The Fitful Flog

November 24, 2005

The Three Card Monte

Greetings, Metafiltrationists — what’s up with that $5.00 cover charge? This post is from a while back and better instructions can be found on this post.

Greetings, Boing-Boingers. The files are linked farther down the page. There is a how-to and you can find it here. Make sure you turn the page scaling off when you’re printing the crease pattern or the card model.

And hey, feel free to visit the rest of the site, The Fitful Flog. It’s a blog, y’know?

Today is Thanksgiving in America and we celebrate by posting an American letter paper fold – that’s 216mm x 279.4mm to those of you suffering under the conceptual hegemony of the Vichy metric system. One ten millionth of the way to the North Pole, indeed. Such nonsense.

Anyhow, I was standing behind one of our students in the dining hall as she was trying to extract her school ID from a very tiny plastic envelope. She had maybe ten cards in that thing, and she was tugging one out after another to see if it was the right one. I thought, geez, an accordian wallet might be the thing for that.

But kind of bulky, no? So, I thought about how thick my wallet gets with all the cards I have to carry in this fallen age. Torques the spine, just sitting on it. Cards for this store and that account and membership in the other, oh, it’s like George Costanza’s wallet, one scrap away from utter explosion.

Then I thought, well, I really don’t need most of these cards. Mostly, I just need the data on them. So, I entered my ATT phone card numbers into my BlackBerry and that was one card gone. I kept going in this manner and emptied out most of the pockets in my wallet. At the end, I decided I needed just three cards on most days: my license, my school ID and my debit card. I took them out and played with them a while. I noticed that if you lined up the corners, they almost make a hexagon.

With some more investigation, I found that all my cards were two and one-eighth inches wide, or exactly one quarter of the width of American letter paper. Well, that was challenge enough for me. I folded up a three card wallet that twists flat into a hexagon – ever notice that the bottom of the shirt pocket on most men’s shirts describes an angle of just about 120°? Oh, yeah, you can dig it. And when you open it, you can see each card.

The first one I made, I used Tyvek from a large mailing envelope. This worked very well: quite rugged and had an unryu thing going on. But then I thought, if I could somehow get barcodes on the back of the thing, I could eliminate two other cards, the cards I use to get deals at the supermarket and drugstore. You trade your buying habits for discounts, these days. Real quid pro quo stuff. You can see my thinly veiled attempts at steganography here. It works, but I think it annoys the counter help. Sometimes, they look as if they think I’m hacking their system.

So, here are a couple PDFs. One is the CP, the other, the fancier card model – minus my barcodes, of course, but weighing in at a hefty 1.57 MB. I’d right click and Save As, if I were you. Some may say that my use of playing cards images here is pushing the boundaries of fair use. I think I’m within the limits, but if you own the design and feel differently, please let me know.

Three card monte, by the bye, is a street hustle. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, you can get the allusion here.

Creative Commons license on these, natürlich. There is no A4 version of this fold, but you folks out there in the A4 lands are encouraged to come up with one.

30 Responses to “The Three Card Monte”

  1. 1
    Wordsmith Says:

    I collapsed the CP, using your printout on stiff photograph paper. My question is, should I use any glue? Or are the tabs supposed to keep the model locked together?

    I laughed over your barcode idea. It drives me nuts that I have to sign up for those savings cards, just to get what should be the normal pricing.

    Great stuff everywhere on your blog. Thanks for sharing your work.

  2. 2
    oschene Says:

    Try looking at the other file, the one called TCM_CP.pdf. That one has mountains (blue like the Jamaican Blue Mountains) and valleys (red like the Red River Valley) marked on it. You’ll see that the corners collapse in different ways. One tucks into the corner opposite and then folds over to lock. It doesn’t look secure, but it is, especially with accurate folding.

    I should have done a photo diagram of this. I may yet – I’m learning some new tricks with CorelDraw, my vector drawing program of choice.

    And hey, you’re welcome – it isn’t origami till you share it. (Now please go quote me someplace, we’re trying to spread the word.)

  3. 3
    Wordsmith Says:

    I think I did do it right. I had tucked the tabs in, in such a way as to make sense. The printout seemed just a tad too snug for the size of my cards, though. Unless I did do something wrong. I think I’ll post pictures up and give you a plug, as well as a mention on the Origami-L.

  4. 4
    Wordsmith Says:

    Oh, and since I just checked your profile, so I better not tell you that I am a Republican, lest you smite me with blunt objects and/or witty satire!

  5. 5
    oschene Says:

    A Republican, eh? Well, it is a fallen world – it probably can not be helped. I had a great-aunt, once, who could not waltz a step. Yet, she lived a long and apparently happy life. And at least you can fold paper. You must try to look on the bright side.

    The cards should fit snugly at first – the paper loosens up after a few hours of use. If the pockets are too tight, Acrobat may be scaling the page to fit – check the Page Handling section of your printer dialog and if it has an entry for Page Scaling, select None. The width of the pockets should be two and three-sixteenths inches, if you want to do a CRC check.

  6. 6
    Rebecca Jordan Says:

    Should I gush, or simply tell you how much I enjoyed this fold? I followed all the mountains and valleys and thought I would get into trouble twisting it all together, but after a bit of finagling, I got it. It is brilliant!

  7. 7
    Rebecca Says:

    I want to make this, from fabric if possible, but do not know much about origami (Sam Cooke didn’t sing that, but he could have). I do not expect you to explain how to fold the thing, but would greatly appreciate your steering me toward a source of info on the basics. Is there a book you would recommend? I have printed the file and caught the folds and valleys reference above, but after staring at it for some minutes, I think that I will need further guidance.

  8. 8
    oschene Says:


    That is a fascinating idea. Eric and I had talked of doing this in glove leather or eelskin, but fabric would be very cool. You would use some kind of sizing?

    The short answer on your question is that red lines fold away from you and the blue lines fold towards you. Not a good answer, though. Let me think on this and I’ll see if we can get some better directions for this one.

    And please send me a picture of the final product. We’ll post it proudly.

  9. 9
    Rebecca Says:

    Yes, well, at the moment I have only an interestingly creased sheet of paper. I am skilled at a number of different crafts, so I approached this project with optimism, but the paper is sort of smirking at me and refusing even to consider becoming a 3-dimensional object. I keep thinking I will make some fold and the whole thing will just spring surprisingly into shape. Possibly the folds should be made in some particular order… I intend to go to the library for origami books and/or find someone whose skills in origami go beyond folding a cup. I will let you know how I fare. Oh, and when someday I figure this out, I’ll probably use interfacing.

  10. 10
    The Fitful Flog ? The Return of the Three Card Monte Says:

    […] But only briefly. When I posted about the Three Card Monte back in November, the Flog had maybe three readers and they were all, I think, Americans. Now we have a lot more and only 37% of you have regular access to good old 8??11 inch American letter paper. (For the rest of you out there in A4 lands, welcome aboard and it?s not too late to reject the faux scientism of the vast Vichy Metric Conspiracy.Throw off your power-of-ten shackles! Freedom belongs to those who can count by twelves!) […]

  11. 11
    bryan Says:

    oschene, definitely cool – once you get the hang of folding it, it is very easy.

    I used a bit of tape to secure the corners, as they seem to want to pop open every time I opened the wallet; after that, it worked very nicely.

    My only beef is that each of the three pockets can only hold one card (even with putting bar codes of the more useless cards, I still have too many =(.

    Forget about putting cash in this puppy, also. What good is a wallet without cash? =)

  12. 12
    elijah Says:


    I found you through a BoingBoing link and really like the design, and printed out the TCM_CP file and printed it on standard paper. I have gotten it folded so it collapses into the hex, but if I secure it with what seems to be the correct tabs the 1st and 3rd pocket donw work properly. Any hits would be great.

  13. 13
    oschene Says:

    See above – I added a link for the how-to.

  14. 14
    Josh Says:

    I REALLY didnt get it… You could do an “how to” or something

  15. 15
    FEPY ? DIY wallet that looks like playing cards Says:

    […] Cory Doctorow: Here?s a design for a minimalist folded wallet that you can print and assemble yourself; it resembles three fanned-out cards when shut, and opens into a two-pouch wallet just the right size for a couple credit-cards and some cash. The creator (who has released this under a CC license) suggests scanning the bar-codes for your supermarket and gas-station cards and adding them to the design?s back before printing it, so that you can eliminate those cards and ask the cashier just to scan your wallet, which is dead clever. Link (Thanks, Philip!) […]

  16. 16
    Make Your Own Wallet Out of Anything ~ Lockergnome?s Doing It Says:

    […] DIY wallets are a popular form of individualism and creativity online. I only recently ran across the Three Card Monte wallet, but there are plenty of other neat wallet hacks to be found online. Seattle hacker Nate True added lights to a standard leather wallet to make it easier for muggers to find your cash in a dark alley. And Bre Pettis made a wallet out of tape based on plans designed in Google?s Sketchup. Got any other crafty wallet ideas? […]

  17. 17
    Bruce Landwaster Says:

    Do you have any links for some of those DYI wallets? The idea of printing out misc UPC?s, and other useful data I cant remember on a wallet is an interesting idea.

    It took me a while to get the last few fold. The directions should have used the patterned paper. It was looking at the picture of the card version that I was able to determine the last folds.

    I was unable to fit my drivers license, credit card, prox card, and the basics into this wallet.

  18. 18
    silhom Says:

    The metric system rules where I inhabit so after some math and measuring out just the vertical and horizontal folds, I plunged right in. Oh, I should mention that I didn’t print out the CP – which made fig. 1 kinda overwhelming. Anyway, at fig. 9, I noticed that the only diagonal folds needed in the project are just 2 valley folds ‘across’ the paper. So, for all those still having trouble with the creases, just ignore the diagonals at the beginning.

  19. 19
    oschene Says:

    Hey Bruce,

    If the cards aren’t fitting, I would check to make sure you’re using 8? ? 11 paper – A4 is not going to work – and that you have made sure Adobe Reader isn’t scaling the pages in the print dialog – there should be a pull-down menu for this. If it works, the width of the pockets should be two and three-sixteenths inches.

    As to getting the bar codes on, you might try scanning them off of your cards and printing them on address stickers. (I embedded mine in the file, but that won’t be too easy for most readers. Though it’s CC, you’re welcome to try.)

  20. 20
    X-Tra Rant ? Non-Political Link Dump Says:

    […] If I didn?t stuff so much crap in my wallet that it gives me back problems, I?d make one of these. […]

  21. 21
    phony holmes ? The Three Card Monte Origami Says:

    […] The Fitful Flog ? The Three Card Monte How-To Template with fold lines Card model […]

  22. 22
    Matt Says:

    I’ve succesfully folded the wallet using A4; you just have to make sure to not let Acrobat scale the diagram to fit the page, and it works beautifully!

  23. 23
    admin Says:

    Well, there you go – and all the way from New Zealand, that part of the globe we Americans like to call the World of Tomorrow.

    That international dateline thing.

  24. 24
    Bruce Landwaster Says:

    Reprinting with scaling did the trick. Still a tight fit, but it fits my prox card, license, and credit card. I?ll transpose the important data from various card (triple A, etc?) into the area where the Creative Commons anti-license sits and see how well it works out. It is meant to be minimalist, so I will try not to expect much.

  25. 25
    oschene Says:

    Without scaling, right?

    The fit should be snug, but not too tight.

  26. 26
    Origami? at Says:

    […] I ran across these nifty directions detailing the construction of an origami debit card holder. Kinda fun and simple way to spend a few minutes. Check it out! [via] […]

  27. 27 ? DIY wallet that looks like playing cards Says:

    […] Link […]

  28. 28
    dealnews blog ? Blog Archive ? Geek Couture: The Wallet Says:

    […] If you?re a DIY wallet master – the envy of your friends and colleagues, I?m sure – here?s another type of wallet that?ll get you even more IT-room cred: The Three Card Monte. It?s like wallet origami. For advanced wallet-makers only. […]

  29. 29 ? Archive du blog ? Les portefeuilles, un v?ritable hobby. Says:

    […] Le prochain porte-feuille que je me ferai sera ce mod?le en cartes ? jouer. De fabrication tr?s intelligente, il semble pratique pour sortir sans avoir ? trainer le gros kit de cartes d?affaires d?anciens amis du secondaires qu?on a crois? la semaine pass?e sur St-Laurent mais que dans le fond on commence ? s?en fouttre d?eux-autres. […]

  30. 30
    riccardo ribel Says:

    GREAT, very very great !!! … and nice.
    I use folded banknote (as the 3 card monte wallet) into this wallet.
    I love to make the gag to pay the restaurant or gasoline for my car, sorting out my jacket pocket the folded and crossed playing cards. After this by play I pull the opposite angle and “snap” the wallet is open, ready for sorting my real money.
    Sorry, I love to make magic trick, and this is one good “out” for introducing me as magician. In my table hopping close-up magic this is one valid opener right for introduce my prefered 3 card monte routine…
    The possibility for playng with this gadget is infinite and for any magic entertainment into magicians hands.
    Only two parole: THANK YOU !

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