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Pretty quiet around the ol’ Screencappery these days. Getting on for two years since anyone posted, more than two years since I last posted. And what you’re getting now is yet another entry which only dubiously fulfils the conditions of a “screencap.”

Previously on Pagescan Adventures: Let’s Read, I said I probably wouldn’t be doing any more Usborne Puzzle Adventures as I didn’t have any more. Well, I don’t remember if I was just lying, or found them in a box in my attic since, but I dug out a couple of further volumes at some point and they’ve been cluttering my shelves for too long now, judging me with their inanimate non-existent eyes. But there’s also the fact that what we are about to embark on is not, strictly speaking, an Usborne Puzzle Adventure – though it’s very much a kindred spirit.

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Usborne Solve It Yourself seems to have shown up on the tail-end of the original Usborne Puzzle Adventures, a good twenty years ago now, and was a rather shorter series, probably as it was more technically demanding to produce – and, to my mind, not as satisfying, though I appreciate the work that went into them. These books were slightly larger in format, and as you can probably tell, instead of illustrations, they went for double-page spread colour photographs, full of carefully-arranged props. They were also ostensibly first-person narratives – well, second-person, but the conceit of the photographs is that this is your personal point-of-view; combined with the fact that the photographs do all they can to avoid directly representing other human beings, it makes for a curiously lonely, sterile experience, like walking through a museum. As the tagline indicates, the mysteries also tended to be slightly more continuous, requiring more reflection on previous pages, rather than all the clues you needed for each puzzle being on that same page. A slightly more mature work, then, although as the goofy cover implies, we are still very much in cartoon territory here. It’s just that the market was pretty much saturated with actual cartoon puzzle books by this point, and they needed to bring something fresh to the table.

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As you can see, we are in very much traditional murder mystery territory here, a veritable nineteenth-century Cabot Cove to go with its familiar title. Everyone hated Sheriff Goody-Goody… but did anyone hate him enough – to kill? I mean, shoot. To shoot. The back cover is very careful to maintain that we are investigating a shooting, not a murder, even though Usborne Puzzle Adventures totally did murder. Attempted murder, then? Ssh, don’t worry about that, let’s get on with it! …After marvelling at that price point. £3.99. Those were the days.

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Disclaimer: I apologise for any deficiencies in image quality; I’ve tried my best, but my computer has limited options, and the larger format has not done me any favours. Believe me, however good or bad it may look, it took a lot of work to get it that way. (For example, every single one of the upcoming double-page spreads is a composite; they were too big to scan more than one page at once.)

Just bask in that for a minute, though. The main artistic theme of this book is visual saturation. They made sure to give you your money’s worth for not having a full page’s worth of cartoon panels, and this is the result. With that said, it’s pretty obvious that the text and various other illustrations were added in afterwards; in fact, it’s hard to tell how much of this page is even real, and how much is post-production. Later images will be more convincing.

There’s certainly no expense spared on immediately impressing on you the nature of the setting, just in case you didn’t pay any attention to the title and cover. Boot! Spur! Cactus! Hat with a bullet hole in it! Lizard! People with names like “Goodhorn”! It’s the wild west, where you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a cowboy or a – uh, what term does this book use for Native Americans, bearing in mind it’s twenty years old. Let me flip through. Hmm, a few “braves,” but mostly it avoids the issue, just like I will from now on. Anyway, point is we are an anonymous and mysterious reader of puzzle books who despite probably being a child have been invited by the state governor to personally investigate the non-lethal shooting of a sheriff, and also his hat. This being over a century of medical advances ago, being shot anywhere won’t do you much good, so it might yet be a lethal wound, however, and the only person qualified to take the case is somebody who knows absolutely nothing about the area or the people who live in it. So we’re pretty much the historical past FBI, then. Let’s hope this doesn’t go all Twin Peaks on us.

To get this back on track, there is a lot of information on this page and while with Usborne Puzzle Adventures then the opening pages were usually background fluff you could ignore, here you cannot take for granted what is fluff and what isn’t. See how Governor Stickleback casually drops the gunsmith’s name into the letter? That might be important. See that map of the main street down at the bottom? That’s almost certainly important. Even the date might be important. This book is a lot more like an actual mystery story. It might even be actually difficult, though I do remember the solution and so won’t be able to give an unbiased opinion on how hard the mystery is to solve. But more than in other Usborne Puzzle Adventures, you have to be willing to hold details in mind and turn back a few pages to solve a puzzle in these, and there are fewer solutions which are purely visual. The hints-and-answers format is more or less the same, but this time there is also an overall solution which transcends even page numbers; additionally, the hints aren’t in mirror text in these books, but the final solution will be, and in fairness it does make a certain amount of sense for the hints to be easier to read than the actual answers. I’ll still be excerpting them after each page, though. But with the background explained, I think it’s time for us to begin for real.

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(I strongly suggest you click on the Imgur link above. Every single one of these double-page spreads is too wide to be displayed at full resolution here, but they're worth it.)

…Yeah, the double-page spread here sure plunges me in at the deep end in terms of fitting everything into a web display. In a way, it plunges you in at the deep end in terms of the puzzle, too. We are a hot, dusty, starved and tired amnesiac stumbling clownishly into Cliché’s Gulch with no idea of where we’re staying and how we’re going to get there. We’re clearly a frequent traveller, though. Just look at all the stickers on that trunk… most of which refer to establishments in Morgan’s Gulch. This form of advertising seem faintly inappropriate for a priest’s travelling case. In retrospect I don’t understand why they went for this context for this particular heap of information. Not least as every single piece of information on this page is a complete red herring for this particular puzzle. Oh, you’ll need some of it later. But right now, it’s about as much use as the umbrella you brought with you for some reason. Maybe it’s a parasol. Yeah, that must be it.

How do you get there, indeed. I picture the baffled child staring in bewilderment at this poorly-worded question. “By walking?” Can’t argue with that! The trouble is that any more specific wording of the question would give away the actual context of what you should be looking at.

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See what I mean? Hank Stickleback isn’t even mentioned on this page. Even if you’d never read an Usborne Puzzle Adventure before, I think this would be a weird way to start the book, with the first puzzle in an episodic-by-page puzzle book requiring you to ignore all the information you’re presented with and turn right back to a different page.

Hank Stickleback’s letter on page 1 told us where we were staying; great short-term memory there, implied protagonist! He also included a map, and you’ll notice that we were very deliberately given both a clear time and clear location markers, which I’m positive are going to be 99% fluff with just the occasional actually important clue – in this case the information of our exact position, which we can relate to the map and to Stickleback’s letter.

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Oh, uh, wait. Apparently the author forgot that they’d asked you how you were going to get to the place where you’re staying, so all we need is the name and we don’t need to say that we turn left and walk two buildings down the street to find the place we’re looking for on the left.

This is a great start!

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We stroll into the Silver Dollar Saloon and the cabaret music immediately comes to a stop, but you’ll just have to imagine the little gatey things swinging and all the local toughs turning around to glare at you before returning to their mind-destroying moonshine. The photograph here is less overwhelming, but introduces us to another of the visual tropes of this story. Remember when I said earlier that the pictures would do their best to avoid directly representing human beings? This is a good example; this guy’s head and neck are very carefully cut out of the picture, so all we get is a disembodied torso endlessly drying a glass, like every single bartender in every TV bar ever. In fairness, as I mentioned earlier, the implied reader of this book is a child. This photograph was taken at eye-level.

The mystery this page is that the bar owner doesn’t like the sheriff very much. Why might he feel that way? Once again, I feel like these questions are asked in a very open-ended way. Gee, I don’t know, did the sheriff ride over his dog? Is it because the bar makes its money getting a lot of sweaty, ill-educated, and heavily-armed men drunk and prone to violence and occupying wildlife refuges? Is it because he keeps his rat poison right next to the drinks and in the same kind of bottle? I need a hint.

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This is a good hint. It is actually subtle. Actually, this page differs from the previous puzzle in that, this time, all the information on-screen is relevant. It’s just not sufficient. You’ll notice that the time marker on this page actually dropped date information just in time for it to be relevant. Once again, we are being trained on looking at previous pages.

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This is a surprisingly realistic crime for a silly Wild West puzzle book, but I guess it wouldn’t be the Wild West without saloons and alcohol… which the book doesn’t actually mention is alcoholic. It’s just spicy, that’s it. It’s just spicy. Did you see the penalty for failing to renew the license, though? That’s not exactly small potatoes even now, let alone in 1891. I found an inflation calculator, and in today’s money that amounts to maybe fifty thousand dollars. Minimum! The cost of renewal is noticeably omitted from the poster. On thie bright side, he’s still good to serve rat poison.

Hang about, though – didn’t Governor Stickler’s letter also mention a deputy sheriff? And haven’t we clearly been granted some kind of legal authority in this town? So why would – oh, you know what, let’s just move on.

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“Jailhouse rock,” presumably, was already taken, though there is some iron pyrite right there on the table, along with various forms of gambling paraphernalia and a bunch of children’s books which Sheriff Goodhorn had marked up for his sheriffing duties. It’s a funny kind of town where their major form of legislation is a thin yellow book marked “Rule Book.” Maybe this is the Village of Fowl Devotees from A Series of Unfortunate Events, and half the rules are about not harming crows (it’s just a shame about the other half).

Anyway, there is indeed a Deputy Williams, showing his respect for the office of sheriff by putting his feet on the desk at an angle which, after some considerable scrutiny of the picture, I have at last deemed to be physically improbable. He’s also halfway through eating lunch at his desk, lettuce and tomato on white bread having been a staple of the lawman’s diet in the Old West. It’s also a funny kind of Old West town where the sheriff has successfully implemented gun control policies – and look where that got him! Shot with a gun he’d just confiscated! Must be ghosts. The ghosts of the Founding Fathers, ectoplasmic tears trickling down their cold dead faces. Turn to a previous page to remind yourself who Doc Wesley is. Can you even call that a puzzle?

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The hint is kind enough to tell us which page to look at.

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You can call it a puzzle all you want, but all the puzzle really is is turning back two pages; there are no connections to be made, no pieces of information to relate together. And you can say it’s not the most popular job in town, too, but he kept Goodhorn clean-shaven, according to the cover, save for those epic sideburns.

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See, the great thing about this more “investigatory” approach to the mystery is that there’s no real need for any page to have a direct connection to the ones before or after it. Who’s Doc Wesley? Who cares, here are a bunch of outlaws, and there goes all our pretence at realism as we learn that, despite everyone having guns, the worst crime you can commit in the Usborne West is stealing candy bars. Where’s the Milkybar Kid when you need him? Protecting his own, is the answer. Protecting his own. At least someone found the dog, though! Because a kitten stuck up a tree would have been too big a cliché.

Gotta say, whoever they asked to play “Sweet Tooth” Milhone was clearly having a whale of a time, unlike the sourpuss they gave a candy bar to scoff. Also the literal child eating an ice lolly. Looks kind of like my brother. I always like how characters in Usborne puzzle books can be easily identified by their terrible fashion choices, like they’ll disguise their faces apparently but no, their shirts, those are sacred. I’d say that we should watch out for characters in floral patterned shirts from now on, but given how few humans there in this book then it’s probably more like “The kid who was in this stock photograph we used was wearing a floral patterned shirt.” At any rate, for all that he blows things up, Baby-Face can’t be that dangerous, as they’re only offering 2% the reward they’re giving for Messy James.

For once, the solution to this mystery is actually on this same double-page.

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I really hope my scan quality is up to snuff this time.

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Gotcha, Messy James’s gang doesn’t include him numerically, so in addition to the twelve members of his gang you have to add him separately, meaning that the answer is thirteen, even though the question was how many there are in his gang and the text said twelve, meaning that if he doesn’t count then he shouldn’t be counted, even though he’s definitely part of the gang on account of he is its leader and founder and the text says so! Check and mate, reader.

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After going from outside the sheriff’s office to the Silver Dollar Saloon and then back to the sheriff’s office, we are now once again at the Silver Dollar Saloon, interviewing Miss Betsy, whoever that is. A belle of the Old West, clearly, judging from the amount of lace and pink and photographs of gentlemen (and a few ladies) adorning her table. Despite the telegraph office, undertakers, corral and blacksmith’s all being nearer to the sheriff’s office than the Silver Dollar Saloon is, the proprietor personally was the first one to reach the scene. Which is more probable – that she’s the killer, or that this confirms that nobody in this whole town cares one jot about the sheriff, not even, presumably, his own useless slugabed deputy? Honestly, it could go either way at this point.

So, can we identify any of these figures. Hmm, well, basic logic suggests that the photograph autographed by Doc Wesley is, in fact, a photograph of Doc Wesley. Oops, spoilers, I should’ve waited for the hint!

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Okay, yeah, it’s more complicated than that. If you’re willing to make some fairly broad assumptions, anyway. And no, “Doc Wesley is Doc Wesley” doesn’t count!

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Putting that irrelevant picture next to the answers is a bit misleading. Anyway, yes, Doc Wesley’s obviously fake scar obviously pins him as the retired and reformed criminal who the law are nonetheless on the lookout for, but he slipped under their radar by establishing himself as a barber and dentist two doors down from the sheriff’s office, the wily rogue. The dog is the same dog as we previously saw, sure okay – the answer doesn’t mention that he’s also biting a juggling club, because otherwise, “one dog is the same as another dog” would’ve been a bit dicey. J.M. in the Silver Dollar Saloon is Jillian McGilligan of the Solver Dollar Saloon, who is also Jake’s owner. The clues all lead back to the Silver Dollar Saloon! Let’s go – somewhere completely different!

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You go to a former criminal and shooting suspect’s place of employment and place yourself in prime throatslashing position. Keep your eyes on the razors, nameless unperson protagonist, not on his eclectically-stocked wall cabinet! Fascinating though it may be. Ginger beer, the period equivalent of scented hair spray. The intriguingly-named “X.” The even more intriguingly-named “XXX,” for when one X just isn’t enough. And everyone’s favourite hair tonic, “?” Also… toenail lotion. I didn’t see that in the advertisements. Well, that’s the thing about pedicurists. They get a lot of work under the counter.

We have nothing to say to Doc Wesley about how he’s on the run from the law and is a retired member of Messy James’s gang. No, it’s all about the gun physically being out of his possession when the crime was being committed. Grumpy ol’ Sheriff Goodhorn didn’t even take it off Doc Wesley’s hands for such a perfectly good reason as town security, either, but for the trifling old matter of it potentially killing you or someone in your vicinity if you so much as brushed it. What could go wrong? Well, telling a fairly obvious lie is what could go wrong for Doc Wesley and his story.

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Just outright give away the solution, why don’t you.

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Nine months actually is not that long of a time, but remember how old the readers of this book were meant to be. Nine months is a lot longer when you’re still short enough to be at everyone else’s elbow. And once again, yes, he may be a recently-retired outlaw, but there’s a poster actually in the sheriff’s office asking people to report him if they see him! Considering how he let Clint’s license run out, maybe Sheriff Goodhorn wasn’t so hot on paperwork.

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Finally, an actual puzzle!

…But I’m getting ahead of myself. We are a cool child lawman or lawwoman – I can’t believe that didn’t come up as a spelling error - who is unfazed by rocks with mysterious messages being thrown through our window, nor the chill draft which shortly follows. We just sit back, relax, read in bed, luxuriate in our three-hour haircut, it’s barely past seven gosh, and what the heck is that thing on the left of the page. Is it… bubbles? On the surface of a… bowl with a flower-patterned interior? Maybe it’s the light but even the rock looks like a piece of shortbread or something. This page is mystifying me for all the wrong reasons.

Browsing the newspaper makes it seem like there’s an awful lot going on at the moment. Sheriff Goodhorn being criticised left, right, and – actually, he’s not really being criticised on the right, and strictly speaking the left-hand column is probably the centre and we can’t see the real left-hand side, so that pun actually didn’t make any sense once you break it down. Don’t tell. …Wait, this is an old paper. It’s clearly a daily paper, as it promises a full report on the Elbow Creek discoveries in the following day’s edition, but it contains quotes from back when Sheriff Goodhorn was up and about. Have we been going through the paper archives or something? Does Morgan’s Gulch not have a library we could be threatened in? Golly nitpicking is just the best, I should just make my commentary all nitpicking and no actual puzzle-solving.

Anyway, this obviously coded note. Gee willikers. Now this is throwing us in at the deep end. They spend every previous page directing us to superficial reading comprehension exercises, and then suddenly it’s OIOMOU OSOTOT OAOLOK OTOO OY and you just have no idea. For once I actually need the hint, though I’ll stare at it a bit more first. Maybe actually turn the page the right way up, too.

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Oh hey, it’s actually really easy if you try the easy methods first rather than starting off with something difficult and expecting that to happen, who’d have thought it. Not me, apparently. I was trying to read it vertically.

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Well, not all of them… Actually, you do need a few Os to make sense of things, though it would’ve been a more interesting challenge for the writer to try and write the secret message without ever using the letter O. Might’ve been tricky if you were talking about Sheriff Goodhorn, though.

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Come to the undertakers at midnight, alone. Nothing bad will happen! Free candy! Yeah come on do I look like I was born yesterday. Besides, eleven o’ clock is way past my bedtime. Ah, who am I kidding, I’d just have been up that late reading anyway.

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We’re late, but nonetheless, here’s the closest thing we’ve seen to another human being in this story – mostly hidden in shadows. It really is surprisingly effective at making this entire town feel like it’s against us, or hiding from us. Nobody wants to be seen, and the people we do see are so little there that they’re barely human.

Anyway, Mort Grimcheek! His dearest desire is to quell certain rumours which are being spread by nobody at all and which we have never heard. Sounds legit. More seriously, sounds paranoid. And sounds like a rather short-sighted business strategy, for what if everyone dies, or indeed what if Mort dies? But Mort is short on sight these days, or so I hear. Have you? It took me a little while to track down the one place we’d seen Mort Grimcheek’s full name before.

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The latter point is a bit tenuous. I recognised him from the jacket. If they’d positioned the shadows just a bit better, they might’ve hidden certain marks around his mouth which, alas, are simply not there…

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Seems like Messy James isn’t out to quash any rumours at all. He’s out to spread them, around the man who wronged him! And who he then wronged in return by taking the eye of. Outlaws just can’t handle proportion, particularly what proportion of the candy bars are theirs versus other people’s. Still, the perfect opportunity to slap the cuffs on him, don’t you think?

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Oh yeah, we’re like three feet tall. We’d be better off trying to cuff his ankles.

This is a really nice photograph, actually. I think it’s the purity of it; it’s not cluttered with props like the previous pages, it’s just a handful of criss-crossing elements. A shame that’s all it has going for it, as the puzzle exists purely to confirm what the previous answer already told you.

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Well yeah, way to repeat what the actual puzzle text directly stated. Was that line about the candy bar wrapper added to the text later or something? Because it more than the candy wrapper gives it away; without I, conceivably you could’ve thought it was the feather that was important.

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To be honest, the design of the candy bar wrapper is irrelevant; it could’ve been a generic blank wrapper and it’d be obvious who we were dealing with. This is such a filler puzzle, a non-puzzle. This page didn’t really need to exist at all…

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Following a lead we got off-screen, pretty solid writing there, we stare at yet another half-human, barely there at all like the rest. It’s starting to feel like the main attraction of this book is the photography rather than the puzzles, as once again there’s very little else to this page. It is a rather beautiful fan, at least.

Anyway, the clues as to this random person’s identity, because everyone we meet has to be someone important, were delivered not all that long ago.

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The newspaper’s also where gold prospecting was first mentioned, which ties this page together a little more, at least. There are exactly two clues to this individual’s identity; one of them is subtler than the other. A tree hidden in a forest, if you like.

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You have to like how out-of-place the skull ring is. It adds just the right touch of faint menace to any social occasion. Not really the sort of thing a reclusive society girl and heiress might normally be expected to wear unless they were secretly a great villain, but the Old West was a strange place. The Old West as it exists in people’s minds, even stranger.

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Happily for all, it seems the Morgan’s Gulch region successfully survived the coffee crash of 1881. Who says the Wild West is uncivilised? Well, people watching J. Jonah Johnson illegally enter native territories to usurp their natural resources, I suppose. Always the same old story. At least Sheriff Goodhorn was a bit more forward-thinking on this matter, or at least, as much as a character conceived and written a hundred years later can be.

If you could do the previous “puzzle,” you can do this one. Same information source, can’t miss it. Halfway through the book, and it still feels like we’re only on the tutorial.

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They could have literally copied over exactly the same hint as last time. One starts to see why they took the word “puzzle” off the cover.

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No surprises here, so let’s just move on.

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For the first time in the book, our conversation with a character actually continues onto a second page, which does nothing to prevent the previous pages from feeling very much like filler. That’s one appetising-looking egg, though. I wonder if it’s real, or just a prop. It’s a pretty convincing sooty fire place, too, surrounded by matches and charred rocks and dirt. Let’s just pretend this book is a photograph album from now on, and it’ll improve the experience considerably.

Anyway, Jillian McGilligan is starting to sound increasingly important, for a character we haven’t met yet. Maybe she was giving out autographed portraits to more than just Miss Betsy. Or maybe Miss Betsy actually stole that photograph from the station? Nah, that’d be too interesting. At any rate, if the local gossip is correct, and if I know anything it’s that gossip in fiction is nearly always correct, then Jillian McGilligan just took a step down from the suspect list, which she’d only been on because her dog hadn’t barked at the shooter. Or maybe having a crush on the sheriff was the pretext, and this is the smoking gun… uh, as it were?

Anyway. The object of suspicion is carefully disguised as the most colourful and eye-catching object on the page. Other than the egg, at least.

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That… that’s not so much a hint as skipping over the answer to explain the significance of the answer. Why not “There’s something here that doesn’t belong to Jonah,” for example?

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Real subtle, Jonah. Just make off with the sheriff’s big red book, nobody’ll notice that’s gone. Oh wait, nobody did notice that it had gone. Well, at any rate, I’m more interested in those Land Deeds Jonah also had in his bag, as well as the signed picture from Ed, whoever that is. Will these be important in future? Who knows. They’re certainly not important now.

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And we’re still with Jonah, who is now statistically the most important character in the book. Oh, yeah, sure, Jonah. You just found the notebook. And won’t say where. And instead of turning it in you held onto it and took it with you on the train and all the way back to your home, and didn’t mention it to the official investigator interviewing you. Riiight.

Wow, though. Sheriff Goodhorn is indeed starting to sound maybe just a bit too upstanding for his own good. Don’t get me wrong; fining litterers and banning quack doctors is just peachy by me, and in any case it’s his job to uphold the law, not to make the law. But he seems very enthusiastic about upholding some pretty arcane laws, and taking an apology for littering as a precursor to open rebellion is maybe a bit much. He could probably have used the holiday he’s going to get while convalescing from his injured leg. A bit more context on why Deputy Williams has proven so useless in this investigation is also significant, however… (Nice deckle-edging on the pages, too; very period.)

Now, tell me who the town tailor is. Good luck!

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Well, his name appears once in an out-of-the-way context quite a few pages ago, so the backtracking is finally starting to get significant. I hope you’re a careful reader! It probably helps that he’s the only one of any of these characters ever to have been mentioned before now.

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These are actually pretty convincing examples of kooky laws which made sense once upon a time but which now exist just to appear on trivia lists of 10 Crazy Laws (Which You Have Totally Broken) on clickbait sites.

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Following up a lead from Jonah and the newspaper – oh. Uh, following up a lead from a page of the sheriff’s notebook we didn’t see, we finally stick our noses into the local Native Americans’ business. Like with any politician, though, we have to wait for an interview. It’s the perfect time to go snooping for their belongings. They’re so colourful, though. I really have to give my congratulations to the designer and photographer for this book, they did a great job. Even if the use of sucker arrows kind of clashes with both the use of guns with real bullets, and actual arrows.

There are actually two clues here, and one of them is considerably less obvious than the other.

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And it’s not an advertisement for revolvers, that’s for sure! Actually, the comparable object in Jonah’s hut was mostly shadowed and hard to see. This is maybe a tricky puzzle for anyone who doesn’t know how gold prospecting works.

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So? Nothing wrong with that. They never claimed otherwise. And the sheriff was on their side in this regard. And we know where the gun that shot the sheriff came from, and it had nothing to do with any firearms ownership ambitions the Fleet-of-Foot tribe may have. Yep, looks like there’s no reason whatsoever to hold any suspicions towards Chief Peacemaker and his people in the matter of the shooting of Sheriff Goodhorn.

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…Oh. Well, uh, gotta reuse that prop from the cover, I guess! Wait, why would they have a photograph of him anyway.

Notice that Chief Peacemaker kept us waiting for half an hour, by the way, in order to fob us off with information we already know… and a supremely obvious lie which we can punch through pretty easily. The past few pages have had us looking back through most of the book, you really think one page is a challenge?

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Struggling to come up with a comment here. The difficulty curve of this text is like the shifting desert dunes: Up and down and all over the place.

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So, the Fleet-of-Foot aren’t quite such traditionalists as they appear… but given the sort of neighbours they have to put up with, not to mention the historical persecution of their people, I can’t exactly blame them.

As I had previously indicated, it doesn’t seem entirely relevant to connect this particular advertisement to the shooting case. It’s hard to even tell that the gun in question has a gold finish at all – go back and check, I just assumed it was reflected light if anything. Is – is this what it feels like when information is actually useful going forwards, not just looking back?

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Suddenly a weird carnival barker type of chap whose name is basically “Dr. Quack” rolls up to sell bogus medicines to indigenous peoples. What a natural and ethical thing to do. This guy’s all heart, or at least you will be, once you’ve downed his Hale Heart Heightener and his Soothing Stomach Snake Oil and all the rest, two for the price of three.

There are so few faces in this book that it shouldn’t be too troublesome to remember where you last saw his. The only question is whether it means anything.

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Is he? Oh, well, for all I said it shouldn’t be too troublesome to remember where you last saw him, I didn’t remember where I next-to-last saw him. In fairness, it’s a completely different image that’s in Miss Betsy’s parlour, however. But this is another good example of a hint which is basically a more concise answer.

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In short: Did Dr. Canard take the Hippocratic Oath, or the Hypocrite Oath? That’s a cheap shot… but he’d make a big profit.

How many of these people are we even ever going to meet again, anyway. A further interview would appear to be demanded with most of the characters, but there aren’t all that many pages left in the book…

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Once again we go to meet a completely new character, but at least this time we aren’t just waiting on them! Actually, we weren’t just waiting for Chief Peacemaker, either, but we didn’t call it snooping around then, we just got on with it. J.T. Monroe, Beef Baron, is a lot more careless with his information, then, or maybe we’re just a lot more shameless about turning up his dirty laundry. The puzzle on this page basically just amounts to “Can you read?” Yes, and I can read between the lines, too – this guy has the state governor in his pocket! …Which means he probably didn’t shoot the sheriff, or Governor Stickleback probably wouldn’t have sent anyone to investigate at all. But on the other hand, the person he did send is probably meant to be like eleven years old, and can hardly be the most experienced investigator…

The one thing I do like is how that one glimpse of a splattered like a broken melon” line is clearly meant to reference some pretty graphic actual violence, but because no context is given, Usborne got clean away with it in a children’s book!

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That’s really all you’ve got to say? Nothing about his crippling Dyn-O-Mite dependency?

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That’s really all you’ve got to say? Nothing about how he’s cosying up to Chief Peacemaker with an attempt to buy their prime prospecting country? No speculation on who on earth F.L. is supposed to be? It’s all just about the Dyn-O-Mite? It would be the one reference I didn’t check back on, wouldn’t it…

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I like how this page is almost possible to read as if J.T. Monroe isn’t actually wearing the boots, and they’re just sitting there. That would be so perfect for this prop-heavy book. And they are rather fine-looking boots, it must be said. Full credit to the props procurer. J.T.’s a regular waster of apples, though. Or maybe there’s also a horse just off-screen, and the apples are for it.

As usual for our conversations in this story, the interview is extremely stunted. J.T. bursts out with an abrupt insult of the attempted murder victim, and that’s that. Local talk my eye, though, the evidence that he’s been meeting the Fleet-of-Foot was right there on the previous page – not that that’s actually the evidence they’re looking for here. There’s something subtler, and actually not easy to make out, either on this page or on the other one it references.

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A hint page could hold a clue… and in this case it does, a very good one.

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I didn’t even notice the spur the first time through – and I’ve read this book before. With that said, you know, we still don’t actually have any evidence tying J.T. to gun-running. I still prefer my theory that he’s looking to buy their land. I suppose exploiting their newfound gold wealth is second-best, though?

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With just this and the wrap-up page left, our very final interview is with one last person we’ve never met before, rather than a re-interviewing of all the previous witnesses. Admittedly, that last step in proceedings is pretty boring and repetitive, so it’s no wonder most crime fiction avoids it, but this book doesn’t do a very good job at pretending it’s unnecessary. But anyway. Did I mention it’s now tomorrow? Check the timestamps if you don’t believe me.

It’s a faintly risqué frame for this final interview with Jillian McGilligan changing clothes as her Old West vampire-pale hand clutches the screen. What’s the story on your crush on the sheriff, Jillian? Or did he not approve of you juggling between the hours of eight ‘til six? Oh, we have no idea and will never find out. Classic Who Shot the Sheriff? No, instead it’s all about the dog. You know, when we were introduced to this idea of an “animal juggling act,” I was imagining that maybe the animals did some juggling, or that she actually picked up animals and tossed them in the air… but no, the dog just bites clubs and passes them to her. Sounds like the dog plays a crucial role in this definitely animal-based juggling performance. He really is the smartest one in the act.

Where have we seen some juggling clubs before now? Does “in Jake’s mouth in a photograph” count?

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Oh. Yes, it does count! The other one I didn’t pay any heed at the time. This book is so full of colourful things that it’s easy to overlook just another one…

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So not only was Jake missing, but he was missing with a juggling club? In retrospect this story sounds kind of fishy, he’s only trained to pick them up when Jillian McGilligan wants to juggle with them, so why would he wander off with one? Perhaps this lends some credence to the theory that she only got him lost for excuses to visit the sheriff – but does this final interview aid in our investigation at all…?

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So, here’s what it all comes down to. Who shot the sheriff? You have over a dozen suspects and no conclusive evidence. Go.

I’m faintly disappointed that, despite the “Round ‘Em Up” title, we aren’t actually lassoing all twelve suspects (and their various tribes, gangs, etc.) and bringing them all in for a good old-fashioned Agatha Christie showdown. Instead, it’s more like a real investigation: Sitting at a desk looking at paperwork. Thrilling stuff. This is way too real for me. The only progress I can make out is that Deputy Williams finally finished that sandwich, nearly two whole days after we last saw it. I guess he really doesn’t like crusts. He’s crazy, crusts are the best part.

Anyway! Down to business. Hmm, I just realised that, not only did the list diminish the otherwise important Messy James into a miscellaneous “outlaws” category, it flat-out ignores Miss Betsy even though she had a train ticket in case she needed to skip town… and Alicia Monroe, what was even the point of her? We never heard of her again after the one page on which she appeared. And the tailor, we had to solve a puzzle to remember who he was, too! And it’s kinda surprising that we never met the real Mort Grimcheek, either. This story is just a mess of pointless loose ends. Heck, they could probably have come up with a motive for Jillian McGilligan and Jake if they’d wanted to, too. Let’s say Jillian was spurned, and, I don’t know, that was Jake’s sandwich. Oh, and just in case you were thinking it, these omissions aren’t clever gotcha loopholes, either; they mean exactly what they say, which is nothing.

Let’s try again, then, to get down to business. We need to establish that the criminal had means, opportunity, and motive. Well, everyone has the means, pretty much everyone has a motive, and Deputy Williams makes clear in his note – in which he’s surprisingly professional about the fact that you’ve included him on your list of suspects – that opportunity is wide open, too. So, basically anyone could’ve done it. Right?

Theoretically, this page is an exercise in reviewing the entire book and deciding if any one suspect is clearly more suspicious than the rest. The narrative text clearly thinks that’s the case. But in practice, the page itself has three, maybe up to five clues on its own as to who the real culprit is – and one of those clues is an absolutely whopping giveaway, to the extent that I actually disagree with how it’s worded. Granted, they couldn’t just withhold those clues or else the solution itself would feel completely unfair, and I should know, because I know who it was… and so should you. I presume nobody reading this is an actual child. We all know that the most suspicious person is the least suspicious person, and there’s only one entry on the list that fits the bill.

There’s a hint for you, anyway. What do the actual hints have to say?

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In fairness, the last hint in the book is probably the only place that has the clout to say “We’re not giving you a hint this time.” Use everything you’ve learned to look at the answers piage.

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…Which also fobs you off! Are you surprised? This is basically just here to say “Nope, we aren’t letting you have it that easy.” It’s sort of a wake-up call, I suppose, but it’s funny that the final hint and the final answer are basically just space-filler. I’ll admit, though, that it’d be kind of an anti-climax to just bunch up the answer into this one short paragraph. They give the real solution the proper weight it deserves. Let’s turn to the final page and discover who shot the sheriff.

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…Right after I flip the page.

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The dog did it. Of course the dog did it. In a book this tame, you really think there’d be a genuine attempted murder? The last puzzle page was falling over itself to emphasise that the shooting could’ve been an accident, but the teeth marks just gave the game away. I wish they’d said they were simply some odd scratch markings, but in fairness, if you were taking this book seriously, why would you ever think it was the dog. It is kind of a kick-yourself gotcha solution, because the book takes pains to set up the dog as a genuine suspect, but why would you suspect the dog. Unless you’ve read murder mysteries before and know that it has to be the suspect who makes the least amount of sense. Heck, the dog was even on the list of suspects – even, as the book itself points out, on the wanted posters!

…Let’s just overlook the fact that we’re expected to take for granted the following things: That the configuration of juggling club and gun on the sheriff’s desk was the same on the day of the crime; that the two aren’t actually anywhere near each other; that the dog just tries to pick up juggling clubs all the time with no cue; that the sheriff was both willing and able to remove the juggling club from Jake’s mouth in the first place, oh yeah and how about this page says the sheriff was shot in the lower back but the first page says he was shot in the leg… Yeah this solution doesn’t make sense. What a whitewashing. I’m going to go with Miss Betsy.

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And this information is just kind of redundant. Good to know that the unpopular jobsworth sheriff is making a full recovery, though! So we even have a happy ending. …Did I mention I don’t like westerns?

NEXT TIME: More in-all-but-name Usborne Puzzle Adventures!


Feb. 6th, 2016 03:51 am (UTC)
OH MAN I LOVE THESE haha your commentary is great

I CAN'T BELIEVE THE DOG DID IT i wasn't paying attention to most of the details and none of them even really mattered in the end! just TOTAL DOG NONSENSE ENDING


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