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It's not always easy to get people to do what you want them to do. Some people have their own reasons for not completing a task -- too dangerous, too counterproductive, too stupid, or maybe they just plain don't like you.
One way to resolve a deadlock in a situation like this is to "draw straws" - grab a fistful of them in your hand and hold them to make it appear as if they're all the same length (they can be bits of straw from a broom, pipe cleaners, actual drinking straws, or something else short and cylindrical), passing it around for everyone to pick. The loser is the one who picks out the shortest straw. Complaints and hilarity will usually ensue.
Common subversions of this trope may include making all of the straws the same length and then declaring everyone the "loser", or one character cheating to avoid drawing the short one (even more bonus points if the character deliberately picks the short straw).
A common parody of this trope is to have people literally draw straws, and then judge the pictures by some criteria.
- This is done in Clue with matchsticks.
- In The Lady Killers it's done with matchsticks, to determine which of the gang will get rid of Mrs. Wilberforce.
- In Cinderella, the mice use their own tails as straws to choose who gets to act as a decoy for Lucifer while the others get breakfast.
- The Core actually uses straws — and the guy who wants to volunteer cheats to make sure he has the short one.
- Inverted in Armageddon as the crew ends up drawing straws because they all want to be the one left behind to detonate the bomb by hand. AJ ends up with the short straw but Harry pulls out one of AJ's breathing tube preventing him from being able to go so Harry can make the sacrifice instead, because he thinks it's more important that his daughter gets to keep her fiancee than her father.
- Wolf and Hans do this to decide who will stay on the moon in Woman in the Moon, effectively dooming that person to death by dehydration. Hans draws the short straw, but Wolf makes a Heroic Sacrifice by secretly staying behind and letting Hans go on the rocket instead. Wolf then discovers that Friede stayed behind too so they could die together.
- In Duck Soup, Chicolini decides who will join the battle with a variant of "Eeny meeny miny moe":
"Rrrrrrrinspot! One-sa, two-sa, zig-zag-zav, poptie, gimmega, tin-lie, tav, harem, scarem, moychan, tarem, tare, tore...[points to himself] I did it wrong"
- Eventually he just points to Harpo's character and says "You go."
- In Leaving Normal, Darly tears various lengths off cigarettes and makes Marienne choose one to determine which way they drive.
- In Shallow Grave Alex, Juliet and David do this to decide which one of them will be responsible for burying Hugo's body.
- In Edgar Allan Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the main characters are stranded on a becalmed ship in the middle of the ocean, and they draw straws to decide who will be eaten.
- This is how Oliver in Oliver Twist (and the film adaptations) gets chosen as the one to ask for "more". Although in his case, he gets the lone long straw.
- Used routinely in Animorphs. To be fair, it's probably justified in that they are doing most everything on the fly, and have to make decisions quickly if no one volunteers.
- Near the beginning of Shogun, the local daimyo orders the Dutch sailors to choose one of their number to be executed, and they use this method.
- In Stephen King's IT, the kids decide to go on a Vision Quest by filling their underground clubhouse with smoke, but they the potential danger in this, so decide that one person should stay outside. Beverly lights a match, puts it out, then pulls out six unused matches, and each kid draws one in turn, with the agreement that whoever drew the burnt match would stay outside. However, despite the fact that they all saw Beverly burn the match, all seven of them end up with an unused match. They decide this means it that they are all fated to be part of the quest and should have faith that it will work out.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Mash the Doctors draw straws to see what Doctor and what Nurse would go on a mission at the Front. Except...they were out of straws so they drew link sausages Radar saved from lunch out of a bedpan.
- In Big Bad Beetleborgs, monsters do this at some point, only with bones. Fangule draws the shortest one, but pulls the longest one from his sleeve. Little Ghoul later calls him on it:
Fangula: We're counting on you!
Little Ghoul: Especially you, mister "I have one more bone up my sleeve", right?
- Done in one episode of Gilligans Island to decide who has to stay outside the cave in a hurricane. Gilligan subverts the usual by breaking the straw so he will stay outside instead of endangering anyone else. At the end, however, everyone joins him outside before the cave is struck by lightning and the entrance collapses.
- In the Monty Python and The Holy Grail sketch "Ypres 1914" the soldiers draw straws to find out which one will "take the other way out." The Major gets the short straw, so he decides to do Eeny Meeny Miney Moe instead. He still gets picked, so he decides on Rock-Paper-Scissors, and he still loses.
- In Stargate SG-1, there is an episode where Jack has to pretend to be a double agent, and when Daniel comes to his house to talk to him, he is extremely aggressive and claims their entire friendship was a lie. At the end of the episode, everything is explained.
Jack: The entire place was bugged...I had to keep acting to keep them off my trail. But it really means a lot to me that you came. I really appreciate--
Daniel: Jack, Jack--we drew straws. To see who'd go over to your house. I lost.
- Stargate Atlantis: When the expedition accidentally starts destroying an alternate universe while attempting to unlock a power source, an Rodney McKay comes through to tell them to stop, having been chosen to do so because he drew the short straw. In a subversion, this is considered "Winning" by Alternate McKay, since he saw it as a chance to save an entire universe.
- The groomsmen in Harpers Island use this method to chose who buries the bag of money, alone at night in the middle of unfamiliar woods. It goes to poor Booth of course and he ends up shooting himself in fright when a friend turns up to help and bleeding to death. It's an Idiot Subplot.
- Married... with Children: Straws are drawn to determine who swims for help after Al/Peggy's cruise ship sinks.
- The Monkees once played with this trope. Upon the announcement "Draw straws!", each one grabs a paper and pen and begins to draw a straw.
Manga and Anime
- Haruhi Suzumiya does this to decide how the alien/esper/time traveler-hunting groups would be divided up.
- Anne on Sailor Moon has the girls draw for parts in Snow White. The ends are supposed to be color-coded by role (red for the evil queen, black for a dwarf, white for Snow White), but she cheats by marking one straw red and all the others black. When it's her turn to draw, she tears the tip off of her straw, turning it white. Lucky for her that the others didn't end up with an extra dwarf and no queen, or else they would have figured out her plot a lot sooner.
- In Sora no Woto, it's a tradition that one of the girls of the garrison plays the part of the Maiden of Fire in Seize's Water Splashing Festival. She's chosen drawing straws although the officer cheats to have one particular girl to do it.
Mythology and Religion
- In Greek Mythology, Zeus knew that since Hades was the eldest brother, he would get his pick over which kingdom to rule. Zeus instead persuaded both his brothers to draw straws for their kingdoms, ending with Hades drawing the short straw and getting rule over the land of the dead. Poseidon, of course, got the kingdom of the sea, and Zeus became the king of gods with command over the heavens.
- This is only in some (often more modern) versions. Hades' realm is not merely the land of the dead, but everything underground, gaining the wealthiest part of the inheritance.
- In one Dilbert strip, Dilbert and his co-workers are drawing straws to decide who has to murder an annoying co-worker. Dilbert gets a long straw, but is told they weren't drawing for short, they were drawing for the differently colored straw (which he, of course, had.)
- Samurai Swords (orignally named Shogun) used this as a game mechanic. At the start of each turn, the players drew plastic katanas and the order of play is based on the pips on the individual swords.
- In a Biter Comics strip, a group of young friends draw straws to decide who to eat when they get caught out in the snow with no food, although we soon find out the direness of the situation may have been exaggerated.
- Happens in The Stormrunners when the Martians and their human guests are under attack. Short straw gets to be first line of defense. The humans are excluded because they're "tourists".
- On The Simpsons, Moe choses the designated driver of the night by having the others pick pickled eggs from a jar and seeing who gets the black one, "the same way the Vatican picks the new Pope".
- Subverted on a Season 2 episode of South Park when the adult authority figures get trapped in a snowstorm while re-enacting when Dr. Mephesto got shot before revealing who Cartman's father was. They drew straws over who would be eaten first. However, everybody got the long straw.
- Inverted in an episode of Cow and Chicken when Chicken's group of friends decide to draw straws to see who would go into the girls' bathroom. They literally draw on paper, and determine the loser by who drew the best. It was Chicken.
- In an episode of Scooby Doo, Where Are You!, Fred had Shaggy and Scooby draw broom straws to determine which of the three would stand guard that night. Scooby drew the longest straw.
- Played with in Chowder, where the cast literally draw straws.