Fun book: The Modern Con Man -- How to Get Something for Nothing

The Modern Con Man I love books about pranks, scams, bar bets, and cons. Not because I want to cheat people, but because scams and cons are a fascinating way to look at human nature. Sucker bets reveal our natural tendencies to be gullible, greedy, sympathetic, friendly, and suspicious.

A few books in this genre that I especially like are The Big Con by David Maurer, Pranks by Re/Search, How to Play in Traffic by Penn & Teller, The Big Book of Stuntology by Sam Bartlett, and Tricks with Your Head: Hilarious Magic Tricks and Stunts to Disgust and Delight by Mac King and Mark Levy.

The Modern Con Man -- How to Get Something for Nothing, is another book in the same genre. Written by "America's last sideshow entertainer," Todd Robbins, this book is filled with cheap sucker bets that, if used will win you either free drinks or a punch in the nose.

You'll learn how to:

• Almost always win at the game of Nim (where you dump 20 matchsticks on the bar, and take turns with another player by removing one, two, or three matches from the pile in the hopes of leaving the other player with the last match, making you the winner)

• Tie a knot into a necktie by holding each end of the tie in one hand and not letting go.

• Hold a lit match upside down for 20 seconds without getting burned,.

• Beat a sucker with lots of seemingly can't-lose card and coin tricks.

My 10-year-old daughter loved all the tricks I showed her. Most of these short cons are delightful for both the prankster and the mark, unless they involve large wagers. Perform them at your own risk. Link


  1. I’m a big fan of “Catch me if you Can.” It is very interesting to see how this guy pulled off some amazing cons. It’s also a movie, loosely based on the true story. I liked both.

  2. Is there any reason the default link for books is to Amazon, rather than Powell’s, say, or another store? Is there a sponsorship driving that?

  3. @Forgeweld: They are affiliate links. Look at the end of the URL.

    Does the “holding a burning match upside down” one involve holding the match right-side up while you yourself are upside down?

    My favorite is the old bar con, “I bet you a dollar I can drink that glass of whiskey without touching the glass.”

  4. Todd is a great man and a good friend of mine – though I may have to have a friendly word with him about that ‘last sideshow entertainer’ ad claim :) Anything he does is always very entertaining and well worth the cost of admission.

    Another great book that should have been in your list is How to Cheat at Everything by Simon Lovell

    @4 Don’t think too hard that is how people tend to get taken, perfectly easy to do it with an ordinary short match

  5. it’s all in the patter. Give people some entertainment and they won’t mind you taking their money. Usually.

  6. I’ve always been more a fan of the long con genre – anyone know of a similar book about that side of the con?

    Incidently, for those who haven’t seen it the BBC show “Hustle” which played on AMC in the US is actually pretty good. A mix of short and long cons with some fun twists. Well, the first season anyway, and only up to the point where they get all moralistic. But it’s worth watching if you like the con genre.

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