berg's Violin Concerto, which includes a quotation from a Bach harmonization of a hymn and another from a Carinthian folk song.
  • To an even greater extent, Milton Babbitt took it to the extreme (serializing all notes, volume, length of note), to the point where EVERYTHING has a formula, and it would take about an hour just get around a 1-minute piece of his music.
  • So, you want to start deciphering the plots of Sound Horizon's Concept Albums and Rock Operas? Well, better learn six languages and start scrutinizing every. single. lyric. for a potential double meaning.
  • Most of Ian Dury's lyrics. Subverted in the sense that they appear intelligent (and for all intents and purposes ARE intelligent on more than a handful of levels) but Dury wrote for the common man so expected everyone to understand at least something. Don't expect The BBC to catch on though...
  • Loreena McKennitt: Extensively uses literary, historical, and cultural references.

Newspaper Comics

  • A great many Far Side strips do this.
  • Frazz. The author has actually stated that he believes his readers to be among the smartest in the world. Since he's the one getting the fan mail, we'll just have to take his word for it.
  • The Phantom. Not all the time, but a lot of the stories told about past Phantoms are more enjoyable if you know your world history.

Professional Wrestling

  • Vince Russo's entire run in WCW was based on the idea that Viewers Are Smarks; the whole thing was extremely hard to follow unless you already had a general idea of how the wrestling business works and the goings-on backstage. The problem was, even if you were able to figure out what was going on, it still wasn't very coherent or engaging.
    • One wrestling critic noted that Russo's problem was that he seemed to simultaneously believe that Viewers are Morons and Viewers Are Geniuses.
    • It Got Worse. Russo is writing for TNA now, and Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Jeff Jarrett, Sting, and Eric Bischoff are all prominent talent. So, naturally, the focus of the current main event TNA storyline is the "shadow politics" that were going on in WCW. Meaning, not only do you have to be a smark to know what's going on, you have to have been a smark FOR OVER 10 YEARS. And even then, there's bound to be references you don't get, considering they're talking about everything up to and including private drunken phone calls from years ago. And no, none of this makes for halfway compelling, or even coherent, television.
    • You could possibly argue that Vince Russo believes that "all viewers are Smarks," and as far as his opinion goes, a smark is a moron who believes they're a genius. If you think of his logic this way, his entire career is basically spend in a massive attempt to outsmart the smarks. Unfortunately, the only real way to trick people in a story where they usually already know, at the very least, half of what's going to happen before it happens is to make the story incomprehensible with obscurities and inexplicable plot twists.
  • WWE commentator Matt Striker slips a ton of obscure references into his commentary. Most are designed so that they are bonuses for the hardcore fans, such as referencing past names that wrestlers have used. Sometimes, though, he goes for extremely obscure comments such as saying that Ghanan wrestler Kofi Kingston will be bringing his title back home to Prince Nana (a Ring of Honor manager who is the ruler of Ghana in that promotion's Kayfabe).


  • Eyepiece, a play that recently[when?] debuted in Iowa City. If you're familiar with Shakespearian plays, Greek comedies, Modernistic plays (Death of a Salesman), postmodern plays (Waiting for Godot), puns, metaphor, pataphor, medical terminology, Greek culture, theater culture, "disabled" culture, Christian culture/the Bible, and for one particular scene the origins of Fascism and the real meaning of the word "faggot" (A bundle of burnt sticks that had been used to burn an offering), and you're observant, then the play will seem perfectly straightforward and understandable. If not, well, certain scenes will seem rather obscure.
  • Tom Stoppard's play Hapgood initially flopped because so much of the plot exposition is contained within one character's metaphorical double-speak about Quantum Physics. The re-write makes the metaphors easier to understand even if you've never heard of quantum physics, and the plot significance is better signposted. Many people can treat it as a straightforward who's-the-defector spy mystery, missing the revelation (in the first act, in another rambling metaphorical monologue) of who the bad guy is and the idea that the rest of the play is about how they prove it, not about finding out.
    • In fact, Tom Stoppard continually walks the line on this trope, and most of his (theatrical) work can be argued to be either refreshingly intelligent and stimulating, or purposefully obscure and elitist.
      • Although he flips it around in Rock 'N Roll, which makes a lot more sense and has more emotional impact if the audience knows a good deal about '60s counterculture and rock music, specifically Pink Floyd.
  • Bertolt Brecht is perhaps the only playwright in history who considers a piece with a character named Swiss Cheese to be Serious Business. If an audience is unfamiliar with his Verfremdungseffekt, they're likely to be lost from the first line onward.
  • Many stage musicals with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim have this criticism levelled at them. Sondheim and his collaborators avoid pat sentimentality and create complex works of art - perhaps a setback when many audience members are expecting The Sound of Music. Just a few examples:
    • Company is an mediation on contemporary marriage. The show has no plot and reduces character empathy to an absolute minimum; instead, it explores different aspects of marriage through a series of non-linear vignettes and songs. There's an emotional and intellectual journey to be had, but it requires the audience to really invest themselves in the material and pay attention.
    • Pacific Overtures is a historical pageant detailing the opening of Japan to the West in the late 1800's. Again, personal involvement is kept to a minimum, and the events are viewed through a purposefully biased Japanese perspective. The score includes a 9-minute mini-opera detailing American, British, Dutch, Russian and French trading treaties with Japan, and a 7-minute Taoist meditation about observation and memory in which nothing happens.
    • Sunday In The Park With George, despite its minimalist, Britten-like score, can still be enjoyed as a classic tale of an artist (Georges Seurat) who alienates his lover for the sake of his art. Until the end of Act I, at which point the action fast-forwards a whole century to focus on contemporary instillation artist George, great-grandson of the original. Repeated viewings help tease out the direct, micro- and macrocosmic parallels between the two Acts to make the whole work serve as a treatise on art and posterity.

Video Games

  • - by step 4, you're already deciphering Morse code.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty delves into meme theory so deeply that it is used to teach meme theory. Some parts of the plot were explained in later games, but those were the simple parts, not the parts involving Raiden as a deconstructive metaphor of the relationship between player and game, or the parts where the plot deconstructs itself to examine the game's nature as a sequel. Those were not explained at all.
  • Persona 3 and Persona 4 have a rather literal take on this in the form of various pop quizzes throughout the game. They tend to ask you random trivia facts about math, grammar, science, philosophy or Japanese history. Answering correctly gives you a permanent bonus to a particular out of combat stat. There is nothing in the game that tells you the answers, so you have to use your own real-world knowledge (or cheat). There are also midterms where you get a whole bunch of these in a row, but the midterms are composed entirely out of questions that they've already asked you so if you had been paying attention it should be simple to answer.
    • To clarify the original point that was being made, the first time you are asked the questions, when they aren't on the test, they don't give you the answers. It's when the test rolls around that you should already know the answer.
    • The social link's tarot classifications show a shade of this. This comes from the fact that the dev team has produced one of the few instances where they did do the research on the actual meaning behind the major arcana of the Rider-Waite tarot deck. Persona 3 eventually tells the player some of the definitions of the various Arcana about 2/3 of the way through the game, in a long speech many would speed through without reading. Even if a player read the whole speech, most of the given interpretations only scratch the topmost layer of each social link. All the social links become a lot more meaningful if you have any sort of in depth knowledge of the major arcana.
  • Most of the comments made about Neon Genesis Evangelion also apply to Xenogears, especially on the psychiatry and Kabbalah sides (with the multiple personalities, paradoxical split selves (see Lacan and Grahf), and overlapping selves that have postmodern and poststructuralist resonances). The plot is also impossibly convoluted.
    • Ditto with Xenosaga. It includes numerous references to Jungian psychology, Gnosticism, classic Christianity, Kabbalah, quantum mechanics, etc.
      • At least Xenosaga had the courtesy to include a massive in-game database (which they removed in Episode 2... for some bloody reason).
  • The Legacy of Kain series has an enormously dense storyline. Even after playing all five games, you may not have any idea what's going on.
  • The first Myst game is like this. You're given no instructions, backstory or reason why you're on a lush yet deserted island, or even what you're supposed to be doing. This actually adds to the immersion of the game, as it encourages you to behave as you would if you inexplicably found yourself on the island in Real Life, and figure it out for yourself. Later games assume that you've completed the first one and become friends with Atrus.
  • Valkyria Chronicles II: Has a fun scene with Zeri and Julianna discussing Galia's world equivalent of Centrism.
  • Some players of Skyrim have trouble grasping the difference between knowledge of something and understanding of it. This concept is necessary to understand how shouts are learned and how Dragonrend works. It's all built on the philosophical concept of qualia.
  • Shizune's route in Katawa Shoujo has a very subtle narrative style that requires allot of reading between the lines in order to truly understand, especially when it comes to the dynamics of Shizune and Hisao's relationship. It also helps to have a working understanding of the subtlies of how sign language works as a medium of communication and how it differs from spoken language. Unless you are really paying attention allot of this will go over most players heads leading to people complaining about the "lack of romance" in her route.
    • Rin's route is as much a mediation on the nature of genius, philosophy of art, and the question of whether or not it is truly possible for two people to understand one another (as well as whether it really matters), as it is an Eroge love story.

Western Animation

  • Family Guy eventually degenerated into nothing but this trope, then degenerated even further to the point of parodying itself for having degenerated into nothing but this trope.

"You don't even know who I am!"

  • American Dad! frequently relies on political history, much of which you would have to have studied the subject to know about.
    • Roger (and to a lesser extent Greg and Terry) will also drop some references that you have to be Genre Savvy of gay culture and icons to understand.
  • The Simpsons, particularly the first ten years or so, managed to do this from time to time while still managing to be hilarious to most people who didn't get the more obscure references.
  • It's debatable whether or not it's a "gross overestimation" of the viewers' intelligence given the Periphery Demographic, but Phineas and Ferb regularly references things like quantum theory and existentialism, throws words like sesquipedalian around and makes occasional (full) use of Layman's Terms. The creators once commented on this; it went along the lines of "We make the show for ourselves but don't exclude anybody from the enjoyment."

Web Comics

  • Dinosaur Comics occasionally becomes this.
  • Achewood. Full of obscure references to pop culture, music, history, and foreign languages.
  • Among The Chosen states this as part of its author's writing style. The basic introduction to the story may be read here.
    • Among the Chosen gets confusing in a hurry. The mil-speak, the Techno Babble, mythological references, and the tendency to mention important information exactly once all contributes to this.
  • Dresden Codak is very guilty of this, frequently covering subjects such as Jungian philosophy and transhumanism.
    • The Dungeons & Discourse comics in particular make a lot more sense if you have a decent knowledge of philosophy. A "Kierkeguardian" shouting "My existential dread won't affect them if they have no sense of self!" is highly amusing. Trust me.
  • Nearly all Xkcd strips make jokes about rather obscure topics. Fortunately, the xkcd fanbase does include plenty of geniuses, and they post explanations on the forums.
    • Lampshaded in the comic's disclaimer: "Warning: this comic occasionally contains advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)."
    • This strip actually links to the appropriate Wikipedia article.
    • SOP for xkcd is generally that if you don't get Monday's strip, just wait a couple of days and you'll laugh at Wednesday's strip.
    • Also, this comic has an obscure punchline. The joke is based on another joke.
    • The last panel of this comic requires some knowledge of particle physics.
    • Be warned, it'll ruin your life.
  • Similarly, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal frequently has high-level concepts mixed with dead baby and sacreligious jokes for good measure.
  • As do Irregular Webcomic and Terror Island, but the more obscure topics are often explained in the annotations of both strips.
  • Freefall is a lot more understandable if you have a working knowledge on physics, cybernetics, mathematics and philosophy. Among other subjects.
  • Lackadaisy has so many historical references regarding not just the prohibition, but pop culture, advertising, slang, and politics during the 1920s (not to mention Rocky's ramblings on physics, mythology, and poetry) that the published first volume has an entire section in the back of the book explaining each and every one.
  • Hark! A Vagrant deals with fairly obscure western history on a pretty regular basis...much of it (shudder) Canadian history.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court. Being a story that plays on the dichotomy between magic and science, with an All Myths Are True premise, it focuses on obscure world mythology and... chemical elements. Having a working knowledge of both may help hugely in figuring out its inticrate plot. This led to a Crowning Moment of Awesome for the fandom, which (using a bare minimum of information) figured out that the character Brinnie's "Old Man" is Odin, and shortly after, that Brinnie herself is the Valkyrie Brynhild. (The information they had? This page, and nothing more. There hadn't been a single mention of the Norse pantheon in the story so far.)
  • Andrew Hussie, on being accused of making Homestuck too convoluted to follow:

I believe the reader is well prepared for every shift in the nature of the story's unfolding. There are primers on what to expect along the way. Very early, when we first met Dave, we began a humble exercise in non-linear pacing. Conversations he had with John and Rose, then revisited from an earlier timeframe from his perspective. Some nonlinear revisitations with Jade's story as well. It wasn't just messing around. It established that time was something to be tinkered with in this story, more intensively as we progress. The MC intermission was a primer on complicated time travel dynamics taking center stage in the story. It was a tangent, quite silly and convoluted, but very good preparation for the concepts to follow, which have dominated the story since. The troll arc was a very aggressive primer on completely off the rails nonlinear story progression, which has somewhat extended beyond it into the main story, and will continue to do so. All of these primer concepts are now firing on all cylinders at once. And the word primer is the title of a very complicated time travel movie, which I have not seen yet. I imagine watching it would serve as a decent primer for reading Homestuck.

    • During one off-hand flashback referencing something not all that memorable that did happen in a split second during a long, intense Flash presentation over 1500 pages back, the Lampshade Hanging could not be avoided:

Remember how that happened? That didn't stop being a thing that happened or anything.

  • The Order of the Stick half averts this, half plays it straight — you can understand all the happenings in the plot without having any knowledge of Dungeons & Dragons, but many of the non-punchline jokes will be completely nonsensical. In fact, they're used so often, and so consistently and savvily, that people who didn't have a knowledge of D&D when they started reading the comic can acquire an understanding of the vernacular over the course of 750+ strips without once searching for D&D information elsewhere, in the manner of the dialect in A Clockwork Orange.
  • Your Mileage May Vary with Last Res0rt—the concepts don't require much outside knowledge, but the plot is just that involved (The start of Volume Two, for instance, is complicated by a Reality Warper whose presence is only figured out well after they're raiding a ship and being affected by it), and the Art Evolution gives the comic an experimental feel that makes a few scenes harder to follow than they should be because of the way the camera jumps. About half the readers get it, and the other half will need some help, most likely from the Cast page and New Readers' pages.
  • The Packrat is impossible to get without fundamental knowledge of synthesizers. Fortunately, it is targeted at and hence only known to synth geeks.

Web Original


  • Dennis Miller's short stint as a commentator on Monday Night Football drew ire from fans who found his dry, academic wit hard to understand. Indeed, pretty much anything Dennis Miller says qualifies.
    • The Encyclopedia Britannica website actually had a feature where they attempted to explain his references every Tuesday.
  • Wikipedia articles on even slightly technical topics tend towards assuming that the reader has at least a degree in the relevant field.
  • Anything ever produced by Firesign Theatre. Once described by Robin Williams as the audio equivalent of a Hieronymous Bosch painting, and you're always looking for the little man who's coming out of the ass of a chicken. If you think you even got all of Nick Danger the first time, for example, you are probably wrong.
  • The MIT Mystery Hunt. According to The Other Wiki, puzzles have involved "arcane or esoteric topics like quantum computing, stereoisomers, ancient Greek, Klingon, Bach preludes, coinage of Africa, and Barbie dolls". And that's not even getting into the actual steps required to solve the puzzles.
  • The University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt, affectionately known as Scav is similar. To complete many of the items on the list you need to already have a working knowledge of odd subfields that can include physics, cooking, a particular website or even certain languages.
  • Patton Oswalt often lampshades this; he'll make a reference to H.P. Lovecraft (or something), then lambaste himself for going over the audience's heads, then start coming up with even more obscure references, like Arthur Machen or Frank Belknap Long.
  • Comedian Daniel Tosh stated that one of his gimmicks is wearing a single joke on and on "until only six people have a clue what [he's] talking about."
  • Some aspects of TV Tropes aren't exactly newcomer friendly. For instance, some tropes, trope names, and even rules of this wiki can be confusing to some people. This is also the reason why several tropes have their names changed. As an example, the trope "Dropped A Bridget On Him" had its name changed to the (admittedly less creative) Unsettling Gender Reveal, largely because people who have never heard of the meme or Guilty Gear, where said meme comes from, would possibly have no clue what that trope is about until they open it.
  • William F Buckley Jr's essays, and show, was loaded with this, along with several helpings of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness. He tended to include Spanish, French, Latin, and wildly obscure English in his essays, which were generally high-minded "plane of ideas" type pieces about public policy and the theory thereof. Try watching his show Firing Line. If you drift off for a second or aren't well-versed in interventionism, the Federal Reserve, US education, and sexual morality, have fun figuring out what's happening.

Real Life

  • Many proprietary software end-user license agreements work under the assumption that the person installing the software is either a trained lawyer or can afford to engage the services of one every time they decide to install a piece of software. Though this is probably reasonable when the customer is a large company with lawyers on staff, it's definitely not when you're just selling to ordinary people. Alternatively, they are working under the assumption that nobody reads the dratted things anyway. They could probably include the line "You agree to give Satan the eternal rights to your immortal soul" in those exact words and most people wouldn't ever know. After the initial Google Chrome license fiasco, it was pretty obvious that a lot of companies that use them don't read the EULA's either. Or are just good liars.
    • They treated their viewers as geniuses, but rightfully assumed that viewers are also lazy.
    • Completely averted by the (sadly uncommonly-used) WTFPL.
    • It is more complicated. When software is sold in bulk to an undetermined client, the agreement cannot be customized, so it must cover all possible variants and scenarios, hence the complexity. Just to avoid smartasses who would eagerly abuse any less precise terms of use.
  • "Ignorantia juris non excusat". Every government on Earth (ironically enough) says you have to know what it means: "ignorance of the law does not excuse". You are required to know every single one of the thousands and thousands of laws, rules and regulations that apply to you. This includes the legalese of every contract you sign and every tax you have to declare. In reality, absolutely no one (including lawyers, politicians, presidents) knows all laws in their own country, let alone all countries. In practice, judges tend to grant a bit more leniency when it comes to the more obscure laws and regulations (though if one is in an occupation where they should know them, that is no defense), and the main practical application is to prevent people from pleading innocent because they didn't know that breaking into their neighbors house to swipe their TV was illegal.
    • The same principle generally applies to most electronic articles, after a few cases of people using them in bad ways and then attempting to sue the manufacturer for misinformation. If the manual states doing X is bad, the manufacturer cannot be held responsible if someone does it anyway.
    • Actually, the Belgian Law states you every citizen needs to know the laws regarding orderly conduct and then everyone should know the laws regarding activities they participate in. Someone who drives a car needs to know laws regarding traffic, or a hunter needs to know the laws related to hunting, for example.
  • Alternate Reality Games all assume the viewers, or at least some of them, are curious, bored, and in some cases masters of Bat Deduction. Valve's recent ARG involving Portal has some especially heavy shit going on—one user was clever enough to try opening a functional audio file in an image editor, and got some actual images out of it.
    • It's more twisty than that. Strange data-like audio snippets appear in game. Forum members pick apart the game content files and extract audio files for these new snippets. In their analysis, someone has the bright idea of trying to run these sound clips through software that can decrypt digital images through analog ham radio transmissions, and come up with fully-rendered colored images which, themselves, contain clues to the phone number for an old fashioned BBS, calling which gives cryptic ASCII images - but only if you managed to find the other hidden code for the username/password in one of the radio transmission images!
    • Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails did something similar before the release of Year Zero. USB sticks were left at the toilets during/after shows, containing music/audio files (which were different on different USB sticks) then when run through a spectrogram, revealed images and, in one case, a phone number which you could call to hear a new song. Also, there were t-shirts where the highlighted letters formed the words "I am trying to believe", which turned out to be a registered domain name, while the rest of the sites were simply in the same IP range. So in order to find those, you'd have to know how to search domains by IP adresses.
  • Most UNIX manual pages are confusing even to people who have doctorates in computer science. And the Unix system itself, where one mislaid command as root can hose your entire system.
  • Everything Bad is Good For You discusses the idea that popular culture has become more complex and that, in turn has made us smarter. This is why 80s TV shows seem simplistic by today's standards, and conversely many of today's shows would have been unwatchable 25 years ago. The author also hypothesises that this is connected to the Flynn Effect, where each generation scores slightly higher on IQ tests than the previous one.
  • During the 2004 U.S. Presidential election campaign, the CBS Evening News (at that time anchored by Dan Rather) broadcast a major report on documents that had supposedly been found by an opponent of then-President George W. Bush that purported to prove that Bush had not fulfilled his obligations to serve a specified time on active duty while in the Air National Guard in the 1970s. It turned out that the documents had been falsified, and the ensuing scandal led to Rather's ouster from CBS News. What proved that the documents were fake? The fact that the font they were typed in didn't exist at the supposed publishing date of these documents. Who noticed this? Internet bloggers.
    • The font (Times Roman) is a lot older than that; but most typists in 197x couldn't do such good variable-width typesetting.
      • However, Times New Roman (the font used in the forgery) is not the exact same font as Times Roman, and did not exist in 1973. Furthermore, Times Roman was under exclusive license to the Times newspaper in that decade and would not possibly have been used in semi-official US government correspondence. In addition, variable-width typesetting was possible in that era only for typesetting machines (the two 'typewriters' capable of doing so, the IBM Selectric Composer and the Varityper, were in practice desktop typesetting machines) and TrueType font kerning (also used in the forgery) wasn't possible at all.
      • For that matter, simply looking up image scans from the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library (the forgery's alleged date was 1973) would show you what kind of typewriter the personal secretary of the President of the United States used in that year (answer: an ordinary IBM Selectric, which uses the fixed-width Courier font), making the idea that a far more expensive IBM model was being used by the secretary of an obscure US Air Force colonel in the Texas Air National Guard completely laughable.
    • In addition to noticing the typesetting errors, bloggers also pointed out that the abbreviations and signature block formatting used in the letter were from the document style guide used by the Army, not the Air Force (there are slight differences between the two). As it turned out, the original forger was a retired Army officer.
  1. Of course, if you're working in a medium that doesn't need an audience of millions to be profitable, you may not care.
  2. Don't trust anyone over 30
  3. It's still one, but science at the time classifed other small, wide-orbiting bodies as moons to Earth as well, giving us offically "2", then later "4", before being reclassified