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File:Gn string theory 2736.jpg

He does that a lot.


Roger: Look, there's coded messages everywhere! In the New York Times, on the Internet, even in Catcher in the Rye.
Steve: Well, you did use an awful lot of string...

American Dad, "Bush Comes to Dinner"

Somebody's conducting an investigation - and every little bit of information could be the break they need. Red Herrings are flying left and right, and they need to get everything organized. What better way to do it than with a pegboard (or an entire room) covered in pictures of people, maps of places, and cryptic hints? Often the items are related, and these relationships are expressed by a complex web of strings connecting pairs of items; thus the name.

An example of Law of Conservation of Detail, as almost invariably every single item will be plot relevant — although it's not always clear whether it was all planned out meticulously in advance, or whether the writer decided to use the various random items on the board as jumping off points for future episodes. Fans will naturally drive themselves crazy trying to figure out the relevance of every item. Don't stare at it too long, though.

The classic, almost iconic, accessories for tracking conspiracies and Love Dodecahedrons, especially before the computer era. Often a part of a Room Full of Crazy, but can just as easily be seen in non-crazy use by a team of detectives or intelligence agents trying to piece together a complex case. See also Love Chart and Thirty Gambit Pileup.

Not to be confused with the Web Comic String Theory or actual particle physics.

Examples of String Theory include:



  • Control by Victor Suvorov had the protagonist doing it as a part of her job in the secret Secret Police, to track power groups within party, NKVD etc. First with photos on a stand connected by threads of relations, then she realized it's way too small, removed them all and remade as one interconnected web of small thumbnails all over several walls. It worked, though not as expected: a few bosses living in one city turned out not to interact — they have never met informally, nor any of them tried to bring another down. Wherefore Hilarity Ensues. The author was in military intelligence, after all.

Live Action TV

  • Heroes, possibly to the point of being the Trope Codifier with both Mohinder's map of specials, and Future Hiro's map of all time.
  • FlashForward, blatantly following in Heroes' footsteps with Mark's Blackout wall. A case could be made for D. Gibbon's "Garden of Forking Paths" as well.
    • Mark's wall turns out to be the key to determining the time of the next blackout.
  • Star Trek: Voyager, Time Fleet and the "Year of Hell" aliens has an automated version of this to keep up with their monkeying in the timescape.
  • Chuck, when he is keeping data of the Intersect and Orion on the back of his Tron Poster. Granted, it's in marker, but it's the thought that counts.
  • The Lost Room has a couple maps of the objects, including how they supposedly relate to one another, and where they have been.
  • The Major Crimes unit in The Wire tends to have a pegboard like this for each of their main targets. Unlike many of these examples, it's actually realistically and sensibly organized, with strings connecting people based on their positions in the drug organization's hierarchy.
  • CSI has one. It was once Played for Drama in the episode "The Case Of The Cross-dressing Carp" when the mother of a victim saw one of the victims' friends (a scientist who was investigating the cause of the water contamination which caused the condition that caused him to be Driven to Suicide) connected to him via a line, wrongly assumed he was a suspect, and shot him ending any chance of his work being used to prosecute the Corrupt Corporate Executive responsible for the water contamination.
  • Sam and Dean occasionally put these up in their motel rooms in Supernatural, which seems like a lot of effort for something you're going to have to take down in a few days.
    • It presents a particularly beautiful example during the first season's first episode. Their missing father was investigating on a Woman in White, using his motel room's wall to externalize his deductive reasoning.
  • New Tricks has one. Most episodes have a few scenes with the main characters sat around and one of them explaining what they've just discovered. They once discovered that a retired fireman who was helping them was an arsonist when they realised he would have been able to find his targets after seeing their board.
  • InIt's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Charlie does one of these when he believes he's uncovered a corporate conspiracy while working in the mail room.
  • Kamen Rider Double uses these in a meta sense; the second episode of each mini-arc starts off with a "corkboard" that shows the characters from the first episode and how they connect. Then Movie Wars CORE shows the origin of the corkboard in-universe.
  • Nick sets up one of these in Primeval, trying to track the various anomalies across time and space. Later, the characters discover a heavily upgraded holographic version of his chart brought from the future.
  • The Castle episode "Linchpin" briefly displayed a room that looked very much like the page image, as belonging to a statistics genius - the strings started at one murder, the branches were cause and effects, and they converged on World War Three at the other side.
  • Charlie Crews on Life has an entire room dedicated to finding out who framed him for murder.
  • Teen Wolf had a "crime board" set up by Stiles. The starting state of all strings is "unsolved".

Tabletop Games

  • The Loom of Fate from Exalted looks a lot like this, with strings of fate representing the lives and destinies of all the beings under its purview.

Video Games

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • In Justice League Unlimited, The Question's room in the Watchtower has one of these where he charts and threaded global warming, military upheavals in third world countries, actors elected to public office, the spread of coffee bars, germs outpacing antibiotics, and boy bands. He believes all of these separate events and activities connect to an ancient conspiracy dating back to Egyptian times.
  • Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: Jimmy has one of these going for alien encounters, specifically involving those with the Omnitrix ensignia.
  • In the American Dad episode "Bush Comes to Dinner," Roger determines Osama bin Laden's location by studying a variety of popular media which he's hung all over his attic. Cue the page quote.
  • In Megamind, Roxanne finds Megamind's plan lain out in one of these, but can't understand it at first. When she backs up for some perspective, she sees that the strings, rather than holding information, form a picture of the plan.
  • In season 2 of Carmen Sandiego, Chase Devineaux has a thread chart to try and track down Carmen Sandiego off the grid contrary to his desk job at Interpol.

Real Life

  • This is actually a decent way to demonstrate a relationship diagram for a database.
  1. author of Chaos Undecided and Big Brothers