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"I wouldn't believe him if he swore he was lying."
Encyclopedia Brown
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Encyclopedia Brown is the Kid Detective hero of a series of children's stories written by Donald Sobol. He uses his intelligence and formidable memory for trivial facts to solve a wide variety of mysteries. The Encyclopedia Brown stories are essentially a kids' version of Sobol's earlier series Two-Minute Mysteries featuring the police detective Dr. Haledjian. A number of Brown cases are directly taken from Two Minute Mysteries, albeit with the murders solved by Haledjian being (mostly) replaced with more humble crimes like bicycle theft. Like Two Minute Mysteries, most Encyclopedia Brown stories revolve around our detective spotting an inconsistency or impossibility in the guilty party's alibi.

Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown is the son of the Chief of Police in Idaville, who one day reveals an uncanny ability to crack cases using his deductive skills. Once a book he helps his dad solve a serious case at the dinner table, and the rest of the time he runs a neighborhood detective agency to help the local kids with their own troubles. His eternal rival is Bugs Meany, a local bully with his own posse of troublemakers, the Tigers. Encyclopedia's friend (and bodyguard) is Sally Kimball, a Cute Bruiser whom even Bugs fears. Another recurring enemy is Wilford Wiggins, a high school dropout who is constantly trying to con the neighborhood kids into buying bogus products or merchandise. Encyclopedia, Sally, and Bugs all agree that they hate him.

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It was adapted into a short-lived HBO series in 1989 (when an original HBO series was more likely to be a kids' show). There was also a newspaper comic syndicated from 1978-80.

The last book of the series was posthumously published in October, 2012, three months after Sobol's death.

    Books in this series 
  • #1: Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (1963)Chapters 
  • #2: Encyclopedia Brown Strikes Again (1965), also known as The Case of the Secret PitchChapters 
  • #3: Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues (1966)Chapters 
  • #4: Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man (1967)Chapters 
  • #5: Encyclopedia Brown Solves Them All (1968)Chapters 
  • #6: Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace (1969)Chapters 
  • #7: Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day (1970)Chapters 
  • #8: Encyclopedia Brown Tracks Them Down (1971)Chapters 
  • #9: Encyclopedia Brown Shows the Way (1972)Chapters 
  • #10: Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Case (1973)Chapters 
  • #11: Encyclopedia Brown Lends a Hand (1974), also known as Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Exploding Plumbing and Other MysteriesChapters 
  • #12: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles (1975)Chapters 
  • #13: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Midnight Visitor (1977)Chapters 
  • #14: Encyclopedia Brown Carries On (1980)Chapters 
  • #15: Encyclopedia Brown Sets the Pace (1981)Chapters 
  • #15 1/2: Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake (1982). Co-written with Glenn Andrews.Chapters 
  • #16: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Mysterious Handprints (1985)Chapters 
  • #17: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt (1988)Chapters 
  • #18: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers (1990)Chapters 
  • #19: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Two Spies (1995)Chapters 
  • #20: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of Pablo's Nose (1996)Chapters 
  • #21: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sleeping Dog (1998)Chapters 
  • #22: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Slippery Salamander (2000)Chapters 
  • #23: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Jumping Frogs (2003)Chapters 
  • #24: Encyclopedia Brown Cracks the Case (2007)Chapters 
  • #25: Encyclopedia Brown, Super Sleuth (2009)Chapters 
  • #26: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret UFOs (2010)Chapters 
  • #27: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Carnival Crime (2011)Chapters 
  • #28: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme (2012)Chapters 


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The books provide examples of the following tropes:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: Trisk (which is short for Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number thirteen) is terribly superstitious, particularly about his namesake.
  • Adults Are Useless: Subverted in the main books.
    • For starters, there are a lot of cases where adults (and specifically the police) simply aren't involved because they're brought to Encyclopedia by fellow schoolmates and are the sorts of misdeeds carried out by local bullies - misdemeanors not quite worth the police's trouble.
    • The majority of cases where adults are involved are ones that Encyclopedia's police officer father had brought home to discuss over dinner, since they're complicated ones that he can't quite figure out. Chief Brown's not incompetent though, as a number of cases throughout the series are solved by him, and the reader is invited to follow his investigative process.
    • There are also times where Encyclopedia goes to Chief Brown for help, having figured out how to solve a case but needing his father, in his role as a police officer, to get involved. Such cases include one in book 11, where he calls Chief Brown for help when he suspects a man in a police uniform is an impostor (and he's right). In the same book, he determines that a threatening letter was sent from a recently purchased or repaired typewriter and gets his father to check all the typewriter shops in town in order to find out who owned a typewriter of that kind, and then to match the print from one of the new/repaired typewriters to the print on the letter.
  • Aesop Amnesia:
    • In a lot of the books Encyclopedia attends a gathering of local kids called by Wilford Wiggins to invite them to buy into something big that doesn't exist. You'd think people would stop listening to him after the first few times Encyclopedia explained how Wilford was trying to con them, but not only do people keep attending Wilford's gatherings, it happens often enough for Encyclopedia to create a special policy for it: in one instance Encyclopedia tells his client he takes cases involving Wilford pro bono.
    • Encyclopedia consistently gets calls asking him to come to a certain location (sometimes deserted) because the anonymous caller wants to hire him for something. Inevitably, it turns out to be one of Bugs's revenge schemes. But Encyclopedia and Sally fall for it every time. Though to be fair, the police have a policy of always sending someone out even if it sounds like a prank call just in case it isn't, so Brown might have a similar policy.
  • Affectionate Parody: "Wikipedia Brown: The Case of the Captured Koala", which doubles as a Take That! to The Other Wiki.
  • Alliterative Name: Wilford Wiggins, Benny Breslin, Pablo Pizarro, Tyrone Taylor, Pinky Plummer, Mugsy Moonsooner.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: This gets Tyrone in trouble when trying to give a love letter to a girl.
  • Anachronistic Clue:
    • In one story the Conviction by Counterfactual Clue that a sword purporting to be from The American Civil War is a fake is the inscription, which states that it was given to Stonewall Jackson by General Lee "after the first Battle of Bull Run". Encyclopedia shows off a bit first; the South called that particular battle the Battle of Manassas - Bull Run was the Union name for it, and a Southern general would never call it that, let alone inscribe a sword thus. He then goes on to point out that neither side would have called it the first battle because no one could have known there would be another battle in that exact same place thirteen months later.
    • In "The Case of the Roman Pots", among several ceramic pots offered for sale as Roman was one pot dated "XXIII B.C." Encyclopedia Brown points out to a prospective buyer that the "B.C." dating system was created hundreds of years later.note 
    • Wilford Wiggins claims he's discovered caveman drawings and tries to get everyone to invest in what will surely become a new tourist attraction. Encyclopedia foils the scam by noticing a drawing of a caveman fighting a dinosaur. Of course, dinosaurs went extinct long before man emerged.
    • Wilford also tried to pass off a painting of the Liberty Bell, dated July 4, 1776 but showing the bell with a crack. The bell didn't crack until some time in the first half of the 1800s (the book claims 1835, but the earliest confirmed mention of a crack is in 1846).
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: One of Encyclopedia's clients is a boy obsessed with frontier history who runs around with an authentic 19th century musket. It's specifically noted that the gun is so old and rusted that it couldn't shoot gumdrops, but 1) common gun safety rules are to assume all guns are loaded and dangerous at all times unless you genuinely just checked, and 2) black-powder firearms that are left loaded can become dangerously unstable but still functional for decades, if not centuries.
  • Awesome Mccoolname: Some of the characters fall underneath these, including Bugs (Meany), Trisk, Cicero, Ziggy, and Wilford - as well as Encyclopedia himself (or his real name, Leroy).
    • "Bugs" being a nickname with a long provenance, shows the author's age - it was an early 20th century nickname for someone who was criminally or otherwise unstable (from whence was derived the name of Bugs Bunny).
  • Author Appeal: The author has the taste not to sexualize Sally, but the type she fits into is portrayed semisexually in many of his other works.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: "The Case of the Missing Statue", from book 3, revolved around this trope - a starlet said that a big, masked intruder broke into the room, knocked out her bodyguard, grabbed a diamond-encrusted statue, and climbed out the window from a bedsheet ladder tied to one of the bedposts. However, Chief Brown and his son proved them to be lying by asking Bugs Meany (who happened to be around at the time) to climb up the bedsheets so he could meet the starlet - when he did so, his (significantly less than the alleged intruder) weight pulled the bed from the wall and released a fountain pen trapped in between.
  • Berserk Button: Waldo Emerson, one of the neighborhood kids, flips out when he hears the word "round" in any context. It's because he believes the world is actually flat, and is extremely offended by any reminder that other people don't believe the same thing.
  • Big Eater: Chester Jenkins and his sister, Candice. Chester in particular is notorious for this - it's said that the only one who can out-eat him is Belly Slave, the hippopotamus at the local zoo.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Very, very common.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Well, not exactly "brilliant," but in a few stories, Encyclopedia and Sally comment that Wilford Wiggins, compulsive huckster, is actually a rather talented artist, as shown when he creates a fake painting of the Liberty Bell that took weeks to perfect. Unlike most examples of this trope, however, it is portrayed unambiguously negatively. Rather than using his talents legitimately, Wilford instead squanders them on get-rich-quick schemes by trying to pass his work off as some historical relic or other valuable instead of letting them stand on their own merits.
  • Broken Glass Penalty: One segment has some kids breaking a window from the inside and accidentally throwing the ball out the window. To avoid getting in trouble they put a rock on the floor in the room and told their mother that someone had thrown the rock in, that's how the window got broken. The mother figures out that if the rock had been thrown in there would be glass in the room - but there wasn't, only glass on the ground outside.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Variant in book 2's last chapter, "The Case of the Stomach Puncher". Encyclopedia and his client Herb Stein go up against a bully, sixteen-year-old Biff Logan, who stole Herb's bicycle and threatens to punch anyone in the stomach if he doesn't like them (and has carried it out a few times); Encyclopedia prepares for this encounter by donning a piece of sheet metal and covering it with his clothes. It nearly doesn't work because Biff's switched to punching in the eye after the last kid he hit couldn't eat for a week and almost starved, but Encyclopedia dupes him into aiming for the stomach instead, since that way it won't leave evidence. Biff falls for it and badly hurts his hand as a result.
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • Bugs Meany doesn't know when to quit framing Encyclopedia for various crimes, or threatening him to scram when bullying another kid.
    • Percy's Establishing Character Moment is reading Encyclopedia's detective notice, making up a mocking poem about it, and then hitting on Sally. He also encourages her to give up being a bodyguard since it "isn't ladylike". Encyclopedia quickly reveals him as a "phony" in Sally's words when he stages a fight to impress her.
  • The Case Of:
    • The series has used this many times, with titles like Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles and Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers.
    • Almost every chapter title in the main books starts with this. The only exceptions are in book #15 ½, which has seven mysteries and nine other chapters. The former seven use the phrase, while the nine non-mystery chapters leave it off.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The Lions gang in book one, who were like Bugs's gang. Aside from a brief mention in book 3, they never show up after Encyclopedia solves a case where one of their knives ended up in a watermelon.
  • Collector of the Strange: Charlie Stewart, the boy who collects animal teeth in a cookie jar. In an even odder case, an "egg spinning champion" covets it as the prize in a bet.
  • Con Artists Have No Sense of Scale: In one case, Wilford claims to be designing a scale model of the universe that would fit in the Grand Canyon, with a ball, half an inch in diameter, to represent Earth. Fortunately for the kids, Encyclopedia does have a sense of scale and realizes exactly how big such a "scale" model would be.note 
  • Condensation Clue: Used by a couple of spies to leave messages for one another in a hotel room they took turns checking into.
  • Conviction by Contradiction: Used constantly! The series contains classic examples of the trope. It's even the former trope namer - Bugs Meany Is Gonna Walk.
  • Conviction by Counterfactual Clue: Frequently used. This was a former Trope Namer for this as well—Encyclopedia Browned (a pun on Dan Browned).
  • Critical Research Failure: Used constantly In-Universe to provide Encyclopedia with the clues to solve a case.
    • Usually, it's Wilford Wiggins (a high school dropout) making a major error in his latest scam that Encyclopedia can pounce on (such as trying to pass off cave drawings showing humans and dinosaurs co-existing).
    • Bugs tries to pass off a priceless Civil War sword which is marked with how it was rewarded following "The First Battle of Bull Run." As Encyclopedia dryly notes, it would have been odd to mark it like that when no one knew at the time there would be a Second battle.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Sally versus any boy she has to fight. About the only time when Encyclopedia doesn't think she can win against a particular bully, he decides not to tell her about the case and instead handles the bully himself (via wearing a piece of sheet metal and tricking Biff into punching him there).
  • Cute Bruiser: Sally. She's described as being "the prettiest girl in the fifth-grade", and the most athletic. She frequently beats up the bullies. It's indicated that Encyclopedia made her his partner both because he recognized how smart she was, and to be his bodyguard.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Inverted; after Encyclopedia solves a challenge mystery that Sally presents to him, he hires her as his bodyguard. She also provides good common sense like not keeping his earnings in a shoe-box.
  • Depending on the Artist: Illustrations of the characters do vary.
    • Encyclopedia himself is usually depicted as an ordinary looking boy in the original book illustrations. When the individual stories got reprinted in textbooks or magazines, Encyclopedia was illustrated wearing glasses and/or a Conspicuous Trenchcoat.
    • Illustrations of Bugs Meany in both the original books and in the aforementioned reprints showed him as being tall and lanky. This is contrast to the live-action TV show where Bugs was much fatter.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: One recurring character is Charlie Stewart, a boy who collects animal teeth, who usually walks around barefoot in the hopes of finding new specimens under his feet.
  • Dowsing Device: Book 3, chapter 5, has Ace Kurash claiming to have found a way to use divining rods to find gold, and "demonstrated" his ability by using the rod to find a gold brick. Encyclopedia was able to stop his friends from buying rods from the budding con artist by explaining why the gold had to be fake.
  • Dying Clue: Both real and fake ones (as well as the related "person who wrote the clue was in danger and hid a code for help") pop up on occasion. There was even at least one case where the clue was in a dead man's will, because he knew in life that one of his sons had cheated him.
  • Eating Contest:
    • Book 4's "The Case of the Blueberry Pies" involves a variant - with the new rules this year, the competitors have to finish two blueberry pies, with fork and knife (the woman in charge disapproves of eating with your hands, calling it "a disgrace"), and then run half a mile to the finish line.
    • Encyclopedia's friend Chester is noted as competing in other eating contests in other books.
  • Encyclopedic Knowledge: This is how Encyclopedia got his nickname.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch:
    • In book 11's last chapter, Ziggy Ketcham (who works in a department store) tells Encyclopedia that he has to hide his lunch every day so his coworker Al Noshman, who's a very fast eater, won't steal it from him. He also explains that Noshman has gone out of his way to make sure Ziggy has to bring his own lunch, since Ziggy can't afford to go to a restaurant every day and, the one time they went to a restaurant together, Noshman treated the staff extremely rudely, embarrassing Ziggy and ensuring he wouldn't ever want to do that again.
    • Bugs Meany has repeatedly made trouble for kids so he can steal food from them, as in book 5, chapter 3 (where he scares off would-be customers from a fruit stand and helps himself to the merchandise), 15 1/2's first chapter (where he and his gang steal garlic bread and a chocolate cake from another boy) and book 17, chapter 2 (where he steals a boy's pizza). Encyclopedia usually has to step in and make him pay up for what he swiped.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • The one time that Bugs is even remotely on Encyclopedia's side, it's when Encyclopedia and Sally are facing off in a mystery-solving contest.
    • They're also technically on the same side whenever Wilford Wiggins is involved, since Bugs hates Wilford as much as Encyclopedia and Sally do.
  • Evil Is Petty:
    • Even though Bugs knows that Encyclopedia could set his father on him at any time, he still steals things from other kids or tries to scam them into buying "authentic" swords and autographed books.
    • One kid sabotages another girl's dog from winning an Ugly Dog contest even though it's just a contest for fun and the kid doesn't even win.
  • Fairplay Whodunnit: Within limits. It was once the trope namer for both Conviction by Contradiction and Conviction by Counterfactual Clue after all (as "Bugs Meany Is Gonna Walk" and "Encyclopedia Browned"), and even has its own section in Conviction by Contradiction.
  • Flat World: Discussed in book 23, where one of the kids in the neighborhood is Waldo Emerson, president and only member of the Idaville Junior Flat Earth Society. He is so firmly convinced that the world is actually flat that he flips out whenever he hears the word "round" in any context. One can only imagine his reaction to receiving a round globe as a prize in a contest, which happens to him in the book.
  • Forgetful Jones: Ziggy Ketcham, the most absent-minded boy in Idaville. Among other things, he once hired Encyclopedia to find the wristwatch he'd supposedly lost... which he was wearing on the wrong wrist. And in another case, he wants to hire Encyclopedia, but first has to be reminded of why he's standing outside Encyclopedia's garage with a quarter in hand. In book 11's last chapter, he comes to Encyclopedia and explains that the day before, he'd hidden a sandwich somewhere in the department store where he works (see Enemy Eats Your Lunch for why) and now he can't find it, or the list he kept of where he was hiding his food each day that week. Fortunately, Encyclopedia helps him find the list and, after studying it and realizing just what item of clothing Ziggy had hidden his food with (which he was remembering wrong), recover the missing sandwich.
  • Frame-Up: Bugs Meany repeatedly tries to frame Encyclopedia and Sally for some crime or another, as revenge for their stopping his past schemes. Other crooks do it too, but they usually have different targets and are doing it to cover up their own crimes.
  • Fresh Clue:
    • Inverted in the first Bugs Meany story, he claims that he just put up a tent on a rainy morning, while Encyclopedia Brown's first client claims that it's his tent that has been up for weeks. Encyclopedia "accidentally" knocks down a pack of cards and notes that they're dry, thus disproving Bugs's story. In the TV show it's played straight in that the boy just put up the tent and Bugs claims he and his gang were there for a week, and instead the cards are damp from the rain.
    • Inverted in another story. EC deduces that the perp had not just just pulled up after a hours-long drive (as he claims) because a baby sits on the car hood and doesn't get burned; therefore the car must have been sitting there long enough to cool down.
  • Fun with Acronyms: In a sense. One case involved a kidnapped man who left behind a clue written on a desk calendar—the numbers 7 8 9 10 11. Since they were written on a calendar and not the notepad beside it, Encyclopedia surmised that the numbers stood for months of the year: July, August, September, October and November. The first letters of those months identified a man named Arthur Jason as the kidnapper.
  • Fun with Palindromes: Used in the solution to The Case of the Broken Globe. One student wanted to let the teacher know who had broken a globe but without being seen as a snitch. He therefore completed a captioning assignment using only palindromes. The guilty parties were the two students whose names were palindromes (it turns out they'd been goofing around while the teacher was out and broke the globe by accident).
  • Genius Bruiser: Sally, particularly on cases where gender is a plot point.
  • Gentleman Thief: The "Rhyming Robber" in book 23 is described as one, who steals from people, then hides the loot and sends them a poem hinting at where he hid it. If they haven't found it themselves in a week, he recovers it himself and then starts all over again. Encyclopedia figures out one of his clues, allowing the police to nab him when he goes to his latest hiding place.
  • Get Rich Quick Scheme: Wilford Wiggins is always up to one of these, trying to cheat local kids out of their allowance money. Bugs Meany and other kids have tried it too.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Bugs' arranging a competition between Encyclopedia and Sally. The plan: to have Encyclopedia win and thus show up the girl who beat up Bugs. This plan succeeds, so far as it goes, but then Encyclopedia and Sally join forces, much to Bugs' chagrin.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: One story was Brown solving the case of who stole a boy's clothes, leaving him naked in the woods.
  • Guns Are Useless: Averted. It doesn't come up much because the kinds of "crimes" Encyclopedia gets personally involved with usually top out at school bully hijinks, but whenever he hears somebody firing off a gun, he's realistically reluctant to be the main party involved with confronting the gunman (such as in "The Case of the Dead Eagles"). After all, he's a ten-year-old kid, what's he going to do?
  • Heavy Sleeper: One of Encyclopedia's camping buddies, Benny Breslin, has this trait (and to top it off, he snores incredibly loud). It's become a plot point to a case more than once.
  • Hidden Depths: While best known for being a Big Eater, Chester Jenkins is smart enough to have won the Brain Game at Tyrone Taylor's birthday party one year, and only came in second during the events of the story because Tyrone sneaked the last answer to the girl he was currently romancing. Even Sally can't see past his food focus before Encyclopedia reminds her about his previous victory.
  • Hold My Glasses: Key to one case in book 2. Percy Arbuthnot goes on a date with Sally and gets into a fight, taking his glasses off first. Unfortunately, Encyclopedia busts him as a fraud when he puts the glasses in his shirt/coat pocket, where they would have been broken in a real fight. Sally turns on her suitor when Encyclopedia tips her off.
  • Hollywood Law:
    • The story that introduces Sally, when she presents a mystery to test Encyclopedia's skill, has one glaring flaw that falsifies the solution: when the grandniece states that Merko is not Fred Gibson's grandfather, the court takes her claim seriously, because Merko, revealed in the solution to be a woman, is the man's grandmother. However, in real life, the probate judge is well aware of the decedent's gender (it's on the death certificate, after all, and this hearing took place decades after Merko's death), and such a statement would have been dismissed out of hand as frivolous. Even if the judge didn't know (Merko had posed as a man her entire life, and there was either no medical examination or the coroner had been suborned to falsify the record), the question of Merko's gender was legally irrelevant in any case. The only way the grandniece could have been taken seriously would have been if Merko had been a man, and the allegation was that Fred Gibson had simply been lying. It's obvious, in-universe, that Sally is trying to test not only Encyclopedia's intelligence, but whether or not he is sexist; however, she could have devised a better story. This is fixed in the HBO version, where Sally doesn't explicitly state that the judge didn't take the claim validly but rather "both the man and the woman were right," that is both are telling the truth.
    • Knowingly making a fraudulent criminal complaint is a crime in and of itself in most jurisdictions, so Bugs Meany's repeated attempts to frame Encyclopedia for crimes that never happened should have gotten him locked up and sent to juvie hall.
  • Humble Hero: Encyclopedia takes no credit for helping his dad solve cases, though his dad wants to hang a medal on him every time he does. (The narration mentions that Encyclopedia wouldn't be able to stand up under all those medals). Book 3 also has Encyclopedia do this in a non-mystery setting when he chooses to fib to his mother and claim that he went fishing in a very dirty body of water, rather than tell her the truth - he got dirt and oil on him while helping out one of his old teachers when she had a problem with her car's engine.
  • Hustler: Wilford Wiggins is a recurring one.
    • Bugs Meany as well, on a smaller scale.
    • Ace Kurash predates Wilford, trying to scam kids in book 3 with a fake Dowsing Device (Wilford debuted in book 5).
    • In book 1's "The Case of the Champion Egg-Spinner", Encyclopedia finds some of his friends have been hustled by Eddie Phelan, who challenged them all to egg-spinning contests (the egg that spins the longest wins) and somehow wins every time. It turns out he cheated by hard-boiling his egg. Encyclopedia, to guarantee fairness in the next match, makes the competitors switch eggs; Eddie loses and agrees to return all the prizes he won for his cheating, while getting back the one prize he'd just lost.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: How most of Encyclopedia's suspects incriminate themselves.
  • Informed Ability: Sally is supposedly on roughly the same level as Encyclopedia, intellectually. It's only ever applied a few times. One occasion is when she arranges a mystery face-off against him, and on a few other rare occasions when she solves the mystery instead of Encyclopedia.
    • Her most common case-solving portrayal, used almost once per book, is to point out something that Brown failed to notice due to her greater awareness of gender issues.
    "That," Sally replied, "is because you are a boy."
    • Justified when Encyclopedia drops the hint about Percy's glasses. Despite the fact that until then she's almost swooning in adoration, she realizes at once what he's trying to tell her and acts appropriately to the point where feigning unconsciousness is the only way for Percy to make her stop hitting him.
    • Her being just below Encyclopedia intellectually is typically portrayed by her knowing who the guilty party is, just not being able to prove it; or at least not as fast as Encyclopedia.
  • Inspector Lestrade: Chief Brown can solve some cases single-handedly, but he never plays this trope completely straight.
  • Insurance Fraud: Multiple cases (such as the made-up case in "The Case of the Stolen Diamonds" and the real one in "The Case of the Underwater Car") involve people attempting to defraud an insurance company.
  • Invisible Writing: There was a story which used onion juice as the ink of choice.
  • Impersonating an Officer: In "The Case of the Counterfeit Bill", Encyclopedia fingers a man impersonating a policeman as the culprit. Encyclopedia realized he was a fake due to him putting on his badge on the right side of his chest. Policemen are supposed to wear it over their hearts, on the left side.
  • It Was with You All Along: In one case, the absent-minded Ziggy Ketcham is mentioned as having once hired Encyclopedia to find his wristwatch. Encyclopedia found it on his other wrist.
  • I Was Beaten by a Girl: How Bugs' reacted to his first meeting with Sally, and he can never live it down, it seems.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Somewhat averted with Bugs Meany. While he is frequently called out on his trickery and sometimes even publicly humiliated, he frequently files false police reports against Encyclopedia (son of the police chief) with no consequences.
    • A blind violinist's friend who cheated him out of an expensive violin during a bet, that is to replace a glass with ice locked in a safe with a glass of ginger ale without the violinist hearing him. The friend used Loophole Abuse by bringing frozen ginger ale ice cubes in an insulated bag and simply waiting for them to melt in the safe. Encyclopedia doesn't have his usual summation at the end about what happened after he told the violinist.
  • Kidanova: Tyrone Taylor appears in a few cases and apparently has a history of trying to woo a lot of different girls. Oh, he's also 9.
  • Kid Detective: One of the most famous examples.
  • Kirk Summation: The answers in the back of each book. In the show Encyclopedia gives them more succinctly.
  • Left Your Lifesaver Behind: In book 2's "The Case of the Forgetful Sheriff", a story is told of how the titular character (who lived eighty years before) forgot his gun when he went out to confront a band of thieves. When this was discovered, a posse of citizens went after him and found him standing over the dead bodies of the thieves, having wrestled a gun away from one and killed all five with it. Subverted when it turns out he hadn't forgotten his weapon at all - he was a member of the gang and didn't think he'd need his gun for the meeting. He grabbed one from one of the other robbers and killed them all due to a disagreement over how to split up the loot.
  • Linked List Clue Methodology: Book 17's titular "Treasure Hunt" relies on this. The participants each receive a card with a clue leading them to a location with another clue, which leads to the third clue, and so on. The mystery of the chapter is how to alter the last clue to trip up a person who spied on the man hiding the clues, and so already knows the final location.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Over the nearly four decades the series has been running, Sobol introduced a surprisingly large number of kids, most of whom have a recurring personality quirk that centers around some hobby (art, catching flies, entering contests, superstitions, acting, etc.) and who often serve as Encyclopedia's clients.
  • Lost Will and Testament: In book 12, chapter 4, Brandon King has hidden his will and shared the location with his lawyer, but forbade him from revealing the location until ninety days after his death. Per the conditions he set up, three of his sons will inherit if it's found before the due date. If not, everything goes to the magician's union instead. Three of the sons want to find the will, and the fourth pretends he wants to as well; in fact, he's been disinherited and knows it, but after Mr. King dies, the disinherited brother joins the others in asking Chief Brown for help so as not to incriminate himself.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: When Chauncy van Throckmorton is stripped and left in the woods, his biggest concern is that his socks clash with his underwear.
  • Meaningful Name: Bugs (as in "criminally or otherwise unstable") Meany (he's mean).
  • Mugging the Monster: Someone steals Sally's rollerblades from Encyclopedia while he's getting a tooth removed. He grumbles about a detective getting robbed and quickly finds the thief, undoing the latter's claims that he doesn't know anything about "Dr. Wilson" while revealing he knows Vivian Wilson is a guy and a dentist, when most people would assume Vivian is a woman. It's a good thing the thief gives up the blades before Sally beat the tar out of him.
  • Mystery Fiction
  • Non-Action Guy: Encyclopedia, who constantly anticipates any confrontations with bullies bigger than him. This is why he has Sally, though the first time he encountered Bugs he merely threatened to call the cops on him.
    • Courageously averted on one occasion: he specifically states (when asked why he isn't bringing her) that the boy they're dealing with is more than her match. (On this occasion, however, he's aware of the older boy's signature method of brutality and has taken appropriate precautions.)
  • Non Sequitur, *Thud*: What Bugs Meany is usually described as delivering after a beatdown from Sally.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Since the first book was published almost fifty years ago, Encyclopedia's age has always been listed as ten years old (or a fifth-grader, for those books that don't mention an age).
  • Not Me This Time: In one case, Spike Larson, one of Bugs Meany's lackeys, is accused of letting his snake eat another kid's lizards before a lizard race. It turns out that the Tiger member is actually innocent, and that Barry stole Spike's snake.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Deliberately invoked by the perp in one story.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Encyclopedia when he accepts a piece of chocolate from a hitchhiker while helping his father chase down a gang in a police care, notes that it snaps in two, and realizes that it contradicts the hitchhiker's story that he was out in the sun for an hour, since the chocolate would have melted. This means he's in the backseat of a police car with a criminal. He keeps his cool, however, asking for another piece and writing a warning to his father on the wrapper.
    • Also Encyclopedia after he's accepted cooked meat from two guys while searching for a friend's goose, and realizing belatedly that they had killed and cooked the goose.
  • Once an Episode: It's almost routine how the books contain key things in every volume:
    • The opening chapters talk of how crime-free Idaville is and that no one would suspect it's because of Encyclopedia. The first chapter then has Chief Brown bringing home a case which Encyclopedia solves.
    • The second chapter has Encyclopedia helping a kid out with Bugs Meany.
    • The next opens with Bugs remembering how Sally punched him out long ago. It then has him attempting to frame Encyclopedia and Sally for a crime.
    • Midway through several books, Wilford Wiggins calls up a meeting for his latest get-rich-quick scam.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Only his parents and the occasional extra adult in a case calls Encyclopedia by his real name (Leroy). Everyone else calls him Encyclopedia.
  • Only Sane Man: Encyclopedia, Sally, and (amazingly) Bugs are usually the only people who doubt Wilford Wiggins whenever he does one of his cons.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Sally at one point considers giving up her bodyguard duty to Encyclopedia when she falls for Percy, who believes that fighting isn't "ladylike". This annoys Encyclopedia enough to reveal that Percy is a phony.
  • Our Cryptids Are More Mysterious: One mystery involved Encyclopedia investigating a "Skunk Ape", the Idaville version of an abominable snowman. Of course, it's only Bugs Meany again.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: In book 12, chapter 4, Brandon King disinherited one of his four sons in his will, since the son had stolen from his father's business. He also set up a Game Between Heirs so that unless his will (which he'd hidden, telling only his lawyer where it was) was found within ninety days of his passing, all the brothers would be disinherited.
  • Platonic Boy/Girl Heroes: Encyclopedia and Sally.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Encyclopedia and Sally, reader comments about them making "a cute couple" (and their being ten-year-olds) aside. Lampshaded at least once by a kid photographer who saw them sitting on a couch together and tried to take a picture. At which point she almost attacked him with a lamp (justifiably, since she thought he was The Peeping Tom until Encyclopedia recognized him).
  • Polar Bears and Penguins: Provides the solution to one mystery - the stuffed penguins are out of place in a display of items from the North Pole, and had been brought as gifts by a thief who stole from his host and hid the money inside the penguins, intending to buy them at auction after the host died.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • After almost 25 cases in which Bugs is proven wrong, the cops still don't immediately haul Bugs off to jail. Making a false criminal complaint is illegal in and of itself, not to mention some of the underlying crimes Bugs commits in trying to frame Encyclopedia and Sally. These are the only times they consistently mess up though.
    • Book 25 opens with a case where one cop really is in need of better training, being something of a newbie (he's introduced when he mistakes Chief Brown, arriving to join him in staking out the location where a robber is due to arrive soon, as the crook). After the case is closed, the newbie is sent back to the police academy for a remedial class on stakeouts.
  • Publicity Stunt: In "The Case of the Missing Statue", a statue is stolen just before of the premiere of Linda Wentworth's film about a statue that is stolen. Turns out the whole thing is a setup to promote said film.
  • Pun: Whenever an alternate name for the Tigers is mentioned, such as suggesting they should be called the Steel Clocks because "they were always giving some kid a hard time".
  • Punched Across the Room: In book 2's "The Case of the Stomach Puncher", sixteen-year-old bully Biff Logan hits Encyclopedia in the stomach. Fortunately, Encyclopedia was warned of Biff's habits and so wore a piece of sheet metal under his clothes. As a result, he's knocked backward seven feet by the blow but emerges unharmed. Biff, on the other hand, is left yelping in pain.
  • Race Lift: Some newer covers depict Encyclopedia Brown as Hispanic.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: An unusual example in "The Case of the Flying Submarine". A new submarine slips out of its airlift, and Encyclopedia, Sally and the Tigers are the first people on the scene. The police arrive soon after to make sure nothing happens to the submarine before the military can show up and reclaim it. Bugs claims Encyclopedia was going to steal equipment from inside, and even though Bugs must be notorious as a crank and Encyclopedia helps his father crack important cases over the dinner table all the time, Chief Brown does his job and says he has to take the claim seriously. Of course it's proven to be a lie, but it shows what a good cop Chief Brown really is because he knows he can't pick sides no matter what.
  • Recycled Title: The Case of Wilford's Big Deal is used as a chapter title in both Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sleeping Dog and Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme.
  • Replaced with Replica: Book #3, chapter 8 ("The Case of the Stolen Diamonds"), features a fake case (made up to test a group of police chiefs from around the state, who are in Idaville for their yearly meeting) in which a group of crooks rob a jewelry store of a diamond necklace and aren't fooled by the glass replica that the store owner also had for exactly this purpose, as a decoy to throw off any would-be thieves. Except they "were", because they threw the first necklace to the stone floor, where it was undamaged, and ran off with the second. Had they thrown the replica, it would have broken, whereas the diamond one wouldn't. The owner made up the theft to get the insurance money on the necklace.
  • Saying Too Much: In "The Case of the Foot Warmer," the perp might have gotten away with his alibi of using the titular object in a certain store where it's cold if he hadn't mentioned that with the titular object he can't bend over. This contradicts the shopkeeper's account that he bent down to pick up a baby while there, which reveals that he actually did shoplift two air rifles.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Averted. Despite Encyclopedia being the police chief's son, he never abuses that authority, even when someone like Bugs is constantly trying to frame him.
  • Second Place Is for Winners:
    • One story has a girl who deliberately wins second prize in a trivia contest, because she knows the watch that goes to the first-prize winner is broken (she herself had snooped and accidentally broken it).
    • Another story has one of Encyclopedia's friends trying to finish last place in a race, figuring that the last-place finisher will get the most time with the media. Another girl had the same idea, so Encyclopedia has to prove she cheated by shooting a hole in her story about stopping near a theater to hear the music being played within—apparently, to know the actual name of the song they were playing (rather than a more common song with the same tune), she'd have had to have gone inside, and therefore off the race course.Side note  He was right—she'd left the race course after two miles and only returned to the course for the last mile.
  • Secret Art:
    • In the second book, the very first case involves Bugs Meany claiming to have invented one of these - a cross-eyed pitch - and sold the secret to a famous baseball player. Having previously made a bet with another boy that he could do so, he wants the other boy to pay up. Encyclopedia proves he faked the letter and check from the player.
    • In book 5's second chapter, Bugs claims to have learned a secret martial arts death grip from an oriental master and demonstrates it on two of his Tigers, supposedly knocking them out. He then challenges Sally to a fight, thinking she'd be too intimidated to accept. However, Encyclopedia proves it's a fake - the two boys fell backwards when it was used. In reality, people who pass out fall forward after their knees buckle. Sally promptly beats Bugs up.
  • Serious Business: Idaville seems to have a lot of unique contests that fit this trope, including shower singing, mouse shows, worn-out sayings contests, and the like. Encyclopedia even lampshades this when discussing the mouse show.
    • Similarly, some of the kids' hobbies fit this trope, too. Justified, as, at that age, one's hobby is indeed Serious Business — at least to oneself.
  • Shameful Strip: Chauncy van Throckmorton, the best-dressed boy in Idaville, is forced to take off his clothes by a tough seventh-grade girl before eventually running off in just his shoes, socks and underwear. Worse yet for him, they clashed.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Several, with Ace Kurash as one of (if not the) first. Wilford Wiggins is a recurring one, and Bugs Meany periodically gets into it too. Other one-shot examples appear in the later books, but regardless of who's doing so, Encyclopedia is always there to foil their "get rich quick" schemes.
  • Society Marches On: The opening case in book 11 had you realizing that one of the people said he went to a bank on a Sunday, when banks were closed at the time of writing. Nowadays, though most banks are still closed on Sundays, the proliferation of ATMs means that one can still do business in a bank (make deposits, withdrawals, etc.) even when it's technically closed. Additionally, as banks have moved into supermarkets and malls many banks are now open seven days a week, only closing on major holidays.
  • Solid Gold Poop: Literal Metaphor, much? Smelly Nellie finds $4,000 in ambergris(whale fecal stones!) while searching for clams. However, she couldn't carry the fifty-pound lump of concentrated air pollution on her own, and asks for some help from some skin divers - who turn out to be Bugs Meany and his gang, who promptly chase her off. Luckily, they're knocked senseless by the stench when it dries out in the sun, and are still there when Encyclopedia shows up with some adults. They then try to claim ownership of it, only for Encyclopedia to ask where they found it exactly. When the adults press the issue, Bugs says they found it on the ocean floor and rolled it to shore - and Encyclopedia points out that ambergris floats.
  • Something Completely Different: Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake had only seven cases instead of the standard ten, and each case was followed with an additional chapter and a recipe in the theme of that particular case. To top it off, the very last chapter is essentially an epilogue with no case at all.
  • A Spy at the Spa: Inverted in one case, where a salon customer nabs an important secret from the owners because they think she can't hear them under the hairdryer. Turned out she can read lips because she was deaf to begin with.
  • Strictly Formula: Each book arranges its stories in a similar loose arc.
    • The first couple of pages of every book except for the first are almost word-for-word identical, describing Idaville, the businesses in it, and the police force, leading up to Chief Brown bringing a case home for his son to solve.
    • The second usually introduces the detective agency he runs out his garage, and a neighborhood kid will come by and hire him to do something about something Bugs Meany's done.
    • The third or fourth chapter is Bugs' attempt at revenge, usually by getting the police involved. And the introduction of Sally Kimball for the book, and the explanation of why Bugs doesn't just punch Encyclopedia's lights out.
    • While Bugs and his gang are introduced, the author will also usually suggest that they should have called them something else besides "The Tigers" ("They should have called themselves the Steel Clocks. They were always giving some kid a hard time.") and have Bugs envision some sort of comically gruesome fate for Encyclopedia ("Pounding his head so low that he'd be able to use his socks as earmuffs.") Typically, if Sally's involved, there's mention of the only time Bugs tried to mess with her and his resulting Non Sequitur, *Thud* ("mumbling something about the price of tea in China").
    • The eighth or ninth chapter in most books has Encyclopedia thwarting one of Wilford Wiggins's get-rich-quick schemes.
  • Straying Baby:
    • One ends up undoing a perp's alibi by nearly falling off his car hood. The baby was walking on it and gurgling happily. Encyclopedia points out to his father that if the man had been driving for the amount of miles as he claimed, the hood would have been scorching hot, burning the child and causing him to scream.
    • Another case has the culprit bending over to pick up a straying baby, exposing his claim (that he was wearing something under his clothes that kept him from bending over at the time) as a lie.
  • Strong Girl, Smart Guy: Sally and Encyclopedia.
  • Supreme Chef: Mrs. Brown is supposed to be one. In Encyclopedia Takes the Cake it's revealed that she can whip up Fourth of July snacks as well as Chinese food if her son asks.
  • Tattered Flag: In a moment of In-Universe Fridge Logic, Encyclopedia realizes that a man lauded as a hero shouldn't have gotten a medal because according to the story being told, the man saw the flag over a fort (that had been taken over by hostile Native Americans) flying in the rain; this should have at least given him cause for concern (as army regulations hold that flags should be put away in inclement weather), but he led the wagon train down the pass into the fort anyway.
  • Tech Marches On: One mystery was "solved" based on Q and Z being omitted from the letters assigned to numbers on a telephone. We'll wait a second while you get your phone out and check...
  • Too Dumb to Live: Bugs Meany attempting to frame Encyclopedia, when Encyclopedia easily undoes the Frame-Up each time and his father is the chief of police.
  • Too Qualified to Apply:
    • A case once had a man who appears to be in the Navy enter an amateur painting contest. However, he gets numerous sailing terms wrong, calling into question his true identity. He turns out to be a professional painter and is disqualified.
    • In book 18, Encyclopedia attends Tyrone Taylor's birthday party. Every year, they hold several games, including the "brain game", a test of knowledge. Encyclopedia, it's said, has been banned from participating in that particular game since Tyrone's fifth birthday. He's not bitter about it though.
  • Twin Switch: Encyclopedia proves that two twins do this and take away Chester's victory at a blueberry pie eating contest and sprint because the twin running the race had clean white teeth, when they should have been stained blue from the pie.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: One girl who took down a love message from an admirer to give to her sister ended up doing this by accident. She got the words down but not the punctuation, making it sound like a mocking note instead.
  • Vacation Episode: In book 2, The Case of the Ambushed Cowboy and The Case of the Forgetful Sheriff see Encyclopedia and his parents on a trip to Texas, their first vacation in three years.
  • The War on Straw: In "The Case of the Dead Eagles", Encyclopedia promotes gun control and ridicules the "Guns don't kill people, people do" argument. In so doing, he makes an analogy, stating that that logic, applied to cars, would lead to abolition of all traffic laws and regulations and fines. Except it doesn't. The aforementioned argument is that people, not guns, are responsible for gun-related offenses, and that the best remedy society has is to punish said people, using the existing regulations Encyclopedia claims his opponents want to abolish, rather than outlawing guns altogether. In fact, although groups like the NRA want to see a rollback of many gun restrictions, no one wants to see an abolition of regulations against, or punishment for, irresponsible gun use, or the prevention of gun ownership by people proven to be unwilling or unable to act responsibly.
  • We Need to Get Proof: Encyclopedia's father tells him this in the first book after investigating a potential suspect of a robbery. Encyclopedia then reveals the proof was a Straying Baby playing on a car hood that should have been burning hot.
  • Went to the Great X in the Sky: In book 12's "The Case of Lightfoot Louie", Thad Dixon sadly tells Encyclopedia and Sally that due to an accident on his part, his pet worm, Sis-Boom-Bah, "went to that big mud hole in the sky".
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Partially averted. While the location of the series' setting, Idaville, is never explicitly given, enough clues exist in the books to identify it as somewhere on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
  • Why Didn't I Think of That?:
    • In book 7, Pablo Pizarro is introduced having swiped a bunch of junk from people's yards and garages and used them to make his sculptures. When Encyclopedia uncovers his thefts after he stole a wheel off a boy's bicycle, he tries to return the junk but finds that not only does nobody (except the boy with the bicycle) want their junk back, they'd be glad to let him look through their property for more old and worn-out stuff he could use for his creations. At the end of the solution, he admits that "It never occurred to me to ask." (For permission to poke around, that is.)
    • In book 17, during the annual Founder's Day treasure hunt for the children, the man running the event asks Encyclopedia and Sally for help in identifying the person who spied on him when he was placing the clues. Encyclopedia figures out how to just slightly modify the last clue so as to trip up the cheater, and while Mr. McPherson replaces the existing clue with the modified one, Encyclopedia and Sally go to the location where the original "You Won" card has been left and await the cheater's arrival. En route, Sally demands to know what Encyclopedia came up with, and says the trope name when Encyclopedia explains how the last clue will be modified to trip up the cheater. On his advice, Mr. McPherson changed the word "dairy" in the clue to "diary", switching just two letters. Consequently, the cheater doesn't look closely at it and goes to the original ending spot rather than the new one.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Bugs claims this is the only reason Sally can stand up to him.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: A woman borrowing jewels from a friend pulls this quite cleverly; this woman goes to a room after a party to lie down, and people hear her scream, followed by two gunshots. They rush to the room, only to find that she's fainted and the borrowed necklace is gone from her neck. Encyclopedia foils her story because she says that she didn't see the man that "burgled" her, which then doesn't explain why she screamed before the shots were fired. The police find the necklace hidden in her room, in a hatbox.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: In-universe, a numerical mistake provides the answer to a solution in book 2. Nearly a hundred years before, a "forgetful sheriff" had claimed that after a bank robber shot him twice in the arm, the sheriff wrestled the gun away and killed the robber with one bullet. The other four robbers immediately showed up, and he shot them all with a single bullet each - seven bullets total. But he was also using a gun that could only hold six bullets, and neither the sheriff nor the original owner had had a chance to reload it. This mistake in counting led to the sheriff being exposed as a member of the gang himself, who'd turned on and shot his own allies in order to claim all the stolen money himself. He was promptly hanged the next day.
  • You Are Too Late: In one story Encyclopedia finds a girl's goose, after realizing he accepted a slice of "dark meat" from two men. The aftermath story shows said girl is crushed that her goose is dead, though her dad received money from the men as compensation and Encyclopedia has the sense to not mention the word "goose" in front of her.

The HBO series also provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The '80s: Glaringly so, especially with the rock star that Sally admires and the computer that she and Encyclopedia use to organize suspects and motives.
  • Adaptational Badass: Encyclopedia, as shown when he manages to fend off a grown man attacking him at Ida's statue and Bugs Meany soon after.
  • Adults Are Useless: Played straight in the HBO series, where Encyclopedia's father is a good-natured buffoon who often points out that no one could imagine they're related.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Sally calls Encyclopedia "E.B."
  • Comedic Underwear Exposure: Encyclopedia "deduces" the color of Sally's underwear ... because she got dressed in a hurry that day, and they're sticking out of the back of her pants.
  • Demoted to Extra: Sally, who serves as The Watson to Encyclopedia; in a number of episodes Encyclopedia takes her lines and place in the tale.
  • Frame-Up: Bugs tries to frame Encyclopedia for stealing Ida's treasure box by leaving the boy's business card by her statue. Unfortunately, he forgot that Encyclopedia's dad is the chief of police and knows that his son isn't a thief.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: When Encyclopedia thinks about who stole the time capsule, he imagines Casey breaking the plaque's seal by hitting it with his guitar.
  • Ship Tease: For Encyclopedia/Sally. The TV series, in its pilot episode alone, includes a Security Cling between the two, an Imagine Spot where Sally confesses her love to Encyclopedia, and the ending, where she kisses him on the cheek. Compare that to the books, which, in the series' entire run, contain a couple of arguable instances of Encyclopedia acting jealous around Sally's crushes.
  • The Worf Effect: Sally can handle kids her own age fine in a physical fight, but even she isn't strong enough to fend off the grown man who stole Ida's treasure, who then locks her up when he catches her snooping around his yard.
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