Alice needs to decide between buying a strawberry cake or an apple cake, but she really can't make up her mind. So, she tries to decide by...flipping a coin. Heads, strawberry. Tails, apple.
Flipping coins to decide on an action has been a practice that, according to The Other Wiki
, dates at least back to Ancient Rome. In fiction, it usually happens in the following situations:
- A character is unsure whether the option they are considering is the correct one, so they leave it up to fate.
- The Powers That Be dictate what action must be taken.
- A third party is trying to solve a dispute between two other people or factions. Often happens in contests when there is no clear winner.
Note that this trope can be used when deciding between two characters, things, or virtually anything.
A Born Lucky
character will almost always get the result they want in this. A staple feature of The Gambler
and The Trickster
, who frequently settle their disputes this way. Cheaters tend to use a Two-Headed Coin
. Heads Tails Edge
is a subtrope.
Anime and Manga
- In Hunter × Hunter, members of the Spiders flip a coin to settle disputes.
- In the Pokémon anime, Dawn has a Poketch app to flip a coin which she sometimes uses to make decisions, for example the episode in which she got the Poketch she used it to decide wether to go left or right at a forked road.
- Two-Face's signature item in Batman is a double-headed coin, except one side is all scratched up. This lets him easily identify which side landed.
- In a Donald Duck story by Carl Barks, "Flip Decision", Donald is conned by a charlatan into believing in Flipism: the idea that all of life's choices can be made on the flip of a coin. Hilarity Ensues, of course, though the coin does show uncanny predictive power.
- Mr. Tako habitually does this in King Kong vs. Godzilla to make decisions. He even does it when the two monsters first confront each other in an attempt to predict the winner.
- In Scarface (1932), Guino Rinaldo was the one to popularize this trait as a quirk of gangster and gangster movies in general.
- In Coming To America, Prince Akeem flips a coin to choose between traveling to New York or Los Angeles to find himself a bride.
- In Battle Royale Kiriyama flips a coin to decide whether he'll participate in the Program or not. We later learn that he has no emotions and simply "chooses" what to do. It turns out he could care less what it lands on, and simply decides to kill his classmates mercilessly, because it lands on tails.
- This happens twice in The Mote in God's Eye.
- While the midshipmen are trying not to be captured, Horst Staley proposes flipping a coin when deciding what to do so his Mediator Fyunch(click) can't predict his decisions.
- When the human expedition prepares to leave the Mote system, the Moties send them a gift ship full of alien technology. The human leadership decides to randomly cut up the technology into pieces in case the Moties designed any of it for nefarious purposes. While Lady Sally is directing the procedure she flips a coin to decide how many times to cut.
- No Country for Old Men: The main villain flips a coin to decide whether to kill a potential victim. Those that choose not to take the chance are killed anyway, because they refuse to submit to the Powers That Be.
- In the book Q and A Ram flips a 'lucky coin' to make important decisions throughout his life. As it turns out, Ram's coin was a trick coin and he was fully aware of what life-changing choices he made throughout the story.
- From The Stainless Steel Rat:
I flipped a coin to decide, and of course won since I had palmed the coin before the toss. It was going to be action.
- Isaac Asimov wrote a short story called "The Machine that Won the War", where the final reveal is that a war has been won this way.
- In The Wheel of Time books, Mat, and sometimes Rand, uses this method to make decisions. Since they both have luck-bending reality powers, this has extra significance. Mat in particular has a tendency to get coins landing on their edge.
- In Barefoot Boy With Cheek by Max Shulman, the protagonist decides to flip a coin to answer the question vexing him: "Yetta or Noblesse?" The coin disappears in a snowbank.
- Frequently used to settle haggling debates on Bargain Hunt when the team's expert and the seller cannot agree a price.
- The series finale of JAG ends with Harm and Mac (who finally tied the knot) flipping a Challenge Coin to decide which of them will leave the military and live with the other so they don't have to be stationed apart from each other.
- The Mentalist: An episode of season 2 features the protagonist winning a bet this way. It landed heads 20 times in a row. No wonder they thought he was cheating.
- In an episode of Scrubs, J.D. and Kim can't decide if they want to keep their baby, so they leave it up to a coin toss. It lands on its edge.
- In international soccer/football, the referee does a coin toss with the captains of both teams before the game. The winning captain decides which half of the field his team will defend, and the other team kicks off to start the first half.
- Euro 1968. Italy, against the Soviet Union, won by this after none having scored in the semi-final match. It was the first and only time that this method was used.
- In American Football in general and the Super Bowl in particular, a coin flip decides who gets to choose one of the following first: which goal to defend and whether to kickoff or receive. The winner usually decides to receive and the other team gets to choose which goal to defend; but sometimes the winner will decide which goal, leaving the choice to receive or kick to the loser. At the start of the 2nd, 3rd & 4th quarters the direction of play reverses, and at the top of the 3rd quarter whoever received at the beginning of the game now kicks off. If there\'s overtime they have another coin toss.
- Magic: The Gathering has a few cards that require you to flip a coin.
- This is very common in the Pokemon Trading Card Game. Each player has a coin of his or her own. Players flip to see who goes first. Then there are several cards where the player flips his or her coin to determine the number of cards they draw from their deck or the amount of damage a move will do etc.
- In an episode of Futurama , the main characters enter an alternate universe where coin flips have opposite results causing decisions to be different.
- The Scooby Doo Where Are You episode "Haunted House Hang-Up" had Shaggy flip a piece of baloney with one side covered in mustard to decide which side of a forked road the gang should take. Scooby promptly ate it before it landed.
- "Which Witch Is Which?" zig-zagged this with Shaggy flipping a coin to decide who would enter a spooky shack. Shaggy's options were "heads I win, tails you lose."
- At least one U.S. state has it written into its constitution that, in the event of a perfect tie during an election, the outcome may be decided by a coin flip if other alternatives (run-off, voting by state legislators) are unfeasible or likewise deadlocked.
- In the UK, if an election is tied, the result can be legally decided by either flipping a coin or drawing straws. An example of this was for Bassetlaw District Council in 2000 when tie was broken by flipping a coin.
- In 1845, pioneers Asa Lovejoy (of Boston, Massachusetts) and Francis Pettygrove (of Portland, Maine) both wanted to name a new city after their hometown. They flipped a coin and the city has been known as Portland, Oregon ever since. The coin they used, now known as the "Portland Penny", is on display in the Oregon Historical Society Museum.