Where else would I find something like the Noodle Incident?
August 22, 2010 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm curious about the Noodle Incident as a device.

Anyone who's read Calvin & Hobbes extensively will know about the Noodle Incident. If not, then here's the wiki . What I'm curious about is uses of this device outside of Calvin & Hobbes.

I've read the tv tropes page on the Noodle Incident but they have a large list of single instances of an event that's being referred to but not explained. And that's not really uncommon in fiction, I mean how boring would a story be if every mentioned event in the past of every character had to be explained?

What I'm curious about is does anyone know of a reoccurring event that's mentioned in a story (literature, tv series, movie, whatever) like the Noodle Incident pops up over and over again in Calvin & Hobbes?

I suppose another example would be the extended family members in the original Addams Family - they are constantly referred to but never seen.
posted by patheral to Writing & Language (53 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The Tropes page mentions Pirates of the Caribbean but their explanation doesn't mention that it meets your criteria - it keeps popping up over and over again, especially the thing about it involving sea turtles somehow.
posted by amethysts at 6:19 PM on August 22, 2010

In the movie My Dinner with Andre (which mostly consists of the characters telling stories over dinner), they repeatedly refer to having strange experience on Mt. Everest, as if this was one of the stories they had talked about, but they never explain it. Sample:
WALLY: isn't it a little upsetting to come to the conclusion that there's no way to wake people up any more? Except to involve them in some kind of a strange christening in Poland, or some kind of a strange experience on top of Mount Everest? I mean, because you know, the awful thing is that if you're really saying that it's necessary to take everybody to Everest, it's really tough! Because everybody can't be taken to Everest!
Here's something from Seinfeld:
GEORGE: Do you know the last time I wore this thing? Six years ago, when I made that toast at Bobby Leighton's wedding.
JERRY: Ooo, that was a bad toast.
GEORGE: It wasn't that bad.
JERRY: I never heard anybody curse in a toast.
GEORGE: I was trying to loosen 'em up a little bit.
JERRY: There were old people there, all the relatives. You were like a Red Fox record. I mean, at the end of the toast nobody even drank. They were just standing there, they were just frozen! That might have been one of the worst all time toasts.
GEORGE: Alright, still her father didn't have to throw me out like that, he could have just asked me to leave. The guy had me in a headlock!
I don't know if that counts -- there is some description, but we don't know what he said in the famous toast.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:32 PM on August 22, 2010

I don't know if this applies, but, the 37 dicks sucked in Clerks? The US state that the Simpsons live in. The contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Any other MacGuffin.

Also, the insistence of my friends that I enjoyed eating plain butter in elementary school, which is not true, doesn't make sense, but has turned into an exaggerated joke of its own among our circles, as in "Then there was this one time Kim ate butter and..."* (You could say I'm a touch defensive.)

*Yes, I realize MetaFilter has its own version of butter-consumption, a la HURF DURF BUTTER EATER. This is not that. And thank God.

posted by iamkimiam at 6:38 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: The Great Tea Trolley Disaster of '67 might be the kind of thing you're looking for.
posted by flabdablet at 6:53 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The Great Tea Trolley Disaster of '67 might be the kind of thing you're looking for.

That's exactly what I'm looking for.

Also, iamkimiam, I love that you have something like this in real life. :) Not fun for you, I guess, but that it manifests outside of fiction just tickles me for some reason.
posted by patheral at 7:04 PM on August 22, 2010

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there is an incident which is mentioned several times, but never shown. I believe it involves Andrew's brother sending flying monkeys to attack the drama club? In any case, Andrew is frequently introduced by people alluding to this event.
posted by Adridne at 7:14 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Barney's actual job on How I Met Your Mother. "What is it you actually do?" "Please."
posted by pised at 7:33 PM on August 22, 2010

I like to allude to Boston's Great Molasses Flood(even though it was a real event that killed twenty one people in 1919).
posted by autopilot at 7:39 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: In "Father Ted", "The three priests answer to Bishop Len Brennan, who assigned them the Craggy Island parish due to different incidents in their past: Ted for alleged financial impropriety, Dougal for something only referred to as the "Blackrock Incident" (resulting in many "lives irreparably damaged"), and Jack for his alcoholism and womanising""

These incidences come up from time to time but are never fully explained...
posted by The otter lady at 7:39 PM on August 22, 2010

Also from Father Ted, "The money was just resting in my account!"
posted by synecdoche at 7:42 PM on August 22, 2010

(Which I now realize is referred to by The otter lady. Whoops. But that's the phrase that's always repeated.)
posted by synecdoche at 7:43 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The 3 seashells thing from "Judge Dredd"
Chandler Bing's job from "Friends"
posted by pyro979 at 7:53 PM on August 22, 2010

The Violent Unknown Event in Peter Greenaway's The Falls is exactly this. There's a similar thing in Tom McCarthy's novel Remainder, where the main character is involved in a violent accident just before the book begins which is not really explained.

See also Waiting for Godot.
posted by oulipian at 7:55 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The 3 seashells thing from "Judge Dredd"

Haha, that's from Demolition Man. But it would be funny if it was in both movies.
posted by oulipian at 7:56 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

The 3 seashells thing from "Judge Dredd"

Demolition Man, actually. Wrong stone-faced Stallone-as-cop film.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:57 PM on August 22, 2010

"That thing with the cup," in Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full and Bonfire of the Vanities (this is referenced on the tvtropes page for Noodle Implements).
posted by YamwotIam at 8:02 PM on August 22, 2010

Maris Crane (Niles' first wife) is a unseen character about whom we learn much from the other members of the family and their friends.
posted by carmicha at 8:25 PM on August 22, 2010

It's sort of like an inverted form of dramatic irony, as the audience is unaware of something funny that the characters obviously know about. We want to be in on this joke because it's obviously hilarious, but it's better that we're not perhaps, because it might be less funny if it were all laid out and not tantalizingly alluded to.
posted by clockzero at 9:11 PM on August 22, 2010

Terry Pratchett sprinkles humor like that liberally around the Discworld series. From folk songs that only get briefly quoted, e.g. the Hedgehog Song ("you can with a snail if you slow to a crawl, but the hedgehog can never be buggered at all") and The Wizard's Staff Has a Knob on the End, not that it has stopped fans from writing their own lyrics. There's a bunch of other ones like that, the dinner related event that drove the Unseen University's Bursar insane, the fate of the restaurant owner who opened a restaurant in an old temple, Rincewind's academic career and so on and so forth. It's fairly common in Discworld. In many other series like that. Long-running detective series tend to refer off-handedly to cases that are never actually described in the books themselves.

hades: Locally, there's Paphnuty.

Not to toot my own horn, but what happened to Paphnuty is well known. And on that subject, it was never made clear what it was that Violet Blue actually did, it was just referred to in dark terms.
posted by Kattullus at 9:52 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there is an incident which is mentioned several times, but never shown. I believe it involves Andrew's brother sending flying monkeys to attack the drama club? In any case, Andrew is frequently introduced by people alluding to this event.

Good call! It was Andrew who sent the flying monkeys to attack to school play ("and everyone was like, 'Run Juliet!"), which I think even Buffy was unaware of. His brother had the hellhounds that attacked the prom (which actually was an episode).

Another Buffy example is the tragic fate of Miss Kitty Fantastico.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:22 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: iamkimiam writes "I don't know if this applies, but, the 37 dicks sucked in Clerks?"

This is fully explained; well we don't get the W5 on each incident but I don't think there is much mystery about where the number comes from.

In RAH's expanded universe there are several examples. Whatever shameful event Colonel Colin Campbell was involved with which is a central plot hook of the Cat Who Walks though Walls. In Citizen of the Galaxy Colonel Richard Baslim is a hero in some shameful incident that isn't explained but is referenced by practically everyone Thorby meets. Glory Road has a few relatively minor ones, mostly regarding Rufo's and Star's assorted adventures. Several of the older characters in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress have shadowy backgrounds that get them transported but I can't remember if any are repeatedly referenced. And there is the father's former profession(s) in Have Space Suit, Will Travel which are variously described as teacher, spy, former spy, intelligence agent and probably a couple others. Finally, though I've probably missed a few, in Friday we never really find out details of Kettle Belly Baldwin's former occupations though Friday keeps running into people who know him from his past life.

Oh and Gwen's real identity in The Cat Who Walks Though Walls hooks heavily into books set around a century earlier but are only hinted at in the book. Active RAH readers know quite a bit more about her than even her husband does.

Firefly (at least the TV Show and the Movie) has the heavy mystery of the Shepard's background. It's pretty obvious he was some high ranking intelligence or black ops officer but though referenced practically every episode we don't get much in the way of details. Inara has this too IE: why did she leave the central planets and her probable meteoric rise in the Companion organization? And several of crew's past stories (Didn't she shoot you the last time?) aren't fleshed out. This was intentional of course as hooks for future story arks that were left hanging loose after Fox's ridiculous cancelling of the show.
posted by Mitheral at 11:54 PM on August 22, 2010

For a long time, Klingon foreheads (remember, smooth as humans' in TOS, bumpy and 'alien' in TNG) were an example of this. Someone asked Worf why some Klingons have bumpy foreheads and others don't, and his answer was "We don't like to talk about it".

Eventually, in Enterprise, they laid it all out in detail. Until then, though, it was a strange mystery left to the viewers' imaginations.
posted by jiawen at 11:54 PM on August 22, 2010

> In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there is an incident which is mentioned several times, but never shown.

I thought that was going to be about "The Zeppo", but as it wasn't ... "The Zeppo" is a whole episode in which the main characters fight some kind of potentially-world-destroying evil thing but all we see is Xander's adventures on the periphery.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:07 AM on August 23, 2010

Best answer: British comedians Mitchell and Webb have a recurring sketch set after some apocalyptic event which is only mentioned in stern admonitions not to mention it or think about it. See "The Quiz Broadcast" here.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:10 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In Gavin and Stacey, there was an unspecified event on a fishing boat between Stacey's uncle Bryn and her brother, Jason. It comes up regularly in conversation, then they just clam up and look uncomfortable before any more details are revealed. The only hint ever given is that it was not illegal in this country and involved soup (see last question in the Ruth Jones interview on that last link).
posted by penguin pie at 2:37 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yay Mitheral, for all the Heinlein references! But you left one out. The Green Hills of Earth mentions a number of Rhysling's songs, including The Skipper Is A Father To His Crew, "with the uproariously unprintable final couplet." It is one of the greatest regrets of my life that I will never know what that couplet was.

I believe Arthur Conan Doyle employed this device frequently in his Sherlock Holmes stories. The giant rat of Sumatra comes to mind.
posted by wjm at 2:42 AM on August 23, 2010

From Frisky Dingo:

Killface: [to Simon] We can't ever go back to Arizona!

With further allusions to bunnies and butcher knives
posted by Space Coyote at 4:46 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Star Trek: Deep Space 9: Morn, the barfly at Quark's, is described numerous times as being talkative, but the character never says a word onscreen.
posted by hangashore at 5:35 AM on August 23, 2010

Response by poster: These are great! Now I want to investigate some of the references that I'm unfamiliar with.
posted by patheral at 6:17 AM on August 23, 2010

Cedric Daniel's financial improprieties in all 5 seasons of the Wire. We know he did something, we just don't know what.
posted by afx237vi at 6:53 AM on August 23, 2010

I think it was only mentioned once so it probably doesn't count, but the dreaded Rear Admiral from the Simpsons was always something that set my imagination afire.
posted by Nyarlathotep at 8:17 AM on August 23, 2010

In the Rumpole books by John Mortimer about a lawyer, Rumpole often refers to the Penge Bungalow Murders as his famous early success which he won "alone and without a leader".

However, Mortimer did eventually get around to writing Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders.

I think in the TV show Roseanne, for the first few series' they occasionally refer to Roseanne's mother as a fearsome person, but she never appears. Eventually though she became a recurring character.

I think in general it's a mistake to ever explain these things: they're never as impressive as you imagine them to be.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:31 AM on August 23, 2010

In Gail Carriger's Soulless books, the main characters fall out over "the hedgehog incident," which happens before the first book takes place and, so far, has not been explained.
posted by zoetrope at 8:40 AM on August 23, 2010

Best answer: The token male character on Designing Women (can't remember his name) referred obliquely to his "unfortunate incarceration" on several occasions.
posted by cross_impact at 9:49 AM on August 23, 2010

The token male character on Designing Women (can't remember his name) referred obliquely to his "unfortunate incarceration" on several occasions.

Anthony Bouvier, played by Meshach Taylor.
posted by zarq at 10:41 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really love this device, and I thought I'd have a lot to contribute. But all I can come up with is from the movie Mr & Mrs Smith:
John: How bad?
Eddie: How bad is it? Mm. You remember Canada. Kids' stuff next to this.
Jane: That was you?
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:46 AM on August 23, 2010

There oft-referred-to-but-never-seen-onscreen trope is called "He Who Must Not Be Seen." Per TV Tropes, there are three variants: The Ghost (like Maris Crane on Frasier), The Faceless, (such as Cobra Commander on GI Joe) and The Voice. (think Wolowitz' mother in The Big Bang Theory)
posted by zarq at 10:51 AM on August 23, 2010

"The" not "there." Sorry.
posted by zarq at 10:52 AM on August 23, 2010

The Voice. (think Wolowitz' mother in The Big Bang Theory)

You mean Norm's wife on Cheers.
posted by DU at 11:20 AM on August 23, 2010

You mean Norm's wife on Cheers.

Mrs. Vera Peterson was shown in one of their Thanksgiving episodes -- the one with the food fight. You saw her legs walk into the room while the fight was in progress. She was hit in the face with a pie blocking it from being shown on camera. She was played by George Wendt's wife Bernadette Birkett in that scene.

So really, she fits all three variations of the trope, not just "The Voice."
posted by zarq at 11:41 AM on August 23, 2010

There was LA Law's Venus Butterfly. also, I remember Doyle did this a few times with Sherlock Homes, alluding to cases that did not exist (like the Giant Rat of Sumatra).
posted by Challahtronix at 11:50 AM on August 23, 2010

There was also the goat for part of How I Met Your Mother but they eventually dealt with it.
posted by synecdoche at 11:57 AM on August 23, 2010

In Escape From Los Angeles, Snake Plisskin surviving Cleveland is referred to repeatedly, but never explained.
posted by Four Flavors at 2:28 PM on August 23, 2010

The Thing of the Fantastic Four often referred to his Dear Old Aunt Petunia. It wasn't until John Byrne's tenure on the FF we get to meet her. She was, of course, young and gorgeous.
posted by Scoo at 4:50 PM on August 23, 2010

In "Thelma and Louise" they have to take a circuitous route because there's a state Thelma can't set foot in, but she won't say why.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:44 PM on August 23, 2010

Another one from How I Met Your Mother: "The Pineapple Incident." (With Danica McKellar!)
posted by cgc373 at 5:57 PM on August 23, 2010

Alas, the Andrew incident from Buffy is apocryphal. Season three, episode twenty, The Prom. Tucker Wells, Andrew's older brother, is the one who, as someone on Wikipedia wrote, "plans to ruin prom night by sending a hell-hound trained to attack those in formal wear after the students." Andrew isn't linked to Tucker until later, but the incident is indeed shown.

I'm sure that, given enough time, I could come up with a Whedonverse comparison to the Noodle Incident, but I'm not that much of a research nerd.

Yes, yes I am.
posted by brina at 9:49 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

One that eventually gets resolved: in the very entertaining Spaced series (all seasons currently available on Hulu), the two best friends constantly remind each other of some shared event in their childhood (which involves increasingly contrived Flash Backs). You do eventually find out what the shared experience is, but it takes so many episodes that you can enjoy the mystery for a good while.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:00 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know this is late, but where the hell is cousin Tino?
posted by karminai at 9:32 PM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: I don't know if this fits exactly, but in seven seasons of NCIS we've never learned what Gibbs' and Abby's history is together.
posted by MsMolly at 8:06 AM on August 25, 2010

Phil Foglio did a series of comics about a character called "Buck Godot". In the second issue of the "Gallimaufrey" series, he tosses off one of these: "Martian Charades". The implication is that it's a party game that aliens love and humans despise, but he offers no details. (Here's one mention, lower right corner.)

His readers wouldn't let him alone. He got flooded with letters demanding to know what it was, and he finally admitted that he didn't know, and was trying to do what you're talking about. But the letters wouldn't stop, so he eventually ran a contest where readers themselves were to suggest what the game was about.

The winner was this: The game consists of a human and a whole lot of aliens. There are a standard set of poses (I think it was like 26 of them) and the human begins with the first one, known as "The Martian", and holds it while all the aliens try to do the same. Then he makes the second one, and so on and so on. The problem is that the sight of all the aliens doing this is revolting and commonly the human eventually tosses his cookies as a result, which the aliens find even more amusing.

Because aliens enjoy this so much, and because it is considered inauthentic unless a real genuine human leads it, many a human have been invited to alien parties only to discover that they are the main entertainment, with unpleasant results. Some humans have tried to do it while wearing blindfolds, but even the thought of what all the aliens are doing is still enough to make most humans violently ill.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:57 PM on August 29, 2010

So late to the game here, but I watched Super Troopers last night and instantly thought of this question. Something referred to as "the schoolbus incident" or the "incident with the bus full of school children" is given as evidence of a character's incompetence (and the reason for a suspension of regular police duty) several times in the movie. The event is never explained.
posted by 1UP at 4:16 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

From Doctor Who:

"Yeah, listen, gotta dash. Things happening. Well, four things. Well, four things and a lizard."

From literature:

In The Neverending Story, as different characters leave the narrative, the author alludes to something that that character goes on to do later on, but then stops in his tracks and says, "but that is another story and shall be told another time."

From real life --

I briefly ran with a circle of friends which included two women which had a private shared reference to something one of them had done in a tent, and one of them merely saying the word "tent" would make the other blush and leave a room. My roommate claimed to know the story, but never explained it to me and may have just been messing with me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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