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Kansas City Shuffle
The Kansas City Shuffle is an old established name for a con game that depends on the mark believing (correctly) that the conman is trying to con him, but being in
correct about how it's going to be done. Another way to say it is that it relies on the mark being "too smart for their own good".
All con-games rely on misdirection to some degree. In most, the conman wants the victim to believe that it's not a con at all. But in a Kansas City Shuffle, the conman
All three elements must be present.
- Needs the victim to suspect that it's a con-game
- Needs the victim to think that they've figured out how to beat the con
- Needs the victim to be wrong about what the con is.
If the victim doesn't suspect that they're being conned, it's not a Kansas City Shuffle. If the victim doesn't set themselves up for the real con by doing something to beat the con they think they've spotted, it's not a Kansas City Shuffle. If the victim is right about what the real con is, it's not a Kansas City Shuffle (or it is, but a failed one).
A con can be complicated without being a Kansas City Shuffle, and not all Kansas City Shuffles are complicated. It's also not a Kansas City Shuffle when the mark goes into the situation aware that something
dishonest is going on: most cons are built around convincing the mark that he has an opportunity to benefit from something a bit under the table. To qualify as a Kansas City Shuffle, the mark has to think he's figured out how the con works and — by attempting to outmaneuver or outsmart it — walk right into the real
The audience may or may not be in on the secret themselves. If they are then it can lead to a build up of Dramatic Irony
but often the truth can be saved to The Reveal
after the audience has been immersed in the intricacies of the apparent plot so that the shock to the character and the audience match.
It can overlap with, or be part of, a Batman Gambit
, if the plotter relies on the pawn's predicted reaction to a piece of misinformation. If a beneficial outcome is assured regardless of whether or not the mark realizes he's being conned, it's probably also a Xanatos Gambit
The Trope Namer
is the song "The Kansas City Shuffle" (see quote above) explained in detail in the movie Lucky Number Slevin
. For those of you not from the U.S., Kansas City
is the largest city in the state... of Missouri. There is
a Kansas City, Kansas (it's right across the river, or in some parts of town, across State Line Road), but it's much smaller and usually not what people are talking about when they mention a Kansas City. It throws off many Americans, too, especially those who write off the Midwest as Flyover Country
. This is actually a near-perfect physical metaphor, as "when they look on one side of the river, you're on the other". May be employed by means of a Revealing Coverup
Compare Infraction Distraction
, where a similar ploy is used with offenses.
Related (but distinct) cons include the very common The Con Within A Con
(where the grifter convinces the mark that they can be partners in conning a third party), and Violin Scam
(where the grifter tricks the mark into trying to con him
Compare Two Rights Make A Wrong
and Massive Multiplayer Scam
. Feed the Mole
may be a tactic done as part of this strategy. May involve Reverse Psychology
. Highly impractical against marks who are Too Dumb to Fool
Warning: Be wary of spoilers. On this page, titles alone can (and will) be Walking Spoilers.
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Anime & Manga
- In Kaiji 2, Kaiji defeats Ohtsuki in Underground Chinchirorin by engaging him in a psychological duel, where the crucial component is making Ohtsuki believe he has seen through Kaiji's ploy.
- In Tower of God Yu Hansung pulls this on Koon and several government agencies, making them think he is trying to get rid of Baam by underhanded means for being a dangerous individual, but actually, he is trying to make Baam disappear from the public eye so that the government won't interfere with his career in Yu's secret terrorist organization.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, Negi pulls one off: His whole "turn into lightning and beat the crap out of Rakan" was actually meant to distract Rakan so Negi could set up another spell. He then pulled out a new upgrade solely so Rakan would attack him with full power. When he does, Negi uses the spell he set up earlier to absorb Rakan's attack and shoot it back at him.
- In one of the fillers for the 4th Shinobi War in Naruto, a group of Redshirts are fleeing from an Edo Tensei zombie who just wiped out their squad. While fleeing, they place some obvious traps along the way. What a bunch of cowards, right? It turns out they were using those to get Ringo to let her guard down so they could lure her into quicksand as revenge. As is usual for Naruto, the audience didn't see it coming, and thought the Redshirt leader was a legit coward.
- In Silent Sinner in Blue, Yukari pulls off a doozy, "trying" to enlist the help of the other youkai for her plan to invade the Lunar Capital with the expectation that Remilia will want to try to beat her there instead, providing a decoy for her to covertly use her boundary powers to infiltrate the Capital. It turns out Yukari had planned even further ahead, and knowing that there were two guardians, set herself up to be a second decoy, while Yuyuko and Youmu were the ones who actually managed to infiltrate the Lunar Palace to steal from it.
- Slayers Xellos has relied on Lina distrusting him to betray her, letting her concerns with how he'll double-cross her cover up how he'll double-cross her.
- This is pretty much how any round of Liar Game works.
- Round 1, Akiyama makes the teacher believe that they are trying to get him away from the safe. In reality he is trying to get the teacher away from receiving info on when the money would be checked.
- Round 2, Akiyama makes Fukunaga think that he is trying to get the three guys to fight over the money prize, and they think that they can beat him by tying the round and continuing negotiations later on. In reality, Akiyama had recruited the third guy and was getting them to think of tying.
- Round 3, Yokoya knows that Akiyama has infiltrated several moles in his country and thinks he can beat the con by reconverting them. He is wrong about the number of moles that have infiltrated. In the same round, Akiyama believes that Yokoya is trying to get their team to lose at a profit. In reality, Yokoya was just trying to run as much funds as he could through his account.
- Round 4, both Yokoya and Samue think that Akiyama is trying to dominate the chairs game, when in fact he was trying to lay his hands on the winning medals.
- Early in Code Geass season 2, Lelouch pulls one on Rolo starting off as a Scheherezade Gambit after Rolo has cornered him with a gun to the head. Lelouch offers to bring Rolo CC. Rolo of course assumes that Lelouch is just trying to con Rolo into letting Lelouch escape, but given that Rolo has the power to stop time he plays along, figuring he can kill CC and Lelouch when they try to double-cross him. Lelouch instead engineers a situation (as part of Xanatos Gambit) in which he saves Rolo's life and then to top it off gives CC to him, knowing that Rolo's desire for family will cause him to have a Heel-Face Turn if he believes Lelouch actually cares about him.
- It actually becomes a major plot point later, because the con was SO effective, that even when Lelouch explicitly told Rolo everything he said was lies, Rolo doesn't actually believe him and winds up sacrificing himself to allow Lelouch to escape.
- Charles actual plan takes the cake. His game of occupying other nations is just a shell game to distract everyone from his true goal: activating the Sword of Akasha and the Ragnarok Connection.
- Fridge Brilliance in this case: Who in their right mind would believe in something like that, or even that they had a doomsday device capable of taking over the world in SECONDS? However, if they just worked on the device instead, someone would have taken notice at their obsession with C.C. and blackmailed them / disintegrated C.C. / revealed that they were insane. The war has the added bonus of conquering new areas of related research, as lampshaded by Bradley.
- Death Note: The 13 Day Test 1) L knows Light is plotting to kill him and he suspects Light is plotting with Misa to do it. 2) L thinks he can prove that both Light and Misa are Kira by testing the 13 Day Rule. 3) Neither Light nor Misa is going to kill him. Rem is going to kill him.
Board and Card Games
- Poker lends itself naturally to these. One example is for a player who is holding a strong hand to pull players into the pot. Since (smart) players should pull out from a pot if they know their opponent is strong, a player holding "the nuts" (an unbeatable hand) has to look like he isn't. A player who's bluffing is trying to scare everyone out of the pot and is lying. A player with a strong hand or the nuts could try to look like he's pulling one con (bluffing) while really hoping people "call his bluff." If that player has read books of tells, for example, he could purposefully try to act like a player with "normal" tells to look like he's bluffing. It works best against the half-smart. Really good players may have it figured out, and poker players know "bluffing a monkey," or pretending to bluff a monkey, is a waste of time.
- Diplomacy is a game which consists of seven players guiding European powers through maneuver and negotiation to power. Gameplay consists of rounds of secret negotiations, then writing down one's moves and resolving any conflicts. Since the only mechanic for resolving combat is building alliances, and there is only one winner, every player is always suspecting a con. How you use this atmosphere of suspicion and distrust is up to you. One example: Alice could try to convince Bob to support an action in exchange for mutual support, but Bob refuses, believing he's being suckered. When it's time to write down moves, Alice supports Bob anyway, then acts betrayed when Bob doesn't support her. Bob is now seen an unreliable by Charlie, David, Eve, Trent, and Walter. Alice looks reliable. The reality is, of course, backwards.
- Bullshit (also known as "Cheat" or "Shenanigans" - particularly when teaching it to kids) is a card game where players bid books of cards from one to four of a certain number. For example, Alice could bid "One two," and place a two face down on the pile of cards. Bob plays next and could bid, "Three twos," playing three cards on the stack. Players can call "Bullshit!" which forces you to prove your play was legal. If it was, the player who called "Bullshit!" picks up the stack of cards. If it was not legal, you pick up the stack. The object is to empty your hand of all cards. One key component is to make your big bids ("Four fives,") in ways where your opponent calls "Bullshit!" when it's real, (thereby getting stuck with the cards,) often enough that they decline to call it at all, which allows you to dump actual "bullshit" plays.
- One particularly tricky tactic, which may or may not be allowed by House Rules, is to play more cards than are actually declared. For example, Bob bids "three twos" but actually plays four cards. If Alice calls his bluff and checks the top three cards (which are the aforementioned twos), she would be obliged to take the stack. Only if Bob is sloppy with his sleight-of-hand, or Alice is savvy enough to check the next card on the stack and find out that it's not what the previous player played, would he lose the bluff.
- In one Donald Duck story ("As Good As Old"), Scrooge McDuck needs to get a load of money out of a small country in large part controlled by the local bandit lord, who has spies everywhere and knows about the money. Scrooge lets a spy see him hide the money inside carpets he takes with him, while he sends the safe he had with him ahead by a train. The bandits figure the safe must be a ruse, especially when the railways are hardly reliable, and attack him on the way back and open up the carpet rolls — which are empty, of course, and Scrooge asks whether the bandit lord hadn't noticed his sending the safe along before. The bandits rush ahead to stop the train, only to find the safe empty when they finally get it open. Meanwhile, Donald, whom no-one was paying attention to at this point, has made his way back to the border alone, with the money hidden inside some jugs. So, the trope is actually applied doubly; even once they know it was a Kansas City Shuffle, they're still wrong about how the con works, and trying to beat it still only gets them out of the way.
- A little Mexican boy rides his bicycle up to a border control station with a sack slung over one shoulder. The American agent working the station checks out his papers and asks to search his bag, but the boy tells him that it's full of sand. The agent searches the bag and finds out that it really is full of sand, but he gets suspicious and confiscates it anyway. This goes on for several months, with the boy regularly crossing the border on his bicycle with his bag of sand, and the agent confiscating it every time. Then one day, years after the agent has retired, he meets the boy in a bar in Texas. "I know you had to have been up to something," he tells the boy. "I'm off the job now. Can you tell me what you were trying to smuggle all that time?" The boy just grins and says, "Bicycles."
- Variation: "Wheelbarrows."
- Or "Cars" with an older person doing the smuggling.
- An older version of this relates to the sufi Mulla Nasruddin. In his case he was carrying bags of straw on the donkeys that he was actually smuggling.
- A fairly regular occurrence in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files.
- In White Night, Lara Raith suggested to a member of another family in the White Court that they should kill off weak female magical practitioners. She did this so that she could rope the other White Court family into the scheme because she knew that eventually Harry Dresden would get involved and generally smash everyone in sight before he realized she came up with the whole thing. He didn't realize until he'd already played straight into the plot because what this amounted to was a ruler of a vampire court deliberately getting their minions to try to supplant the ruler. And nearly dying in the process due to interference by Cowl's Outsider ghouls.
- In Small Favor, the Order of the Blackened Denarius kidnap a freeholding lord, a recent signatory to the Unseelie Accords, simultaneously threatening that lord, disrupting his power base, and placing the Order in violation of the Accords (thus challenging the weakened White Council to choose risking a multi-front war if they enforce the Accords, and offending the Unseelie Court if they don't). Harry manipulates the White Council into acting, selecting the Archive as arbiter which is what the Order wanted, as it made her vulnerable to a kidnap attempt.
- The Jorge Luis Borges story Death and the Compass, where Erik Lonnrot follows a Connect the Deaths around the city, only to find that his nemesis Red Scharlach made a series of fortuitous coincidences look like it had happened on purpose so Lonnrot would find him and Scharlach could kill him without trouble. Just before dying, Lonnrot suggests a simpler puzzle for Scharlach to use in case the two of them ever reincarnate.
- In Memory Sorrow And Thorn, this forms the core element of the Big Bad Storm King's Evil Plan, which is to trick the heroes into delivering the Three Swords to him that contain the power necessary to summon him back into Osten Ard, thinking that they are actually the key to defeating him. He and his allies liberally employ harassment, Prophetic Fallacy, and false dreams in service of this notion.
- Most of the goings on in the Night Watch series involve the good and evil chessmasters Geser and Zabulon (respectively) using the protagonist Anton as an Unwitting Pawn to pull off one of these. Typically, Geser tells Anton to do "w" and Zabulon will have a scheme trying to force Anton to do "x". Anton takes a third option and does "y", which is what Zabulon actually wanted him to choose. However, when things go well, Geser is able to pull off "z" which was his plan all along and which wouldn't have worked had he not instructed Anton to do "w".
- In Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
- Zhuge Liang's "Empty Fortress Strategy", which relied on Sima Yi thinking that Zhuge Liang was not willing to take such a risk. (Sima Yi's son Zhao saw through it but was overruled, and in any case Zhuge Liang admitted that he would have been completely screwed had Sima Yi drawn the same conclusion.)
- Used as part of Cao Cao's Humiliation Conga. Cao Cao, while fleeing from ambush after ambush, comes to a fork in the road. On one fork, is a quantity of smoke, as if from an army's cooking fires. That is the fork that Cao Cao takes, as he knows that his opponent is too smart to really allow his position to be given away like that. Of course, his opponents knew that Cao Cao would head towards the smoke, so the path Cao Cao took had an ambush waiting.
- In Ringworld's Children, protector-stage Luis Wu intentionally reveals the existence of his son Wembleth to Tunesmith just before escaping, thus leading Tunesmith to believe that Luis is going to try to smuggle Wembleth off the Ringworld and leaving Tunesmith with no way to control Luis (since Wembleth's life is the leverage Tunesmith has over Luis, or so Tunesmith thinks). Luis's actual plan is to smuggle himself and the Hindmost off the Ringworld and out of Tunesmith's control, since he (Luis) believes that hiding amongst the Ringworld's billions of inhabitants is actually the safest place for Wembleth to be.
- Ardneh, from the Empire of the East trilogy by Fred Saberhagen loves to use this one. For example, in the first book, he lets Ekuman know that finding and controlling the mysterious "Elephant" super-weapon is the key to holding or losing the west coast. Ekuman concludes that the resistance plans to find the Elephant and use it to destroy him, and not unreasonably decides that he has to get it first. That turns out to be exactly how Ardneh liberates the entire west coast. In the second book, the demon Zapranoth worries that Ardneh might find out where his life is hidden, so he moves it to where he can better keep an eye on it and guard it. That turns out to be exactly how Ardneh destroys it. In the third book, Ardneh becomes much more powerful than ever before, which leads Wood and John Ominor to conclude that Ardneh will use that power to destroy their empire, so they free the demon-king Orcus, the only force powerful enough to stop Ardneh. That enables Ardneh to destroy both Orcus and the entire empire, along with most of the world's most powerful demons, in a single stroke.
- Locke Lamora attempts this one when he cons a nobleman into giving him money for a business venture. Two members of the Duke's secret police contact Locke's mark to alert him that his new business partner is actually a con man. The mark won't investigate Locke or their joint business venture any more since he knows it's all a scam, but at the same time Locke keeps receiving money because the mark is told that the police is about to make an arrest and if the money stops Locke will flee with all the money he already has. Obviously there will be no arrest, because the "secret police" is actually Locke and his accomplice.
- In Carpe Jugulum, the Dangerously Genre Savvy vampyres are well-aware of Granny Weatherwax's skill at "Borrowing" (the ability to put a part of her mind into another creature). Even after they suck Granny's blood and try to turn her into a vampire, they suspect Granny's used Borrowing to put part of herself elsewhere, either in Magrat's newborn daughter or into wishy-washy priest Mightily Oats. It turns out, Granny put herself into her own blood, meaning when the Magpyr clan members drank her blood, she was ready to tear down their mental defenses from the inside once she shrugged off the vampirism by Heroic Willpower.
- Moist Von Lipwig, the protagonist of Going Postal and Making Money, is rather fond of this. In Postal he reminisces on using this with one of his old alternate identities, "lack-of-confidence trickester" Edwin Streep:
He was so patently, obviously bad at running a bent Find-the-Lady game and other street scams that people positively queued up to trick the dumb trickster and walked away grinning... right up to the moment when they tried to spend the coins they'd scooped up so quickly... later on they learned that Streep might be rubbish with a deck of cards but also that his lack was more than made up for by his exceptional skill as a pickpocket.
- Moist does this later on in the Clacks vs. Post race against the Grand Trunk. He knows that the Trunk's chairman, Reacher Gilt, is just as much a conman as he, so he provides him with a fake con to foil. First he turns up to the race with a broomstick that has silver stars painted on it, making it seem like it is a magic broomstick and he intends to win the race by flying. When Gilt points out that this is against the rules, Lipwig points out that each Clacks tower has a horse available to deliver messages when the towers break, and that using them would be cheating as well. Thus both methods are disqualified. Gilt naturally assumes that this was Moist's plan all along, but in actuality he doesn't intend to "win" at all. He intends to change the message along the way and reveal the trunk's treachery in front of everyone, disguised as a message from beyond the grave.
- In "The Acquisitive Chuckle" (the first of Isaac Asimov's Black Widowers mysteries), the protagonist had been bankrupted by his crooked business partner, who was also an inveterate collector with more stuff than he could keep track of. The protagonist was seen leaving the ex-partner's house with a briefcase, while chuckling in the exact same way the ex-partner always did after acquiring something in a not-entirely-honest way. For years, the ex-partner went nuts trying to figure out just what had been stolen. What did the protagonist take? Only the ex-partner's peace of mind. The briefcase was empty.
- The August Derleth short-short story, "A Battle Over the Teacups" is entirely about a Kansas City Shuffle. An elderly Chinese dignitary traveling on a train is accosted by a warlord who wants him dead. The dignitary offers tea, and openly adds a sweetener to his own cup. Then his niece (who is traveling with him) drops a tray and while the warlord is distracted, the dignitary clumsily pours something into the warlord's cup. The warlord insists that they trade cups before drinking. The dignitary objects, but finally acquiesces, and they trade cups and drink. The warlord is found dead in his compartment the next day — the "sweetener" was the poison, and the "poison" was simple sugar. By insisting on the cup trade, the warlord gave himself the poisoned cup.
- In Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, the President of the United States invents a convoluted device that would be used to kill flies. It is basically a walkway mounted on two miniature ladders on each side, with a cube of sugar hanging from the center of the walkway. As the President explains, the fly would climb up the first ladder and would be traversing the walkway when it would catch sight of the sugar cube and become tempted by it; just before it decided to make its way down the hanging string to eat the sugar, however, it would realize that there is a bowl of water directly beneath the hanging cube, meaning that the fly would drown if it fell. As a result, the fly would continue walking over to the second ladder, feeling smug that it had avoided the water trap - until it started to descend the second ladder and fell to its death because the President had left off one of the ladder's rungs near the top. (Also counts as Awesome but Impractical.)
- It's parodious, too, since flies obviously aren't smart enough for such an overelaborate trick to work, and they can't fall to their deaths because they can, y'know, fly.
- In Carcinoma Angels Harrison Wintergreen reverses the Mexican joke above. He drives his very nice car into Tijuana and buy some marijuana from a local. When he then crosses back into the USA, he's stopped and searched by the border guards who have, of course, been tipped off by Wintergreen's connection. They don't find the marijuana, which he threw away earlier, so they let him go, having just smuggled a very nice car into Mexico, sold it for several times what he paid for it and not paid a cent of import duty or capital gains tax.note
- President Snow pulls off a version of this in Mockingjay. He is holding Peeta captured and shows him off on TV, letting Katniss understand that anything she does to help the rebellion will result in torture for Peeta, thereby attempting - and succeeding - to make it impossible for her to be the Mockingjay. Once District 13's leader Alma Coin realizes that Katniss is useless to their cause so long as she's worried sick about Peeta she sends in a team to retrieve him and take that ace out of Snow's deck. Turns out this is what Snow wanted them to do all along, as the torture he inflicted on Peeta included hijacking, a method of brainwashing that essentially turned Peeta into a human terminator focused only on killing Katniss. It nearly succeeds, too.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: ex-spymaster Garak pulls off a classic in the episode In the Pale Moonlight.
- Done on Dollhouse a lot, but particularly in "Briar Rose."
- The Jackass guys like to do this to each other; they'll set the victim up to do a stunt or prank skit, only to switch everything on him mid-skit. Here's an example.
- A pretty elegant one late in Season Six, when, Locke/The Man in Black explains to the surviving castaways that he wants them to leave the Island with him in the Ajira plane, but when the good guys ditch him and lock themselves inside Widmore's submarine in "The Candidate," it looks like they've outsmarted him...that is, until Locke/The Man in Black grins and says to survivor Claire, "You don't want to be anywhere on that sub." 'Cause the Magnificent Bastard snuck a bomb onboard. Cue the cruelest twenty minutes of the show's history, as Sayid, Jin, and Sun all perish, Lapidus is left for dead, and the four survivors barely escape and are left to sob on a beach at night. Then there is the second layer to that con. The Man in Black cannot kill the castaways himself so he lets them think that he conned them into locking themselves in the submarine with a bomb. They discover the bomb before the timer runs down so they figure that they can just disarm the bomb to neutralize the trap. However, 'disarming' the bomb actually arms it so the castaways are causing their own deaths which is the Loophole Abuse the Man In Black needed. Ironically Jack figured it out ahead of time but the experienced conman Sawyer insisted on pulling the wires on the bomb
- In the season two episode "The Long Con", Sawyer plays this straight as can be in his flash back, making a woman think she has caught him trying to con her while that is actually the setup for a much longer and more profitable con.
- Lightly done in Phoenix Nights, in which club owner Brian Potter seemingly backs a team he picks himself, to enter in a pub quiz for a year's supply of lager. His rival then sabotages them so they lose, however Brian has selected another team to win, behind his rival's back. Of course, this backfires when it's non-alcoholic lager....
- That time Angel pretended to go evil in season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to get information out of the current Big Bad.
- And all of season 5 of Angel, but by the bad guys. Get the good guys so tangled up trying to deal with Wolfram & Hart that they don't notice they're being corrupted.
- Hustle. All the time. If it's obvious how the scam works ten minutes in, you can bet your life that's just what The Mark is supposed to think he's supposed to think.
- Hustle had a really, really nice one involving a roulette table and a Sheriff from The Wild West. Saying any more will ruin it. Though if you really want to know: The original roulette wheel from the 1800's was mechanised and could be controlled with a sheriff's badge in a slot on the top. Of course the team couldn't let the mark know this so they went to the trouble of constructing (And auctioning off) a fake table just so that their mark could get it. However it was more of "We have to make him think that we are up to something when we aren't".
- This is common on Leverage; for example, it was the key of the Pilot Episode:
: I found the transmitter. Nate
: Oh, you found the transmitter with the blinking light. Yeah, we wanted you to figure some of it out. Then we just gave you what you were expecting.
- "The Boiler Room Job" is one huge Shuffle, though it's called something else (see this link). The team couldn't con The Mark, because he knew every con and every con man in the country...so they distracted him with an elaborate Big Store con, knowing he'd see right through it, and forget that Hardison was waiting with a trace on his bank account. They even called it the Moonwalking Bear.
- The series finale takes this Up to Eleven. It must be seen to be believed. Sterling finally catches on by the end, but decides to let Nate go and gives him a card saying, "Now we're even. Tell Sophie to drive carefully."
- Mission: Impossible. The Mind of Stefan Miklos had them fooling a brilliant intelligence officer with a photographic memory, from whom it would be impossible to hide the fact that they were scamming him; the scam they actually pulled was very carefully staged so that he would draw the wrong conclusions about what he saw and what they wanted him to believe.
- They did it in a number of episodes. In another case, they conned the warden and second in command of a prison with an escape-proof cell into believing that a political prisoner in the cell had been switched with a double during an attempted escape by some other prisoner: the "double" is then taken away for interrogation by some helpful security agents who "entirely coincidentally" happened to be there.
- In the American version of The Office (US), Dwight plants an obvious bug in Jim's office in the form of a huge wooden duck (er, mallard). Jim quickly finds it and has some fun at Dwight's expense, eventually telling Dwight to stop trying these tricks. In the tag, however, we find out that Dwight actually planted a second, much less conspicuous bug (in the form of a pen) and that the duck (mallard) was just a decoy.
- Veronica Mars: Veronica once pulled this kind of trick on sleazy private detective Vinnie Van Lowe, giving him a bugged pen that he immediately identified and mocked her for—but he didn't realize that the pin she'd given to his secretary was also a bug.
- In Mad Men, Don Draper executes a magnificent one against his self-proclaimed rival Ted Chaough in "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword." During the competition over the Honda Motorcycles account, the Honda execs make certain rules to ensure a level playing field: each agency is given $3000 to make boards and copy—no finished work allowed. Don goes to great lengths to hint that SCDP is going to make a big, expensive spec commercial for Honda (which is finished work and therefore not allowed) convincing Ted Chaough that his firm should do the same. The problem is that SCDP isn't making a commercial at all (leading to a pretty hilarious scene with Peggy riding around an empty set on a Honda motorcycle◊) Draper's intention was to severely damage Chaough's firm's budget by fooling them into making the big, expensive commercial. Don resigns the Honda account, returning the $3000, on the grounds that Honda had broken its own rules and he could not honorably do business with them. Chaough's firm is now a mess, and while Honda doesn't end up giving anyone their main motorcycle account, SCDP gets a shot at the advertising for their new automotive division.
- The Unusuals, in the episode "The Dentist," features a couple of con artists stealing evidence from the precinct. They make a big production of making off with a backpack, indicating that the evidence was in it when they made their getaway. Turns out, the money didn't leave the precinct when they did. They boxed it up and left it with the outgoing mail.
- In the Doctor Who episode "A Good Man Goes to War", The Doctor dresses as a headless monk in order to apparently turn them and the marines against each other. When Colonel Manton calms the situation down by having everyone disarm and having them chant "we are not fools" The Doctor reveals his true plan, warping in his own army and capturing his now defenseless enemies in one fell swoop.Unfortunately for the Doctor, his enemies are also pulling the Kansas City Shuffle in this episode- there is another armed force on its way and it kills off several of his allies, and the baby he's there to rescue is a fake. In fact the whole point of this seems to have been to humiliate him; they knew he would show up, so all the dupes were sacrificed while the people in the actual conspiracy ran off with the baby.
- How I Met Your Mother. After Barney goads Lily & Marshall into betting that he can't perform several fancy hibachi cooking tricks (with the right to touch Lily's breasts being his prize if he can), Barney starts dropping hints that the bet is a hustle and he's actually a professionally trained hibachi chef. When Lily freaks out about possibly losing, Barney says that if he can just see her breasts they can call the bet off. However, just before Lily bares her chest, Marshall stops her, having deduced that it's a Kansas City Shuffle: Barney was only acting like he could easily win the bet to trick Lily into exposing herself. Marshall and Lily share a laugh at their own cleverness . . . then stare dumbfounded when Barney shows off his hibachi cooking skills for real. Thus actually making it a Xanatos Gambit: no matter what they did, Barney would either see Lily's tracts of land (partial victory), or touch them (complete victory).
- Also making it a double shuffle, in that he bluffed them into believing he was bluffing.
- Likewise, the episode The Playbook was an elaborate con to get Lily to think she was sabotaging all of Barney's usual cons to get women, only to have it been a ploy to get her to set him up with one.
- In the final episode of the fourth series of Spooks, Rogue Agent Angela Wells infiltrates Section D and holds the team hostage in order to find evidence that the Security Services killed Princess Diana. After the situation's been resolved, Ruth discovers that documents relating to security at Buckingham Palace are missing and deduces that Wells intends to attack the Royal Family. Because of this, the Royals are evacuated to their secure bunker, Pegasus — which an associate of Wells has secretly planted a bomb inside, meaning the evacuation was playing right into her hands.
- Babylon 5 had one of the more amusing examples of this as Sheridan suckers the entire League of Non-Aligned Worlds into allowing White Stars to patrol their borders and protect them by fueling their paranoia with such acts such as planting a true but very Suspiciously Specific Denial on the Voice of the Resistance broadcast, refusing any explanation for his erratic actions, and letting the League convince themselves that Sheridan was hiding some dire threat, thus making them demand the very thing Sheridan was trying to get them to do.
- In the Hercules The Legendary Journeys episode "The King of Thieves", Hercules is going after a thief who uses a grappling hook. Once, while Hercules is searching through a castle, the thief leaves his grappling hook dangling over the edge of a window while he hides in the rafters. Turns out Hercules knew about that trick for some time.
- In the 30 Rock episode "Game Over," Jack plans to expose Kaylee Hooper, the granddaughter of Kabletown CEO Hank Hooper, as ineligible to to inherit because Kaylee might not be related to Hank after all. Kaylee figures out his plan and avoids it by planting Jenna's DNA for Jack to find and test, instead of her own. However, the only thing Hank Hooper loves more than his family is his birthday. The DNA was a distraction to prevent Kaylee from doing anything to celebrate Hank's birthday, whereas the envelope of DNA results actually contained a birthday card from Jack.
- Jack didn't need to put the birthday card in the envelope with the DNA results, he did it "just to be mean."
- In M*A*S*H, BJ convinces Hawkeye that he's pranking everyone in the camp, and is saving the best one for Hawkeye. He puts a snake in Charles' bed, puts shaving cream in Colonel Potter's toothpaste, cuts the back off of Margret's bathrobe, poisons Father Mulcahy and sets off a bomb in Klinger's filing cabinet, each one making Hawkeye increasingly paranoid. After the last two, he sets up a cot outside in a barb wire enclosure, resulting in him getting no sleep from all the background noise. At the end everyone reveals they were in on it and either did everything themselves or simply lied to Hawkeye, and that Hawkeye was the actual victim.
- In Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) the assault on a Cylon-defended fuel-rich asteroid goes thusly: 1) Send undefended freighter within sight of asteroid, wait for Cylon attack response. 2) Send ten Vipers to attack the base while the Cylons are distracted. 3) Once the Cylons have refocused on the ten attacking Vipers, the now-ignored freighter (which has gotten a LOT closer to the asteroid in the meantime) opens up in order to launch the remaining THIRTY Vipers that it was carrying all along, which then destroy the Cylon base, securing the fuel supplies for the Colonials.
- In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Captain Holt and Detective Peralta make a bet that Peralta can't steal Holt's Medal of Valor from his office, where Holt has placed it inside a safe within a locked cabinet. Holt proceeds to catch Peralta out in a series of lame attempts to break into the office and steal the medal using what seem to be feeble disguises and distractions, until he ends up being locked in an interrogation room and handcuffed to a table... whereupon Peralta explains to Holt the real plan; while Peralta was distracting Holt with his increasingly feeble attempts to break into Holt's office, the other detectives in the squad — whom Peralta had bribed with an offer to do their paperwork for them — were subtly breaking through Holt's defences and stealing the medal for him. Since he lost the bet, Holt now has to do all of Peralta's paperwork, which now includes the entire squad's.
- A pulls one on Pretty Little Liars. The girls go to a magic show and deduce that the mime running the show is A and Aria agrees to be part of the show, but what A wanted was to distract the girls, so they could kidnap Emily while the other two were focused on the show, while the mime was just a magician.
- In an episode of V.I.P., Val and the crew get away from an apartment that the villains are staking out by making them think they've sent decoys for them to follow. In fact they've escaped already by disguising themselves with variations of their own clothing and hairstyles while the oblivious villains ignore them and continue to stake out the now empty apartment.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials And Tribulations: In the beginning of the second case, you unravel Luke Atmey's deception and uncover him as (supposedly) the true identity of master thief Masque de Masque...only for that to turn out to be have been his plan all along, so his presence at a theft will serve as an alibi for the murder he committed and pinned on the actual de Masque.
- Exit Fate has several characters who love to construct plans that involve deliberately leaking information to the enemy. When two of them team up, they ensure that their ruse will be believed despite their known history of using that tactic by leaking two reports- the enemy commander assumes that the one which was obtained more easily was misdirection, and that therefore the other information, which required far more effort to obtain, is trustworthy.
- Chzo's plans in the Chzo Mythos go off without a hitch because everyone thought it wanted to invade our world when all it really wanted was a new servant.
- In Baten Kaitos, the Six Man Band suspect that there is a mole amongst them for quite some time. The player will probably assume it to be either Lyude (who is susceptible to brainwashing), Savyna (who is the Mysterious Stranger to a T) or Mizuti (for dressing uncannily similarly to the Big Bad, except with a Cool Mask on). As it turns out, The Mole was Kalas, whom the player (and the party!) would never suspect due to him being The Hero. When the other heroes find this out, they're completely out of cards to play.
- In Loom, Bishop Mandible traps Bobbin in a cage, but doesn't take the magical distaff Bobbin carries. Big mistake, right? Not quite — Mandible is actually after the Draft of Opening. He watches Bobbin cast the spell to unlock the cage and then takes the distaff.
- In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain prologue "Ground Zeroes", Snake rescues Paz only to find she has a huge abdominal scar, as XOF tricked him into saving her while she had a bomb inside of her. Extracting the bomb without killing her, she awakens a scene later to explain she has a second bomb inside of her, as XOF knew Snake wouldn't expect it.
- In Freefall, the ninja waiters operate on this basis. By making sure that the customers spot that the screen slides up, they insure that the customers will be watching it trying to spot them, and not looking in any other direction. Later, after the customers are convinced that the screen is just a ruse, they can actually use it to deliver food.
- Along with a plethora of other plans this is the primary tool of Doc Scratch in Homestuck. His crowning moment is undoubtedly convincing the heroes they are destroying the Green Sun, an extremely powerful and dangerous energy source, when in fact they are participating in its creation - and in turn, the creation of an immortal, time-travelling demon. He accomplishes this without telling a single falsehood.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Haley runs a textbook example of a Shuffle on the rest of the party while dividing up the treasure in this comic. If they hadn't assumed she was trying to cheat them and tried to counter it, she would have wound up with five worthless rocks as her share of the booty.
- During the battle of Azure City, Redcloak creates three duplicates of Xykon, having two lead separate charges against the city's defenses and the third one hang back with Redcloak himself. The plan is for the heroes to assume that only two are decoys, waste time trying to deduce which one is the real one, and ultimately attack a decoy regardless of their choice, all while the real Xykon sneaks into the city atop an invisible zombie dragon. Fortunately, Roy is able to go after the real Xykon after Haley works out the con, complete with a Lampshade Hanging of the trope:
A con man doesn't choose to play the shell game
with you if there is any
possibility of him actually losing. The con isn't getting you to pick the wrong shell. The con is in getting you to accept that the basic premise of the game is still being followed. The con is in getting you to pick a shell at all
- In Goblin Hollow, during the bank robbery arc (more or less starting HERE, Ben and Lily get entangled in a bank heist which is only part of the guest villain's double and possibly triple-fakeout plot which involves multiple simultaneous armed robberies, a mysterious pearl necklace, a jade box full of Boggarts and an army of mooks in clown suits.....
- The final antic in Viva La Fegel has Gunsche informing Hitler that Fegelein is outside with something for Hitler. Hitler immediately assumes that he'll fall victim to the antic if he does so, and for all he knows, "a fucking piano will fall on [him] out of nowhere. Guess what happens.
- A couple in a row get pulled off in season 12 of Red vs. Blue: first, it looks like the Reds and Blues' big plan is for Carolina to infiltrate Locus' soldiers, like she did earlier in the season. Then, when that plan is revealed, it looks like the plan was really for Wash to sneak in and hold Felix at gunpoint while he's distracted by Carolina. In reality, all of this was just setup for the Reds and Blues to take out Felix and Locus' minions while they're distracted by the Freelancers... which in turn is all just setup to get Felix to rant about their evil plans while facing off with Tucker, who is secretly recording the whole thing!
- In King of the Hill, Peggy cons a con man who conned her by setting up a pretty transparent off-track betting scam, which the mark bought out of before they got to the "and then he loses everything" stage, only to hide the money in a hotel safe that Peggy planted in his room. The failsafe involved stealing his car.
- The Futurama episode "Law and Oracle" has one when Fry is told of a future crime he has to solve; an oracle robot called "Pickles" gives Fry the prediction that one of the following will happen: 1. He will shoot Bender, causing him to destroy the Maltese Liquor and die; 2. He won't shoot Bender, but Bender will share the priceless alcohol with Planet Express, killing everyone due to it's lethality. Fry attempts to pick neither, but Pickles appears at the crime and reveals it wasn't a prediction, but a set up. After Fry accidentally shoots Bender, Pickles shoots Fry and drinks the real liquor to kill his human brain, thus removing his psychic abilities; however, it is then revealed that the prediction came true simply because Fry figured out Pickles was the mastermind (due to the inconsistency of Bender sharing) and thus set up Pickles' con, causing Pickles to lose his oracle powers and allowing them to arrest him.
- Cartman pulls this off in the South Park episode "Scott Tenorman Must Die". Cartman is scammed out of some money by Scott, and after several failed attempts to counter Scott's initial con, Cartman brags to Stan and Kyle about his ultimate plan to have a farmer's donkey bite Scott's penis off in front of his favorite band, Radiohead, whom he has invited to a local Chili Cookoff. Cartman actually counts on Stan and Kyle to "sabotage" him by informing Scott of the plan, and counts on Scott to try to get rid of the donkey. Scott tells his parents a donkey is being abused and has them try to "rescue" it. However, Cartman has already tipped off the farmer that someone is trying to steal his donkey, and the farmer resolves to shoot the thieves. When Scott's parents are shot for trespassing, Cartman steals their bodies and grinds them into mincemeat, feeding them to Scott in the form of "chili." After the plan succeeds, he gloats about it to Scott, and the rest of the cast vow not to mess with Cartman in the future.
- In The Simpsons episode "The Book Job", Bart and Homer form a gang to make big bucks in the field of YA lit. They con the publisher, who one-ups them by recruiting Lisa. Who actually takes their side. But none of them should have trusted team Butt Monkey Neil Gaiman.
- In Young Justice, the Big Bad group "The Light" regularly uses the superheroes attempts to "stop the evil plan" to further their real machinations. In "Usual Suspects" for instance, The Light stages an attack on the heroes so the good guys will bring dangerous devices the Light's agents are carrying at the time to their secret base to stop the Light from getting to them. The Light promptly uses the devices to take the heroes' secret base over.
- The good guys manage this too in the second season. While all their minor attempts to thwart The Light fail, they've had a mole (and later upped to two moles) on the Light for the whole season who have been recording everything and waiting for the right moment to publicly broadcast that footage while also sowing discord within The Light with the shuffle's only flaw being the members of the team who didn't know about the plan almost causing it to go Off the Rails a few times. It still all finally comes together in "Summit" and it's a thing of beauty.
- The second season premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has this pulled by Discord. He makes the Mane Six believe the Elements of Harmony were hidden in the hedge maze, which set off the trap turning the ponies against each other. They were really hidden back where the series began — Twilight's reference book on the Elements.
- In the second season premiere of Dragons: Riders of Berk, Alvin appears to be planning to attack Berk with a swarm of wild Changewings, then when the Riders push them back they retreat shortly after. As it turns out, the Changewings were a diversion so that Mildew could plant Whispering Death eggs under Berk.
- The Family Guy episode "Peter-assment" has Peter's boss, Angela, sexually harassing him until Peter snaps at her, pushing her to attempt suicide; after rescuing her, Peter realizes he must have sex with her to stop her feeling so lonely, which he finds disgusting. Donning a disguise, he then takes her on a date as "Peter's friend," but refuses to have sex with her due to a weak excuse; soon buckling under pressure, he finally agrees to have sex with her, after which Angela confides she knew it was Peter, much to his horror. It turns out Peter counted on her seeing through his disguise and pushing him into sex, as he prepared by paying Mort to hide in the front of his clothes; by thus making Mort have sex with her, Angela's confidence would be repaired, and Peter would be spared the trauma.
- American Dad!:
- In "Bar Mitzvah Hustle", Roger sets up a con at Etan's Bar Mitzvah, planting false information to make it seem like his plan is to steal his Bar Mitzvah presents. This causes Etan to be so focused on the presents that he doesn't realize that Steve's true target was the Bar Mitzvah money. While Etan was distracted by the presents, Steve put the envelopes in Snot's jacket, planning to have Snot be the mule to carry the envelopes away. Unfortunately, Steve's plan backfires when Snot doesn't leave, instead, returning to show off the stain Steve left on his shirt, which revealed the Bar Mitzvah cards in Snot's jacket pocket.
- In "Toy Whorey", Roger's plan to take a bottle of wine from Greg and Terry is to use a Rube Goldberg Device to knock out the Smith house's power so Greg and Terry come over to check on them, then when Francine angrily walks over to their house and takes it from them, it's shown that Roger's other plan was to attach a string to the corkscrew so when Francine tried to open the wine she'd get hit with a wrecking ball, all so he can eat both of their steaks.
- In an early episode of Xiaolin Showdown, Jack Spicer of all people pulls this off. He sends in a robot clone of Kimiko to thwart the Xiaolin Dragons and steal their Shen Gong Wu. Omi identifies and destroys the clone, but it's too late - while the Dragons were distracted, Jack snuck in and out of the vault with the Wu, leaving them at a sudden and major disadvantage. A rare moment of sheer triumph for Jack.
- Magic tricks and illusions are often based in this, where the audience are led down one path, often with an ostensibly easy trick, only for it to be revealed that the magician was doing a much more impressive trick right under their noses.
- A variant is Penn and Teller's Red Ball Trick. Penn tells you beforehand how the trick is done (with a thread) and then storms offstage. Then for three and a half minutes you watch Teller and a red ball while you try in vain to spot the thread. Most people conclude there's actually no thread and the ball is controlled in some other way. The fact is that Teller is just that good; he's rehearsed it so much that even when you know the gimmick you can't see him doing it. Some other magicians have said that the trick is even more impressive to them, since they know how he's doing it and still can't catch him at it.
- At Penn and Teller's Las Vegas stage show, they will often remind you that the tricks they're doing aren't necessarily the tricks you think they're doing. This still doesn't stop you from being caught out, though.
- Standard procedure for smuggling banned books into communist countries: convince the border guard that you're smuggling coffee. He will accept one box as a bribe and won't even think of looking for the books.
- Psychology experiments invariably require human subjects, and there are very clear rules that require that participants are to be told they are part of an experiment. However, Ain't No Rule saying they have to be told what the experiment is. In particular, something called the "observer effect" can lead people to behave differently than usual, defeating the purpose of the experiment. As a result, experiments frequently feature a decoy task, and the description given to the participants will relate to that task, rather than the real objective. (The rules do require the experimenters to explain it all to the participants after it's all over.) The buzzer-wire game is a perennial favourite, and in any experiment involving one it's almost certainly the least relevant object in the room.
- During World War II, during the preparation for Operation Overlord (D-Day), the allies made a series of fictional armies with objectives all across Europe (Operation Fortitude). The most well known was an army that was supposedly intending to attack the port at Calais rather than Normandy. When the Allies landed in Normandy, they were able to convince Hitler that this was a diversion to get him to move troops away from the "real" landing site at Calais—when in fact Calais was the diversion from Normandy. (Of course, Charles de Gaulle, being Charles de Gaulle, let the cat out of the bag, loudly announcing the Normandy invasion to be the real thing. Fortunately, being Charles de Gaulle, nobody on the other side listened to him.)
- Similarly, Operation Mincemeat (which took place before the Normandy invasion). British intelligence plants fake documents on a dead man's body and allows it to wash ashore in Spain. As intended, the body finds its way to German intelligence agents, who discover "evidence" that the allies planned to invade Sardinia and Greece rather than Sicily. The Germans then proceeded to move forces to Greece, and when the actual invasion happened in Sicily, they continued to believe the Sicily landings to be a feint until it was too late.
- The Western Allies used all sorts of variations to disguise the fact they were getting intelligence through the Enigma codebreaking system, and secret technology like airborne millimetric radar and radio direction finding for u-boat detection. When Allied forces did something which made it obvious that they had to have had knowledge they shouldn't have had, they'd come up with all sorts of bullshit explanations that were leaked to the Germans to explain it away. "Oh, we're seeing surfaced u-boats at night through massive intake of carrots giving pilots enhanced night vision."
- The famous Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie (aka Ras Tafari) once pulled this off. A local warlord named Balcha Safo parked a massive army outside the city Selassie was in in an attempt to intimidate him. Selassie responded by acting submissive and inviting Safo to a dinner in his honor; Safo was certain this was a trick, and took 600 men from his army to go to the dinner with him and watch for any signs of foul play. Safo kept his guard up at the party at all times, which, of course, was Selassie's plan all along, because after the dinner when Safo returned to where he had camped his army, his army was nowhere to be found. While he was watching for treachery at the dinner, Selassie's men had bribed the army to leave.
- There are certain places where confidence games are legal (citation needed?). The logic behind this is that con games work by convincing the mark that they know how the game is rigged, and how to turn it to their favor. Unfortunately for con artists, the same logic goes the other way, and if the supposed mark really can outcon the con artists, they can't complain to the police either.