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Literature / Two-Minute Mysteries

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Donald J. Sobol's less well-known "adult" Encyclopedia Brown series. It centered around Dr. Haledijan, a criminologist, who solved cases stumping the police by finding a mere inconsistency. The series consisted of three books:

Two-Minute Mysteries (1967)

More Two-Minute Mysteries (1971)

Still More Two-Minute Mysteries (1975)

These books display examples of:

  • Bad Habits: Figure into one story, where Haledjian realizes the "nun" with him at the drugstore across the street from a bank robbery was the gang's lookout, stalling for time and keeping him occupied.
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  • Bavarian Fire Drill: One story is a variant of the classic "bicycle smuggling" urban legend.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Poor Cyril Makin, who has the distinct misfortune of only wooing ladies with very proud lineages in something or other (Civil War ancestry, horse breeding, Arctic exploration, etc.), and won't look twice at a man without a similar family history. Whenever he tries to concoct a phony background to impress a girl, it invariably blows up in his face.
  • The Case Of: Appears at the start of every story's title.
  • Conviction by Contradiction: Naturally, it was all over the place (spoilers ahead):
    • The very first case in the very first collected volume, "The Angry Chef", has Haledjian declare that a marine is lying because he stated he went "back" to a pizzeria he swore he'd never been in before... except he'd already been suddenly chased down the street by a chef from the pizzeria wielding a knife, and a cop had escorted them both to the scene of the crime, meaning that "went back" could easily be in reference to the chef, even if he wasn't included in the sentence (to say nothing of the accused just using imprecise grammar). It's flimsy, to say the least.
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    • Haledjian knows that Nick the Nose, the informant, is lying (as he always is), because he claims that a dying Brazilian's last words were in Spanish, and the national language of Brazil is actually Portuguese. (Because the Brazilian couldn't be one of the many immigrants to Brazil from nearby Spanish-speaking countries. And because it would be impossible for a native Brazilian to speak his last words in a foreign language. And because it would be impossible for an Anglophone informant to simply mistake Portuguese for the extremely-similar-sounding and more commonly heard Spanish language.) In fact, depending on what he said, it could sound exactly the same in Spanish or Portuguese, especially from the mouth of a dying man (who presumably isn't speaking particularly clearly).
    • One of the cases involved the apparent suicide of an actor and Haledjian claiming that the note left behind was a fraud written by an English rival of the deceased because the note used "theatre" instead of "theater" and other British spellings. (Because apparently, Americans are only supposed to use American spellings. And no one ever uses "-re" to refer to stage productions and "-er" to refer to a local multiplex.)
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    • Another case has Haledjian declaring someone's alibi faulty because the person identified the tune a band was playing as "God Save the Queen" rather than "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" (which has the exact same tune), and so knew about a British performing troupe being in town. Many American Gilbert and Sullivan companies play "God Save the Queen" before performances, and as a Standard Snippet, it's always "God Save the Queen." Even worse, the actual name of the tune is "National Anthem."
    • In the "Case of the Overheard Gunshot", the killer is collared by identifying her lover as having been shot in the back — his body had been turned over by Haledjian and was facing upward, so the logic goes that an innocent person would only assume he was shot in the chest. (An innocent person with no knowledge of ballistics, at least. Exit wounds are invariably larger and tend to be more uneven than entry points; the victim was shot through the heart and wearing a silk shirt that the bullet would've visibly shredded, creating a hole that would be hard to mistake.)
    • The alleged murderer claims to have not visited his friend for days, but is caught because he leapt over the freshly-painted stairs and knocked on the window set into the door rather than the freshly-painted door itself. (Because it's not like fresh paint looks and smells like fresh paint, especially fresh white paint. And because it's not like some people leap over stairs as a matter of course, or like knocking on a window is often simply louder than knocking on a heavy door.) This is one of the many cases that were recycled for Encyclopedia Brown to solve.
    • An English professor's suicide note is considered fraudulent and a product of foul play because it contains a split infinitive. (Because English professors always follow grammatical rules, even when distraught and suicidal, and all English professors accept "don't split infinitives in English" as a rule.)
    • The suspect claims it is his first time in the victim's house, but when a doorbell rings, he knows to answer the back door. (Because nobody can hear where a given sound is coming from, and it's certainly not that front doors often always have a double ring (ding-dong) and back doors a single ring (ding). And because there's no way at all the suspect could be from, live in, or have lived in a town where it's customary to do everything at the back door except on special occasions.)
    • The painting's owner claimed to be getting dressed to investigate the disturbance, with his right leg in his pants and his left leg out. (Everybody always gets dressed and undressed left-leg-first. Didn't you know that?)
    • A criminal's itinerary read "Palestine" instead of "Israel", thus revealing he wasn't actually going to the Middle East as his girlfriend claimed. (Not a lot of tolerance for potential political differences.)note 
    • In one of the Two-Minute Mysteries, the suspect was caught after Haledjian said the (diamond?) was hidden in the cupola because the murderer was the only one who ran up towards the attic instead of to the kitchen. Because only a murderer could know that a cupola (usually "KOOP-ul'uh", but the pronunciation varies by person enough that "kupp-ola" wouldn't be suspicious) was a term for the little domed thing on top of the house and not just an annoying term for a cappuccino maker, that only someone who had killed the house's occupant would assume that the stairs going up lead to the roof level, and that it's impossible to see a cupola from outside the house.
    • In one case, the question of whether or not a ring bearing a very valuable diamond was stolen or legally bequeathed comes down to the accusing party's testimony. She says that when she saw the deceased for the last time (when he supposedly bequeathed it to her), he was reading a book and wearing the ring on his right hand, so when he turned a page the sapphire flashed brilliantly. Haledjian figures that the 'witness' is lying because the dead man was reading a book written in Hebrew before he died—and Hebrew is written right to left. The man would have been turning the left page with his left hand, not the right page with his right hand... But most people turn the page with their dominant hand, regardless of direction. If Haledjian had been correct here, then people would use a different hand to flip back through a book than to flip forward through it. Even animators knew this wasn't true.
    • In one mystery, he was on his way to a BBQ when the host was found murdered. His neighbor came over, saying he heard his wife scream in horror, and during the interrogation, spotted the wife's pearl earring in the grill and reached his hand in to retrieve it. The detective told him that he obviously planted the earring because, despite having just arrived, he knew that the coals were cool enough to plunge his hand into them. Apart from the fact that coal visibly whitens when heated and that people can sense heat when standing next to hot coals, does he ever consider the fact that the guy could have just been an idiot?
    • In one case, the head of an orchestra had two skilled violinists and had to decide which would play a solo on opening night. He picks A about five minutes before the performance is meant to start. When he goes to get A, he finds A has been killed, and then has to pick B. Haledjian decides that it must have been B who did it, because B walked onto the stage, sat down and began to play, when he should have tuned his violin and rosined his bow first. Like it's totally unthinkable that someone with an equal chance of getting a part would get themselves ready to play it, especially if the choice wasn't going to be made until about five minutes before it was meant to begin.
    • In one, Inspector Winters asks for bicarbonate of soda for an upset stomach while in a bakery. The baker says she doesn't have any; this leads the detective to deduce that the bakery must be a front for smuggling, since bicarbonate of soda is baking soda and no real bakery would be without it. Except there's the possibility that the baker was unfamiliar with an antiquated term for baking soda (even more egregious today than when it was originally written: many modern chemists might find the term unfamiliar, since the proper scientific terminology has been "sodium hydrogen carbonate" for decades, and was "sodium bicarbonate" rather than "bicarbonate of soda" for some time before that).
    • Still another case hinged on the detective's belief that a real resident of San Francisco would never ever refer to the city as "Frisco." While it's true that residents of the city traditionally hate that nickname, it's not exactly an enforced law, at least not since Emperor Norton died.
  • Conviction by Counterfactual Clue: Again, very common (spoilers ahead):
    • The classic "mules cannot have offspring" clue was used in "The Case of Molly's Mule."
    • A Two Minute Mystery had a deaf witness's testimony that he read the suspect's lips and took special note of it because the suspect was whispering called into question, because supposedly, he shouldn't have been able to tell the suspect was whispering. However, whispering is just when instead of using your vocal cords normally, you create turbulence with them, producing a hissing sound. This then requires you to use your lips and mouth to create sounds that your vocal cords normally would, and is very noticeable to a lip reader. You can easily demonstrate this by saying the same word as a whisper and in normal voice, and feel how different your mouth moves. Then try freezing your jaw and lips in place and speaking, something you can do mostly understandably with operating your vocal cords normally, but you can't produce meaningful sounds at all if you try it while whispering.
    • In one, a man relates how he leaned over his train bunk and read a headline on the newspaper the man below him was apparently reading. His companion deduced that the man with the newspaper was the perpetrator, because the only way the first man could have read the headline is if the newspaper was held upside-down (and therefore upside-up, relatively speaking, to the first man's eyes.) However, many people can read upside-down text just fine, especially if the text is in a large font and the message short—for example, the text of a headline, or the reader is even mildly dyslexic.
      • Even without any skill at it, everyone who can read can decipher upside-down print letter by letter. It may take a few minutes, but what's time to someone sitting bored in a train?
      • Or even easier, if the top half of the paper is folded back while the man reads the bottom.
    • In "Murder At The Zoo", Haledjian meets with a zookeeper after a doorman working at the zoo is found killed. The zookeeper claims to have been alerted to the murder when he heard the scream of a giraffe, since one of them had been caught in the crossfire. Instantly Haledjian declares him to be the real murderer, because according to him, giraffes have no vocal cords.
  • Detective Patsy: Quite a few people bring Haledijan along as a witness while pretending to "discover" the body of someone they murdered, or while trying to commit Insurance Fraud. They invariably end up exposed within minutes, if not seconds, of doing so.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: They never said the doctor working on the murder victim when they were shot was a dentist. Or that the murder weapon was used for a severe case of Pistol-Whipping instead of shooting.
  • Infraction Distraction: In one of the mysteries, an official from an unnamed country comes in and tells Dr. Haledijan that a notorious criminal with a long history of successful smuggling has been regularly passing customs. He tools up in a shiny high-end car, and when it's searched, everything's fine except the false bottoms in his luggage, which contain three jars, containing molasses, ground oyster shells, and bits of colored glass. It's perfectly legal to have those, so they let him through. But the official knows he's smuggling something. Dr. Haledijan sits, smokes a bit, and realizes exactly what's being smuggled -the high-end car.
  • The Informant: Nick the Nose. Unlike most informants, he doesn't generally bring in good information. He just wants to money for whatever he can make sound good.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: It's implied Inspector Winters does this with Nick the Nose at times.
  • Only One Name: Whatever Haledjian's first name is, if any, the reader never finds out. Octavia, Haledijan's "fair dinner companion," similarly lacks a surname.
  • Only One Finds It Fun: Any cases with Octavia feature Haledjian being very delighted at having a chance to regale her with his latest mystery, and her wishing aloud that the waiter would arrive faster.
  • The Rat: Nick the Nose. He'd sell out anyone for cash -it's good that he sucks at the information-gathering part of squealing.
  • Schemer: Bertie Tilford, a chronically work-shy Englishman that never met a Get-Rich-Quick Scheme he didn't like and is constantly trying to hit up Haledjian for investment capital, only for the Doctor to detect the flaw or mistruth in his pitch and turn him down. Interestingly, Bertie doesn't qualify as a Con Man himself, as he's always being duped into the schemes of others, making him criminally naive rather than a naive criminal (unless he's secretly using Haledjian to find out if the offers are legit, that is).
  • Secret Test of Character: One story has the last wishes of a dead rich man stating that his money is to be divided equally between his nephew and alma matter in four days. He secretly entrusted the money with Dr. Haledijan while arranging for him to monitor whether the nephew would try to break into the safe to steal all of the money. If he didn't, then the nephew was to get his half of the money, otherwise he'd forfeit it to the alma matter.
  • Work Info Title: The short length of the stories is in the title Two-Minute Mysteries.