"Susie, if you want to see your doll again, leave $100 in this envelope by the tree out front. You cannot trace us. You cannot find us. ...Sincerely, Calvin"
The classic, instantly recognizable ransom note made from individual clippings of letters or words glued onto a piece of paper. In modern fiction, distorted phone voices
have the same meaning.
The Real Life
justification is, of course, that handwriting is identifiable. A largely Discredited Trope
in modern fiction given the prevalence of computers, telephones and other more convenient forms of covert communication. A modern criminal is more likely to simply type up a message and print it. The modern crook has little use for taking the time to create a note that can accumulate fingerprints, not to mention result in a suspicious pile of hacked up magazines.
Anime and Manga
- In Medaka Box, episode/chapter 02, a moment similar to the Sherlock Holmes example below, played up to eleven with Medaka remembering every single newspaper and their different editions.
- In The Big Lebowski, the nihilists make a cut-and-paste ransom note about kidnapping Bunny Lebowski. Given the film's deliberate invocations of old film noir tropes, it's played fairly straight, despite the film being set in the early 1990s.
- In Inspector Gadget 2, Dr. Claw sends Gadget such a letter to lead him into a trap, signed A Concerned Citizen. Gadget concludes that the citizen must have terrible handwriting.
- The Riddler writes some of his riddles this way in Batman Forever.
- In Fantastic Mr. Fox, the farmers and the animals each send the other a cut-and-paste note. Neither side understands why, because they already know each other's identities. Fox even signs his name.
- Who’s Harry Crumb: The title character is investigating in a kidnapping and the ransom note is this kind of letter.
Harry Crumb: “You gonna have your lab inspect this note as much as you want but they may never discover what I already know.”
Detective Casey: “And what is that, Mr Crumb?”
Harry Crumb: “You find that crazy Typewriter and you’ll have your Kidnappers."
- Older than Television: The original example was from the Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound Of The Baskervilles, where it wasn't a ransom note, but a warning. Holmes was clever enough to identify the newspapers that had been chopped up, by the font, and the type of scissors used to do it.
- Also a slight subversion, in that one of the words of the message was rare enough that the author had to handwrite it. No explanation is given for why they didn't just cut out the individual letters required instead (Or cut out the word 'room' and then swap the r and m).
- The villain in Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers does this.
- In Making Money, Moist's old partner-in-crime Cribbins is more familiar with the Ankh-Morpork Times newspaper from having made this sort of note than from actually sitting down and reading it.
- In an episode of House, Wilson is seen "clipping coupons." When House's beloved guitar is "kidnapped" and the Cut And Paste Note shows up demanding ransom, it's not exactly a mystery as to who did it..
- Not that Wilson's actually trying to hide his involvement or anything...
- House later comes across Wilson nonchalantly reading a newspaper with big holes cut out of it.
- In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Is At Your Service", Monk, while undercover as Paul Buchanan's butler, solves the murders of Paul's parents thanks to a charred letter in the fireplace. Then he flips through the magazines belonging to his predecessor Edward Stilson and he notices the gaps in the pages.
- Al Bundy sent one of these to his TV hero Psycho Dad on Married... with Children. He spells "Psycho" with the words S-Y-K-O, claiming that it's impossible to find "P"s and "H"s in USA Today.
- Sarcastically suggested by Xander of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when the Scoobies have captured one of the Big Bad's Mooks in a Season 7 episode: "Dear Mr. First, if you ever want to see your Bringer again. . ."
- Played straight in an episode of Psych, when Mr. Yang sends one to the SBPD as part of a Criminal Mind Game.
- An audio variation in Person of Interest, where the Machine communicates by cutting and pasting audio clips of different people saying different words or phrases.
- On My Name Is Earl, several years before making The List, Earl and the gang stole a box of silverware from the library. Said silverware was very old and (somewhat) valuable, and everyone in the group wanted it for themselves. Earl excuses himself to the bathroom, and takes magazines to make one of these, saying that he has the silverware, and unless the librarian gives him ransom money at a particular time and place, he's going to kill the silverware. (Earl never was the brightest crayon in the box...)
- Calvin and Hobbes. A different arc involves Hobbes sending Calvin anonymous coded insults using this; Calvin's mom eventually scolds Calvin for cutting up her magazines, and he figures it out. Similarly, he uses it to insult Susie, and in one storyline sends the page quote in a ransom note after kidnapping her doll.
- Parodied in a comic in the March 21, 2010 edition of Parade magazine. A man reads a Cut-and-Paste Note reading "I've got your magazine. Send $1 million or I'll cut out more letters."
- Grand Avenue. In the strip for March 25th 2013, Michael's grandmother sends a note in his lunchbag made with cut out letters. It says "Eat the carrots or kiss your video games goodbye". He thinks "Some kids get notes of encouragement in their lunches."
- The SCP Foundation has SCP-1020, an indestructible, self-replenishing kit for making Cut And Paste Notes which periodically becomes animated and makes its own ransom notes. If the person the note is addressed to opens the envelope the victims named in the note will disappear into the thin air, and will then reappear out of thin air once the ransom demands are met. The ransom demands are often strange, and don't seem to to do anything to benefit the entity making the demands.
- Goof Troop played with it once: Pete ripped out half the note, "I'm going to get you", and was scared straight, until Goofy pointed out the other half, "...a new hedge clipper".
- The episode of The Simpsons where "someone" is trying to kill Bart, and we see Marge with a big pair of scissors, cutting out something that says "DIE". She says, "Bart, I'm going to get you...! [insert gasping horror here] ...some ice cream at the store, since I'm saving so much money on diet soda!"
- South Park played this once when a pervert starts dropping cut and paste notes every time he... uh... does something really nasty to the hens in town. These hints are all bleeding obvious... but since Barbrady is 100% illiterate, he just sees a bunch of signs and letters all scrambled all over the sheet.
- It's The Plan to get Barbrady to learn to read.
- And then it fails spectacularly when Barbrady reads Atlas Shrugged and decides reading sucks.
- The SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Blackjack" had the character the episode is named after send Spongebob notes in this style, in the form of making it sound like Blackjack was out to get Spongebob. Of course, this was all misconstrued for figurative when it was all literal, and the episode's ending just makes it all the more laughable.
- Played almost straight on an episode of the 80s version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles manage to get their hands on the MacGuffin, a set of cuff links, but the villains capture April. They send the Turtles a Cut-and-Paste Note demanding an exchange, April for the "buff links". The last part confuses Michaelangelo before Donatello suggests that they must have run out of c's.
- An episode of The Powerpuff Girls has the Mayor sent one of these by Sedusa in a Shout-Out to the Lebowski example above.
- The FBI keeps databases of paper, glue, and newspapers to help identify notes like that. For more modern notes, they also keep information on photocopiers, computer printers, toner and ink.
- Even worse, some printers actively stamp their serial number on every page printed. If that doesn't make you paranoid, nothing will.
- Even seemingly identical typefaces—Times New Roman and Nimbus Roman, for example—can be distinguished under a powerful enough magnifying glass. Back in the early days of home computing when there were multiple competing word-processor packages for several competing system architectures, this could go a long way to narrowing down the list of people who could have printed a particular document.
- One of the funniest real life uses of the Cut-and-Paste Note is probably the one made by the thief of a giant golden cookie in Germany. With a photo of them dressed as Cookie Monster. Gotta pity the people who had to read the news on this with a straight face.
- The term "ransom note effect" is used to describe the result of using too many fonts (particularly if they clash with each other and/or are just plain ugly in their own right) in a document.
We don't negotiate with criminals. Looks like it's time for a new Image Pickin' thread.