As chronicled in his series of books All The Wrong Questions, Lemony Snicket spends his time in the town of Stain’d-By-The-Sea solving perplexing puzzles. Now it’s your turn. Thirteen challenges await those who are interested in aiding in Mr. Snicket’s noble work, or who just have nothing better to do at the moment.Start
Visiting Stain’d-By-The-Sea are three salesman: Ambrose, who sells umbrellas; Bartholomew, who sells mousetraps, and Cyril, who sells sticks. After a long, unsuccessful day, the three meet up at their hotel, the Lost Arms, and decide to take a walk, carrying absolutely nothing with them. Sadly, after three blocks it begins to rain.
“Egad!” Ambrose cries. “My hair is getting soaked, and I spent all day combing it.”
“You’re better off than I am,” Bartholomew says. “I’ve just finished putting my hair in curlers, and now it’s as wet as can be.”
“My hair’s drier than my driest selection of sticks,” Cyril brags, and the other two salesmen have to admit he’s right.
How is this possible?
"Every Sunday morning, someone steals a pencil from my pencil case, which I keep here on the back porch where I can’t possibly keep an eye on it,” said Mrs. Vargas, Stain’d-By-The-Sea’s least interesting old lady. “I hope all of you children have alibis for this morning, or you’ll be locked up for extremely petty larceny.”
“I didn’t steal your pencil,” Moxie Mallahan replied. “I have enough pencils at home. Besides, I spent the morning with my father, scrubbing ink stains out of the shower curtain.”
“Don’t look at me,” Jake Hix said. “Every Sunday I bake bread, and while the dough is rising I roast fennel so I’ll have some handy for my dinner customers.”
“I spent the whole morning going through today’s mail,” Stew Mitchum said, “so I could circle things in catalogs for my parents to buy me.”
“I’m innocent too,” said Bouvard Bellerophon. “Like every Sunday, I was at the Unitarian Church, listening to a sermon on how to throw your voice so it sounds like it’s coming out of a bush.”
“Aha!” exclaimed Mrs. Vargas. “I may not be interesting, but at least I know who’s been stealing my pencils.”
How could she know a thing like that?
Nervously, Senator Claude sipped a bourbon on the rocks, a phrase which here means “a beverage which is delicious, but inappropriate for children, served over ice,” and then poured out the same cocktail for his five guests.
“To your health, gentlemen!” he said, and quickly downed his drink.
“Wait! I’m not a gentleman,” said the fifth guest, who was a woman.
“Neither am I,” said the fourth guest. “I prefer to think of myself as a ruffian, which means a man with very few social skills.”
“That’s not really what ruffian means,” said the third guest, sipping his drink.
“Yes it is,” insisted the second guest.
“I’m not sure what all of you are talking about,” said the first guest, as Senator Claude refilled his drink. The guests and their host continued to drink and argue for a few more minutes before everyone dropped dead, except the Senator who was soon arrested. “Poison,” the judge said in disgust, sentencing Claude to 97 years and six months in prison.
What? Poison? But Senator Claude was drinking the same drink! What happened?
“That’s my thousand-lira note,” Moxie Mallahan exclaimed, pointing to the Italian money Stew Mitchum was clutching. “My mother gave it to me after a long weekend in Sardinia.”
“It’s mine,” Stew Mitchum said. “I found it between pages 67 and 68 of Harriet Du Maurier’s famous novel But Her Lips Aren’t Moving.”
“You’re lying,” Moxie Mallahan said, “and I can prove it.”
“Ruined!” cried Polly Partial, Stain’d-By-The-Sea’s last remaining grocer. “I’m ruined!”
“What appears to be the problem?” asked an inquisitive customer, who was wearing a very shiny belt.
“My stock boy put the wrong labels on each and every one of these three boxes,” she said, pointing to cardboard boxes marked APPLES, ORANGES and APPLES & ORANGES, “and then taped them shut with sixty six layers of tape. That’s the last time I hire grocery interns. They wreck everything! It’ll take hours to open them all and move the labels to the right boxes.”
“You only have to open one box, and take out one piece of fruit, to sort it all out,” said the customer.
“That can’t be true!”
“It is true, madam.”
“If you can sort these out by opening only one box,” said Polly Partial, “I’ll give you a pint of rutabagas for free.”
He did, and she did.
How did he sort things out? And who wants rutabagas?
The customer opened the box labeled “APPLES & ORANGES,” and withdrew an apple. All three boxes had the wrong labels, so this box’s correct label was APPLES, and the box incorrectly labeled ORANGES therefore must be APPLES & ORANGES, and the box marked APPLES should be ORANGES.
Also, Rutabagas are decent if roasted with garlic.Next Back
“I have a fun activity,” said Harley Stawking, who worked as a math tutor in Stain’d-By-The-Sea when he wasn’t hanging around the train station photographing the steam engine. “Here are twelve marbles, completely identical except one of them is heavier than the others. I also happen to have with me a balance scale. I challenge you to figure out which of the marbles is the heavier one in just four weighings.”
“No, thank you,” I replied. “I’m reading right now.”
“I bet you’re a dummy,” Mr. Stawking said rudely. “That’s why you won’t participate in my math game.”
“I’m not a dummy,” I said sternly. “I can find the heavier marble in three weighings. But I’m not in the habit of playing math games with strangers.”
“Please?” Mr. Stawking said. “Pretty please?”
“Oh, very well.”
What did I do and why?
First I put 6 marbles on one side of the scale and 6 on the other. The heavier side contained the heavier marble, so I threw the other 6 marbles away and put 3 on one side and 3 on the other. Again, the heavier side contained the heavier marble, so I threw the three other marbles away. Then I put 1 marble on one side and 1 on the other to see if one of them was heavier. But they balanced equally, so I knew that the last marble was the heavier one. The mystery remains why I would do such a thing just because a stranger asked me to.Next Back
“La la la la,” sang the little girl.
“Please be quiet,” said her first cousin, Mona.
“Give me that donut and I’ll be quiet,” the little girl said.
“The donut is for my second cousin,” Mona said, and turned back to Dashiell Qwerty, who was Stain’d-By-The-Sea’s only librarian, a man full of secrets, and a very good sport. “You can see my problem, Mr. Qwerty. I need to transport a little girl, a donut, and this cannibal across town. There’s only room on this bicycle for one item besides myself. I’m willing to make several trips, but if I leave this little girl alone with the donut, she’ll eat it, and it’s the same situation with the little girl and this cannibal.”
“It’s true,” admitted the cannibal, straightening his tie. “If I’m alone with that girl I will eat her right up. But I would never touch a donut.”
“What can we do, Mr. Qwerty?” moaned Mona.
Good question. What’s the answer, pray tell?
Mona should first take the little girl across town, leaving the cannibal and the donut alone. Upon her return, she should transport the donut, and then bring the little girl back with her. Then she should take the cannibal across town, and return alone for the little girl. Alternately, she could hire a babysitter, buy her donuts across town and/or stop associating with cannibals.Next Back
One grey afternoon, Jake Hix was at work in Hungry’s diner, fitting a hot lunch into a small leather suitcase, in order to have a picnic with his sweetheart. He had just packed a thermos of sea urchin chowder and locked up the suitcase when Stew Mitchum came in with his parents Harvey and Mimi, Stain’d-By-The-Sea’s only police officers.
“What are you doing back here, Stew?” Jake asked. “You couldn’t be hungry again so soon. I served you three Sloppy Joes and one Tidy Joe for lunch just a few minutes ago.”
“I told you he was a liar,” Stew said to his parents. “I haven’t been in this diner all day. I’ve been looking for my harmonica, and I think Jake stole it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jake said. “It’s unsanitary to use other people’s harmonicas. Also--and more importantly, I might add--I’m not a thief.”
“Search him,” Stew said to his mother. “Search this whole diner. Open up that picnic basket and search that too. My harmonica’s got to be here somewhere.”
“You don’t have to search me,” Jake said. “I’ve been framed.”
That’s likely. But how did he prove it?
“Quit your grousing,” ordered the manager of Lebab Towers, which had once been a fancy apartment building and was now something of a mess. “The elevator isn’t working, but in the meantime your guests can use the stairs to get to your party. Your apartment is on the second floor, so it isn’t far.”
“But we’re going to make apple-kale smoothies and watch an old vaudeville act on television,” complained Horatio Algae, who had once lived in a fancy apartment building and now lived in a messy one. He held his flashlight sternly in the manager’s face. “With the elevator stalled, both those things are impossible.”
The manager frowned. “They are?”
Yes. Wait, why?
Umbrellas in hand, the three salesman decide to take another walk. It rains again, and although the umbrellas keep them mostly dry, a small leak in the center makes raindrops slide down the handle of the umbrella.
“Egad!” Ambrose cries. “My hand is damp.”
“You’re better off than I am,” Bartholomew says. “I’m holding the umbrella with both hands, so both my hands are damp.”
“My hands are no wetter than my driest sticks,” Cyril says, and the other two salesmen have to admit he’s right.
I suppose you’re going to tell me that Cyril doesn’t have any hands?
“I tell you, it’s genuine,” said the stranger to Prosper Lost, the proprietor of the Lost Arms hotel. “I hear you have an interest in sculpture, so I brought this item especially from Egypt where I picked it up in an open-air market. It depicts Ra, the Sun God, with a golden spear in one hand and a scarab, or beetle, in the other. A prominent Egyptologist told me the statue dates back to the Middle Kingdom. You can see here, carved at the base, the date 1800 BC. It’s worth a fortune, but I’m willing to trade it for three nights at your fine hotel, preferably in a room with a waterbed.”
“We don’t have waterbeds,” Prosper Lost said, “and we don’t cater to fakers.”
That’s a very sound policy. But how did Prosper Lost know the statue was fake?
“Seven,” replied Pecuchet Bellerophon, who with his brother Bouvard drove one of Stain’d-By-The-Sea’s last taxi cabs.
“Seven?” repeated Polly Partial in astonishment, sweeping up confetti from the floor of her grocery store. “The day before yesterday, you were seven years old, but next year you’ll turn ten? I’m confused.”
“Don’t let him rattle you,” said Bouvard. “My brother loves confusing people about his age, but it’s very simple, actually.”
The Mediocre Corral, an abandoned ranch outside Stain’d-By-The-Sea which was once selected as Best Place To Get Murdered by the town’s only newspaper, The Stain’d Lighthouse, has seen another murder. Abdul Whey, a Kurdish arachnologist, was found strangled with either a very slender rope or a very thick thread. When the Officers Mitchum arrived on the scene, they found thirteen suspects, but forgot to write down their names - not even their initials - just their occupations and what was found in their pockets. Luckily, the identity of the murderer was initially hidden in this collection of thirteen puzzles. “Initially” means “at first,” but perhaps at last you can solve the mystery for yourself.
|Name||Occupation||Objects in Pocket|
|2.||???||Grocer||name of Chef on piece of paper|
|4.||???||Seamstress||spool, map of nearby island|
|5.||???||Piano teacher||thumbtacks, paring knife|
|6.||???||Drifter||someone else’s wallet|
|10.||???||Funnelcake enthusiast||napkin, fork|
|12.||???||Tasteful dancer||money, glitter|
|13.||???||Religious leader||lobster bib|
Who is the murderer?
The ventriloquist was the murderer, having strangled Dr. Whey with the cord of his ventriloquist dummy, whose body was also found nearby. The first letter in each puzzle spells out VENTRILOQUIST.
You have cracked all thirteen cases, and earned a place in our organization alongside great detectives, librarians and people who arrange plates of fruit and chocolate as snacks at our top-secret meetings. It is likely you solved these mysteries while you were supposed to be doing something else, so you may want to have this official excuse letter handy, to avoid trouble, embarrassment and/or imprisonment. Simply fill in the blanks and your actions will be entirely explained by a more or less complete stranger.
The ventriloquist was the murderer, having strangled Dr. Whey with the cord of his ventriloquist dummy, whose body was also found nearby. The first letter in each puzzle spells out VENTRILOQUIST. If you HAD gotten it right, you'd be able to take a sneak peek at your next challenge coming so, but you didn't so don't watch this: