The Plague Court Murders by John Dickinson Carr is a 1934 classic reader-solvable mystery. Spoilers: With characters swapping outfits, melting bullets, and a chapter-long red herring, I was at a loss for how anyone could figure out whodunit.

Have people actually found the solution before the end of the book, or is “reader-solvable” just marketing to make us feel like we’re learning to be clever detectives?

I decided to take out the big guns (a pen and paper) and make a serious effort at solving mystery fiction before the ending reveal.

Here are the rules I set for myself:


The capital’s been stormed, the virus rages a second year, and Pokemon cards are selling at record prices. This article is about that last piece of news, so dig out your old collection for the most profitable nostalgia trip of your life.

The Basics

The lower corner of each card has a shape — a circle, a diamond, or a star. This translates to “common,” “uncommon,” and “rare.” If you have a card that’s both rare and shiny, then it’s a good sign it’s worth a few bucks. You have a “holo rare” (holo = holographic foil = shiny).

After sorting out…


FF7 Remake follows the principle “don’t have a one-dimensional villain” in a way you don’t expect. Normally, this advice means (1) give your villain motivation for being evil, (2) maybe not have your villain be evil at all — just a person with a different perspective, and (3) show us glimpses of the villain’s past.

For your main antagonist, that’s great writing. It’s what FF7 does with its major villain, Sephiroth. But it’s also a video game filled with dozens of mini-bosses, and the writers can’t spend time developing each of them. Most of the mini-bosses are monsters and robots…


In Final Fantasy VII Remake’s first chapter, a black feather drifts through the air and lands on the floor. This is a beautiful way to foreshadow the appearance of the final boss: Sephiroth, a war hero with a single black wing. Unfortunately, the rest of the game’s hints aren’t so subtle.

Sephiroth frequently appears before the final clash, blunting his mysterious aura and tarnishing his shock value. This is not a suggestion that FF7 Remake is a bad game. In fact, it’s my favorite game right now. …


How do video games keep their towns from getting repetitive? The same formula always plays out: arrive, side quests, boss battle, leave.

To keep things from getting boring, some make dramatic location changes. For example, a switch from a sandy sea side to a green valley. Others alter the nature of side quests — You could go from protecting families from monsters to getting swindled by crafty gamblers.

Final Fantasy VII Remake takes inspiration from the above, but it also does something more satisfying. The towns aren’t just stages for the plot to move forward or filler before the next…


I recall one particular scene in Fable II: A woman’s child is taken by Balverines, and the hero chases after them.

The atmosphere is perfect: dark woods, tense music, wolf monsters lying in ambush. And then you hear a high-pitched Scottish accent:

“Hey! You’re that mighty adventurer, aren’t you? Well, I’ve got a quest for you: Kiss my stony arse!”

Dig spots, dive spots, chests, silver keys, silver chests, Demon Doors, gargoyles, gnomes… the Fable series has a lot of treasure. Normally, hidden items encourage exploration, but let’s examine their effect in the Fable video games.

Fable Anniversary Edition

The gargoyles in Fable…


Not long ago, I was critiquing a short story and came across a passage like this:

The gravel parking lot had six spaces. Two were filled by Ford F-150 pickup trucks, and the rest were empty. There was a convenience store on the west side of the lot with printer-paper signs in the window. The signs were written in black marker and read, “50% off your second $2.99 donut,” “$0.99 black coffee,” and “Bathroom for customers.” Detective Walker gazed into the twenty-three pine trees clumped together at the north edge of the parking lot that formed the entrance to the…


The lessons here are generalized from an eight year career in competitive Model UN. You won’t have to know anything about MUN beyond the fact that it involves making friends as fast as humanly possible in a room of one hundred strangers.

Let’s define networking as “making meaningful connections with other people.” We’ll discuss three types: one-on-one, groups, and crowds. Unfortunately, TCP/IP is not covered.

One-On-One

Commonalities

Everyone knows that having commonalities with the person you’re speaking to is helpful for making friends. Before we get to the lesser-known material, I’ll add one piece of advice regarding commonalities: don’t force them.

For…


I hesitate to write this.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the funniest book I’ve ever read. I remember my classmates glaring as I laughed aloud during silent reading period in middle school.

My concern is that reverse engineering Adams’s humor will ruin it. As explained by E. B. White, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

Nonetheless, having just read HGG a fourth time, I’ve identified the categories of humor Adams employs. …


I have twice represented the DPRK in Model UN conferences. I don’t know how this reflects on my personality, but I won awards both times.

Having graduated the circuit, I leave behind this guide for all who dare walk the same path.

Attacks

Here are phrases for use on your opponents, inspired by actual North Korean communications. The list is arranged in ascending order of spiciness.

  • “Cesspool of evils.”
  • “Illegal counter-revolutionaries”
  • “Their incessant and foolish conduct.”
  • “They live in tents and make coffee from the snow.”
  • “Reckless military confrontation racket of the Yankees.”
  • “We will not hesitate to slap them.”

Douglas Fitz

Interested in too many things.

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