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Pull the Thread
aka: Pulling The Thread

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"Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!"
Walter Scott, Marmion (Canto VI. Stanza 17)

A suspicious character, thinking a friend or loved one is lying, goes along with the lie, forcing the liar to expand upon the cover story in a grossly outlandish fashion. Named for "pull the thread, and watch the sweater unravel."

To put it in a simple format, Alice is posing as someone else in a social situation. She might be claim that she is "Claire", or just "Alice the Expert". In order to make conversation and try to fit in with the role she has chosen, Alice happens to say something that might seem innocuous enough on the surface, at least to those who are not too familiar with said subject, but to those who are familiar with it, it sounds like a kind of strange thing to say. Well, Bob just so happens to be familiar with the subject — usually he has some kind of imitate knowledge of the subject, either through his education, job, or just something as simple as frequenting the social circles of people who know about said subject — so he picks up on the fact that Alice's statement is factually incorrect, or at least seems somewhat weird and out of character for "Claire" or "Alice the Expert".

Now, Bob might yet not suspect that Alice is an imposter (though it could be that someone has tipped him off beforehand that an infiltrator is on the loose); he could think that what she said was simply an innocent mistake or that he merely misheard her. So he tries to probe her a bit first. Usually, he asks her a simple question that someone with a fundamental knowledge of the subject by all means should know about, usually by poking directly at the mistake she made. He is betting on the idea that if Alice is really who she says she is, she should pick up on the fact that what she just should said didn't make any sense, and embarrassedly correct herself.

But Alice, being sure that her cover is adequate, not knowing that what she is saying doesn't make any sense to someone with a cursory knowledge of said subject, and blindly assuming that Bob is someone "in the know" and therefore what he is saying to her must be correct, doesn't notice at any point that there is anything wrong with neither her statement or Bob's question, and decides to blindly play along, and blissfully continues down the tangent that Bob knows is incorrect.

Unwittingly, all she does is confirming to Bob that "Claire" or "Alice the Expert" is not who she says she is, and that she has given him cause to act on this hunch.

In a comedy series, this can result in a "Fawlty Towers" Plot situation. In a drama, it results in the catastrophic collapse of a villain's house-of-cards scheme. May result from Spotting the Thread if it's not the core of an Impostor-Exposing Test. Not to be confused with All Cloth Unravels, when literally pulling on a single loose thread on a piece of clothing causes the whole thing to come undone.

Contrast Seamless Spontaneous Lie. Compare and contrast Conviction by Contradiction, which skips the "pull the thread" step and jumps straight from catching a lie or mistake to assuming guilt of some greater crime. Also see Bluff the Impostor.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Mazurek in Aldnoah.Zero, is suspicious of Princess Asseylum when he asks if she befriended any Terrans during her time on Earth. She claims to have no ties to anyone from there, which contradicts everything Inaho, the Terran who essentially helped him escape from prison on Earth, told him earlier about his time with Asseylum. He then manages to successfully locate and talk to the real Asseylum, recovering from a coma as well as slight amnesia, and gives her a necklace which triggers memories of her time on Earth, along when she was nearly killed by Saazbaum.
  • This is how Gin gets outed after trying to set up Tsukune as a Peeping Tom in Rosario + Vampire. Starts out by saying Tsukune moved a barrel, which wasn't in a photo.. Then it all went down hill from there. Now, limited offer only, complete with Ace Attorney Shout-Out "The real criminal... IS YOU!"
  • In the first episode of Trinity Seven, Arata notes a drawing his cousin Hijiri did when they were younger, and noticing the yellow sun on it. After Lilith shows up, he asks Hijiri again what color the sun is. She says it's black. He points out the color discrepancy with the drawing from earlier. "Hijiri" then turns out to be a grimoire his cousin left in his care right before disappearing, and the world they were living in was a fake one, and Arata begins his quest to save his cousin.

    Comic Books 
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, the Jedi Masters of the Taris Enclave receive a vision causing them to (incorrectly) believe one of their padawans will turn to the dark side, and resolve to kill them when they are all gathered for the knighting ceremony. The padawan Shad is the first to notice that something is up, as the masters are all carrying lightsabers, which are not allowed on the enclave temple floor. The masters adapt quickly and claim it's for the sake of the knighting ceremony. Shad then notices that master Lucian Draay has his lightsaber, despite his padawan being the most inept of the group, which Lucien excuses as even somewhat inept jedi being needed for the war effort. Shad and his friends celebrate for a moment... Until Shad realizes that, even with the war going on, there is no way Lucien would knight Zayne. The realization doesn't save them, but it does mean that Zayne, who arrives late to the ceremony, walks in on the ensuing massacre, leading to him surviving.

    Fan Works 
  • And Again: Sayaka employs this against Makoto during the first trial, poking holes in his story that he can't easily explain away. Namely because he's a Groundhog Peggy Sue who's on his first loop, and was acting suspiciously enough that she chose Chihiro as her fall-guy instead.
  • Better Bones AU: Iceheart enjoys probing Purdy with questions when he tells a story, forcing him to expand his story until it is clearly false. He never criticizes Purdy for this when he figures it out and just says "I see. That makes sense."
  • Cat Out of the Bag: After Chat Noir impulsively quits while throwing a temper tantrum, Luka steps in and reveals to Marinette that he knows both of their secret identities. He's subsequently present when Plagg attempts to manipulate and guilt-trip her into letting him return the Ring to Adrien, and pulls the thread when the kwami accidentally lets slip that he'd needed to convince Adrien to show up to the last fight, as he'd been deliberately skipping battles.
  • I See What You Do Behind Closed Doors Miraculous Ladybug:
    • Marinette unknowingly does so at the start of the story. When Adrien justifies his refusal to step in and defend her from bullies by claiming he had a lot on his mind and was distracted, she naturally asks him what's been bothering him that much. Adrien wasn't expecting this, and improvises by telling her about the biggest secret he's got: the fact that he's Chat Noir.
    • When Ladybug tells her classmates that she's not friends with Lila like the other girl claims, Lila insists that she's only saying that to try and protect her from Shadow Moth. Max then notes that Lila has been having her do all her homework for her, yet still claims to have landed an internship with Tony Stark — something Max tried to do himself and couldn't manage. This prompts him to start looking up all of her claims, one by one.
  • In Raise Your Voice Against Liars, the Phantom Thieves repeatedly do this to Lila, simply by pressing for more details about each of her claims. Having gotten used to most of her classmates hanging unquestionably off her every word, Lila is caught off guard and repeatedly backpedals, desperately trying to revise her stories even as they crumble apart under the increased scrutiny.
  • A Year To Fill An Empty Home: When Hana shows up wanting to stay the night with the Kurusus, she claims that one of the pipes broke at her house. Takeshi offers to call a plumber that he knows, drawing her into a conversation where she tries to convince him not to do so before finally reveal the real reason she came over.
  • Snapshots: Played with. When testing to see if their reality is being simulated or not, those who were under the effect of hypnoshades will focus on doing things that they know wouldn't be part of the simulation so they can know what they are experiencing is real, as even using them for a short period of time instills long-lasting paranoia. For example, Marina will hike up a specific path with a friend and check if they will try balancing on a specific log.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Andhadhun, several people who suspect Akash of being sighted attempt to expose/test him—for instance the neighbor kid tries to catch him using his eyesight at home and Manohar throws a small knife at him to see if he flinches or dodges it. Simi finally succeeds by pulling a gun on him, which scares him and makes him drop the charade.
  • Denial When Holocaust denier David Irving is questioned about the gas chamber in Auschwitz he first claims it was for delousing corpses. When questioned why the door would be hermetically sealed with a caged window he says the room was likely used as an air raid shelter. When it is pointed out the shelter is two and a half miles away from the closest barracks he doesn't know what to say. He is then asked why corpses about to be incinerated need to be deloused at all.
  • Used with Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men. Lt. Kaffee continues to question Jessup until he catches Jessup in a contradiction: Jessup had ordered that Santiago was not to be harmed, and assured the court that his orders were always followed, to the letter. Thus, the Armor-Piercing Question from Kaffee says that if that were true, there would be no reason to transfer Sanitago off the base, as Jessup did, because Santiago shouldn't have been in any danger if Jessup's orders are always followed. It's the slight Oh, Crap! moment from Jessup which follows that begins to unravel his entire testimony.
    • Kaffee had started pulling this same thread earlier in the questioning, asking Jessup what he'd packed for the day-trip to DC for the case. By contrast, Kaffee points out that, despite the alleged transfer order, and his having requested such a transfer multiple times in the past, none of Santiago's kit was packed for travel.
  • In Hangmen Also Die!, the Resistance suspect Czaka of only pretending to be unable to speak German in order to allay suspicions of collaboration with the Nazis, so they decide to set up a situation where someone who speaks German would have a Reflexive Response to test their theory. They are correct.
  • The film Shattered Glass has editor Charles Lane asking reporter Stephen Glass to retrace a sequence of events reported in one of the latter's (completely made-up) news articles. Glass picks a building and a restaurant more or less at random, then has the spectacularly bad luck of discovering both were closed at the time the events in his article supposedly took place. The trope is eventually subverted because no matter how many blatant lies Lane catches him in, Glass never capitulates and continues to spin how it could have happened (supposedly it happened this way in real life as well).

  • The Bible has this in the Book of Daniel (in a section Catholics of both kinds consider canon but Protestants do not). Two elders falsely accuse a woman of adultery (part of a failed blackmail attempt), but don't bother to get their story straight. When Daniel has them questioned separately they both say they saw her sleeping with a man under a tree, but name completely different kinds that everybody present agrees could not possibly be confused.
  • In the Modesty Blaise novel I, Lucifer, Willie suspects that Modesty's new boyfriend, Stephen Collier, is hiding something when he claims to be a metallurgist, so he makes a casual comment about beryllium that any real metallurgist would spot as nonsense; Stephen cuts the conversation short by saying he prefers not to talk shop on holiday, but fails to remark on the deliberate mistake. After Modesty points out the trap he fell into, he admits that he's actually an ESP researcher but doesn't like how the conversation usually goes if he says so in social situations, so when people ask what he does he says he's a metallurgist and that's usually the end of the subject.
  • Subverted in To Kill a Mockingbird: Atticus successfully pulls many threads in the Ewells' story of how Tom raped Mayella, particularly in the disparity of Mayella's bruise and Tom's handicap but the all-white jury ends up finding him guilty anyway. Despite this, the trial thoroughly humiliates Bob and he goes out of his way to try and make Atticus’ life a living hell.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga: In The Warrior's Apprentice, Miles invents the "Dendarii Free Mercenaries" out of whole cloth as a quick cover story. Then the new "provisonal members" start to inadvertently Pull the Thread, so he adds more detail. By the end of the novel there actually is a Dendarii Free Mercenaries — uniform, field manual, hidden government backing, and all. The majority of it essentially made up on the spot by three terribly overworked people.
  • Warrior Cats: In Sky, RiverClan tries to come up with explanations as to why both their leader and deputy are suddenly replaced; they've been covering up their deaths for a moon and are now trying to hide that their new leader hasn't been given nine lives. Cats from the other Clans, who are already suspicious of their weird behavior, notice holes in their stories, such as that they frequently forget to use the -star name and call Reedwhisker and Owlnose by their warrior names, when they previously claimed that the two cats had been given nine lives.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Detective Santiago has a tendency to try and suck up to Captain Holt in order to curry favour and try and persuade him to act as her mentor. Since Captain Holt isn't particularly fond of Yes Men, he instead tends to use this trope not so much to expose her insincerity (since she does genuinely respect him) but instead to expose the false modesty and flaws in logic that she ties herself in while doing so.
    Holt: Finish up the paperwork as soon as possible.
    Amy: (happily) Your wish is my command!
    Holt: No, that was… actually a command. So, my command is your command.
    Amy: Well… then I guess you still have three of your wishes!
    Rosa: You’re not a genie.
    Amy: I know that. Okay. We’re leaving.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The third season episode "Faith, Hope and Trick" provides an interesting twist to this trope; Giles isn't trying to catch Buffy in a lie, he's trying to get her to reveal her Dark Secret — that Angel got his soul back, but she had to kill him to save the world. Giles gets her to reveal this by asking for details about that day for a "binding spell" he needs.
    • Later in season 3, Giles pretends to believe Faith when she tells him Buffy accidentally killed a man. He knows Faith is scapegoating Buffy for her own mistake, but he doesn't want her to know that.
  • In Chernobyl, Shcherbina uses his Info Dump courtesy of Legasov, to "innocently" question Bryukhanov and Fomin about just what is going on.
    Shcherbina: Why did I see graphite on the roof? Graphite is only found in the core where it's used as a... neutron flux moderator. Correct?
    Bryukhanov: (horrified realization) Fomin, why did the Deputy Chairman see graphite on the roof?
    Fomin: Well, that can't be. Comrade Shcherbina, my apologies, but graphite... that's not possible. Perhaps you saw burnt concrete?
    Shcherbina: Now there you made a mistake, because I may not know much about nuclear reactors, but I know a lot about concrete.
  • Every last Columbo episode revolves around Lt. Columbo pulling the threads in the culprit's story.
  • It's pretty clear that Britta in the Community pilot has caught early on exactly what kind of guy Jeff really is, but is stringing him along until he can demonstrate it in front of everyone.
  • In all three incarnations of the CSI franchise, characters will indicate that it is time to Pull the Thread by saying, "Little lie, big lie."
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor loves doing this.
    • In "Amy's Choice", he sums up his mission (and life philosophy) in two sentences:
      The Doctor: Something's not right here. Let's go poke it with a stick...
    • "The Pilot": When Bill asks the Doctor how he got the TARDIS inside his office despite its size, he says he had the window and part of the wall taken out and the box lifted in with a crane, remarking that "it's heavier than it looks." Bill seems to accept that, until she gives him a rug for Christmas. When she comes in later, the TARDIS is standing on top of the rug, despite it being too heavy to lift.
    • "Spyfall": The Master does an excellent job at impersonating O, the spy The Doctor was supposed to meet. He gets fairly far until he make a quip about being a terrible sprinter. Turns out O was actually a champion sprinter. Realizing the jig is up, The Master reveals himself - The Doctor's anticipated outburst of "OOOOOH!" being the entire reason the villain impersonated O in the first place.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond: Ray lies to cover up the fact that he didn't want to have dinner with his mother, Marie. To keep up the lie, he arranges a cover story with his wife. It snowballs until he ends up breaking the VCR and the washing machine, but she figures it out anyway when they run out of lies. Hilariously, Robert's wife Amy confesses to not eating the dinner Marie made them after watching her pull the thread and guilt-trip Ray, because "it's only a matter of time". Then a verbal slip from Marie reveals to Robert that she didn't actually make a special meal for him, she made it for Ray.
  • Used on Friends to get Chandler to admit he is in a relationship with Monica by having Phoebe come on to him.
    • Also, Monica warns Chandler against a similar danger when he sees a photograph of himself making his "bedroom eyes":
      Chandler: Oh my God! Those are my bedroom eyes?! Why did you ever sleep with me?
      Monica: Do you really want to pull at that thread?
  • Game of Thrones: Tywin casually begins picking apart Arya's deception over time, noting small things like addressing him as "my lord" instead of "milord" to figure out that she's actually nobleborn instead of a commoner like she's pretending. However, he seems more amused by how clever Arya is than upset at the deception. This is presumably not solely because he values cleverness, but also because he thinks he can use her as leverage. Or at least get a good ransom for returning her to her surviving relatives.
  • The Good Place: In the Season 1 finale, Eleanor demands that Michael and Shawn follow through on their threats to send two of them to the Bad Place, even shutting down a sudden Deus ex Machina that could let them all stay, knowing that they'll have to fold because they're already in the Bad Place.
  • How I Met Your Mother: The Season 2 episode, "Slap Bet", features Robin revealing that she has an unusual fear of going to the mall. The other members of the group form theories as to why this is. Marshall believes it's because she got married at a mall when she lived in Canada. Not wanting to reveal the real reason, Robin decides to use this as her cover story. Ted decides to test her on it and asks her numerous detailed questions about her wedding, all of which Robin easily answers, but then blows it when she's suddenly unable to think of an answer when Ted asks her the simplest question, what the groom's name was.
    • The implication seems to be that like a lot of (mainly female) people, Robin has a pretty solid plan of what she wants her wedding to look like, with just a couple of details to be filled into the blanks.
    • Robin does this again in the Season 6 episode, "Candy Ranning" when she tells them that they were right in thinking that she slept with a rather dumb guy after a Halloween party and thus did not have time to change out of her costume before the next morning. When the lie unravels we find out that she was still in her nurse uniform costume because it was actually for an adult diaper commercial she filmed.
  • Pulling the thread on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia leads to Frank and Dee (father and daughter mind you) almost getting married just to keep up the lie that they were in a relationship in order to scam some money.
  • Repeatedly inverted on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Any sociopathic criminal the detectives try this tactic on is so cunning, confident, and prepared, no matter how complex the cover story gets, it never collapses.
  • In Lost, Sayid interrogates a captive named Henry Gale who claims to have reached the island by balloon. How big was the balloon? How did he afford it? What was the business he sold?
    • Except the Gale answers all the questions in a self-consistent manner. Sayid thinks that he's probably lying, but can't tell for certain. Later the captive gives him directions to the balloon and his wife's grave as proof. Sayid follows the directions and discovers the balloon and grave just where they are supposed to be. However, Sayi is so obsessed with the idea that Gale is lying that he proceeds to DIG UP the grave to further test the story. This turns out to be an incredibly wise move, as there is not the body of a woman in the grave, but a man. A man with an ID labelled "Henry Gale" The captive turns out to be the leader of the Others, Benjamin Linus.
  • Lucifer (2016) has an example of this in the second episode of its fifth season. Lucifer had apparently returned from Hell, where he had to return at the end of season four and Chloe, his partner and then will-they-won't-they love interest apparently believed him. However a number of out-of-character moments such as him lying and him having sex with Maze while tentatively in a relationship with Chloe herself clue her in that something isn't right. She plays along, probing for more evidence, while Michael remains convinced he's fooled her. She winds up giving him a "reason you suck" speech while shooting him repeatedly Lucifer actually returns the next episode, and Chloe initially believes he's still actually Michael
  • Nirvana in Fire: Jingyan attempts to do this when he asks both his mother and Mei Changsu what his father's name was without giving them time to consult each other. Unfortunately for him, Mei Changsu's cover is too well planned — they both give the same name, the one Lin Shu's real father used as an alias.
  • The usual first step in The Perry Mason Method on Perry Mason.
  • Narrowly averted on Raising Hope after Virginia tells her cousin Delilah that Maw Maw has died just so Delilah would not come for a visit and see what a mess Virginia's life was. A few years later Delilah comes to town to see if Maw Maw left her anything in her will and Virginia starts spinning more lies to hide the truth. Delilah never finds out the truth because she is more interested in screwing with Virginia than pulling more threads. When she actually sees Maw Maw alive and walking she assumes it is a ghost come to punish her for being such a Jerkass.
  • In Seinfeld, George's desperation not to spend time with his once-potential parents-in-law at a function they have arranged sees him concoct a story about owning a luxurious house in the Hamptons which he is spending time at, and ends with him driving them all the way to the Hamptons to keep the lie going. When he breaks down and admits the truth, they confirm they knew all along, but let him suffer through keeping up the charade because they don't like him very much.
  • Emily can't stop herself from pulling the thread in her S4 episode of Skins; it starts with Naomi telling one small lie to the police and ends in The Reveal that Naomi cheated on her at a university open day.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Future Imperfect", Riker wakes up to be told he just recovered from an illness that's caused him to forget the last 17 years of his life. He's grey-haired and captain of the Enterprise with a young son. Riker is thrown but does his best to handle things. He finally gets around to seeing a video of his late wife... and realizes she was a woman who only existed in a holodeck program. This causes Riker to finally see through the various flaws he should have spotted before. He proceeds to point out how Geordi is taking way too long to fix a mechanical problem; Worf can't provide details of how he got a scar; and Data can't perform fast computations. This reveals the "future" is a holodeck program by the Romulans. Except that is a secondary illusion by the young alien posing as Riker's "son".
    • In Star Trek: Voyager's "Living Witness", the Doctor is revived 700 years later on another planet. A historian named Quarren shows how their history has long been Voyager a band of murderous killers who aided in attacking this world. The Doctor informs him that it's all wrong and in fact, Quarren's species were the original attackers. Quarren is reluctant to accept his long-held history is wrong. However, he realizes that in thier historical simulations, the Doctor was an android, not a hologram. As he tells others, if that point is so wrong, it stands to reason a lot of the "history" could also be false.
  • To Tell the Truth features this as a tactic to weed out the liars.
  • The usual tactic used on the BBC panel show Would I Lie to You?, where the panelists present facts about either themselves or other famous people/events and the other team has to guess if they're telling the truth. Most lies collapse when the liars are pushed for information they haven't invented and contradict themselves. That said, being confused or vague doesn't always mean they're lying...
    • A now infamous episode in the fourth series involved comedian Kevin Bridges claiming he once accidentally bought a horse. The opposing team attempted this trope, but it led to Bridges' story becoming increasingly bizarre, rambling and far-fetched to the point that it took up nearly a third of the episode by itself, and by the end the entire panel and audience were in uncontrollable hysterics. Then it turned out to be true.


    Tabletop Games 
  • This is one of the rules of the storytelling game The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. One player starts to tell the most outlandish story about his adventures (Such as the time a pair of Frenchmen took credit for his invention of the hot air balloon), and the other players repeatedly interrupt him with additional questions. The storyteller has to either incorporate them into the story or pass the turn to the next player.

  • In The Minutes, newly elected Big Cherry Town Council member Mr. Peel uses this tactic when his fellow councilors interrupt the assembly to perform an impromptu reenactment of their town's founding story for him when they learn that Peel (a recent transplant) hasn't heard the tale:
    • Peel interrupts the reenactment of the general's rescue of the little pioneer girl from The Savage Indians several times, pointing out that the rifles used by his soldiers wouldn't have been able to perform all the amazing feats recounted in the reenactment. Peel repeatedly pauses to ask questions about how the action unfolded, only for Mayor Superba (who is playing the role of the heroic general) to brush off his comments. This leads Peel to doubt the veracity of the story...
    • Later, Peel asks why the town is called "Big Cherry" when there aren't any cherry trees around. The answer reveals the town's actual founding story.
  • Oh, Oedipus, you just had to pull the thread yourself.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, there is more than one way to reveal the fake Weylon. One, you just get too near a certain door and refuse to leave. The other is tricking him, intimidating him and forcing him to expand on his story while picking out all the mistakes he makes until he finally merely gets irritated and attacks.
  • In the 1st Degree goes into this trope when it comes to questioning the witnesses: Why were you seen searching the body after the shooting? You were just trying to do CPR? Why would you do CPR if the victim is dying from a bleeding neck wound?
  • During the Clear My Name quest of Neverwinter Nights, Chapter 2 you come across a "witness" who is obviously falsifying his story. Only by pulling the thread of his story can you get him to admit he was nowhere near the scene of the murder.
  • Episode 1 of The Wolf Among Us features Bigby going to Toad's apartment with the place clearly ransacked, while Toad insists that he kept hurting himself trying to get into his apartment last night. Bigby can, if the player chooses, continue to call out the contradictions in Toad's story, until Toad reveals he was covering it up under threat of assault.

    Visual Novels 
  • Pulling the thread is an integral concept in the Ace Attorney series. In most cases, it's not a matter of playing along with the lie, but of catching the lie and then forcing the person you're questioning into making up a lie to cover up the lie ("No, wait! I was mistaken!"). In at least one case (Mr. Kudo), this actually comes back to bite Phoenix, when he really should have convinced the court to listen to the person he just completely discredited.
    • This is essentially the point of the "press" option: if you can't see anything contradictory in the witnesses' current statement, you can ask them to elaborate, which quite often leads to them saying something that is contradictory, which you can then call them on.
    • Subverted or even double subverted in Trials & Tribulations with Luke Atmey who deliberately makes the details of his major lie contradictive, so that he is found guilty of a heist he didn't commit once Phoenix pulls the thread and exposes the lies, and then use his "Guilty" verdict as an alibi in the murder he actually did commit. Which is still exposed in the end by, again, further pulling the thread.
  • In CLANNAD, pulling the thread on one of Sunohara's lies leads from how Sunohara's parents will get worried if they're out too late to the invention of an illegitimate adult son for the 23 year old Sagara Misae. Said son is named Sagara Missile. And to make things worse, Sunohara then nicknames Tomoya Apache and Tomoyo The Ultimate Weapon. But it works out okay because they still go and do what he wanted.
  • Happens fairly often in Danganronpa. One example from the first game would be Kirigiri doing this in the second trial. She figured out from her autopsy that Fujisaki was biologically male, and picked up on Oowada changing his speech patterns slightly during the investigation to give Fujisaki some more masculine pronouns, proving he knew before anyone else. She spent the trial building up the discussion into leading him to a slip up revealing more than he should have known in front of everyone.
  • Dr. Irie in Kiss of Revenge rarely confronts the protagonist directly over her suspicious behavior, and even when he does he never reveals everything he knows. His preferred modus operandi is to play along, hinting just enough of his suspicions to put her on edge, occasionally dangling some bait in front of her to see what she'll do, and generally giving her rope to find out whether or not she'll hang herself with it.
  • In My Forged Wedding, Takao asks the Player Character to pose as his fiancee, because his grandmother's health is failing and it would make her happy to know that Takao found someone to marry. Then his grandmother's health takes an unexpected turn for the better, and she begins making plans for the wedding. Only after they've held a wedding ceremony does she admit that she figured out the truth early on and kept stringing them along mostly in the hopes that they'd fall in love for real.

  • Subverted in Sluggy Freelance. After making up a lie about going on a date with Corey,note  Zoe imagines her friends interrogating her, with her giving increasingly feeble answers. Turns out, none of them cared enough to press her (except for Bun-Bun, who instantly sees it through and mocks her, but doesn't rat her out).

    Western Animation 
  • Happens in an episode of The Cleveland Show when Cleveland and Donna are trying to conceive another child. Cleveland is lying about having an unintentional vasectomy and Donna about being pregnant, but when he finds out Donna faked it because she knew all along, Cleveland tries to play along with his wife's charade until it unravels.
  • Cyberchase: The Hacker is running for president of Cyberspace, on the platform of "I'll cure Motherboard of that nasty virus I gave her" and mentions that doing so involves a triangle, which can be made with any three lines. When the Power Trio proves that not all lines can form (closed) triangles, everyone immediately stops believing Hacker and agrees with the kids.

    Real Life 
  • Miss Manners actually recommended this tactic for dealing with a woman who always has to top whatever story you tell. If you say your wife just had a baby and she brings up a relative who just had triplets, Miss Manners advocates playing along with fervor: "Oh, how wonderful! When were they born? What are their names? How big were they? Did they have any medical problems? I hear triplets can be low birth-weight and need a respirator for a few weeks..." etc. Until she runs out of ammo, or realizes what you're doing, at least you're having as much fun with it as she is.
  • Socrates did this with style and to some people he probably shouldn't have screwed with, although in his opinion it was his duty to do so, and he insisted that he really just wanted to learn instead of just being a dick. The Socratic method owes its name to his rhetoric. It should be noted that Socrates wasn't uncovering lies per se, but hypocrisies. And that he ended up highly dead.
  • Louis CK's stand-up routine about kids asking "why?" and how you should understand when their parents tell them to shut up, because "they just keep coming, more questions, why, why, why, until you don't even now who the fuck you are anymore at the end of the conversation!"
    "Papa, why can't we go outside?"
    "'Cause it's raining."
    "Well, water's coming out of the sky."
    "'Cause it was in a cloud."
    "Well, clouds form... when there's... vapor."
    "...I don't know! I don't know. I don't know any more things. Those are all the things I know."
    "'Cause I'm stupid. Okay? I'm stupid."
    "Well, 'cause I didn't pay attention in school, okay? I went to school but I didn't listen in class."
    "'Cause I was high all the time! I smoked too much pot!"
    "'Cause my parents gave me no guidance! They didn't give a shit!"
    "'Cause they fucked in a car and had me, and they resented me for taking their youth!"
    "Because they had bad morals! They had no compass!"
    "'Cause they had shitty parents! It just keeps going back like that!"
    "'Cause, fuck it, we're alone in the universe!..."
  • In mathematics and logic, there is proof by contradiction—one way of proving something is to assume the opposite is true, and follow the consequent trail of reasoning until you arrive at an obvious fallacy. For instance, one can reason that 1 = 2, but only if somewhere along the way they divide by zero. Since you end up with a contradiction, this shows that the original premise (that the opposite of what you wanted to prove was true) was actually false, and hence what you wanted to prove is true.
    • This also provides a meta-example, due to a property intrinsic to formal systems of logic and thus mathematical proofs: for any such system, either it's merely impossible to prove all expressable and relevant true statements (and you can't prove something is true but unprovable), or there is some way within it to actually derive and "prove" contradictory statements... and while mathematicians and logicians can and do tug on that thread enough to be reassured the system of thought and reasoning we use in real life falls into the former category and thus things like division by zero aren't reasonable operations that accurately model reality, that isn't conclusively provable.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Pulling The Thread


Were These Magic Grits?

Vinny poke holes in a witness's testimony by questioning how fast he can cook his grits.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / PullTheThread

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