What I Wouldn’t Do by
(302 Stories)

Prompted By Cheating

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This seems like a risky prompt; is anyone going to admit it if they cheated? Whether academically, athletically, romantically, or some other way, why would anyone write about it in a story that is published online? We shall see.

I will admit to cheating at cards when I was young, but it was solitaire, so I wasn't cheating anyone else.


I will admit to cheating at cards when I was young. (Well, maybe not as young as in the featured image, where I was only three. Not sure what card game I was playing there.) I played solitaire a lot as a child, with real cards obviously, since there was no “online” back then. Towards the end of the game, I would often cheat by turning over the cards in a different order because otherwise the crucial card would never come up and the game would never end. Since, by definition, solitaire is a game that you play by yourself, I wasn’t cheating anyone else. Decades later when I played online Solitaire, I realized there was no way to cheat. That took some of the fun out of it, and I soon abandoned the game. (It had been installed on our work computers as a way to give us practice using a mouse. That made it less fun too, knowing you were playing it because the bosses wanted you to.)

I know that there are ways to cheat at other card games, such as by dealing from the bottom of the deck, but I don’t actually know how it’s done, and I wouldn’t do it even if I knew how.

Mah jongg is a game I play regularly, as mentioned in previous stories, and I have often tried to figure out if it is possible to cheat at that game. Not because I want to cheat, but because I think it is so cleverly set up to prevent it, that I consider it an intellectual challenge to try to figure out how it could be done. At the beginning of the game the tiles are equally divided into four “walls” which are placed in front of each of the players’ racks. The person who is East (equivalent to the dealer) rolls the dice to determine where the first wall will be broken (like cutting the deck in cards). Then she pushes out the number of tiles determined by the dice, and that’s where the picking starts. Each person takes 13 tiles, in three groups of four and one final tile, going in order around the table and around the walls. So even if you placed some desirable tiles, such as jokers, in certain places in the wall when you were building the walls, you would have no way to control the picking to make sure you got those tiles. I admire the inventors of the game for making it seemingly uncheatable, and yet I suspect that someone somewhere has figured out a way to cheat.


My daughter Molly did her last two years of high school at an online school called Laurel Springs, graduating in 2015. She was doing distance learning long before the pandemic made it a common experience. When she wrote papers, she had to submit them to a site called Turnitin, which examined them for possible plagiarism. They compared phrases against a huge bank of other papers to see if the same sentences or phrases appeared. You were allowed to have a certain percentage of matches (15% as I recall) before it was considered plagiarism. In general this made a lot of sense, but it was scary waiting for the results to come back, even though she knew she hadn’t copied anyone else’s paper. Once when she was writing a paper about Martin Luther King, it came back with a high percentage of matches. But looking at them, it was things like the names of his four children (which everyone always wrote in the same order), or his educational background. Facts that everyone would be likely to set forth in the same way. We had to point this out to the history teacher so that she would accept the paper without Molly having to rewrite it.

While I was contemplating this story, I saw a news article about a professor at Chapman University who is suing his students for copyright violation after they uploaded portions of his exams onto a site called Course Hero. He doesn’t know who the students are, so he just named five John Does and Jane Does. The fact that he copyrighted his exams and is seeking damages for the violation seems like the wrong approach. After all, he wasn’t damaged, it was the students who didn’t get the tests on Course Hero who were damaged, if they did not do as well as the ones who did. Looking at the Course Hero website, it says “Taking advantage of Course Hero’s resources to supplement your studies, enhance your understanding of a topic, or expand your resume skills is not cheating. Taking the initiative to get the help you need or explore new topics is important and critical for future success.” The site charges an annual fee of $83.40 or a monthly fee of $19.95. Seems like a bargain, as long as you don’t get caught! While I wouldn’t advise any student I knew to subscribe to Course Hero, it does seem unfair that being honest would cause you to get a lower grade than the people who cheated. I’m not sure what the solution is. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Chapman professor’s lawsuit.


Finally we get to romantic cheating! It’s possible that when I was single I had some relationships with men who were married. But is it cheating for the person who is single, or only for the person who is married? That is a question, dear reader, that you can decide for yourself but not for others.


Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    A really good, comprehensive analysis of this prompt in its many forms. I was particularly interested in the academics section, since I am aware that there are these plagiarism programs out there that are now in use. But, as you point out, they are hardly perfect guides — as MLK’s children’s names attest to — and, more fundamentally they leave murky the whole idea of what constitutes “cheating” in the context of learning.

    Equally murky is the question you raise at the end about romantic cheating. I plead agnosticism of this one (coward!). That said, many thanks for coming up with this most provocative prompt and exegesis of it.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comment, John. You win the prize for best words used in a comment, with agnosticism and exegesis. I will admit that I had to look up exegesis to find out what you were thanking me for doing.

  2. Not a card player myself, the idea of cheating at Solitaire seems funny, and you certainly should be guilt free! I have tried Mah Jongg but never got far enough to be asked to join a game, let alone have the temptation to cheat, if it’s even possible!

    It’s interesting that your daughter Molly chose to do online high school for her last two years, did she enjoy it?

    And I’d say fooling around with a married man while you’re single theoretically goes on his cheat tally, not yours!

  3. Marian says:

    Great review, Suzy. I know there are lots of ways to cheat at cards (there is the infamous MIT counting cards scandal with Las Vegas blackjack dealers), and we all are painfully familiar with sports cheating. Having written papers well before the Turnitin era, I learned from your story. With algorithms not being perfect, I hope innocent students haven’t been nailed too often for cheating when they were honest. And, is all that SAT prep that wealthy kids can afford cheating or just being motivated? Lots of questions … Romantic cheating is very fraught, and I’ll take the 5th on that.

    • Suzy says:

      Good question about SAT prep for wealthy kids, and even beyond that there are the kids whose parents paid big bucks to get them into prestigious schools. Now it seems that many schools are going test-optional, so maybe that will help level the playing field.

      Wish we would get some romantic cheating stories, which people could publish anonymously. That would be fun!

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Seems like cheating is more objectionable when you betray someone else’s trust. Cheating at solitaire doesn’t really do that. Cheating at learning often means you didn’t really learn, so have cheated yourself. Romantic cheating—be it physical, emotional, or both is more painful.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I love this story, Suzy. Your featured image is so cute and you looked so innocent. I also love solitaire and think your cheating at it was a sign of intelligence and did not harm anyone. When we enter the realm of online school cheating, however, I feel certain that this meets the definition of cheating in my book. As to your last line, it could have been on Bridgerton!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I do love that picture, although I don’t remember myself at that age. As to online school cheating, to be clear, Molly was not plagiarizing her essay about Martin Luther King, it’s just that everyone tended to use the same words about his children, his education, etc. so the plagiarism detection site flagged it. And thank you for appreciating my last line!

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    I did cheat on a romantic partner once. In college. It was on “Maria” and happened at that crazy intersection of youthful desire, alcohol consumption and unusual opportunity. I felt bad about it at the time. Looking back at how things played out with Maria, I wish I’d done more of it!

  7. You make me think so many things at once. Like, wondering how you learn to cheat with a card up your sleeve. Or how to help teachers who have to write student assessments with a cheater website with end-of-year comments for sale. And yes, when we cheat, who is it we actually cheat. My piece touches on that. Thanks so much for opening up this site to me!

  8. You covered the territory, Suzy. I have to begin with your photo. You look as if you are being admonished for SOMEthing, hands folded, upward focus. Grownups. Always interrupting. Even then, I bet you had the smarts to know that you’re only cheating yourself in solitaire. Do you think that the people who set up mah jongg were working off the stereotype of the Asian gambler? How old is mah jongg? And by then, you’ve prompted me to ask if you can cheat at the I Ching?

    Academics you covered nicely. Plagiarism is the big villain at university level but I don’t spend much time running my students’ work through plagiarism programs.

    I loved the careful diplomacy of your final paragraph. Quite right and well-said: that is a question we can decide for ourselves, and not others. A pleasure as always to read your clear, good-natured prose.

    Oh! And BTW: Chapman seems like a nest of litigiosity [sic]. The lawyer who drafted the insurrection memo that he and Trump and cronies wanted to follow thru January 6 2021 was a professor at Chapman. Not any more!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Charlie. I wish I knew what I was thinking when that picture was taken. One of the few photos ever taken of me where I am not smiling.

      Mah jongg began in China in the mid-1800s. It came to America in the 1920s and became super-popular among Jewish women in the 1950s, as seen in Mrs. Maisel. No idea who came up with the seemingly cheat-proof system of distributing the tiles.

      Interesting that you don’t spend time on plagiarism programs for student papers. I imagine the kind of assignments you give call for personal reaction by the student, which would be difficult to copy from someone else.

  9. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love your adorable Featured photo, Suzy. So cute and great that you have the picture with playing cards, so appropriate. Like you, I played solitaire as a child, but never thought about cheating. I just shuffled and started a new game if I couldn’t progress.

    I have a cousin who is a professor at U Mass, Boston. He recently told me that he has stopped giving written assignments during the pandemic because plagiarism is so rampant and he can’t stand it.

    I, like Charlie, picked up on Chapman, knowing it was also the home of Eastman, who plotted to overthrow the election. Seems to breed dangerous people.

    I’ll let others decide about married vs. single in the romance department.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. Sorry to hear about the rampant plagiarism in your cousin’s classes, although not giving written assignments doesn’t seem like the answer to that problem.

      I looked up Chapman after you and Charlie commented on it. It is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, and its motto is “Christ and Church.” Not sure what to make of that re Eastman, but I guess the school did end up getting him to resign.

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