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Old 09-05-2011, 01:35 AM
Jragon Jragon is offline
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Is there a term for this death bet among friends?

It's bugging me and the question is vague enough Google laughs at me. I recall some sort of "pool" or "game" that gets mentioned in popular media on the odd occasion about a bunch of (usually wealthy) people (usually "gentlemen") essentially pooling a bunch of money, and then the last one alive gets to collect it. Sometimes the plot involves betrayal, murder, etc, and sometimes it's just sort of a wistful bit of backstory. I've heard it's a real life practice too.

The thing is, I swear there's a name for this practice, but it escapes me. Does anyone know?

Last edited by Jragon; 09-05-2011 at 01:36 AM.
  #2  
Old 09-05-2011, 01:38 AM
Dewey Finn Dewey Finn is offline
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Tontine.
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Old 09-05-2011, 02:01 AM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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Originally Posted by Dewey Finn View Post
I know this from reading the preview text and you still beat me to it.

Anyway, Simpsons did it.
  #4  
Old 09-05-2011, 03:02 AM
ENugent ENugent is offline
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You guys got there first, but I have a more authoritative link.
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Old 09-05-2011, 10:19 AM
Paul in Qatar Paul in Qatar is offline
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More commonly, a tontine was a form of retirement insurance. At a time when a long life was as much feared as an early death, such insurance made sense. We all pool our money and each member get a portion of the interest on the capital. As we die off, fewer of us share the interest. At last one is left, he takes the whole pot.

The most famous tontine was imposed by the French revolutionary government. The difference was that at the end the last guy only got a lot of interest, not the principle. That is to say the government borrowed the money, paid the interest but not the capital. Pretty darn sneaky.
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Old 09-05-2011, 11:03 AM
Anamorphic Anamorphic is offline
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Anyway, Simpsons did it.
Actually, I knew the answer from a Barney Miller episode.
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Old 09-05-2011, 11:24 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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The mystery writer Ellery Queen loved tontines and probably wrote a dozen stories about them starting in the 1930s. Most of them required him to deduce which of two people who seemed to die at the same time was truly last.
  #8  
Old 09-05-2011, 11:29 AM
Dewey Finn Dewey Finn is offline
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Originally Posted by Paul in Qatar View Post
More commonly, a tontine was a form of retirement insurance. At a time when a long life was as much feared as an early death, such insurance made sense. We all pool our money and each member get a portion of the interest on the capital. As we die off, fewer of us share the interest. At last one is left, he takes the whole pot.
I didn't realize that the tontine paid out interest. Based on what I learned from The Simpsons (and everything I know, I learned from The Simpsons), I thought it was winner-take-all. That doesn't benefit any of the members who died earlier.
  #9  
Old 09-05-2011, 11:35 AM
Malacandra Malacandra is offline
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Originally Posted by Paul in Qatar View Post
More commonly, a tontine was a form of retirement insurance. At a time when a long life was as much feared as an early death, such insurance made sense. We all pool our money and each member get a portion of the interest on the capital. As we die off, fewer of us share the interest. At last one is left, he takes the whole pot.

The most famous tontine was imposed by the French revolutionary government. The difference was that at the end the last guy only got a lot of interest, not the principle. That is to say the government borrowed the money, paid the interest but not the capital. Pretty darn sneaky.
Unprincipled, at least.
  #10  
Old 09-05-2011, 11:36 AM
Critical Mass Critical Mass is offline
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I think this could add an interesting twist to the SDMB Death Pool.

Perhaps it can be integrated into next year's rules.
  #11  
Old 09-05-2011, 11:55 AM
Paul in Qatar Paul in Qatar is offline
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Originally Posted by Dewey Finn View Post
I didn't realize that the tontine paid out interest. Based on what I learned from The Simpsons (and everything I know, I learned from The Simpsons), I thought it was winner-take-all. That doesn't benefit any of the members who died earlier.
That is why a tontine is such a huge amount of money. Each family of course names its youngest, healthiest son or daughter as the tontine shareholder in the hope he will live a long, long time. Some tontines (like in the movies) retain all interest for close to a century before one marvelous payout.

Tontines administered by insurance companies (ISTR Garfield had one) paid out the interest annually in a bunch of little payments that grew each year. Sort of like a pension.

If the final winner gets the principle AND the annual payments, he is a double winner.
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Old 09-05-2011, 11:57 AM
Hogfather65 Hogfather65 is offline
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Tontine - saw it on the Simpsons - Monty Burns and Abe Simpson where part of it I think
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Old 09-05-2011, 12:43 PM
Scarlett67 Scarlett67 is offline
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MASH had an episode about a tontine in which the prize was a bottle of booze (brandy, I believe; too lazy to look it up).
  #14  
Old 09-05-2011, 01:25 PM
aesop aesop is offline
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[crotchety old man voice]

The Simpsons! MASH! Hah! In my day we learned about tontines on the Wild Wild West!

[/crotchety old man voice]
  #15  
Old 09-05-2011, 02:29 PM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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I've always heard of them in the context of a unit of veterans from some war or another, with the prize being more symbolic than actually valuable (a bottle of some really good potent potable, say). I saw a short story once where a con-man manages to convince a mark that the members of a particular tontine have become immortal due to some sort of diabolical interference, and gets him to pay an exorbitant amount of money to join it through some loophole.
  #16  
Old 09-05-2011, 04:56 PM
leahcim leahcim is offline
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I saw a short story once where a con-man manages to convince a mark that the members of a particular tontine have become immortal due to some sort of diabolical interference, and gets him to pay an exorbitant amount of money to join it through some loophole.
Why would the mark want to join a tontine with immortal members? Wouldn't that be a guaranteed loss for him? Or is the deal that the mark would gain immortality by joining to tontine?
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Old 09-05-2011, 04:59 PM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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Or is the deal that the mark would gain immortality by joining to tontine?
I gather that that was the presumption.
  #18  
Old 09-05-2011, 05:12 PM
Scarlett67 Scarlett67 is offline
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
I've always heard of them in the context of a unit of veterans from some war or another, with the prize being more symbolic than actually valuable (a bottle of some really good potent potable, say). I saw a short story once where a con-man manages to convince a mark that the members of a particular tontine have become immortal due to some sort of diabolical interference, and gets him to pay an exorbitant amount of money to join it through some loophole.
I believe I just read this story not too long ago, and it's driving me nuts trying to remember where! Part of the con had to do with the con guy buying lunch for a bunch of geezers from the local old folks' (or veterans') home, and passing them off to his mark (from a distance) as being much older than they were. I think he told the mark that one of them had fought in the Spanish-American War.

I've recently been reading from a couple of short story collections, but I'm not finding this story in them.

Little help!
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Old 09-05-2011, 05:24 PM
Scarlett67 Scarlett67 is offline
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Never mind, I can sleep tonight now! It's "The Magnum," by Jack Ritchie. And it was in one of my anthologies, 100 Malicious Little Mysteries, published by Barnes & Noble Books.
  #20  
Old 09-05-2011, 05:49 PM
Damfino Damfino is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jragon View Post
It's bugging me and the question is vague enough Google laughs at me. I recall some sort of "pool" or "game" that gets mentioned in popular media on the odd occasion about a bunch of (usually wealthy) people (usually "gentlemen") essentially pooling a bunch of money, and then the last one alive gets to collect it. Sometimes the plot involves betrayal, murder, etc, and sometimes it's just sort of a wistful bit of backstory. I've heard it's a real life practice too.

The thing is, I swear there's a name for this practice, but it escapes me. Does anyone know?
A film treatment of this is The Wrong Box which has all the elements you describe and a great cast to boot.
  #21  
Old 09-05-2011, 06:58 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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The original novel of The Wrong Box (co-authored by Robert Lewis Stevenson) is even better than the movie. It's available on Project Gutenberg.. The first chapter gives a nice rundown on how the scheme works.
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  #22  
Old 09-06-2011, 12:03 AM
Roderick Femm Roderick Femm is offline
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I remember my mother, back in the 50's, reading a huge thick historical novel called The Tontine, so that's how I knew the term. It was written by Thomas B. Costain. I don't know if it is any good.


Roddy
  #23  
Old 09-06-2011, 01:25 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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P.G. Wodehouse has a very funny story revolving around a tontine. Can't remember which one but I'll scrounge around for it.
  #24  
Old 09-06-2011, 02:57 PM
Mixolydian Mixolydian is offline
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Archer #2.5 was about a tontine as well...
  #25  
Old 09-06-2011, 04:09 PM
Kimstu Kimstu is offline
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Leo Bloom, that Wodehouse novel is The Butler Did It.

And Malacandra, I saw what you did there.

Last edited by Kimstu; 09-06-2011 at 04:09 PM.
  #26  
Old 09-06-2011, 04:42 PM
aruvqan aruvqan is offline
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Originally Posted by Roderick Femm View Post
I remember my mother, back in the 50's, reading a huge thick historical novel called The Tontine, so that's how I knew the term. It was written by Thomas B. Costain. I don't know if it is any good.


Roddy
I read it, it is about like all of his stuff, written in the stodgy old style. You sort of have to grow up reading the style to enjoy it. I read a fair amount of the stuff I get from Project Gutenberg. Right now I am chewing my way through the works of Thomas Hanshew. It is sort of like reading Sherlock Holmes stylewise. Costain's Below the Salt was good, as was The Darkness and the Dawn. The Plantagenets is actually done as a non-fiction set of 4 books, somewhat sensationalized and not always accurate.

FWIW, Costain has had a couple of his novels turned into movies, The Black Rose, The Silver Chalice both get shown on AMC/TCM occasionally, the 2 that were serialized I have never seen, they are probably lost unless they got kinetiscoped.
  #27  
Old 09-06-2011, 05:34 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Leo Bloom, that Wodehouse novel is The Butler Did It.
For those who might be wondering if this Wodehouse novel is the source of the phrase, fuhgeddaboudit. It wasn't published until 1957.
  #28  
Old 09-07-2011, 02:12 AM
Zebra Zebra is offline
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I learned it from the M*A*SH* episode. It was good one with Potter being the 'winner' of a bottle that he and some WWI friends had brought home from France.
  #29  
Old 09-08-2011, 04:04 AM
typoink typoink is offline
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Archer #2.5 was about a tontine as well...
Came in here to mention this. I knew the concept before, but Archer taught me the name.
  #30  
Old 09-08-2011, 04:23 AM
enigmatic enigmatic is offline
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Is there any intrinsic mechanical reason why this is so vulnerable to fraud to have so fallen out of favour as an investment?

As a specific investment strategy, this would make a lot of sense for a single person, people seem to obsess on the "all the money when everyone is dead" aspect but ignore the normal dividends.

For a bunch of single people of approximately the same age, this would seem to present a general investment with the prospect of additional yield when you reach old age. If you were worried about murderous co-investors then just have the full amount devolve to charity or split between everyones estate after the last person dies. The prospect of a lottery windfall at age 90 isn't really the appeal of the scheme.

Surely there aren't many people who are going to be willing to murder dozens of people for an investment, and it's not the kind of detail which is going to be overlooked by law enforcement.
  #31  
Old 09-09-2011, 08:49 PM
iamthewalrus(:3= iamthewalrus(:3= is offline
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Is there any intrinsic mechanical reason why this is so vulnerable to fraud to have so fallen out of favour as an investment?
Well, it's essentially an oddly variable annuity with a very small population that doesn't necessarily adhere to actuarial tables. Plus a lottery.

If you want to be assured of retirement payouts as you get older and have a chunk of money to invest, get an annuity. They're regulated, predictable, guaranteed by the state if you do it right, and the annuity provider has significantly less incentive to murder you in your sleep. It's really wins all around.
  #32  
Old 09-09-2011, 10:12 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Surely there aren't many people who are going to be willing to murder dozens of people for an investment, and it's not the kind of detail which is going to be overlooked by law enforcement.
It's not the issue that people will murder dozens. However, it's not much of a stretch that they'll murder one.
  #33  
Old 09-10-2011, 04:16 AM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is online now
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Cecil on tontines
  #34  
Old 09-16-2011, 09:40 AM
wiploc wiploc is offline
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Originally Posted by Jragon View Post
It's bugging me and the question is vague enough Google laughs at me. I recall some sort of "pool" or "game" that gets mentioned in popular media on the odd occasion about a bunch of (usually wealthy) people (usually "gentlemen") essentially pooling a bunch of money, and then the last one alive gets to collect it. Sometimes the plot involves betrayal, murder, etc, and sometimes it's just sort of a wistful bit of backstory. I've heard it's a real life practice too.

The thing is, I swear there's a name for this practice, but it escapes me. Does anyone know?
Tontine.
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