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NGO_Vleeptron (aka "Bob from Massachusetts") recently featured LIVE on BBC WORLD SERVICE, heard briefly by Gazillions!!!

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18 July 2005


The Mystery of the Tiny Closet:

They all arrived at Mamagiggle's Residential Edifice o Pizza & Pasta at the time
µþÞ‰œ¥ had requested. Vleeptron's favorite Italian chef and restaurateur ushered them into the private banquet room one at a time, placed a basket of piping-hot garlic bread on the table, and poured each detective a glass of Dolcetto -- except for Nancy Drew and Frank and Joe Hardy, who were underage. (Nancy had a Jolt Cola, Joe had a Diet Dr Pepper, and Frank ordered a Moxie.)

Mr. and Mrs. Vleeptron were handcuffed to a radiator in the corner, while J. Edgar Høøøøøøvër, the Founder and Director of the Galactic Bureau of Truth Extraction, was walloping each of them around the head and shoulders with a large bat made of halvah.

"Confess!" he screamed with each blow. "Confess! What were you doing in the Tiny Closet? Are you Communists? Are you Anarchists? Are you old Sixties Hippie Pacifist Folksingers? Do you belong to a detested ethnicity, non-standard religious affiliation, or non-Caucasian racial minority?"

But despite the violent blows from the halvah bat, the Vleeptrons clammed up and spoke not a word.

µþÞ‰œ¥ took a sip of his wine and sighed deeply. "My friends, I confess. This case has me baffled. I can't make heads or tails of it. I have done what I always do. I have locked myself in my study, removed all my clothes except my Spongebob Squarepants socks, painted my naked body with the colors of the MacGregor tartan, drunk absinthe until my tongue turned green, and administered a buttermilk enema -- but I confess I am no nearer to an understanding of this baffling mystery than I was when I first spied these strange people committing this bizarre act through their window.

"Because there were suspicions of terrorism involved, the GBTE was called in, the suspects were arrested and held incommunicado for the statutory 31 months, while ABBA's Greatest Hits and all the songs of Eurovision 2005 were broadcast into their cell at loud volume continuously.

"But still, as you see, they refuse to explain their odd behavior. The Vleeptron Constitution is clear -- if we cannot discover the answer tonight, here in this room, we must release them.

"Now here you all are, the finest detectives on Earth. You've heard all the facts, and all the clues, and even a few hints. Can none of you shed light on this strange case?"

Mamagiggle placed a huge plate of antipasto in the center of the table, and then spoke one word:

"Radium," she said.

Every detective's face showed the same look of astonishment.

"She's not a detective!" cried Nora Charles.

"What can radium have to do with this?" demanded Judge Dee.

"Could someone pass me the vinegar?" asked Inspector Jaime Ramos.

Suddenly Mr. Vleeptron shocked them all by speaking up.

"She's wrong. It's not radium," he said, as he tried to wipe the halvah off his face and shoulders.

"Radium would be down below my belly button and farther to the right, by my hip bone. Now look -- I'm starving. They haven't fed us anything but Belgian endives for 31 months. Could somebody get us some pizza and I'll explain everything."

"The pizza's on the way," Mamagiggle said. "I hope you like sausage."

"I love sausage," Mr. Vleeptron said. Sgt. Jim Chee unlocked the handcuffs, and Mr. and Mrs. V. took seats around the table.

{ [ ( o ) ] }

"It was just an old t-shirt," Mr. V. said after stuffing his face with the best pizza in Ciudad Vleeptron. "I hadn't worn it or thought about it for years, but I found it at the bottom of the drawer.

"It was the Periodic Table of the Elements. Just like on the wall in chemistry class.

"That night, we were in the bedroom and Mrs. V. started shouting: 'You're glowing in the dark!' I looked down at my chest, and I was. There were all these little squares glowing in the dark. Thirty-eight of them, as a matter of fact. The t-shirt design had made all the radioactive elements glow in the dark. I think it's some kind of goop that gets its energy from sunlight during the day, and then it glows in the dark.

"I always thought all radioactive elements were very heavy -- big atomic numbers, way low down on the Periodic Table. Uranium's 92.

"But one glowing square was pretty high up on the t-shirt." He pointed to his lowest right rib. "Right about there.

"I didn't want to turn the light on then, but I remembered it the next day, and I wanted to know what the element was. Mrs. V. was curious, too, and she agreed to squeeze into the dark closet with me and put her finger on the highest square that was glowing on my shirt."

"Why didn't you just take the t-shirt off and -- oh, maybe look at it under a blanket?" asked Auguste Dupin.

"I don't know," Mr. V. said. "But then that dumb Peeping Tom would have seen me take my shirt off and stick my head under a blanket. Would that have made more sense to him?"

"So if it wasn't radium, what was it?" asked Mamagiggle.

"Radium is 88. This one was 43 -- technetium, Tc."

"Never heard of it," said Martin Beck.

"Neither had I," Mr. Vleeptron said. "So I looked it up. They've found some of it on certain types of stars, through its light spectrum signature, but they've never found a single atom of it occuring naturally on Earth. But now you can get it by the kilogram. It's a common artificial biproduct of nuclear reactors, a product of the radioactive decay of uranium. It's a silver-grey metal."

All the detectives looked at Mamagiggle in astonishment.

Today, Mamagiggle is the greatest detective in the Dwingeloo-2 Galaxy, and all the other detectives, including
µþÞ‰œ¥, work at the Residential Edifice o Pizza & Pasta.


Anonymous Jim Olson said...

Periodic Table?

Wow. Weren't enough clues in your original challenge for me. Describing your t-shirt as having an orderly but complicated pattern would not logically lead one to guess periodic table.

Technetium, you say? Damn fascinating stuff.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

The description of the t-shirt design had to be what someone on the front lawn could see of it through the window -- enough to know it wasn't, for example, a random sort of tye-die shirt.

I've forgotten the old shirt for long periods of time before -- and then I grab it and put it on, and that night I look down at my chest and the glow-in-the-dark squares scare the poo out of me.

An old chemistry textbook adds that technetium has (had?) many beneficial uses as a medical radioisotope, particularly for diagnosing the location of brain tumors. It's radioactively "hot", but has a very short half-life, so its radioactivity doesn't linger in body tissue.

My guess is the short half-life explains why it can be detected from its spectrum being "cooked" in stars, but none can naturally be found on Earth. When the Earth formed from "star stuff" (as Carl Sagan liked to say), there was technetium on Earth, but it naturally changed to other more stable longer-lasting elements very quickly.

The old text says that until about 1937, the square with Atomic Number 43 on Mendeleyev's Periodic Table of the Elements was just blank. Mendeleyev's system predicted some metallic element should be there, but nobody could find any. Then around 1937 when experimenters started doing stuff with nuclear fission, Tc was a biproduct and could be found and studied. Its name reflects that it's a technical synthetic substance, a "lab thing."

Ain't much to look at, but here's some:

Anonymous The Impolitic said...

Well no wonder I didn't get it. You were clearly using the old periodic table and I was looking at the new one.

PS: I love it when they mistake me for a man.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Libby?? Is that you?

I hate posting this Comment. Now everyone will see what a really crappy detective I am. But that's my Best Guess. And if it is you, Libby, then I'm sorry I didn't know about this other blog of yours. But I know now.

If you're not-Libby, uhhh ... help! send me an e-mail! Remove your mask! Reveal yourself! Please!

Anyway, I left a Comment on The Impolitic about the London Underground shooting.

(But if you ARE Libby, I'm opening up a Private Detective office.)


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