Laying the Note

A lightning-fast short con called “laying the note” (and sometimes “the switch”) involves swapping paper money before the mark realizes what has happened. A perfect example was expertly enacted by actors Ryan O’;Neal and Dorothy Price in director Peter Bogdanovich’;s 1973 film, Paper Moon, adapted by screenwriter Alvin Sargent from the book Addie Pray by Joe David Brown.

In the scene, O’;Neal buys two hair ribbons for his daughter in a general store. They cost 15¢, and he pays with a $5 bill. Now pay attention.

  • Engaging the clerk (Price) in conversation, O’;Neal accepts the $4.85 change. He pockets the 85¢ but keeps the four $1 bills visible.

  • He then adds another $1 from his pocket to the four $1 bills to make a total of five $1 bills. He asks the clerk to exchange his five $1 bills for a $5 bill from her register.

  • The clerk hands him the $5. She keeps the five $1s, all while O’;Neal continues his distracting banter.

  • Next, O’;Neal hands the $5 back to the clerk, gripes about having too much paper money, and asks her to add his $5 to the five $1s and give him a $10 bill. She does.

  • The O’;Neals are out the door, in their car, and down the street before the clerk even begins to suspect that something strange just happened. What has happened is that he has just made $4.85 and two hair ribbons.

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  3. There’;s One Born Every Minute (America’;s Best Cons and Con Artists)
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