The talks between NZ First with National and Labour have been held in a cone of silence, but outside that cone there is intense psychological warfare going on.

The weapons included repetitive overuse of the words "positive" and "constructive", smiles, thumbs, baking and tea.

For onlookers with little else to do other than the impossible task of decrypting the remarks of NZ First leader Winston Peters, each move was carefully analysed.

It began on the day the results of special votes were announced. Labour leader Jacinda Ardern confidently predicted she would be Prime Minister within a week.


The next day - a Sunday - National leader Bill English countered. He emerged from his first round of talks smiling.

Onlookers pondered the meaning of this and it was not clear so they asked. "Why are you smiling?"

"Oh, you know, negotiations went fine," he replied, revealing his adjective of choice.

Monday brought further use of words such as "fine" from English while Ardern's preferred adjective also became clear. Labour's talks were "positive" and also "constructive".

Peters said progress was being made.

On Tuesday, Ardern tried the Baby Jesus approach. She gathered an assembly of three wise men (Neale Jones, Grant Robertson and Kelvin Davis) and a King - Annette rather than Herod.

She presented gold, frankincense and myrrh in the form of gingernuts and chocolate wheatens.

The onlookers pondered the meaning of this.

Why take gingernuts - the teeth breakers of the biscuit family - into important talks? Was it a sign Peters was proving a hard nut to crack?

Had they not done enough for a Mallowpuff?

The next day she increased the bid to a ginger loaf baked by a staffer.

Peters was unimpressed. For days he had fended questions on the serious matter of forming a government, so instead he was asked how the cake was.

He roared at reporters that it was a serious matter forming a government "and you ask me about the cake?"

While Ardern had to walk past media to get to the cone of silence, National's team were only seen from afar. From one vantage point, only their feet could be seen and from the other, only their heads.

The best stakeout was from a floor below as the participants walked around a corner on a mezzanine level balcony to get to the room used for talks.

On day three, the media were treated to an enigmatic thumbs up from Steven Joyce as he left the meeting.

Onlookers pondered over its meaning. Was the deal done? Did he just have cramp?

It was the Mona Lisa of thumbs-up.

What oh what did it mean? Nobody knew, though it's a fair bet Joyce regretted it as soon as that digit rose on its lofty stem.

Joyce insisted his role in the talks was to make the tea. Herbal, gumboot, green with jasmine. A fruit blend. He no doubt tried them all.

Joyce had clearly done his research into Peters' background before appointing himself to this august position.

In 2000 Peters appeared in a tea advertisement. The tea was Choysa which rhymes with Joyce and indeed also "choice".

In the ad, Peters compared the contents of two tea bags. One was Choysa, the other an unnamed competitor. The Choysa bag was a-ok. It contained "virtually pure tea leaves".

The competitor's bag was inferior because it had "the residue of twigs and stalks".

Peters' sign off comment was: "If what you find leaves you stewing perhaps you should give someone a tinkle."

Peters was now making a decision between the teabags presented to him by Labour and National. Would the Labour-Greens blend contain residue of stalks and twigs? Would National be over-stewed? Who would get the tinkle?

Peters himself was no use in providing clues - not least because it was impossible to tell whether his utterances were hints or bluffs and false trails.

On Wednesday with one day to go Peters upgraded his updates on the National talks "progress" to "huge progress". That was all we knew with a day to go.

The whole week was something like the final of The Bachelor.

The two suitors went on repeated dates while feigning nonchalance about the mixed dating. Even Peters was in character, speaking about the heart-rending choice he had to make and how he wouldn't be able to please anyone.

By Wednesday, he was pouring scorn on the public displays of affection between Labour and the Greens - "hugging each other, embracing each other, and loving each other" in the leadup to the election.

Finally he spoke of the anguish and pain he was going to have to inflict on the unlucky loser.

As for the tea ad, one of Choysa's competitors complained about it and it ended up being withdrawn, never to be played again.