"Alright, that's it - I'm flipping a virtual coin to make my decision." *beat* "YAUGH! How does a virtual coin land on its side!?"
Put simply, a character flips a coin
, which lands on its edge. This generally happens for one of two reasons:
- The character is using the coin flip to make a decision. When the coin lands on edge, they take it as a signal either to be indecisive or to Take a Third Option. This frequently results in the best of both options being employed. Hilarity Ensues in a comedy series. Screw Destiny follows if the character was facing a Sadistic Choice. Gambit Pileup occurs if the other side of the conflict had a Xanatos Gambit in play to account for both possibilities but not this one. And if the coin was a metafictional Schrödinger's Gun, the entire plot goes Off the Rails.
- Something is messing with the laws of probability. Weighted coins, supernatural causes, Negative Space Wedgie...
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- In one Nestea ad, a young man on vacation spins an iced tea bottle to decide between two activities: a jungle canopy tour with some girls, or kayaking with some guys. The bottle stops halfway in between, pointing at a wild-looking jungle man. So he heads off with the jungle man.
- In the game Betrayal at House on the Hill, there is an item called the Mystic Coin which, when flipped, has a one-third chance of landing on its edge, causing your character to take physical and mental damage.
- Astérix once had a con-man visit the village pretending to be an oracle that predicts the future. When captured and tested by Romans, they did the simple coin-flip test and the oracle declared that it will be neither heads nor tails. The cartoon additionally showed the coin bouncing all over the place to finally land on edge.
- In one of the early Two-Face stories in the Batman comics, Two-Face tosses his coin to decide whether to reform or not. It lands on its edge, caught in the gap in the floor boards. He declares it's now up to fate to decide and puts the coin away in his vest pocket. He is later saved when a policeman tries to shoot him and the bullet deflects off the coin. As the bullet struck the scarred side, Two-Face decides this means he was meant to be a criminal. Talk about nice job breaking it officer.
- In the very first Two-Face story, after Two-Face captured Batman and Robin and released them unharmed because the coin said so, he captured Batman again. Two-Face said that heads he would free Batman, tails he would kill, and Batman asked about the edge, and said he should agree to turn himself in and co-operate with all plastic surgery and psychotherapy needed to become normal. Two-Face agrees, and the coin does land on its edge. Afterward, Batman revealed to Robin that he had switched Two-Face's coin for one Batman had built and loaded himself. (Unfortunately, Two-Face was too interesting a villain to have only one story.)
- In one Spirou and Fantasio story, mobsters kidnap the eponymous duo to aide in their fight against The Triad (because they are Born Lucky while the gang is cursed with bad luck), and before the boss goes to talk with them, he asks his right hand man to flip his lucky coin, heads for them agreeing to help, tails for agreeing gladly. It lands in a roof gutter.
- In a Richie Rich single-page story, Reggie Van Dough was about to flip his double-headed coin to determine who would pay for a meal he and Richie shared: (paraphrasing) "If the coin lands on edge, I'll pay for both of our meals!" The coin did indeed land on edge. It turned out that Richie put glue all around the coin's edge.
- In one of many attempts to choose between Betty and Veronica, Archie Andrews flipped a coin. Naturally, it landed on its edge.
- "What's the Case" by Ann-Kathrin Kniggendorf, written for Galaxy Rangers. A suspect decides to try an rob a store Gooseman and several other armed customer are shopping in. Goose bums a quarter to try and decide how to find the case. "Heads: it's a robbery, tails: a suicide." The coin lodges in the floor.
Film — Live Action
- The governor in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington needs to appoint a senator; he's trying to decide whether to pick the guy the political boss likes or the popular favorite. When the coin lands on edge, he picks the guy his kids like — who also happens to be the subject of the story that the coin landed on.
- Occurs in MouseHunt. The two brothers flip a coin to decide who gets the sole twin-sized bed in the house they inherited. The coin rolls across the floor to a still vertical stop. They slowly turn to look at each other, amazed... cut to them both in bed together.
- In Shaolin Soccer, one of the ex monks states that their chances of winning the soccer tournament are the same as the coin landing on its side. A little later he drops it. Guess where it lands.
- To be fair, it rolled into a crack in the pavement.
- Happens in Sholay.
- In Truth Or Consequences, N.M., the Psycho for Hire played by Kiefer Sutherland, obsessed with the Twilight Zone episode mentioned below, keeps flipping a coin to try to get it to land on its side. During the climax, it finally does right before he's killed.
- In surreal French-Spanish comedy Charlots Go to Spain (AKA Crazy Boys in Spain, AKA Les Charlots font l'Espagne) The Charlots disagree reading the map and can't figure their yacht's position relative to the minefield. They toss a coin to decide where to turn. In spite of the violently jerking ship the coin firmly stands on edge and they decide to drive the yacht strait into the visible mine.
- World War II. It has become obvious that Nazi Germany is losing. Then Hitler hears a rumor that there is a rabbi who can predict the future. He orders the rabbi be brought to him. Then, this dialogue ensues:
Rabbi: You throw a coin. Heads means: The British Empire will win the war. Tails: The Soviet Union will win.
Hitler: And what if the coin lands on its edge?
Rabbi: Oh, then France will win.
Hitler (throwing a fit): That's all that can happen?!?
Rabbi: Of course not. It could happen that G-D does a miracle and makes the coin stay in the air. - Then, Czechoslovakia will win.
- In The Wheel of Time, this happens around Rand all the time, because he's ta'veren. At one point, Mat flips a coin to try to decide if he should follow Rand or not; the coin lands on edge, but then after a minute falls down on the side that says he shouldn't. It's implied that Rand tips it over by channelling. Later on, Mat's luck powers can make dice balance on edge. Which is how he manages to roll two dice and get a sum of one.
- Happens in The Colour of Magic, when Rincewind is demonstrating that there is a high magical field in the area—flipped coins all land on their edge, aside from a few that turn into other things, and one that falls upwards.
- In a variant, trolls (who aren't too bright, at least at room temperatures) have a gambling game where they bet on whether or not a coin will come down at all. Although given how strong trolls are, this may not be as certain as it sounds.
- Then there's Cohen the Barbarian who did a variant of this when told by the gods to roll a seven on a six sided die. He throws it up in the air, cuts it in half, and has the six and one land facing up on the table.
- Subverted in the Battletech novel Grave Covenant: A battle for possession of a planet is called by a coin toss (long backstory). The defending commander (who is supposed to throw the "battle") calls "Edge" during the toss. It doesn't come up edge, but the defending commander says something along the lines of "can you imagine the glory of my victory if it did?"
- In the Callahans Crosstime Saloon series by Spider Robinson, the character of the Lucky Duck bends the laws of probability around him. However, it's done in such a reliable way that when he tosses a coin and asks narrator Jake Stonebender to call it in the air, Jake knows the correct answer is "On its edge."
- In that particular incident, the coin stuck in a crack in the rafters. Quoth Jake: "I'm still right." (or something to that effect).
- And who can forget the tower of five coins...each balanced on its edge...on top of each other.
- In the Forgotten Realms universe, a folk story holds that the goddess of bad luck calls a coin toss by the goddess of good luck to decide the fortune of each newborn, and when the coin lands on its edge the "luckless" child makes their own fate. In another version given in the novel Prince of Lies, Cyric claims that when his turn came up he made the coin disappear before they could see the results (though this is unlikely to have been the case).
- Case 1 and 2 are combined in The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Durzo is being blackmailed into a Sadistic Choice, and is flipping a coin about it: Head he wins, tails I lose. Durzo's friend Kylar wants to cheer him up, and uses some magic to make the coin land on edge. Kylar tells Durzo that there is always a third option, but Durzo is not convinced.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm is driving himself nuts trying to decide whether to get rid of a store display that his mother considers racist but the store owner does not, so he tries to be impartial and dispassionate about it by flipping a coin. Sure enough, the coin lands on edge. He then turns to camera looking panicked, but the scene ends before we can see his head exploding.
- Scrubs: JD and Kim flip a coin to decide on keeping their baby. It lands on its side so it remains undecided for the time being.
- The Twilight Zone episode "A Penny For Your Thoughts" (starring The (Original) Darrin Dick York) uses this: a man flips a coin, it lands on edge, and he discovers that he's mysteriously become telepathic. At the end of the episode, he knocks the coin over and the telepathy goes away.
- Jimmy James of NewsRadio once tried to pick the new news director this way, between Dave and Lisa. The first time, it landed on its edge. The second time, he flips it into the air...and just stares straight up into the air saying "now that's something spooky"
- A variant occurs in Friends when Chandler, while Monica is on a lucky streak in a game of craps, declares that if his next dice toss is another hard 8 (two fours) again, he and Monica will get married today in Las Vegas. He throws the dice... and one of them rolls off the table. He finds it wedged between a table leg and a wall, balanced on one corner with two of its faces facing partly up: one of which is the second 4 that they need. Monica tells Chandler that he can decide for himself the result of the dice, and Chandler says that it's a 4.
- In the Charmed episode "From Fear to Eternity", Phoebe flips a coin to decide if she should cover for her boss's affair. The coin lands on its edge and Phoebe remarks, "Oh, that helped a lot".
- An episode of Hannah Montana where Miley is trying to decide which friend she sides with over a stupid argument. She then lampshades this by saying "Oh come on!"
- This result came up in The Peter Serafinowicz Show's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? knockoff "Heads Or Tails".
- In the "Blitzgiving" episode of How I Met Your Mother, Barney inherits the "Blitz" curse which makes awesome things happen just as he's not there to see it. He leaves the room, and the original Blitz flips a coin and it lands on its edge. It falls over just as Barney comes back.
- In the Community season 4 finale, a dice tossed lands in a crack on a table on its edge, opening a portal from the darkest timeline.
- Dilbert once tried to debunk Ratbert's claim of psychic powers with 100 coin flips.
"...That is just a coincidence."
"I call edge for the next 99 too."
- He then called "inexplicable hovering followed by hen noises".
"THAT IS LUCK
. LUCK LUCK LUCK LUCK LUCK LUCK LUCK!"
- This happened in the February 12, 1990 Garfield strip.
"Heads I stay in bed, Tails, I watch TV."
[Coin lands on edge]
[Cut to Garfield lying in bed... holding the TV above him]
- The King from The Wizard of Id tried to decide how to execute a condemned prisoner (hanging or guillotine) with a coin toss, only to have the coin land on its edge. The prisoner is briefly overjoyed until the King tells Sir Rodney to hang him with the rope on the guillotine.
- The coin landing on its edge is a recurring metaphor for fate in the Legacy of Kain series; it represents Kain's Sadistic Choice in the first game to kill himself and thus doom the vampires to extinction, or watch the Pillars of Nosgoth that govern the land's health lower the world into decay as they're unable to be restored while he lives. Given that the Sealed Evil in a Can the Pillars are keeping trapped will be released if either the vampires die out or the Pillars are corrupted, Kain aptly states "either way, the game is rigged". The "edge" is the hope that Raziel will realize he has free will and use it to break the Stable Time Loops of the series and throw the timeline into chaos, and hopefully when the dust settles the two of them will be able to Take a Third Option and find a way to get the good bits of both choices. And by the end of the series, they (apparently) succeed.
- CHARNAME from Baldur's Gate is described as a coin on the edge by a seer.
- In Poker Night 2, robot character Claptrap occasionally flips a virtual coin to decide what to do. "YAUGH! How does a virtual coin land on its side?!"
- This can happen in Tabletop Simulator, a game that is to tabletop games what  is to actual surgery.
- Freefall, comic 1803, has a peculiar variant. Florence flips a coin to decide whether to help Sam or the police officer who's chasing him. Sam steals the coin before it lands, so she decides to help neither.
- Birthday card: "Heads, you get gifts; Tails, you get money." (Inside) "That darn thing landed on its edge."
- Hey, man. It happens. According to this article, it happens about 1 in every 6000 nickel tosses. It works better with nickels than quarters; nickels have a flat edge, while most other coins have rounded and ridged edges. They're also thicker than the other coins.
- The 1987 League Cup semi-final, held over two legs, led to a tie between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. The rules of the competition at the time required a replay, with a coin toss to decide the venue. The coin was tossed up into the air...and wedged itself, edge first, into the White Hart lane mud. (The coin was re-flipped; Spurs won the toss, Arsenal the replay.)
- There is an anecdote that John von Neumann and some of the boys at RAND needed to set up a three way coin flip, when one of them produced a small, specially milled cylinder shaped so that it was equally probable for the 'coin' to come up heads, tails, or edge. Von Neumann studied the cylinder for a few seconds and announced its proportions.
- The same principle is used to make a five-sided die — a triangular prism shaped to have a 2/5 chance of landing on one of its two triangular "heads or tails" faces and a 3/5 chance of landing on one of its three rectangular "edge" faces, giving each a 1/5 chance.
- Both are just geeks showing off, however. It's much easier to use a standard 6-sided die and mark it (or agree before hand how to treat it) 1-3 twice, or a 10-sided die and mark it (or just treat it) as 1-5 twice.
- You can use a six-sided die for 1-5, using the rule "reroll if six"