1 : to cheat by trickery
2 : to swindle by a trick in which a small ball or pea is quickly shifted from under one to another of three small cups to fool the spectator guessing its location
Did You Know?
The game of thimblerig seems innocent enough. The thimblerigger places a little ball, pea, or other small object under one of three thimbles or cups. He or she deftly scoots the cups around on a table, then asks the player to bet on which one hides the object. But thimbleriggers are masters of sleight of hand and can move and manipulate the object unfairly-so the guileless player doesn't stand a chance of winning. (The poor bettor is probably unaware that "rig" has meant "to manipulate or control usually by deceptive or dishonest means" since the 1800s.) When the same sham is played with nutshells, it's called a "shell game," and there's a related game played with cards known as "three-card monte."
The appraiser looked closely at the painting and then reluctantly told us that we had been thimblerigged into buying a worthless copy.
"Thimblerigging the market was such an accepted practice some traders were even taunted for not stealing enough." - From Leah McGrath Goodman's 2011 book The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked the World's Oil Market
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