There’s nothing more exciting than a mystery briefcase. Tarantino knows it, the producers of Deal or No Deal know it. Mystery briefcases induce excitement in everyone, because they can literally contain anything: one million dollars in cash, for example, or your dead relative’s teeth. Basically, if you find a mystery briefcase and open in it in the right kind of cinematic way, your life will get much better, or potentially much, much worse. Either way, it’s a gamble too irresistible to decline.
But just how much are people in the real world willing to gamble for a mystery briefcase? How far will people throw caution to the breeze, for a shot at the big time? I took a few mystery briefcases onto the streets of Wollongong to find out.
Mystery Trade #1
The first place I felt out was a skate store called Kingpin. I walked in and said hi to a guy named Jarryd, who asked me how he could help. I explained the premise of the story and invited him to trade something in the store for the contents of the briefcase. Jarryd paused before asking what was in the case. I said he’d have to do the trade to find out. Jarryd respected this idea and looked for something to trade. He stumbled across a Grumpy Eagle sticker. He asked if this would do. And to be fair, it was a sweet eagle, so we shook hands and swapped items.
Then he slowly opened the case. And he pulled out a pot plant! I started to clap. Jarryd looked both astonished and delighted. “Sick,” smiled Jarryd. “I’m going to take this home.” Overall, I’d give this trade an 8/10. I would have definitely killed that poor plant.
Mystery Trade #2
I then went to a bus stop and met the very game Diane. She laughed and said, “I’m just trying to remember what I have in my bag.” Then finally she smiled and said, “I’ve got a bottle of diet lemonade!” Now, I knew the briefcase’s contents and knew that even a bottle of diet lemonade wasn’t worth the garbage Diane was about to win, but I was also in the mood for lemonade. So I ignored my conscience and immediately caved.
And now Diane owns the obscure 2004 anime DVD: Otogi Zoshi. “Ooh! Wow!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never heard of it.” Diane inspected the box, unable to determine whether she had won or not. Her mouth smiled but her eyes looked sad. After a moment of reflection, Diane managed to rationalise her decision. “My grandchildren will like that,” she grinned. We thanked each other for trading. This swap got 2/10. I felt a bit bad, but quenched.
Mystery Trade #3
It was now 2PM, and I needed a non-diet bevy. So my photographer and I wandered to a bar called His Boy Elroy. At the bar, we were greeted by a man called Chinny. He asked us what we’d be having. I asked if he’d give us a drink in exchange for the briefcase’s cargo. Chinny scratched at his beard and called over the joint’s owner, Lachlan. Neither man trusted the briefcase, but eventually, after much deliberation, they decided to trade us two drinks, and we shook.
And suddenly they’d won 128 gold chocolate coins.
Chinny and Lachlan were shocked and burst out laughing. “We’ve hit the proverbial jackpot!” said Chinny. He poured us two glasses of pale ale. My photographer and I then celebrated our success. This trade was emblematic of everything brilliant about the mystery briefcase: everybody had won something, plus we'd all enjoyed the emotional rollercoaster of gambling. The swap was better than paying with cash or paying with just chocolate coins. This was a 10/10.
Mystery Trade #4
After beers, I met Casey and a couple of his mates on the strip mall. I asked Casey if he had anything he wanted to trade. He replied, “The Keno ticket that I have in my pocket.” We agreed on the terms and swapped items. Unfortunately, Casey now owned the saddest thing imaginable: the truth. I had printed out some climate change stats.
After this trade, I was feeling pretty guilty. I apologised for the deal and for the planet dying. But Casey was a good-sport. He replied, “All well, you can’t win it all.” The next day, I checked my Keno ticket and had won nothing. I wondered if the disappointment I was feeling was akin to how Casey had felt. This swap gets 6/10.
Mystery Trade #5
My next major stop was to my friend Xia Ni’s house. I went in, admired her cats, and bantered. But then it was time for brass tacks. “So, could I trade a piece of cat poo or something?” questioned Xia Ni. I didn’t say no, but I wanted a better proposal. Xia Ni then pondered her options and asked to study the briefcase.
“It kind of sounds kind of like a book,” said Xia Ni. She went to the bookshelf and grabbed a David Wong novel. She presented the book for the trade. I said it’s a deal, and we shook.
Xia Ni now owned a framed picture from her wedding day. However, this was no ordinary photograph. I had photoshopped her marriage certificate to be a picture of Bob Ross. Luckily, Xia Ni was down with this edit and held it like it was precious. “I love this,” she said. “I won.”
Xia Ni’s reaction taught me that a mystery trade can sometimes feel like a gift. She stationed the frame on a coffee table. I award this 9/10.
Mystery Trade #6
I didn’t catch the name of the last champ that I swapped with, but he was chill. He gave me a barbecue sauce bottle. And he had scored the actual briefcase! But as soon as his photos were taken, he instantly regretted the trade. He tried to return the briefcase and said he’d never use it. My photographer and I waved, smiled, and left in a hurry.
Now, did I feel bad about making this trade? Well, not really. It’s another 8/10; I would no longer own an ugly briefcase. And besides, if I were to undo the deal, this study would lose its integrity.
There’s nothing more exciting than a mystery briefcase, and this experiment proves it. They’re like lucky-dips designed for an adult. People love risking their stuff to stare into the great unknown. And if the context’s right, these trades can be bloody incredible. Just make sure you’re ready for what might transpire, and mystery-briefcase responsibly.
Joel is on Instagram
All photos by Disapol Savetsila