A fool and his money were lucky
to get together in the first place.
The books talk about how to play tricks on people and how not to get tricked. The first part talks about how to play tricks. He starts out describing a trick on how to drink a shot of whisky that's placed under a hat without touching the hat. It's a trick that he played on the show Cheers to Cliff Clavin. The second part talks about how not to get tricked by casinos and carnivals.
|photo by John Tenney
The Dollar Bill $windle
"Say Turk, I got another little bet I been workin' on, but I ain't too sure about the odds. Wanna give it a try in the name of scientific research?"
Turk inquires about the cost of said experiment and I respond: "Oh, a trifling wager--say...twenty bucks?" His coughing fit prompts me to adjust the opening line. "Okay. That's too high for an afternoon bet. We'll make it a dollar."
At a buck, he's at least willing to hear what the game is. "It's simple. I take out a one-dollar bill. Like all U.S. currency, this one's got eight digits in the serial number, letters excluded. You try to guess three numbers without missing. Miss one and you lose. But guess just three correctly and you win even money!"
Turk's eyes glaze over as he calculates the variables. There are ten possible digits (0 through 9) and eight digits on the bill. He only has to guess three. It sounds like a breeze! Eagerly accepting the wager, he calls out his guesses: three, seven, and eight.
"Darn! You're right!" I say. "They'll all here. You win yourself a buck, Turk. I must've miscalculated the odds." Taking out another one-dollar bill, I offer to try it again.
Turk selects zero, one, and five and I wad up the bill and toss it in his direction.
"You win again," I say. "I guess the bet should've been four digits. Ah well, let's try one more. Shoot! I don't have another one-dollar bill. All I got is that twenty I was gonna bet the first time, but you didn't want...What's that? You want to go to the twenty now? Same bet? Well, I guess so. Call 'em out!"
He ventures. "Six."
"Nope. No six. You lose. Tough break. What the hey. I shouldn't, but I'll give you a second try, double or nothing on the twenty. Seven? Uh...no. No seven and no six." The guy is wired in now and he keeps betting and he keeps guessing and he keeps losing. "Sorry, Turk. There isn't a six, seven, four, three, or a two."
Turk doesn't think this is possible and insists on seeing the bill before paying up. I consider this an insult to my integrity, but display it anyway. What a lucky fluke for me that the serial number on my twenty is: 15511515.
It seems that in all the excitement he neglects to consider the possibility of repeat digits. He protests that with only two digits on the bill he couldn't possibly guess three. This is an excellent observation Turk has made. On his advice, I may even keep this bill in my wallet in case the bet comes up again sometime. This compliment cheers him up a bit, even as he pays me the hundred bucks.
|photos by John Tenney
Those Three Little Milk Bottles
A few years back, I was in this little town about twenty miles west of San Diego and this burg was s-l-o-w, slow. So I decided to check out the visiting entertainment, the Mole Brothers Carnival, which was set up in a little field on the edge of town.
I'm standing around, just minding other people's business, when an attractive shape happens by and I just cannot turn my gaze away. Now, I am always one to need glasses for matters such as settling wagers on the number of hairs on a hirsute mole, but I am blind and stupid too if I do not fall for this doll. However, hanging on to her arm is a big clown sporting a well-worn letter jacket and I take it by the patches on the sleeve that he is some kind of baseball star.
My suspicion is confirmed when the pair stops at a milk bottle booth--one of those joints where, for fifty cents, you get to throw three baseballs at three phony milk bottles. Knock 'em all down and you win a fairly fine prize, in this case a big cuddly teddy bear that the light of my life has set her heart on.
In no time, the local sports fans have gathered to cheer their hero as his state championship arm hurls about five bucks' worth of baseballs at those bottles. Sometimes he tips over one, sometimes he knocks down two, but he never busts out all three. About the fiftieth throw, he makes an awful noise and grabs his arm in pain.
"Oh, joy!" I think. "Failure is his!"
The pitchman jumps right in and starts trying to convince somebody else to try to win that teddy bear for the little lady, but the injured Bubba-Romeo is growling them off like a pawn-shop dog. More stunned beauty than scared by beast, I step up and toss a half buck at the operator. I never played any school ball but somehow I know I can't fail.
"This is for you," I say to the girl. She smiles--which helps me summon my strength to fire the first ball. Boom! go the bottles. The top one flies ten feet through the air. The other two don't do much as flutter. Her dark eyes shining, I rifle the second ball at the bottles. The right one pops up in the air and lands smack on the left bottle, which teeters--but doesn't fall. The crowd starts to cheer me on. I turn in the direction of a squeeze on my arm. It's her!
Nothing can stop me now. I grip the third ball and bite my lip. The ball makes a whoooosh as it tears through the air, smashing dead center into the last bottle, which tips back to about a forty-five-degree angle, hangs there for an eternity, then stands back up straight. I can't believe my eyes. I stand there frozen in surprise for a moment and when I turn, the light of my life is already walking away with the letter jacket. She gives me a little look over her shoulder that seems to say "Too bad, it might have been."
My sleep that night is pretty poor and it isn't helped any when, about five in the morning, I am tossed out of my flea circus/mattress by an awful shaking. It's not the fleas doing the rumba, but one of those terrifying California earthquakes--knocking cheap velvet pictures off the wall, water pitchers off the nightstands, and every can of groceries in town off the shelves and onto the floor.
Well, I ain't gonna hang around trying to make money from people who really are down and out so the daylight finds me pointed toward greener pastures. Heading out, I pass the Mole Bros. Carny and if town is bad, this is worse. The ten-in-one tent is lying flatter than a pancake. Strings of electric light are strewn across the ground. The Ferris wheel is on its side and most of the trailers are piled on top of each other at the bottom of a hole in the ground that wasn't there the day before. All the roustabouts are trying to get an old elephant up off his side and back on his feet.
And in the whole place the only thing left standing are those three milk bottles.
|Turk Pipkin, left, and Harry Anderson. Photo by John Tenney.
"Choose your co-author carefully."