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I Know You Know I Know

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Captain Amazing: I knew you couldn't change.
Casanova Frankenstein: I knew you'd know that.
Captain Amazing: Oh, I know that. And I knew you'd know I'd know you knew.
Casanova Frankenstein: But I didn't. I only knew that you'd know that I knew. Did you know that?
Captain Amazing: [clears throat] ...Of course.

Paranoia can be a funny thing. It seems no matter how well you've prepared or how you anticipate possible outcomes, there's always someone who could mess your plan up if only they knew about it. Ah, but how do you know they don't know? After all, they may just be acting like they don't know so you won't do anything different that they can't predict.

This, inevitably, leads to the following paranoid rant:

"Yes, but if they know I know they know, they may do (X) instead. But what if they know more than I think they know? They could be acting like they only know that I know they know, when in fact they know that I know they know I know they know!"

Typical punchline: "...what was I doing again?"note 

Something of an overblown version of the classic chess axiom "think three moves ahead", this is one of the most common sights in a duel of Chessmasters. A Gambit Roulette may also have them, as the level of paranoia necessary to pull one off suggests he's suspecting everyone of knowing and reacting accordingly. Of course, if there's a Gambit Pileup in the making, that attitude might be justified...

May not feature the exact line, but often uses a scene where one character or the other remarks on how their opponent would react if they knew, and what they're doing in case that happens. In Real Life, humans are capable of keeping track of many degrees of what people know ("I know that he knows that she knows that they know that we know about the party..."), though even when taking the game seriously, they tend to find the string of "knowing" comical.

I Know You Know I Know breaks down logically, and it obeys some rules. Here are the levels of deception, with examples:

  • Level 0: absolute honesty, no deception.
  • Level 1: X plays level 1 (hereafter abbreviated X(n)). X(1) has information that Y(0) does not, and utilizes this in a deception.
  • Level 2: Y(2) knows that X(1) is playing a deception. Y(2) reacts accordingly.
  • Level 3: X(3) knows that Y(2) is well aware of the deception, and thus plans for the outcome of the first deception being revealed.
  • Level 4: Y(4) is aware of the above play, and knows that the logical reaction to finding out the deception will play right into X(3)'s hands. Thus, Y(4) plays around X(3).
  • Level 5: X(5)'s entire deception is a deception, maybe meant only to engage Y(4).

And so on, and so on.

This chain can go on indefinitely. In the really hairy cases, one or more deceptions are being played parallel or maybe even in conjunction with one another, making the above-mentioned Gambit Pileup.

From the second level on, the recipient of the deception (in this case Y) has two choices: either Y plays a counter-game so that the deception is revealed, or Y willingly plays the deception to X's logical conclusion. The first option will reveal Y to be playing a higher level, but will foil X's deception. The second option will let X fulfill the deception, but will not reveal Y's level. Reaction from Y is crucial, as this separates Y from a player of equal level to X. If that was the case, Y would simply be aware of the deception but unable to act upon it. In reacting, Y steps it up a level.

Of course, with each rise in level, the below levels become meaningless, so this gambit only works if X is not playing an even higher level, in which case Y would either be playing into X's hands or letting X win.

X also runs the risk of misjudging Y's level. If Y is playing a higher level than anticipated, then the deception is, as mentioned above, meaningless. If Y is playing a lower level, then X will be Crazy-Prepared but never engaged on the higher levels, which may leave X Properly Paranoid. When the Kansas City Shuffle occurs, the mark (X) is at level 2 and thinks the con (Y) is at level 1, when actually the con is at level 3.

Applying the trope in competitive multiplayer games gives you the Metagame. Initially, competing players of a particular video game will be playing the game more or less as the developers intended, using mechanics and strategies that the developers themselves had foreseen and anticipated (or observed through pre-release playtesting). Over time, players will discover quirks of the game rules, exploits of the game's engine, or unexpected strategies, any combination of which gives them a competitive advantage - but only so long as these quirks, exploits or strategies are not widely known. Eventually, the existing quirks, exploits or strategies become common knowledge and players come up with countermeasures to overcome them, and in turn must find new exploits or strategies which the other players hadn't anticipated. After enough iterations of this pattern, high-level play between experienced players can look completely different from ordinary play between novices.

See also most instances of the Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo and Double Reverse Quadruple Agent. Frequently a consideration in Feed the Mole. In many an Absurdly High-Stakes Game this will take the form of a (often internal) monologue. Sometimes circumvented by making a completely random (Heads or Tails?), unrelated, or unexpected move, which is where the Indy Ploy might come in handy. May be the outcome of a "The Villain Knows" Moment.

Usually results in an Overly Long Gag. Frequently ends with an "I Didn't See That Coming". May result in Archive Binge-like behavior when plans are laid for both eventualities, and then for both of those eventualities, and then all four of those, and then all sixteen... This may develop into a Gambit Roulette if it hasn't done so already. When someone outwits themselves via this trope due to overestimating someone else's intelligence, it may be the result of the other person being Too Dumb to Fool.

Not to be confused with "I Know I Know I Know" or the theme song to Psych (though the latter is an example).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Death Note:
    • This is pretty much the name of the game from the time L shows up. So, all of it, really. It might as well be called I Know You Know I Know: The Manga Series. Especially when L and Light Yagami start working together to catch Kira, who is actually Light. L was always slightly better at the up close and personal mindgames, but Light fared better in the end.
    • Humorously lampshaded somewhat early on, when L challenges Light to a friendly tennis match. The two of them both start long, intricate inner monologues about how they can psychoanalyze the other based on their behavior during the match, even when they know the other already knows they'll be doing this and will be acting accordingly... by the match's end, they both conclude that there's too much knowing going on, and that neither can deduce anything significant about the other based on the match.
    • The series finale may be the largest example of this anywhere. Light and Near are somewhere around eight layers deep into this, both of them believing that they are one step ahead of the other. There's an entertaining panel in the manga where other characters witnessing a "conversation" between Light and Near begin to wonder why neither of them are saying anything.
  • Eyeshield 21 does something like this during the big game between Ojou and Deimon during the Fall Tournament, with a whole string of characters reacting with shock, then going "Is that what you expected me to say?" when a dramatic play seems to go one way, then the other.
  • Food Wars!:
    • In the Fall Classic tournament, Subaru Mimasaka defeats Takumi Aldini by doing the exact same dish (a semifreddo), taking it just one step further to improve on it, and he'd even planned for Takumi trying to improvise on the spot. He tries to do it on Soma, who is confident enough that he can win that he even tells Mimasaka the dish he plans to prepare (beef stew) to make his job even easier, and even counts on Mimasaka pulling it off. What Mimasaka didn't expect, however, was that Soma would continue to try and make improvements to his dish up to the moment their match began, so his own improvements weren't enough to counter Soma's. In essence, where Mimasaka tried to go only one step ahead of the original dish, Soma decided to go ten.
    • In the Regiment de Cuisine, Takumi's match with Etsuya Eizan (who used to be Mimasaka's boss) is essentially a battle of this. Eizan's strategy is to make his dish with artichokes to afflict the judges' tastebuds for when they try Takumi's dish. Takumi, having learned from his defeat with Mimasaka, knew from the moment they were picking the ingredients from the storage room that Eizan would use artichokes and thus picked his own ingredients accordingly. Takumi knew that Eizan had won most of his recorded Shokugekis by making a dish that would interfere with his rivals', but he also knew he couldn't make one that would interfere with his own teammates' dishes in the following bouts. Eizan's face afterwards is priceless.
  • Future Diary: Considering it's a series that's about people trying to kill each other to become God where each and every one of them can predict the future this happens often.
  • In the "Little Army" prequel manga of Girls und Panzer, Miho knows that the StuG III her sister Maho is commanding in their practice battle against each other doesn't have a rotating turret, but she's aware that Maho knows she knows this. Maho then plans on setting an ambush, but Miho plans to ambush Maho first, which results in Maho taking the initiative and almost taking out Miho's tank. The battle ultimately concludes in a final exchange of shells, resulting in Maho just barely winning.
  • Appears in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, strangely not as a part of an Evil Plan, but in a sniper duel. In fact, the whole episode revolves around knowing and predicting enemy tactics. The story is told by one character during a poker game to illustrate to the other players why he is so good at bluffing.
  • In The Irregular at Magic High School, this is the situation between the Shiba siblings. Tatsuya knows that Miyuki has unrequited incestuous feelings towards him, and she knows that he knows, but at this point they're too invested in their platonic relationship to risk it by facing the issue. (Barring the occasions when Miyuki loses her patience and knocks him unconscious, after which they return to their usual deception...until it happens again.) Luckily, their upbringing as members of the Yotsuba family has amply prepared them for this sort of thing.
    • In her Rage Against the Reflection in volume 16, Miyuki more or less does this to herself, her id screaming at her superego to stop living in denial. They all have the same desires, but only one of them isn't admitting it.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Every fight during JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency follows this pattern. Joseph attacks, the opponent declares they saw it coming and counters, Joseph explains he saw that coming and twists the attack as needed, and so on until one side or the other goes down.
    • This carries over to later parts of the series. For example: In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Jotaro "fakes" his genuine ability to move through stopped time so that Dio would be caught off-guard after calling him on his apparent bluff.
  • This makes up about a third of Kaiji, the other two-thirds being basic game theory and heroic determination. In particular, the defeat of Tonegawa in the first season is based on Kaiji's realization of when Tonegawa will stop knowing he knows. Tonegawa's observant enough to notice that two of Kaiji's cards are bloodstained on the back, and clever enough to realize that Kaiji has to know the cards are bloodstained. From there, Tonegawa assumes that Kaiji set a simple trap, bloodstaining cards other than the ones Tonegawa thought he had out, so as to trick him into playing the wrong card and losing. But because Tonegawa thinks he's better and smarter than lower-class gamblers like Kaiji, it doesn't occur to him that Kaiji would realize that Tonegawa would realize this, and that the cards are exactly the ones he initially thought they were.
  • Most of the point of Legend of the Galactic Heroes is like this, with Yang Wenli and Reinhard (and various other pairs) making plans, which may include knowing their opponent's plans (and sometimes involve a plan being an opponent seeing though the plan, with an extra layer of fake planning below it).
  • The third round in Liar Game becomes this with Akiyama and Yokoya. The fourth round features it even more.
  • In Log Horizon, there's a fair amount of this going on when the Eastal Alliance approaches the Round Table Conference for help against the goblin armies. Eastal desperately needs the Adventurers' superior military abilities, but they don't want to appear vulnerable, lest they make themselves out to be weak. The Round Table Conference, meanwhile, wants to help but don't want to make it seem like they are subservient or inferior to Eastal, lest the Eastal nobility think they can order the Adventurers around whenever they want. And of course, each side of the discussion is aware of the other side's agenda, and the fact that the other side knows their agenda. What follows is a complex and delicate battle of Verbal Judo between the two powers as they try to be allies while saving face.
  • An episode of Pokémon: The Series had the group seeing a basket of fruit on the road. Ash wanted to eat it, but Misty points out that it's an obvious trap by Team Rocket. She then points to some fruit growing in the trees, which the gang decided to take... causing them to fall right into a trap set by Team Rocket, who set up the basket knowing it would be ignored.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, since Hyper Metal Sonic uses Sonic's life data, he's essentially an actual copy of Sonic. During their final confrontation, the two are so evenly matched, they're brought to a high-speed standstill and allows Sonic to give the highly meme-tastic line:
    Sonic: You might know everything I'm going to do, but that's not going to help you since I know everything you're going to do! Strange, isn't it?!
  • One episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! does this word-for-word, during Joey's battle with Yugi. He gives a long internal monologue about whether or not the card Yugi placed down (hidden within his Magical Hats, which were already protecting his Dark Magician) was a trap card or if that was too obvious...
    • "Aw, forget it, I'm just gonna attack." (He hit an empty hat, then his follow-up found the face-down... which really was a trap cardnote )
    • This exact scenario, with whatever permutations, has gone on in in the mind of every person who has played the game in real life, at least once.
    • In the duel between Yugi and Atem, both know the cards of their opponent and much of the match is spent guessing what the other likely played and how to counter it, and even tricking them into countering it for a better return.
    • Any duel involving Crow becomes this for his opponent, sometimes because he makes it a point to flaunt his foolproof strategy (which actually works) and sometimes because his opponents think too much.

    Card Games 
  • Proper Poker strategy, especially at higher levels, requires this kind of thinking and trying to stay one step ahead of your opponent(s). At its highest levels, the whole thing can get ridiculous, break down, and require game theory to come up with an ideal solution.
    • Notably, it's also important to be playing exactly one level higher than your opponent but no more. There's no point playing at level 2 (Trying to work out what cards your opponent has) if they are only playing at level 0 (i.e. without looking at their cards) and there's no point playing at level three (manipulating your table image to convince your opponent you have certain cards) if your opponent is playing at level 1 (only looking at their cards without trying to work out what you have).
  • Blackjack strategy (e.g., "counting cards") and trying not to let casinos notice you thinking too much is a meta-gambling example which can, at its extreme, surpass anything you've read in a spy novel.
  • Trading card games can have a variety of rules, exceptions, and so on to keep things interesting, but Yu-Gi-Oh! is well-known for the numerous and sometimes surprising ways the action can be altered, and the official rules tell you to expect this by saying that if a card says something contrary to the rules, you follow the card. There are cards to alter almost any aspect of the game, from draw to battle to endgame, so any action you take can begin this kind of mindgame.
  • Even very simple games like "Odds and Evens" and "Rock–Paper–Scissors" tends to make for use of this trope to absurd degrees, all in simply figuring out what out of two (former) or three (latter) moves your opponent will play.
  • Comes up frequently in Magic: The Gathering, particularly in situations involving combat tricks. Like, Alice attacks with a 1/1, when Bob has an untapped 3/3. Clearly Bob should block to kill the 1/1. But that's too obvious to be a mistake, so clearly Alice is holding a Giant Growth, which will temporarily make her creature big enough to win the fight, meaning he should just eat the damage. But that's also obvious, so maybe Alice doesn't have the Giant Growth and is simply bluffing to sneak some damage through, in which case he should block after all. Unless Alice does have the Giant Growth, and is trying to double-bluff Bob into blocking, unless...
    • The usual rule of thumb in these situations is, unless you're very confident in reading your opponent, you make the block and expose yourself to the combat trick. If they don't have it you kill their creature, and if they do, at least you've forced them to use it up, rather than forcing you to try to play around it for the rest of the game.
  • Shadow Hunter, is a Mêlée à Trois with the Shadows (monsters), the Hunters, and the neutral. The shadows must kill the hunters. The hunters mist kill the shadows. The neutrals have their own objectives. One of the neutral is Daniel, whose Instant-Win Condition is being the first to die. So inexperienced players who end up with Daniel may attack others randomly, hoping to get killed through retaliation. Experienced players will see right through it. So an experienced player may attack everyone at random to avoid retaliation by making everyone think they are Daniel. But if they are experienced and know he is experienced, they will see right through the charade. So an experienced player playing with other experienced players who know he is experienced and ends up with Daniel will attack other at random to make them believe he is someone pretending to be Daniel, hoping to be killed by the others to prevent him from becoming the Spanner in the Works. But experienced players knowing he is experienced knowing he knows they know he is experienced will see right through this charade, but an experienced player who knows he plays with experienced players who know he is experienced and that he knows they know...

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: Played with in Asterix and the Soothsayer - Prolix the Soothsayer is a fake and knows nothing. When he gets arrested by the Romans because soothsaying is illegal, he correctly predicts how a dice would fall, and hastily protests that if he'd known that he wouldn't have said it. As the question of whether he's really a soothsayer becomes more and more complicated (because the centurion wants to believe the predictions about himself becoming Emperor, while insisting to his optio (adjunct) that it's okay to work with him because he's a fake), increasingly convoluted versions of this logic are applied to every prediction he makes, whether it's accurate or not. (At one point, the optio tries the dice test again, and he gets it wrong, prompting the centurion to tell Prolix not to get too clever, or even the optio might suspect something.)
  • Batman: In the Bat-Mite miniseries, Bat-Mite believes that the villain Gridlock is a senator who uses "gridlock" as part of his campaign slogan.
    Weed: Isn't that a bit too obvious?
    Bat-Mite: Not if he'd think I wouldn't think it's him because you'd think it's too obvious to think!
  • Black Panther: In Christopher Priest's run, Iron Man sums up his understanding of the titular character's highly convoluted plot during the "Enemy of the State II" arc in a section aptly titled "And You Know I Know You Know".
  • Black Widow: When Black Widow stops the hijacking of a NASA space shuttle she and the agent in charge of the hijacking keep one-upping the other after they reveal a part of their scheme to the other, each explaining how it "changes the game." First, Black Widow reveals that she is working with the CIA and has been impersonating the man's partner. The man, commenting that that changes the game, explains that he has just detonated the explosive in his partner's head, probably killing a few of his interrogators. Widow, saying that that changes the game, explains that she is still going to take this man in for questioning, though now she will make sure to hurt him while doing so. The hijacker, after commenting that that changes the game, explains that he is now crashing the shuttle to stop her. After that the game stops changing and Widow just beats the tar out of the man, but you have to wonder what game they started with and what they were playing when they finished.
  • Cerebus the Aardvark does this several times, usually involving Lord Julius, a Clown Prince of Magnificent Bastardy. Astoria also does this to Cerebus even while chained to his dungeon wall.
  • DuckTales: In the "Rightful Owners" arc, Webby asks Scrooge why he's taking a boat instead of a submarine like last time. Scrooge answers that his competitor most likely expects he'll be going in a submarine, so he's going in a boat instead.
  • Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl: In the last scene Supergirl implies she figured out Batgirl's Secret Identity, and she knows Batgirl deduced hers. And Batgirl knows Supergirl knows this.
  • Hawkeye: A somewhat low-key example, one between colleagues, occurs in Hawkeye (2012), when Clint wants to know if Black Widow showing up to their meeting in disguise means that they're being spied on. She denies that anything is the matter or that's wearing a disguise at all:
    Natasha: What "cloak-and-dagger" stuff? This is just hat.
    Clint (Narrating): She's lying, of course, but she knows I know she's lying so that's okay.
  • Invader Zim (Oni): Zim does this with himself in the fourth quarterly. He's annoyed at having to follow his own prerecorded instructions as part of a Memory Gambit, but can't tell whether he anticipated his reactions to work around that.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The comic Damnation Crusade has two Black Templars discover that the Chaos forces have run off despite not being particularly close to defeat, leaving behind heavy weapons and vehicles of great strategic value. One wonders why they ran off, the other thinks it's a trap, the first wonders if that's what the Chaos commanders want them to think, etc.

    Comic Strips 
  • Peanuts has used this joke quite a few times, when Charlie Brown is on the pitcher's mount, trying to figure out whether the hitter is expecting his fast ball. There was another incident involving Lucy's football-pulling stunt:
    Charlie Brown: Ha! I know what she's got on her mind! Every year she pulls the same trick on me... she jerks the ball away just as I try to kick it... Well, this time I think she has a different idea. I think she's going to try to fool me by not jerking the ball away! This time she knows I know she knows that I know she knows I know what she's going to do... I'm way ahead of her! (Hilarity Ensues)
    Lucy: I figured you knew that I knew you knew I knew that you knew I knew you knew, so I had to jerk it away!
  • Garfield had a case of this, when Garfield was trying to get a spider to come a bit closer so he could hit him with a (not very well concealed) newspaper. After a pileup of "Make me Make you"s, they forget what they were talking about... and the process was restarted in the last panel.

    Fan Works 
  • Advice and Trust: In chapter 8 Kihl informs Gendo that they will send him the Fifth Child. Gendo knows the Fifth Child will surely be a spy. Kihl knows that Gendo will regard him suspiciously. And Gendo knows that Kihl knows that. And Kihl knows that Gendo knows that Kihl knows that.
    Gendo: 'Fifth Child? So soon after we 'found' the Fourth? Kihl has to know I will regard anyone they send as a spy. And he knows I know that.'
  • The Child of Love: After getting Gendo imprisoned, Fuyutsuki got promoted to NERV Commander and abandoned the SEELE's plans. SEELE knows this. He knows they know. And they know he knows they know. Still during the meetings everyone pretend they are completely unaware of each side’s thoughts and intentions. At least all agree those meetings are a boring waste of time.
  • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Harry learns methods of deception at higher levels, such that this becomes invoked. If you want to pretend that you do (or don't) know something, then instead of acting the way that you would if you really knew, you have to act the way that you think they think you would act if you really did (or didn't) know. You can fool a simple person by pretending you know everything and then subtly fishing for clues. And you can make them think you don't know anything, by making an obvious show of fishing for clues. But you have to anticipate that a higher level player could realise that you're only pretending to bluff, when in fact you really did know all along.
    • Harry successfully pulls this off in his first interaction with Lucius Malfoy, quite possibly by accident. When Lucius makes veiled references, Harry responds by playing along... badly. His deception is so obvious that Lucius sees through it almost immediately. Then Lucius starts to think it was too easy - Harry must have been only pretending to be a fool that pretended to understand. He says as much, and walks away, apparently confident that his original message was conveyed. Meanwhile, Harry doesn't have the faintest clue what's going on.
      • His new friend Draco's response to this? Screaming horror.
    • Later on Harry gets so into the habit of doing this that it makes it hard to lie to honest people. Among Slytherins multi-level bluffs and counterbluffs using Exact Words and very precise phrasing is played like a sport and Harry excels at it, but to anyone else the resulting stilted conversation comes off as incredibly suspicious.
    • What level does Professor Quirrell play at? "One level higher than you."
  • My Immortal:
    • Played with. When Ebony Enoby travels back in time, she knows that Snape Snoop possessed James Samaro and made him kill Lucius Lucian. She, however, did not "want them to know [she] knew." Whether or not Tom knew she knew is not made clear, but it is likely, as he is Volxemort and commanded Snop. "Suddenly it's a sitcom," the dramatic reading snarked at this bit.
    • Tom knew she knew that he knew that Snoop worked for Volxemort and possessed Samaro and... it kind of melts from there.
  • Happens in Death Note Equestria, mostly between Twilight and L.
  • In a chapter of Dragon Age: The Crown of Thorns, Theron Mahariel, the Dalish Elf Warden, contemplates how he's been passively spying / been allowed to eavesdrop on some secret talks between the Guile Hero dwarven noble protagonist and Alim Surana, One-Man Army mage. The extent of the I know he knows I don't, etc., has to be seen to be believed. And it's only slightly played for laughs.
    So, basically, Theron knew that Raonar and Alim knew some things they didn't, and he also knew that Raonar knew that he knew this, but did not bother pointing it out or taking measures to prevent the tattooed elf, in the future, from coming to know of everything else Alim came to know, as long as said mage did not come to know of the hunter's knowing of what he thought everyone else did not know, meaning that Theron did not have to bother getting into the habit of finding lounging spots any way farther, since Raonar either did not have anything specifically against it or knew he was not going to inform the others of his knowing that Alim, who did not know that he knew of his knowing of things that only Raonar knew more about, knew more than what he thought he knew the others did.

    Theron had continued to not-truly-eavesdrop on them occasionally, wondering when the crooked dwarf would come forth and inform Alim that, despite what he thought he knew, what he really knew was less than he believed, considering that he thought he knew for sure that no one besides the commander knew what he knew, and that, by extension, no one else knew he knew of those things, when in fact Theron had always known them without his knowing, Alim having been prevented from coming to know that the Dalish elf had always known of his knowing, as well as of Raonar's knowing that the latter knew whatever Alim knew of what he believed only the two of them knew, plus that Alim did not, in fact, know that Theron knew of his supposed knowing that no one besides the exile knew of his knowing of those things (a conviction which was false).
  • Wreaking Havoc!:
    Daphne: What do you know that he knows and suspects that you know?
    Harry: I suspect that he knows what I need to know and that I know that he suspects that I suspect he knows what it is that I need to know.
  • Lampshaded and defied in the Death Note AU Welcome to the Family:
    Near: You were supposed to play along.
    Light: Maybe if you told me what you were planning ahead of time...
    Near: But I thought you would know what I was planning and plan around it and then I'd plan around your plans in a way you'd never see coming...
  • The protagonists of RWBY fic Pyrrha(c) victory pass through several levels of deception along these lines. To summarize: Jaune and Pyrrha are both attracted to each other, but don't know if the other reciprocates their feelings...until the "Huntress" chapter, when Pyrrha finds out that Jaune knows he's attracted to her and that she's attracted to him (but has been pretending he doesn't know for some time) and later informs him that she knows what he knows about both of them, so that now he knows she knows. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Hogwarts Shuffle Harry is trying to avoid the girls in his life and gets a bit paranoid in his reasoning.
    His first thought was to head to the Room of Requirement, even though he was sure that would be exactly what they would expect him to do. He reasoned though, in a completely reasonable and psychological way, that if that was exactly what they would expect, then he figured they would know that he would expect that they would expect that...and so what they would actually LEAST expect was for him to actually go to the Room of Requirement.
  • In Tears of the Phoenix Ron suggests just grabbing Nagini and leaving the site of a stakeout after Harry realizes that she's a Horcrux.
    Daphne: If we take Nagini he's going to know we know and we really don't want him knowing we know until we want him to know.
  • In Thousand Shinji: When a SEELE’s black ops team is assassinated, Keel argues that Gendo isn’t behind that mess because it isn’t his style. Another SEELE member points out that maybe he knew that they know this. Keel angrily replied that kind or debate will get them nowhere.
    “It is not his style to leave the execution of something like this to a subordinate like that. He might never get his hands dirty, but he wants to be there to watch.”
    “Unless of course he knew that we knew this sort of thing would be outside his style,” the American from before points out.
    “True, but we could play ‘He knows I know’ all day and get nowhere.
  • Once More with Feeling: Gendo and SEELE's final goals come into conflict with one another. Both sides know that, Gendo knows SEELE knows his real goals, and SEELE knows Gendo knows they know he's liable to betray them in the future.
    Their investigations had uncovered that there was some kind of friction between SEELE and their point man at Central. As far as Kaji had understood and explained it, the goals of SEELE and Gendo meshed well until some undetermined point in the future, at which point… things would probably happen.
    Both sides pretended it wasn't the case, but both sides knew the truth and were constantly maneuvering for position even as they worked together closely on what they needed to cooperate on.
  • In Beyond the Veil Volume One: Arrival the Brotherhood of Mutants moves to a new safe house and Harry suggests casting listening spells in the old one.
    Scott: If they cleared out, wouldn't they not come back, since we know they're here and this place has been compromised?
    Harry: They'd think that we'd think that, which means there's a likely shot that they could come back and use this house given that it's the last place that we'd look because they'd think that we'd think we should not bother with this place because they'd move to another place.
    Bobby: After that I don't know what to think.
  • In A Man of Iron, Ned ends up confirming the identity of the Iron Man, but his blunt attempt to know the truth lets his cousin Tony turn the tables on him with the true nature of his blood relation to Jon Snow. Tony technically never confirms or receives confirmation for his own accusation, but both men know the other one is aware of the truth.
  • In Tales of a Reset Mind, Nico and Mania play this trope straight during Part Nine's finale.
    Nico: [...] But I knew she knew she didn't have time.
  • The sixth installment Legacy, Book II of the Star Wars: Lineage series, has Obi-Wan, bored with being stuck at the Temple and with Yoda refusing his request to go back onto active status, have his diplomacy class participate in an exercise which ends up becoming a ruckus and leading to the annoyance and frustration of several Masters. Mace confronts him in the dojo and tells him that between the anger of the senior Masters and Anakin's trouble fitting in with the community, they're being placed back on the active duty roster immediately, as a disciplinary action.
    Mace: I know you know I know that you knew this would be the outcome.
  • Queen of All Oni: During the climax, Jade gives a speech of this nature to Hebi to explain how she figured out that Captain Black had changed the password to the Vault back to 007. A confused Hebi decides to just assume that she used magic to figure it out when she wasn't looking.
  • Suggested on a couple of occasions in Harry Potter and the Alien Reality, such as when Harry stuns a stubborn government official and says the man will wake up naturally in a couple of hours; he could wake the man up earlier with a spell, but so long as nobody asks if that’s possible, Harry won’t lie.
  • Played for laughs in Losing It All when an Alternate Universe Xander is asked by Cordelia if he's evil (he's arguing he might be and she's arguing he's not). After a few layers of "I know you know", Cordelia stops it by pointing out he isn't smart enough to think that far ahead, causing Xander to admit he isn't evil.
  • Loosely applies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe fic Because I Knew You; when Wanda Maximoff comes to New York to investigate the spell that erased all memory of Peter Parker (Spider-Man: No Way Home), Peter tentatively recognises her as the Scarlet Witch when she introduces herself as his new neighbour, "Lizzie". However, since Peter believes she wouldn't remember him any more than anyone else, he doesn't bring it up, assuming that she's here on some mission for the Avengers, and Wanda doesn't correct his assumption even though she can read enough of his mind to know that he knows who she is, choosing to just offer him emotional support.
  • In the Queen of Diamonds follow-up "Wild Card", Aladdin and Cassim do everything but explicitly state that they know that Cassim is Aladdin's father, and Cassim is forced to accept that his son wants nothing to do with him and he will never have an opportunity to bond with his grandson.
  • Examples in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines:
    • In Chapter 32, Gary and Paul have a full battle against each other. Gary, knowing that Paul's Torterra, his strongest Pokémon, can use Stealth Rock, prepares in advance with a couple of Pokémon to prevent him from setting it up. However, Paul anticipated that he'd try this, so he countered by switching Torterra out and send out a different Pokémon to crush Gary's. While the battle isn't shown in full (at least in the main story, a later interlude shows the rest of it), it's later revealed that Gary lost, badly.
    • In Chapter 37, Ash has his seventh badge match against Blaine. Having fought Janine before, Ash tried to plan in advance for the possible scenarios Blaine could throw at him, including the possibility of using a Pokémon who could put his team to sleep and set up Stealth Rock. Over the course of the battle, Blaine reveals that he usually would use a Magcargo with that very strategy, but to fight Ash he chose a different Magcargo with a different moveset and the ability Weak Armor to capitalize on Primeape's landing blows. While Ash ultimately wins the battle, it turns out much harder than he expected.
  • The New Adventures of Invader Zim: The first episode of Season 2 has Nyx use this trope to explain how she determined that the masked figure "Miz" is really Zim — she knew the alias was too obvious for him to use, then figured that he was probably counting on people assuming that, then thought that maybe someone was using that logic to make Zim a scapegoat, before finally figuring that Zim was intentionally setting up that thought process in order to keep people from discovering him, so therefore he must be Miz. It takes a confused Zim a few minutes to decipher this explanation.
  • A New Dawn:
    Harry: This gets a bit complicated. But basically Dumbledore knows why Voldemort wants me dead, and why he killed my parents and tried to kill me all those years ago. But he - Dumbledore - didn't know that I knew. But I do know, and he knows I know, but he doesn't know that I know he knows I know...
  • In the ninth chapter of Heart of Ashes, Smaug sneaks into the quarters Kathryn is locked in and drags her to the balcony to talk with her there. Aware that King Wilhelm's spies are keeping watch over her chambers, he deduces that they're not spying on the balcony because they've let themselves stray with this trope.
    Smaug: There are spies now watching your chambers, I can smell them between the thin walls. It was not safe to speak there.
    Kathryn: But then, I must question the balcony, for it would be the most obvious place that they are spying on.
    Smaug: That is where you're wrong: it is such an obvious place, they would know you would know that, so you would avoid this area on purpose, meaning there was no need to watch this space.
  • In Peanuts fanfic Everybody's Gotta Leave Sometime, Lucy Van Pelt goads Charlie Brown into trying to kick a football, knowing he knows she'll pull the ball away again.
  • Son of the Sannin: In the aftermath of the Akatsuki invasion, Danzo sends some of his minions to infiltrate Konoha's hospital to steal Pain's Rinnegan eyes. Jiraiya foresaw this, and purposefully left decoys in the hospital while keeping the real ones in the Hokage's office. Later, it turns out that attack was meant to be a distraction, as Danzo foresaw he'd be keeping the real deal right there. Fortunately, Jiraiya anticipated to this as well, and had Team Gai and Shisui Uchiha stand on guard to retrieve them when they were stolen.
  • Bloodstained Heroes of Humanity: After the indoor battle trial, Katsuki indirectly reveals that he knows Izuku's vampirism and warns him to act more discreetly so eavesdroppers not in know won't know what they're talking about.
  • New Beginnings (Smallville): Played for Laughs when Lois is introduced to Kara, remembers Kara Kent from what she still believes to be a "hallucination", and asks if she is from Krypton.
    Kara: [confused] "So did she know or not?"
    Lara: "I don't know what's going on but I don't think she knew that she knew until you asked if she knew."
    Kara: [bewildered] "What?"
  • Of Patience and Pettiness: Adrien believes that he's locked into such a battle with Ladybug after New Transfer Student Eden arrives. Given her various similarities to the superheroine, he becomes convinced that she must be Ladybug — and furthermore, that she knows his secret identity. This belief swiftly turns toxic, culminating in A Tragedy of Impulsiveness that causes Eden's akumatization into Asian Beetle.
  • One More Trigger: When Lisa is giving Amy a needed hug, her Thinker power lets her know what Amy will say next, but she still pretends to be surprised. Whereupon Amy reveals that since they were in skin contact, her biological control powers make it obvious when Lisa is deceiving her. And then she realises that Lisa intuitively knew that too.
  • Exodus:
    Naturally Amelia didn't believe for one moment that Fudge was only trying to bring [Harry] out to "clear his name" and nobody in their right mind (who knew Fudge at least) would believe it either. No, Fudge had tried to kill the boy to shut him up and Amelia knew it. Fudge knew she knew it and she knew that Fudge knew she knew it as did Dumbledore.
  • In Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, the Major lets the Hellsing organization find out about his plans so that they could plan around his plan, and he in turn will plan around the plan that they're planning around his first plan.
  • No Plumbers Allowed: After the Merchants lose their marijuana farming operation, Skidmark doesn't want to directly order anyone to recover whatever is left. Instead he tells Mush that somebody's been poking around the building, knowing that the other cape prefers weed. Mush is well-aware he's being manipulated, but goes along with it because he really wants a joint.

    Films — Animation 
  • Disney's Hercules has a variation. Hades is telling The Fates his Evil Plan, but they keep interrupting him by saying they already know his plan, because they're the Fates and they know everything. Hades eventually snaps and shouts ''I KNOW you know! I know! I get it! I get the concept!"

  • In the Finnish 2005 political satire movie Itsevaltiaat Agenttimusikaali after the three presidental candidates are kidnapped by a Bond-esque villain, the other politicians, who are a part of an agent organization, have the following conversation:
    Pekka Tuomioja: The most important thing right now is to quickly track down the presidental candidates.
    Ben Zyskowicz: But where are we gonna start? We don't know anything about our enemy, do we?
    Eero Heinäluoma: That can be our advantage too. The enemy doesn't know that we don't know anything.
    Anneli Jäätteenmäki: How do we know that? The enemy could as well know that we don't know anything.
    Eero Heinäluoma: Well... why don't we start from the fact that we know that the enemy knows that we don't know anything.
    Pekka Tuomioja: Sounds fairly rudimentary. I think we should start from the fact that we know that the enemy knows that we don't know whether the enemy knows that we know that the enemy doesn't know whether we know that the enemy knows that we don't know anything.
    Seppo Käärijäinen: ...Yes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Princess Bride has this between Vizzini and the Man in Black, as he attempts to figure out which goblet contains the poison. (See the Literature entry below.) Subverted in that Vizzini isn't really trying to reason it out; he's just throwing possibilities at the Man in Black to see if any of them gets a reaction. If he were really playing this trope, he'd have realized that just as he wasn't about to leave the outcome to chance, the Man in Black wasn't about to leave it to chance either... If Vizzini were paying attention to his own line of reasoning, he might have realized that he was getting dangerously close to the truth (as shown by the Man in Black getting increasingly nervous in this scene in the book) that neither goblet was safe to drink from.
  • Monkeyed around with in Mystery Men; see the page quote.
  • The Swedish movie The Shark Who Knew Too Much opens with the main lead chased by a helicopter while shouting this sort of dialogue. Given that he's spent his whole life masquerading as a group of identical triplets who can't stand each other's presence just to trick his father into giving him shareholder majority of the company, it's obvious there's a lot of deception involved.
  • In Sneakers, Martin is interrupted while breaking into an office. In the course of inventing a plausible explanation for why he's there, he finds himself inadvertently entangled in one of these:
    Martin: And never let him know that you know what he thinks you don't know you know... y'know?
    • and give him he— he...lp.
      • Give him head?! — Be a beacon?!
  • The villain of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory does this while explaining to the muscle of the operation that he's going to demonstrate the power of his earthquake-shooting satellite by using it on a fertilizer plant in China.
    "Guangzhou is a Chinese chemical weapons facility. We know this. The Chinese know that we know. But we pretend we don't know, and they pretend they believe we don't know, but know that we know. Everybody knows."
  • Inverted in a long-distance sort of way in We Were Soldiers, where throughout the entire battle, Colonel Hal Moore emphatically knew what his Vietnamese counterpart was going to try, whereas the Vietnamese CO emphatically did not. Specifically because the Vietnamese were using more or less standard tactics, and Moore, using a never-before-testing air cavalry method, was forced to make up tactics as he went along.
  • In Hero (2002), one version of the duel between Nameless and Sky is a Battle in the Center of the Mind where they each mentally pitch their own set of skills against their opponents', each anticipating the other perfectly.
  • The Bride says this at the end of Kill Bill Vol. 1:
    "As I said before, I've allowed you to keep your wicked life for two reasons. And the second reason is so you can tell him [Bill] in person everything that happened here tonight. I want him to witness the extent of my mercy by witnessing your deformed body. I want you to tell him all the information you just told me. I want him to know what I know. I want him to know I want him to know. And I want them all to know they'll all soon be as dead as O-Ren.
  • Hot Lead and Cold Feet has Don Knotts' Sheriff deliver this line regarding his arch-nemesis, Rattlesnake: "'Cause he's here and I know he's here. And he knows I know he's here! But he doesn't know I know he knows I know he's here, but I know. So I got the edge!"
  • In DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story:
    White Goodman: Cuz I know you. And you know you. And I know that you know that I know that you know you.
Of course, Goodman is an established blithering idiot, so the scene itself is a parody, but the character thinks he's playing it straight.
  • A variation in the movie Why Me
    Bob the Turk: I warn you, do not make me do something that I would not do, unless someone made me do it because they didn't do something someone told them to do.
    Gus Cardinale: Don't worry, Bob, I would never do something to make someone do something to someone, because that someone didn't do something that someone wanted them to do.
    Bob the Turk: I'm glad we understand each other.
    Gus Cardinale: ... Me too. (cue Aside Glance)
  • From the Harry Potter Alternate DVD Commentary Gag Dub Wizard People, Dear Readers: "Then, dear readers, Harry notices a tear in Snake's pants and blood all over her leg, and Snake notices that Harry has noticed, and he notices she noticed that! I mean, there is a trade of noticing going on that is just bewildering."
  • Played with hilariously by Professor Hilbert in Stranger Than Fiction, when Harold mentions his narrator said "Little did he know":
    I've written papers on "Little did he know." I've taught classes on "Little did he know." I once gave an entire seminar based upon "Little did he know." Sonofabitch, Harold. "Little did he know" means there's something he did not know. That means there's something you don't know. Did you know that?
  • In the film (and play) Romanoff and Juliet, The General (Peter Ustinov) goes back and forth between the U.S. and Soviet ambassadors, discovering the layers of intrigue: The Soviets have broken the American code. The Americans know this, and are feeding the Soviets misinformation. The Soviets are aware that it is misinformation and are pretending to be fooled by it. When the U.S. ambassador hears that, he is flabbergasted.
  • From Little Big Man comes the great quote "You want me to think that you don't want me to go down there, but the subtle truth is you really *don't* want me to go down there!"
  • Down with Love, several times, one of them also counting as a Hurricane of Puns, as the discussion concerns two magazines called "Know Magazine" and "Now magazine"
    Barbara Novak: You know I have no interest in seeing you.
    Catcher Block: But you know you have to, and you know I know you have to. I'm sure you know how things are at KNOW ever since your new NOW.
    Barbara Novak: I have no way of knowing how things are now at KNOW. I knew how things were at KNOW before NOW.
    Catcher Block: Then you should know now at KNOW things are a lot like they are at NOW; we have to interview every applicant for every job, and so do you or you'd be going against NOW's definition of discrimination and you wouldn't want the readers of NOW or KNOW to know that, now would you?
    And later:
    Barbara Novak: Scooped you again.
    Catcher Block: I knew you would.
    Barbara Novak: I knew the minute I placed an ad as an equal-opportunity employer, you would be the first to apply.
    Catcher Block: And I knew you knew and you'd let me in to ask you to marry me.
    Barbara Novak: But you didn't know I'd say yes!
    • And Barbara's entire speech at the end where she reveals that she knew everything that happened in the movie would happen and planned the entire plot accordingly.
  • Coming to America has this happen as Prince Akeem meets his bride-to-be:
    Akeem: Listen, I know what I like, and I know you know what I like, because you were trained to know what I like, but I would like to know, what do you like?
  • Seen in The Three Musketeers (2011). The musketeers have to break into the Tower of London. Milady, who's worked with them in the past, knows their methods which would allow Buckingham to set a trap for them. They know she knows their methods and will have Buckingham set a trap. She knows they know Buckingham will be prepared. The English capture D'Artagnan, who she knew they'd use to infiltrate while the others acted as decoys, assuming she wouldn't take him into account. Turns out, they knew she'd do that, he's the decoy, and they do something completely different.
  • An exchange from Scene of the Crime (1949):
    Sleeper: Naturally, I know you know I know somethin'.
    Mike Conovan: I know you know I know you know somethin'.
  • From "Ice Cold In Alex":
    "Did you notice, Sargeant, that even though we know he's a German, and HE knows we know he's a German, he kept up the South African accent right up to when his head went under (the quicksand)?"
    "The bubbles are still coming up sir, he's alive down there, don't you think we should pull him out?"
    "What for? The man's a bloody Nazi!"
    "I know sir, but he's got Katy (a truck)'s keys in his pocket".
    "Oh bloody hell!"
  • Invoked in Stan & Ollie. Comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy often segue into their familiar bits in the middle of otherwise serious conversations just for the fun of it, including one time where they indulge in this trope after Stan admits to Ollie that the Robin Hood film they'd been working on wasn't going to be made, and Ollie tells him that he had already figured that.
    Stan: You knew?
    Ollie: I knew.
    Stan: Well why didn't you tell me you knew?
    Ollie: I thought you already knew I knew.
    Stan: How could I know that you knew I knew?
    Ollie: [chuckles] What would my line be here?
    Stan: Um..."Now I know you knew, but I thought you knew I knew, but you were pretending not to know I knew."
    Ollie [chuckles] Thank you.

  • An old joke, recounted in The Big Book of Jewish Humor, involves a merchant seeing his rival getting off a train, and asking him where he's just come from. "From Minsk," the rival replies. "Aha!" cries the first; "you are just saying that because you want me to believe that you have really just come from Pinsk!note  But I already knew that you really have just come from Minsk. So why are you lying to me?"

  • A hilarious example that was formerly the Trope Namer exists in The Princess Bride with mid-level villain Vizzini. He goes through all sorts of permutations on which goblet has the poison in it, based on his observations and the defeat of his minions. In the end, he was right in all his deductions, as every conclusion he reached was that he could not choose one of the two goblets, but he failed to take his deductions to the logical conclusion: his opponent had poisoned both goblets of wine. His opponent had spent four years building up an immunity to that particular poison.
  • Discworld:
    • Done word-for-word in Going Postal. Former con-artist Moist von Lipwig has retrieved his buried stash of ill-gotten gains, intending to use it to rebuild the Post Office, and claimed it was a gift from the various gods he "prayed" to. When confronted about it by the patrician Lord Vetinari, Moist has this internal dialogue:
    You know. I know you know. You know I know you know. But I know you can't be certain, not certain.
    • Vetinari plays a subtle form of this game off-screen. His mail packets to and from Uberwald are always clearly tampered with, and his semaphore transmissions are always intercepted. This is all as expected, and he encrypts his communiques with codes that are almost but not quite unbreakable. He could come up with a cypher no one else on the Disc could break, but that would be far less useful. This way, only his most resourceful rivals (specifically, Lady Margolotta) can read his messages, and then he knows exactly what they think he knows.
  • The Dune series is renowned for its incredibly intricate layers-upon-layers of this kind of gambit.
    • The first book alone features a subverted Red Herring Mole (someone suspected of being a traitor who is both too obvious to be the real mole as well as Beneath Suspicion, but actually turns out to be the traitor), followed by an elaborate mind game played by Thufir Hawat to set the Harkonnens against one another, and capped with Paul successfully bluffing and counter-bluffing the combined forces of the Bene Gesserit, the Imperium, and the Spacing Guild. The Baron Harkonnen discusses this trope with his nephew in his introductory chapter, calling it "plans within plans within plans."
    • Dune Messiah continues the pattern, only this time it's Paul's enemies pulling The Plan aimed at forcing him to choose between his beloved and his Imperium. He knows they are doing this, but falls into the trap anyway, only to be rescued from it by the son who will later replace him as the most powerful prophet in the universe.
    • Children of Dune sets up a three or four-way struggle for control of the Imperium, with the demon-possessed Alia on one side, the Bene Gesserit on another, the remnants of the Corrinos as a third, and an unknown quantity in the form of Paul's children, Leto and Ghanima. Leto is captured by people whom he believes to be working for the Bene Gesserit, only to have it turn out that Alia is secretly calling the shots. He himself, however has a deeper plan that eventually trumps all of theirs and renders them moot.
    • God-Emperor of Dune not only has this essentially as a plot, right up to and including his own death, but Leto also lampshades it frequently.
    • Heretics of Dune has this played between the Bene Gesserit, Bene Tleilax and Honored Matres. The Bene Gesserit outplay the other two powers resulting in the Honored Matres destroying Tleilax and Rakis, the latter very much just as planned. This continues between the Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres in Chapterhouse: Dune with the former having to use their knowledge and cunning to outmaneuver the latter's greater physical force.
    • Parodied mercilessly in National Lampoon's Doon, where two characters have a half-hour long conversation without either knowing what the other is talking about.
  • Characters in the Lymond Chronicles are prone this. A particularly risible example is in The Game Of Kings, where Lymond, who is trying to help the Scottish forces, and knows his brother will disbelieve anything he says, LIES to him about the English intentions, knowing Richard will conclude the opposite.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky:
  • Edgar Allan Poe plays this one straight in one of his mystery stories, "The Purloined Letter". Private eye C. Auguste Dupin actually explains that this is the reason he can outwit the police and get his man. The police know who stole the document; the thief knows the police know. The difference between Dupin and the police is that Dupin knows the suspect knows the police know, and the police don't know that.
  • In Hammer of the Witches, leading up to the climactic confrontation with the traitor, both sides know the other is aware of the true nature of the situation, but both keep up the front of naivete.
  • In Timothy Zahn's The Thrawn Trilogy (Star Wars Legends books), part of Magnificent Bastard Thrawn's effectiveness in battle is based on his reputation: his enemies know fully well he's a nigh-unparalleled master strategist and tactician, so from their perspective each and every move he makes is like Schrodinger's Gambit, existing in a state of It's A Trap and It's Not A Trap until they open the box and the waveform collapses.
    • The climax of the third book brings this to an epic level. Thrawn knows that the New Republic wants to capture an important bit of technology, of which only three are known to exist, all on Imperial worlds. The New Republic knows that Thrawn knows this. They also know that one system is heavily protected while another is only lightly defended. Thrawn knows that they know this. The New Republic knows that Imperial Intelligence is very good and will pick up disinformation that shows an attack on the lightly protected system is in the works. Meanwhile they actually plan to attack the heavily-fortified one. (Because both sides know that the New Republic stands a better chance of victory in either case so long as Thrawn himself and his fleet aren't there.) Thrawn knows that the New Republic knows that his intelligence is that good, and that the "secret plans" are a deception, so he disregards those attack plans and prepares for the real attack. The one thing neither side knew was that the Smuggler companies had all agreed among themselves to back the Republic by hitting whichever target they didn't on the assumption that Thrawn would be at the real target and they would be well paid for succeeding where the military failed. The rebels thought they were on the other side and handed them the false lead, which they thought was a real tip, and so they showed up as unanticipated Rebel reinforcements completely by accident.
    • In the Hand of Thrawn Duology, set a decade later, a trio of Imperials conspire very successfully to make it look like Thrawn is Back from the Dead. When Han Solo finally sees the (fake) Grand Admiral and has his suspicions deftly countered, it's a shock. Thrawn was, after all, alarmingly good at anticipating what people would do.
      Han: From now on, we can't trust anything we see. Anything we see, anything we hear, anything we think we ought to do. Not with Thrawn back on the scene.
      Lando: Thrawn or no Thrawn, the Empire is still down to eight sectors. Maybe this is really all he's going for, hoping to confuse Coruscant so badly it just freezes up.
      Han: Who knows? That's what drives you so crazy about him. You try to do something and odds are it's exactly what he wanted you to do. You stand still and don't do anything, and he runs a smartrope around you.
  • Zhuge Liang's Empty City Ruse (from the fictionalized parts of Romance of the Three Kingdoms) relies on this.
    • Zhuge Liang is the master of this trope. Various plans include:
      • Empty City: Zhuge Liang sits alone in an empty city playing his harp while a rival army comes up. They know that Zhuge is a genius and is obviously up to something. Knowing they would know this, the city really is empty, and the whole thing was a stall tactic. That worked.
      • Two Roads: Cao Cao is leading his army through a mountain pass when he comes to a fork in the road, one direction he can see a lot of smoke as you would expect from army camp fires; down the other he sees very little smoke. Obviously, the big smoke path is a ruse and the little smoke path is an ambush. Actually? I Know You Know I Know, the big path is the real army.
  • In Rohmer's "President Fu Manchu", the object is to find the villain's New York base. The police reason that since Fu Manchu is such a wily mastermind, and the first place "anyone" would look for him is Chinatown, that is really the LAST place he will hide. Only Fu Manchu expects them to reason like that, and moves into Chinatown. Only Nayland Smith figures that is exactly what he will think.
  • Spice and Wolf: Holo is a semi-deity, one incredibly adept at quick thinking and long term planning both. Her sharp senses and silver tongue can turn practically any bargain into an incredible deal. So when Lawrence manages to find himself in a make-or-break financial showdown with Amati, (who is also an incredible merchant), he almost breaks down trying to out-think their combined plans. Holo was actually helping him the whole time, he was just so distraught over the matter that he missed the hints she was dropping, and completely misinterpreted the few he caught.
  • Played with in Twilight. Edward and Alice Cullen play a chess game by using their abilities to figure out what move the other is going to make next... and countering... and being countered... and countering again... and so on.... The game is finished in their minds before two pieces are physically moved.
  • A children's book titled Finding Buck McHenry, about a man who may or may not be a retired pro baseball player, has the young narrator going, "I knew. And he knew that I knew. And I knew that he knew that I knew. Stop. You're making yourself dizzy." The story Mack Henry eventually tells is half true; he did play baseball as a young man, but he wasn't the same man the kids are confusing him with.
  • In Mistress of Dragons, Draconis knew that Edward knew that Draconis knew that Edward didn't trust him. I had to spend 5 minutes interpreting that.
  • In "Riding the Bullet", by Stephen King, the main character is on the verge of freaking out when he dizzies his own mind with how he can't let the dead guy next to him know that he knows that he knows that he's dead (or something, I'm quoting from memory).
  • Sometimes both parties can "win" at this (or at least, two out of three can). In one short story in Future on Ice (edited by Orson Scott Card), an immortal being finds two soldiers who're lost and starving to death, and it gives them each two boxes. It's observed them and claims it knows how they think, and if it predicted of one of them that he'd only open one box, it gave him food in one box, and in another box a device that will allow the user to become immortal if he so chooses. If it predicted one would open both boxes, one box will have food and the other will be empty. The Philosopher points out that no matter what the immortal thought, they lose nothing now from opening both boxes. The immortal predicted that he'd do this, but not that his comrade would listen to him, so said comrade is the only one to get an immortality device. The thing is, The Philosopher didn't want immortality, and he later figures out that the device in question actually disintegrates the user and creates an immortal copy.
  • In Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, Detachment 2702 exists to generate enough random noise to cover up the fact that the Allies have broken German and Japanese ciphers. It stands to reason that if the Axis finds out, they'll switch to a new cipher, so being able to act on the information they got without revealing they have this information becomes very important. Partially Truth in Television; Detachment 2702 is fictitious, but using the information gained from broken codes without revealing that the codes were broken was a major concern for Allied Intelligence.
  • Discussed in The Belgariad. The Drasnian ambassador to Nyssa is bribing the staff of the Tolnedran embassy for information as part of his intelligence network. The Tolnedran ambassador knows this, and occasionally feeds his staff fake information as a result. The Drasnian ambassador knows this.
    Silk: Does he know that you know?
    Ambassador: Yes, but I don't think that he's aware that I know that he knows that I know.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • The New Series Adventures novel The Doctor Trap has an entire plot based off this. The villain is convinced the Doctor knows something the villain doesn't. Not really. The titular trap, the Doctor explains is what they think you know that they don't. Confused? Yeah, join everyone else in the book.
    • In Death and Diplomacy, deception is the hat of the Saloi. And everyone knows that. And everyone knows that the Saloi know that everyone knows that. So everyone knows that the Saloi are trying to deceive them in the knowledge that they will assume everything the Saloi say is an attempt to deceive them. The ultimate example is their leader, who is obviously a figurehead for his senior advisor except he isn't, he's actually the leader. And even he doesn't know that, although once he learns he starts to suspect everyone else did.
  • Subverted by Ephraim Kishon in a story with a bagel salesman. The narrator thinks he wants to fool him into buying lower quality bagels, and goes through lengths with this trope, only to find out at the end that all the bagels always were fresh, and he suspected an innocent guy lying.
  • The Gentleman Bastards first on-page job is engineering an elaborate con involving a civil war and large amounts of valuable brandy. The Bastards then dress up as the local State Sec and bluntly tell the marks that the brandy salesman is running a con, that State Sec is investigating, and that if they just continue shelling out the money, they will be compensated and rewarded as soon as whoever is behind the con is caught. That the marks are now on level 2 means the Bastards no longer have to keep up the elaborate and expensive level 1 con.
  • The Changeover demonstrates a nonverbal example, as main character Laura had always been aware of Sorry's status as magical, with Sorry knowing that she knew.
  • In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm novel In the Lion's Mouth, Silky Voice suggests telling Ravn the truth, because there's an advantage in that they would know she knew what they knew.
  • In the Magic: The Gathering novel Test of Metal, Jace and Tezzeret play this game, each trying to anticipate the other's moves while knowing the other is doing the same thing and knowing the other knows this.
  • "Plugged" by Eoin Colfer: "He lied, and we both knew; what we didn't know was whether the other knew that we knew."
  • Played straight in Protector. A superintelligent alien (sort of...) needs to fight a space battle with similarly intelligent aliens. He knows what the ideal weapon is for the circumstances—but also knows that the enemies would know what that ideal weapon is, and could use countermeasures. So instead, he comes up with four pretty-good weapons which would each require different countermeasures, and rolls a die to pick which one to use. (The enemies would be able to predict that he'd do that, too, but they wouldn't know which way the die came up.)
  • The first series in The Chronicles of Amber is about a large, immortal, royal family with the powers of demigods squabbling and scheming over the throne after the disappearance of their father. Being that they've had centuries worth of spying on one another, studying each other in an attempt to find and exploit any possible weaknesses, making and breaking alliances as soon as it's advantageous and so on, there's a lot of this going on.
  • The fourth volume in The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign ends with one of these. Kyousuke wants to save hundreds of people whose lives are being maintained by a reactor, somewhere in the building. However, he first has to survive a fight with the White Queen. The White Queen wants to break his mind, which could be accomplished by killing said people. She stabs one of her swords into the floor and proposes that Kyousuke uses it, since it is the only means he has of putting up a fight against her. He refuses, suspecting it's a trap. But then the Queen reveals that stabbing the sword into the floor caused a chain reaction that destroyed the reactor keeping the people alive. She made the offer knowing full well that Kyousuke would reject it, so that he'd break under the realisation that his own decision condemned the people he'd been trying to save. Except Kyousuke then reveals he expected this, as he knew the Queen would never give him any way out. He also reveals that he knew the building's designer had (due to personal preference) slightly changed the layout of the building from the optimum, so the Queen's attack had missed the reactor.
  • In Skin Game, Harry Dresden is forced to team up with Big Bad Nicodemus for a mission by Mab. Harry knows that Nicodemus will stab him in the back the moment he's achieved the objective. Nicodemus knows that Harry knows and will want to kill him, both in self-defense and for Nicodemus' other crimes. Therefore, Nicodemus will want to betray him first. Harry knows that Nicodemus will be expecting the betrayal, and so hires Goodman Grey before he goes off with Nicodemus. And the entire thing, it turns out, is just a Batman Gambit done by Mab, Hades, and John Marcone. Which Harry figures out and spells out for the reader, adding in As You Know to I Know You Know I Know.
  • Thematized in a short story by German SF author Herbert W. Franke (no relation to Frank Herbert!) where two rivaling superpowers have both invented super spy cameras. Of course the spy cameras also see themselves, which leads to an iteration through all the steps of the above con classification scheme until they realize they know all. Which makes a grown spy cry. Stricty for the amusement of the reader. After all, the camera doesn't read minds, so they can still play spy chess.
  • Chakona Space: While on shore leave from the Folly, Mike, Alex and Roseberry find a crooked gambling hall. The in-house roulette wheel cheater gets caught and calls security, (a telepath) who backs down when confronted by Alex, who could probably take out the two much larger musclebound bouncers with him. The three Folly teens also engage the security type in some Psychic Static mindgames.
    Roseberry:“Whatever you two were thinking it was sufficient to almost make hym piss hymself. Me, I was wondering if Tess was already telling Neal we’d run into a little problem.”
    Mike grinned at hir. “And hy knew that we knew that they’re rigging their games.”
    Alex grinned as well. “Ruined hys whole day being able to read us and know we didn’t think we were bluffing.”
  • Only Ashes Remain: Nita is able to function when she sees Fabricio at INHUP headquarters once she remembers he doesn't know she knows he betrayed her.
  • Donald Westlake's The Spy in the Ointment:
    The briefest of silences fell. We met one another's eyes, both unblinking, both urbane, both well aware of at least one set of hidden truths. Ten Eyck had use of me, for the moment, but the time would come when he would surely try to kill me, if only because I knew his real name. I knew this, and he knew I knew it, and I knew he knew I knew it, and so on through an infinity of facing mirrors, each of us aware of the receding levels of the other's knowledge, neither of us with any intention of voicing that knowledge aloud.
  • The Lost Fleet plays with this at one point. In the final battle with the "dark ships" at Unity Alternate in Leviathan, Admiral John "Black Jack" Geary essentially has to pull this on himself. The reason for this is that the A.I. running the dark ships is based on the public's perception of Geary via the "Black Jack" legend, which is still close enough to the truth to make this work.
  • In The Running Grave of the Cormoran Strike Novels, the Strike and Ellacott Detective Agency has been involved in a months-long investigation into a cult called the Universal Humanitarian Church, or UHC, with Robin Ellacott having gone undercover at one of their facilities. Strike declares his intention to Robin to attend a "Superservice" hosted by Jonathan Wace ("Papa J") of the UHC. Robin is aghast, feeling it'd be crazy for Strike to go anywhere near him. Strike tells her that "They know we're investigating, they know we know, they know we know they know. It's time to stop playing this dumb game and actually look Wace in the eye."

    Live-Action TV 


  • The A-Team:
    • In "Hot Styles", Turian gloats to Face that he's already too late to stop him from stealing the fashion designs, but Face reveals that he suspected Rina would be frightened enough to inform on him and hence he didn't replace the film. Turian sent the decoy roll with Murdock's designs to his boss and tossed the real roll into the harbor.
    • B.A. Baracus is terrified of flying, so they have to drug him every time they go on a flight. One time, they put it in his burger. Another time, he realized that they needed to drug him, so he took Murdock's burger. And promptly passed out afterwards. Finally, at one point he was switching everyone's burgers, trying to figure out which one was drugged, and ultimately decides that the one burger they wouldn't have put it in is the one they gave him first... only for it to be revealed that this time, they'd drugged his milk.
    • Also:
      Amy: The last couple of times Decker got really close you pulled the same trick, hiding right under his nose. Making him think we're half-way out of state. He's gonna figure that game out.
      Hannibal: Yeah. But he'll figure I figured that, so he'll figure that I figured the other way, which is why we're staying here.
      Amy: That makes no sense.
      Hannibal: Decker will understand it.
  • Played with on Boy Meets World. Cory thinks that Mr. Feeny knows that Topanga proposed to him, even though Mr. Feeny doesn't actually know:
    Cory: Ohhhhh, you're a smug one aren't you George huh. You know you know, I know you know, I don't know how you know, but I know that you know.
    Mr. Feeny: Alright I know, I know everything. Now what in the world are you talking about?
  • Burn Notice talks about this during season 2. Michael, having started to become much more enlightened as to Carla's objectives and methods, begins to spy on her. Unfortunately, as he points out, he can't do anything different because it would clue her in to the fact that he already knows a little of what's going on.
  • Used in Chuck, after the staff of the Buy More is told to behave, Morgan goes through this to try and work out whether or not they should misbehave due to the person telling them knowing they'd know he knows they know he knows how they'd act.
  • Richie in The Class (2006) must determine how Duncan's date went for Nicole, but since he's a Bad Liar, he ends up revealing Nicole's secret, then Duncan's secret, then both.
  • Doctor Who
    • In "Robot", the Doctor and the Brigadier conduct a search of the Think Tank, only to be told the Killer Robot has been dismantled and melted down. After they leave...
      Jellicoe: Did they believe you?
      Hilda: Of course not, but it doesn't matter. By the time they can act, it will be too late.
      (Later with our heroes...)
      Doctor: No, of course not, and they know I didn't. And I know that they know that I didn't, and they know that I know that...
      Brigadier: Yes, all right, Doctor. All right.
    • The one-off comedy special The Curse of Fatal Death has the Doctor and the Master engaging in a round of this. Since both have access to time machines, it quickly gets complicated.. ("624 years in a sodding sewer!")
    • In "Let's Kill Hitler", between the Doctor and River. Though it doesn't matter, because she's already poisoned him.
    • In the Big Finish audio "The Rosemariners", at one point the Doctor's companion Zoe Heriot ends up in a variant of this situation when she has to pretend to be a communications officer on a space station while working with Colbert, a copy of a dead officer who's working for the current villains. Zoe muses that both she and Colbert are trying to hide the fact that they don't know anything about these systems from each other, but the difference is that she knows Colbert doesn't know anything about these systems, whereas he assumes that she does know what she's doing.
  • In an episode of Friends, "The One Where Everyone Finds Out", Phoebe and Rachel find out about Monica and Chandler's secret relationship, and something of an arms race begins regarding whether or not "they know we know they know we know!" Joey gets caught in the middle (since he's known for a while), and eventually throws up his hands when he can't keep track of who knows what. When Rachel and Phoebe order him not to tell Chandler and Monica, he exclaims: "Couldn't if I wanted to!".
    • Rachel had previously used this technique to trick Joey into admitting that he knew about Chandler and Monica too. She asks Joey to go and fetch a book from Chandler's room, knowing that he and Monica were in there. When Joey refuses Rachel comes out with this tongue twister of a response:
      Rachel: All right, how about I go over there and I will walk into Chandler's bedroom and I will see that thing that I think that I know is actually the thing that I think that I know!
      Joey: YOU KNOW?
      Rachel: AND YOU KNOW!
    • After Rachel almost peeks at the folder with their baby's sex in it, she tells Ross she's warming up to the name Ruth for a girl.
      Ross: Wait a minute. Wait a minute, you-you hated the name Ruth. Why...Why would you change your mind? know we're never going to have to use it. You did see the folder. You know it's a boy!
      Rachel: I didn't see anything. I actually changed my mind about the name.
      Ross: Oh, I don't think so. You're just giving me Ruth so you'll get to name him when it's a boy. And then that's when you'll swoop in and name him Heath or Blaine or...Sequoia.
      Rachel: I would...Sequoia?
      Ross: Veto.
      Rachel: Fine.
      Ross: anticipated that I would figure all this out, and you know that it actually is a girl, and...and you really do want her to be named Ruth. Well, I'm not falling for that! Okay, Ruth is off the table!
      Rachel: But Ross, you want the name Ruth.
      Ross: Not like this!
  • Shows up in Fringe with Milo Stanfield, a savant who can predict the future enough to cause accidents to kill people set off by dropping a pen. It's impossible for Fringe Division to outthink him, because if they try, he'll predict it, and if they predict he'll predict it and choose a different option, he'll predict that too. Astrid describes the situation with at least six recursions of "he'll predict that we predict". The ultimate solution comes because he didn't know Olivia was actually an alternate universe version of herself implanted with that universe's memories (she didn't even know that), which meant she had a slower reaction to a warning alarm common in that universe but not her own. Thus screwing up his plans long enough for him to be captured.
  • In an episode of The Invisible Man (2000), Darien gets implanted a spy nanobot by a former girlfriend working for the evil agency Crysalis (the details of how the nanobot was implanted are a bit embarrassing to him). The Agency finds out, so they Know that Crysalis know. So they plan to use him as a decoy, but later the secret is ruined, so Crysalis knows that the agency knows that Crysalis knows. And obviously, the Agency knows.
  • Mission: Impossible episodes that pit the team against a rival intelligence agency often involve this as part of a Kansas City Shuffle. In one episode, Phelps pretended to be a traitor who sold the location of four key SAC bases to the Russians. But since the Russians figured out that he was really an American intelligence officer and not the agent employed by a burned Russian spy that he claimed to be, they knew that the locations he gave were where the Americans wanted the Russians to think the bases were, and thus disregarded the locations as fake. But Phelps knew that they knew this (And had in fact arranged for them to figure this out), which is why he gave them the real locations of the bases, thus ensuring that the Russians would never look in those cities for the bases ever again.
  • NCIS: All over the map and on numerous occasions.
    • Played with when Gibbs asks for Ziva's weapon. And her backup weapon (revolver in ankle holster). And her backup backup weapon (a knife). He then hands the knife back to her, and points out that he wanted her to know he knew.
    • At the end of S5 Ep6 "Chimera", McGee sums up the situation involving a Navy research ship that isn't, pirates who are actually Russian sailors on a state-sponsored covert op and a Soviet nuclear warhead that the US thought that the Russians didn't know about but clearly did. And now we know that they knew.
  • Relied on by Shawn in Psych, as it is unclear whether/how much most of the main cast believes his psychic stint. Lampshaded in the theme song, in fact, it's (almost) the name of the theme song.
    • It's also unclear who the "you" addressed in the lyrics "I know you know that I'm not telling the truth/I know you know you just don't have any proof" is. Lassiter? Vick? Jules? Henry? The audience?
    • Also, there have been some very high-stress or time-sensitive moments where Shawn doesn't even bother to try and make his psychic schtick look plausible in front of Vick, which implies that she operates on I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That (plus her no-nonsense, down-to-earth persona makes her steadfast reliance on Shawn's vibes seem very out-of-place).
  • Invoked in Sherlock's "A Study in Pink". The assassin tempts Sherlock into a battle of wits involving two identical pills: one poisoned, the other harmless. He tries to lure Sherlock in with this form of logic, but Sherlock refuses the terms of the argument, knowing that no matter what choice he makes, the odds of success are still 50/50. He takes a third option and is ready to walk away from the whole thing, but the assassin pulls a pistol on him and threatens to shoot if he doesn't choose. Sherlock then deduces what the other victims didn't, that the gun is a fake, but gets lured back to the table anyway because he has to know if he can win. And the twist of it is, the show never says if he made the right choice.
  • During Draft Day betting at Sports Night Dana and Casey try to figure out if the other knows anything about Tommy Castro's knees, and if so, do they know that the other person actually doesn't know anything about... etc. Ends when Casey explains the entire situation to Dan, while wired so Dana can hear him.
  • Stargate:
    • Used in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Ripple Effect". SG-1 Prime and an Alternate SG-1 are trying to seize control of the Daedalus from each other by setting traps and impersonating their counterparts. SG1-Prime eventually wins because they anticipated that the bad guys would expect their initial plan so they set up another plan accordingly.
      Alternate Cameron Mitchell: So, while we were up here...
      Daniel Jackson: ...we were down on the next level, breaking into the other armory.
      Alternate Cameron Mitchell: How did you know I wasn't your Mitchell?
      Samantha Carter: Easy. If we were in your position, we would've done the same thing.
      Alternate Cameron Mitchell: Now, lemme get this straight. We figured that you guys'd try and escape and we set this trap for you, not realising that you'd figure out that we'd figure you out and you set... your own.
      (Jackson and Carter share a silent glance. The camera then cuts back to Alt-Mitchell as he glances down the hall, with Teal'c adopting a thoughtful expression.)
      Teal'c: ...indeed.
    • Used dramatically in Stargate Universe with Chloe revealing that she knows about the thing that he knows, it's just that... the 'thing'.. is Eli being in love with her whilst she's in love and in a relationship with one of Eli's best friends.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Peak Performance", Picard and Riker are facing off against each other in a mock battle. Data gets into this while trying to analyze Riker's strategy. Troi tells him he's overthinking it.
    Data: Commander Riker will assume we have made this analysis, and knowing that we know his methods, he will alter them. But, knowing that we know that he knows that we know, he might choose to return to his usual pattern.
  • Used mostly seriously on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Matt's assistant has told Danny about Matt's pill-popping. After Danny confronts Matt, she quietly walks into the room.
    Assistant: I know you know I told Danny.
    Matt: I know you know I know.
  • Studio C has a Sherlock spoof where Sherlock and Moriarty keep one-uping each others predictions, such as both knowing that Moriarty would bring a balloon giraffe and that Sherlock wouldn't like it. It culminates in the revelation that Sherlock and Moriarty did all this to throw a birthday party for a little girl.
  • A common sight in Survivor, with the convoluted backstabbing, double-dealing, and mind-gaming that the players perpetrate on one another.
  • Myka and H.G. have a good one in Warehouse 13 quickly becoming complex making Myka's partner tell them to stop a small part below
    Myka: And, for the record, I knew that you slipped this in my pocket at the cemetery.
    HG: I thought you’d know.
    Myka: I knew that you’d think that.
  • Will & Grace: Will secretly arranges to fly Leo back from Africa as a surprise for Grace's birthday. When Leo arrives early Will tries to keep him hidden, but Leo sneaks out and runs into Grace. Grace tells Leo to go back and act like he didn't see her so Will can still "surprise" her. Leo (who thinks this is all ridiculous) tells Will the truth, so Will decides that since Grace doesn't know he knows they should act as if the "surprise" is still going. Jack and Karen make things worse by kidnapping Leo and ditching him in the countryside. When they pick him up, Leo finally lets the group have it.
    Leo: There is no surprise, okay? We all know it. He knows, she knows, and they know, we know, and you know he knows she knows, and she knows they know and now everybody knows I know, so just stop pretending!
  • Happens quite a few times in Yes, Minister. Especially funny due to Sir Humphrey's penchant for Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness. When discussing use of nuclear weapons:
    Sir Humphrey: It's a deterrent!
    Hacker: It's a bluff. I probably wouldn't use it.
    Sir Humphrey: Yes, but they don't know you probably wouldn't.
    Hacker: They probably do.
    Sir Humphrey: Yes, they probably know that you probably wouldn't, but they can't certainly know!
    Hacker: They probably certainly know that I probably wouldn't.
    Sir Humphrey: Yes, but even though they probably certainly know that you probably wouldn't, they can't certainly know that although you probably wouldn't there's no probability that you certainly would!

TV Movies:

  • In the backstory to the telemovie The Dog It Was That Died British spy Rupert Purvis was approached by a Russian agent Rashnikov to become a double agent. He tells Purvis to go to the British and tell them about this approach then return to him. So the British would know that the Russians know, he does, then returns to tell the British so they know that the Russians know that they know. Then he returns to Rashnikov so the Russians know that the British know that they know that the British know. How long did this continue? He doesn't remember, so he's unsure whether he was spying for the British against the Russians or vice versa. This is a factor in his suicide attempt and the second successful attempt.
  • In the TV movie The Great Escape II: The Untold Story, a Gestapo agent takes several prisoners of war out for a drive so they can be "shot while trying to escape". When he announces their execution, they just stare at him coldly. The Gestapo man realises this Dissonant Serenity is because they suspected all along the fate he had in mind for them.

  • Ravages of Time runs on this trope. One strategist would lay out a plan, and in the end would say, "Of course, if the enemy strategist is any good, he would know that I will be planning this, so...".
    • Chapter 177 plays this up to at least fifteen layers deep. Zhang Fei and Chen Gong were scheming against each other; the former was trying to lure Lu Bu to Xiapi to kill him while the latter wish to drive out Zhang Fei to take Xiapi. Both of them outlines their plans, and the narrative switch back and forth between them anticipating each other.
    • According to Pang Tong, the ultimate strategy is to "Let your opponent know your next step. Even more brilliant is to let your opponent know your next two steps." (And then, the next three...)

  • The Kelly Clarkson song "Walk Away" has the lyrics:
    I know you know I know
    So what's the point in being slow
    Let's get this show on the road today
  • Bob Dylan's "Tell Me, Momma".
    But I know that you know
    That I know that you show
    Something is tearing up your mind
  • Hank Green's "I Know (A Song in Ten Words)", heard here.
    I know that you don't think I know that I know what I know
    I don't think that you know i think that I know that you don't
  • Tex Perkins' I Know Y'Know I Know.
  • Done almost verbatim in the Kursaal Flyers song "Little Does She Know", which was a British top 20 hit in 1976. The chorus is:
    Little does she know that I know that she knows
    That I know she's two-timin' me
    Little does she know that I know that she knows
    That I know she's cheatin' on me
  • '60s psychedelic-pop group the Love Generation had a minor hit with the Jimmy Webb-penned "Montage", which wraps up thusly:
    And I knew that you knew that I knew that
    You knew that I knew that you knew that
    I knew that you knew that I knew
  • The Rutles: "I know you know what you know, but you should know by now that you're not me..."
  • "Throwing It All Away" by Genesis starts with the lines:
    Need I say I love you
    Need I say I care
    Need I say that emotion's
    Something we don't share
    I don't want to be sitting here
    Trying to deceive you
    'Cause you know I know, baby
    That I don't wanna go

    We cannot live together
    We cannot live apart
    That's the situation
    We've known it from the start
    Every time that I look at you
    But I can't see the future
    'Cause you know I know, baby
    That I don't wanna go
  • "Come to the Sunshine", a '60s sunshine-pop ditty written by cult favorite (and future Beach Boys Smile collaborator) Van Dyke Parks and recorded by Harpers Bizarre, has in its chorus the line You know, I know, you know, that I love you.
  • Otis Redding ad-libbing at the end of his Cover Version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come": "you know and I know, you know that I know that I know that you know, honey, that a change is gonna come."
  • The Italo Disco song "My Mind by Twilight also includes the trope name in its lyrics.

  • Within the Wires: In "Black Box" episode 6, the pilot mentions that his contact told him that the Institute's people are posting "missing person" posters in areas where they don't think their target is, in an attempt to lull them into a false sense of security.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • On a 1997 episode of Monday Night RAW, before a scheduled match with Triple H, Mick Foley's alter egos Dude Love and Mankind appeared on the screen to introduce Cactus Jack. (It was sort of a thing.) Towards the end, Dude Love asks Mankind if "you're thinking what I'm thinking," and Mankind cheerfully replies "I think I am thinking what you think I think you're thinking!"
  • New Japan Pro-Wrestling's luck it was to present the feud between Prince Devitt and Low Ki, which was pretty much nothing but this, as highly analytical former partners with superficially similar styles. Hell, one of Low Ki's signature moves has become a feinted shining wizard, so he always has some Confusion Fu going on.
  • After their encounter at Border Wars 2013, Adrenaline RUSH (ACH and Ta'Darius Thomas) and the C&C Wrestle Factory (Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander) have learned to read each other like books.
  • While nowhere near as high profile, all of Low Ki's face offs with Manik in TNA have been somewhat similar. Manik has an uncanny ability to predict just how Low Ki will try to counter his moves and acts accordingly, yet Low usually ends up a step ahead of Manik away.

  • John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, Ep. 3, gives us this brilliant example. Warning: Any and all attempts at comprehension may result in brain damage.
    Bob: Okay. I want you to listen very carefully and tell me if I've got this right. You're angry about what you think I said about what you said about what you thought I said (but we now both agree I didn't say) about what you thought I thought you thought about what I did when you did what you did when I didn't do what you thought I said I would do but what I thought I said I would try to do, is that right?
    Alice: Yes.
    Bob: Yeah I thought so. Well I didn't say that.
    Alice: Yes you did! You said you couldn't believe I said what I said about what I thought you said (but which we do agree you didn't say) because you thought I said I said what I said not because you didn't do what you said you'd do but because you said you'd do it, and that makes me feel that you feel that I feel that you don't feel what I feel.
    Bob: You know I feel you feel I feel what you feel.
    Alice: Yes but I don't feel you know I know that and that's why I said what I said.
    Bob: What did you say?
    Alice: That sometimes, I think you're a little over-analytical—
    Bob: Bollocks.
  • Round the Horne's overwrought romantic couple Charles and Fiona occasionally have exchanges like:
    Fiona: Yes, Charles... I know.
    Charles: I know you know.
    Fiona: I know you know I know.
    Charles: Yes... (heavy dramatic pause) ... I know.
  • Negativland's Time Zones Exchange Project has a moment early on where erstwhile Universal Media Netweb star Dickie Diamond (Richard Lyons) succumbs to his paranoid delusions and goes completely over the edge, flying off in the traffic herders' Whirlycopter armed with a Media-Shifter and that vilest of all weapons, a script. He tells UMN producer Omer Edge (Don Joyce) he's discovered Netweb executives' conspiracy to get rid of him: "Don't you think I know that you know, that I know what you and Friday are up to?" Hear it here.
  • In the Cabin Pressure episode "Gdansk", this is how Martin ends up betting Douglas that more of the passengers will choose strudel than cheesecake. First he's absolutely certain that it'll be cheesecake, but because he's so certain, he thinks Douglas taking the bet means Douglas knows something he doesn't, so reverses it. Then Douglas agrees to that too quickly, and he thinks it's a double bluff, then he wonders if Douglas knew he'd think that, and finally he settles on strudel.
    Martin: Oh, God, I've ended up with strudel. No-one likes strudel!
    Douglas: Seems an odd choice, certainly. I'd have picked cheesecake.

  • The general concept of second intention fencing takes this to ridiculous levels, until someone decides to interrupt all of the feints and counterattacks with a simple straight lunge.
  • In baseball:
    • When one team manages to figure out the second team's signals they'll usually try to only act on that knowledge at a critical point in the game. The second manager might intentionally allow them to try and steal the signal so at the critical point they think they know what's being planned. Which could cause paranoia in the first manager if the signal seemed too easy to steal, leading to suspicion of a setup. Which the second manager would know, so...
    • In another baseball example, catcher Carlton Fisk once managed to confuse a batter by talking about how he knew the batter knew the pitcher was ignoring Fisk and only throwing fastballs down the middle, and the pitcher knew Fisk knew the batter knew but wouldn't listen to when Fisk said he was signalling for curveballs (he was actually signalling for fastballs...down the middle). After an epic performance which included Fisk screaming at the pitcher to throw the curveball and going out to the mound, yelling and waving his arms around, the batter was so screwed up trying to figure out who knew what was supposed to happen he could only watch a third strike fastball go right down the middle.
      • To avoid this kind of insanity, some coaches start with bullshit signals, then a sign (often very subtle) meaning "okay, here's the real signal" and anything after that is real. Of course, this can be figured out as well.
    • The extensive, ever-evolving metagame between a pitcher and a hitter can get a little ridiculous, resulting in both trying to goad the other into a mistake, but all a non-savvy audience sees is two men staring at each other, fidgeting, and adjusting their jock straps for minutes on end.
    • There's also the game of chicken played between baserunners, the pitcher, and the catcher. The defense knows that the offense will try to steal bases, and will maintain utmost vigilance to prevent such. The offense knows the defense knows, and will try to bluff the defense, or sacrifice one of the base runners so that the other can advance. The defense knows the offense knows the defense knows...
  • In American football it's not uncommon, in a short-yardage situation on fourth down in field goal range, for the offense to line up and try to draw the defense offside. If it works, they get the first down and continue the drive, and if it doesn't they can call a time out (or take the five yard penalty for delay of game if they're close enough) and try for the field goal. Since this is so obvious, the defense typically knows they're trying this. However, on some occasions the offense does run a play, catching the defense off-guard because they know the defense knows they're trying to get an offside and not run a play. However, the defense knows that the offense knows that the defense knows what they're trying, so they're on the lookout for an actual play. However the offense knows that...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Showed up in some parts of the metagame for second edition Exalted combat. Keyword effects (basically, status ailments that fell under a specific subgrouping) were often pretty nasty, so people would pick up keyword defenses (things that nullify or grant immunity to effects with a given keyword for a time) so as to not get hit with those, or just find ways to not get hit in the first place. Since people would just pick up these defenses, people often wouldn't bother trying to use keyword effect charms because they'd just be canceled, and in some cases the defense was actually cheaper to use than the thing it canceled (and many defenses lasted a while once up). Some people figured they could save on EXP by not picking up these keyword defenses because if people assumed any keyword effect they used would just get canceled then they wouldn't bother using keyword effects, and that in the few cases where they were used, simply not being hit in the first place would suffice as a way to avoid it. Works fine as an I Know You Know I Know cycle in most cases; gets a bit tricky when the supposedly weaker splats start throwing out even nastier keyword effects that aren't reliant on hitting someone directly. The fact that Dragon-Blooded add another level to the deception has been a rude awakening for more than one player.
  • Game of the Generals: While pieces cannot be specifically identified like in Stratego (except for specific scenarios such as when your 5-Star General is captured by an opponent's piece, after which it's obvious it can only be a Spy), players can get an inkling of what rank each opponent's pieces are. Communication between players is also possible, allowing for the chance to dispense dubious intel. This, of course, influences strategy.

  • In Arsenic and Old Lace, the bluffing game regarding which characters know about the murders committed by the other characters reaches truly epic levels.
  • Jonathan Larson's semi-autobiographical musical, tick, tick... BOOM, contains a song called "Therapy". Essentially, the song is a dialogue between two characters detailing how, if they'd known that the other knew what they knew... things would be different. It's really quite brilliant. What makes it even better is that, in the end, the other character is proven right. To make this clearer, "I feel bad that you feel bad about me feeling bad about you feeling bad about what I said about what you said about me not being able to share a feeling." Whatever it was that she said about him not being able to share a feeling was probably accurate; he apparently isn't good at it.
  • The Lion in Winter played this straight, albeit slightly lampshaded, complete with the line itself from Prince Geoffrey: "I know. You know I know. I know you know I know, we know that Henry knows and Henry knows we know it. We're a knowledgeable family."

    Video Games 
  • When dealing with conspiratorial spy-types, it's always important to keep track of who knows what, and how they know it. City of Heroes plays with this by having the character knowingly sent into a trap, just to cause confusion among the enemy.
    Indigo: ... So, they've decided to set a trap. However, I know that it's a trap, and I must assume that they know I know it's a trap. So really, it's more of an invitation. An invitation to ambush. Shall I send your RSVP?... Oh, and do play along some if you get the chance. That should really help to freak them out.
    • City of Heroes loves this, especially with scanner/newspaper missions. Villains (or heroes) will call out your character for a fight, set an ambush, and attempt to take you down. The fact that you know it's an ambush in no way deters you from walking right into it, but, in spite of insurmountable odds, you always eventually walk out too.
  • The Dinosaur King DS game descends into this sometimes with the hints that opponents give about their next move.
  • From the final mission of the Whiteboard War game Chop Raider: "We're not going to force you to do it, but we know you won't decline."
  • The "ESP Center" wonder from Civilization: Call to Power.
    Subject 1: I know what you're thinking.
    Subject 2: I know that you know what I'm thinking.
    Subject 1: I know that you know that I know what you're thinking.
    Subject 2: I know that you know that I know that you know what I'm thinking.
  • The indie game Achron is built upon this trope and time-travel. Every minute or so, a time "wave" occurs so any changes you made to that last big fight will be etched into the game and your opponent will have a chance to fix it or leave it. Or maybe you just pretended to change it, and he sends troops back to fight what he thought you sent back. But then, you did send stuff back, but maybe not to there, so he doesn't know that you know that he knows you sent troops back. Or does he?
  • Psychonauts: Conspiracy Theorist Boyd pulls a variation of this midway through The Milkman Conspiracy, much to Raz's confusion:
    Boyd: They must want to make us think that's where they want us to go, because they think we'll think we know they know we know, so we won't go!
    Raz: So... I shouldn't go to the book depository?
    Boyd: Of course you're going to the book depository!
  • Frozen Synapse requires players to think like this constantly.
  • This is often done by the players themselves during wifi Pokémon battles. Ha, you've sent out your Gyarados against my Starmie? I'll just use Thunderbolt to exploit your 4x weakness to electricity! But you know I'll do that. So you'll switch in a ground type that will be immune, so I should use Surf. But you know that I know that you know, so you'll leave in Gyarados, letting it soak up the not-very-effective hit in exchange for hitting me with Giga Impact; therefore, I should use Thunderbolt after all. But you know that I know that you know that I know, so you'll switch out, and—
    • The opponent is in the exact same situation because you could Take a Third Option: switch out yourself into say a Grass-type that could handle either Water or Electric (and other options exist, so unless all of the opponent's Pokemon have already been revealed, you never know what may be brought out next).
      • Rotation battles, giving you three Pokémon and the ability to switch which one is in front and able to attack and be attacked in your turn, uses this even more so as your attack could end up hitting one of three Pokémon and you never really know which one. This is naturally the best feature of the battle variety.
  • Platform Game: Any type of this game can have this trope come into play with various types of trap like the Pressure Plate trap or Kaizo Trap. One example is in Limbo, which has one a Pressure Plate trap, and then another right after. This leads to the trope because any semi-competent gamer is going to go "Well, it's obvious that the 2nd trap is an inverted version of the first... but wait.. if the designer knows that, he'll make the trap the opposite of the inversion, so I should do the same thing I did on the first trap.. but he knows that I know that.." this loops around until the player simply chooses one at random, and likely dies anyway.
  • Discworld Noir: Lewton tries to do this on Malaclypse - it works, after a fashion.
  • Dota 2: The Techies are known and feared for being able to create invisible minefields, which can take off a huge portion of your health or even instantly kill you if you step on them. This can be used to invoke this trope: you can choose to put mines in a high-traffic area, where enemies are likely to step on them. But a savvy opponent will predict that, and take a different path instead. So you could choose to instead mine that path. To further increase the confusion, Techies can also place a minefield warning sign. Is the sign honestly warning you, or is it a trick to make you take the other path and get blown up there? These dilemmas can both be solved by putting down a Sentry Ward or buying a Gem of Truesight, which reveals the invisible mines so you can destroy them. But if the Techies buy Aghanim's Scepter, the minefield gains an additional ability: mines placed withing a small radius of it can not be revealed at all, even with truesight. Are you still willing to take that chance and walk through what may be a minefield? Or will you take the detour?
  • In The Elder Scrolls series' backstory, during the Alessian Revolt, this plays out in a bizarre, metaphysical way between Akatosh, the draconic God of Time and chief deity of the Aedra, and Pelinal Whitestrake, the physical manifestation ("Shezarrine") of the spirit of the "dead" creator god, Lorkhan, who was sent to be Alessia's divine "champion" in her war against the (primarily) Daedra-worshiping Ayleids. Pelinal was aware that Akatosh knew just how insane he was and could always feel Akatosh's burning gaze upon him. Crosses over with Teeth-Clenched Teamwork for Akatosh and Rage Against the Heavens for Pelinal, as Pelinal, being a Shezarrine, is the physical incarnation of Lorkhan's soul. During the creation of Mundus, the mortal plane, Lorkhan convinced/tricked (depending on the storyteller) the et'Ada ("original spirits") who would become the Aedra (including Akatosh) into sacrificing large portions of their divine power to create Mundus. In revenge for this perceived treachery, the Aedra killed Lorkhan, tore out his "divine center" (heart), and cast it down into the world he created where his spirit would be forced to wander. Akatosh considered it a "moment of weakness" when he went with Lorkhan's plan to create Mundus and likely still harbors a grudge. When Pelinal went too far in one of his berserker fits of rage and damaged the lands themselves, Akatosh and the other divines nearly left Mundus in disgust until they were placated by Alessia. To quote The Song of Pelinal:
    Pelinal: "O Aka, for our shared madness I do this! I watch you watching me watching back!"
  • Persona 5: Goro Akechi's bread and butter between the second and sixth palace heists is to invite himself into Joker's conversations and drop hints that he knows who the Phantom Thieves are, resulting in the Thieves sweating and squirming while Akechi smiles smugly. Joker can voice a similar suspicion of him, which Akechi is startled by, but dismisses as a bluff. Akechi's habit of doing this comes back to bite him when he joins the team as The Mole, because by then he'd dropped enough hints for them to realize that he's the Black Mask who'd been spying on them in the Metaverse since the second palace, and set up a Gambit Roulette to trick him into thinking he'd defeated them. Akechi is both impressed and incensed when he figures this out.
  • Sonic Heroes: The Chaotix are hired for a particularly weird case by a client who refuses to identify himself and only speaks to them over a radio. When said client turns out to be Dr. Eggman, Charmy and Espio are shocked, but Vector casually reveals that he knew it was Eggman the entire time. He only pretended to be deceived in order to find out what Eggman was up to. Charmy and Espio are shocked once again, this time by the realization that Vector is a halfway competent detective.
  • Fighting games live and breathe this trope in player vs player matches, especially at a high level. There are no moves or techniques in a fighting game that are outright more powerful than all others; each move has its time and place, and importantly, each move counters some options and is countered by some other options. So in order for a player to defend successfully, they have to guess what move the attacker will use, and respond with a defensive option that beats that attack. But the attacker knows this, so they should try to guess what the defender is going to guess, and choose an option that beats that; but the defender knows this, so they should try to guess what the attacker is going to guess that they're going to guess, and defend appropriately. Repeat ad nauseum. The term yomi is of relevance, describing the ability to read your opponent's mind.
  • The club games in Higurashi: When They Cry, as well as Satoko's traps. For example, in preparation for a squirt gun fight, Rena stashed an extra squirt gun somewhere, but when the time came to use it, it turns out Satoko had already found the hidden gun, broken it so it couldn't fire, and left it in Rena's original hiding spot.
  • In one of the Netrisca logs in Serious Sam that you have to pause the game to read, there's a description of an ancient lion's den. It says that prisoners were often brought to the den. And the lions knew what to do with the prisoners. And the prisoners knew that the lions knew what to do with the prisoners. And the lions knew that the prisoners knew that the lions knew what to do with the prisoners. And... it cuts off before it can go on for too long.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue has an example in the final episodes of Revelation: as Washington and co. approach a base known to be inhabited by Tex, he stops the jeep some distance away, pointing out that the open area ahead is the perfect spot for a sniper ambush. Doc asks, since Tex received the same training he did, wouldn't she know he'd know that and plan accordingly? Wash: "You're overthinking it." And then the buried landmines go off.

    Web Comics 
  • 8-Bit Theater:
  • Mr Square has a prime example, wherein Mr. Square says, verbatim "I know that you know that I know what you know about knowing that I know, but you don't know that my knowledge of you knowing is not secret, I WANT you to know that I know so you don't know what I don' know?" in this comic
  • Casey and Andy does this at one point in an almost Two Scenes, One Dialogue where the two discuss how they'll counteract each other's plans in increasingly complex manners, whether the other knows about the plan or not.
    Quantum Cop: This Quantum Vector Collector will tell us exactly where Quantum Crook is.
    Quantum Crook: This Quantum Vector Collector Inspector will tell us when my opposite tries to find us.
    Quantum Cop: To avoid being snooped, I had you add a Quantum Vector Collector Inspector Detector.
    Quantum Cop: Excellent. He's in Mt. Fuji and doesn't know we're coming.
    Quantum Crook: Excellent. He knows where we are, and thinks we don't know he's coming.
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Subverted in that both participants of the conversation are AIs, and have no problem following this.
      TAG: I know you know I know. I did not say more because I did not know whether you should know that I know that you know.
    • And now we have this:
      Ennesby: You know, so that they know you know we know, and we know they know you know we know. Full disclosure.
      Schlock: *overhearing Sorlie's comm implant* The boy handler laughed at your know-know joke.
      Lt. Sorlie: Is that the noise he was making? I couldn't even tell.
      Schlock: Aaaand he just put his hand over the microphone.
  • Employed in Evil, Inc by Evil Atom on 2008-June-12.
  • The Last Days of FOXHOUND has a very amusing example in this strip.
    • A later look into his mind shows that Ocelot thinks like this all the time. He labelled a section of his mind as 'porn' just because he knew Mantis would suspect he was using that section to hide sensitive information, and instead filled it with some rather depraved things. Raven lampshades it at that point.
      • He eventually states that his entire existence is based on this trope, which is what makes him both such an exceptional spy and a pain in the ass.
    Mantis: I mean, you must spend every day pretending to act like you're falsely letting on that you aren't not unbetraying someone you don't not purport to allegedly not work for but really do! How do you keep all this shit straight without having an aneurysm?
    Ocelot: [shrugs] Practice.
  • Happens twice in Irregular Webcomic! Here when Adam and Jamie become omniscient, and here when Head Death talks with Head Paradox.
  • The entire point of this Nedroid strip.
  • It was bound to happen, sooner or later, in The Order of the Stick.
    • Vaarsuvius does it in strip #789:
      Vaarsuvius: ...which in turn means that he knew that you would know that he was in the empire, and that you would know that he would know that you knew.
      Elan: Which means... that I'm totally confused.
    • Defied by Roy when the team is discussing the extent of Girard Draketooth's duplicity in "Stuck in the Sand Trap", including the possibility of a double-bluff.
      Durkon: Aye, but wha if Girard thought o' everythin' ye just said, an' did tha opposite, just ta trick us?
      Roy: I think we're quickly approaching the point that it doesn't matter if he did.
    • The High Priest of Hel outright says it (although only in his head) when suspecting a gnome head cleric to be hiding something.
      HPoH: Say it. Come on! I know, you know, I know you know, and now you know I know!
    • Yet again right after Hilgya scried on the High Priest of Hel for the Order, at the same time that Roy received a Sending from him, with a challenge to face him in the banquet hall of the Temple of Thor:
      Roy: Ah, but he doesn't know that we know that it's a trap - and even if he did know we know, he doesn't know we know that he thinks he knows what we don't know.
      Belkar: Sometimes I miss when you didn't bother explaining stuff to me.
  • Homestuck: The duel between Terezi and Vriska in Act 5. Terezi proposes that they flip a coin to decide whether Vriska stays or goes. Both parties realize that Terezi is employing Double Speak, so "go" really means "die". Both parties know that Vriska can alter probability and make the coin fall on whichever side she wants. Terezi expects Vriska to call her bluff, by making the coin land on "go" and then turning to leave. Vriska does precisely that, expecting that Terezi won't have the stomach to stab her in the back. This is even lampshaded by Doc Scratch, who narrates their fight.
    Doc Scratch: Naturally, the Thief [Vriska] knew this was her intent all along. ...
    And the Seer [Terezi] knew the Thief knew all this as well.
    Just another pair of cheaters attempting to play with their cards face up. Amateurs.
    Each was gambling, not with any vehicle of probability, which had been eliminated from the equation, but with each other's intentions.
    • In the end, Terezi's Seer of Mind power shows her exactly how bad not stabbing Vriska would be, and she goes through with it.
  • Bad Machinery. Lottie suspects that her mum's new boyfriend is secretly a dangerous vigilante.
    Lottie: Can't let him know that I know. What if he guesses? Then I can't let him know that I know that he knows.
  • El Goonish Shive: Grace tells Ellen that she told Raven that she knows about him being an elf but doesn't tell him the that other people know about his nature as well. She also believes that he doesn't know about Ellen knowing about his knowledge that Ellen is a magical being.
  • Precocious: Autumn's plan.
  • In this Darths & Droids strip R2D2 uses Reverse Psychology to make Luke remove a Restraining Bolt from him. The Rant mentions that these things work until the players become Genre Savvy enough to see through your tricks, so you have to use reverse-reverse psychology. Once they start expecting that, you'll have to use reverse-reverse-reverse psychology etc.

    Web Original 
  • Used without being named in one of Ayla's Whateley Universe stories, "Ayla and the Network". The ENTIRE plot is various groups having a Gambit Roulette. The winner is the one who can end the "I know you know" game. It's Thuban and Ayla. Ayla, who knows people would break through any security she has, so BOTH her laptops are traps, and Thuban, who set up the ENTIRE blackmail plot!
  • Experienced players in Mitadake High pull this kind of thing all the time when debating whether or not to give out their PDA Numbers. Unless the host has disabled the computers due to abuse, in which case there's no risk whatsoever.
  • In the party/forum game of Mafia (a.k.a. Werewolf), this is known as "WIFOM logic", stemming from the "Wine in Front of Me" scene from The Princess Bride. In truth it's a Logical Paradox that yields no useful information. At the start of most games, the Mafia/werewolves/evil team all know who is on the evil team, while the good team knows nothing but the game's rules (and may not 100% know even that). Exploiting this fact is the primary tool the good team has to root out the baddies, particularly if the cop is keeping quiet or dead. The evil team knows this, and will avoid letting on too much... which they might well overdo by conspicuously not talking about each other, or affecting more suspicion than is reasonable.

    Web Videos 
  • In history of japan, this is exaggerated by a whole bunch while explaining how World War I got started (and why Japan got involved). In summary, Japan likes Britain hates Germany hates Britain likes Belgium is being trespassed by Germany hates France likes Russia hates Austria hates Serbia shot the leader of Austria.
  • Mind My Gap: Virgil Horn almost quotes this trope word for word on the loading screen.
  • The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast has a regular feature called "Science or Fiction?" in which the host gets his fellow casters to try and determine which of three science news items is fake (two are true). Occasionally he'll throw in one that's so ridiculous that it has to be fake, but the panelists are reluctant to pick it, naming this trope as a reason why.
  • In the Rocket Jump video "Mexican Standoff", the characters get so many levels into this that they have to stop what they're doing and draw it all out on the ground with chalk in order to figure out who is on what side and why.
    Freddie: Did you just get here, son? I knew you knew I knew all along all along all along.
  • In the Scamalot episode "Poison," James advises John to switch plates with his wife in case she's trying to poison him, then changes his mind because the wife would anticipate them switching the plates and poisoning her own food. Later he concludes that they should switch the plates after all, as she would have anticipated their anticipation and decide to poison John's food.
    James: Of course it is possible that she might anticipate this, though. Basically I'm confused.
  • Layers of knowledge are discussed in the Professor Politics video "The Wikipedia Beauty Contest".
  • Discussed in My Smash Corner video "What are Mind Games?", using Super Smash Bros. as a basis.
  • Parodied by CalebCity in "When the hero is just as smart as the villain", where the hero and villain engage in an ever-escalating series of things done "because they expected it," such as swapping a key with a banana, implanting the key into the banana while planting a replica in its place, and stealing the replica key so the villain can plant the real one in its place.
  • Parodied in Solid jj's "Death Note but they order fast food", where Light and L have a perfectly ordinary conversation on the surface that's laced with an overblown amount of mental cat and mouse. They think Misa is also playing the same game, and it culminates with both of them pulling the same ridiculously arbitrary Bat Deduction from what she said, while she's only just about to get to the point of wondering whether you can get a Big Mac at Taco Bell.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Sidekicks Assemble!", Batman offers Robin a choice of two islands to investigate, saying that Ra's Al Ghul is more likely to be on one of them. Robin takes the less likely island, reasoning that Batman knew he'd want to take the more dangerous mission, but would want him to take the safer mission, so would present them in a deceptive manner. Batman, however, knew Robin would think that, thus presenting the islands accurately. Too bad he got it wrong and Ra's was on the other island.
  • Played straight (as straight as anything on that show, anyway) on Cartoon Planet during the following conversation about network executives:
    Zorak: Maybe that's just what they want us to think!
    Space Ghost: Hey, you know what? I think that's just what they want us to think!
    Zorak: I think, that they think, that we think, that that's just what they want us to think!
    Space Ghost: Brak, what do you think?
    Brak: I just, I don't even have the slightest idea what you're talking about.
  • In the Bob's Burgers episode "Radio No You Don't," Bob is telling the story of how his grandmother Alice suspected a spy was living in her appartnemnt during World War II. When she noticed bird poop on her neighbor Mr. Miller's shoe, she knew he was on the roof sending radio signals, then she began to panic, but attempted to hide her distress from Mr. Miller, acting oddly as a a result. The kids, who Bob is telling the story to, then begin engaging in this trope, wondering if Mr. Miller knows that Alice knows he is the spy.
  • Played awesomely on an episode of Chowder where the title character is trying to stop his Hyde-like Sleep-Eating form from finding the stash of food he hid, thinking about three steps ahead of himself, sadly to no avail.
  • In the Code Lyoko episode "Contact", Odd and Yumi have an instance of this.
    Yumi: Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?
    Odd: Yeah! Good thinking. [smiles]
  • Taken to extremes in the Danger Mouse episode "The Statue of Liberty Caper", where Danger Mouse and Baron Greenback both try to outwit each other with regards to the location of a trapdoor in the floor, leading Danger Mouse to say "I guessed that you'd guess I guessed you guessed I'd guessed you'd guessed and out-guessed your guess, I guess". Ends up as something of a Xanatos Gambit / Crazy-Prepared in that by the time the scene has finished Dangermouse has saved Penfold's Auntie, Penfold (twice) and the famous buildings of the Americas due to utilising the extreme number of guesses to blow up Greenback's shipboard computer - by getting Greenback to ask it to figure out exactly who had outguessed who.
  • Kronk does this in one episode of The Emperor's New School. He is faced with a choice of two levers and is instructed to pull the one he wouldn't pick, due to his ineptitude with levers. He does this for a while until Kuzco interrupts by saying "Yeah, this went on for another two hours," and fast-forwards through the whole thing.
  • The Flintstones has one of these. It's something to the effect of "Even though he knows she knows he knows he knows she knows he *doesn't* know..."
  • Done in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, where Bloo is setting up a humiliating surprise party for Mac, and all his efforts play right into Bloo's hands, even when he thinks he's doing the opposite of what Bloo thought he'd do.
  • In the Hey Arnold! episode "Veterans Day", Phil recounts his time as a soldier in World War II. He was assigned the duty of dumping a truckload of bad cham (Not spam) when he was caught by a squad of Nazis. Seeing them eye the cham hungrily, Phil instinctively shouted, "Don't! It's bad meat!" The Nazi major assumed Phil was trying to trick them, going into a overly long one-sided version of this trope, confusing Phil thoroughly, until the American realized "That's when it hit me! If I let him think he was smarter than me, I could make him do anything I wanted!" and played along.
  • In the Jackie Chan Adventures episode "Agent Tag", Jade stows away on Agent Tag's mission and Jackie goes after her. He ends up getting caught in the episode by the villain Dr. Necrosis who's trying to make a Doomsday device. The only problem is Dr. Necrosis has never seen Agent Tag and assumes the captured Jackie is him.
    Jackie: But I am not Agent Tag. I am Jackie Chan, a researcher.
    Dr. Necrosis: Of course if you were Agent Tag, you would deny it emphatically.
    Jackie: No, I would claim to be Agent Tag, assuming you would not believe me.
    Dr. Necrosis: But I would anticipate your assumption that I would not believe you.
    Jackie: I would foresee you're anticipating my assumption of your not-believing.
    Dr. Necrosis: But how could you predict I wouldn't expect you're foreseeing my anticipation of your assuming my not-believing? Ha! Answer me that.
    Jackie: [gasps] I do not even know what you just said!
    Dr. Necrosis: Precisely what I expected you to say, Agent Tag.
  • Kim Possible: Kim and Ron notice that Shego left a far too obvious clue that she had stolen the MacGuffin, so clearly she and Drakken were setting up a trap. Unless they wanted them to think it was a trap and avoid it, in which case the way to confound them was to walk right into it, except it was a "trap-trap": Drakken knew that they knew that Drakken knew that they knew that it was a trap.
  • In "Flight of the Falcon" from LEGO Star Wars: Droid Tales, Leia's statement of "I love you" and Han's famous reply "I know" from The Empire Strikes Back is turned into this.
    Leia: I love you.
    Han: I know.
    Leia: I know that you know.
    Han: I know that you know that I know.
    Leia: I know that too.
    Han: So do I!
    Vader: Ugh, lower him quicker!
  • The Penguins of Madagascar: In "Go Fish", things get out of hand when Skipper tries to get back real fish instead of the tasteless fish cakes the penguins have been forced to eat. Julien, who hates the smell of fish, tried to sabotage the operation.
    Julien: So you see, we have the crates with the real fish, while yours are filled with only the phony fish cake. So hahaha-ing.
    Skipper: Oh, nice try, Ringtail. But I know how much you hate the smell of fish. I was expecting a move like that, which is why I switched the crates before you even got back to the zoo.
    Julien: Ah, but I was expecting you to be expecting that, so we switcheroo-ed the crates on the pier before the fish got loading on to the truck. Haha!
    Skipper: Doesn't really matter, because I just switched these crates during your last flashback.
    Julien: Well I switched them while you were saying you switched them.
    Skipper: And I switched them last the time you blinked.
    Julien: Yes, but I pretended to switch them so you actually switched them back.
    Skipper: Oh, but I double switched.
    Julien: And I triple switched.
    Skipper: I million zillion switched.
    Julien: And I switched them to infinity! So you have to shut up a little bit.
    Skipper: Ah, but what you didn?t see coming is that [pulls off costume] I am actually you!
    Julien: Okay, nicely played. But if you are me, then by processing of elimination, [also pulls off costume] I must be you!
    Skipper-Julien: Maybe, maybe. But if you are me, and I am you, then who must we both be?
  • On Peter Rabbit, Benjamin tries this in "Spectacular Sled", saying that he knew that Lily knew that Peter knew what they were going to do in terms of raiding Mr. McGregor's garden, but loses his train of thought about halfway through.
  • In a Rick and Morty episode, Rick's and Heistotron's Gambit Pileup involves a whole lot of this from both sides, which devolves into the two of them shouting "I programmed you to think that!" at each other for two hours. Rick finally gets the upper hand after those two hours which Heistotron blows his Logic Bomb.
  • An episode of Samurai Jack had Jack and Aku agreeing to a final duel with no swords, minions, or special powers. Naturally, Aku cheats, as Jack knew he would and so prepared for by bringing his sword and hiding it. But Aku knew Jack would know that he cheated, and had a minion find the sword. But Jack knew that Aku knew that Jack knew that Aku would cheat, so he planted a decoy sword. But Aku knew that Jack knew that Aku knew that Jack knew that Aku would cheat, so he had his minions look for more swords. But Jack knew that Aku knew that Jack knew that Aku knew that Jack knew that Aku would cheat, so he planted fake swords all over the battlefield and had his real sword buried underground.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "A Distant Echo", Obi-Wan Kenobi, looking for Anakin Skywalker, has a conversation with Captain Rex outside the clone trooper barracks about what Anakin is allegedly doing inside by himself (having a private holo-call with his secret wife). Obi-Wan and Rex both know about said relationship, but Obi-Wan has never actually been told. Thus, Obi-Wan figures out what Anakin is doing, and realizes that Rex obviously knows, but Rex doesn't realize that Obi-Wan really does know what Anakin is doing until the Jedi Master throws a parting remark after Anakin that "I hope you at least told Padmé I said 'hello'."
  • Star Wars Rebels: At the end of "An Inside Man", Grand Admiral Thrawn implies that he knows that Agent Kallus is the traitor in the Imperial ranks, and Kallus is aware that Thrawn might know. It's later revealed in "Through Imperial Eyes" that Thrawn wasn't as sure of Kallus being the traitor as it seemed, although Kallus was definitely one of Thrawn's top suspects.
  • Tangled: The Series: Varian is incredible for this in the episode "Secret of the Sun Drop". There's too many layers of how detailed his plan was. But technically, he got what he wanted, but he didn't get the results he was expecting. And mind you this kid is like 14 years old and with this level of preparation he could be a Chess Master.
  • Used in Young Justice. The covert ops team is using a former Justice League hideout that was compromised.
    Robin: The bad guys know we know they know about the place, so they'd never think to look here.
    Kid Flash: He means we're hiding in plain sight.

    Real Life 
  • A semi-real life example, meaning it's actually an urban myth, is Winston Churchill's Coventry dilemma. Allegedly, Churchill had to allow the city of Coventry to be bombed, to prevent the Nazis from finding out about the British spies in Germany who knew about the bombing plan. In reality, the British tried to jam the Germans' radio guidance system, but had to take a guess at the frequency to use. They got it wrong.
  • When Alexander Litvenenko died, some of the speculation on who killed him got to this level. Welcome to the Cold War.
    • CIA chief of counter-intelligence James Jesus Angleton spent the 60s and 70s turning the CIA upside down looking for a KGB mole. Some agents began to suspect that Angelton was a mole, on the grounds that starting a witch-hunt for a KGB mole is exactly the sort of thing a KGB mole would do.
      • In the fictionalized version in Martin Gross' "The Red President", the White House allows the Angleton figure ("John 'the Baptist' Davidson") to be framed and disgraced so the Soviets won't know that THEY know who the real mole is.
  • There is a formal system called modal logic that can be used to model what certain agents in a system know (including what they know/do not know about what the other agents know/do not know).
  • There is an active research field known as adversarial reasoning: essentially, building models that allow you to predict the actions of an adversary. Once the adversary happens to get a hold of your model it becomes rather useless, as he can make sure he does something other than what is predicted. So you simply create a new model - one that takes into account the fact that your adversary has the old model that he thinks tells him what you think he is going to do! The eventual end state is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • One classic example from World War II: an agent was sent to Great Britain by the Germans, who intended that the British intelligence service capture him and use him as a double agent, at which point he could tell the Germans how British counterintelligence functioned. He proceeded to explain this plan to the Brits, who then had him send back two different sets of reports to Germany. One contained what the Brits wanted the Germans to know; the other contained what the Brits wanted the Germans to think the Brits wanted them to know.
    • Another WW2 example, Operation Bertram. In the desert campaign, the British wanted to launch an attack against the Germans in the North while convincing the Germans they were actually attacking from the South. To this end, the British disguised supply vehicles as tanks, while also disguising a lot of tanks as supply vehicles. However, the British knew to make the Germans really believe the British's fake attack from the South; the British had to be caught making a deception plan that was attempting to hide the real attack that was coming from the South. To this end, the British set up a bunch of fake artillery pieces in the South made sure the fake artillery pieces were fake enough to be noticed as fake by the Germans but not so fake that they were obvious. Before the expected German attack on the fake artillery, the British swapped out the fake artillery pieces with real artillery pieces to drive back the attack. As expected, the Germans attacked the seemingly undefended position, were repulsed by artillery, and thought that the fake artillery pieces were really a cover for the real attack coming from the South, and prepared for a Southern attack. However, the British attacked from the North, which the Germans were unprepared for, winning the following battle as the Germans fell for the British double bluff.
  • Very common in counter-espionage, classic example is Radio Game. Allies sent a spy, Germans knew that he was a spy and turned him, Allies knew that the Germans knew, Germans knew that the Allies knew that they knew and finally ended the charade.
  • During World War II, the Allies realized that one could confuse enemy radar by dropping small pieces of aluminum, i.e., chaff, but didn't do this because they were concerned that if they did, the Germans would figure this out. As it turned out, the Germans had also discovered this but weren't doing it because of the same logic.
  • Studies of animal intelligence sometimes use this trope as an analogy to model a species' cleverness in social interaction. Humans are the only species known to be able to do five levels of I/you know/think, while other great apes seem able to manage four (e.g. they can bluff and be subtle about it so the other ape won't catch wise). Or maybe the apes are far better at it than humans.
  • The Blue-Eyed Islanders puzzle relies on this to an insane level, in that it ultimately depends on a 100-story tall tower of hypotheticals. Let's say that K(0) is the knowledge that there exists someone on the island with blue eyes; and K(N+1) is the knowledge that everyone knows that K(N). So if I know K(1) it means I know everyone knows there's someone with blue eyes on the island; if I know K(2) it means I know everyone knows everyone knows there's someone with blue eyes on the island; and so on. The crux of the riddle rests on how, from being given K(100), everyone on the island deduces they have blue eyes by a mind-numbing 100-day process of collapsing hypotheticals. The crux of the whole thing is "common knowledge", defined as I Know You Know I Know to infinity. Prior to the outsider's statement, the islanders all knew at least one of them was blue-eyed, and that all the other islanders knew that, but only up to N, not infinity. Once the fact becomes common knowledge, the hypotheticals can begin collapsing, but not before.
    • Professor Ian Stewart in Math Hysteria calls these Common Knowledge puzzles (his own version is about an order of logical monks who would be embarrassed if they realised they had a blue blob on their forehead, and are too polite to point out that another monk does). He cites an article by David Gale in the Mathematical Intelligencer as providing an overview of the puzzles, including the ultimate version: a Mad Mathematicians' tea party in which it is used to deduce what random numbers the mathematicians have on their hats.
  • In Game Theory, the concept of Nash Equilibrium is a means to overcome this kind of stalemate.
  • The Two Generals' Problem plays with this. Two generals have their armies surrounding a target. Each can send a message to the other saying they're ready to attack, but the other might not get it. They can't just send a message and go, because the other general might not get it and won't know. They can't just wait for the other to respond, because then the second message could be lost, and they won't know the other knows. The end result is that, no matter how many messages are sent, they won't be any more sure than if they just sent one message and hoped it arrive. While this situation is impossible to solve in theory, there's a lot of ground gained there by taking the engineering approach and looking for a solution that will work well in practice.
    • The problem is enhanced by the possibility that the defenders may be intercepting and corrupting messages. If it's merely a question of messages getting through, sensible organisation should only require a couple of confirmations before further messages become irrelevant.
    • More specifically, the practical solution is to evaluate the probability of success of a single message transmission, and to then repeat the transmission until the probability of failure has been reduced to a calibrated trivial percentage (say the message has a 1/10 chance of failing, then after sending it once you can be 90% sure that both generals have heard the message, after the first response it's up to 99%, then you might want to send a third one to bring it up to 99.9%, then stop if you can live with a one in a thousand chance of failure, or keep going if you can't).
    • The best solution is for the second general to fire a flare above the city to signify having received the first message.
    • How about agreeing on a series of colored flares: the first general sends up a flare (say, red) meaning that he's ready to attack, and the second responds with the same color to indicate that he will attack as well. Stealth is an issue (as is the target choosing to fire their own flares), but...
    • Or just attack in such a blatant and obvious way that the other general will notice.
  • Courtesy of Ellipsis Stephens of Goblins fame, we have the following two tweets:
    EllipsisGoblins: I say stuff to Danielle, then I tweet what I said, then I tell her that I tweeted it and now I'm tweeting that I said I tweeted what I said.
    EllipsisGoblins: And I just told Danielle that I tweeted THAT.
  • In Operation Gold, the CIA and SIS tapped the telephone cable leading to the Soviet embassy in Berlin. The KGB was informed of this from the moment it began by a mole in the SIS, George Blake. The KGB, however, could not reveal that it knew, lest it expose Blake's existence. As a result, the tap was a successful source of accurate and actionable intelligence for eleven months. Eventually, Blake received a transfer and the Soviets "discovered" the tap. Then Blake got caught anyway a few years later and the CIA and the SIS realized that the KGB had known all along, and had to go through all the intelligence that they had garnered from the tap to try to figure out what was real and what the KGB had planted. Of course, once Blake was arrested, the KGB would have known that the CIA and SIS would be doing that, and so had to go through all the intelligence that they knew the CIA and SIS had gained and try to figure out what the CIA and SIS would conclude was real and what they would conclude was planted.
  • Israel's nuclear strategy has relied on this: even though they've never officially admitted to having nuclear weapons or that Israel would use them if the existence of the nation was threatened, other countries know Israel has them and in what event they would use them. Israel knows they know about Israeli nuclear strategy, and they know Israel knows they know. The end effect is that all involved can conduct diplomacy and military strategy on the basis of everyone knowing about the nuclear weapons without anyone admitting they exist.
  • Over at Not Always Right there are many examples of people operating at level -1. The general scheme is that the narrator is being completely honest, but the idiot (usually a customer) thinking the narrator is trying to fool them in some way, ignores or deliberately goes against advice, and in doing so harms themself. E.g.
    • Being told not to buy a scanner when you don't own a computer here.
    • Arguing the cashier into charging you more here.
  • An FBI agent discussing a meeting he had with a Mafia boss described the situation: he met the boss at his business and congratulated him on going straight and staying away from the mob after an earlier prison sentence. The agent, of course, knew he was the family's boss. The boss knew the agent knew he was the family boss, and the agent knew the boss knew the agent knew. Thus they carried out a conversation where both were fully aware that while they were apparently talking about the legitimate business, both knew that wasn't what they were really talking about.
  • Mark A. Karpel, a family therapist who has done work on the issue of secrets and secrecy within families, wrote this:
    ...the following rule of thumb is offered only somewhat facetiously. The therapist should immediately consider the possible existence of secrets any time the word 'know' needs to be used more than once in a sentence either by the patient or the therapist. For example, 'I know but she doesn't know'; 'I know you know'; 'I don't know whether she knows.'
  • The Russian word vranyo is often translated as "lying to make oneself look good" but an alternate definition that's commonly used, especially in government and the military, is "I'm lying, you know I'm lying, I know you know I'm lying, and you know I know you know I'm lying, but we'll both pretend it's the truth".


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Alternative Title(s): Wine In Front Of Me


Jack knew...

Jack knew that Aku would cheat so he hid his sword. Aku knew that Jack knew he would cheat so he brought a minion to find the sword. Jack knew that Aku knew that he knew that Aku would cheat so he hid more than one fake sword. Aku knew that Jack knew that Aku knew that Jack knew that Aku would cheat so he brought an army of minions to find the real sword. Jack knew that Aku knew that so he hid fake swords all over the place.

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Main / CrazyPrepared

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