Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective

As a 4th grader I loved that smart boy Encyclopedia Brown. Whether a crime, conundrum, or scam, Encyclopedia Brown was your boy.  No case too small.


The Encyclopedia Brown books were written by Donald J. Sobol between 1963 and 2012. 28 books in all, each containing 10 mysteries the reader could solve. Encyclopedia worked for 25 cents per day, plus expenses. The stories often involved a scheme or crime perpetrated by Bugs Meany, the leader of a gang of toughs called the Tigers.

Bugs Meany

The key to Encyclopedia’s success as a detective was his encyclopedic knowledge of a wide range of subjects. He knew a lot about a lot of stuff.  All the necessary clues were provided, and each story would end with, “How did Encyclopedia know Bugs was lying?” or something along those lines. You’d turn to the back of the book for the solution.

Encyclopedia had a bodyguard named Sally Kimball. She was the reason the Tigers didn’t simply beat the crap out of him. She was a good detective, too, and sometimes shared credit in solving mysteries.

Sally Kimball

So. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective; Sally Kimball, bodyguard and possible love interest; and Bugs Meany, bad boy and nemesis.  Here are two I remember. One I got, one I didn’t. Spoiler Alert! I’m supplying the solution to the one I couldn’t solve.

Bugs is selling dowsing rods that find gold. He has a group of kids that are interested, but skeptical, so he demonstrates. Bugs walks around and the rod dips in his hands. Digging, Bugs comes up with a bar of gold the size of a brick. As he waves it over his head triumphantly, the kids reach for their pockets. Encyclopedia says, “Save your money. That rod is a fake.”  HOW DID ENCYCLOPEDIA KNOW?  I’ll leave that for you to solve.

Bugs has found a very large tree into which George Washington himself carved his name when just a boy, when the tree was much smaller. Presumably this was during George’s cherry tree-chopping phase of childhood. The carving is now several dozen feet up, the tree having grown for so long. Charging 25 cents to see this American miracle, the kids are lining up to climb Bug’s ladder. “Don’t bother,” says Encyclopedia, “George Washington didn’t carve that name.”  HOW DID ENCYCLOPEDIA KNOW?  Well, it turns out trees don’t grow upwards. They increase in diameter, and new tissue forms at the top, but if George carved his name at ground level way back when it would still be at ground level today.

A final note. In 2003 The Onion had a very funny article about the death of Encyclopedia Brown. Now grown, the horribly mangled body of Detective Brown is found behind the Idaville Public Library.

Detective Brown

The prime suspect is Commissioner Meany.  “It’s true that Detective Brown and I didn’t see eye to eye, but I would never do something so downright dirty rotten as murder him,” Meany said. “Besides, it’s a matter of public record that, at the time the crime was committed, I was at the North Pole watching the penguins.”

~ by Rick on October 14, 2018.

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