Follow TV Tropes

Following

Kansas City Shuffle

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/kansas_city_shuffle.jpg
That ninja might as well leave a lampshade.

"A con man doesn't choose to play the shell game with you if there is any possibility of him actually losing. The con isn't in getting you to pick the wrong shell. The con is in getting you to accept that the basic premise of the game is still being followed. The con is in getting you to pick a shell at all. The ball isn't under the first shell... or the second shell... or even the third shell. The ball is in the con man's palm the whole time."
Haley Starshine, The Order of the Stick, #428
Advertisement:

The Kansas City Shuffle is an old established name for a con game that depends on the mark believing (correctly) that the con artist is trying to con them, but being incorrect about how it's going to be done. There's a reason it's called a "confidence trick", after all. Right for the Wrong Reasons manipulated to benefit the con artist.

All con-games rely on misdirection to some degree. In most, the con artist wants the victim to believe that it's not a con at all. But in a Kansas City Shuffle, the con artist needs the victim to do three things:

  1. To suspect that they are involved in a con-game.
  2. To think that they've figured out how to beat the con.
  3. To be wrong about what the real con is.

All three elements must be present. If the victim doesn't suspect that they're being conned, it's not a Kansas City Shuffle. If the victim doesn't set themselves up for the real con by doing something to beat the con they think they've spotted, it's not a Kansas City Shuffle. If the victim is right about what the real con is, it's not a Kansas City Shuffle (though it might have been a failed attempt at one).

Advertisement:

A con can be complicated without being a Kansas City Shuffle, and not all Kansas City Shuffles are complicated. It's also not a Kansas City Shuffle just because the mark goes into the situation aware that something dishonest is going on: most cons are built around convincing the mark that they have an opportunity to benefit from something a bit under the table. To qualify as a Kansas City Shuffle, the mark has to think they've figured out how the con works and — by attempting to outmaneuver or outsmart it — walk right into the real trap.

The audience may or may not be in on the secret themselves. If they are then it can lead to a buildup of Dramatic Irony but often the truth can be saved to The Reveal after the audience has been immersed in the intricacies of the apparent plot so that the shock to the character and the audience match.

Advertisement:

The Trope Namer is the song "The Kansas City Shuffle", which is explained in detail in the movie Lucky Number Slevin. In The United States, Kansas City is one of the largest cities in the State of...Missouri. There is a Kansas City, Kansas literally right across the state line, but it's much smaller, more like a suburb of the Missouri city, and usually not what people are talking about when they mention the Kansas City metropolitan area. Thus, it's a near-perfect physical metaphor: "when they look on one side of the river, you're on the other".

Related (but distinct) cons include Violin Scam (where the grifter tricks the mark into trying to con them). A mark who is Too Clever by Half is likely to take the bait and be conned, while another who is Too Dumb to Fool may unwittingly evade the trap by not noticing the "bait" con.

Compare Infraction Distraction, where a similar ploy is used with offenses, and Two Rights Make a Wrong. Feed the Mole may be a tactic done as part of this strategy. May involve Reverse Psychology. Typically a Batman Gambit, insofar the plotter relies on the pawn's predicted reaction to a piece of misinformation, but may be part of a Xanatos Gambit instead if all reasonable outcomes are beneficial to the con-man, regardless of whether or not the attempt at a Kansas City Shuffle itself succeeds. May be employed by means of a Revealing Cover-Up. A key element of (most) Shell Games. If the mark suspects that a Kansas City Shuffle is in progress, I Know You Know I Know may ensue as they attempt to figure out which outcomes the con artist has or hasn't accounted for.

As a trope that is reliant on deception, be wary of spoilers.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Board Games 
  • Diplomacy is a game which consists of seven players guiding European powers through maneuver and negotiation to power. Gameplay consists of rounds of secret negotiations, then writing down one's moves and resolving any conflicts. Since the only mechanic for resolving combat is building alliances, and there is only one winner, every player is always suspecting a con. How you use this atmosphere of suspicion and distrust is up to you. One example: Alice could try to convince Bob to support an action in exchange for mutual support, but Bob refuses, believing he's being suckered. When it's time to write down moves, Alice supports Bob anyway, then acts betrayed when Bob doesn't support her. Bob is now seen as unreliable by Charlie, David, Eve, Trent, and Walter. Alice looks reliable. The reality is, of course, backwards.
  • A little-known boardgame called "Lie, Cheat, and Steal" is essentially a Kansas City Shuffle variant of Monopoly. The only restriction that the rules place on dishonest play is that no-one may directly steal from the bank. When you draw the equivalent of a "Chance" or "Community Chest" card, you don't have to tell the truth about what it says. Other players can challenge your claim, but if they're wrong and you were telling the truth about what it said, they are penalized. As with other games of this nature, the skill lies in convincing the other players that you're lying when you're really telling the truth, to the point that they become wary of challenging you at all, even when they should.
  • There is a rule in Scrabble that you can "challenge" any word you suspect of being a made-up word. If the word is not in the dictionary you've agreed to use, it must be taken off the board and not scored. If, however, it is in the chosen dictionary, the challenger loses their turn or a point penalty. Normally you'd want to bluff your opponent into thinking a phony word is real, but some tournament players have been known to make their real words look phony—if the opponent takes the bait, they get not only the score for the word, but an additional advantage.
  • Skilled chess players often make moves and plans that create many different threats at once, so the opponent cannot parry or see all of them. Another version of this is known as 'reversing the move order', when you calculate that playing a certain series of moves will not result in a successful combination, if you play the moves in a different order, sometimes it can. The opponent will often only see one move order and not consider the other.

    Card Games 
  • Bullshit (also known as "Cheat", "Shenanigans", or "I Doubt It" — particularly when teaching it to kids) is a card game where players bid books of cards from one to four of a certain number. For example, Alice could bid "One two," and place a two face down on the pile of cards. Bob plays next and could bid, "Three twos," playing three cards on the stack. Players can call "Bullshit!" which forces you to prove your play was legal. If it was, the player who called "Bullshit!" picks up the stack of cards. If it was not legal, you pick up the stack. The object is to empty your hand of all cards. One key component is to make your big bids ("Four fives") in ways where your opponent calls "Bullshit!" when it's real (thereby getting stuck with the cards), often enough that they decline to call it at all, which allows you to dump actual "bullshit" plays.
    • One particularly tricky tactic, which may or may not be allowed by House Rules, is to play more cards than are actually declared. For example, Bob bids "three twos" but actually plays four cards. If Alice calls his bluff and checks the top three cards (which are the aforementioned twos), she would be obliged to take the stack. Only if Bob is sloppy with his sleight-of-hand, or Alice is savvy enough to check the next card on the stack and find out that it's not what the previous player played, would he lose the bluff. House Rules may either make that play illegal, and/or force a player to play the cards in front of them before adding them to the stack (giving a fair chance for the other players to call the bluff, and also making it easier to tell when a player has attempted this move).
    • Similar games include variations on Liar's Dice and other such dice games, such as Mia.
    • The card game The Great Dalmuti operates on very similar mechanics, with the added incentive that victory or defeat enhances or demotes players' position around the table. The game is built specifically for tactics like the Kansas City Shuffle.
  • A significant amount of the difference between a good Magic: The Gathering player and a pro is not in their deck, but in their ability to play mind games like this. For example, leaving two lands, one of which is an Island, untapped is a strong signal that you're saving the mana for a Counterspell, which will make the other player think twice about playing a powerful card lest you just No-Sell it... which, if you don't actually have a Counterspell handy, can buy you a few precious turns to get your own combos out.
  • Poker lends itself naturally to these. One example is for a player who is holding a strong hand to pull players into the pot. Since (smart) players should pull out from a pot if they know their opponent is strong, a player holding "the nuts" (an unbeatable hand) has to look like he isn't. A player who's bluffing is trying to scare everyone out of the pot and is lying. A player with a strong hand or the nuts could try to look like he's pulling one con (bluffing) while really hoping people "call his bluff." If that player has read books of tells, for example, he could purposefully try to act like a player with "normal" tells to look like he's bluffing. It works best against the half-smart. Really good players may have it figured out, and poker players know "bluffing a monkey," or pretending to bluff a monkey, is a waste of time.

    Comic Books 
  • In Batman Eternal, the true Evil Plan revolves around one of these. Cluemaster, aware that C-List Fodder like himself were Beneath Suspicion, brought on the likes of others in similar situations such as Lock-Up, Ratcatcher, Prankster, and Signalman to cause relatively low level chaos around Gotham to increase distress, while sending out invitations to A-list villains like Hush, The Riddler, and Ra's al Ghul, knowing that everyone, even Batman, would see those as the more likely causes of the issues over looking at the C-listers right in front of him. It actually works up until Lincoln March gives Cluemaster a Slashed Throat for trying to become more than a "nobody."
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In "As Good As Old", Scrooge McDuck needs to get a load of money out of a small country in large part controlled by the local bandit lord, who has spies everywhere and knows about the money. Scrooge lets a spy see him hide the money inside carpets he takes with him, while he sends the safe he had with him ahead by a train. The bandits figure the safe must be a ruse, especially when the railways are hardly reliable, and attack him on the way back and open up the carpet rolls — which are empty, of course, and Scrooge asks whether the bandit lord hadn't noticed his sending the safe along before. The bandits rush ahead to stop the train, only to find the safe empty when they finally get it open. Meanwhile, Donald, whom no-one was paying attention to at this point, has made his way back to the border alone, with the money hidden inside some jugs. So, the trope is actually applied doubly; even once they know it was a Kansas City Shuffle, they're still wrong about how the con works, and trying to beat it still only gets them out of the way.
  • In one issue of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Spidey takes out Hydro-Man with one of these. After following Spidey into an empty warehouse on the dock, Hydro-Man prepares to attack, only to stop when he notices that Spidey's holding perfectly still. Suspecting a trap, Hydro-Man scans the warehouse, finds another Spidey, lunges at that...and gets zapped into unconsciousness. The first Spidey was the real one and the second was a web-dummy rigged up with electrical cables.
  • In Star Wars Tales #2, story Routine, Han Solo gets repeatedly stopped by an Imperial Customs officer who is convinced that Han is smuggling contraband in his starship but detailed inspections always say the ship is completely empty. It's only after Han escapes that the officer finally realizes that he was smuggling starships, changing their identification records so that multiple ships registered as the same vessel at different times.
  • Tintin: In Tintin: The Blue Lotus, after Tintin is broken out of a Shanghai prison on the eve of his execution, the Japanese authorities raise the alarm and intensify their watch at the city gates. When a Chinese cart loaded with rice sacks approaches, the suspicious guards run their bayonets through the sacks. Shortly after this, a Japanese armored car rolls up and tells the guards that Tintin escaped by hiding in one of the sacks. The lieutenant is confused as to how Tintin could have escaped this way. He didn't, of course: he was driving the armored car.
  • Superman: Kurt Busiek's Action Comics run presents this as the preferred M.O. of the Prankster. During a fight with Superman, he menaces a rival criminal using a bomb with a cartoonish fizzing wick. Superman grabs away the wick before it touches the bomb... which starts the real bomb activation mechanism, a chemical reaction.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Joker's plot in The LEGO Batman Movie revolves around him being sent to the Phantom Zone, an extradimensional prison where the most evil villains are kept. To do this, he willingly surrenders himself to the Gotham City Police in order to be thrown into Arkham Asylum. Batman assumes that his easy capture must mean that Joker is plotting something bigger, and sends him to the Phantom Zone, which Joker promptly escapes from, along with the rest of its occupants.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Bourne Series: Jason Bourne is arguably a master at this. Particularly any time Jason asks to meet someone and the CIA knows about it.
    • Towards the end of The Bourne Identity, he phones in Conklin to come alone. Conklin brings backup disguised as bystanders but Jason knows he's not alone. He was just using this ploy so he could put a bug on one of their vans to track them to their hideout.
    • In The Bourne Supremacy, he uses a crowd from a protest to mask his movements while extracting Nicky to a subway station, and out of sight, to get answers.
    • In The Bourne Ultimatum, he asks to meet Pamela Landy at a particular location. Noah Vosen, the antagonist after Bourne, follows Landy and despite that he knows the location is a wide open space, he follows her anyway to get Bourne. He later gets a call from Bourne and tries to set up a meeting with him and claims he's at his office. Except Bourne already sneaked into the CRI headquarters into his office.
      Vosen: If it's me you want to talk to, perhaps we can arrange a meeting.
      Bourne: Where are you now?
      Vosen: I'm sitting in my office.
      Bourne: I doubt that.
      Vosen: Why would you doubt that?
      Bourne: If you were in your office right now, we'd be having this conversation face-to-face. [hangs up phone]
      Vosen: ...
  • In The Dark Knight Rises, the police discover Bane uses the sewers as an intricate network for his base of operations, as to remain undetected; when the police suspect this is his trick to hiding, they counter it by swarming the sewers with every available cop. Right as almost every officer available is underground, it turns out Bane set everything up so he could cause several explosions, revealing his true intent was to trap them all underground and leave Gotham undefended.
  • Diggstown uses this heavily with both sides trying to cheat/outcon the other. The end hinges on a Exact Words clause in the initial bet that the villain/mark believes he's using to his advantage, but the protagonist has actually been ready for it since before the movie actually began.
  • Duplicity - The whole movie is about a pair of ex-spies hired by industrialist Dick Garsik to infiltrate his archrival Howard Tully's company and steal his mysterious new product. The spies, meanwhile, are plotting to betray Garsik (and perhaps each other) and take the product for themselves. The shuffle: Tully has no product. He knew all about the spies, and set up an elaborate hoax to waste their time and make Garsik look foolish. At the end, Garsik is announcing the miraculous new cure for baldness he just "developed" to the world, while the spies' buyer tells them that their "cure" is a worthless formula for skin lotion...
  • Escape Plan: Breslin's titular plan involves one of these — he makes Hobbs think that he's going to start a riot in Block C, making Hobbs move most of his guards there... at which point, Breslin starts a riot in the now vastly understaffed Block A, creating a diversion so that he, Rottmayer, and Javen can make a run for it.
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Ferris Bueller's plan to get his girlfriend Sloane out of school works like this: he has his friend Cameron pose as her father and call Dean Ed Rooney, asking to excuse her since her grandmother just died. Rooney doesn't buy it, but thinks the fake Mr. Peterson is Ferris himself and prepares to set a trap, while in the process repeatedly saying a lot of extremely rude, insulting things that it would be really bad to say to the real Mr. Peterson. Then Ferris calls on the other line...
  • A minor version exists in Heat — Neil McCauley, Chris Shiherlis and Michael Cheritto discuss their possible escape routes from their next heist right in plain sight where the cops can overhear them (despite being a group of professional thieves). Cue Lt. Vincent Hanna and his team heading down to the scene for additional clues, only for Hanna to realize that it was probably misinformation they were fed, and that the entire meeting was to get the detectives in the open, allowing Neil to counterspy on them and learn their identities. Indeed, we see Neil taking pictures of them from the same vantage point Hanna was using earlier.
  • In Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Kevin rehashes his swinging paint can trap from the first film, and anticipates that the Wet Bandits (or at least Harry) will see it coming this time. After luring the bandits into a false sense of security with the paint cans, he follows them up with a sewer pipe.
  • In House of Games, the affluent heroine realizes that she's being conned and exposes the conman. Impressed, the conman shows her a little bit of his lifestyle, and she quickly gets wrapped up in his exotic world of shadows. In the end, the whole thing was one bigger con to get even more money out of her.
  • The 1959 House on Haunted Hill is essentially a whole load of characters going around trying to trap and falling into the traps of others. We can particularly point out the trope use in the use of the characters who are playing dead. In Annabelle's case it is a simple misdirection as part of the plot in which she is involved. However when Vincent Price's character reveals himself to have not only been playing dead but also been playing along with his wife's entire plot to just switch out key elements so that it turns back on her, that takes the biscuit.
  • The Mr. Charles con in Inception, where the mark is made aware that thieves are secretly trying to get into their subconscious in order to con the mark into attempting to stop it, thereby letting the thieves deeper into their subconscious. It is noted to be akin to a Dangerous Forbidden Technique, because if the thief slips for even a moment, the target will realize the trick. And then every person in the dream attacks the thief. Cobb had even tried and failed it once before.
  • In the 2003 movie Johnny English, Pascal Sauvage toys around with the idea of having a fake Archbishop of Canterbury to preside at his coronation; however, once English is caught trespassing at Sauvage's office building, and later tries to unmask the Archbishop, he finds out that Sauvage had scrapped the fake Archbishop plot when Johnny attempts to unmask the fake Archbishop and reveal the impostor's tattoo, only to discover that the Archbishop at Sauvage's coronation ceremony is the genuine one.
  • Averted and lampshaded in Kiss Me Deadly. After Hammer and his mechanic inspect a car delivered to Hammer by someone unknown early in the film, they quickly find a bomb. Hammer says it was the one they were meant to find, and looking further they find the real bomb, set to go off only when the car reaches high speed, i.e. after its recipient was at ease having found the first bomb.
  • Lucky Number Slevin uses the trope by name when explaining the type of con that Mr. Goodkat enacts; "...when everybody looks right, you go left." The antagonistic Boss and Rabbi both assume that Mr. Goodkat and his seeming patsy Slevin / "Nick Fisher" are being manipulated by their enemy to con them. Both proceed to attempt to bring in and manipulate Slevin themselves to exploit their enemy's con to their own advantage, only for the end of the film to reveal the true con was being run by Slevin himself, who wanted access to both the Boss and the Rabbi to exact revenge for their murder of his parents decades earlier. As soon as they attempted to bring him in to stop the apparent con of their opponent, he'd already won.
  • Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation: Ethan Hunt requires the British Prime Minister's fingerprint, retinal scan, and voice pattern to decrypt a virtual redbox. Brandt sells him out to Hunley, who informs MI6 chairman Attley, who ushers the Prime Minister to safety, because Hunt going after the Prime Minister would cause an international incident. Once safely in a room, Brandt manages to manipulate the Prime Minister and Attley into revealing the existence of the Syndicate. With this knowledge in hand, Hunley and Brandt, knowing Hunt's previous track record of anticipating his opponent's every move (conversation included), decide the best course of action is to stay put. Turns out, that was the action Ethan planned for, and that Brandt was in on it all along.
  • Ocean's Eleven and both sequels depend heavily on this to pull off their heists.
    • Ocean's Twelve less so, as they had won against Toulour before they'd even begun the real heist, they were really just doing it For The Lulz for him and actually to reunite Lemarc with his lost daughter Detective Lahiri.
    • Ocean's Thirteen more so, as they knew Benedict would double-cross them once they brought him in and he made an outrageous demand for seemingly petty reasons and no want of the reward, and had already prepared for it long before Toulour even showed up.
    • A love of Kansas City Shuffles runs in the family, as Ocean's 8 has a similar trick. Tess Ocean organizes a team to steal the priceless Toussaint Diamond, set into a necklace, at the Met Gala. The cops and a private investigator familiar with her ways immediately suspect the truth and try to pin the theft on her...but as they're struggling to do so, they fail to notice that Tess's real target was every single jewel from the Met's new Elizabethan fashion exhibit. Notably, most of Tess's squad also fell for this con—everyone but Lou (who pulled off the heist with help from Yen) and Amita (who made fake gems to replace the real ones) thought the Toussaint was the target, and are shocked when Tess reveals the scope of their scheme.
  • In The Princess Bride, the Man in Black convinces Vizzini that he has placed poison in one of two cups of wine and asks him to choose. Vizzini quickly deduces that he cannot choose either cup with any degree of certainty, but also assumes that the Man in Black will surely not drink the wine that he knows is poisoned even if Vizzini chooses correctly. Vizzini distracts him for a moment and switches the cups, assuming the Man in Black will not hesitate to drink from the cup he thinks is unpoisoned. Vizzini thinks his gambit has succeeded when he makes his choice and the Man in Black starts drinking first. It turns out both cups were poisoned and the Man in Black is simply immune to it.
  • In the 2009 movie Push, Nick Grant has a grand one. Now, given how seeing the future works in this, knowing what you're doing lets people see your plan. So with a little memory manipulation, he plays out his plan like he intends to get and use the deadly phlebotinum... twice, to cover the fact that his friends already had it.
  • Reindeer Games has a big one. Rudy is posing as his late cellmate Nick (killed in a fight) to be with Nick's girlfriend, Ashley. Ashley's brother, Gabriel, forces "Nick" to help his gang rob the casino Nick used to work at. Rudy goes along with it as he realizes that if they don't need "Nick," Gabriel will kill him and Ashley. Here's where the Shuffle begins...
    • During an escape, Nick overhears Gabriel and Ashley talking as it turns out they're not siblings but lovers who are using "Nick" and planning to kill him anyway when this is done. Rudy plays that he's still in the dark and Ashley loves him so he can figure out a way to sabotage the robbery.
    • The robbery turns into a mess with only Rudy (having his identity exposed), Gabriel and Ashley getting away. At which point, Ashley shoots Gabriel and a very much alive Nick shows up. Ashley is his real girlfriend who was using Gabriel and his gang to rob the casino and Rudy/fake-Nick suckered to take the fall while the two run off with the money.
  • Rendezvous With Death: The hero, Hsin, is assigned to undertake a potential Suicide Mission to deliver a mysterious package from an Imperial Minister to the capital city, on the condition that he doesn't attempt to uncover the package's contents at any point of his journey. After travelling a long, dangerous and perilous route, surviving assasination attempts and bandit attacks from villains intending to seize the package for themselves, Hsin reaches the capital, only to find out the package to be bricks and paper - his role in the mission is a mere decoy, for his rival, Master Gu, who is allied with the Minister, to deliver the real package to the Capital city for a promotion. Needless to say, Hsin is furious at the revelation.
  • In Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scott tries to defeat Todd Ingram's vegan-based psychic powers by offering him a cup of coffee, putting soy milk in one cup of coffee and half-n-half in the other. Todd correctly assumes Scott is trying to trick him and reads Scott's mind, "discovering" that he put half-n-half in the cup he's offering. However, Scott in fact put half-n-half in the cup he's not offering to Todd, and "thought real hard" about putting half-n-half in the cup he originally offered. This wouldn't have worked, though, had Todd not already had two strikes against him for eating gelato ("It's milk and eggs, bitch") and chicken ("Chicken's not vegan?"). The half-n-half makes it a third strike.
  • The Spanish Prisoner is all about this. It includes a detailed explanation of the Spanish Prisoner con, which is designed to distract the mark (and the audience) from the fact that this is not actually the con being performed.
  • Superman II: Earlier in the film Superman uses a "Molecule Chamber" in the Fortress of Solitutde that exposes him to the red solar rays of the Krypton sun to remove his powers so he and Lois can be together. After his powers are restored he fights a battle with Zod, Ursa, and Non and realizes the people of Metropolis will be harmed in the crossfire, so he retreats to the fortress. They follow and bring along Lois and Lex Luthor as hostages to try to preserve their advantage. When Luthor realizes the supervillains are not going to let him live, he tries to set up an Enemy Mine team-up with Superman. Superman plays along, saying "let's try to trick them into this chamber so they will lose their powers." Luthor immediately dobulecrosses Supes, and Zod uses Lois as a hostage to force Superman into the chamber. As soon as General Zod demands Superman pledge his loyalty to him, the Man of Steel crushes Zod's now-mortal body, and he and his partners find themselves plummeting into the abyss. Superman then reveals that his real plan was that Luthor would try to betray him, and that he had reversed the chamber so that he would be safe inside while Zod and his minions would be exposed to the power loss rays.
  • In The Usual Suspects, Agent Kujan strongly suspects that Verbal Kint is hiding something and is covering for ex-cop Dean Keaton, who is Kujan's real target. He's right about the first part, but he doesn't realize how badly off he is about the second until after he lets Verbal — aka Keyser Söze — walk out of his office.
  • Violent Night focuses on Santa Claus fighting off a group of mercenaries attacking the Lightstone family, but one sequence sees Trudy Lightstone attempt to stop some of the mercenaries with traps inspired by Home Alone. Many of these are set up to draw attention to the wrong thing so that the mercenaries basically fall into one trap while congratulating themselves for avoiding the first; they notice the nail sticking up out of a rung on a ladder but don't notice that another rung has been sawn in half, or step over a tripwire only to find themselves standing in sticky stuff.
  • Toddy uses this to set up the titular act in Victor/Victoria, disguising Victoria as a man so she can become a drag queen. The cover story is that "he" is Count Victor Krazinski, a Polish aristocrat thrown out by his family for being gay. Once everyone sees through that story, they won't look for any other deception. Later, Toddy eavesdrops on a couple of dancers commenting that the Count is clearly not a count, but he is still gorgeous.
    Victoria: No audience is that gullible! They'll know he's a phony!
    Toddy: Exactly. They'll know he's a phony.
  • The entire plot of Wild Things revolves around Suzie convincing the other conspirators into thinking they know what the con is. Kelly thinks she and Sam will get rid of Suzie and run off together with the money. Ray thinks he and Sam will get rid of both girls, implicate Kelly in Suzie's murder, and split the money two-ways before parting. Sam thinks he and Suzie will frame Kelly for Suzie's "murder", kill Ray, and run off together with the money. Turns out the real plan was for Suzie to fake her own death with Sam's assistance, implicate Kelly, kill both Ray and Sam, and take all the money.
  • In Would You Rather, one of the characters (Peter) is a gambler who thinks he has outsmarted the rich sadist leading him and others through the titular game: given the choice between having your head held underwater for two minutes or chancing what's in a sealed envelope, he explains why the envelope is the safe bet. In fact, the envelope choice is to have a firecracker explode in your hand. Unfortunately for Peter, the "firecracker" in question is a massive M-80 duct-taped to his hand - most of which he loses in the explosion.

    Jokes 
  • A little Mexican boy rides his bicycle up to a border control station with a sack slung over one shoulder. The American agent working the station checks out his papers and asks to search his bag, but the boy tells him that it's full of sand. The agent searches the bag and finds out that it really is full of sand, but he gets suspicious and confiscates it anyway. This goes on for several months, with the boy regularly crossing the border on his bicycle with his bag of sand, and the agent confiscating it every time. Then one day, years after the agent has retired, he meets the boy in a bar in Texas. "I know you had to have been up to something," he tells the boy. "I'm off the job now. Can you tell me what you were trying to smuggle all that time?" The boy just grins and says, "Bicycles."
    • Variation: "Wheelbarrows."
    • Or "Cars" with an older person doing the smuggling.
    • An older version of this relates to the Sufi Trickster Mulla Nasruddin (also called Juha or Goha in the Arab World). In his case he was carrying bags of straw on the donkeys that he was actually smuggling.
    • A short story in an issue of Dark Horse Comics' Star Wars Tales has a young Han Friggin' Solo pulling this by smuggling starships.
    • Someone badly disguised as a farmer tries this with a cart full of fresh grain in Edgedancer. After checking for refugees and valuables, the customs official fines him for stealing and smuggling grain from fields abandoned by fleeing refugees.
  • Another joke involving border crossings or checkpoints inverts the trope (i.e., the person who thinks he is being conned is not actually being conned, but finds evidence that "proves" the con—to him, anyway):
    • Someone comes up to the checkpoint driving a Volkswagen Beetle and is stopped by an official. They get out of the car to open the front, since that's where the trunk of a Beetle is, but the official tells them they're not that easily fooled, and despite protestations that that's where the trunk is, they nevertheless follow the instructions and open the back. "Aha!" says the official. "You have stolen a motor. And you must have just stolen it, since it's still running!"
  • Bob was having sex with his mistress. He noticed that he had stayed longer than he expected and got stressed. Took a piece of chalk, smeared his fingers and rushed out the door. At home, Alice was waiting for him. "Where have you been?" she asks. "I've worked overtime, you know" replied Bob. "Show me your hands," she exclaimed. She took one look at his hands and screamed, "you bastard, you spent the whole evening playing pool again!"
    • Sometimes the joke is told with the husband actually admitting that he was having an affair instead of making up the cover story with the wife still falling for the chalk mislead.
  • One joke (sometimes posed as a puzzle) involves a woman from a war-torn country trying to escape to its peaceful neighbor. A long bridge connects the two—it takes eight minutes to cross, but a sentry posted in the exact middle of the bridge comes out to check for passerby every five minutes. The woman starts walking, then, after four minutes have passed, turns around. The sentry emerges and sees her heading toward the warring country, and so demands her papers. Since she doesn't have any, he thinks that she's pulling a con and forces her to "go back" to the other nation, thus assisting in her escape.

    Manhua 
  • Old Master Q have a short where the titular character walks into a casino, fully clothed, and then walks out with a Bankruptcy Barrel, much to the amusement of passer-bys. But then he enters his apartment, all alone, where it's time for him to empty out his casino winnings - stacks and stacks of cash too much to carry in his pockets - out of the barrel.

    Poetry 
  • The description of this very trope used to incorporate a poem about it from the point-of-view of a certain Discredited Meme.
    My name is Candle Jack, I don't write in black, it's part of my Kansas City Shuffle
    They call my name, but with rope and a duffel sack, they're calling for trouble
    See, you fear shadows, but I'm too bright
    I hit submit after you type
    So one quickstep is all it takes to fall into a Kansas City Shuffle

    Tabletop Games 

    Theatre 
  • Niels Lykke, the adversary of Lady Inger at Austraat, manages to use a Kansas City Shuffle on Inger, after developing a Xanatos Speed Chess during the play. He cons her into ordering the death of her own son, believing said son to be someone else. Niels exploits the situation by misdirecting both Inger, her son, and her faithful friend, Norwegian nobleman Olaf Skaktavl (who executed the son). Thus, the trope was used before anything significant ever happened in Kansas.
  • This is the basic premise behind most "sucker" tricks. The magician performs a trick and either explains how they did it, or seems to accidentally expose or otherwise use an obvious method to perform the trick, enhancing the effect when the final illusion is actually presented. In many cases, the audience looking for the "exposed" method provides the misdirection necessary to actually perform the trick.

    Video Games 
  • In Baten Kaitos, the Six Man Band suspect that there is a mole amongst them for quite some time. The player will probably assume it to be either Lyude (who is susceptible to brainwashing), Savyna (who is the Mysterious Stranger to a T) or Mizuti (for dressing uncannily similarly to the Big Bad, except with a Cool Mask on). As it turns out, The Mole was Kalas, whom the player (and the party!) would never suspect due to him being The Hero. When the other heroes find this out, they're completely out of cards to play.
  • BioShock: Frank Fontaine references the general concept: "I'm gonna miss this place. Rapture was a candy store for a guy like me. Guys who thought they knew it all. Dames who thought they'd SEEN it all. Give me a smart mark over a dumb one every time."
  • Chzo's plans in the Chzo Mythos ultimately go off without a hitch because everyone misunderstood what it wanted. Everyone in the story, from the good guys to the bad guys, thought Chzo wanted to invade our world and caused endless amounts of pain and suffering, since what else would an Eldritch Abomination want with us? Actually, all Chzo really wanted was a new servant after the old servant caught wind of this and sought to stop his own replacement.
  • Exit Fate has several characters who love to construct plans that involve deliberately leaking information to the enemy. When two of them team up, they ensure that their ruse will be believed despite their known history of using that tactic by leaking two reports- the enemy commander assumes that the one which was obtained more easily was misdirection, and that therefore the other information, which required far more effort to obtain, is trustworthy.
  • L.A. Noire: Destroying Cole Phelps' heroic reputation is meant to distract from the investigation into the Surbuban Redevelopment Fund.
  • In Loom, Bishop Mandible traps Bobbin in a cage, but doesn't take the magical distaff Bobbin carries. Big mistake, right? Not quite — Mandible is actually after the Draft of Opening. He watches Bobbin cast the spell to unlock the cage and then takes the distaff.
  • In Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Snake rescues Paz only to find she has a huge abdominal scar, as XOF tricked him into saving her while she had a bomb inside of her. Extracting the bomb without killing her, she awakens a scene later to explain she has a second bomb inside of her, as XOF knew Snake wouldn't expect it.
  • How Lenni is screwed with in Watch_Dogs 2. Marcus needs to get at her arm's internal devicenote  to scan the RFID chip inside to locate and break into her Hacker Cave, so he tries to scan it with his cell phone... only for Lenni to angrily push his phone away and taunt him over thinking that "a simple trick" could fool her. She's unaware that Wrench, a friend of Marcus, is atop a nearby building with a long-range scanner.

    Visual Novels 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations: In the beginning of the second case, you unravel Luke Atmey's deception and uncover him as (supposedly) the true identity of master thief Mask☆DeMasque...only for that to turn out to be have been his plan all along, so his presence at a theft will serve as an alibi for the murder he committed and pinned on the actual DeMasque.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Tex pulls this off against Wash and the Meta by setting up a textbook trap in Sidewinder. Wash, of course, recognized it from his military training, and didn't enter... which left him vulnerable to the proximity mines she'd set up right where he parked his vehicle. Doc noticed, but Wash brushed it off.
      Doc: Told ya so.
    • A couple in a row get pulled off in season 12- first, it looks like the Reds and Blues' big plan is for Carolina to infiltrate Locus' soldiers, like she did earlier in the season. Then, when that plan is revealed, it looks like the plan was really for Wash to sneak in and hold Felix at gunpoint while he's distracted by Carolina. In reality, all of this was just setup for the Reds and Blues to take out Felix and Locus' minions while they're distracted by the Freelancers... which in turn is all just setup to get Felix to rant about their evil plans while facing off with Tucker, who is secretly recording the whole thing!
    • They later pull it off again in season 13, when they launch an assault on the Communication Temple (to send an SOS to the rest of the galaxy) and get Wash and Carolina to protect the Purge Temple. They were actually trying to draw the pirates' forces to the Communication Temple, and sneak over to the now-undefended tractor beam at Crash Site Alpha to crash the pirates' ship into the Purge Temple, while Wash and Carolina stalled for time.
    • And even later, Grif's laughable attempt at infiltrating the Blues and Reds' base fails miserably and gets him thrown into jail with the rest of the group... while Locus breaks in unimpeded.

    Web Comics 
  • In El Goonish Shive, Magus attempts to convince abberation Sirleck to help him in his plan to regain a body. Because of the danger, Sirleck is disinclined to help. Magus appears to try to tempt Sirleck into helping anyway by offering him his services as a powerful wizard, and in the end, making an appeal to Sirleck's conscience that reveals that once he returns, he will be utterly alone and friendless, and Sirleck will have him in his debt. Sirleck, who is looking for a new body to inhabit, notices that Magus would make a fantastic new host, and so agrees, planning to double-cross Magus once he has a corporeal body again. However, Magus is quite prepared for that when it happens, pointing out that the fact he'd never asked Sirleck who he was planning to inahbit next "should have been a red flag". Magus *appeared* to be dangling the debt as an incentive, but it was actually his expectation all along that Sirleck would actually take the bait of a body of someone who was friendless, undocumented, and obscenely powerful.
  • In Freefall, the ninja waiters operate on this basis. By making sure that the customers spot that the screen slides up, they ensure that the customers will be watching it trying to spot them, and not looking in any other direction. Later, after the customers are convinced that the screen is just a ruse, they can actually use it to deliver food.
  • In Goblin Hollow, during the bank robbery arc (more or less starting in strip #166, Ben and Lily get entangled in a bank heist which is only part of the guest villain's double and possibly triple-fakeout plot which involves multiple simultaneous armed robberies, a mysterious pearl necklace, a jade box full of Boggarts and an army of mooks in clown suits...
  • Along with a plethora of other plans this is the primary tool of Doc Scratch in Homestuck. His crowning moment is undoubtedly convincing the heroes they are destroying the Green Sun, an extremely powerful and dangerous energy source, when in fact they are participating in its creation - and in turn, the creation of an immortal, time-travelling demon. He accomplishes this without telling a single falsehood.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Haley runs a textbook example of a Shuffle on the rest of the party while dividing up the treasure in this comic. If they hadn't assumed she was trying to cheat them and tried to counter it, she would have wound up with five worthless rocks as her share of the booty.
    • During the battle of Azure City, the heroes see three people who look like Xykon — two leading separate charges against the city's defenses, and the third one hanging back with Redcloak. As they try to figure out which one is real and should be their main target, Haley works out the con — if Redcloak can make two duplicates, why not three? (She's right; Redcloak conjured a death knight, a huecuva, and an Eye of Fear and Flame. As Xykon is just a humanoid skeleton, all he had to do to perfectly disguise them was put blue robes and red capes on them and call it a night. Heck, he had to put colored pendants on them just to tell them apart enough to give them specific orders. The real Xykon tries to sneak invisibly into the city on zombie-dragonback while they're distracted.)
      Haley: A con man doesn't choose to play the shell game with you if there is any possibility of him actually losing. The con isn't getting you to pick the wrong shell. The con is in getting you to accept that the basic premise of the game is still being followed. The con is in getting you to pick a shell at all.
    • Girard's Pyramid allegedly contains his Gate, and is heavily fortified to prevent you from getting to the center chamber... but it turns out, all that's there is a big pillar saying "Sorry, your Gate is in another pyramid". Scanning it with magic confirms this. Ha ha, wasted your time! Really, it's to be expected, given that he lied about the Pyramid's location, obviously he also lied about its purpose. Except, of course, he didn't. The Gate is inside the pillar. The pillar is lead-lined to block divination magic. On top of being Genre Savvy enough to expect a triple-bluff at this point, Roy's cross-class skill ranks in Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering) let him notice that the pillar isn't load-bearing.
    • In "Run to Ground", Durkon and Minrah are running from Xykon and Redcloak in a place with a lot of doors. Durkon suggests that they escape with magic by melding into the stone, but Minrah has the idea to open a lot of the doors first and then open one and close it again to leave tracks that make it look like they went that way. It nearly doesn't work: Redcloak starts to question whether they went through any door since the open doors already show they're trying to pull a trick, but Xykon is too impatient to stay to think about it any longer.
    • The place with a lot of doors mentioned in the previous entry—Kraagor's Tomb—is itself an example. Serini's Gate is supposedly behind one of the doors, but every door present contains a large number of high-level monsters, making this particular shell game not only difficult to solve, but deadly. As it turns out, all the doors contain a dimensional portal leading to the monster dungeons—which is quickly spotted and (temporarily) disabled by Haley. What's really behind the doors is a large cavern with many exits, which contains a hidden path leading to Serini's hidden home. And that's not even the end of it; the Gate isn't even in the area with the large cavern—it's somewhere else entirely. After all, if a half-decent rogue can spot the switchovers and bypass them, it's not a particularly good hiding spot—as Roy and Haley had already both realized themselves.
  • Sluggy Freelance: The climax of "Torg Potter and the Chamberpot of Secretions" has the Big Bad forcing Torg to make a wish from a Jackass Genie who has so far interpreted everyone's wishes to mean "turn me into chocolate." Torg makes the wish "Turn Torg Potter into chocolate." The villain thinks he's trying to use Reverse Psychology and thus orders the djinn to do exactly as he asked. Thus, Torg ends up being the first one not turned into chocolate, because he's not really Torg Potter, even though everyone thinks so. If the villain had not given this order to counter Torg's supposed reverse psychology, the genie could certainly have interpreted the wish so as to target the Torg in front of him.
  • Tower of God:
    • Khun's plan to beat the physically immensely superior Quant in the Hide and Seek test depends on several layers of this: first, Quant thinks he's figured out they've set up a bait to lure him away from their tag, then that they actually did that to ambush him, and so on, until finally comes the one he can't anticipate: Khun tells him that the tag has jumped down from the bridge — something that the tag, Khun and Quant all might be Nigh-Invulnerable enough to survive without getting injured — and taunts Quant that he can't follow. Quant infers that Khun just wants him to jump down and that the tag is really hiding on one of Khun's floating "Lighthouses" under the bridge. He elects to jump down and take Khun with him, which should cause all three of them to fall down, since Khun wouldn't be able to maintain control of the Lighthouse. Except Khun and the tag are both suspended in a different way that keeps them from falling, while Quant does fall.
    • In "The Room That Cannot Be Trusted", Prince is approached by a couple of suspicious guys who say they can help him beat Jue Viole Grace. They give him a drink that they say can prevent Viole from using his ability to freeze the drinker. Prince suspects the drink has something funny in it and lets Ehwa drink it first. That's just what they wanted; it enables them to take control of her mind, and she's a much more valuable prize than Prince.
    • In "The Wool's Knot", Khun makes a bet with Edin Dan that he can't get out of the café, even with his Super Speed, before Khun can catch him. After they've made the deal, Khun first claims to have hired everyone in the café to stop him (though that's not the Kansas City Shuffle yet). But Dan notices there's an exit right behind Khun that he seems to have missed and makes a run for it. That way is blocked, and Khun makes Dan believe that was his real scheme and he didn't hire anyone in the café. Dan thinks he beat the scam when he runs out of the dead end too fast for Khun to catch him, only to be shot with a tranquiliser dart by the bartender, because Khun lied about not hiring anyone.
    • In "The Last Station", the main characters make Jahad's army think they were trying to create a distraction in order to sneak off in one of the Hell Train's cars, but the car that gets all the attention is actually one that only contains a bunch of minor villains who were on the train with them. (For some reason this also involves teleporting entire train cars around, but this is the basic idea.) Since the army commander doesn't know who exactly is to be arrested other than the Regulars on the train, it looks to her like she got "them".
    • During Baylord Doom's invasion of the Cage, Doom's team agrees to hold a contest against Karaka and Bam. Karaka then suggests that, as part of the contest, Bam could fight one of the Rankers on Doom's side. This throws them off completely, because Bam is only a Regular, and only one Regular (that wasn't also an Irregular) has ever beaten a Ranker in the history of the Tower. It's like Regulars are still levelling up, whereas Rankers have already reached maximum level and received a massive power boost at that last level. So Doom's team is sure that, whatever the heck Karaka is trying to make them do, it can't be to accept the bet for the Ranker to fight Bam, so logically they must accept it along with the obvious win it brings. That just makes them fall for what would otherwise have been the obvious trap, since Bam is an Irregular and at this point perfectly capable of defeating an ordinary Ranker.
    • Aria seems to do it at least half-accidentally to White during "52F - Battle Royale". She's using her time-manipulation abilities to be able to dodge his sword, which is both a normally Always Accurate Attack and simply faster than she is. He starts to suspect she's kicking a lot to direct attention to her legs when it's really her left arm that's important because it holds the time device. So he cuts off her left arm. Unfortunately for him, it's her left arm being attacked and reverted back to normal with time manipulation that gives her the extra time she uses for other things.
  • In Weregeek, Murdoch finds himself hanging from the edge of a building with four geeks hanging off of him. Joel is waiting on the roof, offering a hand up, but Murdoch guesses that he'll only be captured if he accepts the offer. Instead, he opts to fall to his death and take the four geeks with him. Instead, he falls into the net Joel set up and realizes this was what was intended the whole time.

    Web Original 
  • Oinkbane the Were-hog assassin, whose tactics (which are too subtle for you) are nearly parodic versions of these. You'll know he's after you, you'll see an idiotically obvious ploy right in front of you, and right as you make a move to put an end to his shenanigans he'll get you from a different and utterly unexpected angle, and end you with a giant mallet. As an example, he'll hide inside a crate labeled "NOT AN ASSASSIN" whose contents are breathing, and when you move to open the crate it'll turn out to pack a sheep; Oinkbane will then roll out from under your bed and crush your head into paste.
  • Near the end of Volume 7 in RWBY, Dr. Watts turns off the heating for Mantle, which, combined with the pent-up resentment the city has for Atlas already, spurs a massive Grimm attack. Luckily, the heroes are able to come together to defend Mantle and capture Watts...but then learn that while they were doing so, something shut off the long-range sensors surrounding the kingdom. Salem herself contacts them, and reveals that Watts' actions were in fact a diversion so her own army of Grimm can approach the kingdom unnoticed. The revelation that Salem's outsmarted him again sends General Ironwood Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
  • Whateley Universe: The supervillain Mephisto the Mystic says that most of his more public capers were set up primarily to distract the heroes from more mundane crimes done by his Mob associates.

    Web Videos 
  • During the "Ship Happens" episode of Oxventure D&D campaign, the group is hired by an Obviously Evil group of cultists, who ostensibly hire the Oxventure to entertain them during a bachelor party headed for a destination wedding. The group fully suspects the cultists are trying to do something evil and attempt to thwart the cultists while keeping the itinerary to be above suspicion. The itinerary ends up being the five parts of the ritual needed to summon their dark god from the depths.
  • The final antic in Viva La Fegel has Gunsche informing Hitler that Fegelein is outside with something for Hitler. Hitler immediately assumes that he'll fall victim to the antic if he does so, and for all he knows, "a fucking piano" will fall on [him] out of nowhere. Guess what happens.

    Real Life 
  • During World War II, during the preparation for Operation Overlord (D-Day), the allies made a series of fictional armies with objectives all across Europe (Operation Fortitude). The most well known was an army that was supposedly intending to attack the port at Calais rather than Normandy. When the Allies landed in Normandy, they were able to convince Hitler that this was a diversion to get him to move troops away from the "real" landing site at Calais—when in fact Calais was the diversion from Normandy.
  • The famous Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie (a.k.a. Ras Tafari) once pulled this off. A local warlord named Balcha Safo parked a massive army outside the city Selassie was in in an attempt to intimidate him. Selassie responded by acting submissive and inviting Safo to a dinner in his honor; Safo was certain this was a trick, and took 600 men from his army to go to the dinner with him and watch for any signs of foul play. Safo kept his guard up at the party at all times, which, of course, was Selassie's plan all along, because after the dinner when Safo returned to where he had camped his army, his army was nowhere to be found. While he was watching for treachery at the dinner, Selassie's men had bribed the army to leave.
  • Diamond Comic Distributors introduced a "street date" system for comics in 2011. Instead of being delivered on Wednesday morning where shopkeepers had to race to get the comics out on the shelves, new comics would be delivered on Tuesday, with a strict rule that they could not be sold until the start of Wednesday business hours. There were mocking reports of elderly female secret shoppers trying to do trap purchases on Tuesday evenings for stereotypical fanboy-appeal comics, with fans laughing at how transparent it was. But after the little old lady walked out, a real trap purchase secret shopper dressed like a comic fanboy would walk in.
  • The Monty Hall Problem uses this trope to illustrate probability theory. In the problem, a contestant on a game show is given the opportunity to win a new car by choosing one of three doors — one of the doors has a car behind it, and two of which have goats behind them. After the contestant makes their choice, the game show host opens one of the two other doors to reveal one of the goats, then asks the contestant if they would rather choose the prize behind the third and final door, which could either be the car or the second goat. By focusing one's attention on the two remaining closed doors (one of which conceals a car, and one of which conceals a goat), the problem manages to make it look like one has a simple 50/50 chance of winning the car. In fact, the contestant has a 2 in 3 chance of choosing a goat on their first guess, but only a 1 in 3 chance of choosing the car... meaning that the contestant will always have a better chance of getting the car if they change their choice when given the chance. The contest, as seen on the original game show, had a psychological element too. As Monty Hall pointed out, he didn't have to let you switch to another door. If you picked the wrong door, he could just open that door and send you home with a goat. He was more likely to let you switch if you guessed right, and he'd sometimes offer you money to stick with your original (correct) choice. Contestants usually took this as proof that they were on the right track, so they'd turn down the money and get a goat for their trouble. Monty Hall concluded, "if you can get me to offer you five thousand dollars not to open the door, take the money and go home."
  • The (now defunct) deep web marketplace Silk Road was hit with an elaborate scam like this, as chronicled in this video by Barely Sociable. A user named "FriendlyChemist" tried to blackmail the site's owner "Dread Pirate Roberts", threatening to release the personal information of thousands of customers and vendors publicly unless he was paid $500,000. According to him, his business partner had run off with the money and left him deeply in debt to the Hell's Angels, and this was his only way of paying them back. DPR asked to be put into contact with his supplier in the Angels to talk things over, but once he was, he ordered a hit placed on FriendlyChemist to silence him permanently. When the supplier came back to tell him the deed had been done, and furthermore, they'd learned FriendlyChemist was colluding with a group of other scammers, DPR ordered them to be taken care of too, paying the hitmen around a million dollars in total. The "supplier", however, turned out to just be FriendlyChemist under a different account, and none of the other scammers even existed, meaning in his attempts to get rid of him, DPR had given FriendlyChemist twice as much money as he was originally asking for.

Top