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The Sherlock Holmes Handbook: How to Outwit a Criminal Mastermind

It's been well over a century since the first Sherlock Holmes adventure was published, and yet the master detective remains as popular as ever; witness the upcoming release of Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr., the Holmes-inspired television phenomenon that is House, M.D., and countless adaptations over the years. But what is it about this 19th century detective that we still find so compelling today? Why do modern-day detectives still study his methods and techniques? What can we still learn from Sherlock Holmes? I set out to answer those questions, and the result is my new book, The Sherlock Holmes Handbook: the Methods and Mysteries of the World's Greatest Detective. All week I've been posting excerpts from it, which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Hope you've enjoyed this little preview!

How to Outwit a Criminal Mastermind
"He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order." —Sherlock Holmes describing Professor Moriarty in "The Final Problem"

sherlock - mastermindPowerful minds are not always drawn to the pursuit of good; there are those whose genius is tainted with criminality and who, as Holmes believed of his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty, possess "hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind." Like Holmes, you may discover that the crimes committed in your city are not the random work of unrelated thieves and killers but are connected—though subtly—in a giant web, at the center of which is a mastermind like Moriarty, controlling all from a seemingly untouchable remove. Until you can find proof admissible in a court of law that such is the case, however, your day-to-day casework will remain an unending, Sisyphean task; unless you can outwit the mastermind, your crime-solving efforts will address only the branches of evil, not the root. By undertaking the following methods, you may be able to take the fight to him.

1. Gather evidence of the mastermind's crimes. This first step is the most difficult, for as Holmes said of Moriarty, "so aloof is he from general suspicion . . . so admirable in his management and self-effacement" that finding proof of his criminal ties may seem impossible. Holmes's method was comprehensive: He surreptitiously searched Moriarty's house on three occasions (and found "absolutely nothing"), peeked into the mastermind's finances ("I made it my business to hunt down some of Moriarty's checks"), and tracked the doings of Moriarty's criminal associates. Most importantly, he took every precaution to conduct his investigations without the mastermind's knowledge; unfortunately, Holmes reports in "The Final Problem," Moriarty was "too wily for that." If you too are found out, proceed to the next step.

2. Thwart his attempts to assassinate you. "The only conceivable escape for him," said Holmes of his archenemy, "lay in silencing my tongue." Yet it's not from the mastermind himself that the blow likely will fall, but from one of his many agents, and it's in their interest to kill you quickly and quietly. That can only mean one thing: snipers. Holmes's prodigious paranoia of assassins wielding silent-but-deadly air guns in "The Final Problem" likely saves his life, as does his insistence on keeping clear of windows and closing all shutters. Do likewise, and in addition make yourself as difficult as possible to track, keeping to alleys and by-ways rather than main thoroughfares and using rear windows and garden walls to access buildings. Keep a revolver close at hand, but use it only if absolutely necessary, else you might end up in the dock for murder, rather than your enemy.

3. Make yourself scarce. Once your damning evidence has been assembled and the machinations of the mastermind's ruin are in motion, he will be at his most dangerous. Desperate, the mastermind will do anything to destroy you before the net of justice closes around him completely; it's prudent, therefore, to get as far away as possible until the game is won. Don a disguise, as Holmes did when Moriarty came after him in "The Final Problem," and hop the next train out of town. Tell no one save your most trusted confidant of your plans, for your enemy has spies everywhere. Travel light but leave nothing behind that you cannot live without—a lesson that Holmes and Watson learned the hard way when Moriarty's henchmen set fire to their famed Baker Street rooms as they fled.

4. Resist the temptation to have the mastermind arrested prematurely. Certainly the mastermind's desperate, last-minute attempts to assault you will involve a few arrestable offenses, but these are petty crimes compared to the vast network of felonies in which he has had a hand. Bide your time or risk watching him tried for an offense against which his powerful lawyers can easily defend while his henchmen go free, swearing vengeance against you. Or, as Holmes explained the dilemma to Watson, "We should get the big fish, but the smaller would dart right and left out of the net."

5. Don't let down your guard. He will eventually find you, of that you can be certain; all you can do is delay the inevitable showdown. Lest he should take you by surprise, adopt an attitude of hyper-vigilance, as Watson describes Holmes doing: "I could tell by his quick glancing eyes and his sharp scrutiny of every face that passed us, he was well convinced that, walk where we would, we could not walk ourselves clear of the danger that was dogging our footsteps."

6. Prepare for the final assault. The mastermind will attack when he thinks you're most vulnerable. You must let him do it, but be ready. In "The Final Problem," Holmes and Watson flee London for the tiny Swiss hamlet of Meiringen and are trekking to see the fearful Reichenbach Falls when a messenger boy arrives with an urgent plea for Dr.Watson: A woman is dying at the hotel and needs Watson's attention. Though it's clear to Holmes that the boy is in Moriarty's employ and his plea is nothing but a thinly veiled scheme to get Holmes alone in a dangerous locale, Holmes goes along with it; the showdown must happen, and he is ready.

7. Fake your own death. This step assumes that you have succeeded in besting the mastermind in the previous step, as Holmes did Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. After using martial artistry to send Moriarty plunging to his death, Holmes finds himself confronted by a unique problem: He has succeeded in ridding the world of a criminal mastermind, yet his own life is in more danger than ever. Moriarty's henchmen remain free, and they will surely seek revenge. To return to London would mean facing assassination at their hands, and traveling under his own name would mean pursuit by those same would-be assassins. He's forced to choose between facing death or feigning death and so opts for the latter, traveling far and wide for three years under an invented identity.

Other excerpts from The Sherlock Holmes Handbook:

How to Disguise Yourself
Opium Dens and Narcotics in the Victorian Era
How to Fake Your Own Death
How to Keep Your Mind Sharp
The "Real" Sherlock Holmes

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History
A Founder of Earth Day Looks Back on How It Began
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated

On the very first Earth Day in 1970, Denis Hayes stood on a stage in Central Park, stunned by the number of people who'd come to honor the planet. Now in his 70s, Hayes remembers it was like looking at the ocean—“you couldn’t see where the sea of people ended.” Crowd estimates reached more than a million people.

For Hayes, who is now board chair of the international Earth Day Network, it was the culmination of a year’s worth of work. As an urban ecology graduate student at Harvard University, he’d volunteered to help organize a small initiative by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was horrified by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and wanted to raise awareness about environmental issues by holding teaching events similar to those being held by civil rights and anti-war activists.

Senator Nelson saw a growing disconnect between the concept of progress and the idea of American well-being, Hayes tells Mental Floss. “There was a sense that America was prosperous and getting better, but at the same time, the air in the country was similar to the air today in China, Mexico City, or New Delhi," Hayes says. "Rivers were catching on fire. Lakes were unswimmable.”

Nelson's plan for these environmental teach-ins was for speakers to educate college students about environmental issues. But he had no one to organize them. So Hayes, Nelson’s sole volunteer, took control on a national level, organizing teach-ins at Harvard first and then across the U.S. Initially, the response was tepid at best. “Rather rapidly it became clear that this wasn’t a hot issue at colleges and universities in 1969,” Hayes says. “We had a war raging, and civil rights were getting very emotional after the Nixon election.”

Still, both Hayes and Nelson noticed an influx of mail to the senator's office from women with young families worried about the environment. So instead of focusing on colleges, the two decided to take a different tactic, creating events with community-based organizations across the country, Hayes says. They also decided that rather than a series of teach-ins, they'd hold a single, nationwide teach-in on the same day. They called it Earth Day, and set a date: April 22.

Hayes now had a team of young adults working for the cause, and he himself had dropped out of school to tackle it full time. Long before social media, the project began to spread virally. “It just resonated,” he says. Women and smaller environmental-advocacy groups really hooked onto the idea, and word spread by mouth and by information passing between members of the groups.

Courtesy of Denis Hayes

With the cooperation and participation of grassroots groups and volunteers across the country, and a few lawmakers who supported the initiative, Hayes’ efforts culminated in the event on April 22, 1970.

Hayes started the day in Washington, D.C., where he and the staff were based. There was a rally and protest on the National Mall, though by that point Hayes had flown to New York, where Mayor John Lindsay provided a stage in Central Park. Parts of Fifth Avenue were shut down for the events, which included Earth-oriented celebrations, protests, and speeches by celebrities. Some of those attending the event even attacked nearby cars for causing pollution. After the rally, Hayes flew to Chicago for a smaller event.

“We had a sense that it was going to be big, but when the day actually dawned, the crowds were so much bigger than anyone had experienced before,” Hayes said. The event drew grassroots activists working on a variety of issues—Agent Orange, lead paint in poor urban neighborhoods, saving the whales—and fostered a sense of unity among them.

“There were people worrying about these [environmental] issues before Earth Day, but they didn’t think they had anything in common with one another," Hayes says. "We took all those individual strands and wove them together into the fabric of modern environmentalism.”

Hayes and his team spent the summer getting tear-gassed at protests against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Nixon authorized just six days after Earth Day. But by fall, the team refocused on environmental issues—and elections. They targeted a “dirty dozen” members of Congress up for re-election who had terrible environmental records, and campaigned for candidates who championed environmental causes to run against them. They defeated seven out of 12.

“It was a very poorly funded but high-energy campaign,” Hayes says. “That sent the message to Congress that it wasn’t just a bunch of people out frolicking in the sunshine planting daisies and picking up litter. This actually had political chops.”

The early '70s became a golden age for environmental issues; momentum from the Earth Day movement spawned the creation of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Environmental Education Act (which was initially passed in 1970 and revived in 1990), and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We completely changed the framework within which America does business, more than any other period in history with the possible exception of the New Deal,” Hayes says. “But our little revolution was brought entirely from the grassroots up.”

In 1990, Hayes was at it again. He organized the first international Earth Day, with about 200 million participants across more than 140 countries. Since then it’s become a global phenomenon.

Despite its popularity, though, we still have a long way to go, even if the improvements Hayes fought for have made these issues feel more remote. Hayes noted that everything they were fighting in the '70s was something tangible—something you could see, taste, smell, or touch. Climate change can seem much less real—and harder to combat—to the average person who isn’t yet faced with its effects.

Hayes also notes that people have become more skeptical of science. “Historically, that has not been a problem in the United States. But today science is under attack.”

He warns, “This [anti-science sentiment] is something that could impoverish the next 50 generations and create really long-term devastation—that harms not only American health, but also American business, American labor, and American prospects.”

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13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
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Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.

1. ON ADVICE

"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

2. ON REGRETS

"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks

3. ON DEATH

"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert

4. ON NERVES

''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times

5. ON ACTING

"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age

6. ON MARRIAGE

"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with About.com

7. ON LYING

“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair

8. ON HIS SUNGLASSES

"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

9. ON MISCONCEPTIONS

"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN

10. ON DIRECTING

"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV

11. ON ROGER CORMAN

"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World

12. ON PLAYING THE JOKER

"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman

13. ON BASKETBALL

"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

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