And so on, and so on, throughout an episode...
Differs from the Escalating War, which is a series of unrelated pranks attempting to top one another. Zany Scheme Chicken is a series of reversals of one prank. A distant relative of the Gambit Pileup, and of the Game of Chicken. Not related to actual chickens.
- In Mao-chan, the new Prime Minister starts a Monster Protection Racket to promote his "Three Aces" team... whereupon the Defense Force leaders launch their own fake alien at the same time to try to get the Defense Corps girls back in the public's good graces. At the same time, Yuriko launches a real alien for the girls to fight... and all of the aliens look like pandas.
- This trope is the premise of the Spy vs. Spy comic strip series.
- Friends "The One Where Everyone Finds Out": Phoebe finds out Monica and Chandler are seeing each other, but they don't know she knows. Then they find out, but she doesn't know they know she knows. Then she finds out, but they don't know she knows they know she knows...
- Also, the shower-peeking episode. Hello, dear!
- Murphy Brown: Murphy makes Frank think he's found Deep Throat. Frank catches on and makes Murphy think he's given up an important interview to do the Deep Throat story. Miles makes Murphy and Frank think their plots have gotten him fired. And so on...
- Likewise, in another episode, Murphy's Meaty Boy statue is swiped. It goes back & forth until it's revealed to now be in the Oval Office.
- The Dick Van Dyke Show "A Surprise Surprise Is a Surprise" : Laura schemes a surprise party for Rob. He snoops on her and finds out about it, but counter-schemes by pretending not to. That evening, guest after guest calls and says they won't make it. Late that evening, after the last phone call, Laura breaks down crying and apologizes for ruining his birthday. Rob consoles her by saying he knew about the party all along. Laura then jokes that "next year" he'll be surprised for real, because she'll have the party — right now! Yelling "Surprise!", all the guests come into the living room wearing pajamas.
- This was the plotline (complete with literal Zany) of an episode of Night Court, where Harry and a rival judge have a battle of pranks and practical jokes, culminating in Harry trapping his rival in a giant inflatable beach ball (which was somehow hidden in a booby-trapped set of Harry's robes).
- In an episode of Get Smart, Max and 99 (who were by then married) were protecting a prince who looked exactly like Max. To test her loyalty, Max pretends to be the prince and flirts with her. 99 is first appalled, but then realizes the ruse and starts to flirt back. Max then realizes that 99 knows, so he leaves and comes back as himself, to make her think that she really was flirting with the prince after all. Of course while they're busy playing tricks on each other,the real prince is kidnapped.
- In an episode of Hey Dude!, the other staffers pull a prank on Ted, making him think he has a rare disease that is causing him to shrink. (They swap his clothes out with larger clothes, puts lifts on their shoes so they look taller, alter the furniture, etc.) Ted then hires a doctor to examine him, and gives him his entire life savings to pay the doctor to develop a cure. Realizing the prank has gone too far, the other staffers tell him the truth. Psyche! Ted knew all along it was a prank, and the 'doctor' Ted just talked to was Mr. Ernst in a disguise. (Mr. Ernst also loaned Ted the money to 'pay' him.) ...Ted and the rest then visit Mr. Ernst, who is wearing a different doctor's outfit and said he was just about to visit Ted. Everyone panics and runs out, trying to find the 'real' doctor who just stole Mr. Ernst's money... only for Mr. Ernst then to talk with his son Buddy about how gullible they all are and hopefully this will teach them a lesson about pranks. Mr. Ernst then asks Buddy for his money back, and Buddy says: "Wait, I'm confused, I thought I was supposed to give the money to the real doctor." Mr. Ernst then leaves to follow everyone else in chasing down who took his money, only for Buddy to put the money back in the safe and remark: "They certainly are gullible."
- Dates back to at least William Shakespeare:
- This goes back and forth at least three times in Much Ado About Nothing.
- The Merry Wives of Windsor has a one-sided version; the title housewives, incensed at Falstaff's propositioning them, pretend to play along with his schemes and proceed to dupe and humiliate him again and again until they get half the community into the fun, whereupon he is publicly shamed.