Kansas City Shuffle

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
That ninja might as well be wearing a lampshade.

"It's a blindfold kick back type of a game
Called the Kansas City Shuffle
Whereas you look left and they fall right
Into the Kansas City Shuffle.
It's a they think you think they don't know type of Kansas city hustle
Where you take your time, wait your turn and hang them up and out to dry"

Bennie Moten, "The Kansas City Shuffle", 1926

The Kansas City Shuffle is an old established name for a con game that depends on the mark believing that the conman is trying to con him, being right about it, but being wrong about how it's going to be done. Another way to say it is that it relies on the mark being "too smart for their own good."
My name is Candle Jack, I don't write in black, it's part of my Kansas City Shuffle
All con-games rely on misdirection to some degree. In most, the conman wants the victim to believe that it's not a con at all. In a Kansas City Shuffle, the conman

  1. Needs the victim to suspect that it's a con-game
  2. Needs the victim to think that they've figured out how to beat the con
  3. Needs the victim to be wrong about what the con is.

All three elements must be present. If the victim doesn't suspect that they're being conned, it's not a Kansas City Shuffle. If the victim doesn't set themselves up for the real con by doing something to beat the con they think they've spotted, it's not a Kansas City Shuffle. If the victim is right about what the real con is, it's not a Kansas City Shuffle (or it is, but a failed one).

Simply because a con is complicated, it's not necessarily a Kansas City Shuffle, and not all Kansas City Shuffles are complicated.
They call my name, but with rope and a duffel sack, they're calling for trouble.
See, you fear shadows but I'm too bright, I hit submit after you type
The audience may or may not be in on the secret themselves. If they are then it can lead to a build up of Dramatic Irony but often the truth can be saved to The Reveal after the audience has been immersed in the intricacies of the apparent plot so that the shock to the character and the audience match.
So one quickstep is all it takes to fall into a Kansas City Shuffle
It can overlap with, or be part of, a Batman Gambit, if the plotter relies on the pawn's predicted reaction to a piece of misinformation. If a beneficial outcome is assured regardless of whether or not the mark realizes he's being conned, it's probably also a Xanatos Gambit.

The Trope Namer is the song "The Kansas City Shuffle" (see quote above) explained in detail in the movie Lucky Number Slevin. For those of you not from the US, Kansas City is actually in Missouri and is even the largest city in the state. There is a Kansas City, Kansas (it's right across the river), but it's much smaller and usually not what people are talking about when they mention a Kansas City. It throws off many Americans, too, especially those who write off the Midwest as Flyover Country. This is actually a near-perfect physical metaphor, as "when they look on one side of the river, you're on the other". May be employed by means of a Revealing Coverup.

Compare Infraction Distraction, where a similar ploy is used with offenses.

Compare Two Rights Make a Wrong and Massive Multiplayer Scam. Feed the Mole may be a tactic done as part of this strategy. May involve Reverse Psychology. Highly impractical against marks who are Too Dumb to Fool.

WARNING! There are unmarked Spoilers ahead. Beware.

Examples of Kansas City Shuffle include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Kaiji 2, Kaiji defeats Ohtsuki in Underground Chinchirorin by engaging him in a psychological duel, where the crucial component is making Ohtsuki believe he has seen through Kaiji's ploy.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima, Negi pulls one off: His whole "turn into lightning and beat the crap out of Rakan" was actually meant to distract Rakan so Negi could set up another spell. He then pulled out a new upgrade solely so Rakan would attack him with full power. When he does, Negi uses the spell he set up earlier to absorb Rakan's attack and shoot it back at him.
  • In Silent Sinner in Blue, Yukari pulls off a doozy, "trying" to enlist the help of the other youkai for her plan to invade the Lunar Capital with the expectation that Remilia will want to try to beat her there instead, providing a decoy for her to covertly use her boundary powers to infiltrate the Capital. It turns out Yukari had planned even further ahead, and knowing that there were two guardians, set herself up to be a second decoy, while Yuyuko and Youmu were the ones who actually managed to infiltrate the Lunar Palace to steal from it.
  • The Slayers Xellos has relied on Lina distrusting him to betray her, letting her concerns with how he'll double-cross her cover up how he'll double-cross her.
  • This is pretty much how any round of Liar Game works.
    • Round 1, Akiyama makes the teacher believe that they are trying to get him away from the safe. In reality he is trying to get the teacher away from receiving info on when the money would be checked.
    • Round 2, Akiyama makes Fukunaga think that he is trying to get the three guys to fight over the money prize, and they think that they can beat him by tying the round and continuing negotiations later on. In reality, Akiyama had recruited the third guy and was getting them to think of tying.
    • Round 3, Yokoya knows that Akiyama has infiltrated several moles in his country and thinks he can beat the con by reconverting them. He is wrong about the number of moles that have infiltrated. In the same round, Akiyama believes that Yokoya is trying to get their team to lose at a profit. In reality, Yokoya was just trying to run as much funds as he could through his account.
    • Round 4, both Yokoya and Samue think that Akiyama is trying to dominate the chairs game, when in fact he was trying to lay his hands on the winning medals.
  • Early in Code Geass season 2, Lelouch pulls one on Rolo starting off as a Scheherazade Gambit after Rolo has cornered him with a gun to the head. Lelouch offers to bring Rolo CC. Rolo of course assumes that Lelouch is just trying to con Rolo into letting Lelouch escape, but given that Rolo has the power to stop time he plays along, figuring he can kill CC and Lelouch when they try to double-cross him. Lelouch instead engineers a situation (as part of Xanatos Gambit) in which he saves Rolo's life and then to top it off gives CC to him, knowing that Rolo's desire for family will cause him to have a Heel Face Turn if he believes Lelouch actually cares about him.
    • It actually becomes a major plot point later, because the con was SO effective, that even when Lelouch explicitly told Rolo everything he said was lies, Rolo doesn't actually believe him and winds up sacrificing himself to allow Lelouch to escape. This in turn inspires Lelouch to take up a more noble cause than his previous plans for revenge.

Comic Books

  • In one Donald Duck story (written by Per Hedman), Scrooge McDuck needs to get a load of money out of a small country in large part controlled by the local bandit lord, who has spies everywhere and knows about the money. Scrooge lets a spy see him hide the money inside carpets he takes with him, while he sends the safe he had with him ahead by a train. The bandits figure the safe must be a ruse, especially when the railways are hardly reliable, and attack him on the way back and open up the carpet rolls—which are empty, of course, and Scrooge asks whether the bandit lord hadn't noticed his sending the safe along before. The bandits rush ahead to stop the train, only to find the safe empty when they finally get it open. Meanwhile, Donald, whom no-one was paying attention to at this point, has made his way back to the border alone, with the money hidden inside some jugs. So, the trope is actually applied doubly; even once they know it was a Kansas City Shuffle, they're still wrong about how the con works, and trying to beat it still only gets them out of the way.

Fan Works

Films -- Live-Action

  • Lucky Number Slevin uses "Kansas City Shuffle" as a code for a type of con that Mr. Goodkat enacts. We see both the short con version which ends with Goodkat breaking a man's neck, and the long con which involves Slevin being mistaken for Nick Fisher, who owes money to the Boss and the Rabbi (and was the man who just had his neck broken), and comprises the majority of the film's plot. Both bosses assume that Slevin is the patsy in a con being run by the enemy boss, and that by threatening Slevin they can get to each other. In fact, the real con is being run by Slevin himself (along with Goodkat), who just wanted access to the usually untouchable mob bosses so he could kill them both for murdering his family years earlier.
  • In the 2009 movie Push, Nick Grant has a grand one. Now, given how seeing the future works in this, knowing what you're doing lets people see your plan. So with a little memory manipulation, he plays out his plan like he intends to get and use the deadly phlebotinum... twice, to cover the fact that his friends already had it.
  • In Runaway Jury: The hero, Nicholas Easter, pulls his own Kansas City Shuffle on a smug gun industry employee. He tries his hardest to look like he wants absolutely nothing to do with jury duty for a trial against the gun industry, thereby ensuring him a spot as Juror #9. In reality, he wants revenge on the gun industry for a shooting at his school and the death of his girlfriend's sister. His girlfriend pulls a similar trick by convincing the gun employee to pay her off in hopes of winning the jury.
  • Duplicity - The whole movie is about a pair of ex-spies hired by industrialist Dick Garsik to infiltrate his archrival Howard Tully's company and steal his mysterious new product. The spies, meanwhile, are plotting to betray Garsik (and perhaps each other) and take the product for themselves. The shuffle: Tully has no product. He knew all about the spies, and set up an elaborate hoax to waste their time and make Garsik look foolish. At the end, Garsik is announcing the miraculous new cure for baldness he just "developed" to the world, while the spies' buyer tells them that their "cure" is a worthless formula for skin lotion...
  • The 1959 House on Haunted Hill is essentially a whole load of characters going around trying to trap and falling into the traps of others. We can particular point out the trope use in the use of the characters who are playing dead. In Annabelle's case it is a simple misdirection as part of the plot in which she is involved. However when Vincent Price's character reveals himself to have not only been playing dead but also been playing along with his wife's entire plot to just switch out key elements so that it turns back on her, that takes the biscuit.
  • In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, to defeat Todd Ingram's vegan-based psychic powers, Scott puts soy milk in one cup of coffee and half-n-half in the other, then "thinks really hard" that the soy milk is in the cup he's not offering to Todd in order to make him think that he's trying to fool his mind-reading abilities and sneak dairy on him. He was handing him the soy.
  • The Mr. Charles con in Inception, where the mark is made aware that thieves are secretly trying to get into their subconscious in order to con the mark into attempting to stop it, thereby letting said thieves deeper into their subconscious.
  • A simple one happens in GoldenEye. Xenia massacres the programmers at Severnaya, and hears Natalya in the kitchen. She goes in, sees the ceiling vent half-open, and shoots it up without checking for a body. After she and General Ouromov leave, it turns out Natalya was hiding in the cupboard the whole time.
  • The entire plot of Wild Things revolves around Suzie convincing the other conspirators into thinking they know what the con is. Kelly thinks she and Sam will get rid of Suzie and run off together with the money. Ray thinks he and Sam will get rid of both girls, implicate Kelly in Suzie's murder, and split the money two-ways before parting. Sam thinks he and Suzie will frame Kelly for Suzie's "murder", kill Ray, and run off together with the money. Turns out the real plan was for Suzie to fake her own death with Sam's assistance, implicate Kelly, kill both Ray and Sam, and take all the money.
  • In The Usual Suspects, Agent Kujan strongly suspects that Verbal Kint is hiding something and is covering for ex-cop Dean Keaton, who is Kujan's real target. He's right about the first part, but he doesn't realize how badly off he is about the second until after he lets Verbal -- aka Keyser Söze -- walk out of his office.


  • The Princess Bride: Deconstructed, lampshaded, then reconstructed and played straight with the iocane powder. There is a face-off over two cups of wine. One is tainted with the most deadly undetectable poison known to man. The other is just wine. The villain must choose a cup to drink from while the hero drinks from the other. He knows that most people would never dare put the poison in their own cup, so the hero's should be safe. But he knows that only an idiot would not have anticipated him thinking that, so the poison must be in his own cup. But the hero is smarter than that, so he must have put the poison in the other cup. Finally, he actually switches them while the hero is not looking and then chooses that they both drink from their own cup and... He dies. They were both poisoned and the hero was immune to iocane powder.
  • A fairly regular occurrence in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files.
    • In White Night, Lara Raith suggested to a member of another family in the White Court that they should kill off weak female magical practitioners. She did this so that she could rope the other White Court family into the scheme because she knew that eventually Harry Dresden would get involved and generally smash everyone in sight before he realized she came up with the whole thing. He didn't realize until he'd already played straight into the plot because what this amounted to was a ruler of a vampire court deliberately getting their minions to try to supplant said ruler. And nearly dying in the process due to interference by Cowl's Outsider ghouls.
    • In Small Favor, the Order of the Blackened Denarius kidnap a freeholding lord, a recent signatory to the Unseelie Accords, simultaneously threatening that lord, disrupting his power base, and placing the Order in violation of the Accords (thus challenging the weakened White Council to choose risking a multi-front war if they enforce the Accords, and offending the Unseelie Court if they don't). Harry manipulates the White Council into acting, selecting the Archive as arbiter which is what the Order wanted, as it made her vulnerable to a kidnap attempt.
  • The Jorge Luis Borges story "Death and the Compass", where Erik Lonnrot follows a Connect the Deaths around the city, only to find that his nemesis Red Scharlach made a series of fortuitous coincidences look like it had happened on purpose so Lonnrot would find him and Scharlach could kill him without trouble. Just before dying, Lonnrot suggests a simpler puzzle for Scharlach to use in case the two of them ever reincarnate.
  • In Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, this forms the core element of the Big Bad Storm King's Evil Plan, which is to trick the heroes into delivering the Three Swords to him that contain the power necessary to summon him back into Osten Ard, thinking that they are actually the key to defeating him. He and his allies liberally employ harassment, Prophetic Fallacy, and false dreams in service of this notion.
  • Most of the goings on in the Night Watch series involve the good and evil chessmasters Geser and Zabulon (respectively) using the protagonist Anton as an Unwitting Pawn to pull off one of these. Typically, Geser tells Anton to do "w" and Zabulon will have a scheme trying to force Anton to do "x". Anton takes a third option and does "y", which is what Zabulon actually wanted him to choose. However, when things go well, Geser is able to pull off "z" which was his plan all along and which wouldn't have worked had he not instructed Anton to do "w".
  • In Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
    • Zhuge Liang's "Empty Fortress Strategy", which relied on Sima Yi thinking that Zhuge Liang was not willing to take such a risk. (Sima Yi's son Zhao saw through it but was overruled, and in any case Zhuge Liang admitted that he would have been completely screwed had Sima Yi drawn the same conclusion.)
    • Used as part of Cao Cao's Humiliation Conga. Cao Cao, while fleeing from ambush after ambush, comes to a fork in the road. On one fork, is a quantity of smoke, as if from an army's cooking fires. That is the fork that Cao Cao takes, as he knows that his opponent is too smart to really allow his position to be given away like that. Of course, his opponents knew that Cao Cao would head towards the smoke, so the path Cao Cao took had an ambush waiting. This happens twice afterward, and by the third time his officers had already noticed the obvious faster than their lord did.
  • In Ringworld's Children, protector-stage Luis Wu intentionally reveals the existence of his son Wembleth to Tunesmith just before escaping, thus leading Tunesmith to believe that Luis is going to try to smuggle Wembleth off the Ringworld and leaving Tunesmith with no way to control Luis (since Wembleth's life is the leverage Tunesmith has over Luis, or so Tunesmith thinks). Luis's actual plan is to smuggle himself and the Hindmost off the Ringworld and out of Tunesmith's control, since he (Luis) believes that hiding amongst the Ringworld's billions of inhabitants is actually the safest place for Wembleth to be.
  • Ardneh, from the Empire of the East trilogy by Fred Saberhagen, loves to use this one. For example, in the first book, he lets Ekuman know that finding and controlling the mysterious "Elephant" super-weapon is the key to holding or losing the west coast. Ekuman concludes that the resistance plans to find the Elephant and use it to destroy him, and not unreasonably decides that he has to get it first. That turns out to be exactly how Ardneh liberates the entire west coast. In the second book, the demon Zapranoth worries that Ardneh might find out where his life is hidden, so he moves it to where he can better keep an eye on it and guard it. That turns out to be exactly how Ardneh destroys it. In the third book, Ardneh becomes much more powerful than ever before, which leads Wood and John Ominor to conclude that Ardneh will use that power to destroy their empire, so they free the demon-king Orcus, the only force powerful enough to stop Ardneh. That enables Ardneh to destroy both Orcus and the entire empire, along with most of the world's most powerful demons, in a single stroke.
  • Gentleman Bastard Sequence: Locke Lamora attempts this one when he cons a nobleman into giving him money for a business venture. Two members of the Duke's secret police contact Locke's mark to alert him that his new business partner is actually a con man. The mark won't investigate Locke or their joint business venture any more since he knows it's all a scam, but at the same time Locke keeps receiving money because the mark is told that the police is about to make an arrest and if the money stops Locke will flee with all the money he already has. Obviously there will be no arrest, because the "secret police" is actually Locke and his accomplice.
  • Moist Von Lipwig, the protagonist of Going Postal and Making Money, is rather fond of this. In Postal he reminisces on using this with one of his old alternate identities, "lack-of-confidence trickester" Edwin Streep:

He was so patently, obviously bad at running a bent Find-the-Lady game and other street scams that people positively queued up to trick the dumb trickster and walked away grinning... right up to the moment when they tried to spend the coins they'd scooped up so quickly... later on they learned that Streep might be rubbish with a deck of cards but also that his lack was more than made up for by his exceptional skill as a pickpocket.

  • In "The Acquisitive Chuckle" (the first of Isaac Asimov's Black Widowers mysteries), the protagonist had been bankrupted by his crooked business partner, who was also an inveterate collector with more stuff than he could keep track of. The protagonist was seen leaving the ex-partner's house with a briefcase, while chuckling in the exact same way the ex-partner always did after acquiring something in a not-entirely-honest way. For years, the ex-partner went nuts trying to figure out just what had been stolen. What did the protagonist take? Only the ex-partner's peace of mind. The briefcase was empty.

Live-Action TV

  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Magnificent Bastard Garak pulls off a classic in the episode In the Pale Moonlight. The Federation and Klingons have been getting beaten by the Dominion, in part because the Cardassians have been helping the Dominion, and in part because the Romulans have been observing a neutrality pact with the Dominion. At Sisko's urging, Garak has a fake recording made of a strategy session between the Dominion and the Cardassians where the Dominion announces plans to launch a surprise attack on the Romulans, and then invite a prominent Romulan Senator to visit and present him with the recording. The senator correctly realizes that "It's a fake!!!" However, Garak knew from the start the fake hologram wouldn't hold up to scrutiny, and instead had just wanted a reason for the Romulan Senator to come on board DS9, so that Garak could plant a bomb on the Senator's ship. As soon as the Senator departs to expose the fraud, Garak blows up the ship, completing the plan: when the recording is found in the wreckage, the imperfections are presumed to have been a result of damage suffered in the explosion, and the Romulans conclude that the Senator obtained the rod while on a diplomatic mission to the Dominion (which is what he was doing while not secretly visiting DS9) and was killed to prevent the information from getting out. The Romulans promptly go to war against the Dominion.
  • Done on Dollhouse a lot, but particularly in "Briar Rose."
  • Lost:
    • A pretty elegant one late in Season Six, when, Locke/The Man in Black explains to the surviving castaways that he wants them to leave the Island with him in the Ajira plane, but when the good guys ditch him and lock themselves inside Widmore's submarine in "The Candidate," it looks like they've outsmarted him...that is, until Locke/The Man in Black grins and says to survivor Claire, "You don't want to be anywhere on that sub." 'Cause the Magnificent Bastard snuck a bomb onboard. Cue the cruelest twenty minutes of the show's history, as Sayid, Jin, and Sun all perish, Lapidus is left for dead, and the four survivors barely escape and are left to sob on a beach at night. Then there is the second layer to that con. The Man in Black cannot kill the castaways himself so he lets them think that he conned them into locking themselves in the submarine with a bomb. They discover the bomb before the timer runs down so they figure that they can just disarm the bomb to neutralize the trap. However, 'disarming' the bomb actually arms it so the castaways are causing their own deaths which is the Loophole Abuse the Man In Black needed. Ironically Jack figured it out ahead of time but the experienced conman Sawyer insisted on pulling the wires on the bomb
    • In the season two episode "The Long Con", Sawyer plays this straight as can be in his flash back, making a woman think she has caught him trying to con her while that is actually the setup for a much longer and more profitable con.
  • Lightly done in Phoenix Nights, in which club owner Brian Potter seemingly backs a team he picks himself, to enter in a pub quiz for a year's supply of lager. His rival then sabotages them so they lose, however Brian has selected another team to win, behind his rival's back. Of course, this backfires when it's non-alcoholic lager....
  • That time Angel pretended to go evil in season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to get information out of the current Big Bad.
    • And all of season 5 of Angel, but by the bad guys. Get the good guys so tangled up trying to deal with Wolfram & Hart that they don't notice they're being corrupted.
  • Hustle. All the time. If it's obvious how the scam works ten minutes in, you can bet your life that's just what The Mark is supposed to think he's supposed to think.
    • It had a really, really nice one involving a roulette table and a Sheriff from The Wild West. Saying any more will ruin it.
      • Though if you really want to know: The original roulette wheel from the 1800's was mechanised and could be controlled with a sheriff's badge in a slot on the top. Of course the team couldn't let the mark know this so they went to the trouble of constructing (And auctioning off) a fake table just so that their mark could get it. However it was more of "We have to make him think that we are up to something when we aren't".
  • This is common on Leverage; for example, it was the key of the Pilot Episode:

Dubenich: I found the transmitter.
Nate: Oh, you found the transmitter with the blinking light. Yeah, we wanted you to figure some of it out. Then we just gave you what you were expecting.

    • "The Boiler Room Job" is one huge Shuffle, though it's called something else (see this link). The team couldn't con The Mark, because he knew every con and every con man in the country...so they distracted him with an elaborate Big Store con, knowing he'd see right through it, and forget that Hardison was waiting with a trace on his bank account. They even called it the Moonwalking Bear.
  • Mission: Impossible. "The Mind of Stefan Miklos" had them fooling a brilliant intelligence officer with a photographic memory, from whom it would be impossible to hide the fact that they were scamming him; the scam they actually pulled was very carefully staged so that he would draw the wrong conclusions about what he saw and what they wanted him to believe.
    • They did it in a number of episodes. In another case, they conned the warden and second in command of a prison with an escape-proof cell that a political prisoner in the cell had been switched with a double during an attempted escape by some other prisoner: the "double" is then taken away by some helpful security agents who coincidentally happen to be there for interrogation.
  • In the American version of The Office, Dwight plants an obvious bug in Jim's office in the form of a huge wooden duck (er, mallard). Jim quickly finds it and has some fun at Dwight's expense, eventually telling Dwight to stop trying these tricks. In the tag, however, we find out that Dwight actually planted a second, much less conspicuous bug (in the form of a pen) and that the duck (mallard) was just a decoy.
  • In Mad Men, Don Draper executes a magnificent one against his self-proclaimed rival Ted Chaough in "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword." During the competition over the Honda Motorcycles account, the Honda execs make certain rules to ensure a level playing field: each agency is given $3000 to make boards and copy—no finished work allowed. Don goes to great lengths to hint that SCDP is going to make a big, expensive spec commercial for Honda (which is finished work and therefore not allowed) convincing Ted Chaough that his firm should do the same. The problem is that SCDP isn't making a commercial at all (leading to a pretty hilarious scene with Peggy riding around an empty set on a Honda motorcycle) Draper's intention was to severely damage Chaough's firm's budget by fooling them into making the big, expensive commercial. Don resigns the Honda account, returning the $3000, on the grounds that Honda had broken its own rules and he could not honorably do business with them. Chaough's firm is now a mess, and while Honda doesn't end up giving anyone their main motorcycle account, SCDP gets a shot at the advertising for their new automotive division.
  • The Unusuals, in the episode "The Dentist," features a couple of con artists stealing evidence from the precinct. They make a big production of making off with a backpack, indicating that the evidence was in it when they made their getaway. Turns out, the money didn't leave the precinct when they did. They boxed it up and left it with the outgoing mail.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "A Good Man Goes to War", The Doctor dresses as a headless monk in order to apparently turn them and the marines against each other. When Colonel Manton calms the situation down by having everyone disarm and having them chant "we are not fools" The Doctor reveals his true plan, warping in his own army and capturing his now defenseless enemies in one fell swoop. Unfortunately for the Doctor, his enemies are also pulling the Kansas City Shuffle in this episode- there is another armed force on its way and it kills off several of his allies, and the baby he's there to rescue is a fake. In fact the whole point of this seems to have been to humiliate him.
  • How I Met Your Mother. After Barney goads Lily & Marshall into betting that he can't perform several fancy hibachi cooking tricks (with the right to touch Lily's breasts being his prize if he can), Barney starts dropping hints that the bet is a hustle and he's actually a professionally trained hibachi chef. When Lily freaks out about possibly losing, Barney says that if he can just see her breasts they can call the bet off. However, just before Lily bares her chest, Marshall stops her, having deduced that it's a Kansas City Shuffle: Barney was only acting like he could easily win the bet to trick Lily into exposing herself. Marshall and Lily share a laugh at their own cleverness . . . then stare dumbfounded when Barney shows off his hibachi cooking skills for real. Thus actually making it a Xanatos Gambit: no matter what they did, Barney would either see Lilly's tracts of land (partial victory), or touch them (complete victory).
  • In the final episode of the fourth series of Spooks, Rogue Agent Angela Wells infiltrates Section D and holds the team hostage in order to find evidence that the Security Services killed Princess Diana. After the situation's been resolved, Ruth discovers that documents relating to security at Buckingham Palace are missing and deduces that Wells intends to attack the Royal Family. Because of this, the Royals are evacuated to their secure bunker, Pegasus—which an associate of Wells has secretly planted a bomb inside, meaning the evacuation was playing right into her hands.
  • Babylon 5 had one of the more amusing examples of this as Sheridan suckers the entire League of Non-Aligned Worlds into allowing White Stars to patrol their borders and protect them by fueling their paranoia with such acts such as planting a true but very Suspiciously Specific Denial on the Voice of the Resistance broadcast, refusing any explanation for his erratic actions, and letting the League convince themselves that Sheridan was hiding some dire threat, thus making them demand the very thing Sheridan was trying to get them to do.

Tabletop Games

  • Poker lends itself naturally to these. One example is for a player who is holding a strong hand to pull players into the pot. Since (smart) players should pull out from a pot if they known their opponent is strong, a player holding "the nuts" (an unbeatable hand) has to look like he isn't. A player who's bluffing is trying to scare everyone out of the pot and is lying. A player with a strong hand or the nuts could try to look like he's pulling one con (bluffing) while really hoping people "call his bluff." If that player has read books of tells, for example, he could purposefully try to act like a player with "normal" tells to look like his bluffing. It works best against the half-smart. Really good players may have it figured out, and poker players know "bluffing a monkey," or pretending to bluff a monkey, is a waste of time.
  • Diplomacy is a game which consists of seven players guiding European powers through maneuver and negotiation to power. Gameplay consists of rounds of secret negotiations, then writing down one's moves and resolving any conflicts. Since the only mechanic for resolving combat is building alliances, and there is only one winner, every player is always suspecting a con. How you use this atmosphere of suspicion and distrust is up to you. One example: Alice could try to convince Bob to support an action in exchange for mutual support, but Bob refuses, believing he's being suckered. When it's time to write down moves, Alice supports Bob anyway, then acts betrayed when Bob doesn't support her. Bob is now seen an unreliable by Charlie, David, Eve, Trent, and Walter. Alice looks reliable. The reality is, of course, backwards.
  • Bullshit is a card game where players bid books of cards from one to four of a certain number. For example, Alice could bid "One two," and place a two face down on the pile of cards. Bob plays next and could bid, "Three twos," playing three cards on the stack. Players can call "Bullshit!" which forces you to prove your play was legal. If it was, the player who called "Bullshit!" picks up the stack of cards. If it was not legal, you pick up the stack. The object is to empty your hand of all cards. One key component is to make your big bids ("Four fives,") in ways where your opponent calls "Bullshit!" when it's real and doesn't when it's not.

Video Games

  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations: In the beginning of the second case, you unravel Luke Atmey's deception and uncover him as (supposedly) the true identity of master thief Masque de Masque...only for that to turn out to be have been his plan all along, so his presence at a theft will serve as an alibi for the murder he committed and pinned on the actual de Masque.

Web Comics

  • In Freefall, the ninja waiters operate on this basis. By making sure that the customers spot that the screen slides up, they insure that the customers will be watching it trying to spot them, and not looking in any other direction. Later, after the customers are convinced that the screen is just a ruse, they can actually use it to deliver food.
    • Sam knows a lone security guard isn't much of an obstacle if he isn't alone, since he can easily draw the guy into chasing himself.
  • Order of the Stick:
    • Haley runs a textbook example of a Shuffle on the rest of the party while dividing up the treasure in this comic. If they hadn't assumed she was trying to cheat them and tried to counter it, she would have wound up with five worthless rocks as her share of the booty.
    • During the battle of Azure City, Redcloak creates three duplicates of Xykon, having two lead separate charges against the city's defenses and the third one hang back with Redcloak himself. The plan is for the heroes to assume that only two are decoys, waste time trying to deduce which one is the real one, and ultimately attack a decoy regardless of their choice, all while the real Xykon sneaks into the city atop an invisible Dracolich. Fortunately, Haley works out the con, and Roy goes after the real Xykon.

Haley: A con man doesn't choose to play the shell game with you if there is any possibility of him actually losing. The con isn't getting you to pick the wrong shell. The con is in getting you to accept that the basic premise of the game is still being followed.

  • Along with a plethora of Xanatos Gambits, this is the primary tool of Doc Scratch in Homestuck. His crowning moment is undoubtedly convincing the heroes they are destroying the Green Sun, an extremely powerful and dangerous energy source, when in fact they are participating in its creation - and in turn, the creation of an immortal, time-travelling demon. He accomplishes this without telling a single falsehood.

Western Animation

  • In King of the Hill, Peggy cons a con man who conned her by setting up a pretty transparent off-track betting scam, which the mark bought out of before they got to the "and then he loses everything" stage, only to hide the money in a hotel safe that Peggy planted in his room. The failsafe involved stealing his car.
  • The Futurama episode "Law and Oracle" has one when Fry is told of a future crime he has to solve; an oracle robot called "Pickles" gives Fry the prediction that one of the following will happen: 1. He will shoot Bender, causing him to destroy the Maltese Liquor and die; 2. He won't shoot Bender, but everyone human at Planet Express dies from drinking the priceless alcohol. Fry attempts to pick neither, but Pickels appears at the crime and reveals it wasn't a prediction, but a set up. After Fry accidentally shoots Bender, Pickles shoots Fry and drinks the real liquor to kill his human brain, thus removing his psychic abilities; however, it is then revealed that the prediction came true simply because Fry figured out Pickles was the mastermind (due to an inconsistency in Bender sharing) and thus set up the situation to make Pickles lose his powers and arrest him.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Book Job", Bart and Homer form a gang to make big bucks in the field of YA lit. They con the publisher, who one-ups them by recruiting Lisa. Who actually takes their side. But none of them should have trusted team Butt Monkey Neil Gaiman.
  • In the first season Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: I.-S.C.R.E.A.M.", Numbah One deduces that the reason ice cream men aren't stopping for kids anymore is because they're hording it and planning an adults-only ice cream party; this seems substantiated when they shake down one of the mooks and get the password to enter the ice cream factory. However, the true plan - engineered by the Delightful Children - is to lure the heroes to the factory, where the horded ice cream has been used to build the giant ice cream monster.

Other Media

  • Magic tricks and illusions are often based in this, where the audience are led down one path, often with an ostensibly easy trick, only for it to be revealed that the magician was doing a much more impressive trick right under their noses.
  • The final antic in Viva La Fegel has Gunsche informing Hitler that Fegelein is outside with something for Hitler. Hitler immediately assumes that he'll fall victim to the antic if he does so, and for all he knows, "a fucking piano will fall on [him] out of nowhere. Guess what happens.