Battle Of Wits

A Play of Logic in the film, ThePrincessBride

Background: VIZZINI, played by Wallace Shawn, has kidnapped the Princess BUTTERCUP, and The MAN IN BLACK (ManInBlack), aka the DreadPirateRoberts, aka Westley, played by CaryElwes, is attempting to rescue her.

VIZZINI: So, it is down to you. And it is down to me.

The MAN IN BLACK nods and comes nearer.

VIZZINI: If you wish her dead, by all means keep moving forward.

VIZZINI pushes his long knife harder against BUTTERCUP's unprotected throat.

MAN IN BLACK: Let me explain...

VIZZINI: There's nothing to explain. You're trying to kidnap what I've rightfully stolen.

MAN IN BLACK: Perhaps an arrangement can be reached.

VIZZINI: There will be no arrangement [pauses, deliberately] and you're killing her!

VIZZINI jabs with his long knife. BUTTERCUP gasps against the pain. The MAN IN BLACK stops quickly.

MAN IN BLACK: But if there can be no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.

VIZZINI: I'm afraid so -- I can't compete with you physically. And you're no match for my brains.

MAN IN BLACK: You're that smart?

VIZZINI: Let me put it this way: have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?


VIZZINI: Morons.

MAN IN BLACK: Really? In that case, I challenge you to a battle of wits.

VIZZINI: For the Princess?

The MAN IN BLACK nods.

VIZZINI: To the death?

The MAN IN BLACK nods.

VIZZINI: I accept.

MAN IN BLACK: Good. Then pour the wine.

VIZZINI fills the goblets with wine. The MAN IN BLACK pulls a small packet from his clothing and hands it to VIZZINI.

MAN IN BLACK: Inhale this, but do not touch.

VIZZINI: I smell nothing.

MAN IN BLACK: [Takes the packet back] What you do not smell is called Iocaine powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadlier poisons known to man.


VIZZINI watches as the MAN IN BLACK takes the goblets, turns his back. A moment later, he turns again, faces VIZZINI, drops the Iocaine packet. It is now empty. The MAN IN BLACK rotates the goblets in a little shell game maneuver then puts one glass in front of VIZZINI and the other in front of himself.

MAN IN BLACK: All right: where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right and who is dead.

VIZZINI: But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet, or his enemy's? [pauses to study the MAN IN BLACK] Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I'm not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool; you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

MAN IN BLACK: You've made your decision then?

VIZZINI: Not remotely. Because iocaine comes from Australia, as everyone knows. And Australia is entirely peopled with criminals. And criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.

MAN IN BLACK: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

VIZZINI: Wait till I get going! Where was I?

MAN IN BLACK: Australia.

VIZZINI: Yes -- Australia, and you must have suspected I would have known the powder's origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

MAN IN BLACK: [beginning nervousness] You're just stalling now.

VIZZINI: You'd like to think that, wouldn't you? You've beaten my giant, which means you're exceptionally strong. So, you could have put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you've also bested my Spaniard which means you must have studied. And in studying, you must have learned that man is mortal so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

MAN IN BLACK: [nervously] You're trying to trick me into giving away something -- it won't work --

VIZZINI: [triumphant] It has worked -- you've given everything away -- I know where the poison is.

MAN IN BLACK: [fool's courage] Then make your choice.

VIZZINI: I will. And I choose [stops suddenly and points at something behind the Man in Black] what in the world can that be?

MAN IN BLACK: [Turns, looks] What? Where? I don't see anything.

VIZZINI quickly switches the goblets while the MAN IN BLACK has his head turned.

VIZZINI: Oh, well, I-I could have sworn I saw something. No matter.

The MAN IN BLACK turns to face him again. VIZZINI starts to laugh.

MAN IN BLACK: What's so funny?

VIZZINI: I'll tell you in a minute. First, let's drink -- me from my glass, and you from yours.

And he picks up his goblet. The MAN IN BLACK picks up the one in front of him. As they both start to drink, VIZZINI hesitates a moment. Allowing the MAN IN BLACK to drink first, he swallows his wine.

MAN IN BLACK: You guessed wrong.

VIZZINI: [roaring with laughter] You only think I guessed wrong... [louder now] ...that's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned. Ha-ha, you fool.

The MAN IN BLACK sits silently.

VIZZINI: You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia." But only slightly less well known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!Ahahahaha, ahahahaha, ahahaha--

VIZZINI laughs and roars and cackles and whoops and is in all ways quite cheery until he falls over dead. The MAN IN BLACK steps past his corpse, taking the blindfold and bindings off BUTTERCUP, who notices VIZZINI lying dead. The MAN IN BLACK pulls her to her feet.

BUTTERCUP: Who are you?

MAN IN BLACK: I am no one to be trifled with, that is all you ever need know.

The MAN IN BLACK leads her off the mountain path into untraveled terrain.

BUTTERCUP: [Glances back toward the fallen VIZZINI] To think -- all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.

MAN IN BLACK: They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to Iocaine powder.

Related to the quote from Guys and Dolls
"One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you're going to wind up with an ear full of cider"

Ah, but it may be worth it to see how the trick is done.
See also
Completely as an aside, I always liked the episode of Bonanza when Pa did the card shark one up. The card shark laid out a Three Card Monte and asked Pa to pick the King out from the Queens. Pa jammed a large knife through the center card and deep into the table, then said, "It's this one, because.." He then flipped over the two remaining cards and said, "...both of these are Queens."

The card shark left in a hurry.

[I always figured I'd do it by placing the muzzle of my 1911 on the far right card and turning the other two over. Heh, heh, heh.]

This is in fact derived from a true story. As I remember it, the man laid his gun on the table, then announced that he was going to turn over the two that were not the one he was supposed to find. He proceeded to do so, then said "I guess I don't need to turn over the last card."

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