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I am a magnet for crime. If crime were physically manifested as iron filings, they would fly to me. They would cluster on my body, perhaps in the shape of a handlebar mustache, or a Van Dyke. Such is the attraction of crime to me. Poor, mild-mannered me.

Though I am a Former Professional Literary Agent, I am not unlike most physicians, authors, psychologists, attorneys, nosey old ladies, and European bachelors when I say that about once a week I discover a dead body, and also like them I have been moved (by my irrepressible curiosity and nose for trouble) to unmask the killers. In these endeavors, I was sometimes aided by my two cats, Petey and Francis, whose contemplative nature, meowing, and frequent naps often suggest solutions that evade the logical, non-feline mind (for a time I also had a human sidekick, but he did not appear in my later adventures). I have the uncanny ability to see through a murderer’s eyes—though it is unclear whether this is a superpower or I am just very empathetic. Also, I have recovered stolen gems.

I did not seek out these distractions, nor am I a trained law-enforcement professional. Initially, the local police were annoyed by my constant meddling. Yet over time, the Chief came to begrudgingly respect my intuitive and quite astounding crime-solving abilities: He has my secret e-mail address, and we occasionally play squash.

As previously reported, I am often asked to lend my keen deductive powers to a particularly beguiling mystery, but I just as often refuse. For there was that one case that I could not solve and cannot forget, that one case that so deeply disturbed and troubled and crippled me (either emotionally or physically or both) that I retreated to my fancy house in lonely retirement. Now, I wish only to devote my life to these things: The design of a five-way chess board, the perfect recipe for Hoppin’ John, and the answering of your questions. Yours are the only mysteries that I care to solve, and some of them are very mysterious indeed.

Robert O asks: A man took his wife out to the movies. During the movie he kills her, but when they leave the theatre no-one else realizes that she’s dead. How did he kill her?

John Kellogg Hodgman, Who Once Was a Detective: The key to this puzzle lies in the fact that the man was a tightrope walker in the local circus, the woman a trapeze artist. As we all know that Big Top romances are doomed from the start, we may surmise that either he fell for the bearded lady, or she for the strongman, thus seeding the plot of jealousy from which vile murder might sprout forth. Because the man had also spent many years as a hobo, he would be well trained in the art of mixing poisons. It would be child’s play to add a few tasteless, odorless drops of deadly nightshade upon his darling’s popcorn as the previews rolled—and once the deed was done, easier still for them both to leave the theater unnoticed, as the theater they attended was of the “Drive-in” variety.

Like my nemesis and doppelganger, the mad Dr. Kittles, you are clever, Robert O, but not clever enough.


Curt D asks: Perhaps it takes exceptional super mind power (which I obviously lack) to understand the motives behind the 18″ × 24″ souvenir poster, featuring Neal Pollack, “naked but for a fluffy gray and white kitten,” but will you explain them to me?

JKH, WOWAD: I think your question is best answered by the old riddle: The man who made it didn’t need it; the man who bought it didn’t want it; the man who used it didn’t know it.

If you, Curt D, are clever enough to tell me what “it” is, then I shall arrange for you to have one of these posters, and you can decide for yourself whether it is a work of good or evil. Personally, I think it is clear that the intention of that particular pose was not, as has been suggested, to pleasure Neal, but instead to traumatize the cat. Otherwise, the posters are very lovely, in my opinion. They are available in unlimited quantities and are very clever little items (thin as paper, really).

To obtain one, during the week following the publication of this column, you may send an email message to In this message, write your name and the mailing address to which you would like your poster sent. IMPORTANT: This special offer is only good through November 19th. Thereafter, the posters may be made available in some other fashion, but not through that email address. Therefore, send your request today.

Sharon B asks: when will I grow up?

JKH, WOWAD: When you stop fighting pirates, forget that you believe in fairies, leave the exclusive company of orphaned boys, and return to London, the aging process will recommence. I promise you.

Lisa L. F. asks: Marcel Duchamp once remarked that no book should be longer than 99 pages, but still most seem to be much longer. Why?

JKH, WOWAD: Because pages are printed in groupings of 16 or 32 (called “signatures”), the longest a book can actually be is 96 pages long. Most are much shorter: “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which many believe to be a very long novel, is actually only ten sentences long. There are two explanations for the phenomenon, called “page inflation,” that you have observed. Wide margins are partly to blame. But more commonly the fault lies in the conjuring of an evil magician, as magicians are the sworn enemies of logic, literary brevity, and, of course, detectives. Electronic publishing will change all this.

Chris G asks: where, in fact, is the grass greener?

JKH, WOWAD: Before we became mortal enemies, Kittles and I spent many an hour gazing into a spirit ball and discussing this very question. (I regret that I indulged this fancy of his. His maniac desire to contact the astral plane destroyed him, of course, and much of his house. But he was not always evil, and he possessed an otherwise precise mind, a large heart, and six fingers on each hand.) The answer, we determined, is this: At the base of the blade.

Sarah W asks: just what mountain has dew of caffeine, and why is it that one shade of green?

JKH, WOWAD: What you describe is one of the best-documented cases of mass hallucination on record. At medium to high altitudes, and particularly when under the influence of hypnosis or the demon gin, mountain climbers frequently claim to have seen green, nearly luminous dew covering every surface. This is not actually dew, of course, but the tears of the Olympian gods who are saddened by man’s folly. This phenomenon, called “page inflation,” was the subject of the bestselling book “Into Thin Air” by John Krakauer, as I’m sure you know.

Joe B asks: I just got back from vacation, where I caught a HUMONGOUS grasshopper! It is SO big. So far he has lived 6 days in captivity. I just fed him some leaves and stuff, but I just looked online about grasshoppers and it said he will eat vegetables and fruit and stuff. I also saw a huge cockroach, but I didn’t try to catch it. The grasshopper is so big and slow, it didn’t stand a chance. It is about the size of a bird. I couldn’t fit it in my mouth if I wanted to. That’s how big he is. Maybe I will take a digital picture of my new pet one day and send it to you. What is a good name?

JKH, WOWAD: I was once asked by the FBI to draw up a profile of the kind of person who may become a threat to himself or others. I did a good job, but not as good as Joe B has done. As I have said so many times in my long and distinguished career as an amateur sleuth: “Officers, you may take this man away now.”

As far as a name goes, have you considered Alan?

Judith K asks: Recently I discovered that my high school physics lab partner has been stalking a friend of mine from college. I’m very tempted to spread the news to everyone I know, some of whom know him, and some her. How should I alert one or both alumni magazines?

JKH, WOWAD: Have you considered inviting all the suspects to a delicious but awkward dinner? Then after, over cognac and cigars in the parlor, you may interrogate your guests, giving the impression that you have concluded that each of them, in turn, is the villain. This will lure the stalker into thinking he has evaded your grasp, when in fact, you can easily trick him into revealing himself by dropping a heavy book onto the marble floor at just the right moment. When all of the other guests turn their heads in surprise, the stalker, to everyone’s puzzlement, will stare straight forward. Because you have already illuminated through pristine logic that the stalker must have been completely deaf if he were to have planted the diary in the ringing bell-tower, the solution to the puzzle will be clear to all. Now, be careful: The stalker is very clever—didn’t he manage to hide his deafness from everyone, even his niece? Yes: He did. He may have anticipated your ruse and hid a gun in his dinner jacket which, should it come to it, he would not hesitate to use. It is lucky that you guessed at this ruse already, and using your pickpocket skills honed in the streets of Bombay, you have already removed and unloaded the gun and replaced it without his noticing. Imagine the look on his face when he pulls the trigger, only to hear a dull click, click, click! But the ultimate irony is that he doesn’t hear it at all. Because he is deaf!

Anyway, that’s what I’d do. Alternately you can just alert each alumni publication via the “Class Notes” section.

Life demands these things: Answers and candy. I will get to them both. Until that time, my dears, I remain here, up in the clouds, making shit happen.

That is all.

John Hodgman
Who Once Was a Detective