->''"Oh! what a tangled web we weave\\
When first we practise to deceive!"''
-->-- '''Walter Scott''', ''Marmion'' (Canto VI. Stanza 17)

A suspicious character, thinking a friend or loved one is lying, goes along with the lie, forcing the liar to expand upon the cover story in a grossly outlandish fashion. Named for "pull the thread, and watch the sweater unravel."

In a comedy series, this can result in a FawltyTowersPlot situation. In a drama, it results in the catastrophic collapse of a villain's house-of-cards scheme. May result from SpottingTheThread. Not to be confused with AllClothUnravels, when literally pulling a single loose thread on a piece of clothing causes the whole piece of clothing to come undone.

Contrast SeamlessSpontaneousLie. Compare and contrast ConvictionByContradiction, which skips the "pull the thread" step and jumps straight from catching a lie or mistake to assuming guilt of some greater crime.


[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* This is how [[ChivalrousPervert Gin]] gets outed after trying to set up [[UnwantedHarem Tsukune]] as a [[AccidentalPervert Peeping Tom]] in ''Manga/RosarioToVampire''. Starts out by saying Tsukune moved a barrel, which wasn't in a photo.. Then it all went down hill from there. Now, limited offer only, complete with ''Franchise/AceAttorney'' ShoutOut "The real criminal... [[GivingSomeoneThePointerFinger IS YOU]]!"
* Mazurek in ''Anime/AldnoahZero'', is suspicious of Princess Asseylum when he asks if she befriended any Terrans during her time on Earth. She claims to have no ties to anyone from there, [[spoiler:which contradicts everything Inaho, the Terran who essentially helped him escape from prison on Earth, told him earlier about his time with Asseylum. He then manages to successfully locate and talk to the real Asseylum, recovering from a coma as well as slight amnesia, and gives her a necklace which triggers memories of her time on Earth, along when she was nearly killed by Saazbaum.]]
* In the first episode of ''Manga/TrinitySeven'', Arata notes a drawing his cousin Hijiri did when they were younger, and noticing the yellow sun on it. After Lilith shows up, he asks Hijiri again what color the sun is. She says it's black. He points out the color discrepancy with the drawing from earlier. "Hijiri" then turns out to be a grimoire his cousin left in his care right before disappearing, and the world they were living in was a fake one, and Arata begins his quest to save his cousin.

* Used with Col. Jessup in ''Film/AFewGoodMen''. Tom Cruise's character continues to question Jessup until he catches Jessup in a contradiction: [[spoiler:Jessup had ordered that Santiago was not to be harmed, and assured the court that his orders were always followed, to the letter. Thus, the ArmorPiercingQuestion from Cruise says that if that were true, there would be no reason to transfer Sanitago off the base, as Jessup did, because Santiago shouldn't have been in any danger if Jessup's orders are always followed. It's the slight OhCrap moment from Jessup which follows that begins to unravel his entire testimony.]]
* The film ''Film/ShatteredGlass'' has editor Charles Lane asking reporter Stephen Glass to retrace a sequence of events reported in one of the latter's (completely made-up) news articles. Glass picks a building and a restaurant more or less at random, then has the spectacularly bad luck of discovering both were closed at the time the events in his article supposedly took place. The trope is eventually subverted because no matter how many blatant lies Lane catches him in, Glass never capitulates and continues to spin how it ''could'' have happened (supposedly it happened this way in real life as well).
* The ending of the 1974 version of ''Film/TheTakingOfPelhamOneTwoThree'' [[spoiler:has the last remaining hijacker accidentally giving away his identity with his recognizable sneeze]].

* Recall the elegant subversion in ''Literature/ToKillAMockingbird'': Atticus successfully pulls many threads in the Ewells' story of how Tom raped Mayella, particularly in the disparity of Mayella's bruise and Tom's handicap [[spoiler: but the all-white jury ends up finding him guilty anyway.]]
* In Creator/LoisMcMasterBujold's ''Literature/TheWarriorsApprentice'', Miles invents the "Dendarii Free Mercenaries" out of whole cloth as a quick cover story. Then the new "provisonal members" start to inadvertently Pull the Thread, so he adds more detail. [[spoiler:By the end of the novel there actually ''is'' a Dendarii Free Mercenaries -- uniform, field manual, hidden government backing, and all. The majority of it essentially made up on the spot by three terribly overworked people.]]

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* Every last ''Series/{{Columbo}}'' episode revolves around Lt. Columbo pulling the threads in the culprit's story.
* It's pretty clear that Britta in the ''Series/{{Community}}'' [[Recap/CommunityS1E01Pilot pilot]] has caught early on exactly what kind of guy Jeff ''really'' is, but is stringing him along until he can demonstrate it in front of everyone.
* In all three incarnations of the ''Series/{{CSI}}'' franchise, characters will indicate that it is time to Pull the Thread by saying, "Little lie, big lie."
* The Doctor in ''Series/DoctorWho'' loves doing this. In "Amy's Choice," he sums up his mission (and life philosophy) in two sentences: "Something's not right here. Let's go poke it with a stick..."
* ''Series/EverybodyLovesRaymond'': Ray lies to cover up the fact that he didn't want to have dinner with his mother, Marie. To keep up the lie, he arranges a cover story with his wife. It snowballs until he ends up breaking the VCR and the washing machine, but she figures it out anyway when they run out of lies. Hilariously, Robert's wife Amy confesses to not eating the dinner Marie made them after watching her pull the thread and guilt-trip Ray, because "it's only a matter of time". Then a verbal slip from Marie reveals to Robert that she didn't actually make a special meal for him, [[HypocriticalHumor she made it for Ray]].
* Used on ''Series/{{Friends}}'' to get Chandler to admit he is in a relationship with Monica by having Phoebe come on to him.
** Also, Monica warns Chandler against a similar danger when he sees a photograph of himself making his "bedroom eyes":
-->'''Chandler:''' Oh my God! Those are my bedroom eyes?! Why did you ever sleep with me?
-->'''Monica:''' Do you really want to pull at that thread?
* ''Series/HowIMetYourMother'': The Season 2 episode, "Slap Bet", features Robin revealing that she has an unusual fear of going to the mall. The other members of the group form theories as to why this is. Marshall believes it's because she got married at a mall when she lived in Canada. Not wanting to reveal the real reason, Robin decides to use this as her cover story. Ted decides to test her on it and asks her numerous detailed questions about her wedding, all of which Robin easily answers, but then blows it when she's suddenly unable to think of an answer when Ted asks her the simplest question, [[spoiler: what the groom's name was]].
** The implication seems to be that like a lot of (mainly female) people, Robin has a pretty solid plan of what she wants her wedding to look like, with just a couple of details to be filled into the blanks.
** Robin does this again in the Season 6 episode, "Candy Ranning" when she tells them that they were right in thinking that she slept with a rather dumb guy after a Halloween party and thus did not have time to change out of her costume before the next morning. When the lie unravels we find out that she was still in her nurse uniform costume because it was [[spoiler: actually for an adult diaper commercial she filmed.]]
* Pulling the thread on ''Series/ItsAlwaysSunnyInPhiladelphia'' leads to Frank and Dee (father and daughter mind you) almost getting married just to keep up the lie that they were in a relationship in order to scam some money.
* [[InvertedTrope Repeatedly inverted]] on ''Series/LawAndOrderSpecialVictimsUnit'': Any sociopathic criminal the detectives try this tactic on is so cunning, confident, and prepared, no matter how complex the cover story gets, it never collapses.
* ''Series/LieToMe'': This is half the premise.
* In ''Series/{{Lost}}'', Sayid interrogates a captive who claims to have reached the island by balloon. How big was the balloon? How did he afford it? What was the business he sold?
** Except the captive answers all the questions in a self-consistent manner. Sayid thinks that he's probably lying, but can't tell for certain. [[spoiler: He turns out to be the leader of the Others, [[MagnificentBastard Benjamin Linus]]]].
* The usual first step in ThePerryMasonMethod on ''Franchise/PerryMason''.
* Narrowly averted on ''Series/RaisingHope'' after Virginia tells her cousin Delilah that Maw Maw has died just so Delilah would not come for a visit and see what a mess Virginia's life was. A few years later Delilah comes to town to see if Maw Maw left her anything in her will and Virginia starts spinning more lies to hide the truth. Delilah never finds out the truth because she is more interested in screwing with Virginia than pulling more threads. When she actually sees Maw Maw alive and walking she assumes it is a ghost come to punish her for being such a JerkAss.
* In ''Series/{{Seinfeld}}'', George's desperation not to spend time with his once-potential parents-in-law at a function they have arranged sees him concoct a story about owning a luxurious house in the Hamptons which he is spending time at, and ends with him driving them all the way to the Hamptons to keep the lie going. When he breaks down and admits the truth, they confirm they knew all along, but let him suffer through keeping up the charade because they don't like him very much.
* Emily can't stop herself from pulling the thread in her S4 episode of ''Series/{{Skins}}''; it starts with Naomi telling one small lie to the police and ends in TheReveal that [[spoiler:Naomi cheated on her at a university open day.]]
* The usual tactic used on the BBC panel show ''Series/WouldILieToYou'', where the panelists present facts about either themselves or other famous people/events and the other team has to guess if they're telling the truth. Most lies collapse when the liars are pushed for information they haven't invented and [[ConvictionByContradiction contradict themselves]]. That said, being confused or vague [[ObfuscatingStupidity doesn't always mean they're lying]]...
** A now infamous episode in the fourth series involved comedian Kevin Bridges claiming he once [[ARareSentence accidentally brought a horse]]. The opposing team ''attempted'' this trope, but it led to Bridges' story becoming increasingly bizarre, rambling and far-fetched to the point that it took up nearly a third of the episode by itself, and by the end the entire panel and audience were in uncontrollable hysterics. [[spoiler:Then it turned out to be true.]]
* ''Series/ToTellTheTruth'' features this as a tactic to weed out the liars.
* The ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer'' third season episode "Faith, Hope & Trick" provides an interesting twist to this trope; [[spoiler: Giles isn't trying to catch Buffy in a lie, he's trying to get her to reveal her DarkSecret - that Angel got his soul back, but she had to kill him to save the world. Giles gets her to reveal this by asking for details about that day for a "binding spell" he needs]].
* In ''Series/BrooklynNineNine'', Detective Santiago has a tendency to try and suck up to Captain Holt in order to curry favour and try and persuade him to act as her mentor. Since Captain Holt isn't particularly fond of [[YesMan Yes Men]], he instead tends to use this trope not so much to expose her insincerity (since she does genuinely respect him) but instead to expose the false modesty and flaws in logic that she ties herself in while doing so.

* The Music/JonathanCoulton song "Pull the String" is about this. See title.

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* This is one of the rules of the storytelling game ''The Adventures of Baron Munchausen''. One player starts to tell the most outlandish story about his adventures (Such as the time a pair of Frenchmen took credit for his invention of the hot air balloon), and the other players repeatedly interrupt him with additional questions. The storyteller has to either incorporate them into the story or pass the turn to the next player.


* Oh, Theatre/{{Oedipus|TheKing}}, you just had to pull the thread yourself.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* Episode 1 of ''VideoGame/TheWolfAmongUs'' features Bigby going to Toad's apartment with the place clearly ransacked, while Toad insists that he kept hurting himself trying to get into his apartment last night. Bigby can, if the player chooses, continue to call out the contradictions in Toad's story, until Toad reveals he was covering it up under threat of assault.
* During the ClearMyName quest of ''VideoGame/NeverwinterNights'', Chapter 2 you come across a "witness" who is obviously falsifying his story. Only by pulling the thread of his story can you get him to admit he was nowhere near the scene of the murder.
* In ''VideoGame/DragonAgeOrigins'', there is more than one way to reveal the fake Weylon. One, you just get too near a certain door and refuse to leave. The other is tricking him, intimidating him and forcing him to expand on his story while picking out all the mistakes he makes until he finally merely gets irritated and attacks.
* ''VideoGame/InThe1stDegree'' goes into this trope when it comes to questioning the witnesses: Why were you seen searching the body after the shooting? You were just trying to do CPR? Why would you do CPR if the victim is dying from a bleeding neck wound?

[[folder:Visual Novels]]
* Pulling the thread is an integral concept in the ''Franchise/AceAttorney'' series. In most cases, it's not a matter of playing along with the lie, but of catching the lie and then forcing the person you're questioning into making up a lie to cover up the lie ("No, wait! I was mistaken!"). In at least one case ([[spoiler:Mr. Kudo]]), this actually comes back to bite Phoenix, when he really should have convinced the court to listen to the person he just completely discredited.
** This is essentially the point of the "press" option: if you can't see anything contradictory in the witnesses' current statement, you can ask them to elaborate, which quite often leads to them saying something that ''is'' contradictory, which you can then call them on.
** Subverted or even double subverted in ''Trials & Tribulations'' with [[spoiler:Luke Atmey]] who deliberately makes the details of his major lie contradictive, so that he is found [[spoiler:guilty of a heist, he didn't commit,]] once Phoenix pulls the thread and exposes the lies, and ''then'' use [[spoiler:his "Guilty" verdict as an alibi in the murder, he actually ''did'' commit]]. Which is still exposed in the end by, again, further pulling the thread.
* In ''VisualNovel/{{Clannad}}'', pulling the thread on one of Sunohara's lies leads from how Sunohara's parents will get worried if they're out too late to the invention of an illegitimate adult son for the 23 year old Sagara Misae. Said son is named Sagara Missile. And to make things worse, Sunohara then nicknames Tomoya Apache and Tomoyo The Ultimate Weapon. But it works out okay because they still go and do what he wanted.
* In ''VisualNovel/MyForgedWedding'', Takao asks the PlayerCharacter to pose as his fiancee, because his grandmother's health is failing and it would make her happy to know that Takao found someone to marry. Then his grandmother's health takes an unexpected turn for the better, and she begins making plans for the wedding. Only after they've held a wedding ceremony does she admit that she figured out the truth early on and kept stringing them along mostly in the hopes that they'd fall in love for real.
* Dr. Irie in ''VisualNovel/KissOfRevenge'' rarely confronts the protagonist directly over her suspicious behavior, and even when he does he never reveals everything he knows. His preferred ''modus operandi'' is to play along, hinting just enough of his suspicions to put her on edge, occasionally dangling some bait in front of her to see what she'll do, and generally giving her rope to find out whether or not she'll hang herself with it.
* Happens fairly often in ''Franchise/{{Danganronpa}}''. One example from [[VisualNovel/{{Danganronpa}} the first game]] would be Kirigiri doing this in the second trial. [[spoiler:[[UnsettlingGenderReveal She figured out from her autopsy that Fujisaki was biologically male]], and picked up on Oowada changing his speech patterns slightly during the investigation to give Fujisaki some more masculine pronouns, proving he knew before anyone else. She spent the trial building up the discussion into leading him to a [[INeverSaidItWasPoison slip up revealing more than he should have known]] in front of everyone]].

* Subverted in ''Webcomic/SluggyFreelance''. After making up a lie about going on a date with [[LineOfSightName Corey]][[note]]A bottle of Coors[[/note]], Zoe imagines her friends interrogating her, with her giving increasingly feeble answers. Turns out, none of them cared enough to press her.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* [[UpToEleven Turned up]] in an episode of ''WesternAnimation/{{Cyberchase}}''; [[InsistentTerminology The]] [[BigBad Hacker]] is running for president of {{Cyberspace}}, on the platform of "I'll cure [[BigGood Motherboard]] of that nasty virus I gave her" and mentions that doing so involves a triangle, which can be made with any three lines. When the PowerTrio proves that not all lines can form (closed) triangles, everyone immediately stops believing Hacker and agrees with the kids.
* Happens in an episode of ''WesternAnimation/TheClevelandShow'' when Cleveland and Donna are trying to conceive another child. Cleveland is lying about having an unintentional vasectomy and Donna about being pregnant, but when he finds out Donna faked it because she knew all along, Cleveland tries to play along with his wife's charade until it unravels.

[[folder:Real Life]]
* Miss Manners actually recommended this tactic for dealing with a woman who always has to top whatever story you tell. If you say your wife just had a baby and she brings up a relative who just had triplets, Miss Manners advocates playing along with fervor: "Oh, how wonderful! When were they born? What are their names? How big were they? Did they have any medical problems? I hear triplets can be low birth-weight and need a respirator for a few weeks..." etc. Until she runs out of ammo, or realizes what you're doing, at least you're having as much fun with it as she is.
* This is a common cross-examination technique. In most Western legal systems, lawyers aren't allowed to directly accuse a witness of lying as a challenge. The solution is to pull the thread until an inconsistency, either with evidence or prior statements, comes out. This can then be waved about, usually discrediting the witness in the eyes of the jury.\\
Also a common police interrogation technique. Many confessions have come after the interrogator first gets the suspect to admit to a small lie ("Yeah, okay, I did know him") and then going from there.
** Unfortunately, it's just as easy to get an innocent person to confess with this method as it is a guilty person, which is why Americans are advised to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights and ask for their lawyers even if they are innocent.
* Socrates did this with style and to some people he probably shouldn't have screwed with, although in his opinion it was his duty to do so, and he insisted that he really just wanted to learn instead of just being a dick. The Socratic method owes its name to his rhetoric. It should be noted that Socrates wasn't uncovering lies per se, but hypocrisies. And that he ended up highly dead.
* Louis CK's stand-up routine about kids asking "why?" and how you should understand when their parents tell them to shut up, because "they just keep coming, more questions, ''why, why, why,'' until you don't even now who the fuck you are anymore at the end of the conversation!"
-->"Papa, why can't we go outside?"\\
"'Cause it's raining."\\
"Well, water's coming out of the sky."\\
"'Cause it was in a cloud."\\
"Well, clouds form... when there's... vapor."\\
"...I don't know! I don't know. I don't know any more ''things''. Those are all the things I know."\\
"'Cause I'm stupid. Okay? ''I'm stupid''."\\
"Well, 'cause I didn't pay attention in school, okay? I went to school but I didn't listen in class."\\
"'Cause I was high all the time! I smoked too much pot!"\\
"'Cause my parents gave me no guidance! They didn't give a shit!"\\
"'Cause they fucked in a car and had me, and they resented me for taking their youth!"\\
"Because they had bad morals! They had no compass!"\\
"'Cause ''they'' had shitty parents! It just keeps going back like that!"\\
"'Cause, fuck it, we're alone in the universe!..."
* In mathematics and logic, there is '''proof by contradiction'''—one way of proving something is to assume the opposite is true, and follow the consequent trail of reasoning until you arrive at an obvious fallacy. For instance, one can reason that [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Equals_Zero#All_numbers_equal_all_other_numbers 1 = 2]], but only if somewhere along the way they divide by zero. Since you end up with a contradiction, this shows that the original premise (that the opposite of what you wanted to prove was true) was actually false, and hence what you wanted to prove is true.
** This also provides a meta-example, due to a property intrinsic to formal systems of logic and thus mathematical proofs: for any such system, either it's merely impossible to prove all expressable and relevant true statements (and you can't prove something is true but unprovable), or there is some way within it to actually derive and "prove" contradictory statements... and while mathematicians and logicians can and do tug on that thread enough to be reassured the system of thought and reasoning we use in real life falls into the former category and thus things like division by zero aren't reasonable operations that accurately model reality, that ''[[ParanoiaFuel isn't conclusively provable]]''.
* Debunkers of phony psychics sometimes exploit this approach, "giving away" fake hints to their identity and then watching as self-proclaimed fortune-tellers talk themselves into a corner, building upon such bogus leads.
* Works well when you suspect that your spouse or significant other might be cheating on you. Watch for changing stories and half-truths, commonly known as "trickle truth."