Only Smart People May Pass
This refers to any barrier that requires the heroes to solve some kind of puzzle, Riddle or test of skill in order to pass. It is often given by Threshold Guardians (especially if the guardian in question is a Riddling Sphinx). You must be able to work it out based on the clues you are given on the spot.
It’s often a defense against smart people who want to take whatever is being guarded like a Treasure Room. It can also be a Secret Handshake of sorts to only allow smart people inside like Mensa.
If you must come to it with some knowledge, it’s Only the Knowledgable May Pass. Sometimes if those who tried to deploy that trope were clumsy, they gave you enough clues to make it this, and conversely, if the answer to this is too weird or insane, you may really need to know it in advance.
The architect must have deemed this a better barrier than say, a lock and key carried on someone’s person instead of being in a chest elsewhere in the building. After all, keys can be stolen but knowledge is intangible. Unfortunately, this will not stop people who are evil in addition to smart or at least smart enough to trick the heroes into solving the puzzle for them.
See Block Puzzle, the various Stock Puzzles and Stock Videogame Puzzles, the Knights and Knaves puzzle and Solve the Soup Cans for examples of this. Note that the puzzle itself is often not terribly difficult; after all, the viewers have to be able to follow it (or solve it themselves, in a videogame.) This often leads to Fridge Logic about why it wasn’t solved earlier or what the point of such a simple puzzle really was. Expect even the least smart of protagonists to be able to find a way to solve what was supposed to be an ingenious puzzle.
This trope dates back to at least the Sphinx in Greek Mythology, making it Older Than Feudalism.
Compare Only the Worthy May Pass, These Questions Three and; also see First Contact Math, and contrast Only Idiots May Pass. Subverted in Doom As Test Prize, where one of these turns out to be a way to dispose of people who are a bit too clever.
- The lower levels of Mahora Academy’s Library Island in Mahou Sensei Negima! is filled with these, as Negi and the Baka Rangers found out the hard way in an early chapter. However, these were deliberately placed by the headmaster, who appears to have plotted the whole adventure to force the Baka Rangers to study for their finals. The characters treat it more like Alphabet Soup Cans.
- Ojamajo Doremi has Doremi answer a somewhat-Sphinx inspired riddle. “Thin in the day, thick in the night, it disappears when it sleeps.” Answer: Cat’s eyes.
- Zatch Bell!
- The show spoofs this with Poosophagus (Unko Tin Tin). He guards Faudo’s esophagus and threatens to drop the whole party in stomach acid if they don’t all get a question right. Fortunately, most of his questions are really easy, when he remembers to ask one at all. He only asks two hard ones:
- 829,735 962,527 = ?. Posed to Kiyomaro, a supergenius who calculates the answer in his head. (“It’s 797,812,605,345!”).
- Prove Fermat’s Last Theorem. A question that would be impossible for almost anyone on the planet, this was posed to Umagon, who can’t even speak. Kiyomaro forces Poosophagus to give Umagon an easier question, a more conventional riddle. Mainly, because Poosophagus didn’t know the answer himself.
- Subverted in Princess Tutu. After a mysterious spirit kidnaps Mytho, Ahiru races to find him and is asked riddles along the way. Ahiru, being an Idiot Hero, gets them all wrong, but it turns out that the voice wasn’t testing her, but telling her who it was a lamp .
- Subverted in Azumanga Daioh when Tomo is asking complicated puzzles requiring lateral thinking. Class genius Chiyo is stumped by them, but class space cadet Osaka answers them all without any hesitation.
- In a completely justified example, the entrance exam in Detective School Q (Detective Academy Q) is filled with this sort of thing.
- One of the pre-Hunter Exam trials in Hunter Ч Hunter asks you who you’d choose to save, your mother or your lover. When Gon notices the first guy (who chose the mother) was sent to his death, he realizes no answer is right, and says nothing. Again, no answer is right. They pass.
- In Summer Wars, Kenji solves a 2056 Bit encryption not only on paper but in his head in under a minute to bypass lock-outs and other barriers put in his path by Love Machine.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!: Capsule Monsters, Yugi’s puzzle-solving skills come in handy quite a few times as he solves puzzles the group encounters on their journey.
- At one point in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s, our heroes have to hack into the police files. After breaking standard security and encryption, the final security measure is figuring out the winning move in a game of Duel Monsters.
- In Dragon Ball Super, Vegeta suggests to Beerus and Champa that only those fighters who can pass through a simple intelligence test are allowed to participate in the tournament between Universe 7 and Universe 6. For some reason, he completely ignores the fact that he has Idiot Hero Goku and Fat Idiot Buu in his team, effectively eliminating Buu from the tournament and almost eliminating Goku in the process, while all members of Champa’s team pass through the test (although Magetta has trouble during the test), giving Beerus’s team a disadvantage in numbers.
- In Prickly City, Carmen is assured only the smartest people are allowed in an exclusive club.
- The tunnel leading to One-Eyed Willy’s ship in The Goonies is filled with many booby-traps, such as the most memorable musical riddle. It makes sense since, during Willy’s time, only people with a noble/high-born education would be able to read ”sheet music’. Even most musicians would only know how to play instruments, not read standardized notation.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- The Knights of the Grail have protected their treasure with a series of tests, each more fiendish than the last, to ensure that no unworthy man may pass. The tests are multi-layered: to prove worthy, one must find the clues to the tests elsewhere, interpret them correctly, and successfully act on the interpretation. Without the clues (which Indy’s father found in his decades of research into Grail lore) it would be considerably harder if not effectively impossible to figure out the traps before they killed you.
Helena: You can paint it green.
Gryphon: It doesn’t hang on the wall!
Helena: You can nail it to a wall.
Helena: Oh, come on. I just put that in to stop it from being too obvious.