The Encyclopedia Brown Defense

Bloggified by Jake on Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why doesn't anybody ever, when cornered by Encyclopedia Brown, say, "Oh, I'm sorry. I misspoke," or, "Excuse me, I should clarify..."?

Instead, everyone just rolls over and plays dead when young Leroy wags his finger and says, "Ah-ha!" Even Bugs Meaney, whose sole motivation in life seems to be his dream of besting Encyclopedia Brown, never calls him out when his evidence is shaky.

This is understandable when Bugs is caught dead-to-rights. Most of the time his undoing is something he says that seems to contradict the evidence at hand, but as often as not, he could show up the boy detective by snorting a derisive, "No, you weren't listening."

For example, when Bugs steals an article clipped from a newspaper that the victim, another boy, labeled "Page 31," he is caught in a lie because he says he saw on "the last page" of the other boy's newspaper. Bugs claimed he asked the boy to let him have the clipping, which Encyclopedia declares patently false because the "last page" of a newspaper always has to be evenly numbered. Bugs is reduced to a shell of his former self, which in turn was already a shell of a shell of a shell of the self he was before he tried to get one over on Encyclopedia Brown the first time way back in 1957.

But why doesn't he just say, "No, not the back page. The last page. You know, like the editorial section on the last page. The back page usually is just a full page ad for JC Penney's! Why would you think I got an article from there?" Who's the stammering idiot now, boy detective?

A story later, Bugs recruits his cousin to help frame Encyclopedia and his assistant Sally Kimball (and another kid who doesn't seem to have crossed Bugs Meaney in any way, but you can't make an omelet without cracking some eggs) for stealing cellos while dressed up as a skunk ape. An elaborate set up has the kids opening a cello case in the middle of a field to find a gorilla suit inside, only to be immediately descended upon by Bugs Meaney, his cousin, and the police.

It should be noted at this point that the police often agree to sit on stakeouts with Bugs Meaney even though he regularly is exposed to have set up the circumstances solely to frame the chief of police's son. Alas, this is the curse of Encyclopedia Brown's success at keeping Idaville utterly crime free.

Anyway, the cousin trots up in a short, tight skirt and says she suspected Encyclopedia and the others were behind the skunk ape cello heists as they'd been trying to steal her cello. When asked for an alabi during the last skunk ape sighting, she states she was in another town playing in an orchestra recital.

But, Encyclopedia points out, you can't play a cello in a short, tight skirt! She and Bugs break down like they're the key suspects during the last four minutes of a "C.S.I." episode, when she could easily say, "Of course not. I wear a very formal outfit. I have to get it dry cleaned and it's not very comfortable so I change out of it immediately after I'm done performing. You didn't think I dressed like this for a classical music recital, did you?" Now, not only is Encyclopedia the mastermind of a cello-thievery ring, he's also a cryptozoologist scammer and a terrible liar who couldn't come up with a better defense than "ummm... maybe you did it!"

Other examples:
"I didn't see the car, but I heard the trunk lid slam shut--"
"If you didn't see the car, how did you know it was the trunk and not a car door slamming? You are a thief."
"What?!? The trunk has a more hallow, lighter sound than the door. You can't just go around calling people thieves."

"Have some pizza. We Tigers share everything equally. We each had a couple pieces--"
"Oh, do you? Because there's only one slice left and pizza is always sliced into an even number of pieces. So if you and your friend had an equal number of pieces, there should be an even number of remain--"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Excuse me. Would it be better if I said, 'We Tigers share everything fairly'? I didn't know you were going to take me so literally, jackass."

"Fu Chee gave me this tea cup when he closed his restaurant and moved to Utah. It was his personal tea cup and he wanted me to have it because I was one of his favorite customers."
"Ah-ha! That tea cup has a handle and Chinese tea cups don't! You stole it!"
"What the--? Are you saying just because Fu Chee was Chinese he didn't know how to drink tea from a handled cup? That's possibly the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Why would someone's nationality bar them from owning any particular place setting?"

"And then this suspect in the salamander theft told me he's been taking care of salamanders and other lizards for 19 years--"
"Stop right there, dad. He's the guilty one. He said, 'salamanders and other lizards,' but if he'd been taking care of salamanders for 19 years, he would know they're amphibians, not reptiles like lizards!"
"Um... well, I'm not sure that's an exact quote, son. I was paraphrasing and, besides, I'd really like to have more to go on than a grammatical slip before I destroy a man's career."

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