< The human scientific method. >
— Ax, Animorphs
It's not always easy to get people to do what you want them to do. Some people have their own reasons for not completing a task — too dangerous, too counterproductive, too stupid or maybe they just plain don't like you. One way to resolve a deadlock in a situation like this is to "draw straws" - grab a fistful of them in your hand and hold them to make it appear as if they're all the same length (they can be bits of straw from a broom, pipe cleaners, actual drinking straws, or something else short and cylindrical), passing it around for everyone to pick. The loser is the one who picks out the shortest straw. Complaints and hilarity will usually ensue. Common subversions of this trope may include making all of the straws the same length and then declaring everyone the "loser", or one character cheating to avoid drawing the short one (even more bonus points if the character deliberately picks the short straw). A common parody of this trope is to have people illustrate (draw) straws, and then judge the pictures by some criteria. See also Lottery of Doom.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- A variation occurred in the Axis Powers Hetalia movie. The main characters needed to divide into groups when they infiltrated the invading aliens' space ship, but since none of them really wanted to work together, they drew straws to see who would have to team up together. France and England, in particular, were not happy to be paired together.
- Digimon Adventure 02 has the kids draw lots, with the one colored red on the bottom being the "winner" who escapes their prison and tries to rescue the others. When they realize Iori is frightened, they plot to color all of the lots red and make him choose first. Not being stupid, Iori smacks Miyako's hand so that she drops them and proves what they did. So his friends just bodily pick him up and force him out anyway.
- Episode 5 of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann finds the main party in an underground village where, by the creed of its religion (really a bid by the village's leader to conserve limited resources), their population is capped at 50. Anytime this cap is exceeded, the leader has everyone in town draw lots to determine who gets to stay, while the losers are sent to the surface and told that it's paradise, while in fact it's a wasteland where they would likely be killed by Beastmen. When one of the villagers gives birth to twins, the leader rigs this lottery such that Street Urchins Darry and Gimmi are sent away, rationalising that, since they have no family besides each other, they would be the easiest for everyone to let go.
- Haruhi Suzumiya does this to decide how the alien/esper/time traveler-hunting groups would be divided up.
- Anne on Sailor Moon has the girls draw for parts in Snow White. The ends are supposed to be color-coded by role (red for the evil queen, black for a dwarf, white for Snow White), but she cheats by marking one straw red and all the others black. When it's her turn to draw, she tears the tip off her straw, turning it white. Lucky for her that the others didn't end up with an extra dwarf and no queen, or else they would have figured out her plot a lot sooner.
- In the original Japanese version, all of them but Usagi did tumble to her trick... but let her get away with it out of sympathy for the newcomer.
- In Sound of the Sky, it's a tradition that one of the girls of the garrison plays the part of the Maiden of Fire in Seize's Water Splashing Festival. She's chosen drawing straws although the officer cheats to have one particular girl to do it.
- In one strip, Dilbert and his co-workers are drawing straws to decide who has to murder an annoying co-worker. Dilbert gets a long straw, but is told they weren't drawing for short, they were drawing for the differently colored straw (which he, of course, had).
- In a variation, the Boss once had his employees draw donuts to see which one of them would be laid off; the "losing" donut contained a memo firing the recipient. Somehow, to the Boss's annoyance, the meeting ended without anyone losing their job.
Dilbert: How was your donut?Wally: The first two were great. The third was papery.
- A unique take in a 1930's story of Dick Tracy. Discovering their beloved mayor was murdered and replaced by a criminal imposter, the outraged people of Chinatown decide to settle things their way. They draw from a jar of white marbles, one holding a black one but not saying who that is. The group go to the police station to confront the imposter, holding kerchiefs before their faces with one blowing a poison-tipped blowdart to kill the criminal. They're all arrested but only the guilty party knows who the killer was so the police are forced to let them all go.
Films — Live-Action
- This is done in Clue with matchsticks to determine who will be paired up with whom as they split up to search the house.
- In The Ladykillers, it's done with matchsticks, to determine which of the gang will get rid of Mrs. Wilberforce.
- In Cinderella, the mice use their own tails as straws to choose who gets to act as a decoy for Lucifer while the others get breakfast.
- The Core actually uses straws — and the guy who wants to volunteer cheats to make sure he has the short one.
- Armageddon: Harry initially rejects this idea, insisting he be the one to stay behind and detonate the bomb, but the others refuse and demand that they all draw. AJ ends up with the short straw, but Harry pulls out one of AJ's breathing tube, preventing him from being able to go so Harry can make the sacrifice instead, because he thinks it's more important that his daughter gets to keep her fiancé than her father.
- The only ones who don't draw are the pilots (as they're needed to fly and land the shuttle) and Rockhound (who wants to do it, but as he's gone crazy, no one will let him).
- Wolf and Hans do this to decide who will stay on the moon in Woman in the Moon, effectively dooming that person to death by dehydration. Hans draws the short straw, but Wolf makes a Heroic Sacrifice by secretly staying behind and letting Hans go on the rocket instead. Wolf then discovers that Friede stayed behind too so they could die together.
- In Duck Soup, Chicolini decides who will join the battle with a variant of "Eeny meeny miny moe":
"Rrrrrrrinspot! One-sa, two-sa, zig-zag-zav, poptie, gimmega, tin-lie, tav, harem, scarem, moychan, tarem, tare, tore...[points to himself] I did it wrong"
- Eventually he just points to Harpo's character and says "You go."
- In Leaving Normal, Darly tears various lengths off cigarettes and makes Marienne choose one to determine which way they drive.
- In Shallow Grave Alex, Juliet and David do this to decide which one of them will be responsible for dismembering Hugo's body.
- 12 to the Moon (1960). The crew to decide which two men will pilot the space taxi to drop nuclear bomblets on the aliens who are freezing the Earth.
- In Halo: Nightfall, after the dropship is destroyed, the only way off the Halo fragment is a two-person shuttle. When asked how to choose who will go and who will die, the group settles on this trope. However, a few members disagree with this, to the point where they start trying to kill off their teammates to save themselves. By the end, only three characters survive to participate in the draw, done with beads from a rosary. The ex-Spartan, who has lost his daughter earlier in the film, rigs the draw so he can stay behind to detonate the nuke, allowing the other two to escape.
- In Edgar Allan Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the main characters are stranded on a becalmed ship in the middle of the ocean, and they draw straws to decide who will be eaten.
- This is how Oliver in Oliver Twist (and the film adaptations) gets chosen as the one to ask for "more". Although in his case, he gets the lone long straw.
- Used routinely in Animorphs, hence the page quote. To be fair, it's probably justified in that they are doing most everything on the fly, and have to make decisions quickly if no one volunteers.
- In #9, they draw straws to see who'll be the distraction. To everyone's surprise, not least his own, Jake The Leader draws it.
- In #27, The Exposed, Tobias uses his position in the air and his hawk eyesight to see which of the straws is shortest. When his girlfriend, Rachel, glares him into telling her which it is, so she can have the most dangerous job and be the one who gets the mission back on track, he gives himself the second-shortest so that he ends up being the one to accompany her and make sure she doesn't get killed.
- Near the beginning of Shogun, the local daimyo orders the Dutch sailors to choose one of their number to be executed, and they use this method.
- In Stephen King's IT, the kids decide to go on a Vision Quest by filling their underground clubhouse with smoke, but they are aware of the potential danger in this, so decide that one person should stay outside and rescue the others if things go badly. Beverly lights a match, puts it out, then pulls out six unused matches, and each kid draws one in turn, with the agreement that whoever drew the burnt match would stay outside. However, despite the fact that they all saw Beverly burn the match, all seven of them end up with an unused match. They decide this means it that they are all fated to be part of the quest and should have faith that it will work out.
- In Feet of Clay, a golem confesses to some murders but is discovered to be lying (via I Never Said It Was Poison in reverse; he answers "yes" to "did you beat his head in with an iron bar" when that wasn't the murder weapon). Angua follows the trail to where he was and discovers a place where several golems met and drew straws to decide which one of them would confess to the Watch, as they all felt responsible for building the golem that actually committed the murders.
- In an episode of M*A*S*H, the Doctors draw straws to see what Doctor and what Nurse would go on a mission at the Front. Except...they were out of straws so they drew link sausages Radar saved from lunch out of a bedpan.
- A more in-line example comes from the episode "Edwina", involving a nurse named Edwina Ferguson ("Nurse Eddie") who was accident-prone and had never been on a date before. The other nurses go on a "date strike" until someone goes out with her. The guys draw straws and Hawkeye gets the short straw, meaning he has to ask her out.
- Another in-line example comes when an unexploded bomb lands in the compound. Hawkeye, Trapper and Frank draw straws to see who has to go out and check the bomb for any serial numbers, and see if the bomb is still active. Frank pulls the short straw, and promptly faints as he's walking out the door.
- In Big Bad Beetleborgs, monsters do this at some point, only with bones. Fangule draws the shortest one, but pulls the longest one from his sleeve. Little Ghoul later calls him on it:
Fangula: We're counting on you!Little Ghoul: Especially you, mister "I have one more bone up my sleeve", right?
- Done in one episode of Gilligan's Island to decide who has to stay outside the cave in a hurricane. Gilligan subverts the usual by breaking the straw so he will stay outside instead of endangering anyone else. At the end, however, everyone joins him outside before the cave is struck by lightning and the entrance collapses.
- In the Monty Python sketch "Ypres 1914" the soldiers draw straws to find out which one will "take the other way out." The Major gets the short straw, so he decides to do Eeny Meeny Miney Moe instead. He still gets picked, so he decides on Rock-Paper-Scissors, and he still loses.
- In Stargate SG-1, there is an episode where Jack has to pretend to be a double agent, and when Daniel comes to his house to talk to him, he is extremely aggressive and claims their entire friendship was a lie. At the end of the episode, everything is explained.
Jack: The entire place was bugged...I had to keep acting to keep them off my trail. But it really means a lot to me that you came. I really appreciate—Daniel: Jack, Jack—we drew straws. To see who'd go over to your house. I lost.
- Stargate Atlantis: When the expedition accidentally starts destroying an alternate universe while attempting to unlock a power source, an Rodney McKay comes through to tell them to stop, having been chosen to do so because he drew the short straw. In a subversion, this is considered "Winning" by Alternate McKay, since he saw it as a chance to save an entire universe.
- In the first season cliffhanger episode, McKay and two technicians draw straws (actually, broken pieces of a pencil) to see who would have to go outside an Ancient defense satellite and repair a damaged power coupling.
- The groomsmen in Harper's Island use this method to chose who buries the bag of money, alone at night in the middle of unfamiliar woods. It goes to poor Booth of course and he ends up shooting himself in fright when a friend turns up to help and bleeding to death. It's an Idiot Subplot.
- Married... with Children: Straws are drawn to determine who swims for help after Al/Peggy's cruise ship sinks.
- The Monkees once played with this trope. Upon the announcement "Draw straws!", each one grabs a paper and pen and begins to draw a straw.
- In the later series of Misfits, whenever the protagonists have to kill someone, they draw straws to see who has to do the actual killing.
- Game of Thrones. Rather than risk taking on 8000 Unsullied, the Titan's Bastard decides the best way to defeat Daenerys Targarean is to assassinate her. He puts three coins in the palm of a bedslave who passes one out to each sellsword captain — the one who picks the Braavosi coin gets the dangerous task of sneaking into her camp to do the deed. The man selected decides to murder his fellow captains and swear allegiance to Daenerys instead.
- JAG: In "Retrial", the wives of the bigamist prosecuted by Mac drew straws on who shouldn't divorce him.
- In The Outer Limits (1963) episode "Nightmare", the POWs draw straws to decide which one should kill their alien guard.
- In The Pinkertons episode "Reunion", four women who committed a crime when they were all nurses during The American Civil War draw lots to determine which one should make contact with their blackmailer.
- The Goodies: In "The End", the boys draw straws to decide which one of them will be killed and eaten after they are sealed inside a block of concrete. Bill, who does not know what they are drawing for, is the 'winner'.
Myths & Religion
- In Greek Mythology, Zeus knew that since Hades was the eldest brother, he would get his pick over which kingdom to rule. Zeus instead persuaded both his brothers to draw straws for their kingdoms, ending with Hades drawing the short straw and getting rule over the land of the dead. Poseidon, of course, got the kingdom of the sea, and Zeus became the king of the gods with command over the heavens.
- This is only in some (often more modern) versions. Hades' realm is not merely the land of the dead, but everything underground including the minerals and ore, gaining the wealthiest part of the inheritance.
- Samurai Swords (originally named Shogun) used this as a game mechanic. At the start of each turn, the players drew plastic katanas and the order of play is based on the pips on the individual swords.
- In FTL: Faster Than Light, you may come across a pirate ship whose crew will demand that you hand over to them someone from your ship. You can have your crew draw straws, losing a randomly selected crewmember. Or you can refuse, resulting in a battle that may end with them handing over one of their slaves to save their sorry asses.
- In the first chapter of Super Dangan Ronpa 2, Komaeda suggests they draw straws to decide who's in charge of cleaning up a lodge so that they can throw a party there. Ironically enough, despite his "Super High School Level Good Luck", he draws the short straw. It later turns out that his good luck got him exactly what he wanted. He wanted to clean the lodge so that he could set up a murder during the party.
- In a Biter Comics strip, a group of young friends draw straws to decide who to eat when they get caught out in the snow with no food, although we soon find out the direness of the situation may have been exaggerated.
- Happens in The Stormrunners when the Martians and their human guests are under attack. Short straw gets to be first line of defense. The humans are excluded because they're "tourists".
- Champions of Faraus: This is what the ursarer guard that has to drop Will off with his aunt, and break the news that her sister and brother in-law are dead at the start of the short story "Will's induction" is mulling over.
Ursarer:(Thinking) Of course I drew the short piece of straw.
- Played for laughs in No Need for Bushido. A group of assassins draw straws to see who gets to go after their target. Uso, the Master of Illusion, wins... and then Ryoku, the Blind Weaponmaster, cuts his straw shorter and declares that he's the true winner. Uso angrily challenges Ryoku, but when Ryoku accepts Uso reconsiders, since his visual illusions would have no effect on Ryoku and a battle between the two would result in Uso getting killed easily.
- On The Simpsons, Moe choses the designated driver of the night by having the others pick pickled eggs from a jar and seeing who gets the black one, "the same way the Vatican picks the new Pope".
- Subverted on a Season 2 episode of South Park when the adult authority figures get trapped in a snowstorm while re-enacting when Dr. Mephesto got shot before revealing who Cartman's father was. They drew straws over who would be eaten first, but because it was Officer Barbrady who put together the straws, everybody got the long straw.
Jimbo: Dammit, Barbrady! When you draw straws, you're supposed to have one of them short! That's how you decide who loses!
Barbrady: That's not how I played it!
- Inverted in an episode of Cow and Chicken when Chicken's group of friends decide to draw straws to see who would go into the girls' bathroom. They literally draw on paper, and determine the loser by who drew the best. It was Chicken.
- In an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, Fred had Shaggy and Scooby draw broom straws to determine which of the three would stand guard that night. Scooby drew the shortest straw.
- Played with in Chowder, where the cast literally draw straws.
- Towards the end of the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode, "Room With a Feud", Madame Foster does this to decide who gets the new room. Eduardo gets the shortest straw and wins the room, but eventually, Wilt, Coco, and Bloo move into the new room as well.
- In the Tiny Toon Adventures episode, "Buster and The Wolverine", Plucky suggests this to decide who gets to capture The Wolverine. Hamton gets an incredibly long straw with a sign that says, "Tough Luck Chum!" at the end of it.
- In the 2013 Mickey Mouse short "No Service", Mickey suggests this to decide who gets to wear each other's clothes and buy food from Goofy's Snack Shack, due to its No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service policy. Donald's feathers take the place of straws and Donald picks the longest one, forcing Mickey to surrender his clothes to him and stay outside naked while he orders the food.
- In Code Lyoko's "Nobody in Particular," they draw straws using string beans. Shortest string bean had to be the volunteer to try out Jérémie's prototype program. Ulrich draws the shortest bean. Drama Ensues.
- In Speedy Gonzales, the mice do this to decide who will try and get past Sylvester and into the cheese factory. A mouse named Manuel draws the short straw and gets eaten by Sylvester. After this, the mice recruit Speedy Gonzales to help them.
- In one episode of Muppet Babies, when the babies believe that Nanny is getting rid of one of them (really giving an old chair to a furniture repair shop), Piggy decides they'll choose by drawing from a bag of marbles, saying that whoever gets the black marble will be the one to go. She has Gonzo go first and Gonzo ends up getting the black marble. Just when Piggy is shoving Gonzo out of the nursery, Skeeter looks in the bag to see that all the marbles are black.
- In the Sonic Boom episode, "Spacemageddonocalypse", when a large asteroid is headed towards Earth, Dr. Eggman has an underground bunker to protect the citizens of Bygone Island. When he is unable to figure out who he should allow in his bunker, Eggman sends Cubot out to have the attendees draw straws. After wondering if he should include someone he hates to replace Sonic as his new nemesis, Cubot returns- with drawings of straws.
Cubot: I like the bendy one!