- 2 months ago
So, I haven’t really been keeping an eye on this part of the Tumblrsphere since I last posted in July. I logged on today and saw that I’ve had more activity here in the past six months than when I was actually posting.
I’m going to make it a point to swing by here more often and to answer the messages in my inbox and give my new followers something to read, since I really don’t have anything else to post. So if you have any questions, please feel free to ask away!
In the meantime, thanks for reading!
- 8 months ago
After reading all 287 Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing in this universe makes sense. I’m going to revisit my “favorite” stories in the series. I’m using the word “favorite” very loosely. Really, that word could be replaced with any or all of the following: craziest, most insane, nonsensical, wtf?, etc.
I hope you enjoy this list and feel free to let me know if I missed any of your “favorites.”
25) The Case of the Glass of Ginger Ale – A guy prepared an insulated bag full of ginger ale ice cubes, thereby setting forth a complex plan where he would be able to cheat his blind friend out of a priceless violin.
24) The Case of the Silver Dollar – After a boy made disparaging remarks about an all-girls football team, the team’s captain punched the boy and forced him into the woods where he was forced to strip. Thankfully, he escaped before we could see what she had been planned to do with him, but either way, one wouldn’t expect to find a sexual assault in these kinds of stories.
23) The Case of the Jumping Frogs – We learn that a park in Idaville had a section in the park that is completely gated off where its patrons are literally locked in. We also learn that this was to protect the park patrons from a string of thefts, and that the perpetrator was actually a park employee; though when said employee actually hit, he only bothered to steal a single item.
22) The Case of the Lemonade Stand – After Encyclopedia was alerted that his friend had left earnings from her lemonade stand unattended, he went to collect the money to put it somewhere safe. Bugs Meany made it look like Encyclopedia was stealing the money, declaring that he caught Encyclopedia “red-handed.” Encyclopedia argued semantics, since he was actually carrying the money the time Bugs uttered the term “red-handed,” Bugs used the phrase incorrectly, therefore the accusation was supposedly rendered null and void, regardless of Encyclopedia’s intent. It’s unclear what would have happened if Bugs had used a more appropriate phrase, but I’m guessing Encyclopedia would have had a bullshit defense that the police would have bought.
21) The Case of the Missing Watchgoose – I enjoy this story because Encyclopedia ended up eating some of the pet goose he gad been hired to find. I think it should also be mentioned that some strangers in the woods offered Encyclopedia some food and he accepted. That’s a great detail to include in a story for children.
20) The Case of the Astronaut Duck – A man gathered a bunch of children so that he could raise money for a space voyage where he and his pet duck will travel to other galaxies. Encyclopedia nor his friend (who had a great interest in space travel) didn’t find question how fantastically impossible flying to another galaxy would be. Instead, Encyclopedia honed in on the fact that a duck cannot survive in zero gravity.
19) The Case of the Telephone Call – We learned that Encyclopedia’s visiting cousin was fired from his job – thereby making him ineligible for a college scholarship – because his boss doesn’t understand how time zones work. We’re left to assume that this poor kid either no one in his life cares about him enough to ask him why he got fired, or that Encyclopedia is the only person in his life who does understand time zones. Either way, that’s a sad existence.
18) The Case of the Blueberry Pies – A judge in a pie-eating contest didn’t want contestants to get sick, so she changed to rules so that the children competing would have to run a half-mile after devouring two pies. This rules change heavily favored her twin sons, who were track stars. The sons ended up cheating by having one brother eat the pie and the other run in the race. Their mother didn’t question why only one of her sons was present for the race, which leads me to believe that she, at the very least, knew about the plan to cheat.
17) The Case of the Litterbugs – When a typed threat – obviously sent from a child – was determined to have come from a recently purchased or repaired typewriter, the Idaville Police pretty much shit on the Fourth Amendment and search the home of every person in town who had recently purchased or repaired a typewriter to find its author.
16) The Case of the Stolen Coin – Two sisters went through great lengths to drug a dinner guest in order to steal a coin from him. While all of the other guests were observant enough to notice a small mark on the bridge of the victim’s nose, no one was sharp enough to realize that the lights went out every time one of the sisters went into the kitchen, that the victim was drinking from a glass that had lipstick on the rim, or that said glass kept changing positions each time the lights went out.
15) The Case of the Broken Window – After apparently going through the entire house immediately after arriving, a party guest discovered a locked door. Since he was determined to to find out what was in that room, he went outside and scaled the house, unnoticed, in order to climb through the second-floor window. After all of that effort, he ended up stealing a single rare stamp and then returned to the party as if nothing had happened.
14) The Case of the Air Guitar – In what is possibly the dumbest contest ever dreamed up, contestants were to perform air guitar along with music (played on the piano, which of course, sounds nothing like a guitar). The contest didn’t seem to measure style, just time-keeping ability. Each contestant was to perform for one minute. Points were deducted if the contestant stops playing at least ten seconds early. That’s it. That’s the entire contest. Why? Why would that contest exist?
13) The Case of the Missing Ring – Two thieves broke into a man’s home, hit him over the head and ransacked the house in search of a ring. After being attacked, the victim hid the ring and left a note saying where the ring was being kept. Instead of writing the note by hand, he typed it out. Luckily, the robbers didn’t stop to find out the source of the noise of someone using a typewriter. Although time was short, the victim left a pretty detailed note describing the men’s actions. However, the injury caused problems with writing the note. He typed perfectly well except for the fact that he would type ‘c’ when he meant to type ‘v’ and vice versa. That seems like a pretty specific brain injury.
12) The Case of the Stolen Watch – Encyclopedia hatched a plan to recover a stolen watch. The plan hinged on the assumption that the watch was set to the wrong time, that the prime suspect – who was known for always being on time – would not only risk being seen in public with the hot item, but would depend on the watch as his primary timekeeping piece without even ensuring that it was set correctly and that this suspect would even show up to see someone he doesn’t even like.
11) The Case of the Mysterious Handprints – A house guest stole a set of bookends from her host and went to great lengths to make it look like a wheelchair-bound man pulled off the crime by walking across the yard and through the house on his hands.
10) The Case of the Bound Camper – A group kidnapped a camper. Instead of leaving the scene undetected and making a clean getaway, one of the kidnappers stayed behind, posing as a victim left behind, in order to get help. The group was eventually caught because of this completely unnecessary part of the plan was carried out.
9) The Case of the Lucky Catch – A retired baseball hero invited a bunch of children over to his estate for a picnic. During the event, he reported that the baseball from his big game had been stolen. In reality, he reported it stolen in order to collect insurance money. He then made it look like one of his young guests was the thief.
8) The Case of the Mysterious Thief – When Encyclopedia was stumped over who attacked and robbed a restaurant employee in the ladies’ room, Sally accused a couple that had been sitting in the corner. She came to the conclusion that the couple must have been cross-dressing, because the woman – not the man – was sitting the with her back to the room, which goes against the rules of the etiquette. One of the many problems with that theory was that the couple had already left the restaurant minutes before the attack and no one had seen them return. But that didn’t really seem to matter.
7) The Case of the Supermarket Shopper – When his friend announced that he was going to the supermarket, an art thief asked him to pick up four tubes of toothpaste for him; knowing that the extra items would make him unable to use the express lane and would lengthen his shopping trip by ten minutes or so. The man then used that extra time to break into his friends house to steal a centuries-old painting. Seriously though, the victim should have wondered why his friend needed him to pick up four tubes of toothpaste.
6) The Case of the Million Pesos – Encyclopedia’s friend’s uncle was being accused of a bank robbery in Mexico in which two men got away with one million pesos in one-peso bills. Encyclopedia “proved” his friend’s uncle’s accuser was lying because part of his claimed involved one of the robbers counting the money up in one afternoon. He pointed out that two men wouldn’t have been able to count one million bills in a single afternoon, but completely ignored how impossible it would have been for two men to have carried one-million-peso bills out of the bank.
5) The Case of Shoeless Sam – The game of baseball was mired by a team that conspired to do anything – no matter how ridiculous – to keep a member of the rival team from breaking a home run record and by an umpire that seemed to make up his own rules as he went along.
4) The Case of Cupid’s Arrow – Worried that a masked intruder was going to steal his prized diamond, a man tied the piece to an arrow and shot the arrow at a random spot out his window, away from the would-be thief. The police ignore the fact that the arrow came very close to killing a child and instead, used word play to get the intruder to accidentally confess.
3) The Case of the Two Spies – When Encyclopedia told his father that he thought he saw a man following another man into an old inn, the police chief explained that the man being followed was a suspected spy and the man doing the following was an FBI agent. He then told his son that it was all part of an undercover FBI investigation in which they suspected that the two spies were working together. His father then took his 10-year-old son to the inn, where we learn that the inn was swimming with FBI agents and local authorities. Despite all of the manpower, neither agency was able to pick up a shred of evidence that these two men were working together (which makes it unclear why the investigation had even continued to that point). Encyclopedia ended up figured out in a matter of minutes what dozens of professionals couldn’t over several days.
2) The Case of the Runaway Judge – One of the judges of a garden show left town a night early to elope. Mrs Brown had hoped that the judge had at least left a note behind, telling who the judge picked to win her category. There was a note, but it didn’t name a winner. Instead of naming a winner, this judge thought it would be a better idea to leave behind a red dress and a monthly planner left open to January. Since the judge’s past jobs included a jeweler and a code breaker, she had assumed that anyone would be able to see those to items and know that it was some sort of code and that she was saying that the woman whose last name was Garnet was the winner, since garnet is red and is the birthstone for January. This wasn’t obvious to Mrs. Brown (because why would it be?), but luckily, she had brought Encyclopedia around, who cracked the code. Good thing this woman had a spare red dress to leave behind.
1) The Case of the Lady Ghost – On his way home after committing a robbery, a jewel thief noticed that a man saw him walking on the beach. The thief was convinced that this witness was going to tell authorities what he saw and that the footprints he left behind would point to him because of his limp. So he went home, had his wife put on her wedding dress, tied a piece of wood to the train of the dress and follow his footprints in reverse, posing as a ghost. That way, the footprints would be covered up and no one would believe this witness who was also claiming to have seen a ghost. Except, the plan totally backfired, obviously.
Sally flies solo for the very last Encyclopedia Brown mystery.
When I told my wife that I finally got to the final mystery and that Encyclopedia wasn’t even in town for it, my wife asked if they had left it open for another author to pass the torch to Sally. My knee-jerk reaction was to answer, “God, I hope not.”
I say that because Sally is, on a whole, pretty useless to the operation of the Brown Detective Agency. Yes, she had served as Encyclopedia’s bodyguard a number of times, but a lot of times she proved to be dead weight. Her reasoning skills seemed to be no better than the average Idavillian – meaning, they were pretty freakin’ terrible – and a lot of times, she beat people up before even knowing for sure if they deserved it or not*.
In fact, of the total 287 Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, Sally only solved three of them without any help from Encyclopedia. The first time, anyone could have figured it out by simply seeing the evidence. The second time, she cooked up some crazy theory that involved cross-dressing and accusing people who had left already the scene of the crime. Add to this the fact that those two times, Sally was completely obnoxious about being able to figure something out before Encyclopedia was able to.
So, no. I hope Sally doesn’t get her own spin-off books.
* * * * * * *
* Normally, I’d say a good lesson in a children’s story is that violence is never the answer. However, after reading all 29 Encyclopedia Brown books and getting to know the dozens of this universe’s character, I’d have to say that over 95% of Idaville residents deserve at least a minor beatdown.
On the day of the Idaville Pet Fish Club’s annual show, which was held in Mrs. Finley’s backyard, Encyclopedia was visiting his grandmother. Sally went to the show alone to cheer on her friend Ginger Butterworth.
Ginger showed Sally her killifish, Lovely Lana. Sally noticed that Lovely Lana wasn’t moving; not even when Ginger tapped on the glass. Ginger told Sally that, according to the teenaged Earl Duffy, not reacting to anything showed that the Lovely Lana was not stressed out, which meant that she should do well with the judging.
According to her, Earl had taught Ginger all she knew about taking care of fish. She had met Earl at a table at the farmers market on the day that she bought Lovely Lana. Ginger had noticed that a table selling pet fish had one lone fish remaining. Earl encouraged Ginger to buy the fish, saying that he’d buy it himself, but he didn’t have any money left. He also told Ginger about how he had had two other killifish, but he accidentally killed them when he left the lid closed on their tank for too long, which cut off their oxygen supply. Earl had learned from his mistakes and he was sure that his new killifish, Prince, was in shape to win Best in Show at the Pet Fish Club Show.
When Ginger told Earl that she was going to buy the killifish and enter it for the show, Earl gave Ginger a glass vase for her fish. The vase had a bowl for a bottom and a long narrow neck opening up top. Earl said the vase was meant for a single flower, but it was just right for a killifish because the narrow opening would keep Lovely Lana from jumping out of the water, as killifish supposedly had a tendency to do.
At the show, Mrs. Finley was walking around and judged the other fish. She made comments like, “sunken belly,” “humpback,” and “stressed out.” Finley seemed pleased with Earl’s fish. She didn’t say much when she looked at Lovely Lana. She just said, “Hmmm.” Finley gave the vase a gentle shake and Lovely Lana didn’t move. “Hmmm,” she repeated as she walked away.
Minutes later, she announced that the winner was Ginger’s Lovely Lana.
Earl protested immediately because Lovely Lana was dead. Finley explained that the fish had perfect fins and shows well. “It’s just dead.” She then cited a Pet Fish Show that took place in Ohio several years earlier that used an oft-forgotten rule on the books where a dead fish won Best in Show. It turned out that if a fish died after arrival, it can still compete. Since Lovely Lana was alive when Ginger arrived and checked in, she was still eligible to win.
Sally then accused Earl of trying to keep Lovely Lana out of the show.
Okay, let’s back up for a second to address this insanity.
The implication here is that there is a governing body that oversees Pet Fish Shows, much like the American Kennel Club for dog shows or the Cat Fanciers’ Association for cats. This ruling body for pet fish club shows apparently has universally agreed upon rules that are to be followed in all group events. Although this organization has reach around the country – or even the world, we don’t even know – they apparently have a very small budget. We know this because Idaville Pet Fish Club Show was being held in the judge’s own backyard.
I also take issue with the dangerous precedent this “dead fish rule” sets for Pet Fish Club Shows. If fish lose points for being too jittery or “stressed,” and the dead Lovely Lana received points for “showing well,” meaning it wasn’t swimming frantically – because it was dead – then what’s stopping people from killing their fish immediately after checking into these shows so that they would be motionless for the judges?
So, we’re going to accept all of that as a reality. We also have to note the fact that Ginger seemed to have absolutely no reaction to the news that Lovely Lana was dead. Normally, someone in her position would speak up and say something like, “What do you mean she’s dead?” She didn’t react to the news that her fish was dead OR to the fact that she had just won Best in Show.
We also have to wonder why Lovely Lana wasn’t floating belly up if she was, in fact, dead. An earlier mystery was hinged entirely on the fact that recently deceased fish float to the top when they’re dead.
But let’s ignore all of those questions. How did Sally know that Earl tried to off Lovely Lana in order to win? Well, backing up to see Earl’s entire story, we learn that he’s probably a sick, sick dude.
Let’s go back to that farmers market where these three souls meet for the first time. Earl saw that this table had one killifish remaining. He feared that someone was going to buy that killifish and enter it into the Pet Fish Club Show, thus ruining Prince’s chances at winning Best in Show. I don’t know why he thought this particular remaining killifish was going to eventually be entered in this show. He didn’t allow for the fact that someone with no knowledge or interest in the exciting world of pet fish shows would take that fish home, where it would eventually die without knowing that such an event even existed.
I also don’t understand why he didn’t worry about any of the fish that had been sold earlier would be entered. One would think that someone scouting out potential fish show winners would have bought up the finest specimens already. There was also the possibility that some other fish – one sold months earlier in a pet shop across town – could have been a threat to Earl’s coveted prize. But for reasons unknown, he knew that this one fish was the only fish in the entire world that could beat Prince.
In order to ensure that someone who knew about taking care of fish bought this remaining killifish and had it entered, he encouraged Ginger to buy the fish because she knew nothing about the subject. He knew that he would be able to give Ginger false information so that the fish, and his competition, would be dead. Only, it seemed that Ginger only knew about the Pet Fish Club Show because Earl told her about it. So, if Earl had kept his damn mouth shut about this stupid show, Ginger wouldn’t have known about it and she wouldn’t have even entered. To make sure his plan worked, he even gave Ginger a vase, knowing that the vase would limit the amount of oxygen the fish would get. The fish would die and would be unable to take Prince’s top prize. Or so he thought.
Luckily for Earl, Ginger wasn’t bright enough to question whether or not a vase was a safe home for the fish. If she had said, “Weren’t you just telling me that your fish died because it didn’t have enough air? I’m worried this vase wouldn’t give my fish enough air, so I’m going to put her in a bowl with a screen over it. See you at the show,” Earl would have been screwed.
However, Earl’s luck ran out and his sick and twisted plan failed. Lovely Lana didn’t die soon enough for it to be disqualified.
So to review, in order to win a Pet Fish Club Show, this boy convinced a girl to buy a fish, told her about the show, and then gave her information that would kill her pet. However, he was undone by a rarely cited rule put out by this far-reaching congress that sanctions pet fish shows held in people’s backyards.
I got a bittersweet feeling from reading this story. It’s the last one in the final Encyclopedia Brown book to be authored by Donald J. Sobol (I don’t know of anyone taking over since Sobol’s death). While I’m a little sad that Encyclopedia will likely no longer solve any more nonsensical mysteries, I’m glad that this story did a good job of illustrating how absurd life in Idaville really is.
In all of the 287 mysteries (including the final one I’ll be examining tomorrow) Encyclopedia Brown collected his 25-cent charge a total of 113 times.
That means he only saw him make $28.25 and that he worked for free over 60% of the time. That means even the smartest person in Idaville has a shitty business sense.
(Yes, I realize that some of these cases was Encyclopedia defending himself from poorly concocted false accusations or being a know-it-all for the sake of being a know-it-all. Whatever, don’t ruin this for me.)
There’s a real problem at hand here with the inconsistency of the way time progresses in these stories. Time progresses (sort of) in this universe. There have been references to computers, female police officers (though we can tell the very thought made Chief Brown uncomfortable) and even a blisteringly up-to-date reference to the Apollo moon landing (which seems timely in 1970 when you consider that the fact that it was 1995 before anyone in this town made a mere mention of a computer). Nearly half-century elapsed, yet Encyclopedia stayed 10 years old.
That’s fine. He can stay 10 years old. These are the rules of this universe and these rules stayed consistent throughout the series. He went from baby boomer to whatever name they’ll come up with for what’s after millennials (not that anyone in Idaville would ever acknowledge any of these terms).
However, my suspension of disbelief has a line in the sand, and these stories cross that line with this:
Encyclopedia never upped his fee to adjust for inflation.
At best, this means that this is a world where inflation just doesn’t exist. However, it’s more likely that Encyclopedia is just grossly underestimating his true worth. In the first book published in 1963, the idea of a 10-year-old boy charging 25 cents to solve little mysteries was cute. With inflation, a quarter in 1963 worked out to be almost $2 in today’s money; which isn’t too shabby for a kid.
However in 2012, he was STILL charging only $0.25. What can anyone buy for 25 cents? Nothing! I’ll put it to you this way; I have to say things like “a quarter,” “25 cents” and “$0.25” to get around the fact that saying “25¢” requires extra effort since the cents symbol had been wiped from the keyboard 20+ years ago. Why? Because you can’t buy anything for 25¢.
This boy had solved (by my count) 136 thefts, 52 cases of fraud and 10 kidnappings. There were 93 instances of the Idaville Police Department needing his help; that’s nearly one-third of the stories in the entire series where he helped trained professionals do their job. Why is charging next to nothing for his time and effort? For a smart boy, Encyclopedia seems woefully ignorant of how much money he could pull in.
Lou Warwick called Chief Brown to tell him that a large sum of money had been taken from his desk. “I was really calling for your son, because he’s the one who will probably end up helping me. But I suppose you could come too. I mean, someone needs to drive him over here.”
I’m guessing Warwick didn’t really said all of that, but I like to think that he did.
Since retiring from the U.S. Army, Warwick had spent his time fixing up old military vehicles. Chief Brown and Encyclopedia went to Warwick’s garage and went down to business. Warwick said that the theft happened in his office. He thought he’d be able to figure out who took the money, but he couldn’t. That’s when he called Chief Brown.
Encyclopedia looked around the office. There was a desk, a chair, bookshelves, a four-drawer filing cabinet, a water cooler and a door leading to the bathroom. Warwick said that there had been a couple from out of town around earlier that morning. They were there to buy an amphibious jeep. They ended up paying in cash, which they carried in a backpack. Warwick said he wasn’t prepared for all of that cash, as he usually got paid in checks. He put the cash in a few manila envelopes to take to the bank later. However, while he was stuffing the envelopes, a customer walked into the garage. Instead of asking the customer to wait a moment, Warwick rushed with cash and just left it on his desk where anyone could just walk in and take it.
I’m not saying the thief was right for taking the money. I’m saying that maybe Warwick should be more careful just leaving thousands of dollars in cash lying around.
Warwick said that he noticed the three people in his staff enter the office in the half-hour he was helping his customer. All of them swore that they had nothing to do with the theft. He believed them, because the envelopes were too big to have been smuggled out of the office unnoticed.
Ed Winslow, the mechanic, was first in the office. He said that he had gone into the office to get a drink at the water cooler. He noticed the envelopes on the desk with a few bills sticking out, but he didn’t touch them.
Phil Riggs, did body work for Warwick. He told Chief Brown that after Winslow left the office, he went in to get a drink of water. He said he saw the envelopes on the desk and a few bills, but he didn’t steal anything.
Olga Simpson, the small, white-haired woman who handled paperwork, told Chief Brown that she had been in the office to get a drink after Riggs. She said she saw the envelopes and a few bills on the desk, but that she left them there.
Chief Brown and Warwick discussed other possibilities, but Warwick couldn’t think of another way the money could have gone missing other than one of those three taking the money.
Encyclopedia spoke up to give his theory. The money was still in the room. Warwick said that he had searched the entire room, but didn’t find it. Encyclopedia explained that the money was under the filing cabinet. Olga, the thief, put it there, knowing that no one would think to look under there, nor would they suspect that she lifted the filing cabinet.
Warwick didn’t believe Encyclopedia. How could the little old lady have lifted the filing cabinet by herself? Encyclopedia demonstrated. He pulled open each drawer of the cabinet as far as they could go. With the weight distribution thrown off, Encyclopedia was able to pull the top of the cabinet forward, allowing the it to tip. When he did that, the back of the cabinet rose, revealing the envelopes.
Okay, but how did Encyclopedia know that Olga was the one who stole it? Because she was the last one in the office. Since everyone, including her, said that the envelope was on the table, that meant that the last person in the room must have been the one to take the money.
If Warwick knew that Olga had been the last person in the room, why didn’t he suspect that she knew what happened to the envelopes of money? Even if Olga was covering for one of her co-workers, that meant that 1) she knew something and 2) there were two other possibilities. Warwick’s call to the police shouldn’t have been “someone stole money and I don’t know who,” it should have been, “one of my employees stole my money and I don’t know how.”
In 1989, an Encyclopedia Brown series was launched on HBO. The show lasted for about eight episodes and was directed by Savage Steve Holland, who directed Better Off Dead and
Better Off Dead II: A Day at the Boat Races One Crazy Summer.
It seems as though the episodes were released separately on VHS, and they’re available on Amazon. However, the one-hour premiere episode is available in four parts on YouTube and it’s quite interesting.
It’s pretty decent, and the people of Idaville aren’t portrayed as the idiots they seem to be in the books. And best of all, the guy who play Bugs Meany later went on to become a minor recurring character on Saved by the Bell.