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Now with the sixth upload representing the second part of the third volume that’s the fourth I’ve read.

Previously on Murder on the Midnight Plane, a murder occurred on the midnight plane. What now?

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Spike, who’s the most sensible person here apparently, actually thinks to investigate what the dead man had to drink, as there could easily be something off about one of the drinks as well as the food. It’s not like people don’t consume drinks orally as well. Fortunately, the explorer chap is around to verify the presence of that staple of the murder mystery genre, the untraceable and incredibly rare exotic poison. You know, the sort of thing that’s so tough to get your hands on that you might kill someone over it before you even get to use it.

We also learn what was obvious to everybody, that Mr. Reeman was in fact the mystery man who was so busy stalking the Sprocketts. He had the blue overcoat over his arm the whole time! And then he… put it on when he got onto the plane? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to be wearing it outside and to take it off inside? And come to think of it, where was he hiding that hat?

It seems that Sam noticed the dead man slip a letter into her bag when they collided before boarding the plane, but didn’t actually bother to check at any time over the next several hours. Well, now that it’s too late, best give it a shot. Can you crack the code?

The formatting on this one is really creative. They’ve really done a good job constructing the letter to actually pattern itself after not just a variety of sentence structures but also addresses and phrases. It’s a pretty good example of a fairly common code in such puzzles. Therein lies the clue, of course.

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The truth being that you have to ignore all of that and read it without any of the punctuation. Always a lark.

No point me writing it all out when you can just read the answer right below, but I’ll at least read it properly for myself… feels like cheating otherwise.  Not that I expect you to do that, with this lousy image quality.  What gives, computer?  It all looks fine until I save it.  Several installments in and I still have yet to learn this, and now it's too late.

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Okay, you know, that actually is a pretty good reason to slip this message to two innocent kids, that they actually are involved in what’s going on. Still, you’d have thought a secret agent or investigator of some kind would be a little more careful if he knew that people who wanted to kill him were travelling in such close quarters! Also, this letter is printed, so he clearly produced it a little while in advance – why not post or telegram it to the Sprocketts’ uncle direct rather than endangering two kids? And if this guy knows where the chart is, then even if he can’t yet identify, or perhaps more likely prove the identity of the crooks, couldn’t he just nab the chart publicly, forcing the involvement of the police and the return of the chart into the correct hands?

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Finally, a map! Good golly do I ever love maps. And look at how complicated it is. There are details everywhere, there are numbers everywhere, you’ve got a lost continent that’s marked openly on the map and a constantly erupting volcano and an island called “Bug Island” which nonetheless has a boar on it. Gosh this thing is great. Just take a minute to drink it all in.

Normally, Swatair’s air routes are carefully planned around any and all in-flight murders that may occur, but Mr. Reeman’s murder was rather rudely perpetrated without notice, and so the pilot’s having to scramble to make up. And we’ve got to scramble to make up some figures, too. Where are we? Where are we going? And how long will it take to get there?

Woah, back up. There’s a lot to figure out on this one, and I’m pretty sure some of it requires us to go back quite a few pages. But let’s start right off. We have to find the River Okracoke and a junction at its mouth, where it meets the sea. Then we have to trace the numerically shortest route to Tsetse Island, our destination. And then we have to know how fast the plane is travelling to calculate how much time there is left. That latter’s a killer, as this information isn’t on the page, although the inclusion of the helicopter-only “hours of flying time” unit, HFT, is clearly intended to confuse the issue. But in fact it’s on a previous page where some useful Swatair facts are listed…

Well, let’s see what the clue has to say before we get on with this.

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I suspected it would tell you where to find the speed… well, ultimately this is kind of a mathematics problem, really, and one which gets a little bit tedious if you spend too long figuring out the quickest route, which is probably just the straightest line from the River Okracoke – top-left – to Tsetse Island – bottom-right. And I’d guess it’s the route that goes to the edge of the Lost Continent and then skirts it before zig-zagging across the Big Blue Sea… so, add up all the Mosquito Miles on that route. Then divide that number into 525, the plane’s fastest speed per hour, to find out how much of the route can be covered per hour.

So, it looks to me like… 69 + 126 + 73 + 84 + 87 + 113 + 128 + 108 + 157, which equals… 945? 945/525 = it’s been a long time since I’ve had to do long division. I used a calculator before I realised that of course it’s simple enough to do in your head, they aren’t out to get you. Double 525 would be 1050, 945 is that less 105, there are clearly five 105s in 525 for a couple reasons, so the answer is 2 less a fifth, so 1.8. And it’s so clean an answer that you know it’s right. Of course, then you have to actually convert that into hours. What’s four-fifths of an hour? One fifth is twelve minutes, so it’s one hour and forty-eight minutes. That’s plenty of time for a luggage search.

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Dang, didn’t think to also calculate what time they’d end up showing up at the airport. The Sprocketts’ sleep cycle is going to be all out of whack. Wait, what time zone is the plane operating in, anyway? Unless the Capitol City International Airport happens to be within the same latitude as the Los Mosquitos Islands…

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I think someone on the Usborne Puzzle Adventures crew really liked toffees. Back in Escape from Blood Castle, there was a page called “The Surprising Toffees.” Hmm… those toffees were poisonous, though, and so maybe, in fact, someone really hated toffee?

I hadn’t heard toffee cited as so obvious a solution to air pressure pops in the ears that no explanation is needed for why this would work. But I’m Googling it, and apparently this is true, it helps to maintain equal pressure inside and outside of your ears, to the extent that… huh, do airlines really offer toffees before takeoff? I’ve never heard of this, ever. But I’ve only ever been on a plane twice in my life (once to go, once to return), so what do I know, I guess.

Spike’s seemingly photographic memory of the hands of every individual on the plane is evidence either of a disturbing fetish or a metafictional awareness of the fact that we can literally just flip back through the pages of the book and see everyone grabbing for their drinks on the trolley. I don’t know that this page is even that useful as we’ve seen everyone’s hands and arms quite a few times, and good on Graham Round, he’s done a good job of making them all distinct. Hmm, looks like the hostess with the mostess has in fact the mostess toffees; just look at the way she’s grabbing at them, clambering over the seats in her frenzy. She’s almost as ravenous as Billy Bratt.

Anyway, what’s the clue. Turn back to page whatever to see the drinks trolley.

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Well, let’s see here. From left to right, there’s Spike, probably Barney – I commented on his grubby hands before – Christopher Wave, Sir Chand-Fyndes, Mr. Reeman, Billy Bratt, Mrs. Nameless Megger-Bux, Dr. Whatshisface, Inspector Ramsbottom, Pearl-Anne, Max Megger-Misogyny, and… who’s that last one. The air hostess herself?

Wait a second. That’s nearly everyone! This barely narrows it down at all. I mean, who didn’t go for one – Sam, Ed Banger… that’s it. Wow, what’s the point!

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Oops, my apologies! I mixed up Pearl-Anne and Max’s extremely similar rings. Guess she’s off the list – don’t sue for libel, please, Pearl-Anne, it was an honest mistake. You just have a murderer’s hands, that’s all. …Er, anyway, that’s still quite a lot of suspects to be getting on with! Wait, how did they know Mr. Reeman was going to take a glass of tomato juice and be the only one to do so? And would it really have been that easy to sneak a few droplets of poison in there in front of everyone else?

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Because we skipped quite a few double-pages earlier for narrative portions – surprise, have some single-page puzzles. “DON’T LOOK AT THE OPPOSITE PAGE YET,” indeed. Do you have any idea how hard that is to do in real life, outside of the pagescan medium?

What I’m noticing here is that, although the story was introduced as “Sam and Spike are the heroes and smart kid investigators and stuff,” Spike’s doing all the legwork here. I’m disappointed. Maybe Sam is just as smart as he is but the narrator isn’t favouring her. So unreasonable. It’s probably racism against half-cat people – just look at Sam’s eyes. Anyway, just like in Escape from Blood Castle, there is poison in the toffees, just less literally, this time. We also have a far more abstract puzzle to solve in consequence. There are no codes here to decode, no maps to unfold, just a single clue and pure deductive reasoning. I was honestly stumped for a few seconds. Until I realised that the puzzle was actually about the implications of the poison bottle being where it was.

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That’s kind of a huge clue there! I thought it would be stated less openly, but yes, that’s basically the answer. They should’ve said something like “How did the poison bottle end up in the box of toffees?”, but instead they flat-out tell you. Would anyone have put the poison bottle among the toffees if they were not the killer? I somewhat doubt it. Therefore, only those people who not only took a drink but also took a toffee are our real suspects. Since just about everyone too a drink, that narrows it way down – those who took toffees are Christopher Wave, Ed Banger, Billy Bratt, it looks like Sir Chand-Fyndes is going for one but it’s kind of ambiguous, Max Megger-Awful and Hostess Fruit Pies, and Doctor Quickley, and of those then the ones who also took drinks are… all of them save Ed Banger? So we’re down to six suspects, which is a big improvement on ten.

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And there we have it. My feelings are that Max Megger-Corrupt would probably have hired someone to do it rather than getting his own hands dirty, and come to think of it so might Sir Chand-Fyndes, although he’s better-placed to get his hands on Akimbo Poison. Although the fact that he revealed the poisoning says something in his favour, at least.

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Spike’s getting a little bit smug here. Someone smack him ‘round the chops and give Sam more to do. She’s right there next to him doing stuff in every illustration, and at last she gets to take partial credit for a little puzzlework in half of half a page. Well, it’s better than nothing. While Spike’s obsessing over how great he is and getting suspicious of random people who aren’t on his suspects list – hey, Spike, you know who else seems very interested in the dead man’s things? You – we have Sam actually respecting the final wishes of the guy who’s leaning over in a big bulky rug just there, hahaha. It’s so easy to forget that there’s a corpse in that bundle.

Anyway. We have the dead man’s possessions right here, and they’re a pretty arbitrary bunch. A magazine, a drinks can, a book about a frog-octopus hybrid, a… little red thing that I can’t quite decipher. Is it a pencil sharpener? And our task is: Where are the dead man’s further instructions. Well, there are only three, maybe four credible locations tops even if you just ignore the rest of the book and try to guess from this page. But in fact, as is very common for this book and not so common for the rest of the series, we have to page back a bit to remind ourselves of just what the late Mr. Reeman (p.n.) actually said about where to find his further instructions…

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Don’t waste half the clue reiterating the puzzle question itself!

Anyway, the further instructions were to be found rather undecipherably “rolled up in print”… and now we finally have an idea of what that might mean. Kind of unnecessarily cryptic, but presumably the dead man had to be cryptic in case his clues fell into the wrong hands, and fortunately, only kids are capable of solving puzzles in books like this.

Yeah the further instructions are in the newspaper, of course. Even if you were just guessing, that’s obvious enough.

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What newspaper does a dead man read? That sounds rather like the set-up to a bad joke. The, uh… The Daily Expire? The Interment? …The Telegraphed Plot Twist?

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I preferred my newspaper ideas. Terrible though they were. Wait a minute… Friday the 13th? Oh wow, I think that’s actually when I started working on this book earlier this month! That’d be kind of spooky if Friday the 13th wasn’t the most common date for a work of fiction to be set.

Well, The Daily Blabber seems like a suitably prestigious reportive institution; it’s still using monochrome photography, so you know it has class. I bet they never hacked anyone’s phones. So let’s dig in and have a read. Blah blah blah… crafty thieves break into Gringotts… dum de dee, obvious inside job by thieves who knew way too much about the security system… la la la, thieves who are interested in amazing hidden treasure don’t bother stealing any of the actual treasure in the vault, just the chart that might lead them to some other treasure of unknown capacity if they’re smart enough… hum diddle um, obvious photographic plot device that we can surely expect to get our hands on later… hmm hmm hmm, case handed over to mystery man so mysterious that the newspaper managed to catch and interview him… tum te tum, the twins’ uncle is actually kind of a big deal in the world… nope, nothing remotely interesting or relevant to the case in there, what a waste of time.

Let’s turn over to the lesser stories of the week. Priceless idol discovered? Ah, so Murder on the Midnight Plane chronologically takes place before The Curse of the Lost Idol in canon. Ed Banger vanishes? He just went on holiday, surely there’s nothing sinister and no reason to believe that our Ed Banger is an impostor or suspicious in any way. Schoolgirl stunt pilot, boring… Speedy Nik’s skiing feats of wonder, interesting only for the confirmation that a literally bottomless pit exists in the world, maybe some scientists should get onto that… Max Megger-Bux is probably a crook, what a surprise. Also, a bunch of references to Blood Castle. I guess they had to hire a proper tea lady now that Horace has fled the country or been arrested or whatever. Probably a good idea to sell off all that dangerous dungeon claptrap, too, given how close a scrape Insidious Ivor had with it back in Escape from Blood Castle. And so Christopher Wave had to sell his amazing surfboard… you know, legs don’t stay broken forever, Chris.

Oh, right, there’s meant to be a puzzle on this page! Well, the text has been vandalised…

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Yep. Prepare yourself for a very slow reading exercise as you examine every single one of these tiny dots, one by one. Did I mention that it’s kind of dark in the room where I’m doing this?  This is my equivalent of the terrible image quality.

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You know what? I’m starting to think that this guy just plain liked being cryptic.

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Trying hard not to appear too inquisitive or suspicious, the two plucky kids aboard a plane where there’d just been a murder proceeded to roam around everywhere looking into other people’s property and distracting the pilot and generally making a nuisance of themselves. And, true to form, nobody suspected a thing because kids on aeroplanes. Half of them are managing to sleep through all this.

I have no idea if this is actually a hard puzzle because I caught the answer while looking at the answers to write previous parts of this write-up. But it really looks pretty obvious, and not just in a “can’t unsee it” way. In a certain sense it’s lost among the fog of all the other stuff that’s going on and it’s easy to just sort of slip over because by that point you aren’t paying as much attention as you should, but still…

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Come on, that was just the previous page. Surely we remember it’s meant to be in a yellow envelope? Like the original piece of information we got from this guy? I guess, if you forgot that, this could be rather more challenging. Find one random thing that could look like anything from this huge mess of stuff! But instead it’s find this really obvious yellow envelope.

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Look back and forth between this answer panel and the actual panel on the page and tell me this wasn’t obvious. The answer panel is barely cropped at all from the original. This is silly.

Oh well, at least we have the vital information. Time to crack it open and see what we’re missing!

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Oh, wait, no, we’re playing a random game that has nothing to do with anything. Surprise!

This is kind of shameful. From the text, it even sounds like there was a period of time between discovering the envelope and trying to figure out the rest of Mr. Boddy’s final clue, so could we not see inside the envelope itself? That’s what you get for padding the page count! Or just having idiot protagonists.

Not just idiot protagonists, either. How exactly is Captain Sierra still in this job if his deficiencies are so well-known as to be spoken of publicly? I guess that Swatair is actually a really cheap operation that gets away with it owing to lax safety laws in Tsetse. And to distract passengers from their possible horrible fate: Puzzles! Well, why not, I guess. They seem to do everything else with puzzles around here. Captain Sierra probably has to solve a puzzle before the plane will take off.

So, it’s more maths. I don’t remember having to do all that much of it in previous instalments, but fair enough, it’s not like it’s very difficult. He said, not having solved it yet… nah, this’ll be easy, the twins probably didn’t even need Spike’s calculator. Certainly not both that and a lot of brain-power, or was that just expended on reaching back through their memory for all this trivia?

Not sure what kind of clue there’ll be for this. Maybe it just tells you what pages to look back to. I guess I’ll sneak a peek.

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What the – you don’t even tell me where to look? What’s the point? Obviously the answers aren’t on this page!

Oh well, let’s start:

1. 1 flight a week, according to the banner at the start, so 52 times a year.
2. Per the same source, just Swatair, so 1 again.
3. Earlier, we had to use the max speed for this, 525 – but the normal speed listed on the same cheat sheet is 420. cannabis.gif
4. And back to the first page again, geez – 2.
5. There being only 2 is a plot point, we’ve established.
6. That’s more like it! Per the map, with Tarantula on the left and Tsetse on the right – 101.
7. Several jumps to make here! 1 + 1 ¼ + 6 = 8 ¼.
8. That’s – that’s flat-out the answer to a previous question! Wait, almost. Because to get to the Okracoke River first was three and a half hours, as it’s the Midnight Plane and it was half-three when they got there. And added to that… oh wait, we have to reduce the speed as well from 525 to 420. Let me look up my previous calculations. 945/420? Twice makes 840, plus another 105 which is a quarter of 420, so another 2 ¼ hours, for a total of 5 ¾. You could also have done that last bit by bumping up 1.8 by a quarter, which is the relationship between 525 and 420.

The pilot’s sum: 8 ¼ plus 5 ¾ multiplied by 52 and take 7; multiply that by 2 then add 420 and 101 then take 2 and 1 and 1. So it’s… 2(52(8 ¼ + 5 ¾) – 7) + 420 + 101 – 2 – 2(1) = 2(52(14) – 7) + 519 – 2 = 2(728 – 7) + 517 = 2(721) + 517 = 1442 + 517 = 1959.

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The first time I worked this out then my lazy checking of my answers meant that I was putting in 1 as the answer to the first question rather than 52, so I was way out. More embarrassingly, instead of 14, I kept on putting down 15, and I cannot for the life of me remember why. Apparently I am actually legitimately dumber than the Sprocketts. I didn’t think that was possible.

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Before the twins can head over to Uncle Tom’s cabin they have to let him solve the mystery rather than finishing the job themselves, the awful pair. Also, true to form, their uncle once again has a completely different hair colour and style to themselves. Look at these three together down there. Would anyone assume that they were related?

Also, Tsetse is kind of a scary place. Not only is there an active volcano within close proximity to the airport – remember when the world was pretty much grounded a while back because of one volcano in Iceland? – but a bunch of sour-faced, eyeless militants appear to be the nation’s security services. I like to think that the guy sitting near our heroes on the bench with a chicken in a cage is the Tsetse island doppelganger of Sir Chand-Fyndes.

Anyway, how about this puzzle. It’s a pretty good riddle in the classic vein, and I have just solved it without reading a single word of it, just by taking a good look at the background of this double-page. Nice job.

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That’s how you solve the riddle, of course, but you know, why bother, when the answer is already on the page, totally undisguised? There really needed to be more going on here. Oh well, let’s solve it.

1. Letters not shared from the word “flying” in the word “night”: FLY
2. Letters not shared from “pilot” in “flight”: PO
3. Letters not shared from “chart” in “treasure”: CH
4. Letters not shared from “ticket” in “depart”: ICK
5. Letters shared between “danger” and “red”: RED (all of them?! Why?)
6. Letters not shared from “murder” in “dead”: MUR

From these letters, spell a six-letter word for something which has the number 13, can be opened with the four-digit number 1959, and is carefully lettered in the background above this riddle.

…It’s such a shame. That riddle is really great. It ties together so many of the motifs of the story, it ends on a sinister but also rather sad note as it alludes to the death of Mr. Reeman and also suggests his own foreknowledge of it, in the way the riddle proceeds steadily from flying and night to murder and death… and yet you don’t even need to look at the riddle itself. Just the explanatory lines above and below.

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Such a waste.

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I’d say that yellow was Mr. Reeman’s favourite colour, but he wore a really snazzy green suit… and then a blue overcoat… and a brown hat. I guess it’s just his favourite colour of envelope. So what do we have here. Video footage of the three criminals who broke into Gringotts, but rather than circulating this footage on the national news to identify the criminals or checking people flying to Tsetse against the images, the Police (capital P, remember, from the newspaper article?) gave the only copy of the negatives to a lone private eye who couldn’t defend them in the slightest. Wait, how did he get the negatives to Tsetse ahead of himself? If he’d already been, why did he come back and then fly over again?

Anyway, once again oh for crying out loud, Spike solves the mystery. Why the heck did Sam even bother existing? She’s never allowed to do anything. Good grief. Anyway here we have a really important puzzle that is an insult to the intelligence of anyone reading it. Who are the crooks and where is the treasure chart? Are you serious, they’re not even in disguise. I guess they’re… not as blatantly obvious as they could be? But putting them in negative form doesn’t make things all that much harder. There’s even an art error at the bottom of the fifth panel on the top row. Let’s just… let’s just get the hint and get on with this.

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Okay, well. We have a chubby guy in a brown jacket with a stethoscope. We have a chubbier woman with a shapeless face and incredibly fluffy hair. And we have a skinny guy with a mark on his left wrist and hair which falls naturally into three distinct fronds. And the chap with the stethoscope has a dark bulky bag with him that he put his loot in. Hmm I wonder who they could be, especially after the newspaper had a blatant hint as to the identity of the only one who’s remotely ambiguous.

Yeah it’s Doctor Quickley, Pearl-Anne, and Ed Banger, and the chart’s in the good doctor’s bag.

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Apparently, putting on slightly different clothes means you’re in disguise. Good enough for these morons!

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Suddenly a lot of exciting crook-taking chart-finding action happens entirely off-screen and Sam and Spike are left literally twiddling their thumbs. But it’s okay, chart secured. Is this thing even meant to be left in Uncle Tom’s care? Shouldn’t it have gone back to the bank, since it was in somebody’s vault? Maybe they called up the bank and they decided to put it in Uncle Tom’s hands for safe-keeping, a.k.a. letting a bunch of filthy kids get their grubby, candy-stained hands on it.

Can never have too many maps, though, and oh joy of joys, Sam finally gets to do something, alleviating the endless wave of smug Spike solving every mystery, blah, blah, blah. Apparently she’s the only person intelligent enough to understand the completely legible and straightforward instructions written in a relatively clear hand at the top of the map. In an “ancient” script which also happens to be modern English. I’m not even sure what clue they could give you for this.

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What, really? Are you kidding me? We did not need to be told that! Well… I don’t know, I thought it was made clear enough. Sam has a compass. It says “north” on the map, down there at the bottom. The initials clearly denote directions. You’d have to have not encountered the concept of a compass at all to misunderstand, I’d have thought.

Anyway. To start you need a safe landing spot – there are three, though one’s a beach rather than a spot – that’s near to a village of “friendly natives,” and yes this was written nearly thirty years ago (I won’t waste time on the sophistry that in-universe the map was actually written centuries ago). The only such spot is the one just to the right of the middle of the island. Fifty paces north, owing to the extremely angled north of the map, gets you into the village, then you go west to the river, which isn’t hard to find as there’s only one on the map. You could just have skipped to that. Then you go south until the old wooden cross lies exactly west, so in the coconut grove. Then three hundred paces west into the dense forest, and then three hundred and fifty paces south and fifty paces east takes you into the crater of the Smoking Mountains. Good luck finding your treasure!

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Eh, close enough. Say, this story doesn’t have much to do with a murder on a midnight plane any more, does it.

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Ah, it sure is nice to finally have the story concluded, and everything wrapped up, every last little loose end. We cracked the dead man’s clues, called him by his name for the first time in the entire story, stopped a wicked criminal gang, and found some ancient treasure. Everything is complete. And yet, there’s just one niggling little thing… what is it…

Oh yeah! That’s right! We haven’t had one more chance for Spike to be a smug know-it-all to round the story off! Hmm, but how… oh, groan, we’ll just have to revisit that boring old murder aspect that we named the whole story after. How tedious.

So, if it’s so obvious, then, you answer the question. Who was phone?

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You know, two of the criminals not only never took a toffee, they never took a drink, either. So this one really is very obvious, even though it was Pearl-Anne who initially hid the poison bottle from view. I guess her associate must have picked up the poison bottle and hidden it in the toffees, but whoever knows why he had it thrown on the drinks trolley at one point. Maybe he hoped someone would just reach out and glug it down to muddy the waters.

It’s time for the last answer on the last page.

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That’s… a strangely abrupt and downbeat ending, you know. I know Spike’s cheerful as anything about a perfectly decent fellow getting killed, but what we’re left with is the prospect of a doctor, a man who swore to do no harm, abandoning all of his principles and committing murder for the sake of some illusory treasures he never even got near. When you think about it, what was the point of this whole story? What did anyone gain? One man is dead and three people will be in jail for the rest of their lives, or more likely just given a hasty execution according to harsh Tsetse justice. Uncle Tom gets to enrich his reputation and line his pockets with lucrative book and TV deals off the good work of his nephew, Sam is left frustrated at being constantly held back from top billing by the 1980s glass ceiling, while Spike is crushed to learn that the Police do not, in fact, give holiday jobs to children. Nobody wins in Murder on the Midnight Plane, least of all the reader, as the puzzles towards the end get simpler and simpler. All we can say is that we were promised a tragedy, and we got one.

This is probably the last Usborne Puzzle Adventure I’ll upload here, as I only originally intended to do one as a one-off, and then I dug up a few more. But now I’m all out, and they cost meggerbux to scope these days from greedy second-hand sellers, so that’s that. I hope you’ve enjoyed them while they’ve lasted. See you again.


Jul. 18th, 2014 05:06 am (UTC)
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