The art of the con
August 8, 2006 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Do you know your close-up con games? Some classics: the Tip, the Jamaican Switch, the Wire (and its incredibly complicated cousin, the Rag), the Texas Twist, the Pigeon Drop, the Spanish Prisoner (or Nigerian Scam) and the ancient pig-in-a-poke. Also, learn the argot of the classic con artist, view some videos of card scam moves and discover some patter as well, or just see how the language of the con has been used in one of the more famous papers in sociology.
posted by blahblahblah (23 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Obligatory link to the master - Ricky Jay

Great post. Time to watch House of Games again.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:30 AM on August 8, 2006

The confidence element is the thing that hooks the mark and makes a good score possible, while at the same time it reduces the possibility of trouble resulting from the swindle.

Say what you want about the morally dubious lives these people lead, but you must admit that the slang, by god, is beautiful.

Excellent stuff blahblahblah, this makes me want to rewatch Nueve reinas...
posted by slimepuppy at 7:34 AM on August 8, 2006

House of Games started me down the path of no longer enjoying scame movies, and Matchstick Men absolutely finished me off. I can't watch any more, I just spend the whole time thinking things like "he's not really dead - check the gun for blanks!" or "she didn't run into by accident, she's working WITH the men you're going into business with!!!"

Too often, the films end with twists & surprises that any reasonable viewer shouldn't have known, and you end up just feeling cheated. I prefer mine like The Sting, where the audience is in on the grift, and you don't have to constantly doubt every character's actions. A little ambiguity is great dramatic tension, but never trusting anything anyone says or does makes for one giant deus ex machina, and causes me to lose interest.
posted by jonson at 7:54 AM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hustle it's a pretty good british serial about con men. But they are like the Lupins of the scam, because they only work with bad guys ("you can't cheat an honest man", or so they say).
posted by darkripper at 8:07 AM on August 8, 2006

I'd also recommend this classic work for anyone interested in the topic.
posted by Heminator at 8:13 AM on August 8, 2006

Heminator -- "the Tip" above, is from the Big Con, as is much of the material in the argot link. It is a really interesting book.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:24 AM on August 8, 2006

This was an interesting read about the shell game on the CTA. Yesterday I saw a real live three-card-monte game here in the Bronx; never ceases to amaze me that they find prey.
posted by sohcahtoa at 8:24 AM on August 8, 2006

From the "famous sociology paper" -

The con is said to be a good racket in the United States only because most Americans are willing, nay eager, to make easy money..

My sociology professor would have shot me for such a statement. Substantiate!
posted by Sk4n at 8:33 AM on August 8, 2006

("you can't cheat an honest man", or so they say).

"...or so they say" indeed. Plenty of honest people, usually the elderly, have been duped by simple chairty scams. The old folks are asked to help out a worthy cause and end up sending hundreds or thousands of dollars to lowlife scam artists.
posted by illiad at 8:38 AM on August 8, 2006

This short video might dissuade you from betting on the shell game.
posted by found missing at 8:39 AM on August 8, 2006

Don't get all steamed joe, if ya need to cool down the mark just give em the cackle bladder ken!
posted by mrs.pants at 8:45 AM on August 8, 2006

Yes! I just picked up The Big Con and I'm about a third through. It's a great read and a lot of fun. Originally published in 1940 it's full of stories of the origins of big con games. As they say, the names have been changed, but the tales are true!
posted by rschroed at 8:48 AM on August 8, 2006

The Rag is amazing. The victim actually goes home without losing any money, but then returns with cash or a check (and blind trust apparently) up to a month later and then loses it all.

Great post, blahblahblah; I've been reading these all morning.
posted by Penks at 9:48 AM on August 8, 2006

If you enjoy the beautiful language of the con, then you can't miss Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, which I see here is in a new edition.
posted by felix at 9:50 AM on August 8, 2006

As a rabidly paranoid member of society, this just makes me want to never leave my apartment again. That, or smash the face of anyone who approaches me outside.
posted by quite unimportant at 10:15 AM on August 8, 2006

illiad - that quote is mildly out of context. In Hustle it's their number 1 rule. You only con someone who thinks they are getting something for nothing. It's a fine differentiation between conning someone (the above listed cons) and theft (with grannies and charities).
posted by twine42 at 10:42 AM on August 8, 2006

I'm mildly addicted to Hustle, which airs a season or two delayed on Bravo here in the States, but torrents of entire seasons are trivially findable.
posted by Skorgu at 11:00 AM on August 8, 2006

'Scoundrel', I like the sound of that.
Nifty post
posted by Smedleyman at 11:17 AM on August 8, 2006

I had a guy try the Jamaican Switch on me years ago, and it didn't work. He was working on a variation where one guy works it (no second comes to tell him to put the money in the bank), and the story in his case was he had to go to a bad part of town and needed someone to watch his suitcase (which had the necessary pile of cash in it to tempt me) while he did his business.

In my case (if I may toot my own horn) I was naively willing to help him, but I had no interest in stealing his money, so I didn't go along with the part where we would combine our money together. I kept telling him it wasn't necessary, I would watch his bag, etc.

It was only when he got visibly agitated that it dawned on me that he was trying to scam me. But he wasn't mad when I walked away finally, probably was relieved to be rid of me.

Basically, the Jamaican switch needs the mark to a) think the the con man is a hick/foreigner/idiot and b) be willing to engage in a "trust" activity to get rid of the "idiot" and make off with his pile of cash.

In other words, the switch is beautiful because it only works on people who kind of deserve it anyway.
posted by illovich at 12:19 PM on August 8, 2006

This was a fun read as well. As I recall, Harry tells you why, even if somehow you win three-card-monte, you still lose...
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 1:07 PM on August 8, 2006

I got fascinated by the shell game when I lived in New York. Not playing, watching them run the scam, and figuring out who was whom. The smallest crew I ever identified was just two people, but I'm not sure. The largest was about eight. They didn't like me hanging around watching them, though, and I got threatened a couple times until I found a new lunchtime hobby.

The CTA crews, usually a highly mobile three-person team -- those guys I talked back to. Black people do it all the time, but white people almost never do. In either case they tend to move on to the next car much more quickly. For some reason I never considered this quite as dangerous, although I had an enforcer guy almost as big as me sit down across from me once and try to out yell me.

They loved the kids from Northwestern. You'd think they'd listen to a white guy telling them not to throw their money away, but strangely, some of them didn't. The lure of the con is so great, you can have someone telling you not to do it and still do it.
posted by dhartung at 10:20 PM on August 8, 2006

The main thing I know about cons is this: The people who think they're least vulnerable are generally among the most vulnerable.
posted by lodurr at 4:52 AM on August 9, 2006

Great post. I'm disapointed it didn't win for the day or make runner up. Thanks a lot blahblahblah!
posted by ODiV at 1:26 PM on August 9, 2006

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