It’s time for another thrilling installment of Captain Awesome solves mysteries originally written for children! Yay! Up next: Encyclopdia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch (Dutton 1965). For those unfamiliar with the series, boy genius Encyclopedia Brown (neé Leroy) solves crimes and his Police Chief dad takes all the credit. He also opened his own detective agency for the kids (and occasionally the desperate and/or cheap adults) in the neighborhood. Other recurring characters include Encyclopedia’s partner, bodyguard, and kick-ass feminst icon, Sally Kimball; nemesis Bugs Meany; and teeth fetishist and future serial killer, Charlie Stewart. Now, on with the mystery solving!
The Case of the Secret Pitch
The case: Speedy Flanagan bet Bugs Meany his baseball bat (which was his first mistake) that Bugs couldn’t sell superstar Yankees pitcher, Spike Browning, a new pitch. Bugs shows Speedy and Encyclopedia a letter allegedly from Browning, dated June 31st, stating he was going to win 30 games with this new pitch. Encyclopedia calls bullshit and demands that Bugs give Speedy his baseball bat since he lost the bet. How did Encyclopedia know that Bugs was lying?
My verdict: Well at first I thought the answer stemmed from baseball knowledge. Do pitchers even pitch 30 games a season? And there were less games in the 60s, right? Maybe? But then I realized that the letter was dated June 31st and there is no June 31st.
Was I right?: Yes. Bugs might have gotten away with it if he wasn’t such an idiot.
Other Observations: Why do kids even make deals with Bugs anymore? Quite frankly I think Encyclopedia should just let them get scammed. It’s the only way they’ll learn.
The Case of the Balloon Man
The case: Little Bobby Tyler has been kidnapped and Sam Potts, whose rented house backs up to the Tylers’ backyard, claims that he saw local candy/ice cream man Izzy take the boy. Encyclopedia can’t fathom that anyone who loves children so much could do such a thing (oh, honey), so he makes his dad tell him the whole story. Sam was hanging out in his backyard with Reverend Bevin when he saw one of Izzy’s signature pink and green balloons float and get stuck at the top of his tree. He grabbed a ladder to free the balloon, and when he climbed up it, he saw Izzy snatch Bobby, shove him in his van, and drive away. Encyclopedia says that Sam is lying and has probably kidnapped both Izzy and Bobby. How did Encyclopedia know that Sam was lying?
My verdict: Sam’s view was into the Tylers’ BACKYARD, so how did he know that Izzy put Bobby in his truck and drove away in FRONT of the house?
Was I right?: Not exactly. Apparently, Izzy was known for blowing up his balloons with his mouth while making funny faces at the kids, so Izzy’s balloons can’t float to the top of tree like balloons that were filled with helium. I probably should have guessed that since balloon was in the chapter title, but whatever, I still maintain that mine was the more obvious solution.
Other Observations: Dear Police Chief Brown, we have discussed the unreliability of eyewitnesses. Just because some dude says that he saw something, doesn’t make it true. And yes, the balloon thing is kind of an obscure clue, but you really could have tossed some doubt onto his story with just a LITTLE bit of scrutiny. You are truly the worst.
Books on Encyclopedia’s nightstand: Six Ways to Reach the Moon on a Budget. I don’t think space travel is really one of those things you want to skimp on.
The Case of the Ambushed Cowboy
The case: It’s the third day in a row that Chief Brown has come home without a case for Encyclopedia to solve and they’re all bored with just eating dinner, so the Browns decide that they need, no DESERVE, a vacation. Encyclopedia suggests Texas and since no one can think of anything better (really?!?), they go to Texas. So the two Brown men are on a historical tour when their guide tells them the 85 year-old story of Johnny Kid and Ringo Charlie. Apparently, Johnny Kid was sick of Ringo Charlie cheating at cards, but couldn’t really say anything because Charlie was a champion gunslinger and related to half the town. So early one morning, Johnny Kid hid behind a rock and when he saw Ringo Charlie’s shadow coming, he jumped out and shot him. Though shot, Ringo Charlie got back to town and some of his relatives chased Johnny Kid all the way to Oklahoma. When one of the charming men in the tour group says that Johnny should have been hanged, Encyclopedia notes that they would have been hanging an innocent man. How did Encyclopedia know that Ringo Charlie was lying?
My verdict: The ambush supposedly happened in the morning and when the tour guide is reenacting Ringo Charlie’s actions, he is described as squinting into the morning sun. So Charlie’s shadow would have been BEHIND him and therefore wouldn’t have alerted Johnny to his presence.
Was I right?: Hell yes! Encyclopedia hypothesizes that Ringo Charlie was embarrassed that he had lost a gunfight to Johnny Kid and lied to his numerous relatives in order to save face.
Other observations: I have a brother who is significantly younger than I am and have parents who were significantly financially better off during his childhood than during mine. I didn’t notice anything at the time and had a perfectly wonderful childhood, but I like to joke about how he got to go to St. Thomas and Hawaii on vacation and I got to go … on a driving tour of Texas. We went to the Capitol and the Alamo and one of the hotels we stayed in had a bed that folded out of the wall and I was terrified that it would fold back into the wall sometime during the night, trapping me inside. It was an adventure! But probably not as adventurous as St. Thomas or Hawaii. So when Encyclopedia suggested vacationing in Texas, I was like NO. Hawaii, Encyclopedia, HAWAII. Idiot.
Books on Encyclopedia’s nightstand: Upper Crustaceous Limestone in the Lone Star State. Boooorrriiinnng.
The Case of the Forgetful Sheriff
The case: Encyclopedia and his dad are still on the Wild West historical tour (continuity!) when their guide stops to tell the story of the Outlaw Cemetery where five bank robbers are buried. After fleeing the scene of the crime, the five outlaws were chased by Sheriff Wiggins out of town. Some of the local townspeople stopped by his office a short while later, and noticed that the Sheriff had accidentally left his six-gun behind. Concerned for his safety, a posse of citizens set off after him and discovered the five outlaws dead, the bag of stolen gold, and that the Sheriff had been shot in the arm. The Sheriff said that he had come upon the lookout of the gang who had shot him twice in the arm. He had then grabbed the lookout’s pearl-handled six-shooter, and shot the lookout and the other four desperadoes in rapid succession. The townspeople hailed him as a hero and threw a dinner in his honor that night. The Sheriff modestly claimed that he was just doing his duty, but Mr. Baker, the bank president disagreed and said that this would be the Sheriff’s last meal. When he said why, the townspeople gasped, grabbed the Sheriff, and hung him the next day. What did Mr. Baker say to change their minds?
My verdict: I’m guessing it’s something along the lines of you can’t shoot seven bullets out a six-shooter. I mean, I assume. I don’t know anything about guns, but the number six is right there in the name. Anyway, the Sheriff was shot twice, and then he supposedly wrestled the gun away and shot the five outlaws, for a total of seven bullets. I assume the Sheriff was in on the robbery.
Was I right?: Of course! The Sheriff was in on it and got into an argument with his accomplices about dividing up the gold, so they shot each other. He left behind his gun at the office because he didn’t think he needed it (which is stupid for a Sheriff AND a Wild West robber) and he didn’t have enough time to get away with the gold before the posse came upon him. Boo ya!
Other observations: After the Ringo Charlie incident, all the other adults in the tour group immediately look to Encyclopedia to solve the riddle. That’s what you get for being a show-off. Also, I just realized that we’re four mysteries in and there hasn’t been one spotting of Sally Kimball. Unacceptable.
The Case of the Hungry Hitchhiker
The case: Encyclopedia is out fishing on a hot, summer afternoon, when his father surprises him by picking him up with his patrol car and its sweet, sweet air conditioner. Suddenly a call comes over the radio about an armed robbery at a local bank, so Chief Brown takes off in pursuit. With his 10 year-old son in the car. Nice parenting skills there, dad. Anyway, so they notice a hitchhiker on the side of the road and Encyclopedia gets the bright idea to stop and ask him if he’s seen the getaway car. Useless Police Chief Dad shrugs and says why not. The hitchhiker claims that he’s been sitting out there for an hour and did in fact see the car in question, so the Chief takes him along so that he can I.D. the car if they find it. The hitchhiker then does what Princess Consuela would do in this situation by breaking out his snacks. He breaks off a piece of chocolate for Encyclopedia, which clues him to the fact that the hitchhiker is an accomplice to the bank robbery. The Chief then gets to pretend to be a badass policeman by pointing his gun and acting all menacing. How did Encyclopedia know that the hitchhiker was one of the robbers?
My verdict: The chocolate. They made a really big deal about how hot it was that day, and as anyone who has tried to nobly maintain a decent candy supply in a sweltering office during a Georgia summer (for example) knows, chocolate melts at the slightest hint of heat. The hitchhiker said that he’d been outside for an hour, so that chocolate should have been a sweet, delicious, gooey mess.
Was I right?: Clearly. Those are some dumbass thieves. Also, who brings snacks to a robbery?
Other observations: We get a Sally Kimball mention, but no actual sighting, which is just not good enough.
The Case of the Two-Fisted Poet
The case: Encyclopedia is waiting in his garage for Sally (finally!) so that they can take their detective earnings to the bank, when a proto-hipster rides up on his bike in tight clothes, a necktie, and thick glasses and recites a poem about how a detective can’t solve a mystery without clues, and then rides off. Encyclopedia is flummoxed because he thought he had a lock as the neighborhood weirdo, but Sally informs him that his name is Percy Arbuthnot and he’s very smart and went to school in England. Also, Sally is quitting because Percy told her that being a bodyguard isn’t “ladylike” and that she should stop being a common tomboy. I hate him. I’m also a little disappointed in Sally for going along with it. Encyclopedia is sad and decides to follow Percy and Sally to their movie date. Percy bumps into an older boy and they exchange (haughty) words before Percy puts his glasses in the breast pocket of his coat and engages in a robust fistfight while reciting more of his craptastic “poetry.” After Percy seemingly wins, he puts his glasses back on and his shocked when Sally accuses him of being a phony. Percy is all offended until Sally shows him what a real fight looks like by beating the crap out of him. How did Encyclopedia know (so that he could clue Sally in) that Percy was faking it?
My verdict: The glasses. Percy puts them in his front coat pocket and then exchanges blows to the chest and stomach. If those punches had been for real, then his glasses would be broken.
Was I right?: Yes, but I am very sensitive to the state of someone’s glasses. It comes from having crappy eyesight.
Other observations: I think I hate Percy more than any other Encyclopedia villain ever. What a poncy little twit. And his poetry sucks. Poor Sally learns what every strong woman must learn at some point or other: never change yourself for a boy.
The Case of the Wounded Toe
The case: Encyclopedia is accompanying Charlie Stewart on his search for more teeth to add to his infamous collection. They don’t find any (desirable) teeth on their hunt, but they do find a felt Tigers hat and a target hung up in the ancient burial grounds. It’s illegal to enter the ancient burial grounds, so Encyclopedia has Charlie stand up on his shoulders in order to see that the target has holes all over it from an air rifle gun. On his way down, Charlie is shot in the toe with an air rifle pellet! Coincidence? I think not. The doctor says that he needs one of Charlie’s old shoes so that he can cut a hole in it to make room for his bandaged toe, so Encyclopedia volunteers to go get one. One his way out, he notices Tiger member Duke pacing nervously outside of the doctor’s office. Encyclopedia is suspicious, so he asks Duke to go get the shoe for him. When he brings one back, the doctor declares that it fits perfectly, so Encyclopedia accuses Duke of shooting Charlie. How did Encyclopedia know?
My verdict: I honestly have no idea. I mean, I know it was Duke because why else would he be in the story, but Encyclopedia wouldn’t have that information.
Was I right?: Umm, no. If Duke had been innocent, then he would have brought both sneakers because Encyclopedia never specified which foot had been shot. Encyclopedia knew he was guilty because the one shoe that he brought fit perfectly and that would only happen if he knew which foot hat been shot. It’s pretty flimsy, but this is Idaville.
Other observations: We get way to much info about Charlie’s creepy teeth collection. 1) He has, by far, the biggest teeth collection of any boy in Idaville which make me curious about what other sickos in training are running around town. 2) We get an extensive lesson on the best time and way to hunt for more teeth, something that will surely haunt my dreams for nights to come. 3) Charlie doesn’t pick up the raccoon teeth because, and I quote, “he already has a full set.” What is he running: a pet cemetery? I fear that this shooting is just the catalyst that steers him to his future as a serial killer.
The Case of Excalibur
The case: Bugs Meany comes to the garage to hire Encyclopedia. That should be your first warning sign. He claims that he saw Woody Fanfingle fleeing the Tigers clubhouse and stuffing Bug’s knife, Excalibur, in his pants pocket. That is not a euphemism. He doesn’t want to rat out Woody because his mom is going to be Bugs’ math teacher next year and he won’t beat him up because Woody has a broken left arm and Bugs doesn’t beat up one-armed kids. Suspicious at this display of scruples, Encyclopedia enlists the help of Sally who tells him not to trust Bugs and that Woody’s mom isn’t the same woman as Bugs’ future math teacher. So there are apparently at least two families in Idaville with the Fanfingle surname. That seems unlikely to me. Anyway, Encyclopedia heads to the baseball field so he can check out Woody’s belongings while he’s otherwise occupied with baseball, and finds Excalibur in Woody’s left pants pocket. Suddenly Bugs and Mr. Evans bust in the locker room and accuse Encyclopedia of being the locker room thief and Woody of stealing Bugs’ knife. Encyclopedia says that Bugs is just trying to get back at him for busting Bugs so many times and with Woody for beating him in the Mumblety-Peg tournament and he can prove it. What is Encyclopedia’s proof?
My verdict: Woody has broken left arm and the knife was found in his left pants pocket. There’s no way that Woody could have put the knife in his left pocket with a full-arm cast on his left arm.
Was I right?: Yes! Take that, Bugs Meany!
Other observations: What the hell is Mumblety-Peg? Also, I love it when Sally contributes important information to the case.
The Case of the Glass of Ginger Ale
The case: Chief Brown is called to the beach house of famed blind violinist, Rafino de Varona because he feels he’s been cheated out of his prize Stradivarius violin. His friend, concert master Hans Braun, had made a bet with him the night before. A self-professed fan of locked door mysteries, Hans put four ice cubes in a glass and left the room. Rafino then locked all the doors and windows and put the glass in his safe. Hans then had one hour to enter the room, remove the ice from the glass, and leave ginger ale behind, all without being heard by Rafino and his well-developed sense of hearing. After the hour was up, Rafino checked the glass and it was filled with ginger ale, not ice. How did Hans do it?
My verdict: The ice was made of ginger ale, not water. Hans never went into the room and over the hour, the ice simply melted leaving the ginger ale behind.
Was I right?: Oh yeah.
Other observations: I figured this out pretty quickly because I’ve heard enough riddles that were similar by now, but this is probably a particularly tough mystery for kids. Oh, and tricking a BLIND guy out of his prized possession? Dick move, Hans.
The Case of the Stomach Puncher
The case: Herb, one of Encyclopedia’s so-called best friends who we’ve never actually heard of before, comes to him claiming that local tough guy Biff has stolen his new bicycle. This is a big deal because Herb is apparently some kind of bicycle champion. Anyway, Biff is well known for punching people in the stomach, so Encyclopedia wraps his stomach in sheet metal before confronting him. Herb and Encyclopedia repeatedly hit a baseball into Biff’s backyard so that they have an excuse to go back there and snoop, but Biff catches them. First Biff threatens to punch them in the eyes, but Encyclopedia convinces him that it would ruin his rep if they had evidence that he hit kids that were much smaller than him. Whatever. So Biff punches Encyclopedia in the sheet metal and while he’s rolling around in pain, the boys look under a sheet of canvas to discover a shiny red bicycle lying on green grass. The bicycle is so new that Herb is not even sure it’s his and Biff claims that he’s had it under that canvas for two months, but Encyclopedia insists that it’s Herbs bike and they’re taking it back now. How did Encyclopedia know that Biff is lying?
My verdict: Well they make a point to mention the GREEN grass, so I’m guessing it has something to do with that. If the canvas had really been out for two months, then the grass wouldn’t be so green anymore.
Was I right?: Phew, yes.
Other observations: I was starting to think that it wasn’t so much that Encyclopedia was some super-genius that he was able to solve crimes, it was that the would-be criminals of Idaville were so deeply stupid that it made him look good. But that sheet metal maneuver was actually pretty clever. Way to go, Leroy.
Well 8 out of 10 is not as good as last time, but I still think that my solution to that balloon caper is more plausible, so let’s go with 8.5 out of 10.