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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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Yes, You Can Put Your Christmas Decorations Up Now—and Should, According to Psychologists
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We all know at least one of those people who's already placing an angel on top of his or her Christmas tree while everyone else on the block still has paper ghosts stuck to their windows and a rotting pumpkin on the stoop. Maybe it’s your neighbor; maybe it’s you. Jolliness aside, these early decorators tend to get a bad rap. For some people, the holidays provide more stress than splendor, so the sight of that first plastic reindeer on a neighbor's roof isn't exactly a welcome one.

But according to two psychoanalysts, these eager decorators aren’t eccentric—they’re simply happier. Psychoanalyst Steve McKeown told UNILAD:

“Although there could be a number of symptomatic reasons why someone would want to obsessively put up decorations early, most commonly for nostalgic reasons either to relive the magic or to compensate for past neglect.

In a world full of stress and anxiety people like to associate to things that make them happy and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of the childhood.

Decorations are simply an anchor or pathway to those old childhood magical emotions of excitement. So putting up those Christmas decorations early extend the excitement!”

Amy Morin, another psychoanalyst, linked Christmas decorations with the pleasures of childhood, telling the site: “The holiday season stirs up a sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia helps link people to their personal past and it helps people understand their identity. For many, putting up Christmas decorations early is a way for them to reconnect with their childhoods.”

She also explained that these nostalgic memories can help remind people of spending the holidays with loved ones who have since passed away. As Morin remarked, “Decorating early may help them feel more connected with that individual.”

And that neighbor of yours who has already been decorated since Halloween? Well, according to a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, homes that have been warmly decorated for the holidays make the residents appear more “friendly and cohesive” compared to non-decorated homes when observed by strangers. Basically, a little wreath can go a long way.

So if you want to hang those stockings before you’ve digested your Thanksgiving dinner, go ahead. You might just find yourself happier for it.

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11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal
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Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).

1. FURNITURE

Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.

2. TOOLS

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Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.

3. BEDDING AND LINENS

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Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.

4. HOLIDAY DÉCOR

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If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.

5. TOYS

Child choosing a toy car.
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Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.

6. ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND JEWELRY

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Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.

7. PLANE TICKETS AND TRAVEL PACKAGES

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While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.

8. FOOD AND SNACK BASKETS

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Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.

9. WINTER CLOTHING

Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.

10. SMARTPHONES

Group of hands holding smartphones.
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While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.

11. KITCHEN GADGETS

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Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

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