Name: Fast and Loose

Aka: Pricking The Garter, The Strap, One The Barrelhead, The Belt, That Old Army Game

Crew: One with a possibility of additional con artists to act as shills, protection and look outs. However, unlike Three Card Monte, these extra people are not essential.

Victims: Sailors were the most common victims of this scam originally. (The name "On The Barrelhead" makes reference to the game being played on barrels down on the docks). However, like most street gambling scams, tourists and gamblers are also targets.

The Scam: A long loop of rope or chain is twisted into a hour glass shape and laid out flat on the table. The victim must choose which of the two holes in the pattern they will put their finger in, placing it firmly on the table. The chain is then pulled away. If the victim's finger is inside of the loop, it will hold fast around their finger, much like a child's cats cradle game and they win. If it comes loose, they lose.

Due a tricky sleight of hand method used by magicians for many years, no matter what the victim does, they never seem to choose the correct loop.

The key to this scam is for the con artist to convince the spectator that they might win. These convincers or 'come ons' include: -

  • Letting another spectator, a confederate, win the game.
  • Letting the victim have a few practices, where they win.
  • Pulling the pattern apart slowly to show them how the game works.
  • Letting them change their mind.
  • Letting them put a finger on both sides, then pull out one finger at the last moment.

Variations: The game is also played with a long belt folded into half and rolled into spiral. The victim picks one of the two central loops and the outside of the belt is pulled tight either holding their finger tight or letting it go.

This scam has been turned into several magical routine called "Chain Gang" "Loopy Loop" and "Endless Chain". Usually the theme relates to the street scam but it has also been used to convince people that the magician can predict the future.

Take: $5-$50 per throw.


There is a fairly thorough set of references for Fast and Loose in the Scoundrels Bibliography.

Created by Nicholas J. Johnson
Australia's Honest Con Man