"The Five Orange Pipes"

My first three Puzzle Club pastiches appeared in the May/June 2019, January/February 2020, and November/December 2020 issues of EQMM. "The Five Orange Pipes" showed up in the January/February 2021 issue -- making this I think the first time I've had two stories in the same series appear in back-to-back issues of the magazine.

Like "The Secret Lagoon," a non-series story, "The Five Orange Pipes" was inspired by a game I used to play when I was a kid, in which the interlocutor presents a mystery and the audience has to solve it by asking a series of questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.

I've been having a lot of fun with the Puzzle Club series, filling the stories with puns and Sherlockian references. This one's the most Sherlockian of the five, since its central puzzle revolves around actor "Brett Jeremy," who is appearing on Broadway in a revival of William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes. The story also includes references to mystery writers Robert Bloch and Robert L. Fish, to Stephen King, and to the television version of The Odd Couple.

As EQMM editor Janet Hutchings was preparing the issue for the printer, she got an email from her regular proofreader asking her if she realized that the solution to the story's puzzle is a plot point in the 1957 Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy film Desk Set. Janet passed this on to me and asked me to comment. I'm a big fan of the Hepburn/Tracy films; I own Desk Set on DVD and have watched it several times, and I couldn't remember any connection between the film and my puzzle. So I watched it again ... and, sure enough, it's not what I would call a "plot point," but the solution to my puzzle is mentioned in passing in a rapid-fire dialogue sequence in the middle of the movie! I don't think I subconsciously stole the idea from screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron; instead, I think we all got it from that old children's game I mentioned. Anyway, I suggested to Janet that we add a reference to the film to the story, to bypass the possibility that readers might notice and question the connection. I wrote a couple of lines that I think handled it effectively, but since the story was already typeset it wasn't possible to add to its length. Janet said she'd find a way to fix it, and I didn't see what she came up with until my contributor's copies of the issue came in the mail. My own version will appear in The Puzzle Club, a collection of the original five written-by-Ellery-Queen stories plus my five pastiches, but not until my fifth and final one, "Their Last Bow," appears in EQMM, hopefully late in 2021.

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