"He traded sand for skins, skins for gold, gold for life. In the end, he traded life for sand."
Character A needs something from character B, but character B wants A to get him/her something from character C, who wants something from character D, etc. etc. etc.
In a comedy, the chain either collapses or is rendered moot at the end. One common way of this happening is that the item the character at the end of the chain received breaks or is otherwise unsatisfactory, and the character decides to take his original bartered-away item back. The next character decides that, if he
doesn't get what he
wants, he'll take his
original item back as well, and so on and so forth all the way back up the chain. An alternative to this is that character Z wants what character A originally needed, thus closing character A off from the loop.
In video games, this can be an extension ("extension" being the key word) of a Fetch Quest
, as once you've fetched (or otherwise acquired) the first item, you just have to "fetch" the NPC's willing to trade for it.
See also Fence Painting
, Plot Coupon
, Sidequest Sidestory
, Linked List Clue Methodology
and Match Maker Quest
. Not to be confused with Chain of People
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Anime & Manga
- One of the many, many gadgets Doraemon has is a straw that enables a Chain of Deals to give the wielder what they want.
- Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian has a story like this, starting with a red paper clip, and ending with a teddy bear.
- The One Piece mini-arc Hatchan's Sea-Floor Stroll starts out with one of these.
- In the events of Hyouka's school culture festival, Oreki is given a broken pen from his sister, which (after many swaps and turns involving a bunch of random objects) helps the Classics Club win a contest, making several people happy in the process.
- Occurs in a couple of Carl Barks comics, in particular when Donald Duck's nephews are involved, who seem to be quite good at this. Maharajah Donald starts out as the nephews start with a used-up piece of pencil, they end up with a holiday for them and Donald to India. In the end, Donald is captured and will be thrown into a tiger pit. The nephews find a paperclip, exclaiming they've found the thing that can save their uncle. Cut to "sometime later", when they trade something very valuable for a truckload of raw meat. They throw it over the wall of the tiger pit, feeding the tigers, thus making them not hungry anymore when Donald gets thrown in.
Fairy Tales & Oral Tradition
- Older Than Print: The Japanese legend of the straw millionaire is this trope played completely straight. A poor peasant prays to the goddess of mercy for relief from his miserable life. She grants him a single piece of straw which he trades through his travels until fortunate circumstances lead to the hand in marriage of the daughter of a millionaire.
- There are two stories from The Brothers Grimm, both about a boy named Hans; in one, he trades all the way up to marrying a Princess (if memory serves correctly); in the other, he trades all the way down to nothing (but is still happy, because the last thing he traded for was a freaking huge millstone that did nothing but weigh him down).
- The Old Woman and the Pig, wherein the old woman implores a whole sequence to do something to the person before them to get the pig to jump over the stile. The last one does so, and the whole cascade ensues.
Old Woman: Cat, kill rat! Rat won't gnaw rope, rope won't hang butcher, butcher won't kill ox, ox won't drink water, water won't put out fire, fire won't burn stick, stick won't beat dog, dog won't bite pig, pig won't jump over the stile, and I shan't get home tonight!
- In a Russian fairy tale a rooster choked on a bean. His hen hurried to the housewife asking for some butter to lube rooster's throat, but the woman needed some milk from the cow, who needed the farmer to cut some grass for her, but the farmer needed a scythe from the blacksmith, so the hen ran to the smith, got a scythe and unwound the sequence. Naturally, cynical Russians spoofed the story, so when the hen reaches the blacksmith...
Hen: "Oh, good blackmith, please give me a scythe. Our farmer will cut some grass for the cow, who will give milk, which the housewife shall churn into butter that I will lube rooster's throat with for he choked on a bean."
Blacksmith: "Why sure, I can give you a scythe, but wouldn't it be easier if you just ask me for some butter?"
Hen: "Yeah? And fuck up a cool quest?!"
- This is actually common enough in fairy tales to have its own Aarne-Thompson type number (550). The best-known variants are "Ivan Tsarevitch and the Grey Wolf" and "The Golden Bird", both of which follow the same pattern: The protagonist is tasked (by a wolf in the first story, a fox in the second) to steal a bird from a castle. He gets caught, but the king of the castle offers to give him the bird if he'll steal a horse from the second castle. He gets caught again, and sent to fetch a princess from a third castle in exchange for the horse. In the end, with the help of the wolf/fox, he manages to keep all three.
- The Pirates of the Caribbean films tend to enjoy these types of deals and counter deals: in At World's End, Will Turner needs the Black Pearl to rescue his father, but Sao Feng promises it to Beckett; Beckett wants Jack Sparrow's compass, which Will eventually barters with Beckett, though Davy Jones' condition is the murder of Calypso; but the pirates want Calypso alive, and Barbossa wants her released, though Sao Feng thinks he's already captured her... while Jack swans through it all messing up everyone's chains looking for immortality... which he (sort of) had before the pirates came to rescue him because Barbossa needed — oh, you get the point.
- In the movie The Comrades of Summer the Russian baseball team needs a new backstop. One of the players steals the coaches Walkman and goes through a series of trades in this style. In the final trade he gets a new backstop and two new Walkmans.
- The American Astronaut has Sam, who must return the late king of Venus to his family in Earth, to do so, he must provide Venus with a new king; so he will give the owner of Jupiter a woman and he will give in return The Boy Who Saw A Breast so he can be the new Venusian king. The woman for the Jupiter ruler in turn, is a clon of Eddy, the owner of the Ceres Crossroads who wanted a cat
- Marcello Marcello turns this ad infinitum, considering it is supposed to be a Romantic Comedy.
- The Dragaera novel Orca follows this trope, as Vlad has to fulfill a series of deals in order to obtain a cure for a friend.
- Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's children's book The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish has the protagonist trade his father for two goldfish, then have to unravel the Chain of Deals that resulted afterwards to get his dad back.
- John tries such a chain in Me and My Little Brain after talking to a man who could start with a fifty-cent pocketknife and trade up to a twenty-dollar cow. He manages about nine or ten trades easily, but the chain collapses because he never considered what he would want out of the whole deal. He accepts a piglet as payment in the final trade, but since he can't keep it at home or afford to board it elsewhere, the other boy offers to take it back.
- In one of the Henry Reed books, Henry goes to visit an auction, and starting out with some fireplace tools that turn out to be valuable to another bidder who missed them, he parlays the two dollar bid on the tools through to another item and another, until he ends up getting an item and two dollars for his item, finally ending up with two items that the owner bid $40 apiece, a lot of money to Henry. By the time he's finished he's essentially traded things that he ends up getting something worth $100, which cost him nothing because he got the original $2 back during one of the trades.
- One Fine Day, an old children's book in which a fox gets his tail hacked off for trying to steal a woman's goods; in order to get it back he has to give her a sewing needle, leading to a chain of deals.
- There is a children's story about a woman who wants her son to go to school on time. He refuses, so she tells a cane to beat the boy up. The cane doesn't want to, so she tells a fire to burn the cane. When the fire refuses, she orders a puddle of water to put out the fire, then orders a cow to drink the water when refuses too, tells a butcher to kill the cow, orders a rope to hang the butcher, tells a mouse to gnaw on the rope, and finally tells a cat to eat the mouse, which it agrees to in return for a saucer of milk, and in the end the boy goes off to school. One has to wonder what the moral of the tale is, given that the sociopathic main character callously attempts to orchestrate the deaths of several people, animals and curiously sentient objects just because they refuse to carry out her murderous intents.
- This is how the Deveels in Aspirin's Myth Adventures series make their fortunes. The graphic novel even contains a visual representation of a chain of deals that begins with a coat hanger and concludes with a giant ruby.
- The well-known Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen also wrote a lot of short stories with all sorts of themes and messages — one of these is What Father Does is Always Right (guess the message here) about a man who goes to the market with a horse and makes a long chain of deals, each time lessening the value of his animal/ object and ending up with a sack of rotten apples. He meets a couple of rich Englishmen who make him a wager that his wife will be mad at him for it - however, when he gets home with them, it turns out that she's been insulted by a neighbor, and the rotten apples are just what she needs to get her revenge, and the Englishmen lose the bet.
- Example from a forgotten story in a magazine: The protagonist was named Scipio (after the Roman general) and he lived in a small town. His goal for the story required him to trade things with different people in succession with the end result of allowing a collector to complete his prized set of Napoleonic silver plates if the collector did what Scipio wanted him to do. This story of Scipio trading things to accomplish something apparently a regular feature in this magazine.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, this is the species hat of the Squibs. The more complex and outrageous the deal, the more prestigious it is.
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is about the chain of deals that will result if you do what the title says.
- Francis Spufford's Alternate History novel Red Plenty has a Soviet black marketeer whose entire business is built on these kind of arrangements.
- In one of the Jennings books, Jennings sends off for a sheet of free stamps from a catalogue, hands them round to his friends, and then discovers they were only free "on approval" and so has to get them back. Unfortunately, his friends have already traded them for numerous other possessions, which they can't demand back because those have been traded for other possessions, and so on.
Live Action TV
- The M*A*S*H episodes "For Want of a Boot" and "The Price of Tomato Juice" both involve variations of this.
- By contrast, "The Long John Flap" features a series of separate exchanges involving a pair of Long Johns, but there's no chain to be unwound. Ditto "Give and Take", in which the unwanted assignment of soliciting charity donations gets passed around in this manner.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this is the B-plots of the second-season episode "Progress," notable for containing the first mention of self-sealing stem bolts, and the fifth-season episode "In The Cards". In the seventh-season episode "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River", we learn that such chains are a tenet of Ferengi philosophy - the "Great Material Continuum".
Nog: There are millions upon millions of worlds in the universe, each one filled with too much of one thing, and not enough of another. And the Great Continuum flows through them all like a mighty river, from "have" to "want" and back again! And if we navigate the Continuum with skill and grace, our ship will be filled with everything our hearts desire!
- This example is one an unusual instance of this trope being played for laughs not ending in disaster, even though Nog using O'Brien's access codes puts the chief in serious danger of being arrested, court-martialed, or murdered by Martok at various points in the episode.
- Stargate SG-1 had one of these in the episode "The Ties that Bind"... which also featured Daniel Jackson as the Butt Monkey. Daniel and Vala needed to recover an item Vala stole from a former lover so he would reveal how to sever the bond left behind by the bracelets. Doing this involves a Chain of Deals with other people: the vendor she sold the item to wants the item he traded for it, an ex-smuggler at the monastery she sold that item to wants his old shuttle back, and the Lucian Alliance that has the shuttle isn't going to part with it so they have to steal it. Predictably, even when they finally get all the items back to their rightful owners, the bracelets' owner reveals that he doesn't know how to sever the connection but he thinks it will wear off...eventually.
- A short gag on Sports Night.
- Francis in Malcolm in the Middle attempts this to get something or other, and agrees to make exchanges between just about all the loggers in the camp. The problem for Francis is that it's a chain of promised deals, and he keeps making grander and grander promises to try to ground out the chain at something he can manage. He keeps going unsuccessfully until they find out it's rapidly becoming a complete sham and kick the crap out of him.
- An episode of Greys Anatomy features a chain of kidney donations, where patient A's relative will donate to patient B, patient B's relative to patient C, etc. The chain almost falls apart at a number of occasions.
- Happens in an episode of Dark Angel as a side note rather than a plot point. Apparently this sort of thing is common given the setting.
- Rain attempts to pull one off in order to obtain hot concert tickets (Ron has backstage passes and wants a date with Chelsea, Chelsea wants an appointment with an exclusive stylist which Mallory has, Mallory wants someone to produce a demo tape which Hal can do, Hal will work for food...) in the Naturally Sadie episode "Whose Line Is It Anyway?".
- An Episode of Breaker High, Sean and Jimmy need kitchen access from the chef to bake a pizza, who will only give them the key in exchange for a manicure from Ashley in exchange for phone minutes from Alex in exchange for Denise repairing his shorts in exchange for some Dramamine from Max in exchange for Max's Boombox from Captain Ballard in exchange for a written note from Max forged by Tamira in exchange for a picture of Max from Cassidy, who gives it to Sean "for the school yearbook" and takes it back when she realizes what it's really for, causing Sean to continually try shoddy alternatives as the chain falls apart.
- Al from Married... with Children did this using a barter system to get a recliner. He unfortunately has to undo it to get back the shoes (the ones he usually sells and what he started the system with) when he finds that his boss is coming for an inspection.
- In The Office episode "Garage Sale", Dwight attempts to trade up to "the finest item" at the warehouse Garage Sale via one of these, starting with a single red thumbtack. This is a Shout Out to the "One Red Paperclip" project (see Real Life, below).
- Amazingly, he's able to work his way up to a telescope, which he ultimately swaps with Jim for a packet of "miracle legumes".
- On The Unusuals, the B-plot of the episode "One Man Band" involves Casey having to do one favor after another for her fellow cops (each of which involves having to do a new favor for someone else) so she can arrange for a friend of a friend to be sprung on a minor charge. In the end, she does get him out...just in time to find out that he was actually guilty of the hit and run one of the other detective is investigating, which he can now destroy the evidence of.
- In Eddie Izzard's three-part series Mongrel Nation, there was a scene where Izzard demonstrated the barter system by buying lunch. Result: this trope.
- In the Frasier two-part episode "Semi-Decent Proposal / A Passing Fancy", Frasier wants to go out with a woman named Claire, but is afraid he'll screw things up. He asks Claire's friend Lana to set the two of them up, which she agrees to in exchange for him tutoring her son Kirby to a B- in History. Kirby however, refuses to make an effort, so Frasier promises Kirby that Roz will be his junior prom date if he gets a B (and keeps it a secret from Lana). Frasier then has to get Roz front row seats to a Bruce Springsteen concert in exchange for her cooperation. Naturally, this being Frasier, all the parties involved run into each other at the same restaurant, Lana mistakes Roz for a hooker, and chaos ensues. But after the chain has been unraveled and everyone has stopped yelling, in a surprising turn for a sitcom (where these kinds of incidents usually end up in No Sympathy) everyone just winds up laughing at the ridiculousness rather than staying mad at each other.
- The Law & Order episode "Kid Pro Quo": A rich pornographer wanted his kid in a prestigious private school, but was bumped out by a minority candidate with better scores. The pornographer contacts a friend of his in the cement business, who gives a big price break on cement to a building developer who basically gives the headmaster of the school his apartment (which was going Co-Op, but the headmaster didn't have the money to exercise his legal right to first refusal) for free, who in turn bumps the minority child for the porno guy's kid. The school's Head of Admissions notices this and threatens to raise a public fuss if the decision isn't reversed, leading to her becoming the Victim of the Week.
- The premise of the A&E reality show Barter Kings.
- Leverage: Sophie has to run one of these in Congress to get a vote for a bill in "The Gimme a K Street Job", using a series of different aliases and regional accents.
Nate: Sophie, where are you?
Sophie: Trying to improve the air quality standards in Massachusetts.
Nate: For corn subsidies?
Sophie: No. To get me the fishery concessions that I then trade for logging rights, that get me the redistricting deal that gets me the grant funding that gets me the solar subsidies that finally gets me the bloody stinking corn subsidies. I don't know how anything gets done around here.
- An Important Things With Demetri Martin sketch portrays a particularly long and redundant chain of deals when a woman goes into labour on a plane.
- An episode of Zoey101 titled The Favor Chain centers around this. Zoey wants a ride to the book store to meet her favorite author, and when she asks her dorm advisor, Coco, to do it, Coco agrees if Zoey can get Micheal to cook his grandmother's raviolli recipe. Micheal will do it if Stacey will finish their school project by herself while he cooks. Zoey convinces Stacey to finish the project if Zoey can get her a date with Logan. Logan (reluctantly) agrees to go on a date with Stacey if Zoey gets his class ring back from Dustin which he lost in a bet. Dustin will give the ring back if Zoey convinces Lola to be his assistant in his magic show. Lola, who's looking after a teacher's baby, agrees to do it if Zoey can find someone else to look after the baby. Zoey gets Chase to do it if Zoey can get a group of comic book nerds to stop trying to befriend him. The nerds agree to leave Chase alone if they can have a computer software that Quinn invented. But when Quinn can't hold her end of the deal, the whole chain of favors falls apart.
- The song "There's a Hole in My Bucket'' features a similar situation regarding items needed to fix said bucket. It ends up looping indefinitely:
- A bucket is required, but there's a hole in it. A straw is needed to fix the bucket, but the straw is too long. An axe is needed to cut the straw, but it's too blunt. A stone is required to sharpen the axe, but it's too dry. Water is needed to wet the stone, but it needs to be carried somehow. A bucket is needed to carry the water, but there's a hole in the bucket...
- Cabin Pressure: Douglas runs his smuggling operation this way. He started with a cheese sandwich and within months has traded his way up to goods worth 500 euros.
- One episode of the children's show Jungle Jam and Friends had Millard the monkey constantly trading away what he had, never satisfied, until he finally winds up with nothing but a stick. The the stick saves his life when he falls down a well and it catches on the walls. Then the stick breaks.
- This is kind of the plot of the musical 13.
- In 7th Sea the Vendel (Dutch) have a periodic competition where contestants put into a money pot and each get a small item like a pillow, sword, bag of flour, etc. All contestants have one day to do chains of deals, and whoever has the most profitable item at the end of the day gets the pot.
- Parodied here by Eight Bit Theater.
- The first Skin Horse storyline featured an increasingly absurd chain as main character Tip tried to deal with an increasingly bizarre string of escaped/lost sentient lab experiments.
- Which proved to have some consequences, since he ended up screwing up the whole chain of deals his boss was used to dealing with - which resulted in her having to find out if the new leadership down in the basement is amenable to talking with the folks upstairs. Lampshaded at several points during the whole chain.
- Slightly Damned provides its take on these.
- Featured in Gold Coin Comics, starting here, where it begins with a crappy belated birthday card.
- The SMBC Theater sketch Internet Bartering parodies the One Red Paperclip example nicely.
- Episode 9 of My Little Pony: The Mentally Advanced Series. Twilight needs holy water from Pinkie, who wants vengeance on Fluttershy, who wants her hairbrush back from Rarity, who wants Applejack to lend her some farm hands for her work. Eventually Subverted: in the end, Twilight can't remember who wants what or why, and instead gets some holy water from the mayor.
- The impracticality of this in large-scale societies is one of the major reasons (the others being transportability and storability) for introducing currency* , as opposed to relying on barter for trade. With barter, you have to find someone who both has something you want and wants something you have in order to make a trade (you have berries and want pies but the pie maker doesn't like berries), while with currency you only have to do the former because you know almost everyone will want currency.
- Star Trek reviewer SF Debris went into this topic at some length while reviewing a DS9 episode about a Chain of Deals. He pointed out that although the Federation claims to have eliminated money and the need for money, clearly people still have needs or desires that cannot be met except through exchange of goods and services, and that the absence of an accepted currency just makes the whole thing wastefully inefficient and even comical. He also points out an Accidental Aesop: Since Jake has never used money, he has no comprehension of its value, which is why he thoughtlessly badgers his best friend into trading away several years' worth of savings on a baseball card.
- Wondering about the page picture? As documented on One Red Paperclip, in the course of one year (July 2005 to July 2006) Kyle MacDonald negotiated a Chain of Deals that started with a single red paperclip and ended up with a house — in only fourteen trades! And now he's putting the house up for trade. Someone get this man the Infinity+1 Sword. Incidentally, he borrowed the paperclip back. To bend into an engagement ring to propose to his wife.
- For the compressed summary of his deals, he traded the paperclip for a fish pen for a doorknob for a barbeque for a generator for an 'instant party' package for a snowmobile for a trip to yahk for a cube van for a recording contract for a year in Phoenix for an afternoon with Alice Cooper for a KISS snowglobe for a movie role for a house.
- Daisy chain for kidney donors. Someone in need with of a kidney may have a friend willing to donate to him, but who isn't compatible. So the healthy friend signs up to donate a kidney to anyone that needs it if his sick friend receives a kidney. The result can be a complicated Chain of Deals (all thankfully arranged by sophisticated computer algorithms) in which multiple pairs of friends (recipient and incompatible donor) trade kidneys with other pairs until everyone receives a healthy kidney. The longest such daisy chain of such chain involved 11 people receiving kidneys, all from one non-directed donor offering his kidney to whoever needed it starting the chain. In case anyone is interested they can sign up to be start their own chain of kidney deals (and officially become badass) here.
- In the residential housing market, many sale contracts are conditional on the buyer's current home being sold. This means a situation can arise where the sale of a home is dependent on the sale of another home, which is dependent on the sale of another home, etc. making for a very long chain of held up contracts. When the last seller finds a buyer who is not tied to selling a current home, the entire chain of contracts go through very quickly thereafter.
- Without getting into specifics, players of any kind of Collectible Card Game (or, indeed, collectible anything-that-comes-randomly-blind-packed game) have likely committed to a three-or-more-way trade in order to get that last card for their precious deck/army/complete expansion set.
- One of the more entertaining chains is Jonathan Medina's "Pack to Power" chain, wherein he used the contents of a single Magic The Gathering booster pack to eventually trade for one of the Power Nine, basically the most powerful and expensive cards in the game.
- Interestingly, electrical power systems are often protected by a chain-of-deals-like system. In interlocking, you must satisfy certain conditions in order to operate an item of equipment (disconnectors, earth switches, access gates etc.) which involves following prescribed sequences of opening/closing switches to obtain keys to access other sequences to obtain another key that opens the shutter to the hand crank you need to operate the item of equipment you were interested in the first place. For added super-bonus fun, on offshore windfarms certain steps entail sailing between individual turbines, key clutched in hand. The reason for this intentional complexity is to ensure that all equipment is made safe before anyone gets anywhere near it, and that there is no danger of damaging the main grid.
- Medieval Trade tended to be an extremely complex chain of IOUs spreading from India to Europe and beyond, known in English as bills of exchange. They're the ancestors of modern checks, and could involve money, but as often as not they just directly involved traders swapping goods.