The Case of the Mysterious Tramp
The case: So Police Chief Brown comes home late for dinner because someone has beaten and robbed Mr. Clancy, the plumber. According to John Morgan, Clancy’s assistant, Clancy’s truck broke down near a farm and when Clancy lifts the truck to check the radiator, a mysterious tramp dashes out of the woods, hits Clancy with a pipe, and steals his wallet. Sounds plausible. Chief Brown theorizes that the tramp then dashed over to the nearby railroad tracks and jumped a train. He’s upset because he thinks this means that they’ll never catch the bad guy, thus ruining his perfect crime-solving record. Or so I inferred. Encyclopedia tells him not to worry because John Morgan did it and made up the story about the tramp to cover his tracks. How did Encyclopedia know that he was lying?
My verdict: Aside from the fact that it’s ridiculous to think some hobo was hiding out in the woods with a pipe on the off chance that someone’s car would break down, I’m not sure. It probably has something to do with the car breaking down which I don’t get because I know nothing about cars and I just call AAA when mine breaks down.
Was I right?: Not really. Clancy raises the hood when he checks the radiator, but Morgan says that after he sees the tramp attack, he gets out of the car to help Clancy. How did he see the attack if the hood was blocking the front windshield? This of course ignores the possibility that Morgan could have leaned out of the passenger window and to the shit go down, but yeah, it does raise suspicion about his statement.
Stray observations: At least two stories from every book involves the so-called victim or eye witness committing the crime but pinning the blame on someone else and the Chief falls for it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. You’d think he would learn by now not to take every statement at face value. Also, Encyclopedia lies to his mom about why he’s late for dinner (he was helping one of his teachers to restart her stalled car) because he doesn’t like to talk about the help he gives grown-ups. Dude, helping a teacher with car trouble is a normal kid thing to do. At least in the age before cell phones. Lying to your mother because you don’t want to seem like you’re bragging is a dumb thing to do.
The Case of the Rubber Pillow:
The Case: Encyclopedia is hanging out in his detective agency office (aka the garage) when Danny Landis comes in claiming that Bugs Meany stole his rubber pillow (for camping). Danny and his dad had spent the morning painting his front steps, porch railing and posts, and front door white. When his dad went inside to clean the paint brushes, Danny spied Bugs taking the rubber pillow off the clothesline. Encyclopedia tries to trap Bugs by claiming that Danny’s dad had seen the whole thing and asks Bugs to come back to Danny’s house to settle things. Bugs, of course, claims that he’s never been to Danny’s house before but agrees to come along. When they get to the house, Bugs jumps over the stairs and skids on the porch, but rights himself without having to touch the railing. Danny despairs that the trap didn’t work, but Encyclopedia states that Bugs gave himself away. How did Bugs do that?
My verdict: Bugs claims that he’s never been to Danny’s house, but he conspicuously avoids touching the newly painted stairs and railing. Clearly he had seen Danny and his Dad painting that morning and knew that the paint was still wet.
Was I right?: Hell yes!
Stray observations: Why are you drying a rubber pillow out on the clothesline? Wouldn’t you just wipe it clean and be done with it? Clearly I don’t spend a lot of time camping.
The Case of Bugs’s Kidnapping
The case: Encyclopedia and Sally Kimball (!) are hanging out in the garage when Bugs Meany comes in with Officer Carlson of the Idaville PD and Bugs’s mom to accuse Encyclopedia of being a part of a gang that tried to kidnap Bugs. Because 10 year-olds are often part of such gangs. Although Encyclopedia has shown sociopathic tendencies in the past, so perhaps it’s not sooooo farfetched. Anyway, Bugs’s mom received a ransom demand the night before asking for $1000 for Bugs’s safe return. A boy was supposed to pick-up the money, but he never showed. Bugs allegedly overheard his kidnappers say that Idaville golden boy, Encyclopedia Brown was being paid $100 to pick up the ransom. Bugs claims that when Encyclopedia didn’t show up with the money, the kidnappers got antsy and Bugs started looking for a way to escape. He says that he found a crowbar in the room and thought about taking the hinges off the door, but the hinges were on the other side. Suddenly though, the door swung in and the kidnappers walked in pointing a gun at him. He thought he was dead, but the so-called kidnappers just let him go, because kidnappers often do that. Encyclopedia says that Bugs made the whole thing up and he has proof. What is Encyclopedia’s proof?
My verdict: Bugs claims that he tried to take the hinges off the door to escape, but the hinges were on the other side. First of all, hinges are usually on the inside of room. Second of all, Bugs says that the door swung in when the kidnapper came in with the gun, but if the hinges had been on the outside, then the door would have swung out. Third of all, who the hell is going to kidnap BUGS MEANY. That would be a total Ransom of Red Chief situation.
Was I right?: Of course. Although my Ransom of Red Chief reasoning is just implied.
Stray observations: The Idaville PD’s incompetence once again shines though. They interviewed Encyclopedia without a parent or guardian present. And his parent is the Chief of Police! Also Encyclopedia says that people might have believed Bugs if Bugs hadn’t messed up. Considering the histories of the people involved, I highly doubt that. And isn’t giving a false statement to the police a serious crime? Why isn’t Bugs in juvie by now?
The Case of the Boy Bullfighter
The case: Future serial killer, Charlie Stewart, claims that Miguel Sebastian ordered his dog in Spanish to attack Charlie and then stole his tooth collection. They go to Miguel’s house to confront him, and Miguel has tied two knives to his dog’s head (PETA would not be pleased) and is putting on a bullfighting show. After the show, Miguel says that his dog attacked Charlie because he was wearing bright red pants and the dog has been trained to attack red. Also, he doesn’t know where Charlie’s stupid tooth collection is. How does Encyclopedia know he’s lying?
My verdict: No clue.
Was I right?: Apparently dogs are color-blind, so there’s no way that Miguel could have trained his dog to attack red things. Now granted, I’m not a dog person, but is this common knowledge? I think most kids would have a tough time with this one.
Stray observations: Encyclopedia bribes the surly dog with chocolate drops, which are basically poison for dogs. Way to go, boy genius! Also, why is Charlie’s creepy tooth collection so coveted? This is like the third time someone’s tried to scam or steal it. And Sally Kimball totally falls for Miguel’s nonsense. She tells Encyclopedia and Charlie that they should be ashamed at themselves for making such false accusations. I feel like Sally would know better than to doubt the boy wonder’s heart of gold.
The Case of the Divining Rod
The case: Sally Kimball comes into the agency to tell Encyclopedia that teenage delinquent, Ace Kurash, is selling divining rods that can locate gold for $3.00, so they head down to the beach (Idaville has a beach?) for a demonstration. Ash claims that there were a lot of pirate ship wrecks on that beach and that treasure is now buried beneath the sand. So he takes his magic stick and eventually “finds” a gold brick buried beneath the stand. The gold brick is a foot long and 6 inches wide and deep, and Ash holds it over his head for all the kids to see. Encyclopedia tells his friends not to bother, because the divining rod is just a stick. How does Encyclopedia know?
My verdict: Aside from the fact that if that thing could really find gold, then there’s no way he’s only be selling it for $3.00, I have no idea. Man, I’m really rusty.
Was I right?: Apparently a gold brick that size would be too heavy (300 lbs) for Ash to lift above his head, it must be a regular brick painted gold. Because most children know how much gold weighs.
Stray observations: Yes, Encyclopedia asked Sally to be his partner because of her physical fighting skills, but she is also really smart. However in the last chapter she let her lust for Miguel blind her to the truth and now she’s buying this divining rod BS? I will not stand for this character assassination of Sally Kimball!
The Case of the Bitter Drink
The case: A boy with the delightful nickname of Fangs (he’s the only fifth grader who can open a root beer bottle with his teeth!) hires Encyclopedia because he wants to win the Indian Trials and he’s sure that his main competitor, Melvin, is cheating. The three trials are pitching a tent, boiling water without using matches, and drinking something bitter without making a face. This is apparently a Native American ancient rite of manhood, or whatever. Sigh. Anyway, last year Melvin drank the bitter drink like it was water, so Fangs wants Encyclopedia to watch Melvin for any funny business. Encyclopedia notices that Melvin is sucking on ice and has a cold towel on his neck to beat the oppressive heat after he wins the tent contest and Fangs easily wins the water boiling contest. Spoiler: he uses his infamous teeth to make sparks for the fire. I don’t get it either. Anyway, so it all comes down to the offensive bitter drink competition. When Melvin once again easily drinks the bitter concoction, Encyclopedia knows he’s cheating. How did Encyclopedia figure it out?
My verdict: They made a big deal about him sucking the ice to cool down, so I’m guessing he numbed his mouth with the ice and therefore couldn’t really taste the bitterness.
Was I right?: Yay! I’m back, baby!
Weren’t the 60s adorable?: Ah the misappropriation of an indigenous culture. Charming. And racist! You really couldn’t get away with something like this in literature or real life these days, and I think we can all agree that that’s a good thing.
The Case of the Telltale Paint
The case: Someone knocks down Mrs. Carleton and steals her purse and when she looks up, she sees a kid racing past on his bike. Turns out it’s Encyclopedia competing in a bike race and he offers his services to poor, bemused Mrs. Carleton. She has a boy helping her paint her orchid house (who knew there was such a thing), but Jim claims he didn’t see anything. See there was a leak in his paint can, so he walked it back to the garage to pour the paint into a better container. Encyclopedia follows the paint drips from the orchid house to the garage that confirm Jim’s story. The drips are circular and 2 feet apart until halfway to the garage when the become lean and about 8 feet apart. However, Encyclopedia is sure that Jim witnessed the event and is scared to come forward. How does Encyclopedia know this.
My verdict: Well the title is the Telltale Paint, so clearly it has to do with the paint drips. I think it’s because the pain drips get leaner and farther apart, which indicate that Jim started running to the garage, possibly because he saw something.
Was I right?: Yes. Although Jim could just say that he started running because he wanted to minimize the paint that dripped onto Mrs. Carleton’s walkway, so this is hardly conclusive proof. Whatever.
Stray observations: Who knew that the boy genius would participate in such common endeavor as a bike race! Also this is the second case this book that Encyclopedia gets falsely accused of a crime.
The Case of the Stolen Diamonds
The case: Idaville is hosting a convention attended by Police Chiefs from around the state. Chief Dad is looking for an event that will break up all those boring speeches, so Encyclopedia proposes staging a fake crime, laying out the clues, and seeing how many of the Chiefs correctly solve the case. Mr. Van Swigget, the local jeweler, pretends that his diamond necklace has been stolen. He also has a glass replica of the necklace for display purposes that the thief somehow knew about despite the fact that only three other store employees knew of its existence. Mr Van Swigget’s story is that he was walking down the stairs with the glass necklace when two masked men ran up the stairs and grabbed the necklace. They then realized the necklace was fake, threw it on the ground, and made Mr. Van Swigget open the safe and give them the real necklace. So, who stole the necklace in this hypothetical crime?
My verdict: Clearly it was Mr. Van Swigget. If the thieves had really thrown the glass necklace on the floor like he’d claimed, then it would have broken. And yet it is fully intact when he shows it to the policemen. Clearly he hired the thieves to steal the fake necklace in a bid to keep the necklace for himself and scam the insurance money.
Was I right?: Yes!
Stray observations: Only 4 out of the 30 chiefs got the answer right. They probably would have done better if they’d known that in Idaville it’s ALWAYS the owners or the key witnesses that actually commit the crimes and then blame it on innocent fictitious hobos.
The Case of the Missing Statue
The case: A famous actress comes to Idaville for … reasons. She is currently starring in a movie about a stolen statue that her character helps recover and the actress decides to buy the statue in real life. Chief Brown gets called in when the statue is stolen and he decides to take Encyclopedia with him so that he can see that movie people are all lying publicity whores. I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly. The chief even decides that the actress might have faked the robbery. So when they get to the house, they see that the actress’s bed sheets have been torn and tied to her bed to make a makeshift rope down from the second story. She claims that she saw a large man going down the rope with the statue before he knocked down her bodyguard (Rocco, of course) and running away. She also says that she hasn’t touched anything in the room since the robbery. Encyclopedia sees Bugs Meany on the sidewalk below, hanging out and hoping to be “discovered.” Anyway, he convinces Bugs to climb up the bedsheet rope in order to check its strength and Bugs’s weight causes the bed to shift and a ballpoint pen that had been lodged between the bed and wall to fall out. Chief Brown then angrily accuses the actress of faking the robbery. How did Chief Brown know that she was lying. Yeah, I said CHIEF BROWN.
My verdict: If the bed had moved when Bugs (a kid) had climbed the bedsheet rope, then surely it would have moved even more when a large man had climbed down it, which would have made the lodged ballpoint pen fall out earlier.
Was I right?: Yep. And more shockingly, so was Chief Brown. The actress faked the robbery for publicity.
Stray observations: It looks like Chief Brown has finally caught on to the idea that sometimes people fake their crimes for all sorts of reasons. And he doesn’t even need Encyclopedia’s help figuring out what happened! I don’t even know what to do with this information. Up is down, left is right. Mass hysteria!
The Case of the House of Cards
The case: Encyclopedia goes to the birthday party for his friend Benny who enjoys building things and taking naps. There’s a scavenger hunt during the party and while Encyclopedia was looking through his mother’s medicine cabinet for a pink bar of soap, Sally comes running in to tell him that Benny’s new tool set has been stolen. Benny claims that he was building a house of cards on the coffee table when he decided to take a nap. Benny only woke up when Mark, a birthday party guest, shouted for the thief to stop. Mark is limping and says that he hit his leg on the coffee table while chasing the thief. Mark also says that he didn’t catch up with the thief, but did see him drive off in a black hot rod. Encyclopedia is all, “bitch please. Mark did it.” How did Encyclopedia know that Mark was lying?
My verdict: Because robberies in Idaville are ALWAYS inside jobs. Seriously, there’s like 4 in this book alone. Or more likely, that Mark claims that he bumped into the coffee table but Benny’s fragile house of cards is still standing, so Mark is a lying liar who lies.
Was I right?: Yes. On both counts.
Stray observations: It’s late and I’m tired. I’ve lost the will to observe.
7 out of 10 is not great. However, we’re starting to get to the point in the series where the mysteries are solved not by noticing inconsistencies in the stories, but by knowing random trivia, which makes it much harder for a kid (or a nostalgic adult) solve. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.