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L-R: Leslie, Santiago, Owen, LapTrap, and Joni
The ClueFinders is a series of Edutainment Games from The Learning Company. The eponymous Kid Detectives consist of adventurous tomboy Joni Savage, brilliant mechanic Santiago Rivera, cool dude Owen Lam, and bibliophilic expositor Leslie Clark. They are accompanied by LapTrap, a hovering yellow robot who provides the game options for the player.
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The series is aimed at kids aged eight to twelve, having been a follow-up to Reader Rabbit, which is aimed at kids aged up to seven or so. Generally, each ClueFinders game features the kids having to solve a thrilling mystery, often in some type of exotic locale like a tropical rainforest, Egypt, or (one time) an alien planet. The kids are nearly always split into two separate coed teams, but you're able to contact the other team for help using the red videophone. The actual gameplay tends to be heavy on Alphabet Soup Cans and Fetch Quests. ​Most entries in the series have some kind of third-act twist, in which the answer to the mystery is revealed. Usually, there are enough clues to at least guess at the answer to the mystery ahead of time.

The series consists of:

In addition to the computer games, the ClueFinders also appeared in two print books, The Mystery of Microsneezia and The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee, both written by Ellen Weiss and published in 2004.


Call the TropeFinders!

  • Adults Are Useless: Nobody can solve the mysteries except for a gang of children.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Several times over, both with aliens proper and with other things. Partially averted in 5th Gradethe aliens use Black Speech, the written form of which is a Cipher Language, but their computer speaks and understands English perfectly well.
  • All Myths Are True: Subverted twice, applied once, and double subverted in the same two games.
  • Alphabet Soup Cans: A vast majority of the activities, if not all of them, come off as this trope.
  • Big Eater: Owen.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: Thought to be the villain who stole The Shangri-La's treasures in Math. Turns out it was actually the village elder's apprentice in disguise, who after surviving an avalanche gets subdued by a real yeti.
  • Breaking Out: Math and Reading feature similar versions of this. When the bricks are hit, they spawn potential answers to a problem at the top of the screen, and you have to zap the correct one. The problem is an equation in Math and a sentence with a missing word in Reading.
  • Broken Bridge: All the time on a small scale. See also Closed Circle.
    • Lampshaded in 5th Grade:
      Owen: "Why is it that wherever we go, we always find large pits to cross?"
  • Busman's Holiday: Whether they're going into a vacation or already on one, the ClueFinders will eventually find a mystery.
  • Catchphrase: Joni has a couple: "I dunno, but we're gonna find out!" and "Let's go, Santiago."
  • Chickification: Subverted with Joni, who merely stops propelling herself carelessly into dangerous situations and she identifies things as "Cute".
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • It's a good thing that LapTrap yells at Owen for using him as a mirror in Reading!
    • Also don't forget the whole ring in 4th Grade.
  • Closed Circle: 5th Grade, 6th Grade, The Incredible Toy Store Adventure and Reading have game-wide examples. 5th Grade deserves special notice in that everyone on the island is trapped, having tried and failed to get off for generations—they say it doesn't want them to leave.
  • Crossover: In Mystery Mansion Arcade, the mysterious villain who gathered the previous bad guys is revealed at the end of the game to be none other than Carmen Sandiego.
  • Darker and Edgier: Around 5th grade, the games got darker. While there is always a happy ending (with the exception of 5th grade's aliens getting away), 5th, 6th, and Reading are easily the darkest Edutainment games ever this side of JumpStart 4th Grade.
  • Designated Victim: Leslie or Santiago at first and then both of them in the later games, culminating with them ending up in trouble after showing up to save Owen and Joni in "The Amazing Toy Store Adventure".
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
  • The Drag-Along: LapTrap. He initially joins the Cluefinders in 3rd Grade Adventures to help them find Joni’s uncle. However, Horace decides to give LapTrap to the kids much to his dismay over the possible dangers he will encounter with them.
  • Dub Name Change: In the U.K. versions, Joni becomes Josie, Santiago becomes Sebastian, and Leslie becomes Lucy. Owen, however, retains his American name.
    • This is not the case in some other dubs however, with him going by Kim in the French dub, Carlos in the Portuguese, Marcel in the German and Oscar in the Swedish.
    • Joni also has Lea (French), Susi (German), Kim (Dutch) and Júlia (Portuguese) and in the Swedish dub, has both her first and last name changed, becoming Fanny Vildberg.
    • In addition to the UK's Lucy, Leslie has Lola (French), Janet (Dutch), Sophia (Portuguese) and Pia (German).
    • Santiago appears to have the fewest dub names as the only one besides the above mentioned Sebastian is the Dutch dub calling him Marco.
  • Dull Surprise: Leslie. She gets better, especially in 6th grade.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • 3rd and 4th grade feature multiple "One-time" challenges, even though 3rd grade allowed you to backtrack and repeat them. The "one-time" challenges returned in Toy Store Adventure.
    • Math 9-12 prior to its Updated Re-release. It was much much more supernatural in nature.
    • The Running Gag of Leslie talking in Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness basically started in 5th Grade. It's not really present in any games earlier than that. Also, her age was originally given as eleven, but later Retconned to ten (possibly to account for her having skipped a grade).
  • The Eeyore: Flo in The Incredible Toy Store Adventure!
    "Don't break anything. They'll probably blame it on me."
  • Fearless Fool: Joni in the earlier games, played as a Running Gag. Typically, this involved her rushing headlong into potentially lethal situations, often with Santiago having to intervene before she kills herself. Also, whenever you complete a bridge in 3rd Grade, Santiago walks across it very carefully, which is then followed by Joni running across it as though it were nothing. In later games, the gag seems to have been dropped.
  • Fetch Quest: Most of the games feature the characters having to gather some sort of item to proceed; they obtain said item by doing various tasks for the locals.
  • Five-Token Band: Joni is white, Santiago is Hispanic, Leslie is black and Owen is East Asian.
  • Fun with Acronyms: LapTrap's model designation of T.U.R.T.L.E. (Turbo-charged Ultra Rugged Terrain Laptop Equipment) and his Evil Twin S.N.A.I.L.L. (Superior Numerical Artificial Intelligence Logic Laptop).
  • Give Me Your Inventory Item: Frequently, collected items must be turned over to a gateway guard and/or used in some sort of activity that serves as a puzzle lock.
  • Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection: A variation. Math Adventures is obviously set in Tibet, but the game insists on describing the setting as "high in the Himalayas". Tibet's status as an independent nation is strongly denied by the Chinese government, and acknowledging Tibet as a country is a good way to get your work Banned in China.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: You can carry anything in "the backpack" — including bridge planks in 6th Grade Adventures.
  • Idle Animation: In a number of games, Joni's is playing with one of her hair braids. In 4th Grade, Owen's involves pulling a hoagie out of Hammerspace and taking several bites from it.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: The premise of The Incredible Toy Store Adventure! is Joni and Owen getting shrunk and locked in a toy store.
  • Innocent Cohabitation: Santiago stays at the Savage residence whenever his parents are out of town. This is compounded by the fact that Joni's college professor parents are frequently out of town... leaving the two 12-year-olds alone in the house together.
  • Interface Spoiler: The Mastermind's true identity in Mystery Mansion Arcade is spoiled by having Carmen listed in the game's credits, something you could see before even completing the game.
  • Lampshade Hanging:
    • They Lampshaded the use of Fetch Quests in Search and Solve Adventures.
    • In The Mystery of Microsneezia, lampshades are hung on the fact that Leslie brought bubble gum to the jungle and how weird it is that the ClueFinders and LapTrap really his Evil Twin S.N.A.I.L.L. have switched personalities.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: This applies to three out of four of the returning villains in Mystery Mansion Arcade, the exception being Loveless. The other three were, in their original game, only exposed as the villain as part of The Reveal. It's especially egregious when you consider that this game was included as a bonus disc with all the ClueFinders products, and it's absurd to expect that a third-grader who got it with 3rd Grade Adventures would have already completed 6th Grade Adventures.
  • Later Installment Weirdness:
    • 6th Grade and Search and Solve only feature two "worlds".
    • Incredible Toy Store Adventure also features a much different voice cast. Additionally, both teams gathered resources, and a "One time" challenge (That could be repeated, in the case of the decoding alligators) appeared.
    • In the grade-based titles and Math Adventures, the sign-in screen is presented as a kind of contract in which you are putting your name down to help the ClueFinders on their adventure despite all the danger it will undoubtedly entail. This concept is dropped from Reading Adventures onwards, and Incredible Toy Store Adventure redesigns the sign-in screen entirely.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: Every main game except 4th Grade. Granted, depending on the game, this may or may not be an active choice; cases in point: in 3rd Grade, Owen and Leslie volunteer to stay behind while Joni and Santiago complete the mission but in 6th Grade, Leslie and Owen end up having to rescue Joni and Santiago when the older pair end up captured by the plant people.
  • Lighter and Softer: Search and Solve compared to 5th, 6th, and Reading.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Characters dress the same in every main game except 4th Grade and Math.
  • Meaningful Name: Joni's last name, befitting her wild personality.
  • Mr. Fixit: Santiago.
  • Nameless Narrative: Aside from the ClueFinders themselves, no one in Math Adventures has a name. Instead, the village residents are identified as "the guide," "the photographer," "the tailor," etc.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Lap Trap's voice sounds an awful lot like Billy Crystal.
  • Not So Above It All: Leslie and Santiago are usually incredibly mature for their ages. But they do have a handful of moments where they act their age; the major ones are Santiago telling Joni, quote, "I guess this (taking a ring from the Egyptian tomb they visited) makes you an international jewel thief" in 4th Grade Adventures and both he and Leslie participating in the pizza topping argument at the beginning of The Mystery of Microsneezia.
  • Oddball in the Series: 4th Grade. It's the only game in the main series where the Cluefinders never split up, resulting in their Team Pet Socrates taking the place of Santiago's videophone whenever the player needs a hint during one of the puzzles. Not to mention, the game has a different art style than the rest of the games, the characters have different outfits, as well as its story revolving around mythology rather than sci-fi.
    • Math, for the fact that the entire game takes place in only one zone and the fact that the Cluefinders actually are collecting clues to find mysteries.
  • Off-Model: A noticeable problem in some of the later games. Reading is pretty bad about it.
  • Oh, No... Not Again!: In The Incredible Toy Store Adventure!
    Leslie: We can't wait 'til tomorrow. Our friends have been shrunk, and they're stuck on the sixth floor.
    Eldon: [exasperated sigh] How many times have I heard that excuse?
  • Only Sane Man: Generally switches between Leslie and Santiago but in the book The Mystery of Microsneezia, Joni plays this role. After getting her friends to stop bickering about which kind of pizza to order and pay attention to her, she declares her plan: order a large pizza with four different toppings since none of them like the same thing.
  • Parrot Exposition: Once in a while.
  • Point of No Return: Once you've cleared an area and moved on to the next one, you'll be unable to return to previous areas. However, there's still a Practice Mode where you can play all the games.
  • The Reveal: Every main game except 4th Grade. Noticing a trend?
  • Robot Buddy: LapTrap.
  • Same Language Dub: The U.K. release of the series redubs the characters with British voices, as well as changing some of their names. Oddly, characters who had British accents in the original American release, such as the quartet of talking flowers parodying The Beatles, were also redubbed. Perhaps their accents were judged to not be very good?
  • Science Fantasy: It's never entirely certain what the series is, though it generally leans more towards Science Fiction (with 4th Grade as a noticeable exception). Interestingly, all the games with proven Speculative Fiction elements also use Plausible Deniability.
  • Series Continuity Error:
    • In Mystery Mansion Arcade, when Miss Rose is revealed to be one of the villains that have captured the team, Joni makes a comment about how "the pollution must have made you evil again". All well and good and a perfectly reasonable explanation. Problem? Joni is the only ClueFinder who doesn't remember the events of 6th Grade Adventures, where the character was introduced along with the pollution issues. Though this could be justified by Joni being the only person the other three told.
    • In The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee, during the climax, the Clue Finders must chase the villain up a pyramid set piece which is very large. After Santiago is given his directions, he complains that he "hates heights". This is never a problem in any of the games, most of which involve at least one climbing stunt and in 5th Grade Adventures, he and Joni scale a cliff face with no assistance whatsoever. Though this could be an example of Santiago revealing his fear to the continuity. Also, he could have swallowed his fear all times except them.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Nearly all of Leslie's dialogue. Owen often translates her lines into Layman's Terms:
    Leslie: From all appearances, Owen and I are sequestered in some sort of subterranean chamber with no apparent means of egress.
    LapTrap: [eye roll]
    Owen: She means we're stuck underground somewhere.
    Leslie: That's what I said!
  • Smart Ball: Owen gets it in "The Amazing Toy Store Adventure" where he's inspired to use the shrunken Unshrinker device on the shrink ray the villain is using to make it too big to hold.
  • Strong Girl, Smart Guy: Whenever they're teamed up, Joni and Santiago fall into this dynamic.
    Joni: I'm not afraid of monsters!
    Santiago: I don't believe in monsters!
  • Take Your Time: A form of Gameplay and Story Segregation here; obviously you wouldn't want to get put under a time limit when you're trying to do long division!
  • Talking Animal: Several.
  • Team Mom: Mild case with Joni. She tends to make sure her friends are okay (which includes such things as making back up food supplies for picnics and knocking sense into Owen) and really doesn't like it when they're put in danger.
  • Totally Radical: Nearly all of Owen's dialogue.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Joni and Leslie respectively. Highlighted by their outfits since Joni's never seen in a skirt and Leslie's only seen in pants during Math Adventures due to a skirt being impractical in the cold weather. This is actually reversed with their superpowered forms in 4th Grade Adventures, with Joni in a skirt and Leslie in pants.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Leslie is given one in The Mystery of Microsneezia: bubble gum. It's even a plot point later. Owen's is pizza.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer for the games reveals some twists in the game for new players.
    • One of the scenes for 5th Grade Adventures shows the aliens.
    • A segment for 6th Grade Adventures shows Miss Rose transforming into her plant form.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay:
    • The vending machine in Search and Solve and the Gates in Reading. This is actually the entire point; it's to test out your hypothesis. This doesn't stop it from being frustrating for people of any age.
    • Those who had played games like Mastermind or Lingo would be will familiar with the gates challenge in reading...however, you have to GUESS what letters are in the correct or incorrect places, since like Mastermind, you're told how many letters are correct and are in the right/wrong spaces, but you aren't told which ones.
  • Unwinnable by Design: The mentioned Trial-and-Error Gameplay mini-games can be made unwinnable. If the jams in the vending machine puzzle are clustered to one area and your guesses are all on the other side, you run out of guesses and can't win that game. In the gates challenge, you can easily run out of guesses considering you know how many letters are in the right or wrong places, but you don't know which ones they are.
  • Weirdness Magnet: These kids can't even go out into their backyards without finding trouble. Literally; 6th Grade starts in one of their backyards and goes from there.
  • Wham Shot: At the end of Mystery Mansion Arcade, the kids confront the Mastermind leading the other villains, and surprise-surprise: it's Carmen Sandiego.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The majority of the villains.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The Big Bad of Mystery Mansion Arcade also has this, where the mysterious villain, none other than Carmen Sandiego who has organized it all traps the villains after they fail, and the kids even ask, "Wait, did she want to catch us, or them?"

Tropes exclusive to the spin-off books:

  • A Birthday, Not a Break: Mild example but in The Mystery of Microsneezia, Joni discovers her uncle has disappeared. This message is received in the middle of her birthday party.
  • Ageless Birthday Episode: The book The Mystery of Microsneezia opens on Joni's birthday. No, we aren't told how old she's turning.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: In the book The Mystery of Microsneezia, Leslie expresses a desire for bubblegum-topped pizza, much to the disgust of Santiago and Owen.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Joni is revealed to be this trope in The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee, due to having had her glasses off while swimming. Interestingly the scene isn't a "My glasses! I can't see without my glasses!" moment; rather it's more along the lines of "I couldn't see what happened. Anyone hurt?"
  • Bluff the Impostor: In The Mystery of Microsneezia, LapTrap gains an Evil Twin in the form of S.N.A.I.L.L. Late in the story, the ClueFinders find themselves having to figure out which "LapTrap" is the real one. Joni and Leslie do this by deliberately getting the location of a Mongolian restaurant the team frequents wrong and giving the wrong kind of beast of burden as their transport to the titular island.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: The ClueFinders. Case in point, in The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee, after the titular banshee shows up, the studio's equipment malfunctions, causing a fire. Joni leads Santiago and Leslie (Owen was otherwise occupied) towards the fire and the three of them work to put out all the fires.
  • Evil Twin: S.N.A.I.L.L. is one for LapTrap in The Mystery of Microsneezia. He's cured by the end of the story though.
  • Heel–Face Turn: S.N.A.I.L.L. in The Mystery of Microsneezia.
  • Least Common Pizza Topping: Santiago and Owen treat Leslie's choice of broccoli pizza this way in The Mystery of Microsneezia, which is odd since they live in or near San Francisco, where broccoli pizza is a regional favorite.
  • Nice Guy: The ClueFinders are this trope. In The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee, Owen performs a diving save to catch a stuntman thrown off by the appearance of the titular banshee and his three friends all rush to help put out the fires caused by the fallout, saving innumerable papers and pieces of equipment.
  • Noodle Incident: Shortly before the events of The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee, the ClueFinders had solved a mystery involving the keys to the locks on the Panama Canal going missing.
  • OOC Is Serious Business:
    • In The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee, Leslie sits up abruptly in her chair, sending the books and newspapers in her lap tumbling to the ground. The dedicated bibliophile doesn't even notice because she's so excited about the article she's found.
    • The Mystery of Microsneezia features Laptrap forgetting various details of the crew's adventures, not caring about the kids' safety and acting brave and enthusiastic about the current mission. It's his Evil Twin.
  • Spot the Imposter:
    • In "The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee", Joni becomes suspicious of detective Perry Boston when she realizes that he's left-handed but claimed that he couldn't sign autographs with a broken right arm.
    • The Mystery of Microsneezia features this scenario with 2 LapTraps; Joni and Leslie end up pulling a Bluff the Impostor.
  • Techno Babble: In The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee, Santiago and Joni both engage in this though Joni's is utter nonsense with no actual scientific terms at all. She's doing it on purpose to get Santiago to explain his new gadget in terms she can understand. Santiago isn't offended by this; in fact, he finds it hilarious.
  • Women Are Wiser:
    • Minor case in The Mystery of Microsneezia where Owen and Santiago are thrown by the Spot the Impostor situation with Laptrap and S.N.A.I.L. but Joni and Leslie quickly work out a plan without exchanging a word.
    • The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee also features this with Joni who doesn't immediately buy the story that a local director was using the titular banshee to drum up publicity.

 
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Alternative Title(s): Clue Finders

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The Mastermind

The enigmatic leader of the four villains who had orchestrated the traps that the Clue Finders found themselves in reveals who they really are...

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