Sunday, November 8, 2015

Answer to the Two-Minute Mystery -- Or Not!

I think that enough time has elapsed for anyone interested to give his or her response to the Two-Minute Mystery. Jim was right to focus on the bird building the nest. Only, the problem wasn't with the bird but with the tree. Here is the wealthy Mrs. Sydney's complete answer as printed in the paper (I had to turn my desktop screen upside down to read it): "Although an experienced bird watcher, Roach didn't know his tropical flora. Obviously, he didn't watch a bird building a nest in a palm tree as he claimed. Palm trees have no branches, only long slippery fronds; and birds can't perch -- much less nest on them."

The more accurate answer, however, is a bit more complicated, which explains why Dr. Haledjian was stumped. It turns out that Mrs. Sydney may know her flora but she doesn't know birds. Even though palm trees do not have branches, certain resourceful birds do in fact build their nests in palm trees.

Here are the nests of the Weaver bird, clearly built in palm trees. As you can see from the second photo, they can be orange in color. Most are from Sub-Saharan Africa, with fewer species in tropical Asia.


Closer to home, the orange hooded oriole also builds nests in palm trees. According to the Audubon Society, while the hooded oriole will nest in various trees, it "[e]specially favors palm trees, and will nest in isolated groups of palms even in cities."

Now, the fact of the matter is that I couldn't find an orange bird from the Florida Keys that builds its nests in palm trees during the month of January (the hooded oriole spends its time in the Southwest US and Mexico). It may be that, given sufficient time and effort, I might discover a bird that fits that description. But, even so, Mrs. Sydney's contention was that it was physically impossible for a bird to build a nest in a palm tree, not that there are no orange birds in Florida that might build a nest there. And, Roach said that he spied an exotic orange bird, belonging to a species new to him. Perhaps a hooded oriole had lost its way, or Roach discovered a new species. In any event, Roach's story is not so implausible as to totally discredit him. Under these circumstances, no wonder Dr. Haledjian was stumped. His reputation as one of the world's greatest detectives without question remains intact.


James R said...

"Jim was right to focus on the bird building the nest. Only, the problem wasn't with the bird but with the tree."

Only, the problem was that Mrs. Sydney and, apparently, Dr. Haledjian focused on the tree! I'm surprised they both fell for this red herring. Any respectable detective should know that the orange hooded oriole nests in palm trees. (The first thing I checked.) What they didn't know, which Myk cleverly hinted at when he said this mystery stumped the good doctor, was that they should have focused on the month, not only the tree. (Another key in solving these mysteries is combining two pieces of information separated physically in the narrative.) January is not the time for nesting, but the time for migrating. In fact Florida becomes Mecca for bird watchers in January because, for hundreds of species, it is a stop on their migrating routes—but not a stop for nesting.

The two fell for the easy clue, nesting in palms, but, like never starting a land war in Asia, they should have thrown January into the mix. That's implausible enough for my jury vote, perhaps not in five minutes, however—I'd have to convince all the other jurors.

The real mystery, however, and one I will never be able to solve, is why, with 40-50 family members who know about this family blog, this "Two-Minute Mystery" was not interesting. Am I the only one who found it entertaining, funny, well presented, and, well, just spot on for family enjoyment? Thanks to young Pete with the thankless job of setting up and maintaining the blog, and thanks to Myk also for a perfectly enjoyable post! Maybe blogs are out. Should this be Facebook? Twitter? (It takes me 5 seconds to check the blog each morning right after I check the weather.)

Big Myk said...

Not so fast. While you are correct that many migratory birds either pass through Florida on their way further south or winter there, and do not nest, there are plenty of species that do in fact nest in Florida. Here are just a small sample according to Florida's Birds: A Field Guide and Reference: Sandbill Crane--nests January through June; Limpkin--nests year round; King Rail--nests late January to July; Snail Kite--nesting may extend from January through November; Black Crowned Night Heron--nests December to June or July: Reddish Egret--nests December to June. There are many more examples.

So, now we know that there exist (1)orange birds, (2)birds that build their nests in January in Florida, and (3)birds that build their nests in palm trees. What we don't know is how exactly these three sets intersect. Unless Mrs. Sydney, however, can prove to me that a three-way intersection of these sets is a scientific impossibility, we cannot discount Roach's story and, therefore, Haledjian is correct is his conclusion that we don't know which witness was lying.

My other conclusion here, based on this one case alone, is that apparently you need to know a lot of unrelated stuff to be a brilliant sleuth and criminologist.

James R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James R said...

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury…
Isn't it convenient that Paul Roach, "whose hobby was bird watching", spied a bird "belonging to a species new to him". How convenient he can't name the bird. I think we have more than just three overlapping magisteria:
1) exotic, i.e.. unknown by Paul Roach, an amateur bird watcher
2) orange
3) nests in a palm trees
4) nests in January
5) nests in the Florida Keys
Does anyone know such a bird? It should be easy enough to get hold of a bird data base and check. Of course, maybe, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you believe the honest Mr. Roach (He's in the jewelry business for goodness sake!) has discovered a new species, up to this very day unknown to science! Or, perhaps we should switch the goblets and simply bring Mr. "goose chasing" Roach back to the house so he can point out the tree and the nest!

Big Myk said...

Your honor, I would now like to call to the stand Mr. Charles Darwin who will testify as an expert. He will explain how "from so simple a beginning endless forms [of life] most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

James R said...

Your Honor, how far are we going to continue this fantasy? Despite the fact that I can find no Charles Darwin on the witness list, is he suggesting that although there may be no exotic orange bird which nests in palm trees in January at present, we only need wait a few millennia for one to possibly appear? I fear this is but another ridiculous attempt in our current age to assign evolution as the solution to everything.

Let’s end this charade. I’ll like to call one, Donald J. Sobol to the stand.

Mr. Sobol, did you not, in fact, entitle this case a “Two-minute Mystery”? Sir, we have already spent more than two days on the affair with no end in sight. Why the subterfuge? What else have you been lying about?

You say three partners in a successful New York jewelry business were taking a month long vacation together? That must be rarer than an exotic orange bird nesting in a palm in January. Something else was clearly was afoot, and, with your admission of their forty foot yacht in the Florida Keys, I think we can confidently conclude that the “something else” was clearly drug smuggling. And this mysterious Mrs. Sydney, “the wealthiest dowager in New York City”—I have never heard of such a woman. Who would want to discredit Dr. Haledjian, has unlimited funds, and is well versed in drug trafficking? Obviously, Mrs Sydney is a code-word for the CIA. So I think we can now safely describe the events that took place.

The three men needed a month to raise cash for the drugs, arrange the deal, and travel to the rendezvous point in the Caribbean. Perhaps the only truthful admission by Mr. Sobol is that Roach stayed behind at the lodge communicating to New York. The illicit exchange took place at night on the CIA-drug lord’s ship. Both parties wore masks that night to escape identification. Everything was going smoothly until DeMott spotted a one-of-a-kind, valuable watch on the wrist of one of the “smugglers” and realized who he had sold it to. Without thinking he addressed the man. At that point all hell broke loose. The recognized man shouted to his CIA comrades that their cover had been blown. They in turn, pulled out their weapons and started firing. Meanwhile, DeMott and Houk dove over the side of the vessel and swam toward their yacht. Luckily, in the moonless night, they avoided being shot. Unluckily, Houk was not a strong swimmer and drowned. The CIA, believing both men perished and holding both the cash and the drugs, sped away.

James R said...

The next morning DeMott found Houk’s body and headed back, empty handed, to the house. Now they were in a pickle. Not only had they lost their money, but, once the CIA found them, they were dead men. They schemed up a plan which they hoped would keep them in jail protected from the CIA but not get them the electric chair.

The plan was that both would give obviously lame and conflicting accounts of what happened to poor Houk. Any jury would question DeMott’s story since life jackets must be worn on boats especially when a non-swimmer is fishing, and how could Houk drown so quickly with DeMott, a strong swimmer, right there. Roach similarly felt jurors surely would question his story of an orange bird which builds a nest in a palm tree in January. Certainly, they felt, neither was “beyond a reasonable doubt”. They hoped to extend the trial indefinitely with hung juries or be released for lack of believable evidence.

Most likely they would have succeeded except that you, Mr. Sobol, at this point, realized that this “Two-Minute Mystery” would make a blockbuster “Two-Hour Movie”, but you needed a final reel. A hung jury would ruin everything. Maneuvering your way onto the jury, you convinced your fellow jurors, who knew nothing about birds, that they can’t nest in palms.

You would have made your “Two-Hour” blockbuster except that the CIA saw through your scheme and decided that a movie was just too much publicity, while a “Two-Minute Mystery” would likely go unnoticed (uncharacteristically, the CIA, here, was correct.). Although they had originally set out to discredit Dr. Haledjian, now they needed his help. Dr. Haledjian mysteriously became aware of the case and easily shot enough holes through your account that any judge would have no choice but to dismiss the two for lack of evidence.

Your honor, believe the story or not, there is only one clear path you can take—one that will allow you to avoid being a puppet of the CIA while also avoiding their ‘hit’ list. Do you know how the judge ruled?

Big Myk said...

You've got it all wrong. The evidence clearly shows that John DeMott, Paul Houk, and Lee Roach never took a trip to the Florida Keys, but, as usual, were busy working at their successful jewelry store. There's no way that all three of the partners could spend a month away from the store, even in January. Rather, the trip to the Florida Keys was taken by Dr. Haledjian, Mrs. Sydney and Donald Sobol. The lodge and the 40-foot cruiser of course belonged to the wealthy Mrs. Sydney, and Sobol and Haledjian were there at her invitation. Sydney loved to try to stump Haledjian and Sobol came along for ideas for his column. Besides Sydney's challenges, Sobol also knew that Haledjian had a knack of being in the area whenever interesting crimes were committed.

At some point during their stay at the Keys, Haledjian drew Sydney aside and asked her to invite him out on her cruiser. Sobol didn't like boats and would no doubt stay at home. This was Haledjian's plan: he suspected that Sobol was working on a two-minute mystery that had more holes than a sieve and could not be solved in two minutes even by members of MENSA. But he had to get back to Sobol's offices in New York to confirm his belief and hopefully remove the column so that it could not be used. He decided to fake his own death by drowning so that he could return undetacted to New York travelling under the name of "Trespassers Will." The two arranged it so that Sobol could see the wealthy dowager push Haledjian into the water and then Haledjian, breathing through a straw, would swim underwater to a nearby island.

Sobol saw the incident, but he was so distraught at the idea of his patron being hauled off to jail, that he made up the part about seeing the bird, so that his testimony would ultimately be discredited a la Marlene Dietrich in "Witness for the Prosecution" and Mrs Sydney would avoid conviction.

Haledjian made it to New York and was able to break into Sobol's office and retrieve the ill-concieved column without any detection. He returned to the lodge in the Keys and explained to Sobol how he was rescued by a passing dolphin. The incident with Mrs. Sydney was explained as an accident. She tripped on deck and unexpectedly pushed Haledjian off the boat.

Unfortunately, when Sobol returned, he discovered that his next column was missing and was now facing an immediate deadline. So he hurriedly conconcted a substitute mystery based on his own experience in the Forida Keys, changing the characters' identities to the names of the partners who operated his favorite jewelry store. Ultimately, though, Haledjian's plan backfired. The substitute column, "The Case of the Orange Bird," written in haste, turned out to be more preposterous than the one Haledjian stole.

James R said...

Well played, sir!