Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Hand

Last weekend, Lori and I went to Ravenwood Castle for a murder mystery weekend: http://www.ravenwoodcastle.com/2015/06/16/sherlock-holmes-and-the-deadly-hand-sept-18th-19th . It was good fun, with several stories that I will deliberately retell out of order.


My best story from the weekend could have come out of a mystery novel.

It was just before the breakfast at which all would be revealed. I was staring at the evidence table. (I had failed to identify one of the killers, but she had whispered to me that she was a killer. So I had gone down to the evidence table to try to figure out what clue I might have missed that would identify her.)

Mr. Denham (the organizer of the event) came by and saw me studying the table. He dropped a heavy hint that there were no coincidences at this table.

A few other players from other teams came down. It was time to share knowledge at this point, so I told them what I had found:
- the clue that said “The message is 1 - 98 - 7” had been moved to the evidence table.
- the evidence bag of random detritus from around the scene of the crime contained a 1987 quarter.

As we talked these over, we discovered that another bag contained a metal ring with an inner lip into which the quarter would just fit.

We puzzled over this for a while, and two of the other players left to go up to breakfast.

Then, as Chad was fiddling with the quarter and the ring, he dropped the quarter.
And he said, “that’s not a real quarter.”
Chad, it turns out, is an expert on the sounds of coins; he can hear the sound of a small handful of change dropping and identify all the coins. I am not nearly such an expert, but I had a quarter in my pocket and could do the comparison that showed that he was right.
(Really, how improbable is it that we should have accidentally dropped the quarter in earshot of someone who can recognize the sounds of coins?)

We found the narrow line around the edge of the inverse face of the coin.
We still couldn’t figure out how to get it open.
We tried pressing it through the metal ring.
(Cat said, “This is way more exciting than breakfast!”)
We tried prying it open with the lock picks.
At last, I suggested twisting it within the metal ring, and with a few twists, the coin came open revealing the tiny 500-point note within.

We made it to breakfast late but triumphant.


We got very lucky with our team.

In the buffet line at dinner on Friday evening, the couple just behind us was a pair of women dressed up as the Blues Brothers, and I introduced myself and started to chat. We hit it off well enough to sit together at dinner, knowing that the teams would be determined by who was at the same table. Beesting and Babycakes Blues were very fun and energetic, and Beesting particularly provided an energy that really helped us work together as a team. We were also delighted to team up with Elizabeth and Patricia, who wore beautiful Victorian outfits all week, and Leah and Missy, who were veterans and very helpful to us novices.

The breakdown into teams meant that instead of meeting forty people superficially over the weekend, we were working more closely with our eight-person team. We were able to really enjoy each others’ company and end up as new friends.


On Saturday afternoon, there was a scavenger hunt. (The ulterior motive was to get everyone out of the castle while the organizers rearranged clues). This was the most fun I’ve ever had with a scavenger hunt.

This was particularly a testament to how much one can achieve with a friendly smile and a polite request.

We decided to get the “picture in an action scene with firefighters” all in one group.
One of the castle staff kindly answered my request for guidance to the fire station, and suggested a station she thought was more likely to be staffed by pleasant firefighters.
The firefighters were bemused by our request, but willing to help us out. They even ran the lights on the fire engine for our dramatic shot.

We split up to pursue different parts of the list, but I set up a group text (with GroupMe). So we were able to stay in contact through text and share our triumphs and cheer each other on. It really worked well!

At lunch, we chatted with the owner of the diner (who looked like she might well be a biker), so when it was time to pay I mentioned the scavenger hunt and asked if she might have any John Adams dollar coins. She rummaged through her box of coins that didn’t fit into a convenient spot in the cash register, and as she was almost at the last coin in the box, she found a John Adams! We were terribly excited to tell our teammates about this.


On Saturday morning, after the eyeball toss, there was an egg toss, in which an egg was tossed back and forth while under fire from Nerf weapons. Kyle, an athletic man in his fifties, had previously tried to catch the grapes in his mouth when they were fired in the toy catapult demonstration. So Denham offered him two thousand points if he caught the egg in his mouth.
He caught the egg… but it didn’t stay intact.
The sight was well worth it.


We deciphered the starting clues for the location of the Great Oogle diamond to “INTHESTRAWBERRYJAM”, but the jam jar was no longer where it was. With some hints from Denham, we figured that it had been thrown away - but we thought the trash can was too real a trash can to be hiding a fictional treasure. It took encouragement from Denham to get us to root through nasty trash (with the most enthusiastic delving coming from Elizabeth in the Victorian dress), and then Beesting ended up reaching into the strawberry jam to find the diamond.


There were a lot of fun moments, but the least satisfying part was the murder mystery itself. I wanted to match wits with the detectives I read about in books (perhaps with enough hints that I could match wits), and this didn’t quite provide that experience.

In particular, I didn’t feel that there was a coherent story of the murder. At the final breakfast, the murderers were identified, and the modus operandi was hinted at a bit, but there wasn’t a clear story of how the murder happened. Clues had said that the victim “...was killed with a two-step poison. The two elements are administered in two different ways.” It’s not clear whether they meant that (a) there were two components of the poison that needed to both be administered to kill the victim, or (b) the unlucky victim got poisoned twice before dying. But either way, there’s a story there that wants more explanation. In the case of (a), there’s a needed story of conspiracy or accident; in the case of (b), there need to be two stories of motive and malice. And no story was provided. (And I keep having lots of Fridge Logic moments about evidence that should have been there. For example, since it was established that the cyanide was administered through paint on the cards that they were playing with, there should have been evidence that the dealer was wearing gloves.)

I think the problem came about with the decision that the killers were among the forty guests.
That made it hard to investigate the crime on the basis of motive, because the guests were equal with respect to the fictional story.
By the same token, there was no way to investigate on the basis of opportunity.
And an investigation on the basis of means was tricky, because in a narrative in which we were using salt to symbolize poison, it was difficult to tell who might have access to something that counted as a murder weapon.
And you couldn’t practically interrogate suspects or witnesses, and searching suspects would be too rude to do.
So the only avenues of investigation were the contents of the evidence table and the out-of-band clues we found.
We had an advantage; we observed suspicious behavior from one of our teammates (once she learned that she was the killer), and were able to find evidence on the table to implicate her. But we didn’t spot the other killer even though she was part of our team, and I think that it would have been very hard for people who weren’t in such contact to identify the killers.

Maybe the defects in the mystery are balanced out by the fact that solving the mystery was not worth very much in terms of points. I did a lot of puzzle-solving over the weekend, but I think that my individual score was much less than that of the guy who caught the egg in his mouth. I don’t begrudge him his points at all, but I wonder whether my strategy was right for the event.


Overall, it was a weekend I’ll remember for quite a while, with some great new friends and some marvelous moments.
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