The philosophical loophole that wins the game...
January 9, 2017 12:14 PM   Subscribe

What are some climactic scenes from film/TV involving a game or challenge, where the only way to beat your opponent is to think about the game from a different perspective and find the philosophical loophole in the challenge's rules? For example, Kobayashi Maru in "Star Trek" or the Mutually Assured Destruction of "War Games."

If it helps, yet another example is this scene in "Dr. Strange" (which I will avoid describing so as not to spoil.) Thanks!
posted by egeanin to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Loophole Abuse (warning: TV Tropes)
posted by Etrigan at 12:18 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Does Spock's "compute to the last decimal the value of Pi" qualify?
posted by Billiken at 12:18 PM on January 9, 2017

Isn't this true of every single 1966 Batman episode, including the movie?
posted by Melismata at 12:19 PM on January 9, 2017

Just to clarify - looking specifically for PHILOSOPHICAL loopholes, not loopholes in just the wording of the rules (which is mostly what the tvtropes link is listing.)
posted by egeanin at 12:24 PM on January 9, 2017

Epistemological loopholes were favourites in the 60, when dealing with evil AIs.

The Prisoner --- The General.

Also logical paradoxes:

Star Trek --- Liar Paradox
posted by bonehead at 12:29 PM on January 9, 2017

The Man in Black vs. Vizzini poisoning duel in "The Princess Bride" strikes me as a potential example.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:35 PM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

This may not quite be what you're looking for, but one of the Dark Tower books features a segment where the main characters are trapped on an evil sentient monorail which will kill them if they can't beat it in a riddle contest. They all do everything they can but the train knows every riddle imaginable so (SPOILER ALERT) they win by asking it nonsense riddles where the solution has no logic and is totally random, which frustrates him enough that it short-circuits him and they can escape.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:02 PM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

"The enemy's gate is down" from Ender's Game. The characters play a wargame in zero-G, which still trying to orient themselves as though they're in gravity. The main character realizes that he's free to reinterpret the space to benefit himself which leads to his team's victory.

(I will admit that I have not seen the movie and only read the book, but it's a big deal there, so I assume the same applies in the adaptation.)
posted by darchildre at 1:04 PM on January 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

It's a game show, but this episode of Golden Balls, also discussed previously on the blue, is a pretty great example of this.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:19 PM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

"The enemy's gate is down" from Ender's Game. The characters play a wargame in zero-G, which still trying to orient themselves as though they're in gravity. The main character realizes that he's free to reinterpret the space to benefit himself which leads to his team's victory.

There's also the last such game that the main character plays at the academy, in which the main character realizes [SPOILER] that he doesn't have to actually defeat all of the opposing forces to win the game (as was the custom and as he had done in all previous battles), he just needs to get to their gate.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:17 PM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

The climax of Star Trek's "The Ultimate Computer" fits this bill as well.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 2:28 PM on January 9, 2017

The TV show Kung Fu was full of this kind of thing. One example that immediately comes to mind:

Caine meets an Amish man who is taking abuse rooted in prejudice because he is a man of peace. He justifies it to Caine saying (something like) "What can I do other than just take the beating? I am a man of peace and I will not hit them." And Caine says "You can take the stick away." In a later scene, the Amish man does exactly that.
posted by Michele in California at 2:58 PM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

The whole film Circle is basically a philosophy debate, but there are a few neat twists towards the end.
posted by lilac girl at 4:29 PM on January 9, 2017

The movie Dark Star features a crew of 3 on a deep space mission to detonate unstable planets using Smart Bombs. A computer malfunction starts a bombing run sequence by accident.

Unfortunately, the bomb, with too much personality for its own good, refuses to believe the crew that the sequence was started accidentally, and will not abort the sequence. In a last ditch effort, the commanding officer performs an EVA to talk directly to the bomb, to teach it phenomenology, in an attempt to get the bomb to doubt that it ever received the go code for the bomb run sequence in the first place.

It almost works.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:10 PM on January 9, 2017

The Bridge of Death scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:23 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's an episode of ST:TNG where Data is challenged to a very silly game called Strategema, by an alien from a culture trained to be unbeatable Stratagema masters. (The game involves a lot of high-speed finger movements with electrodes that project little blips of light into fancy patterns. It's silly, in the tradition of silly fictional games invented by Star Trek.)

Data realizes he can't beat the Strategema master, but he figures out that he can intentionally play to a tie, which the Strategema master doesn't see coming at all, and gets quite put out about it. I think there was a lesson there about Data's limitations, or the nature of competition, but I forget now what it was.
posted by daisystomper at 7:56 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

With a good deed that shines in a weary world, Charlie returns the Everlasting Gobstopper to Willy Wonka instead of selling it to Slugworth. By doing so, he unwittingly passes Wonka's morality test and wins everything.
posted by chococat at 7:57 PM on January 9, 2017

The first and second episodes of the Netflix show 3% have moments where one character passes a challenge via some out-of-the-box thinking that involves doing things which are not explicitly prohibited by the rules. (Maybe more than just those two episodes.)

**spoilers for 3% follow**

In episode 1, Fernando helps a fellow candidate to pass a test where nine cubes are to be constructed from various tetris-like blocks, by assembling her eight cubes into a larger cube. Rafael passes the same test by taking a cube from another candidate with nine cubes, who is then eliminated.

In episode 2, there is a timed test where candidates are allowed to pass if they are holding a coin when the time is up, but there are one fewer coins than there are candidates. Initially everyone grabs for a coin out of a pouch, but people protest that this is an unfair way to decide, so everyone replaces their coins in the pouch, and collectively agree to determine who is left behind by drawing torn-up lengths of scarf. The person drawing the shortest piece of scarf, Joana, nevertheless passes, because she only pretended to put her coin back in the pouch at the beginning, and had it all along.

posted by Spathe Cadet at 8:26 PM on January 9, 2017

Not sure if this counts, but in Galaxy Quest the idea that the Omega-13 might be a time machine rather than a bomb is a major turning point. (It is sort of a parody of this idea as well, but still!)


In Arrival, there is a similar disconnect based in translation-- are the aliens offering humanity a weapon or a tool, or both? Is it a threat or an offer of allyship? The climax hinges on a showdown between those on team "it's a weapon, they can't be trusted" and those on team "it's a tool, they want to be our allies". It is also a sort of recursive philosophical puzzle-- can you "weaponize" empathy (i.e. use your empathy as a way to disarm and overcome your enemies)? Doesn't using empathy that way simply make you more empathetic, and your enemies into allies?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:38 AM on January 10, 2017

I'm calling on dim, ancient memories here, but in Werner Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, psychologists are assessing a young man who grew up without human contact. They present the riddle of meeting someone who came either from the village of liars or the village of truth tellers, and you can ask them one question to determine which.

Kaspar says "I would ask him if he were a tree frog."
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:35 PM on January 10, 2017

The "Shoot the hostage" bit in Speed.
posted by tracer at 2:46 PM on January 10, 2017

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